The Standalones

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Ken Preston

26 June 2024

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

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Chapter Twenty-Nine

All of a sudden, London seemed like a cold, lonely place. Despite her misgivings about the money and the conflict between the band members, Chloe had found the last twenty-four hours a whirlwind of excitement. She had to admit, she’d had fun. She’d played her first gig with The Standalones, come face-to-face with a lion, escaped a brawl at a pub, and met some… interesting characters.

And then there was Matt. Every time she thought of him, Chloe’s stomach did a back flip, and then a forward flip, and then several other gymnastic manoeuvres, and her legs tingled and threatened to give way. That would be embarrassing, falling to the ground in front of Matt, but Chloe was sure he would simply scoop her up and ask her how she was.

And then I would just say, Oh, I’m fine!

If only she could stop using that stupid word.

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How could Chloe be sure that Matt felt the same way about her as she did about him? Did he have romantic feelings towards her, or was he simply a kind, thoughtful person? After all, right now he was on a date with another woman. What did that say about his feelings towards Chloe?

Lexi Lost. What kind of a stupid name was that? Was it her stage name or her given name? Either way, it was ridiculous.

Chloe sighed. She should hate Lexi, but that wasn’t the kind of person she was. And she had to keep reminding herself that Matt wasn’t on a date with Lexi because he liked her, but because of the money.

So what kind of person did that make Matt?

Chloe sighed again. He was doing this for the right reasons, not for the money.

She was just glad that Chris and Scarlett weren’t with her right now. Needing space and some time to herself, Chloe had split from the others after they left Matt. They had agreed to meet outside Mac’s Cafe in an hour.

Chloe didn’t know if she could wait that long.

After leaving the others, she had wandered aimlessly through the city, the same thoughts tumbling over and over in her head. If only she hadn’t collided with that unpleasant little man at Euston Station. If only they hadn’t picked up the wrong bags. Chloe would have met Matt and the others, they would have played their gig last night, their next one tomorrow night, recorded their demo and then met with the record label executives. There would have been no arguments about what to do with a massive bag of dodgy cash. And Matt wouldn’t be on a date with another woman right now.

Matt was good and kind. The only reason he was going on the date with Lexi was to try to keep her out of trouble with the police. Chloe had to keep reminding herself of that.

But still, her stomach churned with anxiety and jealousy.

She checked the time. No, that was impossible. Surely it had been more than fifteen minutes since they left Matt at Mac’s Cafe?

Chloe groaned. She simply couldn’t wait another forty-five minutes before heading back. She had to find out what was happening right now. Chloe didn’t care about the money or what Chris and Scarlett would say.

Matt was all that she cared about.

Chloe turned on her heel and ran back down the road, ignoring the looks from shoppers and passers-by. Carrying her holdall slowed her down, and the guitar strapped to her back was giving her neck ache and torturing her shoulders. Chloe didn’t care; all she cared about was getting back to Matt.

It turned out she hadn’t wandered far from Mac’s Cafe, and found herself standing outside only five minutes later. Chloe had half-expected Chris and Scarlett to be lurking outside, but they were nowhere to be seen.

Good.

Chloe sidled up to a window and peered inside. As usual, the cafe was busy, every table occupied with couples and families. But where were Matt and Lexi? Panic blossomed in Chloe’s chest as she desperately searched for them, her eyes darting back and forth. Had they left? Had the date gone better than anyone expected?

No, there they were! Chloe sighed with relief. They were sitting at a table in the back of the cafe, both with a hot drink and a burger and chips in front of them. And neither of them were talking. They looked uncomfortable.

Chloe was glad. The last thing she had wanted to see was the two of them chatting like old friends, maybe even touching hands across the table. That would have been… well, Chloe couldn’t even bear to think about that.

But what about the money? Had Lexi even mentioned it yet?

A tapping at the window surprised Chloe, and she jumped. A little boy on the other side of the glass squealed with delight and waved. His mum and dad didn’t look too pleased though as they glared at this strange woman peering through the window.

“Sorry,” Chloe mouthed silently at them from the other side of the glass.

She changed position, moving to another spot outside the cafe window, but she simply placed herself in front of another couple at a table. They glowered at her, too.

This wasn’t going to work, she was too prominent at the window, there was nowhere for her to hide and watch discreetly. Chloe moved away, out of their line of view.

And bumped into someone.

“What are you doing here?” Ratzo said.

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