The Standalones

Chapter Twenty

Ken Preston

17 June 2024

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

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Chapter Twenty

Chloe awoke to aching joints, and a grey light filtering through the van’s dirty windows. She rubbed at her eyes, her head groggy and confused. Why was she cooped up in this tiny van, surrounded by musical kit? Wasn’t she supposed to be in London right now? Playing her first gig with The Standalones?

But then the image of a lion entered her mind, along with the suspicion that maybe she had been involved in a fight. Chloe rubbed at her face and ran her fingers through her tangled hair.

A lion? In London? Had to be a dream, along with the visions of her travel bag stuffed full of money.

Chloe jumped when she heard a sudden, loud snore. She sat up as the memories of yesterday flooded back.

Oh dear. It wasn’t a dream after all.

This was her shot at stardom, at a spot on Top of the Pops, with her new band, The Standalones. It didn’t seem to be working out too well at the moment, did it? Sleeping in a broken down camper van in a lay-by, after having come face to face with a lion and just about surviving a fistfight in a pub, wasn’t Chloe’s idea of a path to stardom and riches.

At least she had her possessions back, although she had no idea how that had happened. It was as though the money had disappeared inside the bag and been replaced by her clothes and everything else she had lost.

Chloe was puzzled and delighted at the same time, but Chris hadn’t seemed happy. Of course, him and Scarlett had been keen to keep the money, and now it was gone. But it had never been theirs in the first place, so how could Chris be angry that it wasn’t theirs anymore?

At least that now solved the issue of what to do with the money.

Matt stirred by her side and crawled deeper inside his blanket, eyes remaining firmly closed. Chloe thought of their conversation last night, of the growing sense of intimacy between them. And then he had suddenly closed down, and pretended that he was tired. What had that been all about? Were her suspicions correct that he still had feelings for Lexi?

Today, she would do her best to find out if Matt wanted to get back with Lexi or not. If he did, then Chloe would back off. But if he didn’t, well…

Pushing Matt from her thoughts for the moment, Chloe twisted in her seat so that she could look out of the window. The rain had stopped, but the road was still wet. A car sped past, spraying water from beneath its tyres.

In the front of the van, Scarlett yawned loudly and turned around. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” Chloe replied. “How did you sleep?”

“Like a baby,” Scarlett said. “A baby with a bad case of colic, that is. How about you?”

“The same.” Chloe looked out of the window. “I could really do with a coffee right now, and a big breakfast.”

Scarlett sighed. “Sausages, bacon, tomatoes, scrambled eggs.”

“Don’t forget the baked beans, mushrooms, and fried bread.”

Scarlett tipped her head back and groaned. “Stop it, you're torturing me!”

“Wazhgoinon?” Matt muttered.

“What did he say?” Scarlett asked.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” Chloe said. “I think last night’s excitement may have traumatised him so much he’s lost the ability to speak.”

Matt peeled a single eye open. “Chloe? I thought…”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Matt pulled himself up into a sitting position.

It seemed to Chloe that he was using the movement to turn away from her. Was he embarrassed about something?

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“Captain! The engines cannae take it anymore!” Chris shouted in a deep Scottish accent.

Chloe clapped her hand against her mouth and giggled.

Scarlett prodded Chris in the side. “Come on Scotty, wake up. You’re dreaming about Star Trek again.”

Chloe giggled again. “Does this happen often?”

“Every time,” Scarlett said, and rolled her eyes. “He’ll be shouting about Klingons and warp drives soon.”

Chloe stretched her aching limbs and pushed open the door, sliding it back. Cold, refreshing air rushed inside. Chloe climbed outside. She hadn’t even taken her shoes off last night. The fresh air felt good, sweeping away the last vestiges of sleepy confusion from her head. Now, if only she could find that coffee and the English breakfast. Oh, and somewhere with a place to freshen up. In fact, a nice hot bath would do wonders now.

Scarlett jumped out of the van too and walked around the back, where she opened the bonnet.

“Wait,” Chloe said. “The engine is in the boot?”

“Nope,” Scarlett said, as she leaned over the engine and stuck her hands inside. “The engine’s under the bonnet at the back and the boot’s at the front.”

“And Scarlett’s a mechanic on the side,” Matt said, standing beside Chloe. “If anyone can get Max moving again, it’s Scarlett.”

A particularly cold breeze made Chloe shiver, and for a brief moment she thought Matt might put his arm around her. He didn’t, and Chloe realised she had simply been wishful thinking.

“Aha!” Scarlett yelled, the upper half of her body seemingly disappearing into the engine compartment.

“Have you found the problem?” Matt said.

“Yep!”

Chloe’s stomach rumbled. “What is it? Can you fix it?” She thought of that full English breakfast once more, now possibly within reach.

“Well, the transponder’s lost connection with the magnetic coil, but if I can wire up the ion battery to the copper housing, we might just get Max driving again.”

Chloe and Matt looked at each other.

“The transponder’s lost connection… oh, she’s making fun of us, isn’t she?” Chloe said.

Matt nodded. “Afraid so.”

Scarlett rummaged around in the engine compartment for a few more moments, straightened up, and slammed the bonnet shut.

“Have you fixed it?” Chloe asked.

Scarlett shook her head as she wiped her hands on a filthy rag.

Visions of fried eggs, bacon, and sausages disappeared from Chloe’s head.

“Do you know what’s wrong with it?” Matt said.

Scarlett threw the rag on the ground. “Nope, not got a clue. We’re going to have to walk and find ourselves a garage.”

“Oh, that’s just great!” Chris yelled.

Chloe hadn’t realised he’d got out of the van. He had his hands on his hips and a look of thunder on his face.

“Some band we’re turning out to be, we can’t even get to our next gig now. And because Little Miss Precious here lost all our money, we now can’t pay for the recording studio I booked.”

Chris had turned to walk away, but Matt grabbed him by the arm and turned him back around. “Wait a minute, what are you talking about? You booked a recording studio?”

Chris shook himself free from Matt’s grip. “Well, that’s what we intended on doing, right?”

“Not until we had been paid for the gigs, we hadn’t, no. And I don’t know if you remember, but we left The Dog and Whistle in a hurry last night without collecting our fee.”

Chloe’s face had heated up at the way Chris had spoken about her, and the fact he had referred to the cash as ‘our money.’

“We had a holdall full of cash, man!” Chris yelled, flinging his arms in the air. “We had more than enough money to pay for a whole month’s worth of recording time. I told you, we needed to get recording time booked.”

“But it’s not our money!” Matt snapped back. “And shouldn’t you have discussed it with the rest of us before booking a studio?”

Chris huffed and cast Chloe a sullen glance. “Maybe, but we need to get that money back, or at least find some cash from somewhere.”

“Why, what have you done, Chris?” Scarlett said.

“I told you, I booked a recording studio.”

“So get on the phone and cancel it,” Matt said. “We don’t even know if we can pay for it yet.”

Chris lowered his head, studying the ground. “I can’t, it was an all-or-nothing deal. Whether we cancel or not, we still owe them the full booking fee.”

“Fantastic.” Matt threw his arms in the air. “Absolutely wonderful.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault!” Chris yelled and pointed at Chloe. “Blame her, alright?”

That was the final straw. Something inside of Chloe snapped, and all self-control flew out of the window.

“Where are you going?” Chris said, as Chloe stalked past him and climbed inside Max Switchblade.

“Home!” Chloe shouted over her shoulder. She grabbed her bag and her guitar and jumped back out of the van and onto the road. “If I’m going to get the blame for things I didn’t do, not to mention meeting a lion and narrowly escaping a pub brawl last night, I really don’t think The Standalones is the right band for me.”

Chloe dragged the guitar straps over her shoulders, picked up her bag, and began walking down the road, her feet splashing through puddles of rainwater.

“Chloe!” Matt yelled from behind her. He ran in front and turned to face her, walking backwards as Chloe kept up her pace. “No-one’s blaming you for anything.”

“Didn’t sound like it to me.”

“I’m not blaming you for anything, and neither is Scarlett. And Chris doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“He’s right, Chloe!” Chris yelled. “I’m sorry, I’m an idiot for talking to you like that.”

Chloe kept walking.

“Did you hear that?” Matt kept walking backwards. “Chris just admitted that he’s an idiot, and that never happens.”

Chloe kept walking.

“And come on, you’ve got to admit it, last night was fun, right?” Matt said, still walking backwards. “I mean, where else would you have the chance to see a lion?”

“At the zoo?” Chloe said. “Where they belong?”

“And what about getting Chris’s keyboard back? That was fun, wasn’t it?

Chloe saw the loose shoelace, saw it getting tangled beneath Matt’s feet, but it was too late; Matt stumbled and fell, landing on his bottom in a large puddle of rainwater.

“Aww, man, I don’t believe it!” Matt yelled, his hair and face dripping wet, his hands in the puddle.

Chloe’s hand flew to her mouth in an attempt to hide the giggle erupting from between her lips.

Matt looked up at her from his spot in the puddle. “Please, don’t go.”

Just then, the heavens opened, the heavy rain drenching them both in an instant.

“Alright,” Chloe gasped between eruptions of laughter, rainwater running down her face. “I’ll stay.”

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