I Was Born for This
I’ll just have to lie.
Just for this week.
Hopefully God will forgive me. He knows that I need to be here. For The Ark.
‘So, we’ll head out at six, back here for pizzas, put a film on, then the awards start at two, yeah?’ I say, words tumbling out of my mouth.
It’s 5.17 p.m. We’re staying up tonight to watch the West Coast Music Awards, which start at 2 a.m. UK time. Our boys – The Ark, that is – are performing there. The first time they’ve appeared at an American awards show.
‘Yes,’ says Juliet, nodding decisively. Nodding is starting to lose its meaning. I turn round and start pacing the kitchen and Juliet takes out her phone.
‘Looks like the boys have arrived at their hotel!’ she says, staring at the screen. Probably on @ArkUpdates on Twitter – our usual source for everything Ark-related. It’s incredible I haven’t checked it in the last hour.
‘Any pics yet?’
‘Just a blurry one of them getting out of their car.’
I lean over her shoulder and look at the photo. There they are. Our boys. The Ark. Blurry, pixelated smudges, half blocked by huge bodyguards in dark suits. Rowan is leading them, Jimmy in the middle, Lister behind. They seem connected. Like the Beatles on Abbey Road, or a group of toddlers holding hands on a preschool trip to the park.
‘Wake up, Jimjam.’ Rowan kicks me in the shin. Rowan and Lister and I are all in the same car, which makes a pleasant change. Usually we have to arrive at these award shows separately and I have to endure a car ride with a bodyguard who keeps glancing at me like I’m a rare Pokémon card.
‘I’m awake,’ I say.
‘No, you’re not,’ he says, and then waggles his fingers above his head. ‘You’re up there.’
Rowan Omondi is sitting opposite me in the back of our Hummer. He looks hot. Always does. His hair’s been in twists for the last couple of months and his glasses – new – are aviators. His suit is red with white and gold flowers on it – fire against his dark brown skin. His shoes are Christian Louboutin.
He links his fingers together over one knee. His rings make a jangling sound.
‘It’s nothing new. We’ve done this before. What’s whirring?’ He taps his temple and looks at me. What’s whirring. I love Rowan. He says words like he made them up. Probably why he’s our lyricist.
‘Anxiety,’ I say. ‘I’m anxious.’
I laugh and shake my head. ‘Not how it works. We’ve been through this.’
‘Yeah, but, like, everything has a cause and effect.’
‘Anxiety is the cause and the effect. Double-whammy.’
The anxiety thing isn’t new. By this point, it’s pretty much the fourth member of the band. I’ve been trying to get on top of it in therapy, but I haven’t had the time for many sessions this year what with the European tour and the new album, and I still haven’t really warmed up to my new therapist. I haven’t even told her about the massive panic attack I had at Children in Need last year yet. Still sang anyway. It’s on YouTube. If you look closely, you can see the tear tracks on my face.
We fall into silence. I can hear the screams in the distance. Sounds a bit like a tide. We must be nearly there.
My weird bad feelings are probably half anxiety and half genuine nerves about tonight, plus all the other things I’m sort of constantly dreading. I tend to constantly dread things, even when the ‘things’ aren’t actually dreadful. Currently up there on Jimmy’s List of Things He’s Dreading the Most are signing our new contract and coming home from tour, along with tonight’s performance at the West Coast Music Awards, aka our first ever live performance in America. It’ll be no different to our normal concert performances except that our audience will be the greatest musicians in the world and people who haven’t really heard of us rather than teenagers who know all our lyrics off by heart.
Everything’s sort of changing and happening and I feel excited and scared, and my brain doesn’t know how to deal with it all.
‘I don’t know how you have room to be anxious when we’re finally performing at the Dolby,’ says Lister, who is literally bouncing up and down in his seat with a wild grin on his face. ‘I mean, I feel like I’m gonna shit myself. I think I might, actually. Stay tuned.’
Rowan wrinkles his nose. ‘Can we not talk about poo while I’m wearing Burberry, please?’
‘If we can talk about anxiety, we can talk about poo. They’re basically the same thing.’
Allister Bird. Easy for me to tell he hasn’t had a drink or a cigarette since yesterday – while he does look like he’s about to explode from excitement, he’s subconsciously gritting his teeth and has bags under his eyes. Cecily, our manager, enforced a no-alcohol-for-five-hours-before-events rule on Lister after the Incident at The X Factor that We Do Not Talk About Any More, and he’s not supposed to smoke on singing days, even though he usually does.
No one else can tell that, though. To everyone else, he’s beautiful, perfect, flawless, etc. He’s got the James Dean, Calvin Klein model, I-just-tumbled-out-of-bed look. Tonight, he’s wearing a Louis Vuitton bomber jacket and ripped black skinny jeans.
Lister pats me a little too hard on the back.
‘You’re at least a bit excited about it, right?’ he asks, grinning.
It’s hard not to grin back. ‘Yeah, I’m a bit excited.’
‘Good. Now, back to the important topic at hand: what are the chances of me running into Beyoncé and what are the chances of her knowing who I am?’
I squint out of the car window. It’s tinted, and Hollywood looks darker than it should, but the too-fast beating of my heart is an indiscernible mix of anxiety and excitement and I get a sudden wave of I can’t believe I’m here. It happens less and less nowadays, but sometimes I remember how weird my life is.
How good it is. How lucky I am.
I glance back at Rowan. He’s looking at me, a faint smile on his lips.
‘You’re smiling,’ he says.
‘Shut up,’ I say, but he’s right.
‘You boys should all just try to enjoy yourselves,’ says Cecily. She crosses her legs and doesn’t look up from her phone as she talks. ‘After this week, things are gonna get five hundred per cent more hectic for you guys.’
Cecily, who is sitting opposite Lister, is the only one of us who looks anything like a normal person – she’s wearing a blue dress, tight black curls swished to one side, and she’s got a lanyard round her neck. The only seemingly expensive thing about her is the massive iPhone in her hand.
Cecily Wills is our band manager. She’s only about ten years older than us, but she comes everywhere with us and tells us what to do, where we’re going, where to stand, who to talk to. If we didn’t have her, we’d have literally no idea what we were doing, at all, ever.
Rowan rolls his eyes. ‘So dramatic.’
‘Just keeping it real, babe. The new contract is very different to your current one. And you’ll be adjusting to post-tour life.’
The new contract. We’re all signing a new contract with our record label, Fort Records, once we return home from our European tour later this week.
It’ll mean longer tours. More interviews. Bigger sponsors, flashier merch, and, above all, it’ll mean finally breaking the US. We’ve recently had a top-ten single in America, but the plan is to get us a real audience here, a US tour, and maybe even worldwide fame.
Which is what we want, obviously. Our music spread across the world and our name in the history books. But I can’t say the thought of more interviews, more guest appearances, more tours, more everything, is making me feel particularly thrilled about my future.
‘Do we have to talk about that right now?’ I mutter.