I Was Born for This
Typical me. Paranoia, dread and too much overthinking all crammed into one tiny brain.
Instead, I walk slowly and wave. They wave back at me, smiling, crying, so happy. This is a good thing. They are having the best time.
Near the end of the carpet, we all walk together again, the three of us in a slightly spaced-out line. Sometimes I wish we really could hold hands. You couldn’t give me a billion quid to be a solo artist and do all of this by myself.
It’s stressful. It’s scary. That never goes away. The girls scream and they claw at you. A lot of them only like us because we have nice faces. But as long as we are here, the three of us, and we get to make music, and we get to live this life – playing our music in a new city every week, bringing smiles to millions of faces, leaving our mark upon the world – then everything is good, and fine, and okay.
Rowan glances my way and nods. He pats Lister on the back. At least I’m not alone.
Since Juliet announced that I am not the only internet friend who is coming to stay, things have got seventy times more awkward, because she feels bad about it, and I feel uncomfortable about it, and nobody is fully happy about anything any more.
Fortunately for us, I’m excellent at faking being okay with things, even when inside my brain there is a tiny screaming gnome who is definitely not okay.
I keep the conversation flowing as we walk to the tube station, where we’re meeting Mac, whose surname and entire personality I do not know. I’m good at that – talking, even when there’s nothing to talk about.
Juliet seems happy to go along with it. Especially when I bring up Rowan’s Instagram.
We turn a corner and I spot the red and blue underground sign at the end of the road.
‘So,’ I continue, ‘what’s Mac like?’
Juliet stuffs her hands into her pockets. ‘Well … He’s in The Ark fandom, he’s the same age as us, eighteen, he’s …’ She falters. ‘He’s really into music?’
‘Hmm!’ I nod along. ‘How long have you known him?’
‘Only, like, a few months, but we pretty much talk every day on Tumblr, so I feel like I’ve known him for years, you know? I mean, hopefully he doesn’t turn out to be a forty-year-old fedora-wearing stalker.’
She mimes tipping a fedora, which makes me snort out a laugh. ‘Yeah, hopefully not!’
I wonder whether Juliet feels like she’s known me for years. Even though we have known each other for two years.
‘There he is!’ Juliet points into the crowd pouring out of the tube barriers. I have no idea who she’s pointing at. I spot various guys of our age, and Mac could be literally any of them. Due to Juliet’s very bland description of him, my expectations are low.
And then a guy waves in our direction.
My expectations, as it turns out, are fairly accurate.
He is the definition of an average British white boy.
He sees us – well, he sees Juliet – and waves in our direction. He smiles. I think he’s attractive. Sort of averagely spaced out facial features. That haircut that all the lads are wearing nowadays. Bit like he was designed in a lab. I don’t know, really. He looks like the sort of person I should think is attractive.
Juliet walks slightly forward as he approaches, leaving me standing behind her.
‘Hey!’ she says. She sounds nervous.
‘Hey!’ he says as he reaches her. He sounds nervous too.
They both grin at each other, and then he holds out his arms for a hug, and she stands on her tiptoes and hugs him.
Ah. Think I might have an idea of what’s actually going on here.
‘How was your journey?’ asks Juliet after they separate.
‘Not too bad!’ says Mac. ‘You know. Trains.’
She laughs in agreement.
You know. Trains.
They small-talk for an exasperating two minutes before I’m introduced.
‘Oh! Yeah!’ says Juliet, spinning round in absolute amazement to find that I am, in fact, still there. ‘So this is my friend Angel.’
I feel another flash of weirdness at being introduced as Angel, not Fereshteh. Then again, that’s who I am with these people. The internet people. Angel.
Mac drags his eyes away from Juliet and properly focuses on me.
‘Hey, you all right?’ he asks, but his eyes say, Why the fuck are you here?
‘Hi!’ I say, trying to sound cheerful. I hate it when people say ‘You all right’ instead of ‘hello’.
He looks a bit like an older version of the boys who bullied me on the school bus.
After a long pause, I clap my hands, stop looking at them, and say, ‘Well! Painful introduction aside, let’s get back, because I want to put pizza in my mouth.’
I half expect Juliet to make some sarcastic comment, or to at least agree with me, as she would do if we were talking online, but she doesn’t. She just laughs politely with Mac.
‘Oh, Radiohead are so good,’ Mac is saying on the walk back to Juliet’s nan’s house. I am walking slightly behind Mac and Juliet. Can’t fit three people in a row on the pavement. ‘I know they’re kind of old now, but they’re still relevant. I think you’d really like them.’
Juliet chuckles. ‘Well, you know me, I’ll listen to anything that’s mildly miserable.’
‘I’ll have to send you a link to “Everything In Its Right Place” so we can talk about it,’ he continues, and runs a hand through his hair. ‘It’s so creepy.’
His accent isn’t far off Juliet’s – posh, like the people on Made in Chelsea, but it sounds so much worse coming out of his mouth. Juliet sounds like the kids from the Narnia films but Mac sounds like a movie villain.
‘Yeah, do,’ says Juliet, nodding enthusiastically.
I wouldn’t have thought Juliet would be at all interested in Radiohead. Obviously her number one is always going to be The Ark, but overall she’s more of a fan of pop rock and upbeat stuff. Not miserable old Radiohead.
‘I just really like that sort of classic nineties indie stuff,’ Mac continues. ‘I mean, I guess it’s unusual to be into that sort of music, but, you know, it’s better than being too obvious.’
‘Oh yeah, definitely,’ says Juliet, smiling at him.
‘Anyway, I’m glad I have you to talk about music with,’ Mac continues, grinning. ‘No one at my school is really into the stuff I like.’
‘Like The Ark?’ asks Juliet.