by Holly Bourne

“Lizzie. We don’t live in a romantic comedy.”

“And by being friends with you, don’t I bloody well know it?” She linked arms with me as we entered the club.

The influx of wannabe groupies made the place more crowded than normal. The usually half-empty wooden dance floor was jammed full of mascaraed girls with their elbows out. I checked my watch – it had just gone nine thirty. The band wouldn’t start for another half-hour but females were already fighting for prime front-row spots. Their desperation was so pungent you could almost bottle it and sell it as perfume.

Despite myself, I quite liked this place. The walls were bright purple and decorated with old black-and-white photos of famous musicians. The once-white ceiling was now off-yellow, stained by years of spent cigarettes. But what I loved most was the bar. The owner, in true rock-and-roll spirit, insisted everything that could be sold in optics must be sold in optics – even wine. He had even had optics specially made that delivered rosé in 250 ml quantities. It was a bit gross but the club had character – which was rarer than blue steak in this cookie-cutter town.

The girls and I picked our way through the throngs of people to get to the bar. I elbowed my way to the front and leaned forward to attract the barman’s attention.

“What do you want?” he yelled over the loud heavy metal pumping out of the speakers.

I held up my fingers. “Four double dark rum and Diet Cokes please.” It was getting hot and I started fanning my face. “With ice,” I added.

As I waited, I watched Lizzie mingle. The girl knew everyone. She was darting from one group to the next, like a hummingbird addicted to secrets instead of nectar. I guessed she was asking about the new band and their mysterious new guitarist. Lizzie liked to be in the know. She said it was her way of preparing for her future.

The barman handed me the drinks and I chucked him a ten and a five before carefully scooping up the glasses. I pushed my way towards my friends, who had now grabbed a spot closer to the stage.

“So what did I miss?” I shouted over the music, handing them each a drink.

“Thanks,” Lizzie shouted back, taking a glass. “Guess what? I’ve got the best gossip about Noah.”

“Who’s Noah?” I asked, taking a long gulp of my drink.

She shouted something back but I couldn’t hear her.

“What?!” I leaned in further.


I nodded. So his name was Noah.

Lizzie beckoned to us all to come in closer.

“I heard…” Lizzie tried to whisper in a dramatic fashion but had to half-shout to be heard. “Rachel was telling me he lives alone after his parents chucked him out.”

“Really?” Amanda asked, wide-eyed, as if Lizzie had revealed he was a merman or something.

Lizzie nodded seriously. “Apparently he gave them a really rough time – he’s really screwed up. He moved here about two years ago and got diagnosed with depression,” she said. “But he refused to go to therapy and apparently turned to drink and girls. He’s a complete man-whore by the sounds of it. Proper bad boy.”

The other two looked wistful as I sneered. Typical.

“Anyway, apparently joining the band has really sorted him out. Music helps him…feel better apparently.”

“Wow,” Amanda said. “He sounds so…tortured.”

Ruth agreed. “I know. What a hard time he’s had. I bet all he wants is a proper girlfriend to ground him. A shoulder to cry on. Someone he can trust and depend on.”

We stood in silence as the other three contemplated being this wonder girl to mend all his problems. Groan.

We finished our drinks and Ruth went to get another round as we saved our viewing spot. It was getting really crowded now, and really hot. I could feel a thin film of sweat begin to collect under my fringe. Lovely. Despite being at the back of the entrance queue, we’d actually got a pretty good view of the stage – a couple of lines from the front, dead centre. We defended our territory as more people began to squash in. Ruth arrived back with our drinks and I checked my watch again. Two minutes to ten. The band would start any moment. More spectators were jostling to get a better view and a few idiots started throwing their beer into the crowd. There was a Mexican wave of shrieks as girls’ carefully crafted hairdos were obliterated.

The lights turned off and everyone began to whoop and scream. I could see the shadows of the band walk on and a huge surge came through the crowd from behind. My feet were swept off the floor and I was carried by my ribs half a metre forward. I clenched my feet in my ballet pumps to keep them on, and panicked slightly as I realized I’d been separated from the others. I twisted my head round to see Lizzie some way behind me. She smiled, excitedly waiting for the music to begin. I smiled back and then suddenly the stage lights came on, catapulting the band into a bright white light. Music erupted from the speakers…

And then I couldn’t breathe.

The loud music became tinny and my head filled with fug. I tried to inhale but no oxygen entered my lungs. My legs buckled and I felt the crowd push me forward. I could hardly stand. I relied completely on other bodies to keep me upright as I tried to practise my techniques from therapy.

You are not dying, I told myself. You’re just having a panic attack. You’re not going to die.

But I didn’t believe myself. This was worse than anything I’d experienced before. My lungs burned and the edges of my vision went hazy.

“Help,” I rasped pathetically, hoping someone would hear. But no help came.

I tried to breathe again. Nothing. Panic rippled through my body like a tsunami.

I have to get out. I’m going to die.

With my remaining strength, I tried to stumble out of the crowd, vaguely aware that people were yelling at me. I couldn’t see my friends. I couldn’t see anything. It was all going dark.

JUST BREATHE, I instructed myself. But I couldn’t. I kept taking empty gasps. My lungs felt like they were going to explode.

I’m drowning, I thought. I’m drowning in no water.

I felt my feet slipping on the beer-covered floor and the burning in my lungs began scorching through my insides. I let my body buckle. I could vaguely hear the dim sounds of loud chords echoing from the speakers. And then everything went black and it was finally quiet.