by Holly Bourne

It was still black but the serene silence had gone.

“Her eyes are flickering,” I heard. It sounded far away, like I was underwater.

The scorching filled my lungs again. It hurt so much. I had to get rid of it. My eyes blinked open. I was on my back. That wouldn’t do. Using all my strength, I flung myself over onto my side as vomit bucketed out of me. I retched. I gagged. The sour taste of regurgitated rum and Coke burned up my throat. I lay on my side, being generally disgusting, for a few minutes. I kept spitting, wiping my mouth, retching again. I didn’t care who was watching. I needed to get whatever poison there was out of me. When I finally finished, I rolled onto my back and wiped my hair. It was slick with sweat.

“Well look who’s bringing sexy back,” someone said sarcastically.

It was Lizzie’s voice. I concentrated on focusing and her face became clear beside me. We were outside the club, on a small piece of grubby grass round the side. Lizzie and Amanda looked concerned. Well, Lizzie looked a bit more disgusted than concerned.

I took a deep breath. “What the hell happened?” I tried to lift my head but Lizzie firmly pushed it onto her lap.

“Not so soon. You’re staying put for a few minutes.” She looked at me in a motherly way. “You had one of your attacks. Scared the crap out of me and Amanda.”

Amanda was sitting cross-legged on the grass, a respectful distance away from my puddle. She looked terrified. I remembered she’d never seen me have a panic attack before.

“How long have I been out?” I always lost track of time when this happened.

“Just a few minutes. You’ve not missed anything, don’t worry.”

“Where’s Ruth?” I asked.

A look of irritation crossed Lizzie’s face before she composed a smile.

“She’s saving our spaces for us. I told her it wasn’t worth bothering as you’re obviously going straight home, but she stayed inside anyway.”

“Home? I’m not going home.”

“Yes you are. Poppy, I’ve never seen anything like it. I mean, I’ve seen you collapse before, but not like this. I thought you were dead.”

I could see that she was genuinely concerned behind her forced grin. “Was I that bad?” I asked. “It felt worse than the others.”

“You were terrifying. I was trying to keep an eye on you because I know crowds can sometimes set you off. You seemed fine, even though it’s absolutely mental inside. My fringe is completely ruined…” She stopped herself and started again. “Anyway, as soon as the band came on you started twitching. I tried to get to you but the crowd was too solid. You were staggering around like your feet weren’t working. And then you just went down. I managed to reach you, and you were unconscious but shuddering, like an electric current was surging through you. It was seriously messed up. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought you were having an epileptic fit or something.”

I lay silent for a moment, taking in everything she’d told me.

“So I made a complete idiot out of myself then?”

Lizzie let out a low whistle. “Jeeeee-sus. Why would you even care about that, Poppy? You’re safe, that’s all that matters.”

I ignored her and looked up at Amanda. “Amanda?” I asked.

She looked nervous, probably because Lizzie had put her death-glare on.

“No one really noticed,” Amanda reassured me. “Everyone was too involved with the band. They’re actually surprisingly good.”

I lifted myself so I was sitting. The evening summer breeze felt good on my clammy face.

“Well if that’s the case,” I said, slowly standing up, “then we’d better go in and see them.”

Lizzie was shocked. “Poppy, no. Come on. We need to take you home.”

“I’m fine. Please, just let me be normal.”

“But you might have another attack.”

“I won’t. It’s passed now. Come on, let’s go find Ruth.”

Lizzie looked desperately at Amanda. “We can’t let her go back in.”

Amanda shrugged. “Do you really want to try and stop her?”

“Ha ha, victory.” I punched my fist in the air, immediately felt woozy and stumbled. Lizzie steadied me just in time and glared.

“Okay,” I sighed. “I’ll stay right at the back like a saddo. Just in case it happens again. Which it won’t.”

We walked slowly to the doors of the club, showing our stamped hands to the bouncers as we passed. They clocked Lizzie and Amanda supporting the majority of my body weight and one of them raised an eyebrow.

“Your mate alright?” he said, eyeing me suspiciously.

“She’s fine,” Lizzie answered, before turning to me. “Aren’t you, Poppy?”

“Me? I’m high on life.”

They laughed as we entered the club, where we were immediately blasted by loud music. We stood at the back and within ten seconds I decided I liked the band. They were amazing. Different. My heart thudded madly to the music and I clutched at my chest to steady myself. Steam was rising off the crowd in giant clouds.

“THEY’RE INCREDIBLE,” I shouted over to Lizzie and Amanda, who both smiled in return.

“DIDN’T I SAY SO?” Lizzie screamed back. “AND CHECK OUT THE GUITARIST.”

My eye followed Lizzie’s finger through the crammed room as she pointed out Noah.

I’ve never run smack bang into a brick wall before but I imagine it would feel a bit like how I felt then. Time slowed down – like in a really cheesy movie. I felt my breath catching as I studied him. Lizzie was right – he was beautiful.

He stood at the left of the stage, his guitar resting lazily on his lower hip. His face was focused, concentrating on his chords. Sweaty dark hair fell into his black eyes, framing his perfectly angular face. A green T-shirt was sticking to his thin but muscular frame and his jeans were slung low across his waist. I quickly scanned his legs and sighed in relief – his jeans weren’t skinny. It was a miracle! I licked my lips involuntarily. I wanted to turn and discuss his fitness in detail but couldn’t tear my eyes from his face.

Bloody hell, what was happening to me? I forced my gaze off him. Lizzie was smiling.

“Fit much?” she said.

“Very fit.” I nodded furiously. “You were right.”