The Standalones

Chapter Two

Ken Preston

30 May 2024

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

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Outside Euston Station, Chloe rested by leaning against the nearest wall. A red double-decker bus trundled past and a car horn honked as a pedestrian made a dash across the road as the traffic lights changed from red to green.

The city of London. This was Chloe’s first time in the capital, and already the excitement was fizzing up inside of her. This was where the action was, where her fame started. Soon enough, everyone would know the name Chloe Martino-Yamaguchi, although she was considering changing it. Martino-Yamaguchi was a bit of a mouthful, to say the least, and Chloe wasn’t exactly the most glamorous of first names. What she needed was a stage name, something unique and unforgettable.

Something like Jenna Madison, or Zoe Pink. No, maybe those were still a bit too normal.

What about a single name, like Moon, or Rain?

Nice, but they risked sounding a little pretentious.

There was plenty of time to think about that, though. First of all, she had to meet her new band mates and maybe show them the songs she had composed. Her holdall was stuffed not just with her clothes, but also with sheets and notepads full of song lyrics and notes. In some ways, that travel bag of hers was full of her future.

Chloe glanced up and down the busy road. So far, she had met only one member of the band, Chris Thomason, the keyboard player. He had been the one to interview her and listen to her sing. Then he had taken her audition tape back to the rest of the band and they had agreed to give her a trial run as their new lead singer. Once they saw her perform, Chloe was sure they would all agree that she should stay.

But Chris wasn’t the one coming to meet her. The last time she had spoken to him on her parents’ telephone, she could hardly hear him over the noise of what sounded like a massive party happening in the background. But she was certain he had said that their guitarist, Matt Sumner, would meet her outside Euston Station at three o’clock.

Chloe had forgotten to ask for a description, and now she was worried that they would miss each other. Surely, though, she was worrying about nothing; wouldn’t he realise who she was as soon as he spotted the guitar case attached to her back?

Thinking of the heavy bass guitar reminded Chloe of how much her shoulders hurt. And her feet. And, well, everything actually. As soon as she arrived at the band’s digs, she was dropping everything and collapsing on the nearest chair. She wondered if she would have her own bedroom for the night, or if she would have to share. Once again, her mind drifted off to daydreaming about a future where her every need was catered for and she lived in the lap of pop star luxury.

“Chloe?”

Chloe jumped and turned around. A young man was standing behind her, a half-smile on his face, and a hand undecided whether it should offer itself for a handshake or just stay where it was by his side.

“Yes!” Chloe held out her hand, and they shook.

“Matt, Matt Sumner.” The half-smile transformed itself into a full on beam.

Flipping heck, you’re gorgeous, Chloe thought, and snapped her mouth shut before she could inadvertently say what she was thinking. Because he was gorgeous. Dark hair swept back in a casual style, piercing blue eyes, and a beautifully clean complexion.

“It’s great to meet you, Chris has told us all about you,” Matt said.

He didn’t tell me anything about you, Chloe thought. Like, how good looking you are, for one thing.

“Are you alright?” Matt asked, a look of concern on his face.

“Oh, yes! Yes, I’m fine!”

“Good, you just looked a little distracted there.”

“No, not distracted at all,” Chloe said brightly. “I’m fine.”

Get a grip, girl, this is no time to start babbling.

“How was your journey?”

“Oh it was…” Do not say it was fine! “… very good, thank you.”

“Ah.” Matt nodded, looking like he was unsure what to say.

“How was yours?” Chloe said.

Matt burst out laughing. “It was great, you know, a nice, five-minute stroll around the corner, I can’t complain.”

Chloe’s cheeks reddened with embarrassment.

“Can I take your bag?” Matt bent down and picked it up without waiting for an answer. “Wow, it’s heavy, what have you got in here, a bag full of stolen cash?”

“No, of course not! I mean, thank you, but no, just clothes and… and…”

Matt burst out laughing. “I’m teasing! Come on, let me take you back to the Saveloy Hotel to meet the others.”

“You’re staying at the Savoy?” Chloe could hardly believe what her ears were telling her. Had they already made it? Were they more famous and successful than Chloe had realised? It looked like Chloe might be living in pop star luxury already.

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Matt laughed again. “No, sorry, I said Saveloy, as in the sausage, not Savoy. The Saveloy is just the ironic name we’ve given our rubbish dump of a flat that we’re living in at the moment.”

Chloe mentally gave herself a good kicking. Of course they weren’t staying at the Savoy, how ridiculous! She wished she could just start her day all over again, or at least this embarrassing part. If she carried on acting like this, she wasn’t going to make a good first impression on the band.

“Hey, you’ve zoned out again.”

“Oh, sorry.” Chloe focused all of her attention on Matt. “Were you saying something?”

“Um, yes, I was. I said it doesn’t matter how much of a dump our flat is, as we’re back on the road tomorrow.”

“We are?” This was news to Chloe.

“Didn’t Chris tell you? We’ve got a couple of gigs lined up and a showcase for some record company bigwigs. You’ve joined us just in time, this could be the most important week of our lives.”

“Oh wow, that’s amazing,” Chloe said, her heart sinking. Maybe Chris had told her and Chloe hadn’t heard due to the party being thrown immediately behind him, but now she wished she’d listened harder. Or the party-goers had partied quieter.

Anyway, whatever, it looked like this week was going to be less of a settling in and getting to know everyone period, and more of a being the best she could possibly be from the start kind of week. Oh well, she’d wanted some excitement in her life, and now she had it.

“Have you been to London before?” Matt was saying.

Chloe zoned back in, realising that she had drifted off in her thoughts again. “No, this is my first time.”

“I’m sure you’ll love it. Although I’m not sure how much you’ll get to see, as we will mostly be performing or recording songs.”

“Have you lived here long?” Chloe asked.

Matt shifted Chloe’s bag from one hand to the other. “No, I’ve lived all over, really. My family travelled a lot when I was young, because my dad was in the army. And since then, I’ve been in bands and never seem to get the chance to settle down anywhere for long.”

“The Standalones isn’t your first band, then?”

“Nope, more like my fifth. Although I’m trying to forget the last one, so let’s just say I’ve been in four bands.”

Interesting, thought Chloe. But just as she was about to ask him more, he turned the attention onto her.

“So, what about you? Have you been in many bands before?”

“No, I’ve been more of a solo performer until now,” Chloe replied. “I’ve played a few small gigs here and there, but nothing too big. I’m really looking forward to playing with you all, if you’ll have me, of course.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Matt said. “We’ve listened to your demo tape, and we all loved it, and Chris has done nothing but rave about you since he met you.”

Thank goodness for that, thought Chloe. She hadn’t wanted to come all the way down to London just to be sent packing again.

They didn’t have far to walk before Matt was leading the way down a set of steps to a doorway and into a basement accommodation.

Matt hadn’t been exaggerating, the place really was a dump. The flat was part of a larger house that the owner rented out. Large patches of damp stained the wallpaper, and the one sofa in the room listed so far to one side it looked as though it was ready to collapse. The threadbare carpet barely covered the floorboards, the gas cooker looked like it was sweating burnt cooking oil, and the Belfast sink was barely holding its own under the weight of a tottering pile of dirty dishes and mugs.

“Ah, yeah, we’re not very good at washing up,” Matt said apologetically.

He dropped her holdall on the floor as a young man entered the living space. It made a heavy thump as it hit the floor. Chloe didn’t remember it being that heavy when she had packed.

“Hey, you made it!” Chris said, and called back over his shoulder, “Scarlett, our new lead singer and bassist is here!”

Oh yes, Scarlett Rage, the one member of the band Chloe was more than a little nervous about meeting. Scarlett was the oldest band member and had originally come through the punk scene in the late 70s. Even though she seemed to be reinventing herself in the world of pop music, she kept her name and her looks; black spiked hair, heavy eye shadow, blue lipstick, and ripped clothes covered in safety pins.

“Hey,” she said as she entered the living room, holding a drumstick in each hand.

“Hi,” Chloe replied.

Scarlett flung herself on the leaning sofa, which remarkably managed to stay upright, and began tapping out a rhythm on her knees with the sticks.

Matt and Chris grinned at Chloe. No-one seemed to know what to say.

“Um, would you mind showing me to my room?” Chloe said. “I need to freshen up.”

From the sofa, Scarlett let out a bark of laughter.

Matt looked at Chloe apologetically. “This is it, I’m afraid.” He stretched out his arm to take in the single room. “There isn’t even a bathroom.”

“But there must be a toilet!”

“We use public toilets, and wash in the kitchen sink,” Chris said.

“There’s a bedroom through there, but it’s so tiny there’s barely room to move.”

Visions of upmarket hotels, posh cars, and her own bodyguards disappeared as Chloe took in the bedsit with its stained walls and threadbare carpet. “Oh.”

“But hey, don’t worry, we’re moving out this afternoon,” Scarlett said.

A flicker of hope lit up in Chloe’s chest.

“This afternoon?” Matt said. “I thought we were leaving tomorrow.”

Still tapping out a rhythm on her legs, Scarlett shook her head. “While you were out, our lovely landlord came by and told us he’s doubling our rent, and we have to pay up front for the next month.”

“He can’t do that!” Matt exclaimed.

“Well, he did, because he’s nothing but a crook, and he’s threatening us with dire consequences unless he has his cash later today.”

“We’ve loaded the van up with our gear, and we’re ready to go,” Chris said.

Matt glanced around the room. “I thought it looked a little tidier.”

Chloe couldn’t see that, but kept quiet.

“And I’ve got us a gig for tonight at The Dog and Whistle,” Chris said.

“So soon?” Chloe exclaimed. “But when are we going to rehearse? And where?”

“I know, it’s not ideal,” Matt said, looking even more apologetic than when he had shown Chloe the room. “We will just have to snatch some rehearsal time when and wherever we can.”

“But we’re moving out of here and into somewhere nicer, is that right?” Chloe asked.

“Um, afraid not,” Matt said. “Because we’re having to leave here so quick we haven’t found anywhere else to stay, so we’ll be living in the van for the next couple of days.” Matt paused for a moment, as though reluctant to say more. “Um, well, if there’s anywhere worse than here, it’s probably the van.”

“Oh,” Chloe said again, and sat down on her holdall, it being the only thing to sit on apart from the floor.

A corner of something poked her in her bottom. In fact, her travel bag felt harder and lumpier than it should do. She looked down at it. Was it even her bag? It looked the same, and yet there were subtle differences. Like the wear and tear at the corners. A slight discolouration of the handles.

Chloe tugged at the zip and pulled it open a touch.

A pack of £20 notes strained against the gap.

Chloe stood up and pulled the zip fully open.

She gasped.

Thick packs of £20 notes spilled from the holdall and onto the threadbare carpet.

Scarlett jumped to her feet and whistled. “Well, boys, looks like our troubles are over. Welcome to the band, Chloe!”

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