The Standalones

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Ken Preston

6 July 2024

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

Chloe didn’t think she had ever laughed so hard as she did that night. Perhaps they were all overcome with a giddy sort of madness. That was the only way she could explain why they kept on buying the drinks, even though they knew they were spending the last of their money.

But they were having fun. Soon enough, they would be asked to leave when the pub closed its doors for the night, and then they had no idea what they would do next, or where they would go. But right now, they were happy.

When Chloe and Matt, holding hands, announced that they were now a couple, Scarlett and Chris whooped and cheered.

“Well it’s about time,” Scarlett said.

Matt almost spit his drink over the table in astonishment. “What? We’ve known each other for less than two days!”

“Maybe, but the two of you have been ogling each other since the first moment you met,” Chris said.

“It’s been so obvious you were both in love at first sight,” Scarlett said, laughing.

“Really?” Chloe’s cheeks grew pink.

“Yes, really!” Scarlett and Chris said, along with more laughter.

The conversation continued, taking in the adventures (or perhaps more correctly, the misadventures) of the band before they met Chloe, and she told them more about herself.

“What about that surname of yours?” Scarlett asked.

“Martino-Yamaguchi?” Chloe put on a serious face, as though she was offended. “What about it? Is there something wrong with it? Does it offend you?”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

Chloe giggled.

“I thought you were mad at me!” Scarlett yelled.

“My dad’s Japanese and my mum is Italian, so I wound up with this ridiculous double-barrelled surname.”

“I think it’s cool,” Matt said, and squeezed Chloe’s hand.

A bell rang out.

“Last orders please!” the landlord shouted.

“Have we got enough for one last drink?” Chris asked, scattering his remaining pennies on the table.

They pooled their remaining money together and looked morosely at the collection of coins. Matt stirred through it with his finger and counted.

“You know what? I think we’ve got enough for a drink and a packet of crisps each.”

“Let the good times roll!” Scarlett said.

While Matt went to the bar, Chloe relaxed into her chair. A wave of tiredness suddenly swept over her. What a hectic, exciting couple of days it had been. Now all they needed to do was convince the mechanic at the garage to let them sleep in the van tonight.

Chloe sat bolt upright. “Oh, no!”

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“What’s wrong?” Scarlett asked.

“We forgot, we were supposed to be heading back to the garage!”

“Oh no,” Chris groaned. “There won’t be anybody there now, not at this time of night.”

Scarlett sank her head into her hands.

Matt returned with the drinks and the packets of crisps. “What’s going on?”

Before Chloe could answer, a shadow fell across her.

“I knew it! It’s that stupid bunch of kids and their stupid band with their stupid songs.”

Fred swayed from side-to-side, drunkenly pointing at The Standalones. In his other hand, he held a pint of frothy beer. As he swayed from side-to-side, the beer slopped over the edges of the glass.

Danny Lamb staggered up behind him. “Where’s my rent?”

“Yeah,” Fred said. “Where’s his rent?”

Chloe stood up, a rush of white hot anger flooding through her body, and shoved her face up close to Fred’s. “Rent? For that dump? The place doesn’t even have a toilet or a shower! And it’s filthy! I bet you don’t even declare the rent money to the government, do you?”

Danny squinted, like he was puzzling over an impossible problem. “What did she say?”

“Daniel, my old mucker, she’s accusing you of tax avoidance,” Fred said, enunciating his words slowly and carefully.

Danny’s eyes widened in shock. “How dare she? I ought to—”

“Yeah?” Chloe yelled. “Try it, go on, try it.”

Matt pushed his way between Chloe and the two men. “Chloe, what are you doing? Don’t antagonise them!”

Too late, Danny lunged at Chloe, but fell on top of Matt instead. The two of them crashed onto the table, scattering the glasses full of drinks that Matt had just bought. Chris and Scarlett leapt out of the way, narrowly avoiding a soaking.

Matt and Danny rolled off the table and onto the wet floor with a splat. Fred stepped forward to join in with the scuffle, but stepped in a puddle of beer. His feet flew out from beneath him, his glass of beer shot through the air, and he landed face down on the floor.

“Oi, you lot, stop that or I’m calling the police!”

The landlord waddled from around the back of the bar and, grabbing Matt and Danny by their shirt collars, hauled them to their feet. Fred climbed unsteadily to his feet and then immediately slipped on the wet patch of floor and crashed onto his back. Chloe had to hold back a laugh at the sight of his bruised purple nose and his eyes wide with confusion and surprise.

“Come on, you two, out of my pub!”

The landlord gave Matt and Danny a good shove towards the door. Chloe was suddenly acutely aware that all eyes in the pub had turned their way. She scooped her bag and guitar from underneath the table and headed for the door with the others.

Once outside, the cold fresh air hit them all and stopped them in their tracks. The pub landlord shoved Fred outside and slammed his door shut on them. Chloe stood with her friends, looking warily at Danny and Fred.

“Now look what you’ve gone and done!” Danny yelled, pointing a stubby finger at them. “We’d just bought another round, and you lot had us chucked out of the pub!”

“Hey, it wasn’t us who started that fight!” Chris snapped.

“Leave it,” Scarlett said, tugging at Chris’s arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

Fred pushed his sleeves up. “Oh no you don’t. I’m going to teach you four a lesson.”

Bunching his hands into fists, Fred ran at the four of them. He swung his fists in wild, uncontrolled arcs and tripped over his own feet. Chloe burst into a fit of giggles as he hit the pavement face down and yelled with pain.

“You think that’s funny, do you?” Danny snarled.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Matt said, stepping between Danny and the girls.

“I’ll give you trouble, you little oik!”

All of a sudden, Matt and Danny were locked in a wrestling embrace. Chris jumped in to help Matt out. With a roar of rage, Scarlett leapt into the fray, too.

Chloe dropped her bag on the ground and lay her guitar in its case next to it. She thought about joining and helping her band mates, but the flurry of arms and legs was too much for her.

Fred climbed unsteadily to his feet and peered at the fight unfolding next to him and then at Chloe. He grinned.

“I’d stay back if I was you,” Chloe said.

Fred’s grin widened. He tottered towards her, arms outstretched like a zombie.

With a smooth, fast move, Chloe hooked her foot behind his ankles and sent him tumbling to the ground again. Danny looked up at the yell and shoved Matt, Scarlett, and Chris out of the way like they were nothing. His eyes fixed on Chloe, he ran towards her.

On one leg, Chloe pivoted and snapped a foot into Danny’s voluminous stomach. With a gasp, he folded over and collapsed.

The others looked at Chloe in amazement.

“I’ll tell you later,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”

The other three nodded in unison.

She picked up her bag and guitar.

The Standalones walked off into the night, leaving Danny Lamb and his mate Fred sprawled across the pavement, groaning in pain.