The Standalones

Chapter Eighteen

Ken Preston

15 June 2024

Silhouette of a rock band against a spotlight and the words The Standalones

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Chapter Eighteen

With a cough and a wheeze, Max Switchblade sputtered to a halt. A car raced past in the darkness, horn blaring. Rain drummed against the dark windows.

“Great, just great!” Chris shouted, kicking the inside of the van.

“Hey, leave Max alone!” Scarlett yelled from the driver’s seat.

An articulated lorry sped past, spraying them with rainwater and leaving the van rocking in its wake.

“We’ve got to get off this dual carriageway before somebody smashes into us,” Matt said.

Chloe peered through the front windscreen, blurred with raindrops and smears of dirt. “I think there’s a lay-by just ahead. Maybe we can push the van into it?”

“We’ll get drenched out there!” Chris wailed.

“That’s better than getting rammed by a lorry,” Matt said.

Chloe and Matt jumped out of the van, with Chris begrudgingly following them. He was right about how wet they would get, the rain was falling in sheets of water. Scarlett stayed in the van to steer.

With the three of them pushing, they managed to get Max Switchblade moving, and Scarlett steered them into the lay-by. When Chloe, Matt and Chris climbed back into the van, they were dripping wet.

“Now what?” Chris said, pulling his jacket off and wringing water out of it.

“We might as well sleep here and take a look at the problem in the morning,” Matt suggested. “We were planning on sleeping in the van, anyway.”

Chris huffed, but didn’t say anything. Chloe was starting to like Chris less and less. Whenever a problem cropped up, Chris just moaned about it. But Matt, nothing seemed to faze him. He took everything in his stride and seemed sure that there was a solution just around the corner.

At least she had her bag back. Chloe unzipped it and pulled out a towel. She rubbed at her wet hair.

Scarlett climbed into the back with the rest of them. In their hurry to escape The Dog and Whistle, they had haphazardly thrown their equipment in the van, and now there was hardly room to move.

“If we sort some of this stuff out, we might almost have room to swing a very small kitten,” Scarlett said.

They spent the next few minutes moving equipment around until they had given themselves a little more room to stretch out in. Scarlett produced a set of blankets from a hidden cupboard, and some pillows from a disguised recess.

She grinned at Chloe. “Max has secrets in hidden places.”

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When they’d got themselves settled down for the night, Chloe found herself next to Matt. Scarlett had climbed back into the driver’s seat and wrapped herself up in a thick blanket. Amazingly she dropped off to sleep almost instantly. Chris had joined her in the passenger seat, and he popped a pair of massive headphones over his ears and closed his eyes.

Chloe and Matt sat in silence, listening to the rain drumming a steady beat on the roof. In the darkness, they could just see each other. Occasionally, a car sped by, illuminating them briefly in the glow of the headlights before plunging them back into darkness.

“So,” Matt said eventually, “how’s your first day with The Standalones been?”

Chloe giggled. “Oh, you know, pretty boring really. I prefer a little more excitement in my life.”

Matt snorted. “Honestly, I’ve never known a day like this before.”

“What, you don’t meet a lion everywhere you play?”

“Believe it or not, no.”

Chloe pretended to yawn in a dramatic fashion. “Boring.”

“Hey, you were amazing today. How long have you been playing guitar?”

Chloe snuggled deeper under her blanket. “For about as long as I can remember. When I was little, I used to have this plastic guitar with nylon strings, and my mum tells me I just used to wander around the house bashing away at it all day, and singing too, at the top of my voice.”

“Sounds like you were born for this.”

“Meeting a lion and sleeping in a van in a lay-by?”

“Don’t forget the fight.”

“How could I? But you’re right, I think I was. All I’ve ever wanted is to write songs and sing them.”

Matt sat up a little straighter. “You write your own songs, too?”

Chloe nodded. “Uh-huh, and I thought I’d lost them forever when my bag went missing.”

“You’ve got them with you?”

“Yes!” Chloe opened up her bag and rifled through it until she found the sheets of song lyrics. She passed them shyly to Matt. Nerves fluttered in her stomach as she wondered what his reaction would be. Would he love them? Or would he think they were amateurish?

He had to hold them close to his face as he peered at the writing on the sheets in the gloom.

Chloe watched him intently as he read the lyrics, his lips moving silently as he recited them to himself. His expression gave nothing away.

Finally, she couldn’t contain herself any longer. “So? What do you think?”

Matt raised his head and looked at her. “These are amazing! I wish I could hear them being sung, though.”

“I could sing one for you now, if you like.” Chloe glanced at the others, asleep in the front. “Quietly, of course.”

“I’d like that,” Matt replied.

With the drumbeat of the rain as an accompaniment, Chloe closed her eyes and began softly singing. She didn’t need to read the lyrics, she knew all her songs off by heart, had lived with them for so long that they were a part of her very being.

When she had finished, her beautiful voice trailing off into silence, Matt said nothing. Chloe opened her eyes, wondering what his reaction was. He sat with his eyes closed, as though drinking in the last moments of the song, savouring it before it disappeared into memory.

“You are incredible,” he said at long last, and slowly opened his eyes. “Your voice is so beautiful.”

Chloe blushed. “Oh, I’m alright, I suppose.”

“Alright?” Matt hissed and took her hand in his. “You’re amazing!”

For a moment, they held hands, gazing into each other’s eyes.

I think I’m falling in love with you, Chloe thought.

She opened her mouth to say something, anything. She had to tell him how she felt about him. Right now.

Matt broke eye contact and pulled his hand away.

“We should get some sleep,” he said.

 Chloe was suddenly confused by the way in which Matt was withdrawing from her. Had she said or done something to offend him?

She leaned toward him, about to say goodnight, but before she could speak, he had rolled over and pulled the blanket close. Presented with just the back of Matt’s head, Chloe lay down.

With Scarlett and Chris now both fast asleep in the front of the van, it felt like Chloe and Matt were on their own. Now would have been a perfect moment to reveal her feelings to Matt, and Chloe had wanted to. But perhaps it was too soon. Maybe that was why he had drawn away. After all, they had only just met and she didn’t want to scare him off by seeming too eager.

Another thought occurred to Chloe; maybe he was still in love with Lexi. Whatever the reason for their breakup, perhaps Matt was finding it in his heart to forgive her. Lots of couples split up and then got back together again.

She knew so little about Matt. Perhaps he wasn’t even the type to enter into a serious relationship, and that he had a different girlfriend in every town they played. Or maybe after splitting with Lexi, he had decided he was never going to have a relationship with someone he was in a band with.

Chloe couldn’t help but sigh. What was she going to do?

Closing her eyes, she snuggled deeper under the blanket.

Tomorrow, she would worry about this tomorrow. Right now, she needed her sleep.

 Although Chloe dropped off to sleep quickly, she dreamt of lions chasing her through a maze of drum kits, and whenever she found Matt and begged for his help, he simply turned his back on her and disappeared into the darkness.