“How about this?” asked Brian, penning down what he was thinking. “Looking for a Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell type of drummer?”
His bandmate, Tim Staffell, raised an eyebrow but shrugged. “Will do, I suppose,” he said. “Whatever gets the word out, right?”
Brian agreed, and passed Tim the piece of paper. Much more equipped with art and design, Tim soon had an attractive flyer made. Brian nodded in approval once he was done, and they went off to make copies and put them up around Imperial College. They really wouldn’t be holding auditions, just checking out candidates who might express an interest.
Over the next two weeks, Brian received a few applications and met with potential drummers. None of them really seemed like the right fit until he received a letter from a student at London Hospital Medical College. Robin Meddows Taylor was apparently studying dentistry and had played in a band before, and sounded promising. Having faced his share of disappointment in the last two weeks, Brian wrote a letter back, describing in great detail what it was exactly that they were looking for. The letter ended up being almost four pages long, but he sent it off anyway.
To his delight, Robin Taylor wrote back and said they’d be a good fit for the kind of band that Smile was. The elegant looping writing described a lot about their love for Jimi Hendrix and that type of music, and Brian was feeling cautiously optimistic when he suggested they should meet so Brian and Tim could hear Robin play. They decided upon a day, and Brian informed Tim so they could reserve a music room at Imperial College for a few hours in the evening.
They showed up five minutes before the time they were supposed to meet Robin Taylor and found the music room empty.
“You sure he’s got the time right?” asked Tim.
“Yes,” said Brian. “Besides, it’s not six yet. Let’s give it some time.”
“You’re really interested in getting this bloke as our drummer, aren’t you?” asked Tim.
“I am,” said Brian, without hesitation. “I showed you the letters, didn’t I? He sounds perfect for what we’re looking for.”
Tim nodded reluctantly. “Just try not to get your hopes up too much before we hear him play,” he said. “Might be complete rubbish for all we know.”
Brian knew he was right, but he was unusually confident about Robin Taylor. The door to the music room opened and they looked towards it eagerly. To Brian’s surprise, a blonde girl was wheeling in a packed drum kit. Dressed in tight-fitting blue jeans and a most unusual white jumper with rainbow stripes around the neck and shoulders, her hair was in a long ponytail. Tim went to help her and Brian followed him a moment later.
She looked at them with a small smile when they came to help her, and Brian’s eyes went wide. She was rather beautiful with a soft, doll-like face, wide blue eyes, and a very captivating smile.
“Can we help you, love?” asked Tim, with a smile.
“Which one of you is Brian May?” she asked, and her voice was surprisingly delicate.
“I’m Brian,” said Brian, confused.
“Oh, wonderful,” she smiled and held out her hand to him. “Robin Meddows Taylor.”
“What?” asked Brian blankly, staring at her hand and then back up at her.
She raised an eyebrow perfectly. “You did say six, didn’t you?” she asked, and checked her watch. “Wanting a drummer? For your band? For Smile?” she added.
“That’s right,” said Tim, hastily. He shot Brian a look as if asking him to get his shit together. “You’re Robin Taylor?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, as if they were being particularly thick.
“You’re a girl,” said Brian.
She chuckled. “Really? Hadn’t noticed,” she said, and then looked between the two of them. “You thought I was a boy, did you?”
“Yes, sorry about that,” said Tim, smiling a little. “Your name is ambiguous.”
“Understandable,” she nodded. “Well, we all know now. I’ll go set up, shall I?” she added, her smile widening with confidence that took them both by surprise.
Without waiting for either of them, she wheeled her drum kit up to the front. Tim and Brian remained dumbfounded for a moment, before they followed her.
“You want to audition for the drummer,” said Brian, as if to make sure he had the facts right.
“That’s right,” she said, without turning around.
“Er, Robin, I’m Tim, the lead vocalist and bassist,” said Tim, thankfully remembering his manners since Brian was still reeling with the revelations. “Are you-?”
Robin paused amidst her unpacking and turned to them. “Am I sure? Yes. Am I a girl? Also yes. Is that going to bother you? Too fucking bad. You can hear me play first. If you don’t want me as a drummer after that? Fine. But stow the disbelief until then,” she said, her voice confident and borderline cocky. “Anything else?”
“Apparently not,” said Tim, blinking in shock. “Shall we help?” he prompted, nudging Brian, who nodded.
Robin grinned and gave a satisfied nod as she went back to unpacking. Her drum kit was in good condition, but Brian was surprised when she pulled out a set of tools as well. She saw his look of surprise and smiled.
“You don’t mind, do you?” she asked. “I didn’t have time to tune them before. It’s been a couple months since they’ve been unpacked.”
“You tune your drums?” he asked, utterly flabbergasted.
She looked amused. “You tune your guitar?” she asked, in the same tone.
“Of course I do,” said Brian, indignantly.
She held up a finger and picked up her drumsticks. She hit the drum in front of her, producing a nice sound. Then she reached into her toolkit and used the tools to tighten a few of the tension rods. She hit the drum again, and Brian’s eyes went wide when the same sound was heard, but it was clearer, sharper and sounded more even.
“Amazing,” he said, before he could help it. He looked at Tim and noticed that he was impressed as well.
Robin grinned back. “Drums can be tuned just like any other instrument,” she said, continuing her process of tapping near each of the tension rods until they were all in tune with one another and then repeated it for all the drums. “You have to make them make the sound you want.”
“Where did you learn to do it?” asked Tim.
“Nowhere, I taught myself,” she shrugged, without pausing in her work. Once she was done, she nodded at them to indicate she was ready.
Brian and Tim took a few steps back to give her some space, still bewildered at the strangely confident and attractive girl. She took a seat behind her assembled drum kit and pushed back the sleeves of her jumper, revealing white wrist guards on both hands. She picked up her drumsticks and shot them a wink before launching right into an improvised drum solo.
Brian felt his jaw drop as he watched her coax sounds he’d never expected to come out of a drum, as she played a song so utterly captivating it was as if an entire band was playing instead of one person on the drums. Her rhythm was perfect, her movements graceful and mesmerising to watch, and her face had gone sharp with concentration. The drum solo transitioned perfectly into Stone Free by Jimi Hendrix, and Brian leaned forward in concentration.
Robin Meddows Taylor was making her drums do what she wanted them to do, just as she’d said, and she had blown away any competition. She reached a lull in her playing and shot them a grin full of charm and cheek and challenge, before ending with a flourish. Brian and Tim sat in stunned silence as she wiped an arm across her forehead to get rid of the sweat that had beaded there.
“How was that?” she asked, crossing her arms and smiling at them with no effort to hide her smugness.
Brian blinked and glanced at Tim, whose answer was plain. So was Brian’s, for that matter. But the fact remained that while she was a terrific drummer, she was also a girl.
Apparently, they were taking too long to answer, so she made her way over to them, twirling her drumsticks absently as she walked.
“What?” she asked. “You got someone better?”
“No,” said Brian, truthfully. “You’re by far the best we’ve seen.”
“So what’s the problem?” she asked. “My tits bother you?”
Tim chuckled and she grinned at him, while Brian was still a little taken aback at her crude language. He hadn’t met many girls who could speak like that. The few that had usually needed a few pints in them before they devolved to that language.
“Girls in rock bands are...not common,” said Brian, diplomatically.
“And you want to be common, do you?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Brian realised up close that her pale skin had gone pink with her exhaustion of playing, and strands of blonde hair were curling with the heat and sweat from her body.
“No,” he said, plainly. “But are you sure you are up to it? New bands aren’t warmly welcomed to begin with and being the only girl will bring...unwanted attention your way.” He didn’t mean to sound condescending but he didn’t want her to be hurt by the things people wouldn’t hesitate to insinuate or just outright spout about her. If she were hurt, there would be tears, drama and who knows what else, and Brian wanted the band to be a place where he could relax, not stress himself out further.
“Unwanted attention, right,” said Robin, amused by his words. “Implications that I might be shagging one or both of you. Or that I will be opening my legs for anyone who wants a go?”
“To start with, yes,” said Tim, while Brian just gaped at her.
“I can deal with it, as long as it doesn’t come from either of you,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “People have been saying much worse about me for a long time, trust me.”
“Why?” asked Tim.
“Look at me,” she said, as if they weren’t already. “I am bloody gorgeous, let’s not kid ourselves. And I am not afraid to speak my mind. To anyone, about anything. Fortunately, I also know how to put people in their place. It’s practically my specialty.” She grinned unabashedly. “Let me deal with the implications, and agree to focus on music, alright?”
Tim shrugged in agreement and looked at Brian. Brian pursed his lips but knew she was right. If she couldn’t deal with it, then she’d leave. End of the problem, and they could all get on with their lives. In the meantime, they would have an excellent drummer.
“Alright,” he said. “You’re in.”
“You got your clothes picked out for the gig tonight?” asked Tim.
“Robin’s bringing something for me,” said Brian, attempting to finish his research for the day. “You?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. There was a knock on the door of Brian’s flat and Tim went to answer it. “Speak of the devil,” he added, leading in Robin, who was carrying an overnight bag. “Presents?” he asked, nodding at her bag.
“Yes,” she said. “I raided my wardrobe.”
She set it down on the table right on top of Brian’s books and opened the bag. Ignoring his scowl, she pulled out a navy silk shirt with paisley patterning around the collar and cuffs.
“Stand up,” she ordered. “I need to see if it will fit you.”
Brian let out a long suffering sigh but stood up. Robin climbed onto the chair he had vacated and held up the shirt against the back of his shoulders.
“It will be loose on your skinny frame, May,” she said, jumping down lithely from the chair. “But it’ll do. Don’t tuck it in and run a wet hand through your hair to puff out the curls.”
“Anything else, Your Majesty?” asked Brian, bitingly.
“Yes, I need your bathroom to do my makeup,” she said, and then picked up the bag and went into the bathroom. They heard the lock click a moment later.
Brian mimed strangling her as Tim chuckled. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to continue studying, Brian went to his room and stripped out of his usual clothes and put on a pair of tight-fitting dark trousers and the silk shirt. The material was rather pleasing, and though it was a little big on him, it did look appropriately stylish for the gig. As crazy as she drove him sometimes with wanting to do things that always seemed to mess up Brian’s carefully set ways, Robin knew what she was talking about when it came to fashion.
In the month that she had become Smile’s drummer, Brian had seen her wear absolutely absurd clothes that ought to have made anyone look like an absolute clown, except on her they looked hip and stylish. Even if they were going down to the pub for a pint, she would dress like she was walking a runway in Paris, and appropriately, would turn heads everywhere she went as if her face weren’t enough to do that already.
What astonished Brian even more was how easily she made friends with people around her. Even people who came onto on her. Especially people who came onto her, as a matter of fact. He had never seen her leave with a bloke, though, and there were plenty of them interested. Robin would tease and flirt but never follow through and strangely, blokes only got more interested in her.
Brian had known girls like her who could cart blokes around on a hook, but Robin didn’t do that either. If someone bought her a drink or offered to walk her home, she would gracefully decline, and make an excuse if it didn’t work. If they were especially persistent, she would outright tell them she didn’t want to. But it was said with such charm that even the bloke being rejected seemed to take it in his stride.
While it made her popular with blokes, what surprised Brian even more was how popular she was with girls. Not in the same way, of course, though he wouldn’t be surprised to know some girls having a crush on their drummer. When it came to girls, almost all of them seemed wary of her at first but she would soon win them over, using her charm with an ease that often left Brian envious.
But that charm, it seemed, only came out around some people. The people she was closest to, including Brian and Tim, got to see Robin as she was without the layers of charm. She was still cheeky but surprisingly cynical and aggravating, knowing just how to push people’s buttons. She also had a ferocious temper and would often destroy her drumsticks when things didn’t go her way or one of them wasn’t playing correctly. She was brash and rude and wanted people to do what she wanted, and she didn’t bother playing nice with the people closest to her.
Brian would have had nothing to do with her, except she was an excellent drummer, and she seemed to care deeply about the band and the music. The connection he’d felt through their letters was still there and she continually impressed him with her insight on music, and despite him and Tim being the primary songwriters, her input was invaluable into developing Smile’s musical signature.
Robin was also surprisingly tender and gentle when the occasion called for it, though it was a side of her that even fewer people got to see. Like the week before when Brian had been laid up with a cold and she had come over to his flat for the express purpose of annoying him, it seemed, until she had made him drink watery tomato soup and pressed cold towels to his forehead to bring his fever down.
She hadn’t mentioned anything as she left after he’d fallen asleep and the next time he’d seen her, she just shrugged and told him to shut up about it or she would smother him with a pillow the next time he got ill. It endeared her to him, though he wouldn’t ever admit it, even on the pain of death.
Brian made sure his clothes were sitting right on him and went outside, using the water from the kitchen sink to puff up his curls like Robin had ordered him to do and then examined his reflection in the back of a spoon since his only mirror was in the bathroom which was still locked.
“It suits you,” said Tim, and Brian nodded. “Wonder where she gets her bizarre clothes.”
“I’m too afraid to ask,” said Brian honestly, as he took a seat next to him. He felt a little jittery as the nerves built up in his stomach. “How many people will come, do you think?”
Tim shrugged, though Brian saw tension on his face as well. “I told a couple friends, so that many, at least,” he said.
Brian nodded and the two of them fidgeted in silence until they heard the bathroom door unlock and Robin came out. His eyes went wide when he saw her all dressed up in a plain, black halter jumpsuit with a shiny silver belt around her waist, tied into an exaggerated bow to the side. Her blonde hair had been combed flat to lie perfectly straight and pushed back with a black hairband, and she looked a little taller because of her platform sandals. In contrast to her demure clothes and hair, her makeup was wild. Thick, dark eyeliner, silver shimmer eyeshadow, shimmer on her cheeks, neck and even arms, and her lips were a shiny dark pink. She looked done up and understated in the same breath.
“Jesus Christ, Robin,” said Tim, his eyes wide as he looked her over.
“Good, that’s the look I was going for,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’m hoping to use the line ‘nail me to a cross’ tonight.”
Tim burst into laughter as Brian went red. “Robin,” said Brian, admonishing in his tone.
“Oh, grow up, Brian, I wasn’t actually going to say that,” she said, crossing her arms and rolling her eyes. She picked up her coat that she’d thrown on a nearby chair and began putting it on. “Shall we get on? We have to set up and I don’t know about you two but I could use a drink or ten before we play tonight.”
“Don’t drink too much,” said Brian, at once. “We don’t need you drunk before our first show together.”
“Yes, thank you, Brian,” she said, rolling her eyes again as she buttoned up her coat. With the coat, she looked even more demure if you didn’t look too closely at her makeup. No one would mistake her as a drummer in a rock and roll band but Brian knew the moment she started playing, she would be a vision worthy of a rockstar.
They made it to the pub with their equipment stowed in the band van an hour before their gig. Tim went to speak with their contact at the bar, who then let them use the back entrance in the alley to bring in their instruments to set them up on a stage. Since there was still time, Robin did good on her word and got them a round of drinks, slamming down a shot of whiskey before nearly chugging her pint of lager. Tim followed her lead, but Brian drank his more steadily, not wanting to let himself get too buzzed.
“Let’s fucking do this,” said Robin, once she had finished her drink.
“That’s my line,” said Tim, but grinned anyway.
They made their way to the small stage, and it drew a few people’s attention. The pub wasn’t all that full, but it wasn’t the empty nightmare Brian had been dreading, so he was grateful for small mercies. He picked up his beloved Red Special, and his head whipped up when he heard a sharp wolf-whistle from the crowd, followed by raucous catcalling as Robin stepped up in her halter jumpsuit and sat behind the drums. Instead of ignoring them, she winked outrageously in the direction of the catcallers and shook her hair back.
“Evening, folks,” said Tim, bringing the attention to himself. “We are Smile. I’m Tim, that’s our guitarist, Brian, and the one on the drums is Robin.”
Loud catcalling followed her name but this time she was focusing on the other side of the room, where she gave a pretty smile which eased the slightly hostile looks on some of the girls in the audience. Brian had to marvel at her ability. If she weren’t such a good drummer, she would be an excellent frontman or frontwoman, rather, in a band.
“This first song is called ‘Step on Me’,” said Tim, and Brian took a deep breath as they began playing.
Once the music started, Brian started to relax. The catcallers quietened though an occasional wolf whistle would ring out randomly but Robin was letting the drums do the talking as she played without missing a beat, occasionally catching the eye of an audience member with a sweet smile before returning her attention to the drums.
When it came to ‘Doing All Right’, and her vocal section came up, she sang prettily enough to make the crowd lean forward with awe which made Brian grin. He and Tim had been shocked to hear her wide vocal range, especially when singing high notes. It also helped that she could harmonise with both Brian and Tim quite well, their different voices blending together nicely.
Their set came to an end as they played a cover of ‘Twist and Shout’, and the crowd sang along occasionally. There was applause and cheering when the song ended, and Brian grinned at the audience before looking at Tim and Robin, who looked equally elated. The unbridled happiness on Robin’s face wasn’t something he’d seen since he’d agreed to take her on as a drummer for Smile and he was glad the decision had worked well.
“Once again, we are Smile,” said Tim. “Thank you for a great evening, folks. Don’t forget to Smile.”
They took their bows, and walked off the stage, knowing they could get their equipment off after they’d had a break.
“Was that fun or what?” gushed Tim enthusiastically to them.
“It was fucking amazing,” said Robin, eyes shining even as she was dripping with sweat.
Brian grinned in agreement, knowing he was equally sweaty but couldn’t bring himself to care. He pulled both Robin and Tim into an impromptu hug as the three of them laughed and had this moment to themselves. A few people were waiting to speak to them after the performance, including some of the catcallers but once again, Brian watched as Robin expertly maneuvered them with use of charm and just the right amount of firmness to not hurt their feelings too much but not lead them on either.
Tim and Brian also had their share of admirers, and Brian’s eye was caught by a pretty blonde girl who smiled and introduced herself as Mary. He soon became involved in a conversation with her, learning she was a student as well and worked at Biba part-time.
“I should head home,” said Mary, after a while.
“Will you be alright getting back?” asked Brian, politely.
“Yes, I came with a friend,” she said, and glanced around. “My friend who’s been captivated by your drummer, it seems.”
Brian followed her gaze and saw Robin with a few girls around her as they all discussed something with plenty of giggling and gesturing. A couple boys looked annoyed they couldn’t get anywhere near Robin and they hovered on the outside of that circle, shooting pissy looks occasionally.
“I’d better go rescue her,” said Brian. “We have to pack up as well.”
“Well, it was nice to meet you, Brian,” smiled Mary.
He smiled back. “You too, Mary,” he said. “We’d love it if you came and saw us again sometime.”
She nodded enthusiastically. “I would like that very much, I think,” she said, and then gave him a small hug. “Good night, Brian.”
“Good night, Mary,” he said, pleasantly. Mary took her leave, collected her friend from Robin’s circle and to Brian’s horror, Robin said something to Mary and the two women laughed together and glanced at him briefly before whispering back and forth amongst each other.
After Mary left, Robin excused herself and came to help him and Tim pack up their things, and as badly as Brian wanted to ask what she and Mary had talked about, he didn’t dare, knowing she would torment him relentlessly if he let on he was curious.
He wished she would bring it up on her own, but she just spoke with Tim about what they could do better on their next show as their instruments were packed and stowed into the van once again. Brian drove the van and they dropped off Tim at his flat before Brian turned the car towards his building. He knew Robin had left her bag there so she’d want to get changed before walking home, since she only lived a street away from him.
To his credit, he lasted until after Robin had changed back into her normal jeans and jumper and was packing up her bag to return home.
“Alright, what did you talk about?” he asked, crossing his arms.
Robin paused in folding the shirt she had lent him. “What?” she asked, with a puzzled look on her face.
“You and Mary, were you talking about me?” he asked, knowing he was in for the teasing of a lifetime.
Robin didn’t disappoint as she grinned impishly, tongue stuck between her teeth as she milked the moment for all it was worth. “Aw, Brian has a crush,” she teased in a sing-song voice and Brian decided to bear it even as his face turned red. “And you were worried about me being nailed to a cross.”
He glared at her and she laughed as she packed up her bag and gathered her hair into a ponytail. “Robin,” he said, sharply.
“Oh, don’t get all worked up, May,” she chuckled. “She just wanted to make sure she wasn’t stepping on any toes.”
“What?” he asked, confused.
She looked at him like he was dim. “That you and I weren’t together, you dolt,” she said.
Brian’s eyes went wide. “Oh,” he said. “I hadn’t considered that.”
Instead of getting offended, Robin laughed. “I know, it’s sweet, actually,” she said. “Even though you were absolutely eyeing me up when you first saw me.”
“I was not!” he protested as his face flamed red. She raised an eyebrow and he sighed. “Yes, but that was just...before.”
“I know, Bri,” she said, with a soft smile on her face. “I don’t blame you. I’d be a little insulted if you hadn’t, actually. My ego is not to be trifled with.”
“Don’t I know it,” he chuckled. “So you told Mary I was free for the taking?”
“Something like that,” she grinned. “She did think you seemed like you were good with your fingers.”
Brian’s face went red once again, even though he knew she was only doing it to wind him up. “I hate you,” he said, though he couldn’t help but smile.
“I’ll live with it,” she shrugged. “Right then, I’ve got everything. I’m off. Go to bed.”
“Don’t be silly, I’m walking you back,” he said, knowing it was close to midnight already. “Isn’t Belinda not due back for another day?” he asked, remembering that her flatmate was visiting her parents in Bristol.
“You want to walk me one street over?” she asked, skeptically.
“Yes,” he said, adamantly. “There are all sorts around these parts.”
“And what if we do run into these sorts?” she asked, amused. “You will play them a guitar riff?”
He didn’t dignify that with a response and grabbed his coat pointedly. She sighed but didn’t protest any further thankfully. They didn’t run into anyone of any sort on the way to her building and she smiled and told him not to run into dangerous strangers on his way home before heading upstairs to her flat. Brian waited until he saw the light turn on in her second floor flat before beginning his trek back home.
Their first gig as Smile had been a success.
They played three more gigs in the week that followed, one at a small club in Putney, another in a pub and the last one at Ealing College where Tim was studying. It was there that Brian and Robin were first introduced to Freddie Bulsara, Tim’s friend and an all-around noticeable fellow.
Tall and thin with dark hair and dark skin, Freddie was the sort to draw your attention immediately, if not for his very exotic looks then by the flair with which he walked and spoke. He seemed to be a popular figure with the Ealing crowd, flitting around like a social butterfly, laughing and joking with people, all of whom were equally drawn to him it seemed. Oddly, Brian was reminded of Robin as he watched Freddie before Tim called him over.
“This is the bloke I was telling you about, Freddie,” said Tim, waving a hand towards Brian. “Brian May, he’s the guitarist.”
Freddie looked at him with interest and held his hand out to Brian. “I heard you built your own guitar,” he said, instead of hello.
“I did, yes,” said Brian, smiling despite himself, noting his odd accent. “It’s nice to meet you. Freddie, is it?”
“Freddie Bulsara,” he grinned, showing a rather toothy smile. He also added a charming little bow at the end of his name and if anyone other than him had done it, they would have looked absolutely daft but Brian just thought it suited Freddie. “I look forward to watching you play. Tim’s been going on and on about his band. You are missing one still, aren’t you?” he asked, glancing around.
“Robin had a class ending late, but she should make it here soon,” said Tim. “If her damned car hasn’t broken down somewhere.”
“You wouldn’t be bad mouthing my car, would you?” came a familiar voice and Brian had to grin as Tim jumped in fear and Robin gave him a dangerous smile.
“Not at all, just concerned,” said Tim, quickly.
Robin narrowed her eyes at him but shrugged before looking at Freddie. “Hello,” she said.
“Robin, this is Freddie Bulsara,” introduced Tim. “Freddie, this is our drummer, Robin Taylor.”
“Pleasure to meet you, darling,” said Freddie, offering his hand.
Robin smiled at him and shook his hand. “Likewise,” she said, and then blinked at the necklace he was wearing. “Where did you get that?”
“Cobbled it together myself,” said Freddie, looking pleased as punch. “Took apart my sister’s old jewellery to do it.”
“It’s gorgeous,” said Robin, with an impressed look on her face.
“Coming from someone as gorgeous as you, I’ll take that as a compliment,” winked Freddie and she grinned at him.
“You and I must talk after the show,” she said, smiling at him slyly.
“I absolutely agree,” said Freddie, and Brian got the distinct feeling the two of them had forgotten that he and Tim were still in the vicinity and were in their own little bubble.
Tim cleared his throat and the two of them turned to him in surprise. “Don’t you have to get changed, Robin?” he asked pointedly.
“Oh, alright,” she said, and then smiled at Freddie. “I’ll see you later.”
Freddie waved at her as she left and then sighed wistfully. “She’s unfairly pretty,” he said. “Even for a girl.”
“Please don’t try to shag our drummer, Freddie,” said Tim.
“I find it rather offensive that that’s the conclusion you came to,” said Freddie, rolling his eyes.
“What did you mean then?” asked Brian, slightly curious.
Freddie shot him a look full of mirth. “I mean, if I was as pretty as her, I’d be even more obnoxious than I already am.” He laughed out loud and Brian couldn’t help but chuckle. “Go on, get set up and all. I’m even more curious to hear you lot play now.”
“You won’t be disappointed,” grinned Tim, as he and Brian took their leave.
“I’m sure I won’t,” Freddie called out after them cheerfully.
Brian and Tim set up their instruments and Robin joined them halfway through, dressed for the gig. She seemed to be frowning heavily, until Brian nudged her.
“Something wrong?” he asked, knowing with Robin that it was better to get things squared off right away rather than letting them linger.
“Yeah,” she said. “Belinda’s pregnant.”
Brian had never met her flatmate and only knew her through a handful stories Robin had told him. “Oh,” he said. “I didn’t realise she had a boyfriend.”
“She doesn’t,” said Robin. “Well, she was seeing this bloke but he pulled a Houdini the moment she let him know. I was up all night comforting her.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said Tim.
Robin shrugged. “Anyway, she is dropping out after this semester and returning to Bristol,” she said. “So I’ll need a new flatmate starting next year. If you know someone, send them my way.”
“Sure,” said Brian, as Tim nodded. “How are you holding up?”
“Apart from worrying over paying rent? I could use a good night’s sleep,” she said. “But all that can wait. It’s almost time for us to go on.”
“Will you be able to play?” asked Tim, concerned.
“Why wouldn’t I be able to play?” she asked.
Tim looked at Brian, who sighed. “This sort of thing can be upsetting,” said Brian. “Unplanned pregnancy,” he clarified when Robin just looked confused.
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not the one pregnant, Brian,” she said, annoyed. “Besides, how would my flatmate being pregnant affect how I play the drums?”
“How indeed,” muttered Brian, and shook his head to bite back the concerned remarks he would have offered if it had been anyone but Robin. “If you’re fine, let’s get to work.”
“Finally, god, this is the last time I confide in either one of you,” she huffed, pulling on the wrist guards on her hands. “You fuss about like mother hens about the oddest things.”
“Oh, how stupid of us to think you were upset about a friend’s unplanned pregnancy,” said Brian, sarcasm dripping from his tone.
“Stop it, you two,” said Tim, as Robin glared at Brian, both of them geared up for a fight. “Let’s not argue before a gig.”
“He started it!” snapped Robin, pointing at Brian.
“Oh, very mature,” said Brian.
“Enough,” said Tim, stepping between the two of them. “I mean it. Get it together. It’s my friends out there. I have been bragging about you two for weeks now. You can kill each other after we play a successful gig, alright? I’ll even provide the weapons.”
Brian and Robin were still glaring at each other but at his words, Brian sighed and gave a nod. Robin held her glare for a moment longer before nodding as well. Tim exhaled and clapped them both on the shoulder. They stepped out of the little curtained off area behind the makeshift stage in the small auditorium and took their places.
In hindsight, they did play quite well. The crowd was fairly enthusiastic and Brian suspected a lot of it had to do with Tim, since most of them were either friends with him or knew him. The crowd was also the biggest they’d ever had, and was close to thirty people. Brian saw Freddie in the audience, watching them with great interest. He occasionally exchanged a few words with a friend standing next to him, but seldom took his eyes off the band.
After the gig was over, the party was to continue at the campus pub, and some of Tim’s friends agreed to pack up their van and equipment so the band could get right to partying. Brian didn’t want to be too optimistic and arrogant and call them roadies, but it certainly seemed like the beginnings of one.
Still in their gig clothes and riding high after playing to a responsive audience, they went down to the pub with Tim’s friends, including Freddie. Brian noticed Freddie immediately corner Robin and the two began whispering back and forth, wide smiles on both of their faces. At one point, Freddie seemed to point at the necklace Robin was wearing, and a moment later, she took it off and gave it to Freddie and he took off the one she’d admired earlier and gave it to her. They spent the rest of the evening with their swapped pieces of jewellery, curled up in the corner of a booth together, laughing and talking.
Brian had his fair share of admirers, but when he finally had a moment to himself with a large vodka tonic that was more vodka than tonic, he was accosted by the man he’d seen Freddie with during the gig.
“Hi,” he said. “Chris Smith.”
Brian shook his hand. “Brian May,” he returned politely.
“Nice to meet you,” said Chris. “I liked the show.”
“Thank you,” said Brian. “You know Tim?”
“Yeah,” said Chris. “He’s been talking you lot up for a while now, and he wasn’t lying, it turns out. I am a musician myself.”
“Oh, yeah?” asked Brian, mildly interested despite himself.
“Yeah, I play the keyboard,” said Chris. “I noticed you lot don’t have one.”
“Most of our songs don’t need it,” said Brian. “But it would be nice to have one,” he added, thinking to the numerous ideas that had been flitting around in his head. He heard a loud laugh that he recognised as Robin’s and saw her and Freddie absolutely losing it over something only the two of them knew about as they giggled together.
“Looks like Freddie’s hijacked your drummer,” said Chris.
“Seems so,” said Brian. “You know him well?”
“Freddie?” asked Chris, and then laughed. “Everyone knows Freddie.”
“Right, and what does that mean?” asked Brian, curious and wary in equal measure.
“He’s a musician as well,” said Chris. “Plays the piano like I’ve never seen anyone else do. He’s in a band, too. A couple different ones, if I’m not mistaken. Mostly, he just sings. The four octave range bastard.”
“He has a four octave range?” asked Brian, impressed. It was the same as Robin.
“Yeah,” said Chris. “But he’s all about performance, apparently. That’s what he was saying to me during your set. He thought Tim ought to have performed more. Played to the audience, so to speak.”
Brian had no clue what that meant but he nodded along. He glanced towards Freddie and Robin and caught Freddie’s eye, who waved at him before whispering something to Robin. The two of them chuckled, and before Brian knew it, they had made their way over to him and Chris.
“Having fun?” asked Brian.
“Absolutely,” said Freddie. “You?”
“Can’t complain,” said Brian.
“Knowing you? You certainly can,” said Robin, rolling her eyes.
He glared at her, and she glared right back.
“I was just saying what a good team you make when it comes to the sound of your band,” said Freddie, attempting to be the peacemaker it seemed.
“Yes, thanks,” said Brian, still glaring at Robin.
“Seems to be the only time we get along,” said Robin, rolling her eyes.
“It’s excellent, really,” said Freddie, earnestly. “What I love most though, are your voices.”
Brian stopped glaring at Robin to look at Freddie inquisitively. “Voices?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Freddie, without hesitation. “They blend together very well. If you can sing like that and play your instruments at the same time, it’s quite a talent.”
“Thank you, Freddie,” said Brian, sincerely. “I heard you are a vocalist as well,” he added, with a glance at Chris.
“Oh, I do alright, dear,” said Freddie. “My current band isn’t terrible.”
“We’d love to come watch you,” said Robin, and Brian nodded along before he could help it.
“Well, it would be nice if we could book gigs but apparently, it’s all about developing the chemistry,” said Freddie, sarcasm in his tone as he rolled his eyes. “I might quit, and find something better.”
“You should,” said Robin, firmly. “You have an excellent voice and the right band will be the perfect thing for you to showcase your talents as a frontman.”
She said it with the confidence of someone who knew what she was talking about, and as much as she infuriated him, Brian knew to trust her opinion when it came to things like this. Even as he focused on the sound of Freddie’s voice, Brian could sense the potential and if he really had a four octave range like Chris Smith had alleged, he would be an excellent vocalist for any band lucky enough to snatch him up.
“I was just telling Brian I play the keyboard,” interjected Chris. “Chris Smith,” he added to Robin, who looked a little confused.
“Right,” said Robin, shaking his hand before casting an inquisitive look at Brian, who just shrugged. “Robin Taylor.”
“I know,” grinned Chris. “You’re very good. Never seen a girl drum like you before.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, her tits have little to do with her skills as a drummer,” said Freddie, rolling his eyes. “That kind of rhythm is the touch of the heavens right there. And then you’ve got a guitarist who built his own damn guitar and has his own tone. It’s not everyday you get that kind of a combination.”
Brian felt himself go pink at the praise and to his surprise, he saw Robin look a little flustered as well, and he realised it wasn’t often she was praised as a drummer without someone adding she was a girl, as if she didn’t know. Feeling slightly guilty about how he’d reacted upon first meeting her, Brian handed her his half-finished drink silently as a peace offering and she looked at him briefly before grinning and slamming it down.
“More drinks,” said Robin, linking her arm through Freddie’s and grasping Brian’s hand with the other. “Come on. Let’s get shitfaced.”
She pulled them both with her towards the bar, and Brian waved goodbye to Chris Smith half-heartedly, who looked rather confused and put out at their abrupt exit.
But as he looked at the warm hand grasping his, and heard the sound of Robin and Freddie discussing music like it was a religion to them, Brian realised he could very well learn to live like this with two of the oddest people he’d had the luck of meeting.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
“What the fuck is so funny?” he demanded, finally.
Robin paused, though she was still chuckling a little. “It’s so gentlemanly of you to be considerate of the burdens of womanhood on me, Brian May,” she said, giggling through her words.
“I hate you,” he said, though his lips started twitching despite himself.
Brian finished his research for the day and glanced at the clock with a triumphant grin. He had made good time and finished an hour before the deadline he had set for himself. He stretched his arms and got up to make a cup of tea that he planned on having while lounging around in a way he almost never got to do these days between his research and the band.
And that’s when the universe chose to karmically fuck him as his doorbell rang and Robin entered, followed by Freddie.
“Evening, Bri,” grinned Robin, somehow wearing a jumper of the most lurid shade of orange and still managing to look casually pretty.
Brian sighed and looked between her and Freddie. The two had grown quite close in a relatively short time, often just sitting together and whispering with one another. Freddie had started coming to their gigs and ended up partying around with them afterwards. Brian had grown to like him quite a bit, despite having been a little wary at first. Freddie was just infectious in charming his way into people’s hearts.
“What are you two up to?” he asked, realising he sounded remarkably like a parent dealing with his precocious children.
“Whatever do you mean, Bri,” said Robin, her eyes all wide and innocent. Brian didn’t trust her for a moment. He looked at Freddie, who grinned toothily.
“We just wanted to see if you were in the mood to go out for a drink,” he said.
“We have band practice in the evening,” said Brian.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” said Freddie, sounding like he’d known that. “We could just drink between practice, I suppose?”
“What a good idea, Fred,” said Robin, playing along to whatever game they were involved in. “Bri, you should invite Mary.”
He narrowed his eyes at the pair. “Why?” he asked. He and Mary had been out a couple of times, but neither really felt the connection enough to take things further than a few chaste kisses.
“I want to talk to her about fashion,” said Robin. “Girl talk. Boring stuff, really.”
“Why don’t I believe you?” asked Brian, and then decided it was not worth the effort. “Fine, I’ll call her.”
Both Robin and Freddie brightened at that, and Brian shook his head with a fond smile. Things were definitely never boring with those two around. He left to make his call from the phone in his room, and Mary agreed to come to the music room where Smile usually met for practice. When Brian returned, he saw Robin and Freddie sitting curled up in the same armchair, despite there being an entire empty sofa and another chair.
“Is Mary coming?” asked Robin, at once.
“Yes,” said Brian, and regarded them with a shake of his head. “I do have plenty of space, you know.”
“We know,” said Freddie, but neither moved from their seat.
“Suit yourselves,” muttered Brian. “I am making tea. Want some?”
“Yes,” said Freddie.
“No, thanks,” said Robin, at the same time.
Brian made a cup for himself and Freddie and he could hear the two of them whispering as he worked. Having had enough, he sat down on the sofa near them after handing Freddie his cup of tea.
“Alright, what are you up to?” he asked again. “And don’t play innocent,” he added, when Robin opened her mouth.
She shut her mouth and glanced at Freddie. He shrugged, looking a little embarrassed for some reason. Robin gave a nod and turned to Brian. “Freddie fancies Mary,” she said, bluntly.
Brian nodded, having realised that the last time they’d all hung out together. “Yes, I know,” he said. “What about it?”
“Hang on, you knew?” asked Freddie, surprised.
“You’re not subtle, Freddie,” said Brian, taking a sip of his tea.
“You’re not mad?” asked Robin, looking a little surprised. “About another bloke having the hots for your girl?”
“Mary isn’t my girl,” said Brian, bluntly. “We have been out a few times, but honestly, it is not going well for either of us. I’m sure if you were to ask her out, she would not refuse.”
“I can’t do that,” said Freddie, going a little red. “I can’t just...go up to her...and say I like her. I just can’t.”
“You are going to have to, love,” said Robin, and Freddie sighed and dropped his head to her shoulder. “It’s not that hard to ask someone out, you know.”
“What would you know?” asked Brian, honestly curious. “When have you ever had to ask anyone out?”
“Fair point,” she nodded. “But I do know what it’s like to turn people down. That’s quite difficult as well.”
“Not the same thing,” Brian and Freddie said at the same time.
“Is too,” she protested. “Whatever. At least I’m not afraid to make my feelings known.”
Freddie seemed to shrink into himself, and she rested her head on his since he was still leaned against her shoulder.
“Maybe start by being her friend,” suggested Brian, seeing that Freddie made quite the pitiful picture. He had only ever seen him after their gigs when he was the life of a party, so to see him so quiet and almost awkward was a new experience and Brian had no idea what he was supposed to make of this more contemplative side of Freddie.
“Right, just hang around together a few times,” said Robin, brightening up. “Like today. Get closer and then ask her out.”
“I can be friendly,” said Freddie, almost to himself. “I don’t know if I can-ask her out, but I can definitely be friends.”
“Good, that’s a good start,” said Brian, encouragingly.
“You got much experience with that, Bri?” asked Robin, with a curious look on her face.
“I do just fine with girls, thank you very much,” he said, narrowing his eyes at her.
“No, I know that,” she said, waving his annoyance away. “I mean, most girls lining up after gigs are after you more than Tim.”
“Really?” asked Brian, slightly pleased despite himself.
“Yes, ask Freddie if you don’t believe me,” said Robin.
“It’s true,” agreed Freddie. “In the crowds, the girls are all entranced by Brian and the boys captivated by Robin. Between the two of you, you have much of the audience enthralled.”
“See,” said Robin, smugly. “And Tim has a girlfriend so it’s not like he’s clamouring for competition.”
“So we win by default?” asked Brian, frowning.
Robin rolled her eyes as Freddie sighed. “How do you manage to turn even the best situation into a pessimistic one, May?” asked Robin.
“It’s a gift,” said Brian, dryly.
“Was that an actual joke?” asked Robin, widening her eyes dramatically. “Should I alert the papers?”
“You’re such a bitch sometimes,” said Brian, and Robin grinned.
“Why, thank you, Brian,” she said, pretending to take a bow as Freddie laughed and even Brian had to smile.
“So what was your plan anyway?” asked Brian. “Get Mary there and then what?”
“I was going to talk up Freddie and badmouth you,” said Robin, shamelessly.
“Of course you were,” said Brian, not surprised in the least. “You could have just come and talk to me, you know.”
“But where’s the fun in that?” asked Robin. “Never mind that now, though. Freddie and I have some exciting news.”
“Oh, I can’t wait for this one,” said Brian, sarcasm dripping from his tone.
Robin ignored him and grinned at Freddie, who smiled right back. “You are looking at brand new business partners,” she said.
Brian raised his eyebrows. “Brand new what now?” he asked.
“Business partners, Brian,” said Robin, like he was the idiot. “Freddie’s making the products and I am financing the venture.”
“We have a new stall in Kensington market,” explained Freddie, to a bewildered Brian. “Well, we will have one starting next month.”
“And you’re selling what exactly?” asked Brian, torn between impressed and concerned.
“Art work,” said Freddie, cheerfully.
“We need to make money somehow,” said Robin, as if that explained everything. “The gigs are doing well but they barely pay. If we want to be able to record albums or even travel out of London, we need cash.”
“Yes, I’m well aware,” said Brian. “Good luck with that, I suppose.”
“Thanks, Brian,” said Freddie, as Robin beamed. “You can come and visit us when we get things set up.”
“I’ll certainly do that,” deadpanned Brian, as he finished his tea and watched Robin and Freddie make elaborate plans for all the money they would be making from their new business. He didn’t have the heart to dissuade them, and even as rational as he was, he couldn’t help but get caught up in their dreaming as well. It would be nice if he didn’t have to worry about paying rent or buying groceries every time he broke a string or shorted out an amp.
“We could finally buy a van that doesn’t die every ten miles,” said Robin. “And I could get a new radiator for my car.”
“You have an unhealthy love for your car,” laughed Freddie.
“Fuck off, she and I have been through a lot together,” said Robin.
“I’m not sure I want to know,” teased Brian, and she stuck her tongue out at him.
“I never got the fuss over cars,” said Freddie, shaking his head dramatically. “They just get you one place to another.”
“Oh, you’ve opened a can of worms,” said Brian, as Robin launched into an impassioned speech about makes and models of cars, their internal structure, the history of cars, the history of racing, and even some traffic rules which she lambasted, all the while Freddie looked like he had stepped on a landmine while Brian just shook his head in amusement, having made the mistake of setting her off like this a few weeks ago.
Robin’s rant continued for the next two hours and until they had arrived in the music room of Imperial College’s campus where they met for practice. It wouldn’t have stopped at all but Brian took pity on Freddie and called for the practice to start. The mood Robin was in made her drum-playing all the more aggressive, and pretty soon, Tim decided to call it for the evening, knowing they wouldn’t be able to afford new drumsticks if she broke them.
“Remind me to never bring up cars in front of her again,” Freddie whispered to Brian, which made him grin.
“I would have warned you but it’s fun to watch when you’re not on the receiving end of it,” said Brian.
Freddie narrowed his eyes at him before laughing. “You are surprisingly vindictive, aren’t you, Brian?”
Brian only smiled and didn’t deign to reply. He had never thought of himself as a particularly vindictive person, but the longer he was around Robin and Freddie, he realised he kept discovering things about himself he’d never really known.
Mary showed up with some beers for all of them, so they settled in around their half-packed equipment and decided that drinks were in order. Brian noticed Freddie shooting surreptitious looks at Mary as she and Robin talked animatedly about something, until Brian nudged him to go and join the conversation.
“What’s all that about?” Tim asked Brian, when Freddie went and sat with the two women.
“Matchmaking,” answered Brian, shortly. “Where’s Steffie tonight?”
“Work,” he said, and checking his watch. “I should go and surprise her since we’re done here.”
“Go for it,” said Brian, knowing it was rare for any of them to have a night off. “Robin and I will pack up and I’ll take the van with me.”
Tim grinned at him gratefully and finished his beer. “Thanks, Bri,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”
Brian nodded and Tim called out a goodbye to the others before taking off. Brian went and joined the others, smiling when he realised Robin and Freddie were telling Mary all about the plans for their stall.
“Where did Tim go?” asked Robin, when she saw Brian.
“Went to pick up Steffie from work,” he said, and reached for another beer. “I said we’d pack up.”
“That was nice of you,” smiled Robin.
“You look like you’re in a better mood,” said Brian, pointedly.
“Freddie set me off,” she scowled.
“My mistake, won’t ever happen again,” said Freddie, backing away from her dramatically.
Mary giggled at their antics. “When’s your next gig?” she asked.
“In two days,” said Robin. “It’s here at Imperial College. You coming?”
“You should,” said Freddie, before Mary could answer.
“It’s also our last performance before we head home for the winter holidays,” reminded Brian.
She grinned at them and gave a nod. “I’d love to,” she said.
“Excellent,” said Robin, and held out her bottle. “Cheers to that.”
Brian, Freddie and Mary clinked their bottles with hers. The four of them drank for a while, talking casually about the upcoming holidays and their past gigs, when the door to the music room creaked open. Brian quickly got to his feet to fend off whoever it was, since they were technically not allowed alcohol in these rooms. Thankfully, it wasn’t one of the faculty, but a young man their age with long sandy brown hair, green eyes and gleaming white teeth.
“Can we help you?” asked Brian, but there was a small shriek of surprise from Robin and she barrelled past Brian a second later and jumped into the arms of the man, who picked her up and spun her around.
Brian blinked in shock and looked at Freddie and Mary, who both looked equally surprised.
“What are you doing here?” asked Robin, still held tightly in the stranger’s arms. “Did I miss a letter?”
“Not at all,” he said, his voice gentle. “I thought I’d come to London to see you before I go home for the holidays.”
Robin pulled away from the hug and beamed up at him. “It’s a wonderful surprise, darling,” she said, and to their surprise, she stood up on her tiptoes and kissed him. The man kissed her back, one hand wrapped around her waist and the other in her long blonde hair.
Brian glanced away quickly, his face going red at the display of affection. Robin and her gentleman friend seemed to have no qualms about the people in the room as they kissed, with tongues involved no less as he saw when he chanced a quick look before glancing away once again. When they finally broke away, Brian heard Robin giggle, a sound so light and lacking her usual mocking edge that it felt like someone had slipped an ice cube in his stomach.
“Robin, who’s your friend?” asked Mary, as she and Freddie walked up to them.
“Oh, right, sorry,” said Robin, a little pink in the cheeks. “Bri, Mary, Fred, this is Jack Stamper, my boyfriend. Jack, these are my friends. Mary, Freddie and Brian.”
“Hi,” said Jack, holding out his hand to Brian, since he was the closest.
“Hello,” said Brian, attempting a smile as he shook his hand. His gaze lingered on this Jack as he greeted Mary and Freddie politely, noting that he kept an arm wrapped around Robin’s shoulder the entire time.
“How did you even know I was here?” asked Robin, turning to Jack.
“I went to your flat first but Belinda said you’d be here at practice,” he said.
“I must say, this is the first we are hearing of a boyfriend,” said Freddie, with a pointed look at Robin.
She did have the decency to look abashed. “Jack lives in Glasgow,” she said, as if it explained everything.
“And how long have you been together?” asked Brian, realising he sounded quite accusing in his tone.
Robin gave him a puzzled look, but Jack answered before she could. “We’ve known each other our whole lives, pretty much,” he said. “We grew up in the same neighbourhood back home in Truro. University was the first time we’ve been apart since...since we were about eight, I suppose,” he added, and Robin nodded in confirmation.
“That long?” asked Brian, all but glaring at Robin.
“Sounds like a treasure trove of stories,” said Freddie, as Robin narrowed her eyes at Brian. “Let’s all head down to the pub and hear some of them.”
“Sounds wonderful, yes,” agreed Mary, nodding along to his suggestion.
Robin looked away from Brian and at Jack. “You up for it?” she asked.
“A drink and a chance to meet your friends?” he asked. “That’s why I’m here, love.”
She grinned at him. “Excellent, let’s go,” she said.
Brian wished he could put his finger on it, but for whatever reason, he had no idea why he was so unreasonably angry about learning Robin had a boyfriend. Far from being out of the blue, it made sense in a lot of ways. It explained why Robin never responded to advances made towards her by her numerous admirers, and why she was quick to turn people down and not lead them on. By all means, Robin having a boyfriend was nothing strange or unexpected.
And yet, Brian was furious for some reason. He sat nursing his one pint of beer, listening but not really contributing to the conversation around him. Freddie and Mary more than made up for his lack of socialisation as they asked Jack all about what he did (studying mechanical engineering in Glasgow), how long he and Robin had been dating (since their mid teens) and whether he’d be staying long enough to see Smile at their Imperial College gig (he was).
What irked Brian even more was that he seemed to be a perfectly pleasant fellow. He spoke in a gentle tone, seemed proud of his girlfriend and was genuinely trying to get to know Robin’s friends. Even if Brian was being a little grumpy, Jack still tried to engage him in conversation.
Around nine in the evening, Robin and Jack took their leave, as Robin said she wanted to get Jack settled in after his travel down to London. None of them missed the implications involved, and as the two left, Robin shot Brian a glare, letting him know his behaviour had definitely been noticed and definitely not been appreciated. Since she was leaving, Freddie agreed to help Brian pack up the band’s equipment from the music room.
“You need a hand?” asked Mary, though she was glancing nervously at her watch.
“No, we’ve got it,” said Brian, kindly, knowing she likely had somewhere else to be and was offering out of politeness. “Thanks anyway, Mary.”
She nodded with a small smile and then looked at Brian with a contemplative look on her face. “Can I have a quick word in private, Brian?” she asked.
Brian glanced at Freddie, who said something about getting a headstart and left the two of them alone. “Something wrong?” asked Brian.
“No,” said Mary. “I don’t mean to sound rude but do you fancy me, Brian?”
Brian blinked at her in shock. “Erm, Mary,” he said, awkwardly.
“It’s alright if you don’t,” she said, quickly. “We’ve been out a few times now and I kept thinking ‘one more date and I’ll feel the spark’, you know. But I haven’t and I doubt you have, either.”
Brian sighed and nodded, seeing no point of lying to her. “I’m sorry, Mary,” he said, sincerely.
“Oh, no, that’s fine,” she said, patting his arm. “I don’t wish to be stop being friends, though. I hope we can still have that.”
“Absolutely,” he agreed, at once.
She grinned at him and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Good to hear,” she said, and then raised her eyebrows.
“What?” he asked, confused.
“Nothing,” she said. “What did you think of Robin having a boyfriend?”
He scowled before he could help it, but Mary had seen his expression before he’d had a chance to correct it. She chuckled and patted his arm again. “Goodnight, Brian,” she said, and left before he had a chance to respond.
Brian shook his head, called out a goodnight and went back to the music room where Freddie was pacing anxiously.
“What happened?” asked Freddie, when Brian came in.
“Nothing, Mary and I just decided we’re better off as friends,” said Brian, and saw Freddie exhale in relief. “Let’s get this done, shall we?” he asked, not wanting to mention the other part of their conversation.
Freddie nodded and they began packing up the equipment carefully. “These are almost falling apart. Robin can be quite aggressive, can’t she?” said Freddie, picking up the drumsticks. “I pity the boyfriend, if you know what I mean.” He snickered, but Brian could only grimace. “Oh, Brian,” sighed Freddie.
“What?” asked Brian, annoyed.
“You’ve been pissy all evening is what,” said Freddie, bluntly. “Jack seems like a perfectly good bloke. A little tame, if you ask me, but knowing Robin, I’m sure they balance one another out.”
“It’s none of my business, really,” said Brian, glaring at his guitar like it had bitten him.
“We’re in agreement there,” said Freddie. “So, what’s eating you?”
Brian paused and glanced at Freddie. Despite his tone, Freddie looked genuinely concerned. “I’m not sure,” he admitted.
Freddie nodded slowly. “Do you fancy Robin?” he asked.
“No,” said Brian, without missing a beat. “It’s not like that.”
“I agree,” said Freddie. “You’ve never even blinked when she has people coming onto her at the pubs. If you fancied her, you’d be going green with envy every time. So, what is it that’s bothering you?”
“She didn’t tell me,” snapped Brian angrily, as the answer came rushing to him. “Three months we’ve known each other, three months where we’ve spent almost every day together, and no mention of a boyfriend. She knows my schedule inside out, knows about my family, my studies, hell, even my music collection. And she never mentioned a boyfriend!”
He panted with the effort of ranting and Freddie smiled at him sympathetically.
“I thought we were friends,” said Brian, slowly. He felt like a child saying it, but knew instinctively that Freddie wouldn’t be the one to mock him for something like this. “I thought she knew me enough to tell me something as important as that about herself.”
Freddie sighed and sat in silence for a few moments. “I haven’t known Robin as long as you,” he began, quietly. “But she doesn’t strike me as a person who likes to talk about herself a lot.” Brian shot him a look full of disbelief, and Freddie smiled. “Oh, she talks about herself a lot. About what she wants, how she wants things to be, what she wants to do, no doubt. But she doesn’t talk about herself. Not really.”
Brian frowned slowly as he realised what Freddie was trying to say. Come to think of it, he knew virtually nothing about Robin’s family. He knew her parents and little sister lived in Truro but nothing beyond it. He knew she studied dentistry but nothing about her classmates or friends from university. He knew she had played in bands before, but knew nothing about them.
“I don’t know her at all, do I?” murmured Brian, shocked.
“I think you know what she wants you to know,” said Freddie. “You mustn’t hold that against her, though.”
“Are you serious?” asked Brian, incredulously. “Am I supposed to be just fine with knowing she doesn’t trust me?”
“I doubt it’s that she doesn’t trust you,” said Freddie, shaking his head. “People like Robin, hell, people like me...we have to be careful about what we let people know about us.”
“I don’t understand,” said Brian, blankly.
Freddie snorted. “I know,” he said. “Brian, you’re a good white protestant English boy studying for a doctorate.”
“Yes, and?” he asked, still at a loss as to what he was implying.
“You ever been called a fag? Or a Paki?” asked Freddie, crossing his arms. “Or had someone look at your tits before they look at your face? Assumed you have no brain behind a pretty face?”
Brian stared at him in shock. “Oh,” he said, quietly.
“Yes, oh,” said Freddie, smiling a little. “People make assumptions about everyone, dear, and when you have something that’s easy for them to pick on, you tend to err on the side of caution and keep parts of yourself hidden.”
“But I don’t want her to feel like that around me,” protested Brian. “Not her and not you either, Fred.”
Freddie’s smile became more genuine. “That is very nice to know, Brian,” he said, sounding sincere. “I learned long ago that I was just going to be myself and let the world get used to me rather than the other way around. Robin’s the same way, I think. But it’s nice not to have to be that way around everyone. Sometimes, it’s nice to just be me and have it be enough.”
Brian nodded and the two shared a quiet smile together. “So, how do I tell Robin that?” he asked, finally.
“Oh, I have no clue, darling,” said Freddie, and Brian couldn’t help but laugh. “But if she’s anything like me, just be direct. She might just surprise you.”
On the morning of their gig at Imperial College, Brian swung by Robin’s flat in the van to pick her up for a rehearsal. She was waiting on the sidewalk with her bag slung over her shoulder, a cigarette dangling from her lips. Despite the cold day, her coat was unbuttoned, though she was bundled heavily in a thick scarf. When he pulled up, she raised an eyebrow at him but got in the van.
“Good morning,” he said. “Tim’s meeting us there.”
She nodded but didn’t say anything as she continued smoking. Usually he would have kicked up a fuss about smoking in the van, but he sensed she was quite mad about his pissy mood the other night, and he was determined to make amends since his talk with Freddie.
“How was your day yesterday?” he asked. “Did you and Jack get a chance to go to the pictures?”
She glared at him. “What’s with the mood swings, May?” she demanded, bluntly. “You spent the evening glaring at my boyfriend and I, and now you’re all Mr. Smiles?”
“We are Smile,” he pointed out, but when she didn’t look amused, he sighed. “I was an arse. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want a fucking apology,” she snapped. “I want to know what the fuck was going on. You have a crush or something?”
“No, god no,” he said, and she raised an eyebrow. “Nothing like that, I promise.”
“So what is it then?” she asked.
“I was mad you’d never said anything,” he said, honestly. “I thought, you know, as spare as you drive me most days, that we were friends.”
She sighed and shook her head. “That’s all?” she asked. “You thought I didn’t tell you about Jack because we aren’t good enough friends?”
“Yes,” he said, honestly. “But don’t worry, Fred talked to me. He said how I was not considering how you have to be careful about what kind of people you let get close to you, and I promise I will be more mindful of that…”
“Brian, hush for a moment,” she interrupted his rambling. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
In a contrite tone, he quickly explained his conversation with Freddie. He kept his eyes on the road as he drove and spoke, not daring to look at Robin until he was done. He had expected her to be, well, he wasn’t quite sure what he’d be expected, but when he heard a loud peal of laughter, he blinked at her in shock.
“You-you, oh my god,” she laughed, all but rolling in her seat with laughter.
“What?” he asked, his face going red from embarrassment. “Was he wrong?”
Robin just continued to laugh without answering, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes as they pulled up to their usual parking space.
“What the fuck is so funny?” he demanded, finally.
Robin paused, though she was still chuckling a little. “It’s so gentlemanly of you to be considerate of the burdens of womanhood on me, Brian May,” she said, giggling through her words.
“I hate you,” he said, though his lips started twitching despite himself.
“I know,” she said, and then to his surprise, she leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You’re a good person, Bri,” she spoke sincerely, without her usual mocking. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Jack. If you’d like, we could talk after the gig tonight.”
He blinked at her in surprise and smiled, feeling better for the first time Jack Stamper had come into his life. “Won’t you want to spend time with Jack tonight?” he asked.
“He’s leaving for Truro not long after the gig,” she said. “We’ll go back to yours and drown ourselves in alcohol and I’ll tell you what you want to know. That work for you, Mr. Considerate?”
He shot her a look of admonishment but nodded with a wide smile. “That works just fine.”
Their gig that night at Imperial College was their best by far. All three of them were in good form, the crowd was buzzed with anticipation for the holidays, and there was an air of celebration around them. People sang along, not just to the covers, but to their songs as well, filling all three of them with joy that was infectious and only made them play harder and better. When the final encore for the night was done, Brian felt a rush course through his entire body as he looked out at the cheering crowd. It was about fifty people, no more, but it might as well have been fifty thousand for how it made Brian feel. There was no feeling that would ever come close to this, he realised, nothing else that would make him feel like this. He looked at Robin and Tim and saw the awe reflected on their faces as well. They took their bows and walked off the stage to raucous cheering and applause, and as soon as they were backstage, the three of them hugged each other tightly.
It was a benefit of playing in an auditorium as opposed to a pub that it afforded them a moment to themselves, before their friends descended upon them. Steffie ran into Tim’s arms to congratulate him, and Brian saw Robin and Jack hugging one another.
“That was spectacular,” said Freddie, as he and Mary came over to Brian. “Truly amazing.”
Brian hugged him happily as Freddie clapped him on the back. “Thanks, Fred,” he said.
Mary had her own words of praise as she hugged him after Freddie had let go. “I have never seen you lot play a crowd this big,” she grinned. “It was wonderful to watch.”
“I am glad you had fun,” grinned Brian. He noticed a couple old friends from his undergrad days, including his and Tim’s friend Pete Edmunds who had helped set up for the gig that evening. He excused himself to go and say hello, and to thank Pete for doing a great job with the equipment.
Things were a blur after that, between accepting congratulations and thanking people for coming to the gig, and when he finally had a moment to himself, Brian slipped away to the loo to splash some water on his face. The quiet of the bathroom calmed him a little, and he basked in the moment, still able to hear the muted sounds of the crowd in the auditorium nearby.
The quiet of the moment was broken when the door opened and Brian was surprised when he saw Jack, who looked equally shocked to see him.
“‘Lo,” said Jack, finally.
“Hello,” said Brian, and realised that the man was unsure about how to behave around Brian, which immediately made him feel ashamed about his behaviour. “Have you got a moment?”
Jack stepped inside and cast a quick glance around at the bathroom that was empty except for the two of them and nodded.
Brian smiled politely. “I wanted to apologise for the other day,” he said. “I was a twat and I’m sorry.”
Jack chuckled. “I wasn’t sure what I’d done to offend you,” he said. “I asked Robin and she told me she’d tear you a new one the next time she saw you.”
“She did do that,” nodded Brian. “I consider Robin to be a good friend so when she never mentioned a boyfriend, I was rather offended.”
Jack gave a nod and seemed to struggle with something before sighing. “Robin’s lovely,” he said. “Loads of blokes fancy her.”
“I don’t fancy Robin,” said Brian, bluntly.
“I didn’t think you did,” said Jack, without missing a beat. “No, my point was, loads of blokes fancy Robin. Even now, I was on the receiving end of so many glares when they saw me with her. It was one thing when we were at school but now…” He stopped and gave a wry smile. “I’m used to it, is what I’m saying. I dunno if I should be.” He mumbled the last part and Brian just stared at him.
“Robin seems to like you quite a bit,” said Brian, cautiously. “I’ve never seen her happier.”
Jack smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Yeah,” he agreed, and then grinned brightly. “I should head out. A friend is driving me to Truro tonight.”
“Oh, I’ll let you go then,” said Brian. “I expect you’d want to say goodbye to Robin.”
“No, you could just tell her,” said Jack. “It was nice meeting you, Brian.”
Before Brian could stop him, Jack left. His mind whirling, Brian returned to the auditorium where the crowd had begun to thin. He saw Robin and Tim packing up the equipment with Pete and Freddie’s help, and they all waved him over when they saw him.
“Come and help, May,” laughed Tim. “We aren’t enough of rockstars to have roadies to do this.”
Brian chuckled and went over to help pack. He saw Robin and hesitated, before nudging her. “Er, Jack had to leave,” he said, in a low voice so the others wouldn’t hear.
She blinked and then gave a nod. “Oh, thanks for letting me know, Bri,” she said, and went right back to packing.
He raised his eyebrows but didn’t push the issue. Once they had the van loaded up, Freddie announced the afterparty would continue in the campus pub. Brian was not in the mood, but Robin agreed enthusiastically, so he decided he might as well go. He was going to take her up on the offer of an explanation, and he was curious about the slightly weird things he’d noticed about Robin’s relationship with Jack.
At Freddie and Robin’s insistence, they stayed out drinking until well past one in the morning, after which Steffie agreed to drive Freddie, Mary and Tim home in her car, and Pete drove a sloshed Brian and Robin back to Brian’s flat in the band’s van. Brian fell asleep as soon as he was in the van, and woke up when Pete called his name.
“You awake?” asked Pete.
“Yeah, I’m up,” said Brian, realising that Robin had fallen asleep next to him, still in her gig outfit of flared black pants and a shiny metallic top but was wearing her coat and scarf on top of it. Brian gently shook her shoulder and she blinked awake before smiling at him sleepily.
“You want Pete to take you home?” he asked, reluctantly.
“No,” she said. “I said we’d talk, so let’s talk.”
He nodded with a smile, and the two thanked Pete and said goodnight before going up to Brian’s flat. Once upstairs, Robin said she needed to change her clothes, so Brian let her use the bathroom to do it and changed into his own pyjamas and as an afterthought, poured them both cheap vodka into tea mugs.
She smiled when she emerged into her casual clothes, face free of makeup and hair in a ponytail. “You read my mind,” she said, picking up a mug of vodka for herself and taking a seat on the sofa.
“You did say we should drown ourselves in alcohol,” he said, sitting down next to her and holding up his mug.
She laughed and clinked her mug with his. “So, what do you want to know?” she asked, taking a sip and making a slight face.
“Honestly? You tell me,” he said. “He took off in a hurry but you don’t seem upset. Is everything alright?”
She shrugged and stared into her mug for a moment. “What did you think of him?” she asked, looking at him. “Be honest.”
Brian sighed. “He seems like a nice bloke,” he said, and then hesitated. “He did seem a bit...concerned about things, I suppose.”
“You don’t have to sidestep around this, Bri,” she said, taking a long sip of vodka. “I like Jack. He’s smart and funny and handsome. But he’s also a right selfish bastard.”
Brian blinked at her in shock. “Erm…” he paused and ran a hand through his hair nervously. “Right. Why is that?”
“Oh, please, you cannot be that naive, dear,” she said, looking a little amused despite the cynical smile on her face. “He didn’t just stop over in London on his way to Truro from Glasgow. He stopped by for a very specific reason and since he got that for the last two days, he was out of here as soon as possible.”
Brian felt his stomach sink as he understood what she was saying. “He was here for sex?” he asked, bluntly. At Robin’s nod, he scowled. “If you knew that, why didn’t you just punch him in the face as soon as he turned up?”
She giggled. “Oh, Bri, who said he was the only one that needed sex?” she asked.
Brian rolled his eyes even as his cheeks went a little pink. “Still, it’s not a very nice thing to do, is it?” he asked. “Have a girlfriend just for...just for that.” He didn’t say ‘fucking’ even if he knew Robin wasn’t the sort to be offended by it.
“Well, he does have a girlfriend whom he takes out on dates and does all that,” she informed him calmly.
Brian shook his head at her in shock. “Jesus Christ, Robin,” he said.
“What? He’s the two-timing bastard, not me,” she shrugged, as if that made it alright. “I pretend not to know he has a girlfriend, he pretends not to see how popular being a drummer makes me. It’s the ideal arrangement, so to speak.”
“Not sure he can pretend that well,” muttered Brian.
“What did he say?” asked Robin, sharply.
“Something about getting used to being glared at,” said Brian.
“Bastard,” hissed Robin. “He’s one to talk. But then again, he’s always been that way.”
“What do you mean?” asked Brian.
“I told you I have been in a band before, haven’t I?” she asked, finishing her vodka and reaching for the bottle. As she poured herself some more, Brian held out his mug as well.
“Yeah. What about it?” he asked, as she filled it up too.
“I was the only girl in the band back then, too, and it wasn’t long after Jack asked me out and we started dating,” she said. “At first, he was all thrilled about having the popular drummer girl as his girlfriend. Then, he realised other boys didn’t like him much because of it. Suddenly, it wasn’t fun to date me anymore but instead of doing the decent thing and breaking up, he wanted us to sneak around.”
“Why didn’t you just kick him to the curb if you didn’t like it?” he asked, curiously.
She sighed and drank in silence, not answering immediately. “He saw me through some tough times,” she confessed, after a while. “Dating in secret didn’t bother me so much, in fact, I preferred it.”
“What was the problem then?” he asked, making a mental note of the other thing.
“Apart from his utter lack of spine?” she asked, incredulously. “His refusal to admit he was jealous that I was succeeding. Most blokes don’t like it when their bird does better than them at something, and I suppose he’s one of those.”
“I thought he seemed happy for you,” said Brian.
“In front of all of you, he was,” she nodded. “Once we were alone, it was all about how I should keep my head screwed on straight and not lose myself in the band nonsense.”
“Bastard,” said Brian, before he could help it. “Why didn’t I see it?”
“Considering how long it’s taken me to see it, you can hardly be blamed for it,” she said.
“I thought you seemed happier around him, too,” mumbled Brian, wondering how he’d misinterpreted things to such extent.
“Well, I suppose I do revert to being a teenager around him,” she said, and Brian knew if she wasn’t as drunk as she was, she would never have said that so honestly. “He might be an insecure, two-timing prat but he’s not the worst person in the world. And honestly? Quite a decent shag.”
Brian nearly choked on his drink and had to cough as he snorted vodka up his nose. Robin laughed and thumped his back until he was fine once more.
“I don’t need to fucking know that,” he snapped, as she continued to laugh.
“Oh, darling Bri, you are so sweet sometimes,” she said, ruffling his hair like he was a small child.
As patronised as it made him feel, he only glared at her and didn’t jerk away from her touch. “And you are a right bitch all the time,” he said, though the effect was ruined by a smile. She laughed as if he had paid her the biggest compliment. He shook his head lightly to clear it and took her hand which had been in his hair. “Robin, you deserve better than someone like Jack,” he stated, bluntly.
“No one deserves anything, Bri,” she said, her eyes soft and far older than her age. “We get what we can and keep what we have. It’s the best to hope for.”
“You don’t believe that,” he said, confidently. “You wouldn’t be doing this if you truly believed that.”
“Doing what?” she asked, confused.
“The band, the music, fuck, even the stall at Kensington Market,” he said, holding her hand tightly. “You want more out of this. I know, because I’m the same way. So is Tim. And Freddie, for that matter.”
She pursed her lips but Brian knew he was right. He looked at her imploringly, and slowly, she sighed and nodded. “Yeah,” she admitted. “You’re right.”
“Of course I am,” said Brian, slowly releasing her hand. “And mark my words, once we make it big, you can have any bloke you choose and he will damn well have to treat you like a bloody queen. You deserve better than cowardly ol’ Jack.” Apparently the vodka was getting to him as well if he was sounding like that.
He couldn’t bear to take it back though when it made Robin laugh and nod. “He will have to be tall, of course, with a lot of hair on his head and loads of money, so I can buy all the cars and country homes I wish for,” she said, sticking her nose in the air and making her accent all posh.
Brian laughed and nodded, playing along. “Not to mention all the clothes and jewellery you want,” he said.
“Ah, yes, diamonds and more diamonds for me,” she said. “And all the designer stuff, right from Paris. Holidays around the world, sunbathing on beaches, skiing on slopes, sailing the oceans...oh, it sounds marvellous.”
He laughed and finished his second mug of vodka. “Sounds perfect for you,” he said.
“Oh, and what about you, Dr. May?” she asked.
“Not a doctor yet,” he said.
“Hush, this is the future,” she said, waving away his protest. “She will be beautiful, of course. Probably with a good arse, since that’s your type.”
“It is not!” he protested, and she gave him a disbelieving look. “Alright, maybe a little,” he admitted.
“Right, as I was saying, pretty with a good arse, and someone with a sense of humour since god knows you don’t have any,” she said, and he stuck his tongue out at her. “Huh, I don’t know a lot more about your type. You liked Mary, so maybe you like blondes. Yes, let’s say she will be a blonde.”
“So I get a beautiful blonde with a nice arse and a sense of humour?” he asked, amused. “Sounds alright by me.”
She grinned in agreement and closed her eyes, seemingly tired and drunk. He just let her relax, feeling his own eyelids start to droop.
“I should dump Jack, shouldn’t I?” she asked, quietly after a long silence and Brian blinked awake from his half-asleep state.
Robin was sitting cross-legged in front of him, her face serious with the minimal haze of drunkenness about her.
“If all he does is use you as a convenient shag, then yes,” said Brian, too drunk and tired to mince his words.
“Usually, I’d sock you one for telling me what to do, but this time, I agree,” she said, and grinned softly. “Here’s to chasing our dreams and leaving behind the inconvenient baggage.”
Brian fumbled for his empty mug and they clinked it together, before promptly passing out.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
“Brian, stop,” she said, firmly.
“Stop what?” he asked, mildly irritated.
“Stop doing that,” she said, sounding equally irritated. “Stop nudging me to talk and open up to you about my family’s bullshit.”
“That’s not what I was doing,” he snapped, though that had been exactly what he’d been doing.
Drug use in this chapter. It should go without saying, but don't do drugs and drive.
“Don’t fucking slow down,” shouted Robin. “It sounds like it is crawling on its hands and knees after being shot between the eyes.”
Brian would have chuckled at her words but he was also glaring at their new keyboard player who was throwing off their time. Chris Smith had eventually talked his way into letting him on as a temporary member of Smile, but the way things were going, Robin was going to kill him.
Tim immediately jumped in to diffuse the situation, but Robin threw her drumsticks and stalked off, shouting that she needed a break before she murdered all of them.
“Nutter, that one,” muttered Chris, as she slammed the door on her way out.
Brian shot him a glare and went after her. He found Robin in an empty corridor, lighting a cigarette. She glared at him when he approached, but he just leaned on the wall near her without a word.
“He’s incompetent,” she said, sharply, not even a moment later. It was something he liked about her; she always spoke her mind and didn’t like to keep things bottled up.
“He could be better,” agreed Brian.
“Oh, come the fuck on, Brian,” she said, taking an annoyed puff of her cigarette. “He can barely keep up, his attitude is the worst and his voice is grating when we sing together. I don’t need to waste my time playing with someone like that. I have better things to do.”
He let her rant, mostly because he agreed with every word she had said. Chris Smith was not a good fit for the band and it was showing. He decided to change the subject to calm her down.
“How’s the flatmate search going?” he asked.
She brightened a little, to his surprise. “Actually, it’s resolved,” she said. “I asked Freddie and he’s moving in next week.”
“Freddie’s going to live with you?” asked Brian, concerned. Men and women shacking up was not a massive deal these days, particularly for students, but usually the assumption was that the people involved were a couple. He was well aware that Robin and Freddie were as platonic as two people could be, but other people would assume differently.
“He lives with his family and he’s been wanting to move out for ages now, and I need a flatmate after Belinda left,” said Robin. “My landlady took issue with it at first but she’s come around, the judgmental old bat.”
“Are you sure about this, Robin?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes at him. “Not you too, Brian,” she grumbled. “You know Freddie and I are good friends.”
“I know that,” he insisted. “Just as long as you’re sure.”
“I am, and so is Freddie,” said Robin. “It also means I won’t have to move, and you’ll be only one street away when I need to raid your liquor cabinet.”
He snorted. “My liquor cabinet? Meaning the one kitchen cupboard with cheap vodka?” he asked, amused.
“The very same,” she grinned. “Mind you, the stall has started doing well, so I might be able to actually afford booze of my own too.”
Brian looked at her in confusion. He hadn’t heard what she and Freddie had done with the stall, apart from complaints that they weren’t selling any of the art work. She must have seen his confused look, because she grinned.
“We found this rug merchant who sold us a bunch of fur coats from an abandoned shipment,” she confided. “Fifty pounds for one hundred coats. We’ve been selling them for eight pounds a pop.”
“You’re ripping people off,” deadpanned Brian, reluctantly impressed despite his disapproval.
“It’s not our fault if people are stupid enough to pay for it,” she shrugged. “So we have expanded into other clothes. They sell a lot better than art.” She winked at him. “Let me know if you want a fur coat. I know a good deal.”
“I’m not paying eight pounds to wear a poor animal’s carcass on my body,” he said, disgusted.
“Suit yourself,” she shrugged. “They’re rather warm and fashionable. You should come by today. Fred and I will give you the grand tour, and you’ll get the friends and family discount.”
He rolled his eyes at her. “I’ll think about it,” he said, and noticed that she was almost done with her cigarette. “Ready to go back in?”
“Fuck no,” she scowled. “I am thinking of skipping out early. Want to come?”
“You can’t skip out,” he chided. “We’re playing Albert Hall in a week.”
Her mood lifted instantly and even Brian couldn’t help but grin as he said it. The opportunity had come out of the blue for them to play before the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Children at a charity event to be held in the Royal Albert Hall. It would be their biggest public performance yet, even though it was unlikely to be the usual crowd they would play to. Still, it was a perfect opportunity to get their name out, especially since they had been doing quite well on the university and pub scene since the new year.
“Fine,” agreed Robin, reluctantly. “But if Chris can’t keep his mouth shut and the time right, I am going to gut him with my stilettos.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he said, as they returned to the music room to resume practice.
Things didn’t improve though, as Chris failed to keep up, and when Brian noticed Robin eyeing her stilettos dangerously, he gestured at Tim to call the practice to a close. Robin waited long enough for their instruments to be packed into the van and then took off without another word to any of them.
Tim sighed and looked at Brian. “You have to calm her down,” he said.
“How is that my job?” asked Brian, slightly irritated.
“Well, she doesn’t listen to me and if Chris talks to her, I’m afraid she might actually kill him,” said Tim, and Chris rolled his eyes. “That leaves you.”
“You know she’s right this time,” said Brian, with a glance at Chris.
“Are you serious?” demanded Chris, incredulously.
“Robin keeps time when we play and she does it well,” said Brian, firmly. “You’re the one failing to keep up and when one of us lags behind, it throws off the entire rhythm and disturbs the pace. She is right to be upset.”
“I am on the keyboard,” said Chris, raising his voice. “If anything, I should be the one keeping time.”
Even Tim snorted at that one. “You can’t possibly be serious,” said Tim, shaking his head. “If anyone’s keeping time, it’s me or Robin. And since Robin does it well, there’s no need for me to do it. The girl’s like a human metronome.”
Chris rolled his eyes. “Look, I get that she’s talented but that doesn’t give her the right to throw a fit because everyone isn’t performing to her standards,” he argued.
“It’s not just her standards,” snapped Brian, losing his temper. “It’s all of our standards. If you can’t hack it, then you’re out.”
“Brian,” warned Tim.
“No, I’m done if he’s not even willing to acknowledge it when he’s in the wrong,” said Brian. “Either practice to the point where you can keep up, or you’re through. I’m leaving.” He tossed the van keys to Tim, who gave a nod, and glared at Chris, who looked stunned.
He hurried to the other side of the carpark and looked around for Robin’s beat up Mini, and he thankfully saw her. She was sitting in the driver’s seat with the window rolled down and smoking. When she noticed him, she raised an eyebrow and he approached her and got in the passenger side. The scent of the smoke made his eyebrows shoot up.
“If you’re going to judge, get out,” she said, calmly.
“No judgment from me,” he said. “I could use some too, as a matter of fact.”
She smiled and passed him the blunt. Brian disliked smoking on principle but he didn’t mind marijuana on occasion. He took a hit and closed his eyes in contentment.
“That’s quite nice,” he said, after a short while of them smoking in silence. He was pleasantly relaxed and the stress of the day was already fading away. Wherever Robin had found it, the stuff was rather good.
“Freddie got it from a bloke he knows,” she said, and he wondered if he’d said the last part out loud. “We try not to ask too much about our sources,” she chuckled, and Brian grinned at that. She checked the time and frowned. “I have to be in Kensington. You coming along?”
“Might as well,” he said. “I, er, might have told Chris to get his shit together or he’s out of the band.”
“Good for you,” she said, tossing the spent blunt outside. She started the car and smiled at Brian. “We don’t need dead fucking weight before we play Albert Hall.”
He nodded in agreement as she drove them to Kensington. He had been to Robin and Freddie’s stall a couple times when they had started but hadn’t had time to visit in the last couple weeks, and instead of various art pieces, it was now lined with racks of coats and scarves and boots of all kinds. It was like a trunk full of clothing had exploded all over the place.
“Aren’t those some of your clothes?” asked Brian, nodding towards a few jumpers and recognising the navy shirt he’d worn to their first gig as Smile.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m selling some of my older stuff. I can always buy more with the money we make here.”
He shook his head and waved at Freddie, who was with a customer. Freddie waved back before returning to help the customer with a suede jacket.
“Take a look around,” Robin told him. “If you like something, let me know.”
He nodded and wandered around the rack of clothes, occasionally smiling appreciatively at some of the pieces. Even though he abhorred the fur coats, he did have to admit they were quite nice. He noticed a coat hanger that had a bunch of necklaces dangling from it and realised they were like the ones both Robin and Freddie liked. He wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they had made them.
“Pretty, aren’t they?” asked Robin, and he jumped slightly, not having noticed her sidle up behind him. “Mary, Freddie and I got together over the weekend and made them.”
“Those two dating yet?” he asked.
“No,” she sighed, frustrated. “I keep finding opportunities for them to get together, though.”
He grinned and admired an elaborate necklace made with what looked like chainmail. “How much for this one?” he asked.
She looked at the piece he was holding up and shook her head. “Nah, I’ll make you one better than that,” she said. “I’m already working on something for both you and Tim for the Albert Hall gig.”
“Don’t go overboard,” he warned. “This kind of stuff is fine for our usual venues but the Albert Hall crowd will be posh.”
“I am well aware,” she said, rolling her eyes. A new customer entered the stall and she excused herself and went to greet him since Freddie was still busy.
Brian wandered over as Robin led the customer to the stacks of boots. The blond man with her looked vaguely familiar and as Brian looked closer, he realised that one of his eyes was a bright blue while the other appeared to be dark.
“You know him?” asked Freddie, going up to Brian after he’d finished ringing up his customer.
“He looks familiar,” said Brian. “You?”
“Don’t know him, but you’re right, he does look familiar,” said Freddie, frowning. “Let’s go introduce ourselves.”
“Why?” Brian began asking but Freddie had already sauntered over, leaving Brian with no choice but to follow.
“Hello,” grinned Freddie. “I’m Freddie, this is Brian.”
The young man looked at them and grinned. “David,” he said, giving them a small wave. “Nice stall.”
“Thank you,” said Freddie, with an incline of his head. “Are you famous, David?” he asked, bluntly.
David laughed. “A little, though not as much as I’d like to be,” he said. “I’m a musician.”
“Really?” asked Robin, with interest. “Are you in a band?”
“I used to be. Several of them, but these days my manager is all about promoting me as a solo artist,” he said.
Brian felt a spark of admiration and envy at the thought of having managers and such. It all sounded so official, and he wondered if they’d ever get to a point where that would become their reality as well. He glanced at Freddie and Robin and saw the same kind of hunger and envy reflected on their faces.
“We do music as well,” said Robin, ever the one to go charging in. “Brian and I are in a band together and Freddie has his own. Any advice?”
“You get any gigs?” asked David, with slight interest.
“We’re playing Albert Hall next week,” said Brian.
David looked impressed. “Your album must have done well,” he said.
“We haven’t done one yet,” said Brian.
His look turned to one of surprise. “How about a demo then?”
“Not done that either,” said Robin.
“Then that’s my advice,” he said. “Best way to get your name out. Find a recording company and make an album. If it sells or not is a whole different story, mind you.”
“Is that what you did?” asked Freddie.
“Yeah,” he said, and then dug around in his pockets before handing them a card. “I am recording an album with them at the moment.”
“Mercury Records?” asked Freddie, reading the card.
“Can’t promise they’ll take you on but they’re not bad,” shrugged David. “It’s my second album but the first one I’m doing with them. We only started earlier this month and the single is already recorded.”
“What’s it called?” asked Robin, with interest. “The single.”
“Space Oddity,” he grinned. “I wanted to name it Space Odyssey, you know, like Kubrick’s film since the song’s inspired by it, but I liked this one too.”
“It does sound fascinating,” said Freddie, and Brian nodded along enthusiastically. “When is it releasing?”
“No clue,” he shrugged. “That’s all up to the studios and the recording company execs. Out of my hands, so to speak.”
“Well, we’ll keep an eye out, regardless,” grinned Robin. “Shall we look at these boots then?”
“Right, yes,” laughed David.
While Robin fitted him up with a pair of boots, Freddie asked David all sorts of questions about getting a manager and about the recording process, which to his credit, David answered rather patiently. Brian didn’t say much but he listened to every word carefully, absorbing as much knowledge as he possibly could.
“You’re all done,” declared Robin. “How do they fit?”
David walked around a bit and gave a nod. “They fit well,” he nodded. “Think I’ll take them. How much do I owe you?”
Robin glanced at Freddie, who grinned as he turned to David. “Tell you what, you can have those for free on one condition,” he said.
David looked intrigued. “And what’s that?” he asked.
“When we have all made it, we write and release a song together,” said Freddie, with confidence only he was capable of.
Brian just shook his head in amusement but Robin nodded enthusiastically at Freddie’s words.
“Don’t you mean if?” asked David, though he was laughing.
“No, I mean when,” said Freddie.
“Fine,” grinned David. “When we all make it, we can make a song together. It’s a fair price for the boots, I reckon.”
“Agreed,” said Freddie, and held out his hand.
David shook it, and then Robin’s and even Brian’s hand. “I look forward to it,” he said. “Thanks for the boots.”
“You’re welcome,” said Robin, and David turned to leave. “Oh, hang on,” she called out and he paused. “Never got your full name.”
“David Jones, but honestly, I just go by David Bowie these days,” he said, and then waved goodbye to all of them, his mismatched eyes twinkling with amusement. “See you again someday, I hope.”
Brian rang the doorbell and tried to comb out the rain from his hair. April showers were as unpredictable as ever and no promise of May flowers was enough to make him happy about them. The door was opened by Freddie a moment later, and he grinned as he welcomed him in.
“Got caught in the rain, did you?” asked Freddie.
“Yeah, about fifty yards from your building,” grumbled Brian. He tossed his bag aside before taking off his coat and boots, and accepting the towel that Freddie offered him with a grateful smile. “Robin not home yet?”
“She’s in the bath,” said Freddie. “Tea or something stronger?”
“Definitely something stronger,” said Brian, and Freddie whistled a vaguely familiar song as he went into the kitchen.
The warm flat had become a common place for him to hang around ever since Freddie had moved in with Robin. Brian made himself comfortable on the squashy sofa and closed his eyes. It had been a busy couple of months.
They had eventually fired Chris Smith the day before their Albert Hall gig when he’d shown no improvement. Things were still sour on that front, but it wasn’t like they crossed paths often, so Brian wasn’t much bothered by it. Their gig at Albert Hall had gone well, and with David’s lead about Mercury Records, Smile had been signed on with their very first record label last month. Starting in June, they would be recording their first album, and Brian, Tim and Robin couldn’t have been more excited about the whole thing.
The exposure over the gig had also let them play at a few more established venues, including PJ’s (for which they’d had to admittedly embellish their reputations a bit) and last week, they had played at the Speakeasy. If the album went well, it would be used as promotional material for a tour of the US, so suffice it to say, Smile and its members were very enthusiastic about the whole thing.
“Here,” said Freddie, and Brian opened his eyes and accepted the mug he was offering. Judging by the smell of the clear liquid, it was vodka but it was appropriately chilled which Brian liked.
“Thanks, Fred,” said Brian. “You’re not having one?”
Freddie shook his head. “I have been drinking all morning,” he confessed. “Any more and I’ll vomit.”
“Did something happen?” asked Brian. Freddie liked a drink, they all did, but he wasn’t one to stay home and drink all day usually.
“The band broke up,” said Freddie.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Fred,” said Brian, sympathetically.
Freddie shrugged, though he looked upset. “Not like I didn’t see it coming,” he said.
“It still has to be a blow,” said Brian.
“Yeah,” nodded Freddie, and fished around in his pocket for a cigarette which he found and lit up before shaking his head. “Things seem to be finally looking up for you lot and I can’t even find a damn band to keep it together long enough to get anywhere.”
Brian said nothing, knowing there wasn’t a lot he could say that wouldn’t come across as condescending or insincere. Freddie’s band hadn’t been bad but they were clearly not as committed or interested as Freddie had been, and it showed in the handful of gigs they had done, a couple of which Brian and Robin had gone to see.
He was spared having to respond as Robin emerged out into the living room, smelling of fresh soap as she smiled at him in greeting before dropping into a seat next to Freddie. “You telling him about the band?” she asked. Freddie nodded and continued smoking. “You’ll find something better, love,” she told him, sincerely. “We’ll damn well make sure.”
“I’d better,” he said, and closed his eyes. “I graduate in July and I have got no bloody idea what to do next. I need a band, damn it.”
“Maybe try the old-fashioned way,” suggested Brian, drinking deeply from his mug of vodka. “Newspaper listings. University connections will only get you in front of student bands but if you cast a wider net, it might be better. Professional and semi-professional bands are always advertising auditions.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Robin, and Freddie nodded along. “Oh, speaking of university, I am switching mine.”
“You’re what now?” asked Brian, shocked.
“Switching,” she said, as if he were dim. “I hate dentistry. If I have to look at people’s rotting teeth for the rest of my life, I’ll stab myself through the neck.”
“What are you going to do instead?” asked Freddie, as Brian just gaped at her in shock.
“Biology,” she said. “Good old fashioned Bachelor of Science. I am applying to East London Polytechnic.”
“Won’t you have to start over?” asked Freddie.
“Nah, they said I can get advanced standing for the two years I did in the dentistry course,” she shrugged. “I’ll graduate by ‘71.”
“B-but you’re giving up studying at London Hospital Medical College,” said Brian, flabbergasted. “It’s one of the top universities in the damn country.”
“I am well aware, Brian,” said Robin, rolling her eyes. “Besides, it was a means to an end. I wanted to come to London and do music. Which I am doing, at the moment, in case you have forgotten. Dentistry wasn’t a passion of mine or something of the sort, Bri.”
He was still too shocked to respond. As much as he loved music and the band, he could never fully give up astrophysics. It seemed impossible for him to abandon his studies.
“What did your parents say to that?” he asked, knowing his family would have a fit if he ever did something like this.
“Haven’t told them,” shrugged Robin, carelessly.
“Robin,” sighed Brian, pinching the bridge of his nose. He looked at Freddie for help.
“Good for you,” said Freddie, and Brian wanted to scream with frustration. “Going after what you want. It’s why I like you, Rob.”
“Thank you, Fred,” she grinned, and looked at Brian. “Come on, Bri, it’s not like I’m abandoning my studies altogether. I’ll still get a degree and it should give me more time to focus on the band and on the stall. We are finally going places. We are about to record an album, for fuck’s sake.”
Despite his reservations, Brian slowly gave a nod. She did have a point. This album could be the start of Smile’s true success story, and making it a priority was not the worst decision she could make. Besides, like she had said, she would still be working to get a degree, just not the one she started with.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said, chugging down the rest of the vodka.
“Oh, Brian,” she chuckled. “I never have a bloody clue.”
“Ground control to Major Tom,” sang Robin, and Brian rolled his eyes. “Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…”
“Will you stop?” he demanded, annoyed. “You’ve been singing that since we left London.”
“What’s the matter?” she asked, taking her eyes off the road briefly to look at him. “I thought you liked the song.”
“I did, but not when you’ve been singing it for an hour,” he snapped. “And I can’t even fucking get up and leave since we’re in your damn car.”
She laughed. “You could have gone with John Harris and Pete in the van,” she pointed out, referring to their roadies who were driving with the equipment. “Or even with Tim and Steffie in her car.”
“Right, because being cramped in with the instruments or playing the gooseberry with Tim and Steffie was obviously the right choice,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ll take your incessant singing over that anyday.”
“Excellent,” she grinned, and before he could say another word to stop her, she had started singing the same song again.
Brian sighed and closed his eyes. Smile was about to play its first gig outside of the London area and the honour had gone to Truro, Robin’s home town, which was a four and a half hour drive from London. They would be performing at a local club in town that evening, and it was rumoured to be a good crowd, if only most would be showing up in support of the drummer.
“I wish Freddie could have come,” said Robin, after a lull in her latest rendition of Bowie’s Space Oddity which had become an overnight success since its release three days ago.
“Yeah,” agreed Brian, without opening his eyes. “Why didn’t he?” he asked, not having had the chance to speak to him or even Robin for a while being busy with the end of the academic year.
“He’s got job interviews lined up,” she said. “His father’s pulled some strings, so he can’t refuse.”
“Right,” mumbled Brian. Freddie had graduated two weeks ago but as his musical ventures hadn’t panned out since his band breaking up, he would need to take up a job to support himself. “What about the stall?”
“We’re still running it but Mary will be helping out since she and Freddie finally got their act together and are dating,” she said.
Brian chuckled, amused despite himself. After almost six months of dancing around each other, Freddie and Mary had finally gotten together with a lot of nudging from their friends and a healthy amount of vodka.
They drove in peaceful silence for a while, their minds preoccupied with errant thoughts. Brian let his eyes fall shut again as the motions of the car relaxed him.
“How did you do on your exams?” asked Robin, after a while.
“Fine,” he answered. He’d done exceptionally well, but he wasn’t in the mood to discuss it. “It’s already the end of July, huh?”
“Don’t start,” she warned.
He opened his eyes and looked at her. “I’m just saying,” he said. “We finished recording three weeks ago. Something should have happened by now.”
“Bowie recorded his single in February and it only came out three days ago,” she pointed out. “Our album will be released when it’s good and ready. Have a little faith, Bri.”
“I don’t operate on bloody faith and neither do you,” he pointed out.
“Fine, patience then,” she said, keeping her eyes on the road as she drove.
“You don’t operate on that either,” he said.
She scowled and rolled her eyes. “Quit whining, you’re driving me up the wall,” she said. “We recorded the bloody album and the mix sounds good. They’ll publish it, alright?”
Brian sighed but nodded. He was being impatient, he knew that. These things were supposed to take time, but it seemed like everything had stalled somewhat after they’d had a spectacular start to the year. They were still doing successful gigs on the pubs and university scene but things weren’t really moving past it. They’d also not had another opportunity to play a venue like Albert Hall. Frustration was starting to build between the members, whether they wanted to admit it or not.
He glanced at Robin and knew that despite her words, she was just as worried as him. The hands on the steering wheel had tightened and she’d pushed down the gas pedal a little more firmly than necessary, speeding up as they headed towards Truro. He sighed and decided to change the subject.
“You excited to be going home?” he asked.
She snorted without humour. “Sure,” she said, sounding anything but.
“You haven’t been home since last summer, have you?” he asked, knowing she’d stayed behind in London over winter break. “You must have missed your family, at least.”
She glanced at him and sighed. “Brian, stop,” she said, firmly.
“Stop what?” he asked, mildly irritated.
“Stop doing that,” she said, sounding equally irritated. “Stop nudging me to talk and open up to you about my family’s bullshit.”
“That’s not what I was doing,” he snapped, though that had been exactly what he’d been doing.
She glared at him in exasperation. “It’s not going to matter, alright?” she asked. “We’ll play the gig, and you lot are staying at an inn in town and driving back to London in the morning. You won’t have to see my family or deal with them, alright?”
“Did it possibly occur to you that I might want to meet your family?” he asked, shocked that she would even assume otherwise.
She looked at him blankly. “Why on Earth would you want to do that?” she asked.
“You met my family,” he pointed out. He’d introduced his parents to Robin and Tim after Albert Hall, and they’d loved both his bandmates immensely. His mother had even asked if he and Robin were dating, but Brian had put a stop to that line of meddling immediately.
“Yes, your family is lovely,” she said. “Mine is a mess.”
“How so?” he asked. He hadn’t forgotten her mentioning some tough times in the past that her twat of an ex-boyfriend had apparently helped her through, and the fact that she didn’t bring up her family often had him curious more than anything.
“It just is, alright?” she huffed. When he just kept looking at her, she rolled her eyes. “You’re such a busybody, May.”
“Yes, because you’re my friend and my bandmate,” he said. “I’m not going to apologise for wanting to know more about you.”
She growled in frustration. “Alright, fine!” she snapped. “I’ll introduce you to my mother and sister. They are both coming to the gig. But that’s it.”
Not wanting to antagonise her further, he nodded and didn’t push the topic. He would get to the bottom of it, but he had to be patient when it came to Robin. As much of an open book as she usually was, when she didn’t want to say or do something, she could be more stubborn than the best of them.
“God, this place is gorgeous,” said Tim.
Brian nodded in agreement as they waited outside their inn. Truro was indeed a thing of beauty, a picturesque landscape of Cornish countryside. “How was the drive up here?” asked Brian.
“It was fine,” smiled Tim, and checked the time. “We should get ready for the show. Do you have the address for the venue?”
“Don’t need it,” said Brian, and pointed two doors down the street. “That’s the club.”
“Huh,” said Tim, looking towards it speculatively. “Looks decent enough.”
“It’s a good place, that’s what Robin said anyway,” said Brian, as they headed into the inn and up the stairs to go to their rooms.
“Does Robin live nearby?” asked Tim, curiously.
“Yeah,” said Brian, not wanting to let on that he didn’t know much more than that. She had dropped him off at the inn before going home, promising to meet him and Tim at the club in time for the gig that evening.
Tim nodded and waved as he went to his room, the one he was sharing with Steffie. Their roadies were sharing a twin room and Brian had one just for himself. It was a cosy room with a double bed that was just a tad too short for his lanky frame. He sat down on the edge of the bed and took a deep breath. The people who had invited them for the gig had been the ones to pay for their stay in Truro so he didn’t want to be ungrateful about the whole thing. It was hardly the Ritz but it was nicer than most places in town.
Considering their long drive, there was only enough time for a quick bath and change of clothes, and a warm meal of soup and bacon sandwiches before Tim, Brian and Steffie walked two doors down to the club. They were welcomed in by the proprietor, an elderly gentleman named Ed Jones, who beamed at them before leading them to a small back area of the club where their instruments had been unloaded.
“I got my boys to help your roadies get them from your van,” said Ed. “Do you need assistance setting up?”
“No, thank you, sir,” said Brian, politely. “We’ll do that ourselves.”
“Oh, none of that ‘sir’ business here,” said Ed. “Ed will do just fine. Winnie’s a dear friend, and her girl is a point of pride for us here.”
“You know the family well?” asked Tim.
“Truro’s not that big of a place,” chuckled Ed. “I’ve known the family since they moved here. Must have been twelve years now. Rosie, how long have the Taylors lived in town?”
“Thirteen years, just about,” answered an older woman who had been fetching a crate of wine bottles from the back room. “Michael and Winnie came with their two little girls, I remember well.”
“Yes, decent family,” nodded Ed.
“The womenfolk anyway,” added Rosie pointedly, before leaving the room.
Ed sighed and shook his head. “I’ll let you get set up,” he said. “I have to check up on the preparations.”
He left before any of them could ask him anything further. “What do you think they meant?” asked Tim, in a low voice.
“Is there something wrong with Robin’s father?” asked Steffie, concerned.
“Let’s not get bogged down by town gossip,” said Brian, firmly. “We came to do a job, so let’s do it well so we don’t embarrass Robin in her own hometown.”
Tim and Steffie looked a little startled at his words before nodding. John Harris and Pete began setting up the equipment on the stage outside, John acting as the unofficial sound engineer which he’d been doing for their gigs as of late. Leaving them to it, Brian pursed his lips and contemplated Ed and Rosie’s words. He felt a tug on the back of his shirt and whipped around to see a grinning Robin.
“Evening,” she said. “What’s got your face like that, sour puss?”
He rolled his eyes. “When did you get here?”
“Just now,” she said. “My mum insisted I go and thank Ed and Rosie for inviting us.”
“Your mum’s here?” he asked, interested. He glanced around and noticed that Tim and Steffie had stopped as well, looking at them curiously.
“Yeah,” said Robin, and looked at the door. “Mum!”
A woman entered a moment later, with greying brown hair and dressed neatly in a tweed skirt and blouse, thick glasses perched on her nose. She smiled at all of them with a warm look on her face.
“You must be the band Robin’s been telling me about,” she said. “Winifred Taylor, lovely to meet you.” She offered her hand to Tim, who was nearest to the door.
“Tim Staffell,” he smiled. “This is Stephanie Brigham, my girlfriend. It’s very nice to meet you, Mrs. Taylor.”
“Oh, call me Winnie, dear,” she smiled, as she shook hands with Tim and Steffie before noticing Brian. “That would make you Brian May, I suppose.”
“Er, yes,” he said, smiling awkwardly as he shook her hand. Winifred’s voice was a lot like Robin’s but apart from the general shape of her face and physique, none of her features matched Robin. “It’s nice to meet you, Winnie.”
“Lovely to meet all of you as well,” beamed Winifred. “Robin’s letters always mention you all so I am thrilled you could come visit. Everyone’s been looking forward to hearing you play, especially since they heard about Albert Hall.”
“I hope we won’t disappoint,” said Tim.
“Nonsense, I know you won’t,” said Winifred, firmly. “Do you need any help in here, dears?”
“No, we’ve got it handled,” said Robin. “Just make sure everything’s set up outside with the snacks and whatnot, Mum.”
Winifred nodded and smiled at all of them before taking her leave.
“She’s lovely,” said Steffie.
“Thank you,” said Robin, looking a little embarrassed despite the little pleased smile on her face. “Let’s go to soundcheck, shall we?”
They nodded and got to work, testing out the sound on the little stage in the club. They noticed people arriving as they were doing that, a few of whom would occasionally call out to Robin to inquire about how she had been doing or ask her to introduce the band. She seemed to be a popular figure, despite no longer living in Truro, but Brian wasn’t surprised. What did surprise him was seeing Jack Stamper in the audience, though he didn’t attempt to speak to Robin, and she just acted like he wasn’t there.
Brian was testing out his amp when he felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up to see a teen aged girl holding up a glass for him.
“Mum said to bring you this,” she said, and Brian realised she had the same voice and blonde hair like her sister.
“You must be Clare,” he guessed, accepting the glass with a smile.
She grinned at him, looking remarkably similar to her sister, though he could tell she resembled Winnie a lot more. “Yes,” she said. “You’re Brian, aren’t you? The photos at Albert Hall didn’t do justice to your hair.”
He chuckled and ran a hand through his curls consciously. “I think the humidity makes it puff out more,” he said.
“No, it’s nice,” she said, looking like she was afraid she’d been rude.
“Thank you,” he said, placatingly and took a sip from the glass noting that it was orange juice.
She smiled at him and went to give Tim the other glass in her hand, leaving Brian to marvel at how different she seemed from her sister. He approached Robin who was making sure her drums were tuned right and grinned.
“Met your sister,” he said.
Robin nodded without stopping what she was doing. “She’s had a crush on you since seeing the Albert Hall photos,” she informed him calmly.
Brian choked on the sip of orange juice he had taken. “What?” he coughed.
She grinned at him. “What’s so shocking?” she asked.
“It’s-that’s your sister,” he said, lowering his voice. “How old is she?”
“Sixteen,” said Robin. “Don’t get me wrong. If you make a pass at her, I’ll castrate you with my cymbals. It’s just a silly crush, Bri. You should be used to girls having those on you occasionally.”
He rolled his eyes in annoyance and drank some more orange juice. He glanced at Clare, who flushed when she realised he had caught her staring at him and quickly disappeared into the crowd. “Er, your father won’t be coming to the show?” asked Brian, turning back to Robin and watching for her reaction carefully.
She paused what she was doing and for a brief moment, her knuckles went white as she tightened them over the drumsticks. “No,” she said, her voice seemingly unchanged as her grip relaxed. “Don’t you have to check your amp?”
Not wanting to upset her further before a show, Brian made a graceful exit. He did have a better picture now, though. Robin’s mother and sister seemed nice, and appeared well-liked within the town. Her father, on the other hand, seemed to be a sore subject.
“Good evening, everyone,” said Tim, getting people’s attention. “I’m Tim Staffell, this is our guitarist, Brian May, and you all already know Robin Taylor who is on the drums.” There was cheering at that, and Tim grinned. “Thank you for inviting us to your beautiful town. We are Smile, and let’s get started, shall we?”
He glanced at Brian and Robin, and with a nod, the three of them began playing. It didn’t end up being one of their best, performance-wise, but they did have a rather enthusiastic and responsive crowd. After the performance, Ed had a couple of his employees help pack up the equipment with the roadies while the band was left free to mingle with the crowd. Robin led them around, introducing them to her old band, most of whom were still living in Truro, working at their family’s business or still figuring out their lives.
Brian heard a few old biddies whispering about how improper modern girls were as they watched Robin flit around like a social butterfly and how she should have stayed with Jack Stamper, since the boy would have treated her right. The narrow mindedness infuriated him to no end but it wasn’t like he hadn’t expected it. Living in London sometimes put them in a bit of a culture vacuum and he tended to forget that parts of the country still held onto backwards thoughts. Fortunately, Winifred didn’t seem to be one of them, and was quite proudly showing off her daughter who could play the drums and was taking London by storm, as far as the town was concerned.
The crowd began clearing out at about ten in the evening, and Winifred thanked Tim and Brian once more before bidding them goodnight.
“I’ll come and see you off in the morning,” Robin told them, since she was staying an extra day in Truro.
Flushed from a pretty good gig, Brian said goodnight to the others and went to his room at the inn. Another bath followed, and he was halfway through dressing for bed when there was a knock at his door. Pausing in confusion, he padded over to the door and opened it. To his shock, it was Robin, still in the clothes from the gig, eyes rimmed red.
“Come in,” he said, ushering her in quickly.
She nodded gratefully and walked in, setting down a small bag by the door. Brian closed and locked the door, and finished putting his shirt on as he looked at her in concern.
Robin sat down on the edge of his bed and sighed deeply. “Do you mind if I stay awhile?” she asked.
“Not at all,” he shrugged.
She nodded again and toed off her platform sandals before easing back further on the bed and lying down flat on her back. Brian raised an eyebrow but before he could ask, she pointed at the bag.
“There’s whiskey in there,” she said. “The good kind.”
He went over to it and opened the bag. Sure enough, there was a bottle of whiskey with the seal still on and a red ribbon tied in a bow around the neck. He brought it over and sat down next to where she was laying, leaning against the headboard.
“You alright?” he asked, knowing she was anything but.
“No,” she said, closing her eyes.
Brian reached down and brushed some of her hair off her forehead before he even realised what he was doing. Robin opened her eyes in surprise and then smiled slowly as she sat up next to him, leaning against the headboard as well.
“You know, I was actually planning on doing something nice,” she said. “Not come here with my problems.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, confused.
She rolled her eyes lightly. “Isn’t it your birthday, you dolt?” she asked.
Brian blinked and chuckled as he glanced down at the whiskey which was clearly a gift. “I didn’t think you remembered,” he said. “We spent all day together, nearly five hours alone in your car but you didn’t mention anything.”
“I had this whole idea of surprising you right before midnight,” she said, shaking her head. “You know, since most people like to be the first person to wish someone a happy birthday, I was going to be the last person to wish you that. Sounds stupid now.”
“It doesn’t,” he said, unable to help his smile at the uncharacteristically adorable action. He didn’t like making a big deal of his birthdays these days, since his parents always liked to have extensive celebrations on his birthdays growing up. Tim and the others had wished him at some point during the day but since Robin hadn’t, he’d just assumed she’d forgotten and let it go. “Thank you,” he said, sincerely. “This is probably the nicest thing that will be going in my liquor cabinet,” he added, holding up the bottle of whiskey.
“You’re welcome,” she said, but her smile was a little strained.
“In fact, I know just how to celebrate my birthday,” he said, removing the seal on the bottle. “Let’s drink, and you can tell me what happened.”
She gave him a look but then chuckled. “Alright, Brian May,” she said, her voice a little hoarse as if she had been shouting. “You get this one chance. Ask me whatever you want to know about my family and I will answer honestly. However,” she added, taking the open bottle that he offered her and drinking down a large swig. “Promise to never bring it up again, alright?”
“Alright,” he agreed and took a sip from the whiskey bottle as she passed it back to him. “What happened tonight?”
“My father,” she said. “He felt the need to inform me what he thought of my choices, even though we have been perfectly content not to speak for the last two years.”
“Why haven’t you spoken?” he asked.
She tapped her fingers against the bottle for a few moments before answering. “He likes a drink, my father,” she said, in a quiet tone. “While most people get drunk and have a good time, my father prefers to get angry.”
Brian felt a chill up his spine. “Does he hurt you?” he asked, quietly.
She chuckled bitterly. “Yeah, he liked to knock us around,” she said. “Only Mum and I at first, then Clare as she got older too. The whole reason we moved to Truro was he nearly put Mum in the hospital once and we had to leave town in a hurry.”
He hissed under his breath. It was unthinkable to him; to raise a hand to anyone, let alone one’s wife and young daughters.
“Once we moved here, he didn’t raise his hand as much, mostly because Mum has cousins in town, but still liked to shout and scream a lot,” she continued. “Usually he just drinks until he passes out and we stay out of his way in the meantime.” She smiled sardonically at Brian. “I would hang around with the band or with Jack at his father’s car repair shop and only return home after six when I was sure he’d be passed out. Mum would take Clare to my Aunt Patty’s house, so it was just him in his misery. Perfect arrangement, really, as far as family goes.” She took a few long swigs from the bottle of whiskey, eyes full of tears.
Brian gently pried the bottle out of her hands and set it aside on the bedside table. “I’m sorry, love,” he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her into half a hug. “I am really sorry.”
“Stop it,” she said, pushing him lightly but he still held on. “I don’t need you to pity me.”
“I don’t pity you,” he said, honestly and she paused in her struggling. “I’m furious on your behalf. Nobody should have to go through something like this. Especially at the hands of someone who is supposed to be the one who cares for you and protects you.”
“I don’t need protecting,” she mumbled into his chest and he chuckled as he held her closer, wrapping both his arms around her.
“Of course you don’t,” he said, and smiled when her arms slowly wrapped around his waist. He lifted one hand to stroke the back of her head like his mother would do to comfort him when he was younger.
She hummed lightly and he felt her start to relax in his arms. “I meant it, you know,” she said, after a while.
“What’s that, love?” he asked, still stroking her hair.
“This is your one and only chance to ask whatever you want,” she said. “You’ve caught me in a moment of weakness and it only happens once in a blue moon. If you want to take advantage of my vulnerability, now’s the time to do it.”
He chuckled, wondering if she knew what that sounded like. “How about you just get some damn sleep?” he said, instead. “You drove all the way from London today and played a gig, and dealt with family. You’ve earned severals days of rest, as far as I’m concerned.”
She was quiet for a moment and he wondered if she had fallen asleep when she spoke. “I don’t want to go home tonight,” she said. “He’s still awake and I can’t deal with it right now. I’m too exhausted to shout back.”
“Fine,” said Brian. “Stay here.” She finally pulled away and looked at him in shock. “What? You’ve stayed over at my flat before and I know I have passed out on your living room floor a few times these past months. This won’t be any different.”
He didn’t want to point out that there was nowhere else to sleep in the room, except for the bed, and they’d never shared a bed before, even in the most platonic sense.
“I promise not to take advantage of you in your sleep,” he added, with a small smile. “Even if it is my birthday.”
She laughed, loudly and joyfully enough to lift his mood instantly. “Oh, you wish you had the balls to jump me in my sleep, May,” she said, pulling away completely and getting out of bed. “I’m going to use the bath,” she added to his inquisitive look. “Thankfully, I brought a change of clothes.”
She grabbed her bag and went into the bathroom. Brian had a moment to wonder if she’d already decided to stay the night if she had thought to bring a change of clothes. Strangely enough, he didn’t care. As far as he was concerned, Robin was extraordinary, being smart and accomplished despite a rough start at life. She wasn’t one to whine and complain about things; quite the opposite, really, as she rushed headlong into life and what she wanted from it. Brian’s admiration for Robin as a person was only growing, though he would still never admit it and by now he knew her well enough that she wouldn’t appreciate him expressing that sentiment either.
Their friendship existed on a sense of mutual trust that was better left unaddressed, or rather, it didn’t need to be addressed. Brian was perfectly content with the relationship he had with Robin, knowing she trusted him enough to come to him in her vulnerable moments and knew he could tell her his worst fears and she’d be able to talk him out of a hole. With plenty of mocking, mind you, but it never failed to work.
Brian sighed and took a few sips of the whiskey as he got ready for bed, arranging a wall of pillows between the two sides of the bed to make things less weird. Despite them being comfortable around each other, the thought of sharing a bed with a girl who was his friend made him feel just a bit embarrassed and out of sorts, and he knew it was better to err on the side of caution.
Robin emerged from the bathroom in fleece pyjamas and raised an eyebrow at the border he’d created on the bed. He raised an eyebrow back, daring her to address it.
“Fine,” she said, and got in on one side, leaving the other one open for him.
Brian turned on the two bedside lamps and switched off the main light in the room before getting into bed. He and Robin laid down facing one another over the line of pillows, and smiled a little sheepishly.
“The moon landing’s tomorrow,” said Brian, knowing they were both a little too wired to sleep right away.
“Yeah,” she said. “You want to stay and watch it together? My mother’s hosting a little viewing party at our house for her cousins. A bunch of Clare’s friends are coming over as well.”
“Would it be alright if I came?” he asked.
“I’d like it if you did,” she said, quietly and then chuckled. “I think my mother would like it if you did as well. Just like your mother, she asked me if you and I were going out.”
He went a little pink, and was thankful she wouldn’t notice it in the dim light. “You knew about that?” he asked.
“She wasn’t exactly subtle,” laughed Robin. “I thought it was sweet, though it was hilarious watching you fend her off.”
“Glad you had fun,” he said, dryly. “Will your father be there tomorrow?”
“Unlikely,” she said. “He makes himself scarce when my mother has family over. Even if he is there, I’ll be refreshed enough to put him in his place if he tries something.”
Brian sighed and gave a nod. “Better get a good night’s sleep then,” he said.
She smiled at him and closed her eyes. “Good night, Brian,” she said.
“Good night, Robin.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
“Queen, then?” asked Freddie, grinning widely.
“Queen,” nodded Robin.
“Excellent,” said Freddie. “Brian?”
He chuckled and held up his arms in surrender. “Queen, it is.”
The end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Humpy Bong?” asked Brian, incredulously.
“Humpy Bong,” nodded Tim.
Brian looked at Robin who was gaping at Tim. “Humpy Bong?” she repeated. “Are you joking?”
“Smile isn’t going anywhere,” said Tim, harshly. “It’s been a year of just college gigs and pubs. We recorded a bloody album last June and it wasn’t even released. Then they asked us to record even more songs in September but that went nowhere either. I can’t keep doing this anymore. I am surprised the two of you can.”
Robin just shook her head at him, as Brian pursed his lips. “Don’t do it, Tim,” he said.
“I’m sorry, alright,” said Tim, gathering his things. “I have to give this a go.” He tossed them the keys to the van and left with a parting wave.
“Humpy fucking Bong,” said Robin, shock evident in her tone still. “We got dumped for Humpy fucking Bong.”
Still in disbelief, they opened the back of the van and sat down. Robin lit a cigarette while Brian was shaking his head, lost in thought. The unfortunate part was that Tim wasn’t wrong. Smile had been going nowhere. It had been over a year since their Albert Hall performance and nothing had changed. They were playing sold out gigs, but fifty to a hundred people in the college and pub scene wasn’t much in hindsight. It was completely removed from the glamour of rock and roll fame they had envisioned at the beginning of their journey as Smile.
“Maybe he’s right, you know,” said Brian, after a while. “Maybe it’s time to call it quits.”
Robin huffed but didn’t argue his words. The months had been frustrating. Working so hard on the album but not having it release was a blow like no other. None of them had any proper knowledge or experience in dealing with studio execs and now, it didn’t matter. Tim had left for greener pastures, and without a lead singer or bass player, Brian wasn’t sure what he and Robin were supposed to do.
“There you are,” came Freddie’s voice and they both looked up with dejected expressions. “What’s with those faces?”
“Tim dumped us for Humpy Bong,” said Robin, sulkily.
Freddie stared at them. “Tim’s out?” he asked.
“Yep,” said Brian and sighed.
“Well, isn’t it just a night for breakups,” sighed Freddie, as he sat down between Robin and Brian.
Brian looked at him in confusion. “You and Mary-?” he asked, incredulously.
“Oh, heavens no, darling,” said Freddie, at once. “No, Sour Milk Sea broke up.”
“What the fuck?” asked Robin, looking outraged. “After everything we did to get you be the lead singer?”
Brian couldn’t help but chuckle as he remembered. Following their advice, Freddie had started auditioning as a vocalist for some bands in the area. A few had been successful but none had lasted until Sour Milk Sea had come along. To make it a sure thing, Robin and Freddie had worked to glam Freddie up with various pieces from their stall and Robin had acted as his assistant/chauffeur when they’d turned up to the audition. Suffice it to say, Freddie had the job before he even sang a single note. Things had seemed to be going well for the band, and Freddie had even moved in with the guitarist Chris Dummett since Robin had found a bedsit for herself after their lease had come to an end.
“Jeremy kicked up a fuss over the Oxford performance,” said Freddie.
“Oxford performance? The one at the Randolph?” asked Brian. “That was a brilliant evening.”
“Yes, but apparently, it focused too much on the lead vocalist and not enough on the band,” said Freddie, rolling his eyes.
“You were the highlight of the evening,” said Robin, and Brian nodded along. “If you hadn’t kept the crowd engaged, it would have been a snooze. What a prick!”
“Then he had the gall to suggest that since Chris and I were rooming together it would mean we would side against him so he broke up the band,” said Freddie. “And he owns all the equipment so he’s taken the toys and left.”
“Childish moron,” said Robin, rolling her eyes. “What is with the worst fucking luck for bands? Brian, you study the stars. Is some planet fucking us over in retrograde?”
“I don’t even know how to answer that,” said Brian, shaking his head at her.
“You know what we should do,” said Freddie, looking at the two of them.
“Get shitfaced?” suggested Brian.
“I’m in,” said Robin, tossing her cigarette aside and stomping on it. “Let’s lock up the van, go back inside the pub and drink until we fucking black out.”
“Well, yes, we should do that, but more importantly, we should do it,” said Freddie.
“Do what, Fred?” asked Brian, as Robin locked the van.
“Smile just lost a lead singer, didn’t they?” said Freddie. “You’ve got another one.” When they just looked at him blankly, he rolled his eyes. “I mean me.”
“You want to join Smile?” asked Brian, as Robin just gaped at him.
“Why not?” asked Freddie. “I have seen enough of your shows to know the songs. You’ve seen me sing enough to know I am excellent at it. All we need is a bass player, and voila! A new and improved Smile.”
Brian exchanged a long glance with Robin. “Fred,” began Brian. “I don’t know about this.” He held up a hand before Freddie could protest. “I’m not sure I even want to continue with Smile. We were getting nowhere. Tim wasn’t wrong about that part.”
“But you didn’t have me, darling,” said Freddie. “Tim was a good singer, but I am far better. With the kind of music you two can play, the three of us will be much better than you ever were with Tim.”
Brian sighed, blown away as always at Freddie’s confidence and arrogance. He looked at Robin for back up, and found her frowning deeply. “Robin?” prompted Brian.
Robin looked at him and then at Freddie before shaking her head. “What the hell, let’s do it,” she said.
“Robin!” said Brian, shocked while Freddie let out a cheer and hugged her.
Robin chuckled as she hugged Freddie before turning back to Brian. “Come on, Brian, what the fuck have we got to lose?” she asked. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But I don’t want to give this up just because Tim quit on us. Do you?”
Brian pursed his lips and considered her words. Two years ago, hell even a year ago, he wouldn’t have hesitated at all. But time was running out for them. His Ph.D. studies would have to start next year, and Robin would be graduating with her degree next summer as well. They were running out of time. If they wanted to do music, they had no time to lose.
“Alright,” he said, and both Freddie and Robin grinned at him. “Let’s do it.”
“You know, I’ve never been to Cornwall,” said Freddie, peering out at the countryside with a look of fascination.
“This is only my second time,” said Brian, leaning against the car next to him.
“I am glad you two are having fun bonding over your delightful experiences,” snapped Robin, looking around the open bonnet of her car at them. She hissed as steam billowed out of it. “Damn it all, it’s the fucking radiator.”
“Neither of us knows what that means, darling,” said Freddie.
“I thought you said the car was overheating,” said Brian.
She rolled her eyes at them. “It is overheating, geniuses,” she said. “But there can be several reasons for that, and we got dealt with the worst one.”
“The radiator?” asked Brian.
“Yes, the damn radiator is leaking,” she said.
“How far away are we from Truro?” asked Freddie, curiously.
“Less than half an hour,” said Robin. “We can let the car cool off and make our way slowly into town but it will have to be fixed up before we go back to London, unless we want to pile into the van with John Harris and Neil,” she added, referring to their current roadies who would have reached Truro by now with the equipment in Neil’s van.
“How much is that going to cost?” asked Brian, with a worried expression.
“Depends on what kind of a mood Ron Stamper is in,” she said, wiping an arm across her brow. “Jack’s father,” she clarified when they looked confused. “He’s a mechanic.”
“Can’t you fix it yourself?” asked Freddie.
“I can but we need a new one,” she said, and then frowned. “Or I could do a patch job.”
“How long will that hold?” asked Brian. She just shrugged, and he sighed. “Might as well. We can’t afford anything better at the moment.”
“We will, soon enough,” said Freddie. “Cheer up, darlings. It’s going to be our very first performance as the new and improved Smile.” He made a slight face. “We need a better name.”
“Better name for what?” asked Robin absently, as she frowned at the engine.
“You want to change the band’s name, Fred?” asked Brian.
“Well, Smile isn’t really us, is it?” asked Freddie. “Smile was you two and Tim. We need something new for the three of us.”
“What have you got in mind?” asked Brian, with interest.
“Haven’t got a clue, but I’ll think of something by the time we return to London,” said Freddie, cheerfully.
“Ed, Rosie, thank you for inviting us again,” said Brian, as he shook their hands.
“No problem, dear,” smiled Rosie. “You were all so well liked when you came here last year, so when Winnie mentioned you had a new singer, we absolutely had to invite you back for the festival.” Her smile became a little fixed as she glanced at Freddie who was busy discussing something with Robin, with plenty of grand hand gestures and laughter. “He is certainly...noticeable.”
Brian fought to keep his smile polite, knowing he couldn’t be outright rude to their hosts. “He is an excellent frontman,” he said, instead.
“Don’t doubt that,” snorted Ed as Winnie shushed him, and Brian had to literally bite his tongue.
“We’ll just go set up,” said Brian, scowling only after he was sure the couple couldn’t see his face.
“Judgmental Joneses get you down, young Brian?” asked Robin, when he approached.
“They were much nicer the last time around,” he said.
“I doubt this town has seen anything as outrageous as me, darling,” said Freddie. “No offence, Rob,” he added to Robin.
“Oh, no, I’ll happily pass along that crown to you, dear,” she said.
“I do like the idea of a crown,” grinned Freddie, and they all laughed. Freddie got a contemplative look on his face, but Brian didn’t have the chance to ask him what that was about.
Unlike the last time, they weren’t just playing a club but were invited as part of a lineup for the local music festival. Theirs was one among seven bands performing that evening, and they’d been given a twenty minute time slot for the performance at Truro’s City Hall.
The four bands that played before them were decent, nothing extraordinary. When it came to their turn, they walked out to mild applause and cheer. The crowd was bigger than the last time around but there was a lot more muttering when they noticed Freddie.
“Hello, everyone,” said Brian. “Thank you for having us back in Truro. We have a new face this time around. Our new lead singer, Freddie Bulsara.”
“Who’s the Paki?” came a shout from the crowd.
Before Brian could think to retort, Robin spoke up. “Was that you Mitch Broome?” she demanded, looking at the young man who’d said it. “Using that kind of language when you were wetting the bed until turning twelve?”
There was some laughter as Mitch went red and shut his mouth. Robin gave a satisfied nod and glared out at the crowd before grinning at Freddie.
“Ready, Freddie?” she asked.
He nodded at her with a soft smile. “Good evening, all you beautiful people,” he greeted, turning back to the audience. “Let’s do this.”
Brian had an odd sense of deja vu when there was a knock on his door after he’d already returned to his room at the inn. The fact that it was the same room as last year didn’t help the feeling but when he opened the door, he found Freddie instead of Robin.
“Hiya, Freddie,” said Brian. “Everything alright?”
“Yeah, I can’t sleep so I thought I’d come chat for a while,” said Freddie, walking in and making himself at home.
“Oh, sure, come on in,” said Brian, sarcastically as he closed the door. “Apparently I’m never supposed to be alone in this room.”
“You got the better room,” said Freddie, glancing around.
“Sorry,” said Brian, but Freddie waved it away.
“Not your fault, dear,” he said, sitting cross-legged on the bed. “Got a deck of cards or something?”
“No,” said Brian, sitting down next to him. “Would be nice to have something on hand, right?”
“Mmm,” nodded Freddie. “Cards or Scrabble, at least.”
Brian chuckled, nodding in agreement. “It was a good gig,” he said.
“The lack of bass player is noticeable though,” said Freddie, with a frown.
“Yeah, I know,” sighed Brian. “We really should hold auditions soon.”
Freddie nodded but then looked at Brian speculatively. “What did you mean by that?” he asked. “When you said you were never supposed to be alone in this room?”
Brian went pink, not having planned on him realising he’d slipped up. Freddie pounced on the opportunity and zeroed in on Brian upon sensing weakness. With a sigh, Brian decided to go with a half-truth.
“The last time we were here, Robin and I drank in this room for a while,” he said.
Freddie nodded, a small smile playing at his lips. “Did she spend the night?” he asked.
“She slept here, yes,” he said. When Freddie only continued to stare, Brian rolled his eyes. “For fuck’s sake, Freddie, I have never shagged Robin. She would punch you in the nuts for suggesting otherwise.”
“True,” he agreed. “You want my advice? Don’t shag her.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” said Brian, though he was curious just the same why he would say that.
“I’d hate to have to find a new band if you two broke up,” said Freddie, explaining himself immediately.
“Why would we break up?” asked Brian, and then hastily corrected himself. “Not that we would ever date.”
Freddie chuckled and shrugged. “Got any alcohol around?” he asked.
Brian opened his mouth to say no but there was another knock at the door. Frowning at Freddie, Brian went to answer it and saw Robin.
“Good evening, boys,” she said, stepping into the room. “I tried your room first, Freddie, but I guess you were already here.”
“Is that alcohol?” asked Freddie, nodding at a bag in her hand.
“Yeah,” she said, pulling out a bottle of wine and a half empty bottle of vodka. “Let’s get fucked up.”
Brian closed and locked the door with a sigh but couldn’t help smiling as he joined them on the bed, the three of them giggling like children at a sleepover. Robin let them know she had patched up the radiator so her car would be functional, though they would have to think of alternatives in the future.
“We’ll make money, trust me,” said Freddie, after two gulps of vodka in him. “I do have a good idea, though.”
“This should be fun,” said Brian, knowing Freddie’s ideas could sometimes get out of hand.
“I have picked out a stage name,” he said.
“What’s wrong with Freddie?” asked Robin.
“Oh, no, that’s fine,” he said. “But I need a last name. Something that’s my stage persona, you know.”
“So, Freddie Bulsara in private,” said Robin. “And as a stage name, Freddie-?”
“Mercury,” he said, with a smile. “Freddie Mercury.”
“Interesting choice,” said Brian. “Why Mercury?”
“It’s from a song I’m writing,” he said. “I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t ask anything more about it.”
“Freddie Mercury,” repeated Robin. “I kind of like it.”
“So do I,” nodded Brian, and Freddie beamed at them.
“You can start introducing me as that for our next gig,” said Freddie, and they grinned and toasted the promise.
“Did you hear Genesis found a new drummer?” asked Brian after a while, knowing Robin had been invited specifically to audition which she had declined in favour of staying with Smile.
“Hadn’t heard,” she shrugged. “Who got it?”
“Some bloke called Collins,” said Brian. “Paul, I think. No, hang on, Phil. Phil Collins.”
“Good for him,” she said, unbothered.
“Really? You don’t regret sticking around with Smile?” asked Brian, the alcohol loosening his tongue a little.
She gave him an annoyed look. “I’m not going to abandon Smile for greener pastures like Tim,” she said. “And it’s not in my nature to regret things. I made a choice when I chose not to audition with Genesis and I’m sticking to it. That’s that. Smile all the way.”
“Oh, speaking of which, I also have this,” said Freddie. He dug around in his jeans pocket and threw down a cocktail napkin with scribbling on it. Brian peered at it, noticing it was a single word done up in fancy calligraphy.
“Queen?” asked Brian, confused.
“Queen,” nodded Freddie. “That’s what we should be called. Not Smile. Queen.”
Brian stared at him before looking at Robin who seemed equally shocked. “Are you joking?” she asked.
“Not at all,” said Freddie. “It’s the perfect name for us.”
“Queen?” repeated Brian, certain that he was taking the piss. “Freddie, you cannot be serious.”
“As a heart attack, dear,” said Freddie.
“No,” said Robin. “We’re absolutely not going to be called Queen.”
“I agree with her,” said Brian.
“Why not?” asked Freddie, all righteous indignation.
“You know why,” said Brian, taking a long sip from the wine bottle. “We’re a rock band, not a-”
“Not a musical theatre group?” asked Freddie, raising his eyebrows.
“That’s not what I meant,” sighed Brian. “We need to appeal to people. Not just the people who will listen to our music but recording studios and people in suits who make all the decisions. They need to know we mean this as something relevant, not just a joke.”
“How is being royalty a joke?” asked Freddie.
Brian turned to Robin. “Some help here,” he prompted.
“I have no issues with royalty,” she said. “But the group with the one girl being called Queen is stupid and I don’t want it.”
“That’s your problem with it?” asked Brian.
“Yes,” she said, like it was obvious. “Come on, you aren’t oblivious. Every gig we do, I get the ‘she’s a good drummer, for a girl’. Every single one. If I want people to take me seriously as a drummer and a rock star, I can’t have them fixating on the girl thing. Which is exactly what will happen if we call ourselves Queen.”
“Alright, fair point,” conceded Brian, and turned to Freddie. “It’s just too ambiguous. It leaves a lot to interpretation.”
“I think it’s perfect for that very reason,” he said. “It will keep people wondering. Look at us, darling. None of us would have met or become friends if it hadn’t been for our music. The same music that will connect us to people we would otherwise never be able to reach.” His eyes were shining earnestly as he looked between Brian and Robin. “Queen belongs to the people. We will belong to the people, whoever they might be, for whatever reason they may choose to follow us.” He grinned and Brian couldn’t help the bit of awe that rose in his chest at Freddie’s words. “Didn’t Robin say it best? What have we got to lose?”
“Absolutely nothing,” grinned Brian. He looked at Robin, and saw a fond smile on her face as she gazed at Freddie.
“Queen, then?” asked Freddie, grinning widely.
“Queen,” nodded Robin.
“Excellent,” said Freddie. “Brian?”
He chuckled and held up his arms in surrender. “Queen, it is.”
John Deacon made his way over to the table in the corner and set down the three pints he’d been carrying.
“Where have you been?” asked Oscar, his friend. “You were gone nearly twenty minutes.”
“Apparently the bartender only pays attention to you if you’re a pretty girl,” said John, rolling his eyes.
“Huh,” said Oscar. “We should send Nat to get the next round.”
Natalie, Oscar’s girlfriend, rolled her eyes and took her pint with a smile at John. “Thank you, John,” she said.
“Don’t mention it,” said John, and looked at the front of the pub before checking his watch. The group was due to start in ten minutes and despite himself, John was a little intrigued.
“What’s the group called again?” asked Oscar.
“Queen,” said Natalie, at once. “I saw them at Imperial College in July. It was their first performance.”
“Are they any good?” asked John.
“They’re excellent,” she said. “I have never seen anyone perform like that before. Their frontman is gorgeous.”
“Oi,” said Oscar, and she patted his shoulder placatingly. “And what kind of a name is Queen anyway?”
“No one knows,” said Natalie, as enthusiastic as John had ever seen her. “It’s a secret.”
Oscar just rolled his eyes. “I heard two of them were from that band Smile,” he said.
“Yeah, the guitarist and the drummer,” said Natalie. “We saw them here last year,” she explained to John, when he gave them an inquisitive look.
“They weren’t bad,” said Oscar. “The drummer was fi-” he trailed off at a raised eyebrow from Natalie and smiled sheepishly.
“Something wrong with the drummer?” asked John, confused.
“She’s a girl,” said Natalie.
John nodded. Girls in bands weren’t common but not a rarity either, especially in student bands. “Perhaps that’s why the band is called Queen,” he said.
“Yeah, maybe,” said Natalie, and brightened up. “That’s them, look.”
John glanced over with interest, seeing an eclectic group of four walk onto the little stage area. The one immediately noticeable was the lead singer apparently, the one Natalie had described as gorgeous. Dark haired with dark skin, he was wearing an embroidered top which looked like it had come from his mother’s wardrobe.
The second person John noticed was the drummer, with her long blonde hair and a very pretty face, who was wearing ordinary jeans and long-sleeved top with a fur coat on, that had its sleeves cut off. It should have looked ridiculous but made her look glamorous.
The guitarist had wildly curly hair and was also wearing an embroidered top though not as ostentatious as the one worn by the lead singer. They made a rather noticeable trio and John felt a moment of sympathy for the poor bass player who looked rather ordinary after that bunch of people.
“Huh, they have a new bass player,” said Natalie. “That’s not the bloke who played with them when I saw them last.”
John thought it didn’t bode well for them if they’d had to switch members only three months in. He knew from experience that frequent turnover in band members already spelled their fate. Perhaps Queen was already as doomed as John’s previous bands.
“Good evening, all you lovely people,” greeted the lead singer smoothly, dark eyes gleaming as he glanced around at the crowd. “We are Queen, and tonight, let’s start with something dirty, shall we? This song is called ‘Great King Rat’.”
The opening riff of the guitar made John sit up. As the drums jumped in followed by the lead singer’s voice, John’s eyebrows climbed up higher. They were not bad. The singer was prancing around with a tambourine, keeping perfect time with the drummer, while the guitarist played with an established sense of his tone, including an exceptionally confident solo.
It really was a pity about the bass player, who was trying desperately to keep up but was just the tiniest bit off on his time. An ordinary ear would have missed it but John picked it up and of course the drummer knew, since she was glaring venomously at the bass player as she played her drums without even having to look at her kit. John didn’t blame her. He’d be furious too, if his partner in the rhythm section was the one to mess up the time. It was one thing if it were the vocalist or the guitarist, but they seemed to keep up just fine. To his slight amusement, he noticed the guitarist shooting placating looks at the drummer to calm her down but she was too furious to notice. The song ended with a powerful drum solo, and once she had hit the final beat, she said something angrily to the bass player, who went red.
John would have dearly loved to hear what she said but with the applause that followed as well as the fact that the lead singer immediately drew the audience’s attention to himself, only a couple people noticed the altercation. That included Oscar, apparently.
“Why’s she so pissy?” he asked John.
“The bass player got his time wrong,” he mentioned, shortly. When Oscar only looked confused, John shook his head in lieu of a lesson on rhythm and keeping time. Oscar wasn’t a musician and it would take too long to explain.
The next few songs were played well, but the bass player was still having trouble. Either he would be off his time, or on the rare occasions that he managed to catch up, he would try and overpower the drums, throwing off the rhythm once again. It made the whole rhythm section sound like a mess, and John wasn’t the only one starting to notice that. The vocals made up for it, particularly when everyone except the bass player harmonised, but the damage had been done. The bass player had successfully sabotaged the performance, and judging by how angrily the drummer stomped off after the final encore, John felt a smidgen of sympathy for the poor bass player who would likely be murdered by an enraged drummer that evening.
“That wasn’t bad,” said Natalie, and Oscar nodded in agreement. “Not as good as their first performance but better than most bands, don’t you reckon?”
“If you say so,” said John, and finished his drink. “I should get home.”
“So soon?” asked Oscar, surprised. “We’re going to go see them when they come back out. Don’t you want to come?”
John Deacon cast a quick glance at Queen and shrugged. “Perhaps some other time.”
“Completely fucking incompetent,” grumbled Robin. “What number was he? Seven?”
“Six,” corrected Brian, with a deep sigh.
“I’m starting to think it’s cursed,” said Freddie, shuddering dramatically. “Should we call in a priest for an exorcism?”
“Or, you know, we could find a bass player that doesn’t make us want to kill him,” said Robin.
“I think you mean doesn’t make you want to kill him,” said Freddie.
“Oh, please, you and Brian get plenty angry with incompetent bass players, it’s not just me,” snapped Robin.
“What about the bloke that Damien was telling us about?” asked Brian, before they could start arguing. “Friend of his sister’s boyfriend or something?”
“Oh, that’s right,” said Freddie, lighting a cigarette. “Belisha Beacon.”
“What?” asked Brian, thinking about the globe lamps on crossings.
“That’s just what Fred’s been calling him,” chuckled Robin. “Deacon is his name, isn’t it?”
“John Deacon,” said Freddie. “Goes to Chelsea College. He’s young but apparently Damien swears by his skills.”
“Damien is also tone deaf, so I’d take that with a grain of salt,” said Robin.
“Good point,” said Brian. The three of them sighed in unison, and Brian shook his head and stood up. “Fuck it! It’s worth a shot. I’m going to call Damien and have him introduce us to the Beacon fellow.”
“Deacon,” corrected Robin.
“Right, Deacon,” said Brian. “Let’s go meet this John Deacon.”
“What kind of a club is this?” asked Robin, with a slightly disgusted look on her face.
Brian didn’t blame her. “Disco,” he said. She shot him an annoyed look and he held up his hands. “I didn’t pick the place,” he defended. “Damien did.”
Robin made a face as the two of them walked further into the club. The music wasn’t to either of their tastes, though the people on the dance floor seemed to be having a good time. “Dear god, I need a lot of alcohol,” she said, grabbing Brian’s arm and pulling him right to the bar. “Two vodka tonics. Make them a double, please,” she told the bartender.
“How did Freddie manage to get out of this one?” asked Brian, the disco music making him frown.
“He’s meeting Mary’s father for dinner,” said Robin. “Cough up your half.”
Brian handed over the money and once they had their drinks, they went off to look for Damien. Well, Brian did the looking while Robin was eyeing the dance floor speculatively.
“You want to join in, do you?” asked Brian, amused when she rolled her eyes at him. “I’ve seen you dance to disco music before.”
“I like dancing to any music, especially when I’m drunk,” she said. “But you couldn’t pay me to make dance music. Especially not disco. Fucking synthesisers and all that nonsense. Good old fashioned rock and roll is where it’s at.”
He inclined his head in agreement before spotting Damien at the other side of the club. “Come on, found him,” he said, taking her arm so they wouldn’t lose one another in the crowd. The place was surprisingly full, even for a Thursday night.
Damien Wilkes raised his hand in greeting when he saw them approach. “Hiya, Brian, Robin,” he said, shaking their hands. “Come sit.”
He indicated a small booth that was empty except for Damien, and Brian gestured for Robin to go ahead, and slid in after her as they sat on one side together, opposite Damien.
“How have you been?” asked Brian, politely.
“Good, yeah,” nodded Damien. “John’s just getting the drinks, but I see you two got yours already.”
“Had to, considering where we are,” said Robin, and Brian hid his smile in the glass of vodka tonic.
“Yeah, John picked the place,” said Damien, sheepishly. “He likes it here.”
“He does know we are a rock band, right?” asked Robin.
“I do, as a matter of fact,” came a quiet voice, and they looked up at the young man who had approached their table. He set down four pints of lager (that he’d somehow managed to carry) on the table before sitting down next to Damien. “John Deacon,” he said, offering his hand to Brian.
Brian shook his hand, followed by Robin. “I’m Brian May, this is Robin Taylor,” he said.
“I know,” he said, with a small smile that made his eyes crinkle. “I saw you last October when you came to Chelsea College.”
Brian raised an eyebrow, remembering the disastrous performance, following which they’d fired their second bass player for the band. “Sorry you had to see that,” he said.
“No, it’s good you saw that one,” said Robin. “You know what not to do as a bass player.”
Brian shot her a look to be polite, but John chuckled at her words. “He did make your rhythm section a mess, yes,” he said. “It wasn’t noticeable at first, but it became obvious the longer it went on.”
“You noticed when it first happened?” asked Robin, raising her eyebrows.
“Oh, his time was off from the first song,” said John. “Just a fraction too late to keep up with you.”
Brian blinked in surprise. It wasn’t an easy thing to notice, and he began paying more attention to this John Deacon. He was indeed young, only about nineteen, with long brown hair and a very quiet way of speaking.
Robin smiled and looked at Brian, who gave a nod. “How long have you played bass?” she asked, turning back to John, finishing her vodka tonic and reaching for one of the pints of lager.
“A few years now,” he said. “The band I was in didn’t have a good bass player so I switched from playing rhythm guitar.”
“Seems to be a theme,” muttered Robin, low enough for only Brian to hear.
“What do you play at the moment?” asked Brian.
“A Rickenbacker 4001, though I started with an Eko,” he answered. “I heard you built your own guitar.”
“Yes, the Red Special,” nodded Brian, with a small smile. “Ever thought of playing with a Fender Precision?”
“No, but I could give it a go if I somehow get my hands on one,” he said.
Brian hummed in agreement. “You should come to one of our rehearsals,” he said. “We could hear you play and you’d get to meet Freddie as well. That’s our lead singer,” he added.
“Yes, I remember him,” nodded John. “So you want me to audition?”
“Is that a problem?” asked Brian.
“No, I was just expecting a lot more questions,” he said.
“We’ve learned it’s easier to cut to the chase,” said Robin, lighting a cigarette. “You’ll be the seventh bass player we try out. We’ve got the routine down, trust me.”
John nodded and then drank half of his pint of lager in one go easily. “Well, I certainly hope this is the last time you’ll have to do this,” he said, looking at both of them.
Robin chuckled and turned to Brian. “I like him,” she said, without bothering to lower her voice. “He’s modest even when he’s bragging.”
Brian rolled his eyes at her but gave a nod to John before passing him a notebook. “Come on by at Imperial College this Saturday afternoon then. This has some of our songs in it, so pick a couple that you think you can play well,” he said. “Around 2?”
John finished the rest of his drink and accepted the notebook. “I’ll be there,” he said.
“...you are mine, I possess you. I belong to you forever, and then aaaaaaa,” said Freddie, verbalising the last part and not singing it.
“And that’s when you want us to harmonise?” asked Robin.
“Yes,” he said.
“Alright,” she agreed. “Sing it again and I’ll join in.”
He grinned at her and cleared his throat. “You are mine, I possess you. I belong to you forever,” their voices melded in harmony but Freddie frowned. “No,” he said. “Maybe the forever should be longer.”
“How about adding ‘and ever’,” suggested Robin, taking the piece of paper with the lyrics and writing it down. She sang it with the new lyrics and he nodded.
“Better but not quite,” he said. “Brian?”
Brian, who had only half been paying attention as he poked at his amp which was being a nuisance and cutting out at odd times, looked at them. “What?” he asked.
“Never mind,” said Freddie, turning back to Robin. He hummed and muttered the lyrics a few times back and forth, trying out different versions.
“We could just echo the ‘ever’ from forever,” said Robin, listening to him.
“And harmonise with that, yes!” said Freddie, excited. He sang it aloud, pointing at her and she joined in at her cue, the two of them beaming at each other when it worked. “Brian, get in here. We need the low tones.”
“Fucking piece of absolute rubbish,” he cursed, kicking his amp.
“Yeah, that’ll fix it, Bri,” said Robin, dryly.
He glared at her. “It’s either kicking it or paying money we don’t have to get it fixed,” he snapped.
The door to the music room opened and a familiar face peered through the gap. Robin grinned and stood up.
“Afternoon, John,” she greeted. “Come on in. We’re just watching Brian destroy his amp.”
John Deacon walked in with a shy smile, though he cast a concerned look at the amp by Brian’s feet. “What seems to be the problem?” he asked.
“It keeps cutting out,” said Brian, frustrated.
John set his guitar case aside. “I could take a look at it,” he said. “It’s an AC30, isn’t it? I know my way around those.”
“Right, Damien said you did electrical engineering,” nodded Brian. “Go ahead.” He glanced at Freddie, who was shooting him a look to make introductions and cleared his throat. “Oh, John, this is Freddie Bulsara, our lead singer. Freddie, this is John Deacon.”
John smiled at Freddie and shook his hand when Freddie offered. “Hello,” he said.
“Hello, though I am Freddie Mercury when I’m on stage,” said Freddie, with a small smile. “You know how to fix amps as well as play bass?”
“I don’t know if I can fix it yet,” said John as he pushed the sleeves of his t-shirt back. “Got any tools?”
Robin passed him her set of tools. “Anything in here that can help?” she asked.
He glanced at it and shrugged. “Not ideal but I can make it work,” he said and then proceeded to go completely quiet and start taking the amp apart.
After watching him in silence for a minute or so, Freddie gestured at Brian and Robin to step off to the side with him.
“It’s like he’s forgotten the rest of the world exists around him,” whispered Freddie, as they watched John work.
“He seems to know what he’s doing,” said Robin. “Even if he is absolute rubbish at playing bass, we could at least take our equipment to him to get it fixed.”
“He’s younger than I pictured,” said Freddie.
“He doesn’t say much, but he is rather sharp tongued when needed,” said Robin.
“Let’s not discuss him like an exhibit until we’ve heard him play,” hissed Brian, reproachfully.
“You’re no fun, Brian,” said Robin, as Freddie nodded.
He scowled at them, but before he could retort, John turned to them and cleared his throat.
“Er, do you mind seeing if it works now?” he asked.
Brian nodded and went over to get his guitar. Sure enough, when he plugged it in, the sound came out smoothly, without the interruptions. He looked at John in delight, who smiled back widely. “Amazing,” said Brian.
“Well done, Deaky,” said Robin, as she came over and clapped John on the shoulder.
“Deaky?” he asked, confused.
“It’s better than the nickname Freddie came up with,” said Robin.
“Belisha is a perfectly good nickname,” defended Freddie. “But I like Deaky, as well,” he added, with a smile at John.
“Don’t ask about the Belisha thing,” said Brian, when John looked even more confused. “Thank you for doing this, John, really.”
He shrugged, slightly abashed at all the attention. “It’s nothing. I’m glad I could help,” he said. “Er, shall I play the bass now?”
They all laughed and nodded, and everyone gathered their instruments.
“Do you sing, Deaky?” asked Freddie.
“Not really,” he said.
“That’s alright,” said Brian, kindly. “What songs did you prepare?”
John picked up the notebook Brian had given him a few days ago and handed it back sheepishly. “All of them,” he said. “Well, all of them that were in the notebook.”
Brian looked impressed, an expression reflected by Robin and Freddie.
“Well then, let’s start with something easy, shall we?” said Robin. “How about ‘Liar’?”
Freddie stifled a chuckle as Brian shook his head at Robin. “How is throwing him in the deep end easy?” asked Brian.
“Why not?” asked Robin, playing the starting notes. “Should be fun.”
“Stop it,” snapped Brian, but John spoke up quietly.
“That’s alright,” he said. “I can do it.”
Robin shot Brian a smug look before winking at John. “From the top then?” she asked.
He met her gaze and nodded. Robin started again with the short drum solo that was the start of ‘Liar’, and Brian shook his head before glancing at John as he launched into the guitar part. John was quiet during the drum solo but at his cue, he hit it right on time, joining in with the bass in the instrumental section at the beginning of the song. Brian kept his eyes on John’s playing, occasionally glancing at Robin who was eyeing John as if waiting for him to make a mistake. As they finished the starting instrumentals and waited for Freddie to start singing, Brian saw a small smile on Robin’s face before she looked at Freddie.
Freddie shot her a grin as he began singing, perfectly in tune. Brian couldn’t help but smile as he heard it before he turned his attention back to the rhythm section. John was facing Robin, the two making eye contact frequently as they played, their beats absolutely hitting right on time. When he got a little too absorbed in watching them and messed up his own time, they both turned and frowned at him in unison. Quickly shooting them an apologetic look, he corrected it, ignoring Freddie’s giggle.
When the next instrumental section came up, John turned towards Brian, glancing back occasionally at Robin when needed, but making sure the two guitars were playing well with one another. He started to relax as John kept up with him well, his eyes darting between Brian and Robin as he played. At every hit on the chorus of ‘Liar’ John looked at Brian, and at the pause in between they would both look at Robin, the three of them keeping up in absolute sync, leaving Freddie’s vocals to wash over them, as he weaved around the little stage area.
‘Liar’ had been Freddie’s song and he’d dearly wanted a bass solo in the middle, which he and Brian had written together, though they didn’t perform it at gigs since none of their bass players had really managed to play it well during rehearsals. The solo had been in the notebook he’d given John, and as they got to the ‘all day long’ part, Freddie sang it standing next to John, playfully holding out the microphone to him as well, though of course, John didn’t sing. He did give Freddie a rather amused smile, and a small giggle actually slipped through and John quickly shot apologetic looks, but Robin just laughed and even Brian chuckled, shaking his head to let John know it was fine.
They were getting to the solo and just as Brian was wondering if John would play it, Robin shouted out “Play it, Deaky.”
Brian and Freddie were mesmerised as John began playing the solo, keeping his gaze locked intently with Robin’s, the rhythm they created sounding flawless. After the first few beats, Brian saw Robin’s posture relax as she closed her eyes and continued playing, a satisfied smile stretching on her lips as the bass solo came close to wrapping up. Deaky turned away before hitting the final notes of the solo, his head banging in time with the beats, much to their surprise. The strings of the bass seemed to get stuck as they often did but John quickly wet two of his fingers against his tongue and continued playing without missing a beat.
“Alright, Deaky!” cheered Freddie, before he continued singing the rest of the song.
Witnessing that intense rhythmic action spurred Brian on and soon it began feeling less like an audition and more of a performance in front of a crowd. Freddie’s vocals grew sharper, his movements even more outgoing, the drums hit harder, the bassline remained solid, and when the final beat hit, the four of them stopped and stared at one another in absolute silence.
They were all panting, like they’d run a mile, and all of them had the same slightly wild-eyed look in their eyes.
It had felt like a kind of magic.
The band's all together!
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
“She asked if you want to shag her,” said Freddie, eyes twinkling with mischief.
“I can’t find my notebook,” said Brian, opening various cupboards, muttering to himself.
“Yep, that’s what I said,” said Robin, exchanging an amused look with Freddie. “I said I absolutely need Brian to shag me right into this sofa. What do you think, dear?”
A brief change of perspective as we view it from Robin's side of things
Robin applied her makeup with a sense of well-practiced ease, checking her reflection in the mirror for any flaws or imperfections and fixing them quickly before moving on to her hair. She was just about done when she noticed John’s nervous fidgeting as he sat in a chair in the corner of the room which had been designated as their makeshift green room for the gig they were about to play at a college in Kensington.
“Nervous?” she asked, turning around to face him.
He blinked at her before shrugging. “I suppose,” he said.
“Me too,” she said, putting away her makeup and hair brush.
“You are?” he asked, surprised.
“Of course, it’s the first gig with the four of us,” she said. “I’d be stupid not to be a little nervous.”
“I don’t think I have seen you nervous yet,” said John, and she chuckled.
“Well, this is as bad as it gets,” she grinned. “I can’t waste any more of my energy than that. I won’t be able to play the drums otherwise.”
It made him smile which was why she’d said it. With John, she had come to learn that the easiest way to get him to relax was to make him laugh, which was not that hard to do. Despite his rather quiet and reserved demeanour, John Deacon was not all that shy as he initially appeared to people and Robin had picked up on that immediately. He was also not as sweet and innocent like most people (including Brian) seemed to think, and one of Robin’s favourite pastimes over the last few months had been to crack dirty jokes to make John laugh, usually in the middle of rehearsal or when they were at a serious meeting. It tended to annoy Brian to no end and amused Freddie, and it made the boring moments in-between quite a bit of fun.
In all honesty, the time between John joining the band and their first gig that night had been rather productive. They had stopped doing gigs for a while, reformatted many of their songs to include a good bassline now that they had a competent bass player, and reworked their entire show. John had proved himself both a capable musician and a very good electrician, and all their equipment had been in much better shape since he had taken over. He also fit quite well into the group dynamic, his quiet words a welcome influence, especially when their arguments got heated.
The door opened and Freddie and Brian entered, both looking a little nervous but excited.
“Oh, you look nice,” said Freddie, giving Robin a wink. “I like the eyeshadow.”
“Thank you,” she said. She didn’t tend to wear a lot of makeup since drumming meant sweating, and sweating in makeup meant looking like a clown before the night was over, which she was not particularly fond of doing. She preferred eyeliner and a little colour on the lips most days, but sometimes she did like to go all out. She saw Freddie’s eyes linger on her face a moment too long and smiled. “Do you want me to do it for you as well?” she asked.
He jumped a little, but then nodded shyly. She grinned and pointed him to an empty chair. He obligingly sat down and closed his eyes before she could ask him to, and Robin pulled out her makeup and began brushing eyeshadow on Freddie’s closed eyelids. She could hear Brian and John talking quietly but they were only discussing the crowd and what the acoustics of the auditorium were like, and Robin was glad for it. She knew they weren’t the sort to judge, but none of them (even her) were immune to internalised prejudice, as Robin was learning.
“Did Mary tell you?” asked Freddie, in a low whisper.
“Told me what, love?” she asked, continuing her work. He started to open his eyes and she tutted at him, making him grin and close his eyes again. “I had Mary do this for me once. Just for fun, really.”
“It suits you,” she said, honestly. “If I add liner and then just a bit of contour on your cheekbones…”
He nodded, without opening his eyes and she grinned. Freddie was never one to back down and she adored him for it. She did the rest of his makeup and when she was done, Freddie looked amazing. He already had high cheekbones but they looked sharp enough to cut glass once the makeup was on.
“Wow, Freddie,” she heard from behind her, and grinned at Brian, who looked thoroughly impressed.
Freddie stood up and examined his reflection in the mirror with a soft smile. “Thank you, darling,” he said. “I look gorgeous.”
Robin beamed at him before looking at Brian and John. “Any of you two interested?” she asked.
“Perhaps some other time,” said Brian, but John fidgeted a little.
“Deaky?” she prompted.
“I’ve got a zit,” he said, pointing at his cheek. “Could you-?”
“Of course, zit down,” she told him with a wink, and he giggled and shyly sat down in the chair that Freddie had vacated as Brian groaned at the awful pun.
Robin covered up the spot on John’s cheek and applied some powder to the rest of his face to even it out. He had very interesting features, she noticed, as she worked on him. It wasn’t the sort of face to stand out in a crowd but it would pull you in when you noticed it. She stepped back once she was done, and John gave her a grateful nod and one of his wide smiles, confirming her observations.
“Last chance, Bri,” she said, looking at their guitarist with a challenging smile.
“I’d do it, Brian,” said Freddie, egging him on slightly. “You don’t want to be the only one not done up.”
Brian sighed deeply and Robin bit back a grin because it meant he was giving in. “Fine,” he said. “Don’t go overboard.”
“Of course not,” she said, grinning victoriously as John offered the chair to Brian. He looked at her warily and as much as she would have loved to annoy him by painting him like a clown, she knew that with Brian, you had to ease him into new things. She applied the powder to his face like she’d done for John, trying not to stare too intensely. She’d always thought Brian had a rather handsome face, from the time she had met him all those years ago. It wasn’t handsome in the ways she usually preferred in men, but she could completely understand all those girls who were drawn to their guitarist.
Brian’s face was gentle, almost calming. She knew most people would find it comforting to look at. Of course, they hadn’t seen it when he slipped into one of his moods. It was remarkable how different his face could look without him even changing his expression that much, and it had taken her some time to gauge his moods and the best indicators of those were usually his eyes.
“Open your eyes,” she said, reaching for the light brown mascara.
He did and she could still see a bit of wariness in them but he did as she said and looked up and down as needed so she could do up his eyelashes. With the mascara, his features grew slightly softer and the hazel eyes seemed to pop just a bit.
“All done,” she said, satisfied.
“That’s it?” he asked, surprised.
“You want more?” she asked, amused.
“No, I just-” he paused and looked at the mirror. “It looks nice.”
“Of course it does,” she said, putting away all the makeup once again. “Less is more, sometimes. Freddie and I look done up enough for the whole band so the two of you just need minor tweaks and we are gorgeous.”
“I think they would look good with all the works as well,” said Freddie, speculatively.
“Probably, but not for this gig,” said Robin.
“Oh no, you’re absolutely right,” agreed Freddie. “I was thinking more about a glamour photoshoot.”
“Why would we do one of those?” asked Brian, sounding amused.
“Well, we would definitely have to have one for the band,” said Robin, and Freddie nodded along. “We even took those daft pictures for the Albert Hall gig as Smile. It’s not the bloody 60s anymore, so photoshoots have to be more professional than that.”
“We should find a good photographer,” said Freddie.
“How about we focus on tonight?” interrupted Brian, before Robin could launch into all the ideas she had floating in her head. When she pouted, he cast a discreet look towards John who was looking a bit overwhelmed at their plans though also rather amused and intrigued.
Robin decided to drop it, if only to not have a nervous bass player grow even more nervous before a performance.
The door to the little room opened and Neil poked his head in. Neil Battersby had been the roadie for a band Robin had joined when she had first come to London. The band had only lasted two months but she had run into Neil shortly after Tim had departed and he’d become their roadie right before the Truro gig with Freddie. With Pete Edmunds leaving, it had left an opening and Neil also happened to have a van which they would be able to use to transport their equipment for gigs while the band members travelled in Robin’s car. For a year now, John Harris and Neil had been their roadies and they both did excellent work. They were occasionally joined by their friend John Anthony who was a professional sound engineer, but that night, it was just the two of them.
“Five minutes before you’re on,” said Neil, with a grin.
“Thanks, Neil,” nodded Brian, and Robin quickly went and pulled out a flask from her bag.
“Drink,” she said, handing it to Freddie, who immediately took a swig and passed it to John, who raised his eyebrows but drank. Robin took it from him and drank a shot of whiskey, before passing it to Brian, who also took a long sip, grimacing at the taste. “Ready?”
The four of them grinned at each other, counting down the minutes. There was a buzz of nervousness and anticipation, and the air around them seemed to vibrate with it. This was it. Their first chance to see if the feeling of magic they’d come to experience during their various rehearsals since John had joined would translate to a performance in front of a crowd. If Queen really was meant to be the four of them together.
When Neil held the door open for them to step out onto the stage, Freddie led the charge with Brian and Robin right behind him, and John taking up the rear. The audience clapped politely as they emerged, and Robin took a seat at the drums, listening to Freddie greet the crowd and introduce them as Queen. When he was done, the three men turned to her in unison and she made eye contact with all of them, as they took their cue and the instruments and Freddie’s vocals took off, soaring through the air like they were weaving a spell.
It was the first of many, many nights to come.
Robin smiled as she glanced at the calendar date; it had been three years to the day since she had joined Smile. She had never expected to receive a four-page letter from Brian when she’d expressed an interest after her old band at university had fallen apart, but something about his impassioned response had given her pause and made her think it could be a bit of fun. She was not one for appreciating things like fate or destiny, and she wasn’t planning on starting either but she could say with certainty that the past three years had been rather life-changing in all the best ways.
“Oh, October already,” said Freddie, as he came into the kitchen and mixed himself a vodka tonic in one of the mugs.
“It’s been October for a week, Fred,” said Robin, going to sit on the sofa in the living room. The flat on Sinclair Road was small by no means but with all four members of Queen living there, it often felt like they were all cramped in together. Actually, the expression Brian had used was “living on top of each other” and Robin had immediately waggled her eyebrows at John who had burst into giggles, setting off Freddie in the process as Brian just shook his head and called them immature.
The summer of 1971 had been quite eventful for all four of them. Robin and John had graduated with their degrees, Brian had started his formal doctoral studies, and Queen had been firmly established with the four of them as the members. Their gigs had grown steady, and even though they sometimes ended up with a mere twenty people (or none, on one horrible occasion), they were slowly gaining momentum once again, and the name ‘Queen’ was becoming well-known among the student crowd.
However, it didn’t mean things had suddenly started going well for them. On the contrary, it meant they were all no longer students and needed to find jobs to support themselves if they wanted to continue with the band, since the gigs paid very little and with the cost of travelling, maintaining equipment and all the expenses (which seemed to be unending), the band members were left with barely anything.
Freddie still had his job at Heathrow as a baggage handler and he ran the stall when he could. Robin ran the stall when Freddie wasn’t there and worked part-time at a veterinary clinic as an assistant. John had taken up working at an electronics repair shop, while Brian was teaching mathematics at a comprehensive school. To further save on money, they had all moved in together in a three-bedroom flat on Sinclair Road the month before. Robin had sold her beloved old Mini to make the deposit, but fortunately they had a second van which carried most of the equipment and the roadies while the band had a smaller van they travelled in with the remainder of the equipment.
Freddie dropped into the seat next to Robin with his drink. “What are you thinking about?” he asked, giving her a contemplative look.
She chuckled and lit her cigarette. “Thinking about our argument for who would get which bedroom,” she said.
“That was fun,” agreed Freddie, drinking his vodka tonic with an appreciative hum.
“So, what’s it like sharing a room with Deaky?” asked Robin, with amusement.
“I don’t mind it,” shrugged Freddie. “I spend most nights at Mary’s anyway.”
“True,” she said, and held out her cigarette to him. He took it and handed her his drink and she took a grateful sip. “Shouldn’t Deaky be home by now?” she asked, noticing it was close to six in the evening.
Freddie took a long puff from the cigarette. “Maybe he’s met a girl,” he shrugged.
“Good for him,” said Robin. “Someone other than you needs to get shagged around here.”
“Jealousy doesn’t become you, darling,” said Freddie. “You’re young and gorgeous. Go find a good shag for yourself.”
“You know I just might,” she chuckled, taking her cigarette back and returning his drink. “You got plans this evening?”
“Going out with Mary later,” he said. “Sorry, love.”
“No, go have sex,” she sighed. Brian came out of his room, hair in disarray and she focused her attention on him. “Bri, you want to find a shag?”
“What?” he asked, absentmindedly as he looked for something around the kitchen.
“She asked if you want to shag her,” said Freddie, eyes twinkling with mischief.
“I can’t find my notebook,” said Brian, opening various cupboards, muttering to himself.
“Yep, that’s what I said,” said Robin, exchanging an amused look with Freddie. “I said I absolutely need Brian to shag me right into this sofa. What do you think, dear?”
“I think it was here somewhere,” said Brian, looking in the cupboard under the kitchen sink before he stood up abruptly and looked at Robin. “What did you say?”
Robin and Freddie laughed, and Freddie shook his head. “I think you need to take a break, Brian,” said Freddie. “Go out drinking with Robin and find a girl.”
Brian rolled his eyes and dropped into an armchair near them. “I don’t have time,” he said. “I have a pile of homework that needs marking and then I have to finish up my research for the day.”
“Brian, you just missed Robin saying she wants you to shag her into the sofa,” said Freddie.
“So you did say that,” said Brian, looking at Robin accusingly.
She shrugged, unbothered. “We were just testing out how much you actually listen when you get all scatterbrained,” she said.
“I’m not scatterbrained,” he said, defensively.
Robin shot him an incredulous look. “You went back to your old flat after work twice last week,” she pointed out. “You are constantly misplacing your things and yesterday, I found one of your books in the fridge.”
He flushed red and glared at her but there was no heat behind it. “Shut up,” he said.
“So mature,” she laughed.
They heard a key turn in the lock of the main door and it opened a moment later as John entered. He noticed all of them sitting in the living room and smiled in greeting.
“Hiya, Deaky,” called out Freddie, waving him over. “Work run late?”
“Yeah,” said John, stepping out of his boots and sitting on the other armchair with a sigh. “Some people should never be allowed near electronics.”
“Someone try to wash their toaster again?” asked Robin.
“Worse, they decided that they should have a telly in their bathroom and tried to mount it above a bath,” he said, forehead creasing in frustration.
“That sounds like a horror story waiting to happen,” said Freddie.
“Fortunately, the genius had just stepped out of the bath when it collapsed into the tub,” said John.
“Amazing,” said Brian, seeming truly baffled by the stupidity. “Was the telly even salvageable?”
“No, it’s off to the skip,” said John. “He managed to wreck a lot more wiring in his house when the thing short-circuited and I was there fixing it.”
“What is with people and putting their electronics near water?” wondered Robin.
“Natural selection,” said Brian, and they all chuckled.
“You want to go out for a drink, Deaky?” asked Robin.
“I can’t,” he said, apologetically. “I’m helping my friend, Oscar, propose to his girlfriend.”
“How are you doing that?” asked Freddie, fascinated.
“Playing the guitar while he serenades her from the street under her window,” said Deaky. “Yeah, I know,” he added to horrified looks from all of them. “He’s going to sing her ‘All You Need is Love’.”
“Maybe wear a mask while you play so people don’t know who you are,” said Brian.
“I had considered that, yes,” he laughed.
“I would refuse outright on principle if someone proposed like that,” said Robin, bluntly.
“Really?” asked Brian, raising his eyebrows. “You would reject a proposal from someone you love if it’s not to your liking?”
“Well, to be fair I think marriage is a sham and the law needs to stay out of people’s relationships,” she said, thinking to her own parents’ marriage which should have ended the moment her father had raised a hand to her mother. But living as a divorced woman with a child would have made it too difficult and so Winifred had stayed, and now, she continued staying even if Michael hadn’t changed one bit. True, he didn’t hit her (or Robin or Clare, for that matter) but he was still a horrible man who screamed and shouted when he was drunk, and downright mean and cruel on the rare times he was sober. Robin wasn’t sure which was worse; all she knew was that she was happy to be out of that house and away from him.
“That’s very cynical,” said John, in that way of his that sounded like a casual comment but was usually a very blunt observation.
“I suppose it is,” she shrugged.
“You’re all depressing me,” said Freddie, shaking his head. “Proposals are important. They have to be personal. Even if it is serenading someone from the street, or putting a ring in the champagne glass. Marriage is a wonderful thing.”
Brian and John both nodded along to his words, but Robin just made a face.
“You don’t think you would ever want to be married?” asked Freddie, looking at her.
“I don’t know, but it’s unlikely,” she said, giving it some thought. “If I can find a bloke who won’t want me to stop drumming and stay at home, I might consider it.”
“That goes without saying,” said Freddie. “No man who makes you give up music is worth your time and love, darling.”
She smiled gratefully at him. “Unfortunately, the blokes who like the fact that I’m a drummer are not the settling down type,” she said. “I think I might be doomed to a life of spinsterhood. Dating hot boys but never managing to keep one.” She winked to soften the blow of her harsh words and stood up. “Alright, I’m off.”
“Where are you going?” asked Brian.
“I’m going to get drunk and shag a stranger,” she said, bluntly. She pulled her hair out of the ponytail and shook it loose. “See you in the morning. Play some music if things get loud tonight.”
Without another look back, she slipped into a pair of heels and grabbed her coat as she headed out the door. Knowing there would be pitying, condescending or worse, judgmental looks from her bandmates waiting for her if she looked back, she put on the coat and made her way to the closest pub in the area.
It took about five minutes of her after sitting down to narrow her focus on the man she wanted. He was her age, maybe a bit older, good hair, decent body and he was just shy enough to be what she needed. She flashed a brief smile in his direction to encourage him along before turning away to sip her gin and tonic. Sure enough, he approached her with a fresh drink when hers was empty. The polite chit chat followed, names were exchanged, a couple more drinks consumed, and soon, she was leading him back to the flat.
She half-expected one of the boys to be waiting like a disappointed parent but there was thankfully no one. Her room was the closest to the living room, so it was easy enough to sneak Derek inside. It had been a good long while since she’d had a proper shag and while she was quite passionate, she could also be quiet as a mouse if needed. Derek, on the other hand, was rather loud so she hoped the boys wouldn’t mind too much having to listen to him.
Despite his rather vociferous performance, Derek wasn’t anything extraordinary in any other sense. Still, it had been a while so he got her what she needed. He slumped over and started snoring once they were done, and Robin decided to close her eyes and let sleep take her as well. She woke up around six in the morning, and after a quick trip to the bathroom, she decided to get Derek out of the flat before the boys were up. She wasn’t ashamed of what she had done, but she could do without the judgment that she would no doubt get from them. They were all romantics, raised by parents with stable marriages. To them, she was likely a slag.
“Why do I have to leave so early?” asked Derek sleepily, as he got dressed.
“I told you, I have flatmates,” she said, trying not to seem too impatient.
“Friends?” he asked.
“Bandmates,” she said.
“You’re in a band?” he asked, interested.
“Are you almost done?” she asked, instead of answering.
“Can I use the bathroom before I go?” he asked.
She tried not to roll her eyes but made sure the bathroom and hallway were empty before pointing it out to him. “Yeah, it’s that one.”
While Derek was in the bathroom, Robin put on her robe and started making coffee in the kitchen. She hadn’t eaten the night before, just had a few drinks and no water, so she was bound to have a pounding headache. They had a gig that evening and she needed to recover, but thankfully, she didn’t have to work.
Derek came out of the bathroom and saw her in the kitchen. “Er, I’ll just go then,” he said, shuffling awkwardly.
She felt sorry about kicking him out when the sun wasn’t even up and sighed. “Do you want some coffee?” she asked.
He brightened like a puppy and nodded. She poured them both a cup and added milk and sugar, even though what she was really craving was a cigarette. Derek, to his credit, didn’t attempt to make conversation and drank his coffee silently. As the caffeine hit her tired brain, Robin jumped when she heard one of the doors open.
By the shuffling footsteps, Robin knew it was Freddie, and sure enough, he came around the corner, hair impressively dishevelled and dressed in a brightly patterned robe. He walked right past Derek and to Robin’s absolute shock, he pressed a kiss to her cheek, rather close to her mouth.
“Good morning, love,” he said, and went and poured himself a cup of coffee.
Before she could ask what the hell that was about, John came out dressed in his pyjamas, gave a nod to Derek and went over and kissed Robin’s cheek, more chastely than Fred had done but letting it linger.
“Hiya, Robin,” he said, and went and stood next to Freddie. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
Robin just gaped in astonishment as Brian followed them moments later. “Good morning, darling,” he said, hugging her lightly from behind and kissing her temple before looking at Derek. “We heard you come in last night. You should have brought your new friend to play.”
“We missed you, it didn’t feel right without you,” said Freddie, and Robin stared as he placed a casual arm around John’s waist while Brian was still holding her from behind.
Those fucking bastards, she thought, torn between being furious and impressed at them pulling one over on her. She quickly looked at Derek, hoping to diffuse the situation, but he had gone pale and was looking at the four of them with eyes that were growing wider and wider by the second.
“Derek, this isn’t-” she began. “We’re just bandmates.”
“What kind of a band is it?” asked Derek, his voice a little faint.
“We are called Queen,” said Freddie, winking at him with his most suggestive tone of voice.
“I should go,” said Derek. He set the mug of his half-finished coffee on the counter and all but ran out of the flat.
The boys burst into laughter as soon as he was gone and Robin’s palm met her face in exasperation and annoyance. “You are all the worst,” she said, rounding on all of them. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
“Oh, come on, I can’t believe you didn’t see this coming,” said Freddie, as John and Brian were laughing too much to speak. “We had to listen to him for hours last night. None of us slept a fucking wink.”
She flushed red, crossing her arms self consciously. Here it comes, she thought.
“How about we agree that all future...sleepovers should happen at the other person’s flat?” said John.
“Just so we don’t have a repeat performance of that,” added Brian, waving a hand at the front door that Derek had rushed out through.
Robin blinked in confusion, as they all nodded in agreement. “Hang on,” she said, holding up her hands. “Your issue with this whole thing was that he was loud and you had to hear it? Not-” she paused and wondered how to say it.
“Not what, dear?” asked Freddie, passing a mug of coffee to Brian who nodded in thanks.
Robin crossed her arms again, glancing away a little. “Not that I had a one night stand,” she said, her voice quiet.
There was silence and she lifted her gaze to look at them. She saw surprise followed by a dawning sense of realisation.
“You’ve got to be joking,” said Freddie, rolling his eyes. “I was the one who suggested going out and finding someone to shag you.”
“It’s really not our place to tell you what to do,” said John, with a small smile. “If you were a bloke, we wouldn’t even have blinked.”
“But we probably would have pulled the same trick which would have a whole different impact if you were a bloke,” added Freddie.
“I’m not a bloke,” she pointed out.
“We’ve noticed,” snorted Freddie.
“No, I mean, I don’t-I can’t-if you…” she fumbled with her words, struggling to explain what she meant.
“I think this is the first time I have seen you at a loss for words,” said Brian, and she looked at him. He calmly sipped his coffee and gave her a measured look. “None of us have been saints, particularly since the band has been taking off. Every person in this flat has had a one night stand at some point.”
“Yes, but you or Freddie or Deaky shagging a groupie after a gig and me shagging a groupie would be different, admit it,” she said, not backing down so easily. “I am not ashamed of what I did, and I won’t ever be ashamed of wanting something or someone.” She looked at all of them sternly, wanting to get her point across. “I know that other people will judge me for that but I can’t have you three doing it. It’s-”
“You won’t find us doing that, Robin,” said Freddie, gently. He looked at John, who nodded quickly at his words, a sincere look on his face. “As long as you’re not getting hurt, we would never interfere, nor tell you what to do. It simply isn’t our business, love.”
Robin nodded at them gratefully and looked at Brian. He took a long sip of his coffee and sighed. “Didn’t I promise you I’d help you look for Mr. Tall with good hair on his head and loads of money?” She chuckled as both Freddie and John looked confused. “That hasn’t changed,” he added firmly. “But please, no more people staying overnight here in the flat while we’re all living together.”
“That goes for all of us, too,” added Freddie, before she could object.
“I think it’s a good idea, in fact, to keep our personal lives out of the band entirely. Whatever we might do in private is up to us and the other three don’t get a say,” said Brian.
“Unless it starts affecting the band,” said Freddie.
“Of course, that goes without saying,” said Brian. “Are we in agreement?”
Freddie nodded, as did John.
Robin looked at the three of them carefully and saw nothing but sincerity and a hint of concern. The judgment she had been so desperately dreading was nowhere to be found and she exhaled in relief before smiling. “Fine,” she said. “But,” she added, firmly. “Don’t pull a stunt like that again. When we get famous, Derek will probably earn millions selling his story to the papers about how Queen is in a weird four-way relationship with one another.”
The three of them laughed, and Brian shook his head. “Who would actually believe him?” he asked.
“Knowing how loud he can be, a lot of people, probably,” said John, and they burst into laughter.
“Shall we have breakfast?” asked Freddie, as their laughter dwindled down.
“Don’t you mean, ‘Brian, cook us breakfast’?” asked Brian, rolling his eyes though he was smiling. “If you want judgment, I should let you know I am judging all of you for not even knowing how to boil an egg.”
“Don’t you just throw it into boiling water?” asked Robin.
“And that is why I make breakfast and not you,” said Brian, nudging everyone out of the way.
“I make good tea and Deaky’s not completely awful in the kitchen,” said Robin.
“What about me?” asked Freddie.
“Darling, you’re worse than me,” said Robin. “And I once actually managed to burn a pot of boiling water.”
“How?” asked John, sounding genuinely curious.
“I set it on the stove and then forgot about it,” she shrugged. “Thankfully, Belinda, my roommate smelled it from her room and managed to turn it off before we burned our flat down.”
“I can mix drinks better than all of you,” said Freddie, still determined to win the contest apparently.
“Doesn’t count,” said Brian, and Robin and John nodded in agreement. “Go freshen up and get dressed, all of you,” he added, shooing them away.
Robin let John and Freddie go ahead and lingered behind to talk to Brian. He raised his eyebrows in question when he saw she hadn’t left.
“Are we alright?” she asked, uncertain as to why she was only asking Brian.
He looked confused as well. “Of course we are,” he said. “I said so, didn’t I?”
“I know,” she said. “Never mind.”
He smiled at her and Robin smiled back, before his eyes brightened. “Oh, I forgot to mention something,” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“Tonight’s gig, I actually invited someone,” he said.
“A friend?” she asked.
“Kind of,” he said, looking a little pink. “I met her at the school.”
She stared at him in horror. “God, Brian, tell me it’s not a student or something,” she said.
“What? No!” he said, looking shocked and a little disgusted. “Jesus Christ, Robin!” She shrugged at him and he rolled his eyes. “It’s another teacher. Well, almost. She’s the school nurse. Chrissie Mullen.”
Robin smiled at him, even as her headache seemed to get the tiniest bit worse. “Sounds exciting,” she said, and patted his arm before heading to her room. “We’ll be sure to give a good performance so you can impress her.”
He grinned at her and nodded. “Thanks, love,” he said. “Knew I could count on you.”
Robin walked into the flat after a tiring day at the vet clinic and the long bus ride home. On days when she got really tired like this, she liked to be alone with a book but when she opened the front door, the living room was occupied.
“Oh, hello, Robin,” greeted Brian, as she entered.
She smiled at him and the woman who was sitting next to him. “Hiya, Brian, Chrissie,” she said, hanging up her coat and scarf on the hook by the door.
“Hello, Robin,” smiled Chrissie. “Long day at work?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” she said, taking off her boots and walking in. “You two love birds staying in tonight?”
“Yes, I am baking a few things,” said Chrissie, and Brian smiled sweetly at her.
“That’s what the smell is,” said Robin, half-convinced she had been hallucinating the smell of fresh baked goods.
“There’s scones on the counter, but I have a fresh batch that’ll be ready in another twenty minutes if you want to wait,” she said, approaching Robin as she walked into the kitchen.
“Why not both?” asked Robin, picking up a scone and looking around for the jam.
Chrissie smiled and passed her the jar, and Robin grinned in thanks as she slathered the scone in jam and took a bite.
“Oh, lord, that’s heavenly,” said Robin, through a mouthful. “Woman, if Brian doesn’t marry you, I will.”
Chrissie giggled as they heard Brian playfully shout at Robin to fuck off. “He’s had a busy day of studying so I thought I ought to do something nice,” Chrissie confided in Robin. “Besides, it’s the perfect chance.”
“For what?” asked Robin, too occupied with eating the delicious scone.
“For introducing yourselves to your neighbour,” she said.
“We have a new neighbour?” asked Robin, as Brian came into the kitchen and snagged a scone from the tray.
“Yeah, I saw them moving boxes in the morning after you left for work,” he said. “Didn’t see who the neighbour was, but Chrissie insists we should be nice and introduce ourselves.”
“It’s the polite thing to do,” she said.
“Especially if we keep the record player running at all times of day and night for fun,” chuckled Robin. “I’ll take it over, if you like.”
“Are you sure? Don’t you want to get some rest?” asked Chrissie.
“If I rest now, I’ll probably end up falling asleep and throw off my sleeping schedule,” said Robin. “Let me just freshen up and I’ll take it over.”
They nodded at her gratefully and Robin went to her room, stripping off her clothes from work. In just a robe, she went to the bathroom to get cleaned up before changing into a fresh pair of clothes and brushing her hair so it lay in loose waves down her back.
The new batch of scones was out of the oven by the time she was done, and Chrissie packed them in a neat container so Robin could take it over. Smiling at her in thanks, Robin took the container and said goodbye to Brian and Chrissie before walking down the hall to the other flat. The way their building was set up had two flats on each floor, one of which was a big three-bedroom flat like theirs, while the other was a bedsit. Considering the new neighbour was living in the bedsit, they had to be a student or a young working professional, thought Robin as she knocked on the door.
It opened a moment later and she blinked in shock as a rather handsome young man stood in the doorway. He had dark hair, a smooth jawline and sparkling brown eyes, and he stood at least a head taller than her.
“Hello,” he said, looking a little surprised but not displeased to see her.
“Hello, I’m Robin. I live across the hall,” said Robin, smiling a little and noticing his eyes drop to her lips for a brief moment before meeting her eyes again. Her smile grew wider. “I just wanted to come and say hello,” she added, holding up the scones.
He chuckled and a bit of pink suffused his cheeks. “Please come in,” he said, stepping aside.
She’d only meant to make a quick introduction and leave but there was no way she was passing up getting to know someone that handsome with a voice that sounded like melting honey.
“I’m Joe, by the way,” he said. “Joe Morris.”
“Nice to meet you, Joe,” she said, and handed him the scones. “Welcome to the building.”
“Thank you, Robin,” he said, taking the scones and setting them down on the kitchen counter. “Please sit.” He indicated the sofa which had a pile of boxes that he quickly moved out of the way.
Robin sat down and looked around at the bedsit which had half unpacked furniture and loads of boxes still around.
“I am sorry about the mess,” he said, sitting down in a chair near her.
“Oh, no, you’ve done quite well if you only moved in this morning,” she said, at once. “I think my flatmates and I are still unpacking even though we’ve been here since September.”
He laughed, the sound making her feel warm. “Reminds me of the place I was living before here,” he said. “None of us could make scones that smelled so nice, though.”
“None of us can either,” she said, shaking her head in amusement. “The four of us can barely put a meal together.”
“So who made the scones?” he asked.
“My flatmate’s girlfriend,” she said. “She’s in there baking up a storm. Makes the flat smell heavenly.”
“Sounds rather nice,” he said.
“So what do you do, Joe?” she asked. “Are you a student?”
“Heavens, no,” he said. “I’m a carpenter. I help build houses.”
“Oh,” said Robin, noticing that his physique was indeed rather well-defined. Her mouth continued before she could stop herself. “That explains the muscles-” she paused and her face went red.
Joe stared at her and chuckled. “I am glad you noticed,” he said, eyes regarding her with interest. “So, Robin,” he began, as she worked to calm her blush. “I am yet to unpack the kitchen and I was wondering if there was a good place to eat dinner nearby. Pizza, perhaps.”
Robin laughed at his audacity and nodded. “There is a rather good pizza place down the road,” she said. “I could show you if you like.”
“Excellent,” he beamed. “Let me just get my coat.”
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
“Let’s not have our drummer get arrested for assaulting someone,” said Brian, as Robin immediately perked up at Freddie’s suggestion. “No matter how much the bitch deserves it.”
“I won’t get caught,” said Robin.
“I don’t think you understand how punching someone works,” snorted Freddie, and she smacked his shoulder as they all laughed.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“You found it in a skip,” repeated Brian.
“I found it in a skip,” nodded John.
“In a skip,” said Brian, for the third time.
“Yes,” said John.
“And you made the rest of it,” said Brian, still too shocked.
“Yes, I asked my boss to let me use some spare parts around the shop,” said John. “I just needed bits and bobs and we already had the speaker cabinet.”
“Deaky, you are a fucking genius,” beamed Freddie, giving him a big hug. John went red at the praise and chuckled.
“Thanks, Freddie,” he said.
“I completely agree,” said Brian, still in awe at the newly built Deacy amp. “It’s-god, I don’t even know what to say. It’s perfect, Deaky. It’s bloody fantastic.”
“Thank you, Brian,” said John, going even redder at the praise.
The door to the little studio opened and they looked up as Robin bustled in. They had started renting the place as their official rehearsal space at the start of the year, since they could no longer use any of the university facilities. The studio was close to their flat and while not very large or fancy, it was theirs and they loved it.
“I know I’m late,” she said, before any of them could. “What did I miss?”
“Deaky built an amp,” said Brian. “Listen to this.”
He played a section of the song they’d been working on lately, based on Richard Dadd’s painting, and watched as Robin’s eyes lit up.
“That sounds amazing,” she said, and clapped John on the back. “Well done, Deaky.”
John grinned at her. “I built it using the circuit board from the portable radio I fished out from the skip the other day,” he said.
“Hang on, you were there when he found it?” asked Freddie, looking at Robin.
“Yeah,” she said. “We were coming home from the pub and he took off dumpster diving. I thought he was just sloshed but he brought the thing over and proclaimed it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.”
Brian and Freddie raised their eyebrows in unison at John, who smiled sheepishly. “I was a little drunk,” he admitted.
“Sure, let’s say it was a little,” laughed Robin. “So what else did I miss? Apart from Deaky being an absolute genius once again?”
“Nothing, we were still on that,” said Freddie. “Why were you late anyway?”
“No reason,” she shrugged.
“Joe’s back in London after being away for a week,” said John, and she shot him a playful glare.
“Thanks for that, Deaky,” she said, as Freddie burst into laughter. “The next time you get stuck rifling through a skip, I am leaving you there.”
“I wasn’t stuck,” he insisted.
“Right, so you screaming ‘help me, Robin, I’m stuck’ must have been my imagination,” she chuckled.
“Alright, young ones, play nice,” said Freddie, as Brian just shook his head at their antics. “Rob, shag your boyfriend on your own time, not the band’s.”
“Oh, please, like you haven’t been late once, especially since moving in with Mary,” said Robin.
“I only moved last month,” protested Freddie.
“Yeah, and you’ve been late three separate times,” she said.
“I can’t believe you kept track,” said Brian, reluctantly impressed.
She rolled her eyes at him. “Are we going to bitch at each other or actually do something today?” she asked.
“Why not both?” asked Freddie.
“What’s got you in a mood?” asked Brian, frowning at him.
He sighed and made a face. “Bowie’s playing the Rainbow in August,” he said. “They just announced it.”
“Fuck,” said Robin, kicking the edge of the little dais in the studio. “Fucking, really?”
“He is getting fairly well known,” said Brian, feeling envious just the same. “Especially the whole Ziggy Stardust thing he’s been doing since the start of the year.”
“Fucking hell, Brian,” snapped Robin. “We know that. It’s just frustrating when we are getting left behind.”
“We are not-” began Brian, but at a look from Freddie and Robin, he sighed. “Fine, maybe we are being left behind a little. But,” he added, firmly. “We have to keep going.”
“No one’s saying we should stop,” said Freddie. “But something’s got to change.”
“In what way?” asked John, curiously. “I thought we were booked full on gigs.”
“We are,” nodded Robin. “Pretty much every uni and pub south of Glasgow has been reaching out to invite us. The money isn’t terrible either, but we have been here before,” she added, looking at Brian.
Brian sighed and nodded. Smile had been at this point once, before it had all fizzled out.
“Maybe it’s time to take Bowie’s advice again,” said Freddie.
“I think he might be a little too busy for a meeting these days,” said Robin, rolling her eyes.
“No, I get what he’s saying,” said Brian, nodding at Freddie. “The band’s well established with the gigs. Now we record an album.”
“We can’t afford an album,” said John.
“A demo, then,” said Brian.
“We can’t afford that either,” said John, without missing a beat. “What is the hourly rate at a studio in London these days?”
“Too much for us to afford without help,” said Robin.
“We need a studio or a label to back us,” said Freddie.
“But we need a demo for them to do that,” argued Brian. “Mercury Records aren’t interested in Queen, and honestly, since they screwed us over with the Smile thing, I’m not that keen on working with them again.”
“So we’re back to square one then?” asked John.
“No, fuck that,” said Robin, pacing furiously. “We have to do something. Anything, really. Otherwise, we’re all going to be stuck here. Playing college gigs until we’re forty is not what I want to do with my life.”
They all grimaced at the notion of that bleak future. Brian considered his own life, knowing if he quit doing music now, he could finish his doctorate in two more years. He could be teaching at a university, maybe find his own place to live, ask Chrissie to move in, and continue on the path of making a living like ordinary people. Job, house, wife, children; safe and normal. The road well-taken.
The thought made his skin crawl, despite himself. He looked at his bandmates, all of whom were in serious to semi-serious relationships. Freddie and Mary had been together for years and had recently moved in together. Brian had caught Freddie looking at rings in jewellery shop windows on occasion so it wasn’t a massive leap to consider where his thoughts were headed. John had been dating a girl named Catherine for a couple months now. She had started out as a groupie but John had been extremely smitten with her. The rest of the band didn’t like her much, since they got to see her when she wasn’t putting on the charming act that she had up around John. But the agreement of not interfering in each other’s private lives was standing firm in the band, so they tolerated her.
As for Robin, she had begun dating Joe Morris on the day they met and four months later, they were still together and very much in love. She had even taken him to Truro to introduce him to her family, and went to dinner once a fortnight to his mother’s house in Chiswick.
“They are like a forever couple, you know,” Freddie had drunkenly declared once. “The two people you can look at and think ‘those two will last forever’.”
The thought had made Brian a little uncomfortable and he supposed it was because it was true. Robin and Joe felt like the real deal; the two people utterly in love and completely compatible in all the ways that mattered. The perfect couple.
Brian wondered if he and Chrissie were that way, too. He certainly felt like a man in love, and he was blessed with a girlfriend who was pretty and kind and warm, and who made him feel wanted.
He glanced around at their small but well-kept rehearsal space, their instruments, at the new amp that John had made, and shook his head. If they gave it all up, it would hurt but they would be able to move on with their ordinary lives. But he knew they wouldn’t want those lives; or at least, he didn’t want that life. Not just yet.
“Robin’s right,” said Brian. “We have to do something.”
“What have you got in mind?” asked Robin, eyes lighting up.
“We go with Freddie’s idea,” he said. “Let’s record a demo. I know we can’t afford it,” he added, with a reassuring look at John. “So let’s shop around. Speak to studios. We have made a few contacts in the industry, it’s time we used some of them. See if anyone’s heard of us. It’s time for a fucking hail mary, as far as I’m concerned.”
“I like that,” said Freddie, excitedly. “What the fuck have we got to lose, right?”
“Let’s also maybe start saving up some of our wages,” said John, as Robin agreed with Freddie.
“And sell the second van,” said Freddie.
Brian winced as Robin looked at Freddie incredulously. “I hope you’re joking,” she said.
“We can make do with one,” said Freddie. “It’ll be cramped but it’s going for a good cause.”
“We could tell the roadies to find their own way and drive ourselves around with the equipment,” said Brian, before Robin could unleash the rant he could almost hear in his head already.
“And once we get signed on with a label, we can buy a new van,” said Freddie, trying to placate her.
“We are going to need to make some compromises, Rob,” said Brian, and she exhaled heavily before giving a nod.
“Fine,” she said. “But we sell the green van, not the blue one.”
“Alright,” said Freddie, and both Brian and John nodded quickly.
“Let’s start looking then,” said Brian. “Find us a studio who’ll let us make a demo.”
The opportunity came in May with help from their former roadie, John Anthony. Having been hired as a sound engineer at the brand new recording facilities at De Lane Lea Studios near Wembley, he put them in touch with the right people who agreed to let them use the facility to record the demo in exchange for testing out the equipment.
They managed to record five tracks: ‘Keep Yourself Alive’, ‘The Night Comes Down’, ‘Great King Rat’, ‘Jesus’, and ‘Liar’. John Anthony was their engineer and also helped record backup vocals. The demo’s quality was spectacular, having been recorded with the brand new studio equipment. Once the demo was made, they began approaching recording labels but apart from a laughably low bid from Chrysalis Record, they got no responses.
“We need a fucking break,” said Robin, as she and Freddie took the tube up and down London, approaching any and every record label they could find. “Just one fucking break. One suit with a good pair of ears and decent taste in music.”
The suit that finally sealed their fates turned out to be two suits. Brothers Barry and Norman Sheffield of Trident Studios listened to the demo and signed them on to record a full album of ten tracks.
“But you have to record at odd times?” asked Mary, sipping champagne from a mug.
The four band members and their respective significant others were celebrating in the band’s flat since they had signed the deal earlier that day.
“Yes,” said Brian, an arm around Chrissie’s waist as she sat on his lap. “Trident is a busy place and we’re nobodies, apparently. So we record when the studio is empty.”
“Which will be in the off-hours,” said Freddie, wrapping his arm around Mary’s shoulder and pouring more champagne into her mug. “Middle of the night, weekends, early mornings...whenever they call and say they have a free spot.”
“Sounds busy,” said Joe, looking at Robin who was curled up on his lap with her head on his shoulder.
“Yeah, which is why I’m selling my half of the stall to Freddie,” she said, grinning at Freddie who winked at her. “The job at the vet clinic will suffice and we still have the gigs. Trident’s not charging us the full rate to record so we do have some leftover from our saved wages and selling the van.”
“And you quit your job at Heathrow, Freddie?” asked Catherine.
“I did, yeah,” he said. “I can work at the stall full time now.”
“That was rather irresponsible,” she said, and glanced at John as he poured himself a drink, missing Freddie’s annoyed glare in the process. “Not so much vodka, dear, you don’t want to be drunk,” she told him, and he complied with a smile, though Brian noticed the tightness of John’s smile.
“How long do you think it will take you to record the ten tracks?” asked Chrissie, hastily changing the subject and Brian smiled at her gratefully. “Or just the five, rather?
“Depends on how many hours we get, I suppose,” he said.
“We recorded the demo in about a week,” Freddie pointed out.
“That’s because we had the run of the place and could record multiple tracks at the same time,” said John.
“He’s right,” agreed Brian. “It will take us much longer to record five more songs.”
“A couple weeks more, I bet,” said Robin, and got up from Joe’s lap to grin at all of them. “Think about it, we could have an album released by the end of summer.”
Brian wanted to point out all the reasons why that wouldn’t be possible but Freddie let out a whoop of agreement and stood up to hug Robin. The two of them shot him and John an imploring look, and while John smiled and joined them in the hug, Brian rolled his eyes.
“Come on, Brian,” whined Robin. “All four of us need to be here.”
With a sigh, he nudged Chrissie off his lap with an apologetic look and stood up to join his bandmates, though he couldn’t help but smile when they pulled him into the group hug. And for once, Brian let himself believe in Robin’s seemingly unending optimism.
Which came crashing down two days later when they met with their producer, Roy Thomas Baker.
“We need to re-record these,” he said, pointing to their demo.
“We recorded them not that long ago,” said Robin, voicing what they were all thinking. “On brand new equipment, no less.”
“The quality isn’t the issue,” said Roy. “I’m not attaching my name to something I don’t like and I don’t like those mixes.”
“You have got to be joking,” said Freddie.
“Trident signed with us because they liked the demo,” said Brian.
“They liked the potential of the demo,” said Roy, and sighed. “Look, I’m not saying it’s bad or anything. It’s got a lot of room for improvement, and you want all ten tracks to sound like they were made by the same people.”
“So basically, we have to redo the five tracks on the demo?” asked John, quietly.
“Yes,” said Roy, lighting up a cigarette.
Brian looked at the others and though he could tell they weren’t happy about it, they didn’t have much of a choice. “It’ll be fine,” said Brian, trying to sound optimistic. “It will just take a bit longer than we originally planned.”
Brian was sound asleep when he felt someone shaking him awake.
“Brian? Brian, wake up.”
He groaned under his breath and opened his eyes, seeing John’s face swim into view.
“They’re going to need you back in the booth in a bit,” said John.
Brian blinked in confusion but the fog of sleepiness slowly cleared and he remembered they were in the studio, doing one of their many late night recordings. Actually, this was more of an early morning recording considering it was past 3 am, judging by the clock on the wall. He nodded at John and went to get up, before realising there was some weight pinning him down. He glanced down in confusion and saw a head of blonde hair resting on his chest.
An involuntary blush coloured his cheeks when he realised that Robin was asleep on top of him, their legs tangled together and one of his arms wrapped around her waist. He quickly let her go and wondered how he was supposed to move, before giving up and looking at John helplessly.
John chuckled in sympathy. “Sorry about that,” he said. “There’s only one sofa in here and you were taking up all of it. She was too tired, so she hoped you wouldn’t mind.”
“I don’t mind,” said Brian, quickly. “I do need to get up, though.”
“Don’t wake her,” said John, immediately. “Let her sleep for a while longer. She looked dead on her feet by the time we finished recording the drum solo for the ninth time.”
Brian remembered they were recording the song that was to be their single ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ which did have a rather difficult drum solo. He nodded at John and without even thinking about it, stroked Robin’s back gently.
“Where’s Freddie?” asked Brian.
John pointed at the booth beyond the glass and Brian lifted his head slightly to get a better look. He saw Freddie standing in front of the microphone discussing something with Roy while their frustrated audio engineer, Tom, shook his head. Freddie glared at Tom but Roy placed a comforting hand on Freddie’s shoulder before Roy and Tom came back to the other side of the glass.
“I don’t understand what the problem is,” said Tom, as he and Roy sat down.
“That’s the problem, I think,” muttered Roy, giving a small nod to Brian when he noticed he was awake. He pressed a button on the console. “Let’s do that part again, Freddie. Dub 21 of Keep Yourself Alive.”
“Jesus Christ,” muttered Brian, as Freddie started singing the second verse of the song.
“Yeah,” said John. “It’s that kind of a night.”
“It wouldn’t be,” said Tom, bitingly. “The mix is good. Your singer’s just too picky.”
Brian sincerely doubted it. Freddie was picky, but that could be said for any one of them. Tom, on the other hand, was sloppy and difficult and impatient. Brian didn’t say any of that though, and looked at John.
“Help me move her,” he said.
John nodded and moved Robin enough for Brian to slip out from under her, and they quickly managed to lay her back down on the sofa again without waking her. Brian stood up and stretched, wincing when he heard his joints cracks.
“I’ll just pop into the loo quickly,” Brian told John.
“Go ahead,” said John, as he picked up a spare coat and covered Robin with it so she wouldn’t get cold.
Brian smiled at him gratefully and left. In the bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face, frowning at the bags under his eyes. He couldn’t remember the last decent night of sleep he’d had. All four of them worked during the day and were called into the studio all hours of the night whenever they were empty and they would record whatever they could in the time they had. They still played gigs on the weekends, and between all of that, sleep had become a luxury to be enjoyed whenever there was a spare moment and a flat surface.
He sighed and closed his eyes, but was startled when he realised his clothes smelled like Robin’s perfume. An odd feeling settled in his stomach and he quickly shook his head to make himself focus. The lack of sleep was getting to him, apparently, so he returned to the recording room, stopping in surprise when he saw that Robin was awake and sitting up, though looking rather sleepy with her hair completely mussed up. Brian glanced away quickly as she rubbed her eyes adorably before stifling a yawn behind her palm.
“You’re back,” said Freddie, and Brian realised that Freddie was in the room as well, sitting in a chair near Roy and Tom. “Listen to this mix.”
Tom sighed in annoyance but played it and Brian listened with a deep frown on his face. Freddie looked at him expectantly when it ended.
“It’s shit,” said Brian, bluntly.
“Fucking thank you,” said Freddie, throwing his hands up in the air. “RT?”
Roy nodded reluctantly. “I don’t like it either,” he admitted.
“Deaky?” asked Freddie.
“Could be better,” said John.
Freddie looked at Robin and she made a disgusted face which was answer enough.
“Let’s come back to it,” said Roy, as Freddie glared at Tom again. “Brian, why don’t we record your parts while Freddie gives his vocal chords a rest?”
“Alright,” said Brian, heading into the booth. They recorded for an hour or so and while he played fine, the way Tom was mixing the audio, made it sound quite terrible.
“It sounds like the vocals and instrumentals are fighting with each other,” said Freddie, when they all listened to the final and complete version of the song around six in the morning.
“And not the good kind of fighting either,” added Robin. “This is like two drunks squaring off sloppily in a urine-soaked alley behind the pub.”
John and Brian snorted in agreement, and Brian saw Roy hide his smile while Tom looked furious.
“That’s it,” snapped Tom, getting to his feet. “I am done trying to work with you lot.” He turned to Roy. “Good luck finding an engineer who can put up with these talentless morons.” He walked out, slamming the door behind him, as they all stood in astonished silence.
“Good riddance,” said Freddie.
“We still need an engineer, Freddie,” said Brian, sternly.
“Let me make some calls,” said Roy. “I don’t think Tom’s the right fit for the kind of album you want to make.”
“You have someone else in mind?” asked John.
Roy gave a nod. “His name is Mike Stone,” he said. “I’ll speak to him tomorrow...well, today, I suppose. And we’ll see how we go from there.”
“Will we have to rerecord any of it?” asked Brian.
“I don’t think so,” said Roy. “The parts are all good, and once Mike takes a look, it’ll turn out well.” He checked his watch and sighed. “I think we should call it for today. Studio opens in a bit and I need to rest.”
“Thank you, RT,” said Brian, sincerely.
Roy nodded, and the band packed up all their equipment into the van just as the sun was coming up.
“Do we have time for breakfast?” asked Robin.
“If we hurry, yes,” said John, checking his watch.
“And you agree to drop me off at the school,” added Brian, knowing his work started before all of theirs.
Robin murmured her agreement as they stumbled to a nearby cafe that was just opening and slipped into a booth together. All four of them looked dead on their feet and when the kindly waitress came over to ask what they wanted, they said one word in unison.
They sat in silence while they waited for their caffeine, staring at the table like zombies.
“It’s Tuesday,” said John, after a while.
“Oh, that’s good,” murmured Freddie. “At least we don’t have a gig in the evening.”
“We can sleep after we come home from work,” agreed Robin.
They all nodded and sat up a little when their coffees arrived. Without another word, they dived for their cups, Brian managing to remember to thank their waitress who gave them a bit of a concerned look as she left. After a few sips of coffee, Robin suddenly looked at all of them.
“It’s Tuesday?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said John.
She turned to Freddie, who was sitting next to her. “Happy Birthday,” she said.
He blinked at her before smiling. “That’s right, it’s the 5th today,” he chuckled. “Thank you, darling.”
“Happy Birthday, Freddie,” said John.
“Happy Birthday, Fred,” smiled Brian.
“Thank you, Deaky, thank you, Brian,” grinned Freddie. “I can’t believe I almost forgot my own birthday.”
“It can’t be helped, we have been going at the album non-stop since June,” said Brian.
Freddie snorted in agreement. “Well, I think our evening plans just changed,” he said.
“Obviously,” said Robin. “Where do you want to go? That new club near the Thames? The one Neil told us about?”
“On a Tuesday evening?” asked Brian.
“Good point,” nodded Robin. “The old faithful, it is.”
“Cheers to that!” said Freddie, lifting his cup of coffee like it was a flute of champagne. “Let’s order food, shall we? My treat.”
“It’s your birthday,” said John. “We should be treating you.”
“Fine, Brian can pay,” said Freddie, as Robin and John giggled.
Brian rolled his eyes at him but nodded and signalled the waitress over. Their orders for breakfast were soon placed and their coffee was refilled, which made them more awake than they had been upon coming into the cafe. There was a lull in the conversation and Brian imagined they were all collectively trying not to think about the fact that they had to be at work soon after a night of little to no sleep.
“Catherine and I broke up.”
Evidently John had something else on his mind, and the three of them turned to look at him when he said that quietly.
“Oh, Deaky,” said Brian, softly. “I’m so sorry.” The other two didn’t say anything right away, so he looked at Robin and Freddie, imploring them to say something nice.
“Is it insensitive to cheer?” asked Robin.
“Yes, it is!” hissed Brian, but at the same time, Freddie said: “Not at all, darling.”
Brian shook his head at them and looked at John, but to his surprise, he was grinning at Robin and Freddie instead of looking upset.
“No, no, cheering is the right response,” he said, and then sighed. “She was...not very nice, was she?”
“She was a bitch,” said Freddie, as Robin nodded emphatically.
“She had a handsome genius like you for a boyfriend and she never appreciated it,” said Robin.
John went a little red, like he did every time one of them praised him for his skills. Brian had to wonder how someone as shy as him could completely come alive when it came to music but still stay rather timid otherwise. Unless he was drunk. Then all bets were off.
Their food arrived and they dove for it like ravenous beasts, giving everyone a moment to gather their thoughts.
“So what happened?” asked Robin, after a few minutes.
“I overheard her talking to a friend,” he said. “It wasn’t very nice.”
They all looked concerned, before Freddie spoke. “Was it about you?” he asked.
John nodded, looking rather uncomfortable.
“You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to, Deaky,” said Brian.
“No, fuck that,” said Robin. “Tell us, Deaky, so I can kick her arse if you want.” They all raised their eyebrows at her. “What? None of you would hit a girl but I could and would. Happily.”
John chuckled. “Thanks, Robin,” he said. “Well, I suppose I was a bit naive over the whole thing. She liked the fact that I played in a band more than she liked me, to put it simply.” He shrugged a little. “I don’t need her, not when I was jumping through hoops to please her and she only wanted more.”
“Good for you, dear,” said Freddie, looking at him understandingly. “Who needs her? Let’s have Rob punch her in the face.”
“Let’s not have our drummer get arrested for assaulting someone,” said Brian, as Robin immediately perked up at Freddie’s suggestion. “No matter how much the bitch deserves it.”
“I won’t get caught,” said Robin.
“I don’t think you understand how punching someone works,” snorted Freddie, and she smacked his shoulder as they all laughed.
“There’s no need for punching,” said John. “I told her we were done and that’s that.”
“That is far too well-adjusted,” said Freddie, shaking his head. “At least write a song about it. We could still get it on the album.”
“I think RT might actually put in for retirement if we suggested adding a new song,” said Brian.
“Yeah, save it for the next album,” said Robin.
“Next album?” asked John, raising his eyebrows in incredulity.
“Of course, this is just the beginning, darling,” said Freddie, and the conviction with which he said it, only made them all smile. “The first of many.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, slow down more, why don’t you?” hissed Robin, turning to glare at Brian.
“I was playing exactly like we agreed,” Brian snapped back.
“Everything alright in there?” came John’s voice over the system from the other side of the glass.
“Brian’s lost all sense of rhythm,” said Robin.
Brian glared at her. “Don’t be so fucking ridiculous,” he said, raising his voice.
“Get it together, you two,” came Freddie’s voice over the system, and Brian turned his glare on him on the other side of the glass. “This is the last track of the album. Let’s do it again.”
Brian huffed angrily but nodded. “Roll the fucking track,” he said, readying himself to play his section again. He looked at Robin whose eyes were spitting blue fire as she hit the drums with the anger of someone who looked like she wanted to hit him instead. That made his irritation flare up and he came in a beat too late, and Robin stopped playing and jumped to her feet.
“What the fuck was that?” she shouted.
“Oh, calm down, let’s do it again,” he said.
“Don’t patronise me, Brian,” she said. “Just because your concentration is shot doesn’t mean I have to play one of the most complex drum parts on the entire fucking album over and over…”
“Give me a fucking break, it’s hardly the most complex…” he argued back.
“Brian, Robin, let’s all just-” Brian vaguely heard Freddie trying to get them to calm down, but it fell on deaf ears as he and Robin began shouting at one another in the booth before Robin threw her drumsticks on the ground.
“Oh, very mature, princess,” shot Brian, angrily.
Robin glared at him murderously, as Freddie and John came into the recording booth.
“Let’s all calm down,” said John.
“I’m not the one who needs to calm down,” snapped Brian, glaring at John.
“Don’t get mad at him because you can’t play,” yelled Robin.
“Oh, fuck off,” said Brian. “He wasted us two hours last week because he couldn’t figure out his own damn solo.”
“I was modifying it!” said John, defensively. “Freddie said to try something different.”
“It wasn’t me, RT suggested that,” said Freddie, raising his voice as well. “I wrote it just fine.”
“Who the fuck gives a shit about what happened last week?” demanded Robin.
“No, let’s talk about when you kept forgetting the lyrics to the song you wrote and wasted us an entire night,” said Brian, rounding on her again.
“Oh, you are just incapable of letting anything go, aren’t you?” said Robin, eyes flashing angrily at him. “I’m sorry we’re not as bloody perfect as you, Brian. No, hang on, you’re not perfect. BECAUSE YOU KEEP MESSING UP YOUR FUCKING TIME.”
Brian heard Roy’s and Mike’s attempts to calm them down from the other side of the glass, but chose to ignore them.
“God, you’re impossible,” he snapped. “Just absolutely fucking impossible to deal with.”
To his absolute shock, instead of shouting back, Robin’s eyes went wide and she stared at him in silence. Then, without a single word, she turned around and left, not stomped off like she usually did when she was angry, but calmly walked out, grabbing her coat on the way as she did. Brian blinked in bewilderment and looked at Freddie, who seemed completely shocked as well.
“I’ll go after her,” said Freddie, and took off in the same direction.
Brian exhaled shakily, his temper simmering down as a cold sense of unease washed over him. He had fully expected Robin to scream and argue or even throw something at him before stomping off to cool her head. She had never, not in four years of him knowing her, had just abruptly walked away like that.
He glanced at poor John who looked terrified and confused. The sense of unease grew and Brian felt ashamed at his own behaviour. Tempers had been running short the longer they worked on the album. November was already coming to an end and it would be yet another year of them not progressing any further. They were all tired, overwrought and frustrated.
With a sigh, Brian turned to John and attempted to smile. “I’m sorry about this, Deaky,” he said. “And about what I said. The song does sound better with your modifications.”
John nodded, looking slightly mollified though still a little nervous. “S-Should we go after them?” he asked, nodding in the direction where Freddie and Robin had gone.
“Better not,” said Brian. “Robin likely needs to cool off. She and Freddie will be back soon.”
John didn’t look too convinced, probably because Brian hadn’t said it with much confidence, but he thankfully didn’t question it. Brian apologised to Roy and Mike as well, who both accepted the apology but did look nervous at Robin’s departure. Minutes ticked by but there was no sign of her or Freddie returning. They waited in silence with Roy and Mike, and the longer they waited, the more Brian grew nervous.
“She wouldn’t leave the band, would she?” asked Mike, after nearly half an hour had passed.
Brian felt the telltale cold tingle in his fingers of an oncoming panic attack and quickly clenched his fists. He wanted to assure Mike that Robin wouldn’t leave but the words seemed to get stuck in his throat as he pondered that horrible possibility. God, he didn’t even want to think about what would happen if she left the band.
“No, she wouldn’t leave,” said John, quietly and firmly.
Brian looked at him and John gave him a comforting nod, making him feel like a child for needing reassurance from a man four years his junior.
“Deaky,” said Brian, his throat feeling like he’d swallowed glass. “What if-?”
The door to the recording room opened and Brian jumped to his feet as Robin and Freddie returned, carrying shopping bags.
“Robin, wh-?” he began, but she interrupted him before he could speak.
“Shh, no talking,” she said, as Freddie began passing out paper cups to all of them, including Roy and Mike. Robin pulled out a bottle full of clear liquid from the one of the bags and began pouring it into the cups for each of them, and took one for herself as well. “Drink,” she ordered.
“Do as she says,” said Freddie, before any of them could protest.
John shrugged and started drinking, and Roy and Mike followed a moment later. Brian stared as Robin and Freddie all but slammed down their drink. He opened his mouth but Robin shot him a look, so he hastily began drinking, realising it was peppermint schnapps.
Robin and Freddie refilled their own drinks and were almost done with their second round by the time the rest of them finished their first drink. Robin immediately refilled their drinks.
“Drink,” said Freddie, and with a chuckle, they all complied.
The pattern continued for about three more times wherein they all got thoroughly drunk on peppermint schnapps without saying a single word other than either Freddie or Robin ordering them to drink, and the one time Freddie went and opened a fresh bottle after they finished the first one.
“That’s better,” said Robin, finishing her latest drink and setting her cup down. She sat down on the sofa between John and Freddie, looking perfectly relaxed.
“We’re not done yet,” said Freddie. “There’s more,” he added, pointing to the unopened shopping bags.
“Did you just...walk out of recording to go and buy booze?” asked John, looking thoroughly impressed.
Robin and Freddie nodded. “We need a fucking break,” said Freddie. “Or we are going to kill each other.”
Brian blinked in shock, his earlier anxiety rising to the surface once again. “A break-?” he asked.
“We need to let loose and relax, Bri,” said Robin, looking at him. There was no trace of her earlier anger on her face and she looked pleasantly buzzed. “We have been going at breakneck speed for the past couple of months. We fight and argue and tear each other apart over every little thing and we can’t keep going on like this.”
“But we can’t stop fighting either,” said Freddie, picking up where she had left off. “As much as we argue, our fights push each other to greater heights. Our edits and feedback make our music sound better.” He looked around at the room imploringly, and John, and even Roy and Mike nodded at that. “So how do we fight but not completely break down?”
“We get shitfaced,” said Robin, pouring them the next round of drinks. “And make up. Because that’s what you do after a fight. You kiss and make up.”
John giggled and followed Robin and Freddie’s lead by slamming down his drink. They both cheered at him when he did.
“I like this idea,” said John enthusiastically, cheeks flushed a light pink.
“Good on you, Deaky,” said Freddie, leaning past Robin to ruffle his hair affectionately.
“Ah, what the hell, sounds like a good idea,” said Roy, and Mike grinned in agreement.
Robin winked at them before looking at Brian expectantly.
“Shouldn’t we discuss-?” he began.
“No,” said Freddie, Robin and John in unison.
“No talking, no apologising, no dissecting what he said and what she said or who did what or who played what right or wrong,” continued Freddie. He stumbled to his feet and held up his paper cup. “I hereby decree that no matter what, at the end of every recording session, we get shitfaced and make up. Never go to bed angry.”
Robin giggled as she pulled on his arm to get him to sit back down. “I’m pretty sure people are talking about marriage when they say that,” she said.
“We might as well be fucking married,” said Freddie. “The way we bicker? The four of us are married as can be, darlings. And the best way to keep a marriage is to…”
“Have sex!” declared Robin, and Brian almost choked on his drink.
“No, no, I mean, yes, that’s true,” laughed Freddie, as John was laughing so much he was squeaking. “The best way to keep a marriage is not to avoid fighting at all, but to make up after one.”
“How do you know so much, oh wise one?” asked Robin.
“I am glad you asked, young Robin,” said Freddie, finishing his latest drink before reaching into his pocket. To their astonishment, he pulled out a small velvet box and opened it to show them a simple but pretty ring.
“Freddie,” said Brian, stunned as all laughter in the room quietened down. “Are you-?”
“Proposing to Mary? Yes, I am,” he said, snapping the box shut and putting it back into his pocket. “I have the whole thing planned out.”
“When are you asking?” asked John, eagerly.
“At Christmas,” said Freddie, pouring himself another drink. “I’ve even made a game out of it.”
“Wow, congratulations, Fred,” said Brian, feeling himself getting emotional. “I’m really happy for you.”
Freddie smiled at him softly. “Thank you, Brian,” he said.
“Yeah, congrats, Freddie,” said John. “The two of you are good together.”
“Thank you, Deaky,” said Freddie, grinning at John.
Robin just smiled and pulled Freddie into a hug, which he returned with a delighted laugh. “What are we waiting for?” asked Robin, as she pulled away. “Freddie’s getting engaged, we are about to finish an album and the holidays are around the damn corner. What do we say, Deaky?”
John grinned and picked up one of the bottles. “Drink?”
“Drink!” they all chorused.
Brian blinked awake, mouth dry and head pounding from the telltale signs of a night of heavy drinking. He was aware of not being in his bed and that it was rather uncomfortable though surprisingly warm, wherever he was. He had to blink a few more times to wake up properly and he realised he had fallen asleep sitting up on the sofa in the recording studio, head slumped over on the shoulder of the person next to him. Judging by the bony shoulder and the dark hair, it had to be Freddie, and sure enough, when Brian lifted his head, he saw that Freddie was asleep next to him, snoring lightly, one arm draped around John who was resting his head on Freddie’s other shoulder.
“Awake?” He heard a quiet whisper and looked at the other side of the room where Robin was sitting in Roy’s usual chair, smoking a cigarette. There was no sign of Mike or Roy, and a quick glance at the time told him it was close to five in the morning.
“Yeah,” he whispered back. Slowly, he stood up and shuffled over to sit in the other chair near her.
She smiled as he sat down, smoke blowing lazily from her lips as she did. “Your hair has taken on a life of its own,” she said, still keeping her voice low.
He touched his hair and winced at the tangles he could feel. That was not going to be pleasant to deal with later. “Did you get any sleep?” he asked, his voice sounding raspy due to sleep, and the drinking and shouting hadn’t helped.
She shook her head and smiled. “I don’t have to work today so I’ll go straight to bed later,” she said, closing her eyes. “Roy and Mike took off about an hour ago. They left us the keys so we can lock up.”
Brian nodded, pleasantly surprised that Roy trusted them enough to leave them the keys to the studio. He was quiet for a while as he watched Robin smoke with her eyes closed, slightly entranced by her movements. She was hypnotising, really, and in the haze of the smoke surrounding her, it felt like she would disappear before his very eyes.
“Something on your mind?” she asked, without opening her eyes.
“I thought you were going to leave,” he confessed, quietly.
She opened her eyes, startled. “What?” she asked, her voice raising slightly which she lowered when John stirred a little before going right back to sleep. “Why would you think that?” she asked, in a low whisper.
“You walked out,” he said.
“I do that all the time,” she said, stubbing out her cigarette and reaching out her hand to take his. “I would have shouted some more but I figured out what it was that needed to be done.”
He grasped her hand, relaxing slightly when he felt her calluses under his touch. “Getting us drunk?” he asked, a little amused.
“Essentially, yes,” she said. “There was all this pent-up frustration that’s built up over the months. If we don’t get rid of it from time to time, we’ll explode. Or implode. One or the other. I’m too tired to remember.”
He laughed and took her other hand as well, holding them both in his grip and marvelling at how tiny and dainty her hands were, despite the rough calluses on her palms. He’d never really realised how much drummers could get hurt and the first time he’d seen her hands crack and bleed had nearly sent him hyperventilating. Robin had found it amusing as she dealt with the unfortunately common injury.
“I’m not going to leave, you know,” she said, and he looked up from examining her hands.
His grip on her hands tightened. “I hope not,” he said, trying to make light of it but his voice came out rather serious and genuine.
“I love Queen,” she said. “I love those two idiots,” she added, nodding towards Freddie and John. “And I love you.” A pleasant feeling bubbled deep within Brian’s heart at her words, warming him up far more than the peppermint schnapps from earlier. “Even though I want to murder you most days.”
“The feeling is mutual,” he said, unable to help but smile fondly at her, and she grinned.
“I’m not going to leave,” she said again. “What did Freddie say? We’re all essentially married, aren’t we?”
Brian chuckled and nodded. “Thought you didn’t hold by marriage,” he teased.
“I don’t,” she laughed. “But the band, I believe in. We are going to be great. Just you wait.”
He smiled at her, still holding both her hands in his. “Well, then,” he said. “Till death do us apart it is.”
I realise the De Lane Lea demo was recorded in December 1971 but I moved it up for plot reasons. While I'm fond of following the history as closely as possible, it will happen occasionally, so I hope people still enjoy it.
Oh, and the incident in November is apparently true wherein Roger and Freddie got the others, including their producer and engineer, drunk while they were recording the first album as a method of stress relief.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
“I dunno what to tell you, Fred,” she said. “Joe wants it to be a surprise so he hasn’t told me anything, except to keep the whole day free.”
“That is rather nice of him, though, isn’t it?” interjected John. “To plan a whole day together, just for the two of you.”
Freddie gasped as he turned to Robin. “Maybe he’s going to propose,” he said.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Joyful the sound, the word goes around, wrote Brian, his hand trembling slightly as the lyrics formed around the melody in his head. “From father to son,” he muttered to himself, hoping no one else on the bus would hear it. He folded up the piece of paper and stuck it back into his trouser pocket with the pen, fighting off a headache.
“The students are fond of you and you have an excellent record with us so far. Consider the offer, Mr. May.”
A stable job.
“I love you and I see myself with no one else but you. I want us to spend the rest of our lives together, Brian.”
A future with a girl.
“Your studies are progressing quite well. Keep this up and you might actually finish ahead of schedule.”
Everything he ever wanted, just within reach.
“You keep sighing like that and you’ll depress me even further,” said Freddie, and Brian chuckled bitterly.
“Ever ponder the futility of our existence?” he asked.
Freddie chuckled, the sound somehow even more bitter than Brian’s. He didn’t answer as the number 9 bus rumbled along, taking the two of them to their twice a week pilgrimage to Trident Studios to make the usual inquiries.
What was happening? Had they found a publisher? When was the album coming out? Why had there been no progress even though the album had been finished at the end of last November?
“Did I show you the new crest?” asked Freddie, after a long silence.
“I thought you’d already made one,” frowned Brian, remembering the elaborate design with the word ‘Queen’ that he’d showed them last year when they were making the album.
“No, that’s just the word, dear,” said Freddie, digging around in his coat pockets and pulling out a sheet of paper that had been folded several times. He passed it to Brian, who raised an eyebrow but unfolded it and took a look.
“It’s, uh, interesting,” said Brian, looking at the large Q surrounded two lions and a large bird and a few pixies and was that a crab? “Zodiac signs?” he asked, as it clicked.
“Right in one,” grinned Freddie. “Lions for our darling Leos, Robin and Deaky. Crab for you, Mr. Cancer, and the fairies of Virgo for me.”
“And the phoenix?” asked Brian, with a small smile.
“Because it’s cool,” said Freddie, like it was obvious. “And because it’s a good representation of us.”
“If you say so,” smiled Brian and handed it back. “It is rather eye-catching.”
“We are rather eye-catching,” said Freddie, and Brian chuckled in agreement.
The bus got to their stop and they alighted, mentally preparing themselves for another meeting that would likely give them the usual runaround.
To their absolute surprise, however, Norman Sheffield looked pleased as punch to see them.
“We are releasing the album,” said Norman, once Brian and Freddie were seated in his posh office. “With EMI records.”
Brian and Freddie sat in shocked silence for a long five seconds before they both grinned in unison and hugged each other tightly.
“When?” asked Freddie immediately, after they had let go and turned back to Norman.
“Next month, hopefully,” said Norman, beaming at them as he pulled out a thick sheaf of papers. “The single will release a week before the album, and we’re trying to narrow down the details. We have to move quickly, though. How soon can you get your other two members down here? We need to sign the paperwork right away if we want to make the deadline.”
Looking back on this moment in the future, Brian would berate himself for not thinking more rationally, for not saying they needed to speak to a lawyer before signing anything, for not punching Norman Sheffield right in his smug face.
“I’ll call them right away,” said Brian, getting to his feet.
“Oh, use the phone in here,” said Norman, pointing to his phone benevolently.
Brian nodded and his hands shook with anticipation as he made the call.
“Hello?” came John’s voice as he answered the phone in their flat.
“Deaky, get Robin and come down to Trident right away,” said Brian, grinning at Freddie, who was practically vibrating with excitement.
“Why? What’s going on?” asked John, sounding a touch worried.
“They’re publishing the album,” said Brian.
There was a beat of silence followed by a loud ‘YES’ and John called out for Robin. Brian listened with a grin as John excitedly described what Brian had just told him to a very confused Robin, and then the phone was apparently snatched from his hands.
“Brian,” came Robin’s voice, sounding like she was trying hard not to squeal out of excitement. “Tell me you’re not fucking with us.”
“Not at all,” he said. “You and Deaky get here quickly. They need us to sign the papers.”
“We’ll be right there,” she said, and hung up without saying goodbye.
Brian set the receiver down. “They’ll be here soon,” he told Norman and Freddie.
“Excellent,” said Norman. “Why don’t you boys read the contract while they get here? I’m afraid I have a meeting right after this so I’d like you all to sign as soon as the other two are here.”
“Of course, we’ll be quick,” said Brian, already reaching for the paperwork as Freddie nodded eagerly.
The contract was extensive and even with Brian’s quick reading speed, it only gave him enough time to skim through the important details. Trident would officially be responsible for releasing their work through EMI, the band would be getting new equipment (the cost of which would be deducted from their royalties once the album was out), and more importantly, the band members would be receiving an advance and a stipend.
“The stipend is only ten pounds a week now,” said Norman. “But once the album starts selling, we can talk about raising it.”
Ten pounds was not much, it was less than half the average wage at the time but they would finally be making money from their music (apart from gigs, at least). They would still be continuing with their gigs, and with the addition of that stipend as well as an advance, most of them could actually think about quitting their jobs to focus on their music full time.
“When do we get the new equipment?” asked Freddie.
“End of the week, I’d say,” said Norman. “Put together a list of what you need and we’ll get them to you.”
Brian could have jumped with joy at thought. They could finally replace Robin’s drum kit which was falling apart, John could play a Fender Precision like he’d been wanting to, and Brian could get a Fender Stratocaster, the guitar he’d wanted for so long since the Red Special had been a placeholder until he could afford one.
With a grin at Freddie, he set aside the contract and began compiling the list with his help. They were sure not to go too overboard, well aware that the money would come from their royalties and if the album didn’t sell, they would be screwed. Robin and John arrived halfway through and after their additions to the list, they presented it to Norman, who smiled and passed them a pen to sign the contract. Still grinning like excited fools, they signed the contract and were promptly ushered out of his office since he had an important meeting.
Once they were outside, the four of them hugged each other tightly, laughing and grinning and jumping up and down, oblivious to the stares of passers-by.
Queen was releasing its very first album.
“Can’t sleep either?”
Brian jumped a little and smiled weakly in the direction of Robin as she came out into the living room from her bedroom.
“Seems so,” he said, and held up the bottle of wine he’d been slowly drinking in the semi-dark living room.
She smiled and headed over to him, grabbing the bottle before sitting down next to him on the sofa. “Depressed and drinking, young Brian?” she asked, taking a long swig from the bottle. “For shame.”
“I doubt I’m very young anymore,” he said, not refuting the depressed and drinking part.
She rolled her eyes at him. “Yes, because twenty six is old,” she said. “You’re practically dust.”
He chuckled without humour and dropped his head to her shoulder with a deep sigh. “Happy fucking Birthday, right?” he mumbled, wondering if it was good to be so miserable on his own birthday.
She turned slightly so she was hugging him properly, his head tucked into the crook of her neck. He was hit by the smell of fresh soap and knew she must have bathed before going to bed. Against his better judgment, he snuggled in deeper with another sigh, relieved when she didn’t push him away but instead began running her fingers through his hair comfortingly.
“It’s not all bad,” she said. “The single came out.”
“That no one will play on the radio,” he said.
“The album came out,” she continued, ignoring his words.
“That no one really seems to be buying,” he said. “And it didn’t chart, for that matter.”
“We got decent reviews from the music press,” she said.
“Yeah, a few tidbits here and there,” he countered.
“And it is yet to release in America so there’s still time for more,” she finished.
“No guarantee it will do better there,” he muttered.
She sighed in exasperation and pulled away from the hug. “Please do whine more, Bri,” she said. “It’s the perfect accompaniment to the wine.” She took another long sip from the bottle before practically shoving it into his hands.
He smiled sardonically and drank some of it before setting the bottle aside. “I’m just saying, it’s not great, is it?” he asked.
“You’re right, it’s not the instant success we all wanted, but it’s a fucking start,” she said, her voice sharp. “Led Zep was torn apart by the reviewers on their first album. Bowie barely sold his first album. Hell, practically every band and artist takes a while to make an impact.”
“But we are taking longer,” he said, his voice rising with frustration. “We are falling behind. Every day that passes seems to take us further away.”
“Except it isn’t,” she pointed out. “We have an album, Brian. An honest to God record in a shop. With our names and our songs that we slaved over night after night. Our instruments, our goddamn music. So what if they won’t play us on the radio or the record isn’t selling in millions yet? It will. Just you see.”
“Oh, spare me the optimism,” he snapped, and her eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Three things I’ve learned since the album came out,” she said, holding up three fingers. “One,” she began, putting down her ring finger. “We need to take the new songs we’ve all been writing and start on a second album. Two,” she put down her index finger. “The next single needs to have a faster start. Radios won’t play something that takes too long to start. And three,” she kept her middle finger up. “I don’t operate on fucking optimism. These are just the facts, and you know them as well as I do.”
He stared at her and sighed with a tired nod. “Yeah,” he admitted, knowing they’d discussed a possible second album as well as what the next single should be like as a band once they’d realised their mistake with the first. ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ was a good song but it didn’t have a catchy enough start for radio stations. And considering Queen was practically a nothing band from nowhere as far as the world was concerned, the reviews they’d received were fairly decent.
“Promising,” the world had called them.
Robin picked up the bottle of wine and handed it back to him, with a clear nod to drink. He obliged her and took a swig, sighing once again.
“So we get right back to it, don’t we?” he asked, after a long bout of silence.
“Yes,” she said. “We’re meeting with Norman tomorrow, so we-”
Her words were cut off as they both heard a loud thump and a crash from John’s room. They met each other’s gaze for a horrified second before rushing down the hallway. Brian got there first with his longer stride and knocked on the door.
“Deaky? You alright?” he asked, urgently.
“Just open the door, maybe he’s fallen down,” said Robin, looking ready to push him out of the way.
Brian shot her an exasperated look but the door opened and a sheepish John smiled at them.
“Sorry,” he said, and their alarmed expressions morphed into ones of relief. “I fell asleep on my desk and dropped quite a few heavy books when I moved in my sleep.”
“Don’t scare us like that, Deaky,” said Robin, flicking his forehead affectionately. “I thought you’d been attacked. Sleep in your bed, not at the desk.”
“I know,” he said, smiling at her. “I was just up looking over stuff for tomorrow’s meeting.”
“The meeting with Norman?” asked Brian, puzzled.
John nodded and invited them inside. After Freddie had moved out, John had gotten the room for himself, with enough space for a double bed and a desk. It was also significantly tidier since John was one for organisation and precision, with everything put away carefully. So it was rather surprising when they saw a mess of papers on his desk, and a bunch of books fallen over on the floor.
“I have been doing some research, right,” he said, gathering the books and placing them down in a neat pile on the floor next to his desk. “And going over a copy of the contract.”
“How’d you get a copy of the contract?” asked Brian, noticing that the papers on his desk had sentences underlined in red, with some words circled and others crossed out with little asterisks next to them.
“I, uh, got Susie to make me a copy,” said John.
Brian looked confused but Robin whistled. “Well done, Deaky,” she said, sitting down on the edge of his bed. “Seducing Norman’s secretary. Bravo!”
“I didn’t seduce her,” said John, though he giggled at her words. “I was just nice and she let me photocopy the contract.”
“I bet,” winked Robin, and the two dissolved into laughter as Brian just shook his head. Those two found the silliest things to laugh about.
“When did you even do that?” asked Brian.
“Today,” said John. “I swung by on my way home from work.”
“Find anything interesting?” asked Robin.
“Apart from a lot of legal jargon that I am not qualified to understand? No,” said John. “But I made use of a very helpful legal dictionary and a lot of contract law,” he added, pointing to the books.
“What did you learn?” asked Brian.
“That we really should have a lawyer read this,” said John.
“Is there something wrong with it?” asked Brian, standing by the desk so he could read it.
“Not as far as I can tell, but again, I’m not qualified,” said John. “It definitely has a few things we need to take note of.”
“Like what?” asked Robin.
“Well, for one, the stipend will be raised to fifteen pounds a week for each of us once the album is released in America,” he said, pointing to one of the underlined clauses. “It’s not much, but-”
“I thought we’d have to negotiate it,” said Brian surprised, having understood that a raise in stipend would be something they would have to ask for.
“No, it says it here,” said John. “We’ll raise it at the meeting tomorrow, just to make sure we’ll be paid the extra once the album comes out in America.”
“Alright, anything else?” asked Brian, impressed at John’s efforts already.
“Yes,” he said, and then shuffled through until he found the right papers. “I know we said we would record a second album, and part of us signing this deal was that Trident will handle the studio time.”
“Does that mean we are permitted to record during regular hours?” asked Robin, as Brian’s eyebrows shot up. At John’s nod, she looked at Brian in shock. “Did Norman tell you that?”
“No, he never said,” said Brian.
“Fucking hell,” muttered Robin. “We should have taken the damn contract to a lawyer the second he gave it to us.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions right away,” said Brian, his mind racing. “We signed this after we’d already recorded the first album. For all we know, once we talked about the second album, this would have come up.”
“Either way,” interjected John pointedly. “We don’t have to hoard recording time like gold dust and we can dedicate proper time for it.”
“So, a pay rise and recording during normal hours?” surmised Robin.
“Essentially,” nodded John.
Robin grinned and looked at Brian. “See? Things are looking up already.”
Brian had to see Robin’s point, when next day at the meeting, Norman agreed with the stipend rise and to let them use the studio to record their second album during regular hours. The three of them had filled Freddie in before the meeting, and he’d promptly declared that John should lead the meeting. Brian had been unsure about putting it all on their youngest member’s shoulders but considering he knew the material best, he had reluctantly agreed.
John surpassed his expectations magnificently. He was normally silent during meetings, not speaking unless he was spoken to, so it was astonishing to watch him raise the appropriate clauses in the contract from notes he’d made in a little notebook.
“Deaky’s a genius,” Brian heard Robin mutter to Freddie part-way through the meeting. “I don’t even understand half the shit he’s saying but I’m fine to let him handle it from now on.”
Brian privately agreed, considering at least one of them needed to handle the band’s interest if they were supposed to continue on. They would have to have a proper band meeting later to discuss their roles besides playing music.
“How soon can you begin working on the second album?” asked Norman.
“We’re ready with a full eleven tracks,” said Freddie, at once.
Norman nodded and checked through some papers. “You can start recording as early as next month then,” he said.
The band grinned at each other. They had been itching to get back into the studio, now that they understood what they needed to work on, what to change, what to keep, and most importantly, what to do to make sure it sold well.
“Do you have a producer in mind?” asked Norman, surveying them. “I’m sure RT would-”
“What about Bowie?” asked Robin, and Brian shot her a look. “What? We know he’s worked with Trident before.”
“It’s true,” said Freddie, and Brian knew from the glint in his eye that he was all for Robin’s idea.
“He is a bit busy at the moment, but I’ll make inquiries,” said Norman.
“In case he isn’t, we did like working with RT,” added Brian.
“Oh, yeah, that too,” nodded Robin. “But if we could get Bowie, that would do much better for the sales, I’d reckon.”
She did have a point, and Brian had to silently marvel of how aware she was of this industry. Like most people, he tended to forget that while Robin wasn’t a swot like him or Deaky, she was incredibly intelligent and well-read.
“In the meantime, we have something else to discuss,” said Norman. “We need to do promos for two of your songs.”
They blinked in shock. Norman had previously told them they would be doing a promo video for ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ before it was released in America, but they were yet to hear about a second one.
“What’s the other one?” asked Freddie, voicing what they were all thinking.
“Let’s see, what was it called again?” murmured Norman, looking at his papers. “Here we go. Liar.”
“Liar’s being released as a single?” asked Brian.
“Only in America and not until next year,” said Norman. “Meanwhile, the video shoot for both songs will be on the same day. Susie will get you the details but I can tell you that you will be filming at the Brewer Street Studios.”
“When?” asked Robin.
“On Monday,” he said.
“This Monday?” asked Freddie, raising his eyebrows since it was Friday that day.
Norman nodded and buzzed for Susie, who entered and smiled at them, going a little pink when she saw John. She held out a neatly written out itinerary for them which Freddie snatched at once, and he and Robin began reading it avidly. Brian smiled apologetically at Susie before turning back to Norman.
“Have the album sales improved any?” he asked.
Norman smiled tightly. “Not as much as we’ve been expecting, but I have a solution to that,” he said. “We should do a tour to promote the album.”
“I thought we were already continuing gigs,” said John, checking something in his notebook.
“Yes, but I meant more of a proper tour, not just a few weekend gigs,” said Norman. “I am speaking to someone at the moment, but while I sort it out, you lot focus on the video shoots and then on recording your next album. Leave the rest to me.”
His voice left no room for argument, and the dismissal was evident. The four of them took their leave, and by silent agreement went back to their rehearsal studio.
“Let’s start with the basics,” said Brian, once they were sitting on the little dais with coffees for all four of them. “Someone needs to handle the money, someone needs to look after the press, someone has to manage our personnel and day to day, and someone needs to keep track of our performances, whether live or for video shoots.”
“Think you answered your own question there, Bri,” said Freddie. “Deaky will look after the money, Robin will handle the press, you deal with the personnel and day to day, and I’ll do the performance bit.”
“I’m alright with that,” nodded Robin. “Deaky?”
“Yeah,” he said.
Brian nodded as well, and made a note of it. “Then that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
“Until we can afford proper managers, at least,” added Robin, and Freddie nodded along.
“No, even then,” said John, and they when they looked at him in surprise, he shrugged. “I’m sure we can delegate but we should still always keep an eye on things.”
“You have a point,” said Brian.
“God, it’s like running a business all over, isn’t it?” sighed Freddie.
“We are going to have to,” said Brian, firmly. “Let’s talk about the video shoots on Monday.”
“Right,” said Robin, as she laid down the itinerary on the floor between them. “It’s fairly straightforward. We have to show up at nine in the morning with our equipment and appropriate wardrobe. Report to someone called Henry Grafton. He’s the Trident representative who handles the promo shoots.”
“Alright,” nodded Brian. “Any ideas about the wardrobe, Freddie?”
“Yeah,” he said. “You know how with the second album we want to do a black and white theme?” At their nods, he grinned. “I say we give them a glimpse of that.”
“A black and white wardrobe?” asked Robin, and Brian could practically hear the wheels in her head turning.
“Yes,” said Freddie. “We need two different outfits so we can mix and match.”
“Not a bad plan,” said Robin. “We’ll put together the outfits at the flat later and go shopping if we need something else.”
There were murmurs of agreement, and they continued discussing their plans for the new album as well as the upcoming shoot for a few more hours.
“Alright, enough,” said Robin, finally. “I need a fucking drink that’s not coffee.”
“Let’s go out and celebrate,” said Freddie.
“Any ideas where we’re going?” asked Brian, ready for a drink as well.
“Deaky should pick the place,” said Freddie. “He’s the hero of the hour.”
John blushed but gave a nod. “There’s this new disco that’s opened up-” he said, shooting Brian and Robin slightly sheepish looks.
“No, Fred’s right,” said Robin. “You get to pick, Deaky. So disco it is.”
The new disco, as it turned out, wasn’t all that bad. They found a nice, cosy booth for the four of them and Brian went and bought the first round of drinks. When he returned the topic being discussed was Robin’s birthday which was less than a week away.
“You haven’t got any plans?” exclaimed Freddie, as Brian set the drinks down. “Why not?”
“I told you, Joe’s planned something,” she shrugged, smiling at Brian in thanks for the drink.
“Yes, yes, you’re having sex, we’re all thrilled, but we have to go out,” said Freddie. “You can’t turn into Brian.”
“Oi, steady on,” said Brian, frowning.
“You spent your birthday yesterday at home,” Freddie pointed out.
“Chrissie and I went out for lunch,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s still not enough of a celebration,” said Freddie, shaking his head. “Rob, you’ve got to do something besides what Joe’s planned.”
She chuckled at him. “I dunno what to tell you, Fred,” she said. “Joe wants it to be a surprise so he hasn’t told me anything, except to keep the whole day free.”
“That is rather nice of him, though, isn’t it?” interjected John. “To plan a whole day together, just for the two of you.”
Freddie gasped as he turned to Robin. “Maybe he’s going to propose,” he said.
Brian felt his stomach clench and for a moment, he had to grasp his drink tightly. He glanced at Robin, who was sitting next to him, and saw an odd expression on her face.
“Oh,” she said, and looked down into her drink with a small frown.
The silence stretched on uncomfortably and Brian was relieved when Freddie chuckled.
“It’s alright, darling,” he said. “With the band stuff taking off, I’m sure none of us want to focus on anything else at the moment.”
“That’s right, yeah,” said Robin, quickly. “I mean, I love Joe. But our priority is the band at the moment, right?”
Freddie nodded, as did Brian, but when they glanced at John, he was looking over at the dance floor.
“Oi, Deaky, we’re having a moment here,” said Robin, chuckling.
He jumped and went red. “Sorry,” he said. “What were you saying?”
“What’s got you so distracted?” asked Freddie, and they all turned and looked at the dance floor. There were several people dancing but as they looked over, a pretty redhead quickly glanced away from their booth. “Ooh, someone likes our Deaky.”
“Not a chance,” said John, going even redder. “She’s beautiful. She was probably looking at Freddie or Brian.”
“Easy enough to find out,” said Robin, kicking John under the table. “Go dance with her.”
“No, I can’t,” said John.
“Don’t make me push you,” she threatened, as Brian and Freddie snorted into their drinks.
John gave her an exasperated look and stubbornly shook his head.
“Oh, fine,” said Robin, slamming down her drink before getting up and going over to the dance floor.
“What are you doing?” asked John, but she ignored him with a grin.
“Oh, this should be good,” said Freddie, as Robin said something to the redhead, and pointed back at their booth. The two of them giggled and spoke for a bit before they started heading over.
“God, what do I do?” asked John, looking like he was going to panic.
“Just smile,” advised Freddie, as the girls reached their booth.
“Hello, boys,” said Robin. “This is Veronica. Ronnie, these are the boys. That’s Freddie and Brian, and this is John.”
Veronica smiled at them, blushing when Robin introduced John.
“I was telling Ronnie that John is our expert when it comes to disco,” said Robin, sliding into the booth next to Brian again. “Scoot over, Bri.”
Brian slid in further as Robin made space for Veronica to sit next to her, opposite John. Brian had to turn his body slightly since the booth wasn’t really big enough to have more than two people on one side, and it left Robin pressed into his side, which for some reason made his cheeks burn. Thankfully, no one noticed since the attention was on John and Veronica, both of whom seemed quite shy but Robin and Freddie were acting as excellent conversationalists to draw the two shy ones out of their shell. Brian was content to watch the whole thing unfold, trying to ignore the fact that Robin was practically cuddled into his arms.
After a bit more liquid courage, John mustered up the nerve to ask Veronica to dance, and the two of them left for the dance floor with wide smiles on their faces.
“That was a job well done, Rob,” said Freddie, grinning at his partner in crime.
Robin shifted away from Brian, the lack of contact making him feel a touch cold even though it was the middle of July in a packed disco on a Friday night.
“Couldn’t have done it without you, Fred,” she winked. “Sorry about crowding you, Bri.”
“No problem,” said Brian, taking a sip of his drink to have something to do only to realise his glass was empty.
“I’ll go get the next round,” said Freddie.
“Thanks, love,” said Robin. “Make a quick survey of the lovebirds on the dance floor on your way back.”
“You know I will,” he winked, and left.
Brian chuckled at their nosy ways and Robin raised her eyebrows. “Oh, I’m sorry, did you forget we did this for you and Chrissie as well?” she asked.
“I invited Chrissie without help from you two,” he snorted.
“Yeah, but then you got all nervous after the gig,” she said, and he rolled his eyes because it was true. “I was the one who went to Chrissie and talked you up while Freddie and Deaky got you calmed down.”
“Fine, I won’t say anything,” he said.
She grinned and started tapping out a rhythm against the empty glasses on the table with her nails, unable to sit still for even a moment.
“If Joe proposes,” he blurted out, watching as her drumming stopped. “What will you say?”
She turned to him and narrowed her eyes. “Did you forget the rule?” she asked. “About not prying in each other’s relationships?” He raised his eyebrows, nodding towards the dance floor incredulously. “That doesn’t count,” she said, at once. “Being a reliable friend when you’re interested in someone is different from prying into relationships.”
“I just asked a simple question,” he said, knowing he was definitely crossing a line but being unable to help it.
“Alright, I’ll ask one in return then,” she said, her eyebrows rising in challenge. “Why haven’t you proposed to Chrissie even though she’s mentioned multiple times that she wants to get engaged?”
He went red and turned away. “That’s none of your business,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Robin, frowning darkly at him.
They sat in silence until Freddie returned. He set their drinks down and looked between them.
“Did you have a fight?” he asked.
“No,” they both answered in unison.
“Clearly,” snorted Freddie. “Drink up.”
Brian all but chugged his vodka tonic, still annoyed. Though he couldn’t be sure if it was Robin or himself that he was cross with.
“Oh, look,” said Freddie, and Brian shook himself free of his thoughts and turned to the dance floor where John and Veronica were dancing closer than ever, looking for all the world to be completely lost in one another.
It made Brian smile despite his mood, and he nudged Robin’s arm. “Sorry,” he murmured.
She smiled back reluctantly. “Me too,” she said, and he grinned. Robin was quick to anger but she was not one to hold onto that anger for long and he liked that about her. Brian noticed Freddie smiling when he saw they’d reconciled, and with matching grins of enthusiasm, the three of them began discussing their upcoming video shoot.
“It’s fucking unfair,” grumbled Robin. “The three of you look so much nicer.”
“Not sure most people would agree,” said John, keeping his chin tilted up as Freddie tied a bow around his neck. “Er, Freddie, are you sure about this?”
“Yes, it will look gorgeous,” assured Freddie, stepping back once he was done.
Brian had to agree. It did add to John’s look with the black bow around his neck, since the rest of his clothes didn’t stand out too much with the black trousers, black and white striped top and the black blazer.
Even Brian looked dressed up in comparison with the black velvet jacket which had a fur-lined collar that Freddie had talked him into. He tugged a bit at the collar, ignoring Robin’s annoyed look.
“Stop pulling at it,” she said, berating him like an errant child.
He rolled his eyes at her in response, trying not to stare for too long. It was the day of the shoot and when they had showed up at the allocated time, the four of them had been ushered to get their hair and makeup done. While the boys only had some powder and a bit of eyeliner, the makeup artist had gone all out for Robin, giving her makeup that made her look like she’d stepped off the pages of Rolling Stones. Combined with her long golden hair, she looked as glamorous as Brigitte Bardot on a very, very good day. The reason she was complaining, however, was that the three of them had much more elaborate wardrobes than her, since she had to be dressed more for efficiency than glamour.
“It just sucks, you know,” she continued, glancing down at her tight trousers and the sleeveless black v-neck top with embroidered white flowers around the neckline. “I’m always at the back, and I won’t even stand out.”
“Darling, you stand out, trust me,” said Freddie, who was dressed in all white (though the back of his jacket had embroidered dark blue flowers on it), rummaging through a box of accessories and pulling out an armband shaped like a serpent. He grabbed Robin’s hand and slid the armband up until it went tight around her upper arm. “There, that looks nicer.”
“I can’t wear this,” she said, reluctantly. “It will slide down once I start playing.”
He handed her a bunch of silver necklaces of varying lengths from a choker to a long chain and she began putting them on one by one. “It’s a video shoot, not a live performance,” said Freddie. “If it does, we’ll do a retake.”
Brian wasn’t sure they should be taking up more time than absolutely necessary but didn’t say it. They’d been told it would be recorded like a proper performance instead of having playback, so it was a bit more pressure on top of everything, but they all trusted in one another and their ability to perform well.
Freddie hummed a song as he added a black and white glove on one of his hands and a chainmail ring and cuff on his other before passing a few rings to John, who picked out a flat gold one for his right middle finger. Freddie shrugged and took the rest back, putting them away.
“Are we ready?” asked Henry, who was apparently their wrangler as he’d called himself upon their arrival. He looked at each of them up and down, raising an eyebrow at some of the accessories Freddie was wearing but not commenting. “You’ll do. Come on. We haven’t all day.”
Their instruments had been set up on a little stage, and as they took their places under the lights, they were immediately made aware of how hot it was in the studio.
“Someone turn the bloody fan on,” ordered Henry. “We don’t want them fainting from a heatstroke before we film both videos.”
Brian stopped himself from rolling his eyes but Freddie narrowed his eyes in dislike, though wisely kept his mouth shut. A fan blessedly turned on somewhere nearby and though it wasn’t as good as air conditioning, it was some relief from the heat of the overhead lights.
The director, some bloke named Eric, who seemed even more dismissive than Henry somehow, gave them a customary look before saying something to Henry. Henry shook his head and rolled his eyes when Eric’s back was turned. Clearly there was no love lost between the two. When Henry approached the band, Brian cleared his throat.
“Is everything alright?” he asked.
Henry gave him an annoyed look. “The director wanted the girl in the front,” he said.
“She’s the drummer, she can’t be in the front if she has to play the drums,” said Freddie, as Robin narrowed her eyes dangerously at Henry.
“Yes, I told him that, but he’s taken a shine to her,” said Henry, in a tone that implied he didn’t see the appeal himself. He proceeded to explain where the cameras were and how they worked. “Just play like you would at a performance,” he added, before leaving. “Think of the cameras and the crew like people in the audience.”
Brian was sure even at their worst gigs, they’d never played an audience that looked as bored as the crew did. He wondered how many video shoots they did here, how many bands came through everyday, how many of them actually went on to succeed. He looked back at the band and saw Freddie telling Robin to calm down, which she did, thankfully, though not before glaring daggers at Henry.
“Deaky?” asked Brian, checking up on their youngest member who was the most likely to get nervous.
John did look a little pale but nodded firmly at Brian to indicate he was alright. Brian gave him an encouraging smile, as Freddie clapped him on the back.
“You’ll be fine, darling,” said Freddie, and John smiled a little. “Just follow my lead.”
Freddie met Brian’s gaze and gave him a nod, which Brian returned. He glanced at Robin who had her head tilted back as she inhaled deeply and leaned forward, like the way she did to regulate her breathing before playing the drums.
The director called for action, and like a well-practiced machine, they were off. Once the familiar notes kicked in, Brian kept an eye on John and Robin, keeping up with them as Freddie played it up to the cameras while he sang. At the chorus, Brian looked at his camera as he sang, still a little nervous to fully relax, and the people behind the cameras watching them without even a foot tapping was disconcerting, to say the least.
To his surprise, both John and Robin seemed to be much calmer, as John moved to the rhythm, and Freddie egged Robin along by leaning against the drum kit as she played. The familiar sight made the tension ease slightly and Brian began relaxing, much less focused on staying in one place. By the time the next verse began, he was moving around like he did when they performed, winking at Freddie as he did his outrageous moves, grinning at Robin when she expertly twirled her drumsticks between beats, and smiling at John when he caught his eye. The rest of the performance went well, and when the final note was hit, the director called cut.
“That was good,” said Henry, as he came up to them. “We’ll just check it over to see if we need to do anything again.”
“Can we do another?” asked Freddie, slightly pink in the cheeks with exertion despite the fan still going strong. “I feel like we could do better.”
“If there’s nothing wrong with what we shot, then no,” said Henry, bluntly.
Brian placed his hand on Freddie’s shoulder as Henry walked off. “Don’t argue,” he whispered to the singer.
“Freddie’s not wrong, though, is he?” asked John, quietly. “We want it to look the best it can.”
Brian agreed, but he also knew that arguing about it with Henry would get them nowhere, except without the ability to have their second promo. He glanced back at Robin, who was trying to get down from her riser, but Freddie moved towards her and helped her down before anyone else could.
“Thanks, love,” she smiled, as she walked up to them. “I think the beginning could be better, don’t you? Brian looked like he was going to faint.”
“I did not,” he snapped, though without any real heat in it.
“We’re done here,” said Henry, returning to them. “Get yourselves changed for the next one. Back here in half an hour.”
“Can we see the video?” asked Freddie, as he was leaving after giving them that bit of instruction.
Henry turned around and looked like he wanted to roll his eyes. “The crew here will cut it together and send it to us at a later date,” he said. “After that, it’s between you and Norman. Not my business.” He left without another word.
“Charming fellow, isn’t he?” said John, as the rest of them snorted.
“Come on, let’s cool off and get changed,” said Brian, ushering them off from under the lights and back to their dressing room.
A change of clothes followed for most of them. Freddie and John swapped trousers, with John now wearing the white ones but keeping the rest of his ensemble the same, including the black bow. Freddie wore the black trousers and a black and white silk shirt they’d found. He and Robin had cut off one of the long black sleeves of the shirt and kept the other sleeve intact, giving it a haphazard yet somehow stylish look. He also took the serpent armband Robin had worn and put it on the arm without the sleeve while his other hand still had the glove from before. Brian got rid of his velvet jacket and put on a plain black shirt, and the black jacket with white flowers on it that he’d seen both Freddie and Robin wear on several occasions. He wasn’t even sure whose jacket it was originally.
Robin was the only one who didn’t change her clothes, but she did wear a different armband after Freddie took the serpent one. She still looked a little miffed at not being as glammed up as the others, but didn’t complain this time around. Their hair and makeup was fixed up by the people from before, and soon enough, they were ushered back to the stage to record for ‘Liar’.
“Why is it so much warmer in here?” asked John, as they immediately began sweating.
“The fan broke,” answered Henry. “But just do as you did before and we’ll all be out of here before you know it.”
“Are there no other fans in the studio?” asked Freddie, crossing his arms.
“None to spare,” said Henry, dryly.
“You alright, dear?” Freddie asked Robin as Henry left.
Robin, who had already started going a little pink, gave a nod. She was the most susceptible to heat strokes out of all them, both because a lot of movement went into her playing and the fact that she was pale as a lily and equally as delicate when it came to heat. None of them would dare say it to her face though, unless they wanted a swift punch in the nose.
“Here,” said John, handing her a bottle of water. Brian hadn’t even noticed him leave and fetch it.
She smiled at him and drank nearly half of it. “Thank you, Deaky,” she said, handing it back. “The rest of you should hydrate as well.”
John drank some of it before passing it to Freddie and then Brian. Henry gave them an impatient look, as the makeup people had to quickly fix them back up and dab the sweat off their face as well.
“Let’s hurry it up,” said Eric, the director.
He called for action, and the three of them turned to Robin as she began the drum solo, waiting for her cue to kick in with the guitars. She smiled at them with her tongue caught in her teeth, and right before their cue, she shot them a cheeky wink, making Brian smile a little as he hit the note on his guitar. The heat was much more oppressive without the fan cooling them down, but it didn’t stop any of them from performing like they were playing to a full room of cheering audience. Freddie was moving all over the place, jumping onto the riser and jumping back down, moving towards both Brian and John as the instrumental opening was played.
Brian could see a thin sheen of sweat already forming on Freddie’s brow and he kept having to lick his lips as he sang since they were going dry with the heat, but his voice was consistent as ever. He did stumble on his feet a little after he finished the first verse and they went to the next instrumental section, but steadied himself on Brian’s shoulder, making the movement appear natural rather than clumsy. Brian made sure he was fine as he played, thankful that Robin and John were playing up their movements so that Freddie could catch his breath. He also added a bit of flourish to his guitar-playing, smiling when Freddie shot him a grateful look.
This was one of his favourite parts about performing with these three people, he realised as he played without even having to think about the notes. They had been playing together for two years now, and they knew each other inside and out when it came to performing. They knew what to do when one of them stumbled, they knew the conditions under which their members would thrive or suffer, they knew what to do to compensate for any obstacles. As much as Brian enjoyed being a musician and making music, performing was an art all on its own and he was learning just how much fun it was when it was performing with Freddie, Robin and John.
In the middle of the first bridge, the director called cut, and they all paused abruptly, slightly taken aback.
“What the fuck happened?” demanded Freddie, glaring towards Eric.
“Fix them back up, they look like they’re melting,” Eric told the makeup people, ignoring Freddie.
Brian rolled his eyes but didn’t protest as their makeup was once again fixed up. Freddie looked like he was seething and frankly, Brian was at the end of his patience as well. They were being treated like little more than nuisances. Unlike Freddie and Robin who probably expected rockstar treatment everywhere they went, Brian would be fine with common decency and politeness, but the people at Brewer Street Studios had apparently never been taught either of those things. Even John looked annoyed, though he kept his words to himself.
“Alright, we’ll pick back up from the bridge,” said Henry, once the makeup was done.
Starting in the middle of the song wasn’t easy, especially once they had the lost their momentum, but Robin, bless her heart, got them started with light taps of the beat against the cymbals, and with a grateful sigh, Freddie began singing as the instruments joined in time.
The guitar solo was next and it gave Freddie a break and he stood near Brian with his back to the camera, catching his breath and calming himself down, it seemed. The interruption had really been ill-timed since it had sort of taken the air out of their sails and the energy was much lesser than it had been at the start at the performance. Thankfully, they were at the ‘all day long’ part and Freddie moved to John’s side to sing that part together. Since he’d done it the first time at John’s audition, they’d somehow gotten John to agree to sing backup vocals for this part of the song. He was still a bit reserved but as Freddie drew him in to sing performance after performance, he had grown used to it and was now quite confident.
This time as well, he jumped in with gusto, moving with the beat Robin was playing as he and Freddie sang, with Brian and Robin providing support on the vocals. John was sweating too, quite a bit as a matter of fact since he was moving a fair bit to the beat during the song. The drums were hitting especially hard behind them and Brian was tempted to turn around and look but he waited until the entire section was done to check up on Robin. She was bright pink and gleaming with sweat but was playing well and gave a slight nod to him when he looked at her to let him know she was fine.
Relieved, they went into John’s bass solo and Brian could see Robin breathing in and out in a pattern to catch her breath as she played, turning her head slightly so that her hair would obscure her face from the camera. He couldn’t help but marvel at her ability to have that presence of mind. Freddie noticed as well and jumped up on the riser, hiding her further from view as he swayed along to John’s bass, and Robin gave the slightest nod of gratitude as she played. When Brian’s guitar riff hit, she wiped her hair off her forehead, getting ready to play the outro with the final drum section. Thankfully, none of them missed a beat and the outro was played perfectly until the last beat, and as soon as the director called cut, they turned around to check on Robin who was leaning forward, dripping with sweat but trying to catch her breath.
“Is she alright?” There was actually a hint of genuine concern in Henry’s voice when he approached them.
“Yes,” said Brian as he took a bottle of water from a fridge just off the stage and handed it to Robin. He didn’t want to explain the amount of energy needed to play the drums, especially under bright lights without fan or air conditioning. Robin was a trooper when it came to performances, but if they played somewhere that was too crowded with no proper ventilation, she would usually get lightheaded quite quickly and would need a moment to recover. She was getting better as her stamina was building up the more they performed, but in a stuffy studio in the middle of July without anything to cool her down meant that she reached her limit quite quickly. “You alright, love?” he asked her softly.
She had almost finished the entire water bottle but she nodded at him when he asked. “You three?” she asked, just slightly out of breath instead of panting like she had been earlier.
“We’re fine,” said Freddie, passing out water bottles to John and Brian and taking one for himself. “Are we done?” he asked Henry, who looked a little miffed at being ignored.
“I’ll go check,” he muttered, and left.
Brian drank some water, resisting the urge to pour some over his own head to cool down until he knew they didn’t need to reshoot any parts. He held his hand out to Robin so she could climb down and she smiled gratefully but didn’t take it, holding up her hands that were both bloody.
“How’d you get that?” asked Freddie, before he could.
“Cut myself on the cymbals and then I hit the other one on the snare right as we finished,” she said. “It looks worse than it is,” she added, when they looked concerned.
“Did we pack a first aid kit?” asked John.
“Yes, it’s back in the dressing room with the rest of our things,” said Freddie. “Are we done here?” he asked again, loudly and sternly.
“Yes, you’re free to go,” said Henry.
“Excellent,” said Freddie.
Without missing a beat, he put his hands around Robin’s waist and lifted her from the riser to set her down next to him, making her squeak in surprise. Sometimes they tended to forget that Freddie was physically the strongest in the band.
“I’ll get the roadies to help. Go take care of her hands,” said Brian, already beckoning John Harris and Neil Battersby to start packing up the equipment.
Freddie nodded as he and John took Robin back to the dressing room, her palms held up flat so she wouldn’t drip blood. Brian badly wanted to go with them but he didn’t trust the studio crew with their equipment, so he stayed and supervised, until all the equipment was packed into the van.
“We’ll drop the van off at the studio,” said John, referring to their rehearsal space.
“Thanks, John, Neil,” said Brian. “You’ve been a big help.”
“Of course, don’t mention it,” grinned Neil, as they drove off.
By the time Brian made it to the dressing room, Robin’s hands had been disinfected and bandaged, and she grinned when she saw him.
“Is there a lot of blood on my drum kit?” she asked, concerned as always about the wrong things.
“The drumsticks will have to be thrown away,” said Brian, remembering the bloody mess on them. “The cymbals will be cleaned, and the rest was fine.”
“The drumsticks were falling apart, anyway,” said John. “You get a new pair this way.”
She nodded with a grin, before getting a soft smile on her face as she looked at the three of them.
“What’s going on through that head of yours?” asked Freddie, starting to smile despite himself.
“As shitty as this day has been, do you realise something?” she asked, a bit of awe in her tone.
“Realise what?” asked Brian, fascinated despite himself.
“We did it,” she said. “We filmed the first promos for our songs.” She jumped up and yanked John, who was the closest to her, into a hug.
John laughed as he hugged her back, and he pulled Freddie into the hug, who in turn, pulled in Brian. The four of them, sweaty, exhausted and, in Robin’s case, injured, basked in the moment, hoping with every part of them that this was just one of many moments they would have together.
The promos mentioned above are the first versions they shot in July 1973 that weren't released. Here are the links if you wish to see them.
Keep Yourself Alive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4utDJ8J9ETU&ab_channel=BulatAraslanov
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
“It is rather impertinent, even for me, so I thought I’d preface it like that,” she said.
“Ask away,” he said, leaning back on the sofa lazily.
Her smiled dimmed as her expression grew serious. “Joe wants me to move in with him,” she said, and Brian’s brow furrowed. “Not just move into his flat across the hall, but find a place for the two of us to live together.”
Freddie’s words were said bluntly and concisely summing up his thoughts.
Robin laughed out loud, John had the decency to turn his head away to hide his smile, and Brian was torn between agreeing and rolling his eyes.
Norman Sheffield, on the other hand, didn’t appreciate it. “I agree it could be better…” he began, but Freddie shook his head.
“The editing is horrendous, the sound is awful, and it looks like a monkey with a broken camera could have done better,” said Freddie, giving his opinion on the two videos they’d shot last month at Brewer Street Studios. “And what is with those odd cuts to Brian when Deaky and I were singing together?”
Norman shifted uncomfortably. “They, uh, they thought it would...give off the wrong impression. About the band.”
“Oh, God forbid two men sing into the same microphone,” said Robin, rolling her eyes as Freddie just gaped at Norman in astonishment. “It’s practically pornographic.”
“This is ridiculous,” said Freddie. “The video is horrible.”
“It doesn’t look like a rock and roll band,” said Brian, trying to be the reasonable one.
“Not a band in 1973, at least,” added Robin.
Norman sighed and signalled at Susie to turn the tape off. “Alright,” he said. “We’ll reshoot,” he said.
“Really?” asked Robin, raising her eyebrows in surprise.
He nodded. “I didn’t like them much either and I doubt something that looks so antiquated will do well in America,” he said. “I planned ahead and got you a spot booked next week at the BBC studios.”
“Thank you,” said Brian, as they all grinned in relief.
“But there won’t be a third chance,” warned Norman. “And the studio time is coming out of your royalties.”
That wasn’t exactly encouraging but they couldn’t get bogged down with money when the most important thing was to make sure that the best possible versions of them and their music were being released into the world.
“That’s fine,” said John, voicing what they were all thinking.
Norman nodded sternly before smiling at them. “How’s the new album coming along?” he asked.
“Very well,” said Brian, truthfully. “We have five tracks mixed, six more to go.”
“Yes, we’ve been hearing samples,” said Norman. “Keep up the good work.”
They grinned in reply, pleased at his words. In the end, Roy Thomas Baker had been the one to produce their second album as well, since Bowie was busy recording his own stuff at the moment. Surprisingly, when Norman had said he’d look into it, they hadn’t expected him to actually get them a meeting with Bowie face-to-face. Despite his fame, however, Bowie seemed to recognise the three of them and laughed when reminded of the promise made for exchange of his boots. He seemed genuinely contrite he couldn’t produce the album since he’d apparently liked the first one quite a bit.
“I look forward to the next one,” he’d told them as he left. “I do owe you payment for the boots still, mind you.”
It had lit a fire in their belly, a desire to catch up. To stand on the same stage as Bowie so a collaboration between him and Queen would be a thing of beauty that would invoke excitement and anticipation from the masses. They had to get there, they simply did.
“How much longer do you think until the album’s done?” asked Norman, now.
“If we keep the pace, we might very well be done by the end of the month,” said Freddie, and Brian shot him an annoyed look. They were yet to record ‘March of the Black Queen’, which was one of the most complex tracks they would ever do and there was no telling how long it would take to record and mix everything Freddie wanted in it. Making guarantees they had no way of assuring was something they’d agreed to not do, but Freddie, as always, had his unwavering confidence that bordered on arrogance.
Norman looked impressed. “If you can deliver by the end of the month, we could have the album printed and ready to sell by October,” he said, checking his calendar. He paused at the copy of DISC magazine on his desk and smiled. “Oh, and good job raising anticipation for the new album in your interview with Rosie Horide.”
They nodded gratefully, trying not to look too giddy. Rosemary Horide had come to interview them at the end of last month for the magazine to talk about their debut album. It had been a weird sort of cosmic coincidence since she’d also been the one to give them their very first review as Queen, all the way back in July 1970 when they had done their first gig at Imperial College, before John had even joined the band.
They liked Rosie; she was rather kind and personable and she’d brought them a bottle of wine when she’d come to the flat to interview them. She had printed their words without bias, given a fair review of the album, and praised their potential while mentioning that a second album was already in the works.
Unfortunately, it was the only nice interview they’d done since the album’s release. Norman, or rather Susie on Norman’s orders, had been booking them in to do interviews with music journalists and most of them were...well, the nicest thing Brian could call them was tiresome. Robin, Freddie and even John had much more colourful things to say about each of them and what they printed about the band and its members, and all of it would make even a sailor blush. It was a necessary evil, though, as Robin liked to remind them over and over again.
“What about Mick Rock?” asked Freddie, and Brian made himself pay attention to the meeting instead of getting lost in his own head. “Bowie recommended him personally.”
“Yes, we were able to get him after you mentioned it,” said Norman. “He’s agreed to do a photoshoot and the album cover and art, as long as you still want the white and black theme.”
“We do,” nodded Brian, at once.
“It will most likely happen in early September,” said Norman. “He will send me the exact dates soon and I’ll let you know. Actually, as long as you are at the BBC studios for filming this month, I’ll book you in for a photoshoot as well.” He wrote something down and handed it to Susie, who took it and left. “It won’t be Mick Rock, mind you,” he added, when they looked excited. “We can’t get him on such short notice.”
“But we’ll still get Mick Rock for the new album,” said Robin, expectantly.
Norman nodded. “I also have you down for a meeting with Mel Bush next month,” he said. “He’s a tour promoter but he won’t agree to take you on until he hears samples from the second album.”
“Doesn’t he promote Mott?” asked Robin, and Brian wasn’t surprised that she recognised the name when none of them did.
“He does,” said Norman. “He liked the first album but he’s never seen you lot so he doesn’t know if you’re marketable. His words, not mine,” he added, when Freddie looked offended. “I have invited him for a sit-down once he’s listened to some of the songs from the new album. Now, speaking of performances, there will be a representative of the BBC when you go in for the video shoots next week. If you manage to impress him, they’ve agreed to let you play at the concert venue in Golders Green Hippodrome and it will be recorded and broadcast on the radio by the BBC.”
The four of them gaped at Norman in shock and he grinned at them. “You’ll be the first rock band to ever play that particular venue. So, don’t let me down.”
“The Hippodrome,” said Robin, still shaking her head. “The fucking Hippodrome. And,” she added, as if they had forgotten. “It is going to be broadcast. By the fucking BBC. Take that, sodding journalists who called us mediocre.”
“Hear, hear,” said Freddie, passing her the joint that he had just lit up. “You going to hurry up with that, Bri?”
Brian, who was in the process of meticulously rolling the other joint, scowled at him and didn’t bother retorting.
Robin sighed deeply at his pace as she took a hit from the joint Freddie had offered her. “So much for all the girls who think you must be good with your fingers,” she said, as Freddie and John burst into laughter. She passed the joint to John. “Here, love, Brian looks like he’ll take a while.”
Brian held up his much better rolled (in his opinion) joint with a smug glare at Robin. “Fuck off,” he said, when she went to grab it and lit it for himself.
“It’s going to get busy, isn’t it?” asked John, returning the joint to Robin after taking a hit. He looked at the entries that Brian had painstakingly written down on the calendar in the band’s flat before getting up and fetching glasses and the bottle of good vodka from the kitchen.
“Our focus should be finishing the album,” said Freddie.
“Especially after you promised we’d get it done by the end of the month,” quipped Brian, though he softened his words by passing the joint to him.
Freddie grinned unrepentantly. “We will do it. Have a little faith, darling,” he shrugged.
“I must say, we are progressing faster than we did with the first one,” said Robin, as she blew smoke from her lips. “Even though this one has many more complex overdubs.”
John grinned as he handed everyone their drinks. “Might have something to do with the fact that we’re properly awake when we record,” he said.
The rest of them chuckled in agreement, and for a while, they all just drank and smoked in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
“I finalised all the paperwork for closing up the stall yesterday,” said Freddie, after some time.
Robin hummed and took a sip of her drink. “End of an era, huh?” she murmured.
“Yeah,” he said. “End of the safety net as well, as Brian would say it.”
Brian didn’t take offence, mostly because he was starting to get pleasantly baked by this point. “Well, as someone who recently cut off his own safety net, I have no room to speak,” he said, having quit his job at the school to focus on his studies and the band. Chrissie hadn’t been thrilled about it, but she stood by him. His parents were even less thrilled, and he really didn’t want to think about that.
“We have no need for safety nets,” declared Robin. “We have our music, our-our instruments, and…” She paused, an adorable look of confusion appearing on her face. “What else do we have, Fred?”
“Massive cocks,” he said, and John spit out his drink.
“No, besides I haven’t got one,” laughed Robin, and Brian thumped John’s back as he coughed. “Bri, what else have we got?”
“A lot of confidence, apparently,” chuckled Brian.
“With plenty of ego,” added John, still chuckling through his coughs.
“Yep, that’s us,” grinned Freddie. “A lot of confidence with plenty of ego. Just like Her Royal Highness.”
“Bet we can play rock and roll better than her, though,” said Robin, and Brian just shook his head as the other two laughed.
The topic moved away from the band for a bit as they drank, smoked and talked about all sorts of things, usually going off on tangents since they were all quite high. A couple hours later, they had some leftover curry and rice, and as they were starting to sober up, it led to the usual argument about who would do the cleanup. Brian drew the short straw so he went to the kitchen while the other three sat in the living room as Robin regaled them with stories from her hometown, usually about her getting into trouble.
“...and she was all for it, mind you,” she was telling Freddie and John, both of whom were enraptured and laughing along. “But then she lost her nerve halfway through and bolted, leaving me there all by myself.”
“What did you do?” asked John, eyes wide with fascination.
“I was trying to leave, gracefully,” she said, and Freddie snorted at her choice of words. “But then he lunged for me so I dodged and punched him right in the nose before running off. Who takes fair games so seriously?”
Freddie and John laughed in agreement. “I can’t believe you punched him,” said John, shaking his head.
“Well, he threatened to kill me if he caught me so I didn’t give him a chance to catch me,” she shrugged.
“Christ, darling, must have been one hell of a punch if he didn’t chase after you for that,” said Freddie.
“You know, it might shock you but I don’t really go around punching people that often,” laughed Robin. “But it’s an important life skill to have, you know. Throwing a punch but more importantly, knowing how to dodge a punch.”
“Good life skill,” nodded John. “Who taught you that?”
“My father,” she said, easily, and Brian dropped the plate he had been cleaning. To others it likely sounded like an innocent enough thing, but knowing what he did, made his stomach turn to lead.
Thankfully, the plate didn’t break and none of the people in the living room commented on his apparent clumsiness.
“Good for him, teaching his daughter how to defend herself,” said Freddie, and Brian quickly finished up and went to sit with them.
“What does he think of the whole music thing?” asked John, curiously.
Brian looked at Robin carefully and though she appeared pleasantly relaxed, he saw her blue eyes harden a little at the question. “Haven’t heard him complain lately,” she said.
“Wish I could say the same for mine,” sighed Freddie, but then shook his head. “Enough about that, is it nine yet?”
“Yeah, just about,” said Brian, glad for the change in subject.
Freddie stood up and stretched his arms. “I’m going home then. Mary will be back from her evening out soon,” he said.
“Don’t forget, we’re recording tomorrow afternoon,” said John.
“I know, Deaky, I’m not likely to forget,” said Freddie, amused.
“If you’re free in the morning, we can go shopping at our usual haunts,” Robin piped up while Freddie put on his boots. “We could use a few new pieces for the BBC shoot.”
“Sure, love, I’ll meet you around ten,” nodded Freddie, and with goodbyes to all of them, he was gone.
“I’m off to bed as well,” said John, and shuffled off to his room.
Brian knew there was only so much socialising he could do before he’d retreat to his room for some peace and quiet. He understood it, even though both Freddie and Robin, especially Robin, didn’t.
“And then there were two,” said Robin dramatically, as she dropped onto the sofa next to Brian.
He smiled a little before remembering the conversation from before. “You alright?” he asked.
She sighed and gave a small nod. “I must have been more drunk than I thought,” she said, trying to smile but it came out more like a grimace.
He reached over and stroked the back of her head comfortingly. She hummed and leaned into his touch, slowly curling her body to rest her forehead on his shoulder. Like a cat, he thought in amusement.
“I don’t like lying to Freddie and Deaky,” she whispered.
“You didn’t lie,” he said, letting his fingers comb through the long length of her hair, getting slightly lost at the sight of the golden strands sifting through his fingers like soft spun gold. Maybe he was still a bit stoned.
“Misleading them is the same as lying,” she said and then raised her head to meet his gaze. “I just don’t want them to look at me differently, you know.”
He stifled a gasp as he looked at her face so close to his. One would have to be blind to not realise how attractive Robin was, and as someone who lived with her and spent so much time around her, he supposed at some point, he had become used to how she looked. But seeing her face so close to his almost took his breath away because she really was as unfairly pretty as Freddie had once described her.
“Brian?” she asked, and he blinked, realising belatedly that he’d just been staring at her vacantly, his fingers still half-tangled in her hair. Before he could collect himself, however, she chuckled. “You’re still high, love,” she said, patting his cheek like he was a child.
“I am not!” he said, petulantly.
“I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” she said, resting her head on his shoulder again, snuggling even closer.
“I’m sober,” he mumbled, not in the mood to argue which was rare for him. “Your hair is longer,” he observed, partly to change the subject.
“Long hair is on trend,” she said, sounding sleepy.
“Of course you’d know that,” he said, amused despite himself.
“I’m going to tell Freddie and Deaky,” she said, and it took a moment for him to realise she was referring to their earlier conversation. “Fuck, I don’t even know how to bring that up. Oi, you lot, maybe we can try this in a different key and oh, my father used his wife and daughters as punching bags.”
He winced at her words and pulled her closer, not even realising she was almost in his lap at this point. “Maybe not quite like that,” he said. “How did you tell Joe?”
“I dunno, it just came up one day,” she said, and sighed deeply. “Fuck, I’m tired. Distract me, Bri. Tell me your problems for a change.”
“You sure?” he asked, a teasing lilt to his voice. “I remember you telling me often that I have a tendency to make my problems far worse than they need to be.”
She chuckled. “That’s because you do,” she said. “You get all wrapped up in your own head. So, tell me, young Brian. What has been ailing you lately?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment, but she raised her head to look at him and gave him an encouraging smile. His resistance folded like a cheap suit. “I am thinking of quitting,” he said, and her eyes went wide. “My studies, I mean,” he added quickly, before she could misunderstand.
Her expression didn’t change. “Oh, Bri,” she said. “Have you told anyone yet?”
“No, well, no one apart from Ken,” he said, referring to his thesis supervisor. “He was the one who suggested it, actually.”
“Are you falling behind?” she asked, confused.
“No, but…” he paused, thinking back to his conversation with Ken. “He said he can tell I’m not as invested in it as I used to be. That there is something else I’d rather be doing.”
“And he told you to quit?” she asked.
“Well, he told me to put it on hold,” he confessed. “His exact words were ‘Go do your band thing and when you’re done, come back and finish your doctorate.’”
Robin paused as she considered it. “Not the worst idea in the world,” she said.
He laughed harshly and bitterly. “You think so, do you?”
She didn’t flinch, used to his dark moods by now. “What do you think?” she asked.
He just shook his head, instead of answering. She would know most of his issues with it already. His parents would be greatly disappointed, especially his father. Chrissie would be confused and even more hurt since it would seem like he was getting further and further away from wanting a proper future with her. And Brian would be disappointed with himself. For giving up something he’d worked so hard for. And he’d be giving it up for something he wasn’t sure would actually succeed.
“Do you have to decide right away?” asked Robin, and he shook his thoughts away.
“No, I have until the end of the year,” he said.
She paused and then a bright smile lit up her face. “You know, it will be the ten-year anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in November,” she said. He stared at her, wondering if she was much more stoned than he’d assumed. She grinned at his expression before continuing. “Set that as your deadline.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, intrigued despite himself.
“22nd of November,” she clarified. “Don’t make a decision until that date and depending on where we are and how you feel that day, choose whether you want to focus on the band completely or go back to your studies.”
“I make the biggest decision of my life based on how I feel on that one day?” he asked incredulously. “That’s insane. I can’t do that. It’s lunacy.”
She shrugged, still grinning like she’d given him the best idea in the whole world. “Sometimes you just need to do something without thinking so much about it,” she said.
“I don’t operate like that,” he said, his mind whirling with the possibility even as he said it. It was the stupid kind of impulse one would get when standing on the balcony of a tall building.
The urge to jump. The call of the void. Appel du vide.
“I know,” she said. “And I’m not saying you should be like that all the time because I know that would never happen. You wouldn’t be Brian if you didn’t think about every little decision at least ten times and made a pros and cons list and spent a few days walking around with a dark cloud over your head.”
He frowned at the description, slightly disturbed at the accuracy.
“All I’m asking is that just once, you choose on an impulse,” she continued, with a sweet smile. “Do what feels right in that singular moment and let the chips fall where they may.”
“That’s insane,” he said again, but with much less conviction this time.
“I know,” she grinned. “Doesn’t it sound exciting?”
It did and he hated it. He looked at her grinning face, wondering if she was the devil leading him to his own doom, before giving himself a firm shake. He was being stupid. It was a complicated decision to make but perhaps, Robin wasn’t completely wrong about choosing something on an impulse, for once. It wasn’t as drastic as jumping off a building, and the only thing that would be bruised would be his pride if he chose poorly.
“A leap of faith, huh,” he murmured.
She nodded, her eyes bright and full of hope. It made him want to jump and he knew somewhere deep down, he’d be in so much trouble because of it one day.
“Good fucking lord, this is some heavy panning,” said Robin, and Brian thought it was the understatement of the year.
“Sounds good, though,” said John.
“Oh, it sounds brilliant,” said Robin. “But you have to admit, it’s a bit...experimental.”
“We needed to get experimental,” shrugged Brian.
“You’ve certainly managed that,” chimed in Roy, with a grin and a shake of his head. “Between nearly running the tape transparent with the overdubs for Black Queen and the panning for this one, it’s going to be quite a heavy album.”
“We want it that way,” said Freddie, eyes gleaming. “To come up with new and untried ways of making music. To make people feel like the album, like every fucking song on it, is speaking to them. Taking them away to a far-off place, even if it is in their own heads.”
Brian grinned at him and saw Robin and John smile as well. It was impossible not to get onboard with Freddie when he described something like that. Brian suspected that’s how he talked them into most things, how he almost always got his way, whether it was when they were making music or performing in front of an audience whom he could seemingly command and enthrall. It never made life boring, that was certain.
“Well, either way, I take it you like the mix,” said Roy.
“It’s excellent, darling,” nodded Freddie.
“Alright, that does it for the Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, then,” he said, still looking amused at the song title.
“You know what we should do?” said Freddie, looking at the band with a sparkling grin.
“I’ll venture forth a guess and say go to the Tate,” said John, as both Robin and Brian chuckled.
“You are indeed correct, young Deaky,” beamed Freddie. “What better way to see if the song has the impact we need than to see the painting again?”
“Might as well,” said Brian, checking the time. “We’re almost done here.”
“And there’s just enough time before guests begin showing up at the flat for Deaky’s birthday,” said Robin.
“Perfect,” said Freddie. “Roy, it was wonderful, darling. See you tomorrow.”
Packing up their things took some time and when they were done, the four of them went to the Tate gallery where the painting was on display. They’d done it so many times since Freddie had first told them he was writing a song about it, the staff had started recognising them as the odd ones who only came to look at the one painting over and over again.
Well, three of them were looking and the fourth one was squinting.
“Christ, Robin,” sighed Brian. “Wear your fucking glasses.”
She shot him an annoyed glare. “Not in public, I will not,” she said.
Brian glanced at the other two for backup but they both made the universal gesture of ‘don’t drag me into it’ behind Robin’s back. He huffed at them before turning back to Robin.
“Wearing glasses won’t make you less glamorous,” he said, still in disbelief that was her reason for suffering with poor eyesight. He’d always known she had trouble with her vision but it had only grown worse these past months until last week when she’d finally gone in to get her eyes tested. Her brand new prescription glasses had not come out of the case for more than a few hours at a time though, and only when they were at the flat. He wasn’t even sure if Joe had seen them.
“Glasses are not very rock and roll,” she said, stubbornly.
“Running into things because you’re half blind isn’t very rock and roll either,” he countered, rolling his eyes at her.
“Fuck off,” she muttered, as Freddie and John chuckled at his words.
“He’s right, you know,” added Freddie.
“You can fuck off as well,” said Robin, without missing a beat. “Maybe I should get prescription sunglasses.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Freddie. “We can afford to spend a bit these days.”
“No, we cannot,” said Brian, immediately. “Especially not since your little shopping trip.”
“Oh, shut up, it was worth it,” said Robin, and he made a face at her because he knew she was right. As promised, Freddie and Robin had gone shopping for their video shoots at the BBC studios and it had resulted in rather nice new clothes and jewellery for all of them in the videos that would be used for the two singles.
“Should we go back to the flat?” asked John, quietly after a while. “I told Ronnie to be there by five.”
“Yeah, sure, let’s go, darling,” said Freddie. “We can bitch at each other some other time. Let’s have a nice party for your birthday and get fucked up.”
Sure enough, like any party they threw at the band’s flat, it was loud, rowdy and filled with plenty of drinking and smoking of various substances. Even if it was John’s birthday, plenty of their friends had showed up since it was a party, and the flat was full to the brim with people as music played on full on their record player.
They had moved their coffee table out of the way before the guests had arrived, so an impromptu dance floor had been created in the middle of the living room, where John was currently dancing with Veronica, the two of them laughing and giggling as they twirled around together.
Brian glanced around to see if he could spot his other two bandmates and found Freddie and Mary in the kitchen talking to some people, but Robin and Joe were nowhere to be found.
“Everything alright, Bri?” asked Chrissie, and he looked back at her.
“Yeah, just keeping an eye around for the troublemakers,” he said, having to lean in close to make himself heard.
She smiled at him fondly. “You are allowed to relax once in a while, love,” she said.
“Doesn’t feel like it, most days,” he chuckled.
“You could come to Blackpool next week,” she said, with a slightly shy smile. “It’s been ages since you’ve visited my mum and dad with me. They’ve been asking for you.”
He smiled apologetically. “You know I can’t, darling,” he said. “With the album and the shoots and just...everything.”
“I know,” she said, quickly. “I know. I just wanted you to have a break.” She took his hand, pulling him to a quieter corner of the living room. “I miss spending time with you. It seems like we hardly see one another these days.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Things are finally happening for the band and I need to give it my all.” He searched her eyes imploringly. “You understand that, don’t you, dear?”
“Yeah,” she said, with a small smile. “Of course, I understand.”
He smiled back, relieved, before pulling her into a hug. “I love you,” he said.
She held him tightly, almost painfully so. “I love you, too,” she said.
Brian beamed at her as they pulled away and he thought she looked rather wistful for a moment but he spotted a familiar head of blonde in his periphery and turned to look at her. “Oi, trouble!” he called out, and the figure turned around in time for him to realise it wasn’t Robin. It was Clare.
“Brian,” she smiled, when she saw him. “How are you?”
“I’m very well, Clare,” he said, as she came over to him and Chrissie. “What are you doing here? When did you come to London?”
She rolled her eyes in slight exasperation. “Did Robin forget to tell you? I’m moving to London. I’ve been here for a week already,” she said.
He tried to think and then recalled Robin telling them that Clare had started a new job and was moving to London. “She did mention it,” he admitted, sheepishly. Chrissie gave him a pointed look and he cleared his throat. “Er, Clare, this is my girlfriend, Chrissie. Chrissie, this is Clare. Robin’s younger sister.”
“Hello, how do you do?” asked Clare, extending her hand politely.
“Very well,” smiled Chrissie, shaking her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Oh, likewise,” said Clare. “Brian mentions you all the time so it’s nice to put a face to the name.”
Chrissie looked pleased as punch. “Really?” she asked.
Clare nodded. “Oh, absolutely,” she said.
“Well, the boys and Robin mention you all the time as well,” said Chrissie.
“Don’t believe any of it,” winked Clare, and Chrissie laughed.
“So, what’s the new job like?” asked Brian.
“It’s not bad,” she said. “Secretarial work, not all that glamorous, mind you. But it pays decently well.”
“Where are you staying?” asked Chrissie.
“Oh, a boarding house, not far from where I work,” she said. “Robin offered to let me stay here but I didn’t want to be a burden.”
“You wouldn’t be a burden,” said Brian.
She smiled and shook her head. “No, no, coming to London was my idea. Robin already helped me get the job, so the last thing I wanted was to put you lot out as well,” she said.
This was the first he was hearing about Robin helping Clare, but he didn’t ask, knowing it would be better to hear it from Robin.
“Besides,” continued Clare. “Aren’t you all quite busy at the moment? With the album?”
“Yes,” said Brian. “But we are almost done.”
“I liked the first one,” smiled Clare. “Robin also mentioned you are playing a venue here in London soon.”
“Yes, next month,” he said. “At the Hippodrome in Golders Green.”
“Really?” asked Chrissie, surprised.
Brian blinked, realising he’d never told her. “We only found out three days ago when we did the video shoot at the BBC,” he said. “It’s going to be broadcast over the radio.”
“Either way, I look forward to it,” said Clare. “Well, I’ll leave you two to it and find my sister. Haven’t seen her all evening.”
“Check Joe’s flat across the hall,” said Chrissie. “The two might have ducked out for some peace and quiet.”
Both Brian and Clare snorted at that. “Robin is not one to seek out peace and quiet when there’s a party going on,” said Clare, and gave them a wave as she left. “If you see her, tell her I’m looking for her.”
“Will do,” said Brian, as Chrissie gave a nod.
Clare disappeared within the crowd and Brian shook his head, wondering where Robin would be. It wasn’t like her to miss a party. He looked around the flat once again, and finally spotted Joe.
“Excuse me a moment, darling,” he told Chrissie, before making his way over to Joe who was in the kitchen. “Hiya, Joe.”
Joe turned and grinned at him. “Alright there, Brian?” he asked.
“Yeah, not bad,” he said. “Seen Robin around? Clare was looking for her.”
Joe smiled sheepishly and beckoned him closer. “She’s at my flat. Connie’s come over and she’s in tears about her boyfriend,” he explained, and Brian remembered that Connie was Joe’s younger sister. “She won’t tell me anything but she wanted to talk to Robin. I was sent to bring them booze.”
“Is Connie alright?” asked Brian, concerned.
“Yeah,” he said. “She has a tendency to blow things out of proportion and she enjoys being babied. Especially by Robin, so nothing to worry about.” He chuckled. “I’ll find Clare and take her over to the flat. You just enjoy your evening.”
“Sure,” nodded Brian, and returned to Chrissie. They spent the rest of the evening together and he walked her to a cab downstairs as the party was winding down.
“Are you coming over?” she asked, hopefully.
“Not tonight, sorry,” he said, and kissed her goodnight. “I’ll speak to you soon.”
“Yeah,” she said, and then paused as if she were about to say something but decided better of it before getting into the cab. He waved as the cab left and returned to the flat, finding it empty of most people, except for stragglers.
He saw Robin in the living room, saying goodbye to the last few guests, and soon, the flat was empty, with just the two of them since John had gone to stay with Veronica for the night.
“I’m fucking exhausted,” sighed Robin, dropping onto the sofa. Her voice was a bit rough, and he winced in sympathy. His own throat wasn’t doing too well since they’d had a full day of recording before an evening of socialising.
“Everything alright with Connie?” he asked.
“Yeah, nothing a couple shots of vodka couldn’t fix,” she said, closing her eyes in exhaustion. “And Clare said she’d take her out with her friends to meet someone new so that’s good.”
“Clare said you helped her find a job here,” said Brian, lightly.
“Yeah, she was sick of Truro,” she said. “She didn’t want to do university after getting her A-levels so I told her to do a few secretarial courses before finding her a job here.”
“That was nice of you,” he said.
She opened her eyes and shrugged, smiling tiredly at him. “She’s family,” she said, simply. “Why aren’t you at Chrissie’s? Thought you hadn’t seen her in a while.”
“I’m just tired,” he said.
“Tell me about it,” she said. “I can’t be bothered to walk across the hall so I definitely understand you not wanting to go halfway across London.” They were quiet for a moment, before she turned to him. “Can I ask you something rather personal? If you don’t want to answer, you can tell me to fuck off.”
He chuckled. “Since when are you so polite? For that matter, since when do you think I need your permission to tell you to fuck off?” he asked, and she laughed in agreement.
“It is rather impertinent, even for me, so I thought I’d preface it like that,” she said.
“Ask away,” he said, leaning back on the sofa lazily.
Her smiled dimmed as her expression grew serious. “Joe wants me to move in with him,” she said, and Brian’s brow furrowed. “Not just move into his flat across the hall, but find a place for the two of us to live together.”
“Oh,” said Brian, feeling slightly uncomfortable. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him I couldn’t make a decision when everything was so chaotic,” she admitted. “Said it’s better if we wait and see if the band thing improves any further before committing to a decision.”
“That’s wise,” he said.
“No, it’s...cowardly,” she sighed. “I don’t want to move in with Joe.”
He blinked at her. “Why not?” he asked. “Are you two-?”
“No, we’re not having problems,” she said, quickly. “I love him. I do. Besides, that’s not what I wanted to ask you. The reason I don’t want to move in with Joe is that while he’s lovely and we’re happy together, I don’t know how he’ll handle things in the coming months.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Brian, you have to see the writing on the wall,” she said, sternly. “Queen is getting bigger. You heard that bloke from the BBC the other day. The first album might not have done as well as we wanted but we are being noticed. There’s anticipation around us, around the new album. Things are starting to change. We are doing photoshoots, booking limos to arrive at gigs, doing interviews for magazines in our spare time. It is likely we’ll be touring regularly once the album is done being recorded.”
He frowned as he thought about it. She was right; things were changing. In a subtle way, but enough to be noticeable once it was all seen together as part of the bigger picture.
“What did you want to ask me?” he asked, remembering she was yet to mention it.
She bit her lip hesitatingly. “Is that your reason too?” she asked. “For not moving things along with Chrissie?”
He stared at her and fought the immediate impulse to tell her it wasn’t her business. She wasn’t asking this in a typical Robin moment of teasing or winding him up; she was genuinely curious. He sighed and thought about it, mulling over her question and her words in his mind.
“I am not sure,” he said, finally. “You’re right, I don’t want to make a rash decision when everything is so uncertain right now.”
“The uncertainty is not what’s getting me,” she sighed. “I know we will succeed. I know Queen will reach greater heights. I know it, as well as I know my own fucking name. I am not uncertain about the future of Queen.”
“But you’re uncertain of your future with Joe?” he asked.
“Well, more precisely, I am uncertain about how Joe will feel about things,” she said. “He’s been nothing but supportive thus far, but what happens when things evolve beyond usual? I don’t want to lose Joe.”
He saw her troubled expression and put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her into his side comfortingly. “You’re overthinking things,” he said. “Which is funny, considering that’s usually what I do.” She chuckled and it made him smile. “If and when things evolve, you will know what to do. As you are so fond of telling me over and over again, there is no point in agonising over things that haven’t happened yet. You only end up worrying twice.”
She sighed and gave a nod. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “I am in an odd mood tonight. Connie said some things and it’s been making me think.”
“What did she say?” he asked.
“Nothing bad, just...you know, if Joe and I were thinking about marriage,” she shrugged. “Things like that.”
“Are you?” he asked.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “No, at least, I am not,” she said, quietly. “God, if he proposes, I won’t even know what to say.”
He said nothing, because he didn’t know what to say either. The thought of Robin marrying Joe made him uncomfortable, so much so that he was surprised at himself. He’d thought they made a good couple, the perfect couple as Freddie had dubbed them, but it made his stomach twist to think about now. He glanced at Robin who was staring down at her own hands, lost in thought, and catalogued the profile of her face.
What would it mean if she married Joe? Would she stop drumming? Would she leave Queen? Would Joe make her leave Queen? Would she continue but then choose to leave because she wanted a life and a family with her husband?
Every option he considered ended with Robin leaving the band, and it made him want to hyperventilate.
“Don’t leave,” he blurted out, and she looked at him in shock.
“I’m not leaving,” she said, and then wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. He clung to her, not even caring he was overreacting like a child. “God, you really do jump to the worst conclusion, don’t you?”
“Can’t help it,” he mumbled into her hair. “Your hair smells nice.”
“I changed my shampoo,” she said, without missing a beat. “Even if Joe and I decide to get married, and I’m not saying we will, I won’t leave the band. I promised you so, didn’t I?”
He nodded, feeling reassured just the same. “It may not always be your choice, though,” he said, reluctantly.
She pulled back from the hug and smiled at him, confidently and brightly. Enough to make him feel like he was staring right at the sun. “My choices will always be my own, Brian,” she said, her voice and gaze steady. “I will be the one to make them and I will be the one who lives with them. So, trust me when I say, I will not leave the band and I will not choose a life where I no longer get a say over my own choices.”
He stared at her, in slight awe. “You’re incredible,” he murmured, and went pink at his own admission.
She beamed at him, eyes bright blue and full of light. “I know,” she said. “But don’t sell yourself short, darling. Or any of us, for that matter. We are all incredible.”
He smiled, nodding once to agree. “Yes, we are.”
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
“She has far too much energy left after playing such a show,” said Freddie, sitting down in a chair, draping one leg over the other dramatically. “God bless drugs.”
John laughed and Brian rolled his eyes. “You still hopped up too, Fred?” he asked.
“Who do you take me for? I have much more tolerance than this, darling,” he said, flipping his head back, glossy black hair glowing starkly under the harsh fluorescent light of the dressing room. “I could have easily performed for another hour.”
I'll be moving this story to a weekly update schedule. It's just easier for me at that pace, so I hope everyone is alright with that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Is that what the venue is going to look like?” asked Freddie, a confused look on his face as they stood on the stage.
“It is,” said Henry, who was once again their wrangler for the concert at Golders Green Hippodrome.
“Where will the audience even be?” asked Robin, equally baffled.
“Up in the balconies,” said Henry. “The tech crew will be here on the floor, making sure the lights and sounds and everything else is working.”
“Part of putting on a show is playing to the audience,” said Brian, as Freddie just gaped incredulously.
“Can we even see the damn audience? Will they be able to see us?” demanded Freddie.
“Yes, and yes,” said Henry, rolling his eyes. “Now, go on and do your soundcheck.” He walked off to speak to the crew, leaving a very annoyed band and their roadies behind.
“Christ Almighty, this is starting off great,” said Robin.
“We’ll have to make do,” said Brian, though he wasn’t completely thrilled about it either. “The studio audience will make some noise, hopefully. Deaky, you got the setlist?”
John nodded and handed him the sheet they’d carefully discussed over and over for the past fortnight. Brian nudged Freddie and passed him the list, and he sighed and gave himself a shake before accepting it.
“Alright, we’ll just have to be even more amazing than we are,” said Freddie, tossing his head back like a real diva, instantly lifting the spirits of the band and the roadies.
John Harris and Neil, along with two of the studio crew had set up all the equipment on the stage, but the band tuned all their instruments themselves, not trusting anyone else with the job.
“Robin, Deaky, you first,” said Brian, and the rhythm section did their usual checks, making sure their instruments sounded balanced, the volume of one didn’t overpower the other and that the sound systems produced a neat, clear sound. Once they were done, Brian did his checks, followed by Freddie and then the band did a few snippets of their songs to see how they all sounded together. It was a long, meticulous process but the band was entirely too happy to do it. They were all perfectionists at heart when it came to their music and performance, and all four wanted every technical aspect to be on point so that their performance would ring true and clear.
They were just about done with soundcheck when Henry returned, leading a man with him.
“Listen up,” he said, beckoning them forward. “This is Mr. Alan Black, he’s going to be the DJ for this program, and will be the one to announce you.”
Alan Black gave them a small smile, surveying them with open curiosity. “I must say, rock concerts are not the norm for our audience, but I’ll be sure to warn them of that at the start of the program,” he said, and held his hand out to them. “It is nice to meet you.”
They all introduced themselves and shook his hand one by one, though it didn’t look like he remembered their names all that well.
“Mr. Black will do a short introduction of the concert and we’ll play that Procession which we taped beforehand,” said Henry, reading from a sheet in his hand. “You’ll do the next four songs and then Mr. Black will introduce the band before we finish off with the set. Now, off you go. Wardrobe, makeup, all of that.”
He all but ushered them away from the DJ towards the green room. The room wasn’t empty, since Mary, Veronica, Chrissie and Joe had all come with them and were sitting in there, talking.
“Alright, you lot? How did soundcheck go?” asked Mary, as she was the first to notice them. Freddie went right over to her and wrapped his arms around her from behind with a sigh.
“As well as we can hope,” said Brian, glancing at the time. “Robin, you want to get the shower first?”
She nodded and left, picking up her bag and kissing Joe’s cheek on her way out. The showers were open, communal ones so while the boys could shower together, she could not. The band had been offered separate dressing rooms for each of them but they’d all convened in one, wanting to be together.
In the next hour or so, they were all showered and dressed in their gig clothes, and the hair and makeup people (whom they had hired this time instead of using the venue’s or Trident’s people) came in to get them ready. Freddie was the fussiest one, wanting them all to look a specific way and they went with it for the most part, even if some of the makeup was outrageous, even by their standards.
“It is radio, Fred,” reminded Brian, when Freddie was starting to debate the right shade of eyeshadow to use.
“Not for the audience at the venue it isn’t,” he said, at once. “Besides, we have to always look absolutely marvellous. Always.”
“Drop it,” Robin reminded him as an aside.
She looked done up with wild blonde hair, black eyeshadow and red lipstick, which was much more than she usually preferred and he could sense she wasn’t completely thrilled about it but she was picking her fights, which was unusual. He gave her a closer look and saw a rare look of nervousness on her face.
“You alright?” he asked her, leaving Freddie to vent at John instead.
“Fine, why?” she asked, and he was about to call her on her bullshit when there was a knock on the door and Norman Sheffield entered with Henry in tow.
“Ah,” said Norman, when he saw the full dressing room. “A word, boys and girl?” he said, looking at the band expectantly. “Your friends could go and sit in the audience, if they’d like. It’s almost time.”
“Good luck, love,” said Chrissie, as she gave him a kiss and he smiled at her in thanks. The dressing room emptied as even the makeup staff left, leaving the band alone with Norman and Henry.
“Well, you all look very nice,” said Norman, his words oily and not quite sincere. It made Brian’s skin crawl just a bit, especially when Norman’s eyes lingered a moment too long on Robin.
“What was it you wanted to talk about?” asked Freddie, moving just a tad in front of Robin, and Brian was glad for it.
“Mel Bush is in the audience tonight,” said Norman, looking at Freddie. “I’ll introduce you to him after the show. He’s impressed by you lot already but it wouldn’t hurt to make it count tonight.”
“We’ll do that,” said John. “Was there anything else?” he asked, and Brian was torn between wincing and smirking. John’s face was utterly polite but his tone was anything but. Apparently, Norman’s sleazy behaviour had not been missed by the band members. Brian glanced at Robin, since she usually got quite furious in such instances but she was still distracted and had likely missed it, which was very unlike her.
“Yes,” said Norman, oblivious to their hostility or just outright ignoring it. “You’re booked in for a session with Mick Rock in two days. I’ll have Susie send you the details.”
“That’s great,” said Robin, her foot tapping impatiently. “If there’s nothing else, I need a damn cigarette.”
“Nerves?” asked Norman.
She looked annoyed but nodded. When Brian looked at her incredulously, she glared at him. “What? I get nervous too. Not often but it does happen.”
Norman chuckled and nodded at Henry, who rolled his eyes but reached into his jacket to pull out a silver cigarette case. He flipped it open and held it out but instead of cigarettes, it had a bunch of little white tablets. “Two of these is all you need,” said Norman.
Brian’s eyebrows shot up and he opened his mouth to state outright they didn’t need drugs, but both Robin and Freddie moved up and picked up two pills each and popped them into their mouths, swallowing it down with the vodka they’d been drinking while getting their makeup done.
“What is it?” asked John, as Brian just gaped at the two of them.
“Better you don’t know. They work fast, though” said Henry, as he still held the case open expectantly.
“No, thanks,” said Brian, firmly. John refused as well and Henry snapped the case shut, putting it back into his jacket.
“Well, we’ll leave you to it then,” said Norman, as he and Henry turned to go. “Good luck.”
“There’s a little party being thrown by the BBC radio DJs, so get dressed to come to it after the show,” said Henry, and the two of them left.
Brian rounded on Robin and Freddie the moment their managers left. “What the fuck were you two thinking?” he demanded.
They ignored him, and Freddie mixed all of them fresh drinks while Robin fussed with her hair in front of the mirror.
“Are you even listening?” asked Brian, furious.
“Pipe down, Brian,” snapped Robin, glaring over at him. “We’re not children, for fuck’s sake.”
“I am having serious doubts that’s true,” he said, still annoyed though he accepted his drink from Freddie.
“Oh, grow up, like we’ve never done drugs before,” said Freddie, sounding mildly irritated as he passed around the rest of the drinks.
“Marijuana is different from popping pills,” said Brian, drinking down half his vodka tonic in a single gulp.
“It’s sweet you assume it’s our first time doing that,” said Robin, rolling her eyes as Freddie snorted in amusement.
Brian blinked at them. “When did you-?”
“We go out to clubs all the time,” said Freddie. “Just because you don’t come with us when we go partying doesn’t mean Rob and I haven’t had our fair share of adventures.” He paused and blinked quietly for a moment. “Oh, I haven’t had one of these before, though.”
“Definitely better than the shit they peddle in clubs,” grinned Robin, and Brian was alarmed to see her pupils were blown wide, looking dark and black with a thin ring of blue around them.
“I was thinking that too,” said Freddie, with a grin that was bordering on manic. “He wasn’t kidding when he said it acts fast, was he?”
“Must be the alcohol that speeds it up,” said Robin, all but jumping in place. “When do we go on stage? I want to hit drums.”
Brian was set to let loose a tirade, but Freddie began doing his vocal exercises loudly, and Robin grinned and joined him, as the two shouted at one another back and forth, perfectly in harmony too, the bastards. Brian rolled his eyes and sat down to finish his drink, deciding it was not worth it to pick a fight at this very moment.
“I wonder what it feels like,” murmured John, and Brian shook his head at him.
“I’m not in a hurry to find out unlike the yowling idiots over there,” said Brian, as Robin and Freddie laughed about something together, still singing back and forth between giggles. He was surprised they’d done more drugs than just marijuana, but he was more surprised that he was actually surprised about it. Neither Robin nor Freddie were the sort to back down from a good time, and while he usually wanted to berate them for their recklessness, he was just the tiniest bit envious of them at the moment. They could jump in feet first into anything and make the best of it. They were also taking to this new rockstar life far easier than him or John, and it made the envy deepen. Perhaps it was better to follow their example in this instance.
The thought remained in his mind as they performed their set. Robin and Freddie seemed to be on fire, performing like their lives depended on it, creating an absolutely enrapturing performance. It was spurring Brian and John on as well, their enthusiasm just begging to be matched and caught up with. There was an energy on stage, one full of chemistry and heat, and as they did their final encore for the night, Brian felt like he’d taken drugs too, judging by how fast his heart was racing and how bright and wide his smile had grown. They took their final bows before being ushered off stage and back into their dressing room.
Robin and Freddie were still riding high from the drugs and their performance, chatting enthusiastically about the party they would be attending.
“I still can’t believe you tried to correct him about Deaky’s name,” laughed Robin, and Brian remembered Freddie saying ‘no, it’s not’ when Alan Black had introduced John as ‘Deacon John’.
“In his defence, that was the name we agreed to put on the first album,” said John.
“We still told him you were to be introduced as John Deacon when we met him before the show,” said Freddie, and John just shrugged. “No, darling. You don’t just shrug this one away. You demand what you want. We have all fucking earned it, as far as I am concerned.”
“Hear, hear,” said Robin, and looked around at the dressing room. “Where did we put the vodka?”
“We’re out,” said John, nodding towards the empty bottle.
“Fuck, did we drink all of it before the show?” asked Freddie.
“We should pack more for the next one,” said Robin, gathering her sweaty hair into a ponytail. “I’m going to shower. I feel fucking disgusting.”
“Are you tired?” asked Brian, wanting to check up on her.
“Nope,” she grinned, and all but skipped off to shower.
“She has far too much energy left after playing such a show,” said Freddie, sitting down in a chair, draping one leg over the other dramatically. “God bless drugs.”
John laughed and Brian rolled his eyes. “You still hopped up too, Fred?” he asked.
“Who do you take me for? I have much more tolerance than this, darling,” he said, flipping his head back, glossy black hair glowing starkly under the harsh fluorescent light of the dressing room. “I could have easily performed for another hour.”
Brian wanted to point out they didn’t have enough material to have a show that long but a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Robin’s quipped up with a ‘not yet anyway’ and he just sighed. He really was letting himself get far too influenced by her.
The blonde devil in question returned a little while later, and the boys went off to shower and get changed. They’d only done a few shows since their album had been released but Freddie had insisted that they dress up well when arriving at gigs, claiming ordinary jeans and t-shirts weren’t suitable for limousines. Or rock stars, for that matter. John hadn’t wanted to argue and Robin had agreed wholeheartedly with Freddie, and Brian was mostly indifferent over it. Wearing slightly better clothes to arrive at the gigs would mean they could change right back into them after the show and go to whatever party or club Robin and Freddie had picked out beforehand without feeling too shabby. As Robin had said, things were changing.
Brian finished his shower, dried his hair and dressed back into the suit he’d worn before the gig. The party they went to was bustling with various people from BBC radio, a fair number of people from the studio audience, most of the crew and a couple suits here and there. Brian lost Freddie and Robin almost right away as they melted into the crowd with ease, leaving him with John and their friends and significant others.
“It’s like a magic trick,” commented Joe. “One second they’re here and the next, just gone.”
Brian understood the feeling well, but he was sick of being left behind. He was a rockstar too, damn it. He wanted to be bold like them, to forget all his little worries and anxieties and jump into things both feet first. He wanted to be impulsive for once.
“Deaky, come on,” he said, and began moving through the crowd.
John, bless his heart, was a little confused but excused himself from Ronnie to join Brian. As they entered the crowd, a couple of young women excitedly exclaimed at them, recognising them as the band. Their excitement drew in the others and soon Brian and John became busy accepting compliments, thanking the people and eventually discovered Freddie and Robin in a very excitable conversation with a young man with curly hair almost as wild as Brian’s.
“Bri, Deaky, get over here,” said Freddie, when he spotted them. “Mick, tell them the story again.”
The curly-haired man, Mick apparently, beamed at them. “I’d be happy to,” he said. “But first let’s go somewhere they serve something better than this swill.” He made a distasteful face at his drink but finished it in a gulp.
“What have you got in mind?” asked Robin. “How about that club in Putney? God, Fred, what was the name? The one that had those shots of…”
“Absinthe?” guessed Mick, grinning at Robin. “You, my dear blondie, have excellent taste. People in Britain don’t appreciate absinthe enough.”
“Their loss, I say,” she shrugged, and she and Mick shared a laugh. “Let’s go then.”
“We came here with people, remember?” reminded Brian, and Robin blinked in shock.
“Oh, right,” she said, and Brian knew she had genuinely forgotten. He was tempted to make a joke about object permanence but he was a little fascinated by it.
Robin had a certain emerging tendency. The people she loved would always matter to her and she’d do anything for them, but there was a carelessness to her actions sometimes, especially when she was busy in this new life of theirs. He’d seen it happen in small ways before and hadn’t put it together until now. For that matter, she wasn’t the only one. They had been at this party for over an hour and he hadn’t seen Chrissie since the start of it nor had he attempted to seek her out.
“Well, if we can’t go drinking, let’s bring the party here,” said Mick, giving them a coy smile.
“How’d you mean?” asked John, looking equal parts amused and intrigued.
Mick just gave him a wink and vanished into the crowd.
“Who exactly is your new friend?” asked Brian.
Freddie and Robin looked at him like he was dim. “That’s Mick Rock,” said Freddie. “You know, the bloke who’s going to be photographing us in two days?”
“He’s been telling us stories about Bowie,” said Robin, with a wide grin. He could smell whiskey on her breath but she wasn’t still drugged up like before and her eyes were back to her normal blue, though there was a slight flush on her cheeks from the alcohol. He must have been staring at her face again because she gave him a confused look. “Something on my face, Bri? Did I not manage to scrub off all that stupid makeup Fred talked me into?”
“You looked hot,” protested Freddie, at once.
Robin turned to him and snorted. “I looked like a tart,” she said.
“We are all tarts, my darling,” said Freddie, throwing an arm around her shoulder and pulling her into his side. “But yes, you do look much more like a tart than the rest of us.”
“Fuck you,” laughed Robin, pinching his side which sent him off into a fit of giggles, and even Brian and John found themselves laughing. They felt a bright flash of light go off and they blinked in shock and turned towards it, only to see one of the girls who had been in the audience, giggling and disappearing into the crowd with her camera.
“Well, that was rude,” said John, plainly. “We could have taken a proper picture if she had asked.”
Fortunately, Mick returned with a tray of shot glasses and grinned at them. “Try these,” he said. “I mixed in something special.”
The liquid in the shot glasses was clear but there was just a hint of cloudiness like a tablet had been recently dissolved in it. This time, Brian decided to throw caution to the wind and reached for a shot before anyone else could.
“Are you sure, dear?” asked Freddie, raising an eyebrow but looking amused just the same.
Brian just rolled his eyes at him in response, as everyone, even John picked up a shot glass.
“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to, Deaky,” Brian heard Robin mutter to John quietly, and despite everything, it made him smile.
John gave her a small shrug and a smile, and Mick grinned at all of them. “I like this,” said Mick. “I’ve been curious about you lot since my assistant told me I’d be photographing you. I must say, I do like it when people are willing to take a little risk.”
“Cheers to that,” said Freddie, lifting his shot glass. The drinks were slammed back and apart from a slightly more bitter taste than he’d come to expect from vodka, it didn’t taste any different. The empty shot glasses were placed back on the tray and whisked away by a passing waiter, and Mick led them over to his table, wanting to get to know them better before their shoot.
As Freddie described the album and the black and white sides to Mick, Brian started feeling just a touch bit weird. It started slowly, like the sluggish building fuzziness of alcohol but instead of relaxing him, it made him want to move. A hand slapped down on his leg and he glanced over to see that Robin had placed her hand on his knee, holding it down. He gave her a puzzled look and she grinned at him, eyes gone dark once again.
“You’re bouncing your leg up and down,” she told him, and he frowned, not even having realised he’d been doing it. Robin removed her hand once she’d seen he’d stopped and returned her attention back to the conversation about the photoshoot. Brian blinked and tried to focus on the conversation, occasionally catching a word here and there but found it difficult to concentrate, finding himself distracted by how clear everything seemed to be now that the initial fuzziness had passed. The sounds around him were sharp, sharper than anything he’d ever experienced, even while high on marijuana. This sensation was different altogether, making him want to...do something but it was as if his brain couldn’t settle on what that something was. He wanted to move and scream and laugh and jump up and down all at the same time.
He blinked and looked at the person speaking his name and Freddie appeared in his line of vision.
“Christ, you’re a bit gone, aren’t you, darling?”
Brian wanted to deny it but he was noticing so many features of Freddie’s face for the first time in his life, he couldn’t seem to form words. Freddie’s mouth was still moving but Brian couldn’t really hear the words, or maybe he just couldn’t concentrate enough to hear him, and he felt a strong grip on his arm as he was pulled up to his feet. The person who’d helped him stand was pulling him away from Freddie, and Brian was struck with the sudden feeling of vertigo, but an arm around his waist steadied him and he closed his eyes as a familiar scent flooded his senses, feeling even sharper and clearer than he’d ever experienced it.
“Rob,” he murmured, his head dropping to the top of the golden head and inhaling deeply. Christ, she smelled so good. Like pure sunshine and honeysuckle.
“Hold on, love, I’m just getting you outside for some fresh air,” he heard her say, and he smiled because her voice was a bit raspy like it got after a gig and hearing it made it feel like mulled wine warming him up from the inside. He relaxed and let her pull him outside.
The slightly chilly night air made him slightly more alert, and he was aware of no longer just leaning on Robin. He blinked a few times, realising he was standing with his back against a wall, and Robin standing in front of him, giving him a slightly concerned look.
“You with us, Bri?” she asked, and looked relieved when he nodded. “Blimey, remind me to never give you drugs. Even Deaky is handling it better.”
“I’m handling it,” he said, pushing himself off the wall and being proud of himself when he didn’t even stumble. She looked a bit surprised and he grinned at her, feeling relieved that he seemed to be in control of his senses once again. The euphoric feeling was still lingering, though, and it felt like his heart was singing in his chest. He felt fucking alive.
“Well, colour me impressed,” she said, and dug through her pockets for a cigarette which she placed between her lips and continued to look for her lighter. When she found it, Brian reached over and snatched it from her grip with a bright grin, relishing the look of surprise on her face. Before she could look too affronted, he moved closer until he was standing right in front of her.
“Let me,” he said, clicking the lighter alight and holding it out.
She got an odd look on her face and for a second, he swore her dark eyes got even darker in the flickering light from the lighter and Brian took another step forward, stepping dangerously close to her. He lit her cigarette and clicked off the lighter, putting it into his own pocket.
He wasn’t sure why he did it, only that it made him feel good, especially when Robin blinked at him, her eyes hooded and heavy for some reason. Well, he knew she was as high as him, but this seemed to be something different. He took another step closer to her and she took a step back, almost instinctively. It filled him with a sense of glee and mischief, and he began stepping forward, as Robin backed away, though there was a small smile starting to form on her pouty lips. His own lips were stretched into a wide grin and it became positively shark-like when her back hit the wall.
“Your cigarette is burning out,” he said, seeing as it was still hanging between her lips since he’d lit it.
She blinked as if just remembering it and took a drag before holding it between her fingers. He was standing close enough to see the imprint left on the cigarette butt from her pink lipstick as she held it, and his hand shot out to grip her wrist. Her pulse jumped under his touch and he could feel how fast it was racing as he brought her hand up to his face and took a drag from her cigarette, from where it was still held between her fingers, eyes locked onto hers.
The acrid smoke filled his throat and lungs and he fought the instinctive urge to cough. He hated cigarettes, hated how they made him feel, but he was watching Robin’s face as he did it and the slowly growing flush on her pale cheeks was making him bolder. He blew out the smoke slowly and released her wrist. She blinked as if in a daze and took another drag and seeing her lips touch the same spot where his had been moments ago made him want to groan. To his shock, he was getting aroused.
The singular thought made him pause and he took a step back, even though there was an urge that seemed to boil through his very being that was telling him to move closer, to press Robin against the wall and find out whether the slightly sweet taste in his mouth from the cigarette belonged to her or not. He teetered slightly, torn between letting his instinct take over instead of his reason, and it didn’t help that Robin reached out and grabbed his sleeve to stop him from moving away. He placed his hand on top of hers, almost jumping at how warm she was despite the cool night air.
“There you two are.”
Brian jumped and instinctively yanked Robin closer to him. She squeaked as she was pulled in roughly, almost crashing into his chest as his arm went around her waist in a possessive grip. Fortunately, when he turned around, he saw Freddie. He grinned at them and walked over.
“It’s just me,” said Freddie, but Brian didn’t let go of Robin right away. “You feeling any better?”
“I feel fine,” said Brian, and glanced down at Robin. “Rob?” he asked, his voice going soft.
She lifted her head from his chest and the way her wide eyes looked up at him made him harden in his trousers. He realised a moment too late that pressed up against him like that would mean she would feel that too. Sure enough, she blushed wildly and he let her go quickly, taking a step back as well, thankful that it was dark enough outside that at least Freddie wouldn’t see the bulge in his trousers.
Robin shook her head as if to clear it and looked at Freddie. “Er, how’s Deaky?” she asked, her voice a bit high and squeaky.
Freddie gave her a weird look. “He’s fine. He and Ronnie are tearing up the dance floor. I came to check on Bri, but he seems to be alright,” he added, with a pointed look down at his trousers.
So much for the fucking dark, thought Brian as his face went red. Freddie laughed loudly and patted his shoulder.
“Don’t beat yourself up, darling,” he said. “These club drugs often get you horny whether you want to be or not. This batch seems to be particularly intense in that regard. I wonder if Mick will let us know his secret.”
“I’m going back inside,” said Brian, too mortified to participate in the conversation in his state. As soon as he sobered up, he would have a hell of an apology to make to Robin about his behaviour.
Speaking of whom, she finally looked at him and opened her mouth to speak, but Brian walked away as quickly as possible in his state, hurrying back inside the venue. He heard Freddie telling him to be careful who he bumped into on his way, and Brian didn’t have to look at a mirror to let him know his face was beet red. Thankfully, while he was still riding high, it seems his brain had adjusted a little and he had no trouble finding the loo. Hurrying into a stall quickly, he closed the toilet lid and sat down, trying to use the silence to calm himself a little. It worked, enough for there to be no obvious signs of his arousal even though it still felt like his heart was pumping molten lava through his veins.
He wanted...God, he just wanted…
Giving himself a firm shake, he left the loo and began finding his way back to the party, footsteps echoing down the empty halls of the venue. A few doors down from where the party was taking place, he passed a small darkened alcove and a loud moan made him pause and turn his head in that direction. As soon as he did, he wished he hadn’t because he saw Robin and Joe locked in a very close embrace, mouths moving together in a deep kiss, as hands roamed freely.
Brian felt a white hot flash of an emotion he’d be hard pressed to name and he all but jogged down to the party, scanning the crowd rapidly until his eyes found Chrissie. He made his way over to her single-mindedly, and when she looked at him in relief and delight, he grabbed her into a hug and put his mouth near her ear.
“We’re going home,” he murmured, squeezing her just a little too close to him so she’d catch his meaning.
He felt her breath hitch before she nodded quickly. Grinning victoriously, he pulled away from the hug and took her hand.
“Shouldn’t we say goodbye to the others?” she asked, as he led her outside.
“They’re busy,” he said, shortly. He took her out the other entrance which would lead them to the front of the building rather than the back like before, partly because it would be easier to hail a cab and partly because he didn’t want to walk past Robin and Joe again. The thought of them together made that same white hot feeling rise within him again and he squeezed Chrissie’s hand a bit too tightly.
“What has gotten into you?” she asked, as he hailed a cab.
He glanced at her. “You don’t like it?” he asked.
She blushed pink, just as a cab stopped in front of them. “I didn’t say that,” she admitted.
“Good,” he said firmly, and opened the door for her before following her into the cab.
They made it to Chrissie’s flat in record time and he had her half-naked and pinned to the living room wall as soon as they were inside. Later, when they’d finally exhausted themselves and found enough energy to crawl into bed, Chrissie was out like a light but Brian was still a bit wired. After tossing and turning for a bit, he got out of bed and began putting away their clothes that had been scattered all over the flat, just to have something to do. As he picked up his own jacket, Robin’s lighter fell out of it, and he stared at it for a long moment, getting the urge to scream out in frustration.
“What is wrong with me?” he muttered to himself, as he picked up the lighter and tucked it away carefully in his jacket again.
The crash from the high came a few hours later and he never really made it to bed, having spent the night in a sort of frustrated and exhausted state of confusion. The worst part was that he wasn’t even sure how much of it was the drug and how much of it had to do with his own feelings which seemed to be all over the place. His behaviour around Robin was starting to get confusing and it didn’t help that his brain seemed to be replaying certain moments over and over, mostly ones where it had felt like he hadn’t been the only one with conflicting feelings the night before.
When the sun finally rose, Brian got dressed, left a note for Chrissie and took a cab back to the flat. He was expecting it to be empty, but John was in the kitchen, looking just as exhausted as Brian felt.
“Morning,” he greeted when Brian walked in.
“Morning, Deaky,” said Brian, feeling slightly guilty that he had dragged Chrissie out like a caveman without even saying goodbye to the others. “Did you get home alright?”
John nodded, and poured two cups of coffee. “Here,” he said, giving Brian one of them.
“Thanks,” smiled Brian, gratefully. “When did you get in?”
“About twenty minutes before you did,” said John, as they went out into the living room and sat down. “Whatever was in that damn drug kept me up all night. I’m sure I pissed off Ronnie’s downstairs neighbours with my pacing.”
Brian tried not to think of what Chrissie’s neighbours must have thought of some of their activities from the night before and took a large sip of his coffee instead. A horrible thought occurred to him and he looked at John. “What about our equipment? My guitar…”
“Don’t worry,” said John, at once. “The roadies packed the van and brought it to the studio. I made sure of that, at least.”
Brian slumped in relief. “Thank you, Deaky,” he said. “You’d think with my usual tolerance I would have done better last night.”
John chuckled. “Yeah, you did react a bit strongly,” he said, and Brian hoped John would never find out exactly how strongly he’d reacted. “Mind you, you weren’t the only one. I don’t know much about Mick Rock’s skills as a photographer but I’m not trusting him again when he promises a party.”
Brian shrugged in agreement. “How did you fare?” he asked. To his enormous surprise, John went so red that Brian was concerned for a moment. “Deaky? Are you alright? Did something happen?”
“I-er, I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, still so red that Brian decided to drop it.
“What about the others?” he asked, changing the subject.
John looked relieved. “Freddie and Mary went with Mick to some club after you and Chrissie left,” he said. “Robin and Joe left before that, and she isn’t back yet so she’s probably at his flat still.”
Brian nodded, almost instinctively ignoring the discomfort that rose within him when John told him about Robin. He had to get over whatever the fuck was going on with him when it came to Robin, because he was acting like an idiot and he didn’t like the feeling.
The phone began ringing, and Brian reached over to pick it up. “Hello?” he said, wondering who was calling so early in the morning.
“Good morning, this is Susie, calling from Trident.”
“Morning, Susie, it’s Brian,” he said, recognising Norman’s secretary.
“Oh, hello, Brian,” she said, and he almost laughed at her slightly disappointed tone. It was no secret that she had a bit of a crush on John, even though she knew he had a girlfriend. “Er, I know this is early but Mr. Sheffield has booked you in for an interview this afternoon about yesterday’s performance. The whole band is expected to be in attendance.”
“When and where?” asked Brian, nodding gratefully at John when he passed him a pad of paper and pen.
“Here, at our offices, at 2 pm,” she said.
“Alright, thanks, Susie,” said Brian, writing it down. “We’ll be there.”
“Thank you. See you soon,” she said, and hung up.
Brian set the receiver down, just as the door to the flat opened and Robin walked in, still in her clothes from the night before, hair in a hastily put together ponytail. She stopped in surprise when she saw them.
“Morning,” said John. “Coffee?”
She nodded, avoiding Brian’s gaze. It hurt, and he knew he had to fix this quickly. Whatever was going on with him was nothing compared to what it would feel like if things between him and Robin were awkward. His friendship with Robin was very important to him and he’d cut off his own arm before letting anything ruin it.
“I’ll get it,” said Brian, standing up. “Deaky, why don’t you get to bed? We could all do with a nap before the interview in the afternoon.”
John raised an eyebrow but caught on that there was something going on and thankfully gave a nod and retired to his room. Robin sat down in his recently vacated chair, though it looked like she was also dying to escape to her room. Brian poured her some coffee and brought it out.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, accepting the mug and taking a sip.
“I’m sorry,” he said, bluntly. He didn’t wish to beat around the bush, not when his friendship with Robin was at stake.
She looked at him in shock, but her expression melted into a smile, filling him with relief. “Me too,” she said.
“Why?” he asked, surprised.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Things just got...weird last night.”
He chuckled in agreement. “That is putting it mildly,” he said. “I think drugs and I shouldn’t mix.”
“It wasn’t just the drugs,” she mumbled, and Brian looked at her in shock. She smiled awkwardly at his look and shook her head. “I think we were both just a little...confused.”
He nodded quickly. “Yeah, yeah, exactly,” he said. “I’m so glad you said it.”
She grinned, with much less awkwardness this time. “I think this is just a lesson we shouldn’t take drugs from Mick again,” she said. “He may be a good photographer but he has dodgy shit.”
Brian laughed, even more relieved now. “You’re telling me,” he said.
She laughed with him, looking much relaxed than she had since arriving. “We’ll get you better stuff next time,” she said, finishing the rest of her coffee in an impressive gulp. “Christ, I need a shower and a nap.”
“Go on then,” he said, taking her empty cup along with his own back to the kitchen. “We have an interview at 2. I’ll call Fred and let him know as well.”
She stood up and stretched, giving him a nod. “Alright,” she said, and turned to go.
“Oi, hang on,” he said, rifling through his pockets until he found it. “Have this back.”
She instinctively caught the lighter when he tossed it to her and to his enormous surprise, went red when she saw what it was. “Right, thanks,” she mumbled, and disappeared into her room before he could figure out her odd reaction.
He was still frowning about it as he dialled the number for Freddie and Mary’s flat. It was answered after a couple of rings by a sleepy-sounding Mary.
“Sorry to wake you, Mary,” he apologised.
“No, it’s alright, Brian,” she said. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, just wanted a word with Fred,” he said.
“He isn’t home yet,” she said, and Brian’s brow furrowed further.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “I thought you two left together.”
“We did,” she confirmed. “But he and Mick wanted to go on partying and I have work today so I came back early.” Brian was at a loss for words, mostly because he was surprised at Freddie ditching Mary which was practically unheard of. “I’ll leave him a note. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”
“Er, right,” said Brian. “Just let him know we have an interview at 2 this afternoon. At the Trident offices.”
“Alright, I’ll do that,” said Mary.
“Thanks, Mary,” said Brian. “Bye.”
Next chapter, we get Robin's perspective.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
“And do you think your personal relationships are the part that made it easier or difficult?” asked Gray, and Robin frowned slightly, wondering what he was going on about.
“In what way?” asked Brian.
“Oh, pardon me, I meant Freddie and Robin’s relationship,” said Gray.
And now, for Robin's side.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
September 1973 (continued)
“In here,” said Susie, leading Robin, Brian and John into a small meeting room. There wasn’t much more in there than a leather couch wide enough for four, an armchair opposite it, and a small coffee table in between. “Where’s Freddie?”
“He’ll be along soon,” said Brian. “We hope,” he added, under his breath and Robin rolled her eyes.
On any other day, she would have responded with a sharp quip, always ready to argue but she wasn’t in the mood. Their performance at Golders Green the night before, the party following it, and the weird morning she’d had, had completely exhausted her despite the nap she’d taken before coming in for the interview. She was in no mood to deal with Brian’s mood as well, which had soured since learning that they had no idea whether Freddie was turning up or not, because they didn’t know if he’d gone home after partying with Mick Rock the night before. Robin had much more faith in Freddie, but Brian’s fretting and anxieties would always be much more persistent and nothing she could say to reassure him would help, so she wasn’t going to bother wasting her energy trying.
Susie left them alone and Robin wished she would have had the foresight to grab one of the corners of the sofa but Brian and John had quickly taken up either end, leaving her to sit in the middle. She sat closer to John, trying not to be too obvious about the fact. Thankfully, Brian was busy tapping his foot impatiently and checking his watch to notice that she was avoiding him.
“You alright?” John asked her, and she nodded.
“Yeah,” she said, not wanting to make him anxious as well. “Got a cigarette?”
He nodded and reached into his jacket to pull out a packet. Robin took one, as did John. She lit her own cigarette, trying not to remember the way Brian had lit it for her the night before, especially with him sitting not two feet away from her. To think, she’d been naive enough to believe that a quick conversation in the morning would dispel the awkwardness of the night before.
The truth was, she was still trying to piece together exactly what had happened. One moment she had been taking an overwhelmed and high Brian outside to clear his head, and the next...well, it had been a weird night, like she’d said. It didn’t help that she hadn’t been all there either, having had a mix of at least two different kinds of drugs, plenty of alcohol and almost no food in her system. The odd thing, though, was that she’d been a lot drunker and a lot more high in her life before, but nothing like last night had ever happened to her. That was what concerned her so much.
There was a certain way Brian had looked at her the night before, something that had made her feel...differently, than she usually did around the guitarist. He’d also been high out of his skull so that meant nothing at all, but Robin was woman enough to admit (at least, to herself) that the way he’d looked at her, the way he’d almost pinned her to the wall, the way he’d lit that cigarette and taken a drag while the cigarette was still in her hand...was by far the hottest thing she’d ever seen Brian do. Hell, she’d never thought he’d had it in him to be that bold...that sensuous...that much in control. Her impression of Brian was always this awkward, gangly nerd with anxieties and worries a mile long...not the bold man who’d pulled her in against him possessively, who’d gotten her worked up enough to have to find her boyfriend and have him shag her against a wall, not even being patient enough to get home to do it.
“It’s almost two. Where the fuck is he?” asked Brian, getting up and pacing the room.
Robin glared at him and smoked her cigarette. He was ruining it now, though. In the light of day, he was still the awkward, gangly nerd with anxieties and worries a mile long. It could have been just the drugs that had made him so bold, but Robin wasn’t so much concerned about Brian as she was about her own reaction to him. If it had been any other bloke last night, even Freddie or John, who’d backed her into a wall like that, she would have delivered a sharp kick south of the belt. Robin did not like being cornered, she did not like being the one not in control of a situation, especially with a man. She supposed she had her dear old father to thank for that one.
It was why she chose to date a particular type. People like Joe, even Jack or Derek, who weren’t pushovers per se but not the most domineering people in the world either. She’d had blokes try to wrest control from her during sex before and she’d shut that down faster than they could ask why. She was comfortable in being control and until last night, she’d not had any reason to think that letting go of that control would make her feel anything other than uncomfortable.
Brian had made her feel differently. He’d made her blush, for fuck’s sake. Her! Robin Meddows Taylor, blushing like a schoolgirl with a crush. He was one of her best friends and she trusted him with her life, but the way she had reacted to his teasing the night before was very much unlike her. And what really made it worse was that she’d liked it. She had really enjoyed the way his dark eyes had seemed to hypnotise her as he’d stalked towards her like she was his favourite prey. She had enjoyed that thrill, of being the hunted, for once. For letting someone else take charge and not feeling like she had to punch or kick her way out of that moment.
And to think it was Brian May, of all people, who had made her feel that way. Brian May, who was currently pacing and fussing like an anxious housewife waiting for her cheating husband to come home after a night of revelry. She resisted the urge to trip him, just to be petty and childish.
Thankfully, the door opened and Freddie walked in, well-dressed and with a cheerful grin on his face, though a pair of large sunglasses covered his eyes.
“Where the hell have you been?” demanded Brian, as soon as he saw him.
“Oh, what are you, my wife?” asked Freddie, unbothered as he dropped into a seat next to Robin. “Good morning, darlings.”
“You’re a bit late for morning, Fred,” grinned John, as Robin just chuckled.
“Had fun, did you?” asked Robin, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Don’t I always?” he asked, and she laughed with him. Freddie was still Freddie, which was a relief. “Mind you, remind me never to trust the stuff Mick gives us ever again.”
“Yeah, we all agreed on that one,” said John, and Robin could see that Brian was fuming because of being ignored.
Setting aside her own irritation at him, she gave him a smile. “Bri, we can fight later,” she said.
He glared at her but sat down next to Freddie, crossing his arms and glaring off into space. Good enough. At least he wasn’t yelling.
Robin nudged Freddie, who made a face at her but sighed before turning to Brian. “Sorry about this, Bri,” he said. “I got home three hours ago and fell asleep almost right away.”
“He did make it on time, though,” added Robin, and Freddie nodded along.
Brian sighed and gave a nod. “Just...let us know you’re alright,” he said. “We get worried.”
“Alright,” agreed Freddie, and Robin smiled in relief.
“You know it’s bad when you’re the peacekeeper,” John muttered in her ear, and she grinned at him.
“My darling Deaky, you are getting cheekier by the day,” she told him in a whisper, and he laughed.
“Share with the class, young ones,” said Freddie, looking at the two of them giggling.
“Nope, senior citizens don’t get to know,” said Robin, and John laughed.
“I’ll show you senior citizen, you tart,” grinned Freddie, and tried to tickle her.
He’d barely made contact with her hip but she let out a squeal and tried to squirm away from him. She hated being so ticklish, especially since Freddie was one to take advantage of it, almost always at the most inopportune times. This time was no different as the door opened and Susie led the journalist into the room as Freddie was tickling her, she was trying to get away, and Brian and John were torn between laughing and shaking their heads at them.
Susie cleared her throat and they quickly straightened themselves up, and Robin knew she was pink-cheeked from the laughter and embarrassment. Thank God they weren’t doing pictures, because she’d look like a tomato otherwise. So much for being a cool-headed rockstar.
“Mr. Gray Colburn from Let it Rock magazine,” said Susie, giving them a bit of a stern and exasperated look. Well, mostly Robin and Freddie. “Mr. Colburn, this is Queen. John Deacon, Robin Taylor, Freddie Mercury and Brian May.”
Gray Colburn, tall and lanky and only a few years older than Freddie, grinned at them brightly. “Lovely to meet you,” he said, and shook hands with all of them. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice.”
“Not at all, we are happy to do it,” said Brian, perfectly pleasant now that they had company.
Susie left them alone and Gray took a seat on the armchair in front of them and pulled out a small notebook and pen.
“I saw your performance last night and I simply had to speak to you all,” he said. “That was incredible.”
They beamed at him, pleased as ever at the praise. Especially since it was rare to get it from journalists.
“Let’s get some background for the band, shall we?” he continued. “How did it come about?”
Robin relaxed as they began answering the questions. Even though they had only been doing this for slightly over two months, all four of them had grown used to the questions and knew how to answer them. They each even had parts of the questions they’d answer. She and Brian would talk about Smile, Freddie would talk about joining and coming up with the name ‘Queen’ and then John would describe how he came to be their bass player. Then there would be specific questions, about how they came up with their lyrics, how they wrote and recorded their songs, questions about Brian’s Red Special, and so on.
This interview was no different but it did help that Gray seemed interested rather than bored when it came to their answers, and was taking extensive notes about it. The only other journalist who’d been so nice was Rosie Horide and Robin hoped they’d get an article as nice as hers from Gray as well.
“Let’s talk about the new album then,” said Gray, after a while, and it was then that things started going a bit downhill. “Would you say the process was easier or more difficult than the first time around?”
“Oh, I’d say it was easier for some reasons,” said Robin. “But there is a lot more work we were able to put in for the new album, having learned from the first one, so in a way, it was difficult as well.” The other three nodded in agreement and Gray made a note of it.
“And do you think your personal relationships are the part that made it easier or difficult?” asked Gray, and Robin frowned slightly, wondering what he was going on about.
“In what way?” asked Brian.
“Oh, pardon me, I meant Freddie and Robin’s relationship,” said Gray.
Robin snorted, before she could help it. “Freddie and me?” she asked, glancing at the man in question who looked as shocked as she felt. “We are friends, that’s all.”
Gray gave them a slightly skeptical and amused look. “I understand if you are keeping the affair a secret…”
“There is no affair,” said Freddie, sternly. “I am engaged and Robin has a boyfriend. We are all close friends and that is all.”
Gray chuckled and held up his hand. “It can be off the record,” he said.
“No, we want it on record,” said Robin, firmly. “Nobody in the band is dating one another.” It wasn’t the first time a journalist had brought up the fact that there being a girl in the band meant she was dating one of the others, but Gray’s smugness was starting to get on her nerves.
He gave her a look that was dripping with condescension and reached into his pockets. “It’s a difficult assertion to make when there is evidence to the contrary,” he said, and dropped a polaroid on the coffee table.
Robin leaned forward, cursing the fact she wasn’t wearing her glasses, but Freddie thankfully picked up the polaroid and brought it closer to them so all four could see it properly. It was hastily clicked but Robin recognised it as the photograph from the night before, the one that the girl had taken without their consent. Freddie’s arm was wrapped tightly around Robin’s shoulder and she had leaned into him, their faces in a slightly suggestive tilt. It had been right as she’d started pinching him for calling her a tart so she had a teasing grin on her face and Freddie was grinning widely in return. Unfortunately, Brian and John were just out of frame, and without context, the picture did seem to imply that Robin and Freddie had been about to kiss.
“That’s just rubbish,” said Freddie, dropping the polaroid back on the table. “Next question.”
But Gray was like a shark who had smelled blood. The remaining hour of the interview was him trying to get them to admit to an affair that didn’t exist, and every one of them was about to lose their temper.
“For fuck’s sake, one baseless photograph of a moment out of context means nothing,” snapped Freddie, finally. “If that’s the only thing you’ve got, then here.” He picked up the polaroid and pulled out a lighter from his pocket. Gray lunged forward but Freddie set the polaroid on fire and as horrified as Robin was, she couldn’t help but laugh as he did it. The polaroid burned to ash and Freddie dusted his hands off dramatically. “There, nothing to ask about now.”
Gray glared at them and stood up. “I think I have all I need for the article,” he said, and tucked his notebook and pen into his jacket. “Good day.” He left without another word to them.
“He’s going to massacre us,” said John, saying what they were all thinking.
“Probably just me and Freddie,” said Robin, sighing as the momentary bit of humour passed and she began considering the fallout from this. The magazine wasn’t a prominent one but they could have used some good publicity following their performance at Golders Green. Now, though, it was more likely to be a hack job about a torrid love affair and an arrogant band with a penchant for being arseholes.
“Whatever, he’s only one journalist,” shrugged Freddie, seemingly unbothered.
Robin shot him a glare. “We don’t need more bad press, Fred,” she said. She loved him, but he could be too dismissive at times.
“Oh, lighten up, darling,” said Freddie, and Robin narrowed her eyes at him in irritation.
“Rob, what’s done is done, alright,” said Brian, and she glared at him as well. He gave her a placating look, though he seemed fairly annoyed about the whole thing, too.
Susie came into the room and gave them a slightly perturbed look. “Mr. Sheffield would like a word,” she said. “He’s asked you to wait in his office while he smooths things over with Mr. Colburn.” There was a hint of admonishment in her tone, and like chastised children, the four of them filed into Norman’s office.
Norman entered fifteen minutes later and looked at them with disappointment and irritation.
“How bad was it?” asked Robin.
“Well, I talked him down from demolishing all our reputations but it still won’t be a very flattering piece,” he said, sitting down behind his desk and glowering at them. “What were you thinking?” The question was mainly directed at Freddie, who bristled in anger.
“He was hounding us,” said John, his tone quiet but firm. “He seemed to imply an affair between Freddie and Robin and wouldn’t move on even after we had cleared up the misunderstanding.”
“He clearly came in with an agenda,” added Brian. “He wanted a headline.”
“And now he got it,” snapped Norman. “I thought you all understood that we have to play nice with journalists. There’s no place for your damned pride before you’ve made something of yourselves.”
Robin felt a flicker of irritation and she could practically sense the anger radiating off Freddie. They were being treated like children, being told they had no place to fight back. Norman may as well have told them to shut up and do as they are told, even when it meant having to ingratiate themselves with people who treated them like a headline waiting to happen.
“This will not happen again,” said Norman, fixing them with a stern, unyielding look. “Do I make myself clear?”
Freddie opened his mouth, likely to argue, and Robin caught his wrist to stop him.
“Yes,” she said. “It won’t happen again.”
Freddie gave her a slightly betrayed look, and she shook her head at him. Fighting Norman was not something they could afford to do. They needed him and if he and Trident cut them off, they’d be right back to where they started. They needed to swallow their pride and do this.
Norman looked placated and sat back in his chair. “Mel Bush saw you last night as well,” he said, and Robin could have cursed out loud. They had all forgotten about the concert promoter that Norman was going to introduce them to. “Thankfully, while you all saw fit to disappear whenever you wanted, he’s thoroughly impressed at your performance and wants to meet you. I am setting up a meeting for next week.”
“Thank you,” said Brian.
“And you have your shoot with Mick Rock tomorrow,” continued Norman, without acknowledging Brian’s words. “Once we have those pictures, we could have the first markups of the new album ready.”
Despite everything, Robin felt herself smile at that. Queen II was on the verge of being made. This was what they wanted; what they were all hoping for. Norman dismissed them, and after taking details of their shoot from Susie, the band took the bus back to their flat.
Freddie was still in a mood, it seemed, but Robin was in no mood to deal with him either. Usually she and Freddie got along great, but when they disagreed, it could get ugly quite quickly because they could both go for the cheap shots easily with one another. It would blow over in a bit, but she was staying away in the meantime. Leaving Freddie and Brian talking in the kitchen, Robin sought out John and dropped into the seat next to him in the living room.
“Avoiding the others?” he asked, with a slightly amused smile.
Just her luck to have the only member of the band she wasn’t interested in avoiding at the moment to be the most perceptive one as well.
She shot him a baleful glare and he chuckled as he made room for her on the sofa. “I just don’t want to fight today,” she said.
“If only this attitude could last every day,” he said, and she smiled.
Being around John was calming, especially these days when he was comfortable enough to tease her. He’d been too nervous before, and he still wouldn’t tease Freddie or Brian like he did her, but the fact that he was relaxed enough around her was a point of pride and relief for Robin. She’d worked so hard to make him feel welcome, knowing they could all be a lot sometimes for someone as quiet as John, and all she wanted was for the four of them to get along and make the best fucking music in the world and be the best fucking band in the world.
“Ah, but life would be so boring then, Deaky,” she teased back, and he laughed. “Were you alright last night? It was your first time taking drugs.”
If he was concerned about the abrupt change of subject, he didn’t show it. “I was fine,” he said, but went very pink for some reason.
Robin grinned toothily. “De~aky,” she sing-songed. “What happened?”
He went even redder. “Nothing happened,” he said.
She gave him a reproachful look. “You know you should come clean with me,” she said. “I will just annoy you until you do.”
“I don’t doubt that,” he said, and she shrugged unrepentantly. He glanced towards the kitchen to make sure Freddie and Brian weren’t paying attention to them. “You can’t tell them,” he whispered to her.
“You have my word,” she said, leaning forward eagerly.
He still looked reluctant and she gave him an angelic smile which he didn’t completely buy but apparently decided was better than having her pester him until he revealed the secret.
“Well, you know, it got all of us...a little worked up,” he began, and she snorted in agreement. “Ronnie and I went back to her place.”
“Alright,” she said. “Nothing bad so far.”
He went red again but nodded. “Ronnie said she wanted us to...um, you know…”
“Have sex?” she asked, and he nodded. “So?”
“So, it would have been the first time,” he said, his voice low.
Robin stared at him. “Y-you’ve been dating for almost two months,” she whispered, stunned. “You hadn’t had sex until last night? What did you even do when you stayed over?”
“We talked and kissed, and did some other stuff,” he confessed, still looking very red. “But we hadn’t…”
“Right, got it,” said Robin, fascinated. “So Ronnie wanted you to go all the way last night?”
He nodded. “And I wanted it to be perfect, right?”
She smiled at him; he was too sweet, sometimes. “Right,” she agreed. “Because it was your first time together.”
“Yes, but it was also her first time,” he confessed, and Robin had to blink a few times.
“Ever?” she asked, her voice raising slightly and John shushed her. “Sorry, sorry. I’m just surprised. Ronnie’s a virgin. Or was? Is? Was? Is?”
He gave her a slightly annoyed look, and she mimed shutting up. Rolling his eyes, he continued. “Erm, so you know, Ronnie’s Catholic,” he said. “Very devout and traditional Catholic.”
“Yeah, explains the virginity thing,” she said, and John rolled his eyes again. “Sorry, shutting up now.”
“No, you don’t understand,” he said, looking very red for some reason. “Very devout Catholic. So...erm, sex is for…erm, that is to say, when you have sex…you can’t...I mean…”
“Just spit it out, Deaky,” she said, slightly amused.
“No condoms,” he blurted out, and she stared at him. “And that was my first time.”
“Your first time with no condom,” she said, realising what he was getting at. “What happened?” she asked, starting to guess what the cause for his embarrassment might be.
“Well, the drug made everything so intense and it was my first time without, you know…” he said, sounding humiliated.
“How fast?” she asked, and he all but buried his face in his hands. “That fast, huh?”
He nodded, looking like he wanted to disappear. Robin bit her lip and clenched her fists to stop herself from bursting into raucous laughter, knowing it would be incredibly, incredibly insensitive. She took a few calming breaths and unclenched her hands, patting John’s shoulder.
“It’s alright, love,” she said, cursing internally when her voice still had traces of repressed amusement in it. “You had a misfire. It happens to a lot of men.”
He gave her an annoyed look and she couldn’t help it as the laughter spilled out. “It’s not funny,” she heard him mutter but she was too busy rolling around on the sofa to really hear him.
“What is with the cackling hyena, Deaky?” asked Freddie, and Robin vaguely registered him and Brian coming out into the living room, presumably because of the way she was laughing.
John just shook his head and Robin was wheezing, as tears gathered in her eyes and her stomach hurt from laughing. God, she was a terrible friend, but this was too funny.
“I-I’m so-sorry, Deaky,” she managed to get out between her laughter.
“Yeah, clearly,” he said. “You look so very apologetic.”
Robin only doubled over in laughter because despite his cutting words, John’s face was as red as she had ever seen it. It took her a few minutes to calm down enough to sit up and wipe the tears from her eyes, during which both Freddie and Brian pestered John to tell them what had set her off, while poor John did his best to fend them off.
“Oi, leave him alone,” she said, finally gathering herself. “It’s none of your business.”
John shot her a grateful look, though he was still probably annoyed at her for laughing at him. She squeezed his hand in reassurance and glared at Freddie and Brian, daring them to cross her. Brian decided the fight wasn’t worth it and backed off, but Freddie was harder to dissuade. He narrowed his eyes at her and John, and Robin stared right back at him, though their standoff was interrupted when the doorbell rang.
Brian went to answer the door and Robin was about to use the chance to light up a cigarette but she froze when she heard the voice of the visitor at the door. She stood up, body going cold all over, and as a confused Brian stepped aside, Robin saw Michael at the door. He noticed her and brushed past Brian into the living room.
“There you are,” he said, and Robin hated the tremble that shook her entire frame as he stepped closer to her.
“Wh-what are you doing here?” she asked, her voice going high and raspy. She could feel the concerned and confused gazes from her bandmates and she wished they weren’t there to see her act like a frightened little girl. At the same time, she did not wish to be alone with her father either. He looked sober, but that could be just as bad or even worse. He had a packed suitcase with him and Robin hated the fact that he looked almost gentle since his face was pulled into a neutral mask of calm and politeness.
“I came to visit you,” he said, sitting down in a chair in the living room and setting his suitcase down next to him. “I am in London on some business.”
“What business?” she asked, registering Brian closing the door and walking up to stand behind her. Robin was torn between pushing him away and hiding behind him, so she settled for ignoring it for the time being while being grateful for the support.
Michael scowled and Robin winced just a little bit. Christ, she hated how he could do this to her when she was a grown woman who knew how to defend herself. “Aren’t you going to introduce your friends?” he said, instead of answering her.
Robin jumped slightly and realised that Freddie and John were also standing behind her, though unlike Brian, they seemed a lot more confused. She cleared her throat. “These are members of my band,” she said. “Brian May, Freddie Mercury and John Deacon.” She glanced back at the band and plastered a smile on her face. “And this is my father, Michael Taylor.”
She saw the surprise on Freddie and John’s face while Brian’s face went hard with anger and contempt. She glanced away, wondering how bad this was going to be.
“Band, eh?” asked Michael, and she wanted to flinch at the scorn in his tone. “Is that still going on?”
“It is,” she said, tilting her chin up in slight defiance. “Was there a reason for your visit?” she asked, wanting to know what he wanted so she could get him out of her flat and her life as fast as possible.
He seemed to know what she was thinking, and she hated how closely she resembled him because it was like looking into a mirror sometimes. “I wanted a word with you,” he said. “In private.”
“I’d rather you not do that, sir,” said Brian, and Robin almost jumped at how cold his voice had gone.
Michael narrowed his eyes, the same eyes as Robin, at Brian and without even thinking, Robin stepped in front of Brian. Thankfully, Michael remained seated. “Young man, it is hardly your business,” he said, sternly.
“I realise that, sir,” said Brian, and placed a hand on Robin’s shoulder. Despite being a little annoyed at him, it felt calming to her. “And I would apologise for my impertinence. But unless Robin says otherwise, I’m afraid all three of us are staying right here.”
Michael glared at him, not bothering to disguise the loathing in them. At that look, she felt Freddie and John move closer to stand next to Brian in silent solidarity. Michael evidently decided that picking a fight was not worth it, particularly since Robin really didn’t seem to want to be alone with him either. Robin was grateful there were other people around, and even though she knew it would come with the humiliation of appearing weak in front of her band members, she would bear with it for the time being.
“Very well,” said Michael, rolling his eyes before he fixed his gaze on Robin. “Your mother is leaving me.”
Robin inhaled sharply. “What?” she asked, her voice shaking just the tiniest bit.
“She has filed for divorce and has moved in with that ghastly cousin of hers and his wife,” said Michael.
“Mum’s living with Aunt Patty and Uncle Danny?” she asked. “Since when?”
“Two weeks,” he said. “Said she was heading over for a visit and then delivered me divorce papers a week later.”
Robin felt like the earth under her feet was crumbling. She had spoken to her mother just three days ago and she had mentioned none of this. Robin had thought she sounded a bit tired but she’d assumed it was because she was missing Clare now that she had moved out as well.
“She hasn’t told you, it seems,” he continued, and Robin wanted to scream at him to shut up but she was too stunned for words. “I signed the damn papers and let her know she isn’t getting a penny from me.”
“Why?” Robin managed to get out.
“Why what?” asked Michael.
“Why are you here?” she asked, her voice low and angry.
“You’re my daughter,” he said. “And so is Clare.”
At the mention of her sister, Robin snapped to attention. “You stay away from Clare,” she said, her entire body tensing up. “And from Mum. She finally fucking left you. I could celebrate.”
Michael stood up with a furious expression and while it would have usually made her flinch and step back, Robin was proud of herself when she stood her ground. “Watch your mouth, you disgraceful little girl. Your mother might have indulged your little flights of fancies but I…”
“You have no right over what I say or do,” said Robin, her voice raising in anger. “I am a grown woman, as is Clare. You have no say over any of us. Not even Mum anymore, thank God. You are just a stranger as far as I am concerned. A horrible, horrible stranger that I want nothing to do with.”
Michael advanced on her and this time, she did step back, unable to help the in-built flight response when she saw him like that.
“That is enough, sir,” came Brian’s voice, cutting through the air like a whip. “I think you should leave.”
“I have had just about enough out of you,” shouted Michael, glaring at Brian.
“He’s right,” said Robin, her voice trembling but still firm. “I have nothing to say to you and if you came here seeking support regarding the divorce let me be the one to spell this out as clearly as possible. I am on Mum’s side, and Clare will tell you the same. If we never see you for the rest of our lives, it will be the greatest gift ever.”
Michael stared at her and for a brief moment, she saw hurt flash in his eyes but it was gone the next moment. He picked up his suitcase and shook his head at her. “I see you’re still an ungrateful little bitch, just like your mother,” he said. “Speaking this way to your father. The one who put a roof over your head and food on the table.”
“The one who broke my arm and jammed my face into a door jamb,” she shot back, and behind her, she heard a horrified gasp from John. “The one who backhanded his pregnant wife and broke her nose. You get no sympathy from me, you fucking monster.”
Michael gave her a disgusted look and Robin knew there were tears in her eyes but she refused to avert her gaze from him. He gathered his things and turned to leave, pausing once as if she would change her mind and call out to him, but Robin stayed resolutely silent. He opened the door and walked out, slamming it shut behind him. Robin swayed on her feet a little and felt strong arms grip her and help her over to the sofa.
“I’ve got you, darling.” Freddie, bless his heart. “Deaky, get her a drink.”
Her vision was going a bit fuzzy and Freddie rubbed her back and encouraged her to rest her head on her knees.
“Clare,” she managed to mumble out.
“Brian’s calling her,” said Freddie, and she glanced over to see Brian speaking on the phone. He hung up soon and immediately made his way over to Robin.
“It’s alright, love,” he said, pulling her to him. “I told Clare to go over to a friend’s. She was heading out already and she said she’ll just stay over.”
Robin was relieved and relaxed into Brian’s arms with Freddie still holding her shoulders from the back, patting her hair occasionally. She was starting to calm down a little, at least her vision and balance were returning to normal. John came back out with a mug that smelled like whiskey and held it out to her. Robin’s hand shook as she went to get it, so John just brushed her hand aside and held the mug to her lips. Nodding gratefully, she took a long sip, feeling the bitter warmth returning some of her strength to her.
None of them spoke, and Robin was glad for the silence, for once in her life. Her mind was in a scramble but she really didn’t wish to untangle all of that right away. She drank some more of the whiskey and closed her eyes. She must have either passed out or fallen asleep, because she was woken up a little while later by slightly raised voices that were being hushed by someone else.
Robin kept her eyes closed, realising that Brian and Freddie were arguing while John did his best to get them to quiet down or they’d wake her. Brian’s voice was coming from near Robin and she realised he was still holding her in his arms but Freddie was a bit further away and it sounded like he was pacing. John was likely standing somewhere between the sofa with her and Brian, and Freddie.
“...should have said something to us.” Freddie was saying.
“It wasn’t my business to tell, Fred,” argued Brian, voice low but furious. “Robin wanted to tell you but she wasn’t sure how to bring it up.”
“No fucking wonder,” snapped Freddie. “If that horrible man comes anywhere near her…”
“I’m not letting that happen,” said Brian, and his grip on her got uncomfortably tight.
“We are not letting that happen,” Freddie corrected him. “He’s not even allowed to breathe in her direction. Father or not, it doesn’t give him the right.”
Robin decided that was enough and opened her eyes, shrugging out of Brian’s grip as she sat up straight. Immediately, they all shut up and looked at her in concern, which made her roll her eyes. “I’d appreciate not being talked about like a little doll you have to protect,” she said, her voice coming out a bit hoarse but otherwise steady.
“Are you feeling alright, love?” asked Brian, and Robin stood up and made her way to the phone without answering him. She dialled in the familiar number and it was answered after two rings.
“Hello, Aunt Patty, it’s Robin,” she said. “Can you put Mum on the phone?”
There was a pause, and she heard her Aunt call her Mum’s name before the phone was handed over.
“Hello, Robin.” She did sound rather exhausted.
“Is it true?” she asked, cutting right to the chase. “You left him two weeks ago?”
There was silence on the other end before Winifred spoke. “H-how did you-?”
“He came here,” said Robin, her voice sharp. She heard her mother gasp, so she softened her tone. “What happened? What made you do it after so long? Did he hurt you?”
“No, well, nothing more than the usual jabs,” her mother confessed. “But now that even Clare was no longer home, I couldn’t bear staying. I’m so sorry, love, I’m sorry, I couldn’t make myself stay.”
“I never wanted you to stay,” said Robin, unable to help the frustration in her tone. “Christ, Mum, I am happy you’re away from him but I wish you would have told me so I could have helped instead of you having to rely on Aunt Patty and Uncle Danny.”
“I couldn’t do that, love,” said Winifred, sounding like she was crying. “Not after everything I have put you through, I couldn’t become a burden to you.”
“You’re not a burden, Mum,” said Robin. “Never mind that, I’m coming to Truro first thing tomorrow.”
“No,” said Winifred, at once. “You have that photoshoot tomorrow.” Robin had entirely forgotten about it, but before she could tell her mother she didn’t care about it, she continued. “He’s taken enough away from all of us, love. Don’t let him destroy your dream, too.”
“Mum,” said Robin, embarrassingly close to tears herself.
“Listen to me, Robin,” said Winifred, her voice stronger. “I haven’t been wallowing in misery the past two weeks, nor did I leave him on a whim. I am starting a new job in a week, and Patty helped me find a flat in town. It will be ready in three days. I have some money saved up in the meantime, and now that both you and Clare have your own careers, I only have to worry about myself. I will be fine. Patty and Danny are here to help if something goes wrong, and the ladies from my gardening society have all been very sweet and helpful as well.”
“But Mum,” she protested.
“It was why I didn’t tell you, love,” she said. “I don’t want you to drop your life and come to my rescue when you are finally so close to achieving your dream. And I know Clare’s safe because you are looking after her like you always do. It’s because I had you that I could leave him after all these years. I love you so much, Robin, and you make me so proud.”
Now she really was crying. “Are you really alright, Mum?” asked Robin. “You aren’t just saying all this?”
“Yes, I am alright, love,” said Winifred, with a small chuckle. “I feel free for the first time in a very long time. Life feels like it is full of possibilities once again. I think I am finally getting your sense of optimism.”
Robin chuckled through her tears. “I think I got that one from you to start with,” she said.
“Then I have rediscovered it within myself,” said Winifred. “Now, you go and look absolutely beautiful at that shoot tomorrow. And when your album comes out, I can show you off to the entire town. Give them something better than the divorce to talk about.”
Robin laughed, unable to help it. “I am still coming to visit you as soon as I can,” she said. “And I’m going to call every day.”
“Alright,” said Winifred, sounding fond. “But don’t forget to wash your face with cold water before sleeping tonight. You don’t want to look like you’ve been crying in the album photographs.”
“I’ll do that,” chuckled Robin. “I love you, Mum.”
“I love you too, my ferocious little lion,” said Winifred. “Good night.”
“Good night, Mum.” She hung up the phone and sighed a little, feeling better than she had before. Her mother was incredible and when she was determined, she could do anything, a trait she’d passed along to both her daughters. Robin would still only feel better after she’d seen her in person but her mind was eased for the time being.
Now to face the other side, she thought, as she turned back to the band. She wiped her tears and gave them a small smile. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to drag all of you into this.”
“You shouldn’t have to deal with this alone,” said John.
She chuckled and shook her head. “Freddie, Deaky, I’m sorry I never told you any of it. Like Brian said, I didn’t quite know how to bring it up. And Bri, thanks for standing up for me,” she said, looking at each of them as she spoke. “But I don’t want to talk about this anymore, nor do I want to discuss this ever again.”
“But, Robin-,” began Freddie, and she shook her head.
“I mean it, Fred,” she said. “I refuse to be pitied. Not even by the three of you. I am grateful you were here but not if it means you’ll look at me like I’m some fragile little thing you must keep protected. I am still Robin Meddows Taylor. Drummer of Queen and vocalist with a damn four-octave range. I can still kick all of your arses if I choose to, and nothing in my past or my DNA changes how I live my life. So, I’m asking. If you want to help me, just promise we will move past this and not bring it up again.”
“If that is what you want, Robin,” said Brian, giving her a considerate nod. “I’ll do that.”
She smiled at him gratefully, and he smiled back, giving her some heart. John was hesitant but he sighed deeply.
“I promise not to bring it up,” said John. “But if there is anything else I can do, you will tell me.” His voice was firm in a way she was not used to coming from him, and she nodded, knowing she would never take him up on that offer.
Freddie seemed the least likely to agree without a fight, and she sighed.
“Fred, please,” she said.
“Fine, but I don’t like it,” he said, turning his nose up slightly. “I have half a mind to find that man and tell him exactly what I think of him treating you like that…”
“Freddie,” she warned and he sighed.
“You didn’t deserve to be treated like that,” he said, dark eyes looking at her in sympathy. She knew his heart was in the right place but seeing him look at her like that made her want to break something in anger. “I’ll agree to leave this whole thing behind us,” he continued before she could get mad. “But I won’t be happy about it.”
Good enough, she decided. “Thank you,” she said. “Now, fuck off, all of you. We have a photoshoot tomorrow, and I need my fucking beauty sleep.”
There were a few chuckles, and with a smile that was as close to real as she could manage at the moment, Robin retired to her room for the night.
Not a lot of shippy stuff in this one but I hope you all enjoyed Robin's perspective.
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Chapter 11: Chapter 11
“Everything alright?” asked Freddie, approaching them cautiously with John a few steps behind him. “Do we need to get the UN involved for peace talks?”
“No need,” said Robin, rolling her eyes again. “Brian’s just noticed I’m a girl for the first time in his life and is acting weird about it.”
Hello! Sorry for not updating last week but real life got in the way. Here's the newest chapter for your reading pleasure!
There will be a few moments during this chapter where the characters will say and do things that are very period-typical, but I want to reiterate that these are not my personal views and this is a fictionalised version of events as they happened. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
September 1973 (continued)
“That is a big...sceptre,” said Robin, and despite himself, Brian chuckled.
“Not the biggest I have ever seen,” said Freddie suggestively, and both he and Robin giggled.
John walked up to them, his hair and makeup for the photoshoot having been done, and Robin grinned at him widely. “Looking good, Deaky,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said, shyly. “I-It’s not too much, is it?”
“Not at all, darling,” said Freddie. “You look wonderful.”
John looked relieved at that, and Brian gave him an encouraging smile despite his own apprehensions. It was the day of their shoot with Mick Rock, and upon their arrival an hour ago, all four of them had been set upon by makeup artists on the photographer’s instructions. They had identical makeup this time; black eyeshadow, black eyeliner, pink lipstick, and rouge on the cheeks. It was more makeup than Brian had ever worn in his life and he hadn’t dared look at a mirror because he was too worried he might look like a clown. He glanced at the other three and couldn’t help but feel envious that none of them, not even John, seemed as self conscious as he felt. Or maybe they were just better at hiding it.
Freddie seemed the most at ease, and Brian had to admire how the dark eyeliner and sharp rouge brought out the best features of his face. John appeared nervous but seemed to be finding his confidence at Freddie and Robin’s compliments. Robin was gorgeous, of course, looking like a film star or a particularly glamorous doll. There was no trace of apprehension on her features, but Brian couldn’t help but be worried, and not because of makeup this time.
As they had promised her the evening before, none of them had made any mention of her father’s visit. John had walked around eggshells all morning before coming to the shoot, but if Robin had noticed it, she hadn’t commented on it. Freddie had seemed a bit out of sorts as well when he’d come to the shoot, not knowing exactly how to act around Robin. Robin, to her credit, went about her day with her usual sense of confidence, and they’d eventually just followed her lead. Brian was proud of himself for not acting out of the ordinary around her, knowing she would hate to be pitied or to be seen as weak, but even he couldn’t pretend that the visit yesterday hadn’t shaken him a bit.
It had been an unpleasant shock to see the usually brave and reckless Robin Meddows Taylor flinch and retreat at her father’s presence. Brian hated the man with every fibre of his being, because he finally got to see how much he still affected Robin’s life. The evening before, it had taken everything in him not to grab Robin and hide her away from her father’s sight, like a jealous child hiding his most precious toy. Brian was sure Robin would gut him with her stilettos if she ever heard him even imply something of the sort so he wisely kept his thoughts and hands to himself, though he hadn’t been able to stop himself from intervening completely. Thankfully, Robin had seemed to appreciate his interference rather than resenting it.
“Are you ready?” asked Lorelai, who was Mick’s assistant and just as beautiful as her name implied. Even Freddie had been a bit flustered upon meeting the gorgeous brunette with piercing green eyes. That being said, she seemed to have eyes for no one but their drummer.
“Yes, we’re ready,” said Brian pointedly, since Lorelai was looking at Robin.
“Right, then Mick wants you against the white backdrop first,” she said, still smiling at Robin. “You look nice, Robin.”
Robin smiled back at her, seemingly unaware of Lorelai’s attention to her. “Thanks, L,” she said, before looking at the rest of them. “Let’s get a move on.”
The white backdrop was set up for the first half of their shoot. There were two tall three-legged stools for Robin and Deaky to sit, while Brian would be standing between them and Freddie would be in the front. At least, that’s what Lorelai said as she ushered them onto the set and told them to take their places.
“Oh, your hair needs fixing,” she said, and reached over to brush a lock of Robin’s hair off her shoulder. “You don’t want it to hide your face,” she added, with a grin.
Thankfully, Mick called for her, and with a slightly regretful sigh, she went to see what he needed. Robin turned to the band with a slightly bewildered look.
“Is it just me or is she coming onto me?” she asked.
“It’s not just you,” said John.
“Oh, alright, just checking,” said Robin, seemingly unbothered.
“Something you want to tell us, Rob?” asked Freddie, raising an eyebrow.
She rolled her eyes at him. “Not the first time it’s happened. At least she’s nice about it and not weird,” she said.
“Do you really have a lot of girls making a move on you?” asked John, curiously.
“Sure,” said Robin. “I am not sure if it’s the drums or being in the band that does it. I guess people think it’s inherently masculine or something.”
“That sounds odd and a little sexist,” said Freddie.
“I don’t disagree,” shrugged Robin, and then grinned impishly. “Or I could be overthinking it and it’s just that I am so utterly beautiful that people cannot help but fall hopelessly in love with me. Oh, it’s a curse to be as beautiful as me. Like a piece of art that no one may ever possess.”
“Oh, you’re a piece of work alright,” laughed Freddie, and she laughed with him before playfully shoving at his shoulder.
“Either way, I don’t mind when people like me. It would be odd if I did,” she chuckled. “If she were a bloke, I would still react the same way.”
“Which is how, exactly?” asked Brian.
“Let her know I have a boyfriend and I am not interested as nicely as possible,” she said, like it was obvious. “Same thing I always do.”
“Even if she is a girl?” asked Freddie, and Brian thought that was an odd thing to ask but didn’t comment on it.
“Girl or not, I don’t want to lead anyone on. That’s just terrible,” said Robin. “Besides, are we really going to start judging people for their sexuality in this day and age?”
Freddie snorted, and Brian felt the sound was so very bitter for some reason. “You think it is not an issue in this day and age?” asked Freddie, looking at Robin with a serious expression.
Robin looked taken aback and glanced at Brian and John in confusion before turning back to Freddie. “Not as much as it used to be, surely,” said Robin. “People are more open-minded. In London, at least. And especially in this industry.”
Freddie smiled, and there was no humour in it. “Yes, darling,” he said, but it almost seemed like a dismissal. Robin looked confused and a bit hurt, and Freddie sighed before placing a hand on her shoulder. “Sometimes, I wish for your eyes, love. Just to see the world like you do.”
That only seemed to confuse her further, but Brian thought he understood what Freddie meant. Robin seemed to walk the line between cynicism and optimism better than anyone else he knew. Even Freddie, who could be as outgoing and free-spirited as Robin most of the time, did not seem to share that particular skill. Brian was certain that most people would think of Robin as naive or ignorant, except he knew for a fact that she was incredibly aware and intelligent. She was optimistic despite the world she lived in, not in ignorance of it, and Brian didn’t know how it was possible for her to be like that. It frightened him, and he was in awe of her, and at the same time, so incredibly, incredibly jealous of her.
Mick called for their attention and reiterated what Lorelai had told them earlier. The strangely pensive conversation seemed to linger like a heavy cloud above the four of them as they posed for pictures, some with the sceptre, some without, with all of them in their gig clothes in front of the white backdrop. Brian wasn’t sure what face he was making, nor did he look at any of the others. All four of them seemed to be in their own little worlds, and after forty minutes of clicking photographs, Mick called for a break.
“I don’t know if I am feeling it yet,” he said, frowning heavily at all of them. “I was just going to have them switch the backdrop to black for the next one, but it doesn’t feel right.”
“Have you got something else in mind?” asked Robin, and Mick clicked his tongue before smiling at them.
“How do you all feel about doing a nude shoot?” he asked.
“No,” said Brian, the response plain and simple.
“It won’t be completely nude, just the top half,” said Mick, placatingly.
“I hate to point out the obvious,” said John, looking at Robin.
“Oh, I am sure the wardrobe department has something appropriate,” said Mick. “Lorelai! What can we put Robin in if the boys are shirtless?”
Lorelai’s eyes widened and she went a little pink before answering. “I could go and check,” she said.
“You do that,” said Mick, and Lorelai all but sprinted to the dressing rooms. “She’s strangely enthusiastic today,” he murmured, and Brian had to work hard not to roll his eyes.
“Are we really doing a nude shoot?” asked John, nervously.
“Why not?” shrugged Freddie. “You up for it, Rob?”
She shrugged back. “As long as it’s done in a way that’s not obscene, I’m all for it,” she said. “Not afraid of showing a little skin.”
“You cannot be serious,” said Brian, shaking his head at her.
“Oh, I am completely serious,” she said.
“Robin,” he huffed in frustration.
“Come off it, Bri, I’m not saying I’m going to flash my tits to the world,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Besides, if it doesn’t turn out well, then we don’t release it. No harm in finding out, is there?”
“Exactly!” beamed Mick. “I knew I liked you, Robin.” He turned to Brian and John, the two reluctant ones. “Let’s start by taking a few shots. If you don’t like the end product or if I don’t like it, we’ll agree not to publish them.”
Brian considered it and gave a nod, with a sigh of defeat. He didn’t want to be the only stick in the mud, even if the thought of being half-naked in photographs made him want to crawl under a table and stay there forever. He wasn’t muscular, none of them were. Skinny and underfed would be an accurate description of their physiques. This was not going to be very good, but like both Robin and Mick had said, if they didn’t like it, they didn’t have to publish it for the world to see.
Lorelai returned with a bounce to her step and whispered something to Mick, who gave a nod.
“Robin, this way, come on,” said Lorelai, looking practically giddy. “The rest of you can just strip here, if you like.”
How very generous, thought Brian, as Lorelai led Robin back to the dressing rooms. The fact that they would be naked from the waist up meant that they needed makeup for their torso as well, so it took a while as the makeup crew worked on them. Robin returned just as they were getting done, but she had a robe on over whatever else she was wearing, though it stopped just below her knees and she was barefoot as well.
“Well, darling, don’t keep us in suspense,” said Freddie, when he saw her.
She rolled her eyes at him but untied the robe and pulled it off, handing it away to Lorelai. Brian’s eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open.
Robin was wearing a blush-coloured lace dress, but calling it a dress would be incredibly, incredibly generous. It was strapless and the lace clung tightly to her form until it reached just past her chest and then the rest of the material just flowed freely down to her knees.
“Christ, take a picture, it would last longer,” she said, and Brian snapped his mouth shut and glanced away, cheeks burning red. It took him a moment to realise that she hadn’t said it to him specifically and he looked at the others, noticing that they (including Mick) had been gaping at her as well.
“You can hardly blame us, darling,” said Freddie, looking her up and down. “This is quite a look.”
She shrugged and grinned, seemingly at ease with her state of dress. Or undress, as it were. “Not something I get to wear often, is it?” she asked. “I think I look quite pretty, if I say so myself.”
Pretty was putting it mildly, thought Brian, as she went on to tease John for looking so red. The colour of the dress was almost the colour of her skin when she would blush, and it made her look strangely delicate and soft. It was the closest Brian had ever seen her looking like an actual porcelain doll, and the blonde hair and clear blue eyes only added to the look.
“You can’t wear that,” he found himself saying, and all eyes turned to him as the conversation came to a sudden halt.
“What?” asked Robin, still half-amused though also seemingly confused.
“I said, you can’t wear that,” he repeated, and he really wished he hadn’t, especially when Robin’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Freddie and John retreat (like cowards, he thought absently). Mick and Lorelai seemed to take their lead and murmured an excuse to get away, leaving him alone with Robin.
“Tell me that was a joke,” she said, crossing her arms and glaring at him.
He bristled at her tone and glared right back. “It’s too revealing,” he said, and he hoped he didn’t sound as condescending as he did to his own ears.
Unfortunately, Robin seemed to think he did sound exactly as condescending as he feared he had. “And what the fuck makes you think you get to decide what’s too revealing or not for me?” she asked, voice low but quite angry.
A large part of his brain was screaming at him to shut up before he made things worse, but he chanced a quick look at her in that damn lace dress and narrowed his eyes stubbornly. “For fuck’s sake, Rob,” he said, in exasperation. “Don’t make me spell things out.”
“I’m more dressed than the three of you,” she snapped.
“Yes, but you’re also a…” he stopped himself before he said ‘girl’ but he didn’t have to because Robin’s glare grew furious and blotches of angry pink appeared on her face. It wasn’t the rare, sweet blush she sometimes got on her face. This was the predecessor to a kick in the shin or a loud tirade.
“Good fucking lord, Bri, it’s the bloody 70s not the 50s, last time I checked,” she said, her voice loud enough for the other staff on set to look at them and then hastily look away once again.
“I know what fucking decade it is, Robin,” he snapped back, his voice low and furious, even as his brain urged him to shut up at once.
“You honestly think you get to tell me what I can and can’t wear because I’m the only girl in the band?” she demanded. “You, of all people?” She was starting to look less angry and more upset and he felt like the worst person in the world. At the slightest glimpse of the sheen of tears in her eyes, all of the anger and stubbornness drained out of him at once, leaving behind a growing sense of unease and shame.
“Rob,” he tried, his voice going soft as he placed a hand on her shoulder. She almost flinched like she wanted to brush him off but eventually allowed him to touch her. Encouraged, he pulled her closer, wrapping his long arms around her and folding her into an embrace. “Sorry,” he murmured. “I’m being a twat, I know.”
She chuckled, the sound not entirely happy. “Tell me something I don’t know,” she muttered, but wrapped her arms around his waist.
“You look really nice in this dress,” he said. “I’m just being...protective, I suppose.”
“It’s not your job to protect me, I thought I made that clear,” she said, looking up at him with an exasperated glare and he welcomed the anger because it meant he hadn’t made her cry, at the very least.
“I can’t help it,” he protested. “I don’t think you understand, Rob, but you look...really nice in this dress.”
She went pink, her cheeks almost the same shade as her dress. “Shut up,” she said. “I know I look fantastic. I did look at a mirror before coming out here, you know.”
He decided to let that subtle jab about his own cowardice slide, considering he wanted them to stop fighting and make up. It also reminded him that he was half naked and holding a fairly scantily-clad Robin in his arms in full view of the entire set and crew. He quickly released her and took a step back, cheeks going red with embarrassment.
“Christ, you can barely even look at me,” said Robin, sounding equally amused and frustrated. “Does a fucking dress make such a big difference in the way you treat me?”
“It’s not about the dress,” he said, and she rolled her eyes.
“Make up your mind, Bri,” she said. “If it’s not the dress, then you’re taking issue with me.”
“Of course I’m not,” he said, at once, but even as he said it he wondered if there was any truth to her words. Did his whole discomfort over the situation stem from Robin and not the dress at all? And what did that even mean if he was getting so worked up over Robin? It wasn’t the first time he’d realised his band mate was an attractive woman, but the thoughts seemed to be getting particularly frequent these days. “I’m sorry,” he said, instead, his whole mind a mess.
She huffed in exasperation and looked very much like she wanted to scream. “Don’t fucking apologise,” she said.
“Everything alright?” asked Freddie, approaching them cautiously with John a few steps behind him. “Do we need to get the UN involved for peace talks?”
“No need,” said Robin, rolling her eyes again. “Brian’s just noticed I’m a girl for the first time in his life and is acting weird about it.”
“Don’t be absurd, I know you’re a girl. It’s not something I just noticed,” he said, wondering what the hell she was going on about.
“Then why are you getting so worked up over it now?” she asked, sounding genuinely confused. “What the fuck’s changed? We’ve known each other for almost five years and you’ve never been inclined to throw a hissy fit over the way I dress before.”
He opened his mouth and then promptly closed it because he didn’t know the answer either. What had changed? Why was he getting so annoyed at the thought of Robin posing for photographs in that dress? Why, why, why, indeed.
“Is this about yesterday?” she asked, suddenly looking horrified.
“No, no it is not,” he said, firmly.
“Well, clearly something’s changed,” she snapped, and Brian needed her to stop prying because he didn’t want her to figure out what was up with him before he’d had a chance of doing that himself.
“Darling, it sounds like Brian is just being a little protective,” said Freddie, and Brian could have kissed him in relief. “We all are, if I’m honest.”
“Not you too, Fred,” groaned Robin, looking annoyed again.
“Too fucking bad, you need to deal with it,” said Freddie. “You fuss over us, we fuss over you, we all fuss over each other like chittering mother hens. It’s annoying as all hell but we’re stuck with each other and there won’t be another way we will be. We are a weird, married four-way couple, aren’t we?”
Despite the situation, Brian and Robin both chuckled at that while John smiled at Freddie’s words.
“So, we’ll get protective and odd from time to time,” continued Freddie, pleased that the tension was starting to dissipate. “We’ll fight and fight, and we’ll make up.”
“No alcohol this time, though,” added John, and they all chuckled in agreement.
“Too bad, I could use a shot of whiskey right about now,” said Robin, and then turned to Brian. “I’ll put up with your fussing, but I’m still doing the shoot in this dress.”
Brian nodded and held his hands up in surrender. “Alright,” he agreed.
“Wonderful, now let’s get back there. It’s fucking freezing here and we’re half naked,” said Freddie, grabbing Brian and Robin by the hands and leading them towards the black backdrop that had been set up, as John followed behind.
The rest of the shoot went rather peacefully, but Brian really didn’t have time to sit down and properly think about things. They shot for close to an hour, before they were back in their normal clothes and heading to the Trident offices for a meeting with Norman. Mick had thanked them for a good shoot and promised to have the pictures ready for their perusal in a few days time.
Norman was in a mood, it seemed, but he did have some good news waiting for them.
“I’m sending you on a press tour next month,” he said, when they were seated in his office. “Just around Europe.”
“Will we be doing concerts?” asked Robin excitedly, as their mood was lifted instantly.
“We’ll see what we can do,” said Norman. “I can’t promise you concerts, mind you, but something along the lines of what you did at Golders Green could be arranged. Performances that will be recorded and then broadcast over the radio, I mean.”
That wasn’t as great, but it was still exciting. They were moving up in the world. Finally.
“Susie is putting together the itinerary at the moment,” continued Norman. “And Henry will be accompanying you.”
“Why Henry?” asked Freddie, annoyed.
“I’m assigning him as the band’s manager,” said Norman, shooting him a steely look for interrupting. “He’ll look after you, so I don’t have to be involved in everything. I am much busier these days than I was before.”
He didn’t seem to want to elaborate on why he was busy, and he dismissed them soon after that, telling them that Susie would be in touch. Brian wondered if it was normal to feel like they’d been sent to the curmudgeonly headmaster’s office every time they had a meeting with Norman. Ever since they had signed the official contract with Trident, it seemed like things were getting worse when it came to the relationship with their management, despite the band’s apparently growing success.
Freddie looked absolutely livid and announced he was going home as soon as they left the Trident offices. They’d agreed to go out for drinks before going in for the meeting and it wasn’t like Freddie to cancel plans, but it seemed like he came out the worst after meetings with Norman. Only Mary could get him to calm down when he got like that, and the rest of them knew it too, so they said goodbye to him and headed to the pub.
Robin went to get the first round of drinks, so Brian and John sat opposite one another in the booth, making small talk until John brought up something important.
“The lease is up in two months,” he said. “We aren’t getting a renewal this time.”
Brian nodded, remembering their landlord telling them in no uncertain terms that he was ready for new tenants in the Sinclair Road flat the previous week. They hadn’t really discussed what that would mean, mostly because Robin had spent the evening venting about their landlord and how he should be thankful to have tenants who paid the rent on time. So what if they threw loud parties and played music all hours of the day and night?
“Do you know what you want to do, Deaky?” asked Brian.
John shrugged. “Ronnie doesn’t want us to move in together until we’re married. Her parents won’t allow it,” he said. “I have been looking at bedsits in an area closer to her.”
Brian smiled a little. John and Veronica had not been dating long, but they already seemed to have planned a lot ahead. Whether it would work or not was another story, but Brian still thought it was rather sweet.
Robin came back with three pints of beer and slipped into the seat next to John. “What are we talking about?” she asked.
“New living situations now that we’re not getting the flat back,” said Brian.
Robin scowled. “Ugh, that bastard, I swear,” she said, no doubt referring to their landlord.
“Deaky’s looking at bedsits,” said Brian, before she could start ranting again.
Robin turned to John in surprise. “You don’t want to live with us, Deaky?” she asked.
John raised his eyebrows, as did Brian. “We’re going to be living together?” asked Brian, confused.
“Aren’t we?” asked Robin. “Band flat and all? It won’t be the same flat but I thought we’d want to live together as we do now.”
“We did that to save money, Rob,” said Brian, but still felt a little pang at the thought of there being no ‘band flat’ anymore. While it would be nice to have his own space and not trip over one another, he would truly miss it, he realised.
So would Robin, it seemed, as her face dropped. “I suppose,” she agreed. “We have been saving up and could afford something nicer.”
“We won’t be able to afford mansions yet, mind you,” said Brian, joking in an attempt to cheer her up.
It worked, and she smiled. “I know, it’s a shame,” she said. “Still, you’re right. We can afford our own places now. It will be a pain finding a nice place, though.”
“We can narrow down some listings,” said John, with a smile at Robin. “What have you got in mind? A bedsit?”
She thought about it and shook her head. “No, I’m done with a cramped flat, I think. What about those cottages over in Barnes? I heard Clare say one of her friends recently moved into one with her boyfriend.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of those,” said Brian. “They’re near the golf course, I think.”
“Might be a good idea to start looking into it soon,” said John. “We won’t have much time if we’re doing a press tour next month.”
“Yeah, I’d rather we have it all sorted before we go on tour,” nodded Brian. “No point in going on a press tour and coming back to find all our stuff thrown out of the flat.”
“I wouldn’t put it past the bastard,” muttered Robin, irritably and then sighed. “Fine, let’s start looking at listings.”
The day after their shoot with Mick was a Sunday and Brian reluctantly took the time to go and see his parents. It was a tense lunch, with his mother trying to make conversation while his father seemed perpetually annoyed at Brian’s lack of progress in his studies and career. Well, he was more annoyed about Brian putting even more time into music, and it didn’t help when he told them about the press tour. His father went out for a smoke right after lunch, and an apologetic Ruth made tea.
“Don’t let him worry you too much,” she said, handing Brian a cup of tea. “He just wants what’s best for you, dear.”
“I know, Mum,” he said, attempting to smile but he couldn’t help but feel saddened. His parents meant the world to him and it seemed like he could do nothing but disappoint them these days.
His mother seemed to sense his mood, so she grinned excitedly. “I almost forgot, I have something for you,” she said, getting up and going into the bedroom.
Brian wondered what it was, and she came back a moment later with something clutched in the palm of her hand.
“I found it when we cleaned out the safe the other day,” she said, sitting down and handing him a small velvet box.
Brian’s eyes went wide as he looked at the ring box. “Mum, what is this?” he asked, opening it and seeing a plain ring with a small stone inside.
“It was your Nan’s,” she grinned. “You can give it to Chrissie when you propose.”
“I’m not proposing to Chrissie,” he said, at once, and her eyes went wide. “I mean, I, uh, it’s too soon, Mum.”
“You’ve been going out for years now, dear,” she said, sounding confused at his abruptness. “You know your father doesn’t approve that you aren’t married yet. Chrissie is a wonderful girl and she would make a lovely wife to you.”
Brian went red and closed the ring box. “I can’t, Mum, not yet,” he said, handing the box back to her. “I know Dad doesn’t approve but I’d rather do this on my own terms.”
Ruth looked unhappy but gave a nod. “Alright, I won’t push,” she said. “But keep the ring,” she added, pushing his hand back. “Whenever you decided to propose, use it.”
Brian decided not to argue, especially since she already looked upset. He put the ring box in his pocket, and after a little bit of a chat, he went back to the flat, surprised when he found it empty.
A note from Robin was left taped to the fridge, letting him know she was going to Truro with Clare and would be back in a few days. Knowing there was a lot to sort out there, he wasn’t surprised she had decided to make the trip. John hadn’t left a note, but he was likely with Veronica since they went to church on Sundays and liked to spend the day together afterwards. Brian sat down in the empty living room, wondering if this was what it was going to be like from now on if they were all going to live their own lives.
Fortunately, the doorbell rang before he could get too lost in his thoughts, which were heading down a darker, moodier path. He opened the door and was surprised to find Freddie.
“Evening, Fred,” he said, letting him in. “Everything alright?”
“Mary’s out for a work thing and I’m bored,” he declared as he walked inside and plopped himself down on the sofa.
“And naturally, you chose to come here,” chuckled Brian, closing the door and joining him in the living room. “What will you do when we move out?”
“You’re moving out?” asked Freddie, surprised.
“Huh, guess we never told you,” said Brian, and relayed to him their discussion from the day before.
“No more band flat then,” said Freddie, looking strangely nostalgic. “I’ll miss it.”
“We all will, I think,” said Brian. “Robin seemed rather upset, too.”
“Hmm, yeah,” nodded Freddie. “You two make up then?”
Brian shrugged. “As well as we can, I suppose,” he admitted.
Freddie snorted. “I don’t know what you were thinking yesterday, dear,” he said. “You know she hates being told what to do.”
“I know,” said Brian, tiredly. “Believe me, I’d love to know what was going through my own head yesterday too.” He closed his eyes but he could sense Freddie’s concerned gaze on him.
“Something you want to tell me, Bri?” asked Freddie.
Brian sighed and opened his eyes before reaching into his pocket and pulling out the ring box. He popped it open and showed it to Freddie.
Freddie stared at the ring for a moment with raised eyebrows before looking at Brian. “As flattered as I am, I have a lovely fiancee already, Bri,” he said.
Brian chuckled without humour and closed the box, putting it away again. “My mother gave it to me today. With the expectation that I will be proposing to Chrissie.”
“And are you thinking about proposing?” asked Freddie.
“No,” he admitted. “There is so much more I want to do before I think about marriage and settling down, but it seems like nothing is going right. I end up disappointing everyone. Robin, my parents, even Chrissie, and I’ll probably end up disappointing you and Deaky as well,” he added, the words rushing out as the stress and internalised self-hatred teamed up to draw out the worst of his depressing thoughts. “I barely know my own thoughts these days, I question everything I say and do because it doesn’t seem like it’s me anymore. I’m afraid to look at a mirror because I’m so scared I won’t recognise the person looking back at me.” He sighed heavily as he finished speaking and didn’t dare look at Freddie.
Freddie was quiet for a long moment before sighing. “I’m sorry, Brian,” he said, finally. “It all sounds rather rough, but if it makes you feel any better, I still think you’re an amazing guitarist, and a solid band mate, and a good friend. You haven’t let me down yet, but even if you somehow do it in the future, I’m sure we’ll still be fine.”
Brian didn’t want to admit it, but his words did make him feel slightly better. “You can’t know that for certain,” he said, instead.
“No,” agreed Freddie, and then stood up. “Come on.”
Brian looked at him at last and saw a determined expression on his face. “Are we going somewhere?” he asked.
“To my flat,” said Freddie. “I was working on a present for you and I was going to give it to you for Christmas but I think you need it now.”
“What is it?” asked Brian, warily. It was the second time that day he was receiving an unexpected gift and considering how terrible the first one had made him feel, he was not in a hurry to repeat the experience.
“It’s a surprise,” said Freddie, picking up both his and Brian’s coats. “Come along now.”
Brian took his coat from Freddie and decided he might as well see what this was about. At Freddie and Mary’s flat, Brian waited in the living room while Freddie rummaged through what sounded like an entire cupboard full of odds and ends before emerging with a record in his hand. Brian couldn’t see the label before Freddie put it in the record player in the living room and turned it on.
There was silence for a moment before the sound of a guitar playing filled the room, and Brian’s eyes went wide when he recognised the notes for ‘Keep Yourself Alive’. What gave him pause, though, was the fact that it was just the guitar track, without any of the other instruments or Freddie’s vocals. The pure guitar sound just on its own sounded sharp, clean, and powerful. Like a jolt to the system, designed to make everyone in the audience sit up and be mesmerised by the sound. The entire song continued, with just the guitar track, and once it was over, the next song on their first album started playing, and it was only the guitar track of that song as well.
Brian couldn’t help but gape in amazement as he and Freddie just sat and listened to nothing but the guitar tracks on the entirety of their first album. When the final song ended, Freddie grinned at Brian brightly.
“Freddie, what-?” Brian was at a loss for words.
“I got Mike Stone to cut it together for me and have it made into a record. There’s a few more pieces from the new album too, but he’s still working on those,” said Freddie, and his eyes softened a little. “You are extraordinary, Brian,” he added, and Brian felt tears prick the back of his eyes. “You are my Jimi Hendrix. So feel free to disappoint me or let me down or whatever else you might think you’ll do. Because I’m not going anywhere. I can’t speak for Robin and Deaky, but if I have anything to do with it, they’re not going anywhere either. The four of us are just getting started, darling. We have so much more to do.”
Brian found himself at a loss for words and in a move very unlike himself, he threw his arms around Freddie and hugged him tightly around the waist. Freddie jumped a little in surprise but then chuckled and patted his back.
“You’ll figure out when and how you want to do things, Brimi,” said Freddie, and Brian’s heart went warm at the new nickname. “I mean, you are a fucking genius, after all. If you don’t, then where’s the hope for the rest of us poor ordinary folks.”
Brian pulled away from the hug and smiled at Freddie. “Freddie,” he said, his voice full of emotion and a little bit of humour. “In no world are you ordinary. You’re Freddie fucking Mercury. Ordinary just isn’t in the description.”
Freddie looked surprisingly abashed at the praise but Brian refused to be embarrassed at having said it. Especially after Freddie had gone to the lengths of giving him such a thoughtful and extraordinary gift. Thankfully, Freddie was also quick to recover his usual confidence.
“You’re damn right about that,” he said, tossing his head back in that very signature pose of his.
The two of them laughed in agreement, and for the hundredth time, Brian thanked the stars he had found such an odd, but eclectic group of people he was lucky enough to call friends.
After his very emotional evening with Freddie, Brian refused to let his dark thoughts get the better of him again. On his way to the flat, he bought John’s favourite bottle of vodka to give as a gift, since it had been a stressful few days and he needed to make sure their youngest member was doing alright. John was pleasantly surprised but very happy when he received the gift, and Brian was glad he seemed to be fine about things. Over the next two days, Brian cleaned the flat and his room, and in his spare moments, he looked up listings for places to live in London.
Robin returned three days after their shoot with Mick Rock, looking tired but fairly put together. Brian had been out all day so when he came back to the flat, he saw her curled up on the sofa with her old acoustic guitar and songwriting notebook while Led Zep’s newest record played in the flat.
“You’re back,” he said, when he saw her.
She smiled at him and set her guitar down, sitting up in her seat. “And you seem to be fond of stating the obvious as always,” she said.
He shrugged and came over to sit next to her with a grin. “Can’t seem to help it,” he said, and pulled her into a hug. “How was your trip?”
She seemed surprised at the hug but melted into his touch and squeezed him briefly before letting go and sitting back. “It was productive,” she said. “Mum’s settled in, which is the important thing. The rest of it will work out in time.”
He nodded and still held onto her hand. “I know you don’t want me to apologise,” he said, having given it a lot of thought over the past couple of days. “And I know I haven’t been very nice. I wish I could tell you what’s been going on with me, but I don’t understand it myself, but when I do, I’ll tell you and you can chew me out then.” He chanced a look at her and almost blushed at the soft, tired smile on her face. She was too adorable. “Is that alright?”
She squeezed his hand and then leaned forward and brushed a kiss over his cheek. “Fine,” she said, while his entire face burned red. “But honestly, I think I was a bit too emotional as well. The day before had been...trying, and I wasn’t completely myself, I don’t think. Honestly, I think we’re all a bit of a mess and like Freddie said, we just have to deal with it, being an odd four-way married couple that we are.”
He chuckled in agreement and hugged her again, pressing a kiss against her temple even as it made his stomach feel like it was filled with butterflies to do so. “I also have a gift for you,” he said, pulling away and getting up.
“Is it alcohol?” she asked. “Deaky told me you got him some.”
Brian chuckled as he went into the kitchen and came back out with the newspaper clippings he had kept. “No,” he said. “Not alcohol, but we can go for a drink when you’re in the mood.” He handed her the first newspaper clipping, and watched as her confusion turned to surprise and delight upon reading it. “Cottage on White Hart Lane in Barnes. Two bedrooms, neat front garden and a garage. Just what you were looking for.”
“You found me a place to live?” she asked, beaming at him.
“I did,” he nodded. “And I found one for myself, as well,” he added, showing her the other clipping. “It’s round the corner from you. I booked us a meeting next week to see both places.”
She grinned and shook her head at him. “Alright, you’re forgiven,” she said. “You’re more than forgiven. I owe you for this one, Bri, truly.”
“You don’t owe me, love,” he said, though her words made him smile warmly. “Just promise you’ll keep putting up with me and we’ll call it even.”
She smiled back at him, softly and with such affection that he wanted to blush again. “As long as you put up with me, Brian May,” she said, “I promise I’ll return the favour.”
He grinned. “Count on it.”
A few notes about fact and fiction:
The sceptre shoot and the nude shoot were both real and done by Mick Rock. You can find the pictures by googling them.
Freddie did indeed make a compilation of Brian's guitar playing back in the early days and gift it to him as a way to tell him how much he appreciated him and this is my take on that little story.
Roger did live on White Hart Lane in Barnes around '73/'74, and Brian lived around the corner from him. In fact, Brian lived in Barnes throughout the 70s and 80s but I'm sure he upgraded his house between those times while Roger moved to his Surrey mansion in the late 70s, though he (apparently) kept the house in Barnes and later passed it on to his sister.
Just a few tidbits! I apologise for the lack of Deaky in this chapter but I'll be sure to make up for it!