When I arrived the sky over Alveston was growing dark and I wondered what I was doing. I'd taken a chance by going there. That wasn't my style, but there I was, with a heavy heart and a bag of clothes over my shoulder.
As I stepped off the train and stumbled out onto the platform’s smoothed stone surface, I was searching for something. At least I think I was. It might just have been an excuse for not knowing where I was going. Dan had said staying somewhere different would be good for me, and, at the time, I hadn't argued. Daniel Liman always dealt in absolute certainties when it came to his friends and he'd told me I could stay with him for a while. Just to get my head together. Of course, things are rarely ever that simple.
I probably should've seen it as a sign when I could barely find his bloody house. I ended up taking a guess on it being a red brick two-floor building that was in just about the right place. I tried looking through the windows. My view was blocked by blood red curtains. I didn’t really know what to do other than to go to the front door and knock. I'd hoped it'd be Dan who opened it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn't.
But that's when I first saw Rebecca Blake. She was so tall and blonde and her brown eyes were so huge that even less made sense to me then. Looking back, I can kind of see how that was heightened by the angle of the light shining above her. And how it gave her a halo of hair and light that only disappeared when I shifted slightly where I stood.
The next thing I saw was confusion on her lovely face.
“Hi. I’m Scott Drake,” I told her.
I didn't understand the look she gave me then. She didn't seem unhappy but I hadn't seen anything quite like that look before in my life. There wasn't time to try to understand. It was already clear that one of us had to say something. And I was a bit flustered for some reason.
“Um… Dan?” I babbled.
In an instant, understanding passed across her eyes and I knew I was in the right place. She smiled at me for the first time and turned her head to look back into the house. As she moved, I caught the briefest glimpse of silver butterfly earrings, hidden away within the straightened strands of her butterscotch hair. They were followed by the sound of the sweetest, most gentle voice I'd ever know.
“DAN?” she shouted, in a tone that was friendly but intimate enough to tell me they were a couple.
“YEAH?” he called back from somewhere unseen inside.
“YOU'VE GOT A VISITOR… SCOTT?”
Each syllable of his response contained more genuine enthusiasm than most people manage in a month of words:
“YEAH! DAMN GIRL… SHOW THE BOY IN.”
He was never going to actually let her do that. I'd already seen the blur of his limbs moving over the carpet's thinning ultramarine. And then he was there, encasing us, all together, in his arms. It was moments like that when he seemed much larger than life, especially for such a skinny guy. And I could see then that he hadn’t changed.
“Come in, come in.”
He took the bag from my hand and carried it inside.
“I can’t believe you’re finally here… That’s a bloody good way to end the day.”
It was only later he told me that the day I arrived he'd been panicking about his most recent work. He never let it show at all that night.
He and Rebecca were incredibly kind to me. With him it wasn't a surprise. We had history. But she didn't even know me and still understood how much I needed a cup of tea to deal with my latest emotional cul-de-sac.
I'm probably overplaying it. I'm sure it sounds like a pretty small thing but it felt amazing that night. Rebecca was super sympathetic, while Dan cracked jokes, with kindness in his eyes and a consoling arm around my shoulder. It wasn't long before we were all smiling and moving onto much stronger drinks than tea.
The smell of coffee and croissants woke me but, despite being gentle and pleasant, it still couldn't fully convince my eyes to open. Then I heard movement from somewhere in the room and, through my eyelashes, I saw Rebecca was tidying. It was definitely needed. The morning light, stained red by the curtains, revealed the blue carpet was covered by bottles and cans.
The obstacles couldn't obscure her grace. Rebecca had a way of walking that made it seem like she was floating over the ground. It might've been because she was always on her toes or maybe it was just the slight flaring at the bottom of the jeans she wore. I don't know and I guess it doesn't really matter.
All I did was watch her step over the debris, picking up each thing delicately and occasionally glancing in my direction. She was trying not to wake me. Eventually, I'd find out this sort of kindness was typical of her.
I soon realised I couldn't go on deceiving her though, so I slowly opened my eyes fully and yawned.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I wake you?” she asked.
“No it’s all right.”
I looked at her.
“I think it was just time to wake up.”
I didn’t know how, but she'd cleared away almost all the mess. I realise now that I must've been watching a lot longer than I realised.
She asked if I'd like some breakfast. I couldn’t even begin to deny it. My stomach was growling so loudly it might even have been the reason she asked. I sat up on the sofa and only a few seconds later I was sitting at a table, breathing in fully the homely smell that woke me.
With the first of the croissant and butter melting in my mouth and into oblivion, my mind became clear enough to realise that Dan wasn't there. In the following three months I found out that wasn't unusual. The sun would barely rise each day before he was off, out and about, taking the kind of beautiful photos that had made his name. Thinking about it now, I figure he kind of knew that time was running out. After all, he'd known for most of his life that things can often be that way.
On most of those mornings, Rebecca and me shared breakfast and, to begin with, we'd talk about my atrocious taste in women or the fact I was a 'resting' actor and a failing songwriter. Apparently, she found it fun and easy to laugh at me. I didn't really mind and it didn't last too long anyway. The more the weeks went by, the more conversations drifted into other areas.
Usually, I tried to make conversations about her. That's how I found out she was a writer, although she never gave much away about what she actually wrote. I understood that, even though it did seem strange that I never saw her pick up a pen or sit at a typewriter or anything; not even in quiet, fragile moments after talking on the phone to her mum.
I think something was holding her back and I hate to say that it was probably Dan. Not deliberately obviously, but he certainly cast a long shadow. Back then it hardly made a difference though. There wasn’t the time to think about those things. The days went by too fast and the nights were even faster. I was happy to immerse myself in an unreal world of streets and sirens, barely there skirts and broken eyes and glasses. The sound of laughter and music seeping into the night through the walls and cracks in the pavement.
Being in a group of Dan's friends was simply chaos. Drinks flowed far too freely despite being unnecessary for people already drunk on their own strangeness. I still can't say those night's weren't a damn good time.
Dan was always at the centre of it all too. With his camera always in hand, he'd tell us tales about every picture from every day. Each photograph, developed or not, always had a story. The one I remember best was from when he'd seen and photographed a teenage boy fast asleep at the foot of a tree. From that one image, he came up with this ridiculous story just to explain the look of contentment on the boy's face as he lay in the early morning sun. Dan always said that if he could come up with those stories then anyone could. I still reckon he should've given himself a lot more credit.
There really was something chemically right about that mix of people and it meant that coming up with ideas was more like setting fires just to see what would happen. The fact those ideas rarely lead anywhere wasn't really the point. It was more about being brave enough to throw those thoughts out into the night. Brave enough to be fun and clever and dumb all at the same time.
It was a beautiful and exciting time but now I feel sad thinking about it. That world was dying and reality and responsibility were taking over. They all knew it and the cracks were starting to show. Dan was an exception but the majority of those guys had to settle down. Whatever they'd dreamt of being was never their destiny. Those wild, strange, good and imaginative people would have to be what they were within the more familiar forms the world offered them.
That's when I found out there are a couple of ways people in that situation can react. They either accept it, or they fight it, even though failure is almost inevitable. And it was in these two very different ways that Rebecca’s friends, Carla and Chris responded to the change.
Carla was ready. Settling down was something she'd already prepared for and everyone seemed to know it. There was only one exception and, unfortunately for her, it was her boyfriend Chris.
I always got the sense with Chris that he saw himself as a genuinely rebellious spirit, but I never understood what he thought he was rebelling against. I figured he had his reasons although he never shared them with me. Whatever they were though, they had nothing to do with his impending fatherhood. This I can say with complete certainty, because Carla hadn't told him she was pregnant. Funnily enough, her not telling him always made me think she understood him a lot better than he understood himself. But then I guess no-one can know everything about another person because it turned out that Chris was cheating on her.
He’d been seeing this dark-haired, sort of groupie girl for a couple of months. I remember seeing her out and about with all of us once or twice. She wasn’t particularly memorable, just emptily pretty and graceless. I just don't get it, I suppose, but even thinking about it now, I never would've put her and Chris together. Still, these things tend to get found out and eventually it was Dan who told me all about it.
It was in a photograph that he'd discovered the secret. By his own admission the photo itself wasn't his best work. He explained how he'd been sitting on a park bench, thinking about the composition from the height and direction of where he was. Apparently, he wasn't happy but decided it'd do. Then all he did was wait. An old man walked by, bent over by age, and in one click the camera captured a look of intense joy on his face. His eye line in the photo showing the cause of his happiness. Running towards him was his grandson, with the same look of happiness and love on his face.
What Dan hadn't noticed when he'd taken the picture was the background. Trees had framed the central image but they'd also provided the background to another meeting. A man and a woman could be seen engaged in a passionate kiss. One of them was unmistakably Chris; even from a distance, his imposing physicality couldn't be confused with anyone else. What was equally unmistakable was that the woman he was kissing wasn't Carla.
It has to be said the intensity of Dan’s anger about this surprised me. If anything I'd have said he was much closer to Chris than Carla. Still, his disgust at Chris’ behaviour was unmistakable. For him, there was no way to justify treating the mother of your child so terribly. And not knowing was no excuse either.
“I told him Carla was pregnant,” he said to me, “No sugar coating, just a swift kick to the head to get it back in the game… And all he says is ‘That’s the last thing I need’. The guys a fucking joke… You can’t. You shouldn’t do that… I can’t be around that. I can’t be dealing with this kind of shit, you know… I need to get out of here Scotty.”
I really didn't think he was serious. And even if he was, I figured he’d at least want Rebecca with him. I saw how important she was to him. She was the only person I ever saw him look to for approval. And yet, he left the following morning and he left on his own.