Author Nicky Wells is my guest today at my page ‘An Audience with an Author’
below is an excerpt to tempt you to buy a fantastic debut novel
which I was delighted to review last month.
[Sophie is just about to meet Dan again for the first time since she was 19…]
Oh joy! Did I ever!
And so I came to have Tusk back in my life with no effort at all. Joe led me across the ground floor, up two flights of stairs, round a corner and through a door, and we were backstage. Well, backstage of sorts: it wasn’t the fanciest of dressing areas, just a pretty bare room with a couch, a few chairs, a mirror and a large fridge-freezer. I entered almost shyly, half-wondering what to say, half-wondering what I was doing there. And wanting to jump up and down and wave my arms crazily.
“Heeeey!” came the appreciative hello from Darren. “Good to see you again! How was New York?”
“Hey!” I shouted back. “New York was great, thanks. Although the conference was a bit boring. How was Chicago?”
“Ok,” Darren grumbled. “When we finally got there…”
Under cover of this opening blessedly provided by Darren, I had confidently walked into the room and found myself standing among my four teenage heroes.
“Want a beer?” Mick offered. “Or something stronger?” He pulled open the fridge door to reveal an amazing array of chilled beers and liquors.
“Uh, a beer would be great!” I said. I hated beer, but I didn’t want to be uncool or make a fuss or something. Everyone else was drinking beer.
Mick threw me a bottle which I just about managed to catch (I was really clumsy) and I seized upon it gratefully. Then the guys went back to discussing the gig and how it had gone and how the crowd had reacted to Tusk’s own songs, and I let myself fade contentedly into the role of background observer, like always. I needed to catch my breath and capture my cool. Now that I was there, and they were there, and nobody seemed to have any intention of leaving any time soon, I could afford to try to relax and regroup a little. Somehow I knew I had to make the most out of this occasion, to play it just right such that I could see them again. And again. And again. Because that was what I wanted to do. A little pet project for excitement in my life. Extracurricular activity, if you wanted. “Hobby: groupie to Splat/Tusk.” Or: “Hobby: Chief Tusk Admirer.” A bit anoracky, perhaps, but it beat trainspotting or bird-watching.
Conversation was still going on when Dan threw me a casual, “what do you think, Sophie?”
Well, what did Sophie think?
“I thought you were… amazing. Just like you used to be. Except… you look different, of course.” Nodding heads, delighted looks. Stroking egos wasn’t difficult!
“But,” I continued, “Do you know what really got me?” Shaking heads this time.
“Nobody seemed to recognise you. I mean, you do look different but Dan’s voice you could make out anywhere and anyone with half a brain should realise!”
Dan laughed. “That’s very sweet of you, but it’s not surprising that no one recognises us. Not even the venue management realises what we are doing here.” I must have looked at him blankly, because Mick chimed in and continued.
“We pick our venues quite carefully, looking for a young audience that probably wouldn’t have known us, or at least not seen us, first time round. We want to know whether we go down well.”
“Yeah,” Joe butted it. “Call it…what do you call it? Market research.”
“Market research?” I repeated.
“Yup,” Dan resumed. “We’re thinking of re-grouping. You know, our own little revival. But we don’t want to make complete fools of ourselves. So while the record company is thinking about it, we’ve launched a little undercover mission: being our own tribute band.”
Wow. Bloody brilliant. “I think that’s bloody brilliant,” I enthused. “Weird. But brilliant. But… don’t you find it strange, doing your own thing without getting the credit, and on such a small scale?”
A small silence. Had I put my foot in it already?
“Nooooo… this is fun!” Joe declared. “This is our practice but with all the fun of a live audience and a few squids on top. Not that we need the money… but playing the small clubs is the best way to get back into things.”
“And,” Mick threw in, “we are getting quite a reputation. The crowd here tonight had definitely heard of us before. It gave me such a kick when they cheered at the ‘Tusk tribute’ part of the set. We’re building a whole new reputation for our music!”
“Absolutely,” Dan confirmed, with a peculiar nostalgic look. “And…” he made a sweeping movement around the room, taking in the lumpy couch and peeling paint, “… this is kind of how we started out. So this feels right, somehow.”
I nodded my understanding. Yup, I could see how this might feel right.
“Well, I think you ought to be all systems go,” I affirmed, taking another giant sip on my beer, then getting it all down the wrong way and spluttering all over the place. I even had beer coming out of my nose: what a great way to create an ineradicable impression.
“Easy, there, love,” Mick crooned and patted me heftily on the back. Eyes streaming, face hot and bothered, I couldn’t stop coughing and the guys collapsed in laughter. Well, at least I had entertainment value.
“Cor,” Dan declared eventually, taking off his shirt. “I’m hot!” He rubbed his chest vigorously, then grimaced.
“My nipple hurts.” He looked round pitifully. I was glad that I was still bright red in the face from my spluttering episode, otherwise no doubt I would have flushed and embarrassed myself right there and then, again. Twenty-eight and still a prude, I admonished myself.
“No, it really does!” he repeated. “I had a stiff nipple all the way through and the strap of my guitar….” He didn’t finish his sentence, but Mick and Darren winced sympathetically.
Say something, I told myself, say something. Something funny! Do something!
“Err…” I fumbled wildly in my handbag. “Have some of this. Helps me any time.” I handed over a small jar of lip balm.
Dan took it sceptically. “Yeah? And what does this stuff do?”
I took it back off him. “Well,” I started, “this is Vaseline. Good for sore skin, chapped lips and all that. What you do is…” I opened the tub up and dipped my finger in it, scooping up a little gloop of cream. “You take some of this and then you rub it in.”
And before I could stop myself, I found myself applying cream to Dan’s permanently erect nipple. Wolf whistles and cat calls from the other guys, while Dan and I stared at each other in amazement.
I pulled my finger back like he was red-hot iron. Red-hot was also what my ears were like, and I felt faintly weak with…. I didn’t know, shock? Surprise? Attraction?
“Err… and then you’re done,” I added softly, so softly in fact that only Dan could hear it.
“Is that so?” he asked gently, then rubbed the cream in a little bit more. I felt like we were having sex without having sex. “Uh, that’s good,” he continued and I had to sit down before my knees gave way.
“Glad to be of help,” I said weakly. “In fact, keep the stuff.” I proffered the jar.
“Oh, cut it out you two!” Joe called out while Mick was making fake retching noises. Dan gave them a dazzling smile. “Now, now, wait in line guys…” And then the whole interlude was over, having taken no more than twenty seconds. To me, it felt like a lifetime. I wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened there but somehow I knew that it wouldn’t be the kind of thing to share with Tim when I told him about the gig. Tim! Gosh, how different things would have been had he been here.
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