“Becky!” Pete’s high-pitched voice wakes me up. “I knew it! We shouldn’t have gone clubbing yesterday!”
I roll over, pushing the covers over my very achy head.
“Rebecca!” Pete’s use of my full name indicates he is very upset. He pulls the fluffy duvet off my bed. “It’s today!”
“What is?” I frown, struggling to make my hungover brain start to work.
“Oh, my fucking God!” Pete grunts. I’m covering my face with my hands, but I can tell Pete is running his hands through his hair. “We have to be in central London in less than an hour! You better get ready!” he yells again, and I hear him stomping out of my room.
I can’t remember what is it that we have to do in central London today. Damn, I barely remember my own name.
I sit up on the bed and my head spins. Small dots of light splash my vision. Shit. Am I too old for night outs already?
Before I can muster the strength to stand up, I pick up my phone from the nightstand. Among the notifications of likes on Instagram, replies on Twitter, and junk emails, there is one of the calendar. Thursday. Today. The first day of the rest of your life.
“The first day of the rest of your life,” I read aloud, squinting. Thursday. Today. “Fuck! The tour!”
I suddenly remember why we went out—to celebrate! Although, in hindsight, getting shit-faced the day before our first day of a long tour might not have been the best of ideas. But Pete was so excited, I couldn’t say no. I’m already such a bad friend as it is, I couldn’t let him down on such an important occasion—for him, anyway. I still think it’s a trap.
I dart out of the room and into the bathroom. As I slam the door shut I can hear Pete rushing me along. I open the shower and get under it. I let out a small cry when the icy water hits my head. But as if by magic, I’m awake. I scrub all that I can in a rush and brush my teeth.
I step out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel and run back to my room—to find a mug of hot coffee beside my bed.
“Thanks!” I shout.
I don’t deserve Pete. I think nobody does. Well, maybe Lindsey. She’s every bit as caring and compassionate as he is. I still remember the first time we met, because she was the first of all Pete’s significant others I got to meet that didn’t make a face when meeting the ‘girl he lives with’.
I try to dress and do my make-up as fast as I can. Which, honestly, it isn’t very fast. It might make us late but at least I’ll look like an artist.
I step on the first thighs that I find and pair them with my favorite skirt and lucky t-shirt—the one with a knitted skull in it. I don’t have time to lace up my favorite boots, so I just grab a pair that doesn’t have laces. I head off as I put on a leather jacket and try to tame my wet blob of hair.
“I’m ready.” I announce as I enter the living room.
“Your hair is dripping.” Pete frowns, giving me a full-body glance. “And your make-up is banging.”
“Thanks,” I smile. He never fails to make me feel slightly better. “Ready?”
“You better not get a cold,” he says in that big brother voice he likes to use sometimes.
“I won’t,” I say and interlock my arm with his. “But if I do, I know you’ll take care of me.”
“Only because I need your voice to make money,” he says. He means it as a joke, so I laugh. But the literal meaning of that sentence lingers in the back of my head all the way to the office.
By the time we reach the record label building, my throat is already scratching. I curse myself—and Pete—for being so reckless. Of course I’d get sick on the day of a major concert. I decide to keep my mouth shut and rest my voice until I can get a hold of some lemon and honey.
“Oh, you can go on, they’re waiting for you,” the bored receptionist says without glancing up from her phone.
Pete and I walk down the corridor, taking the opportunity to snoop. Some of the doors are open today, so we walk slowly to look inside. To my disappointment, they’re just offices, although some of them sport plaques that show off their artists’ achievements. I recognize some of the names and resist the urge to take my phone out and take pictures. Professional. We’re meant to look professional.
The sound of chatter gets louder and louder as we approach the door. There must be a lot of people inside, a lot of people I don’t know. I reach out for Pete’s hand—a nervous habit. He says nothing but lets me squeeze his fingers. Most of the time, that’s all I need, anyway.
The conversation stops as soon as we open the door. And all eyes are on us. Except for Neil and one of the guys from our previous meeting, I don’t recognize anyone. That is, until one of the boys sitting around the table stands up and walks towards us with the biggest grin I’ve ever seen in my life.
“Hello! I’m Tristan. Nice to meet you.” He shakes our hands, and then adds, “I like your hair.”
Pete gives me a warning look. As if I would engage in a discussion about how lame it is that people compliment the way you look—something you don’t really have control of—with our current employers. Yes, I’ve done that before, but I know better now.
“Thanks,” I mumble instead, absentmindedly patting my now almost dry purple mane.
Tristan then proceeds to introduce us to the rest of his team, an attitude that I appreciate. As a band member, that isn’t really his job, but he seems to enjoy it. He’s loud and talkative, traits I usually despise, but he has a warmth about him that’s really engaging. I feel my nerves start to relax a bit.
He informs us that in addition to him and his two brothers, Todd and Tyler, guitarrist and lead singer,—and yes, all Ts —, we’ll be joined by Paul and Jake, drum and guitar techs, who are also roadies, and Seth, a sound and light engineer that works for the label. He looks like the oldest of us, and if I had to guess, I think he’s not even in his 50s.
I’m pleasantly surprised to see it’s a small and multi-tasking group. They suddenly seem a lot more approachable than I thought they would be.
“And I’ll be your tour manager,” Neil smiles at us.
“We’ve been working with Neil and Blast since we became independent,” Tristan tells us. It isn’t lost on me that he’s been the only one talking so far.
“Cool, that’s cool. How long has that been?” Pete asks, as if he didn’t already know even their social security numbers by now. I also notice he’s the only one doing the talking on our side, too.
“Six years now, and this is our fourth tour?” Tristan turns to Neil.
“That’s right,” Neil nods. “A long and winding road.”
They laugh. I glance at Pete sideways, but he’s still paying attention to the drummer sitting in front of us.
“What about you?” Tristan leans on the table. “How long have you been doing music?”
“Well, uh…” Pete looks at me. I smile, silently encouraging him to go on. I’m not really in the mood for talking to strangers. And my throat hurts! I don’t know how much of this he gets by my raised eyebrows, but he continues, “We started writing together when we were fourteen. But we’ve only been doing it professionally for eight years.”
“That’s a long enough time,” Tristan says.
“Not compared to you,” Pete chuckles.
“Yeah, well, not everyone starts at six,” Tristan laughs politely.
“Or conveniently has musical siblings,” Pete adds, finally bringing the conversation to a halt. It seems the other Hackley boys are not so interested in making conversation. I can’t really judge them.
“So, what about we go over the details once more?” Neil suggests.
“That would be great,” Tyler snorts. Everyone looks at him. I have the impression he’s staring at me, but I can’t say for sure, since he’s wearing sunglasses.
Yes. Sunglasses indoors. Also, a leather jacket. And ripped skinny jeans. I’m not going to say cliché, since I’m self-aware of how I look. Not only that, but I’m pretty sure we’re wearing the same jacket? Either way, you know… cliché.
“And check this out,” Neil interrupts my staring contest pushing a mug in front of me and Pete. It’s one of those all-black ones. When he slowly turns it around, I can’t hold in the gasp—it has our logo on it.
Pete and I exchange genuinely surprised looks as Neil explains he got our logos printed into t-shirts, mugs and a few other random shit to sell at the venues. He also asks us to authorize him to have more physical copies of our EPs made because he thinks our stock is too low. I snort as Pete gives him the green light. I observe him as he nods and hums at all the appropriate places, knowing he’s feeling every bit as overwhelmed as I am. Two days ago these guys looked like they had no idea what to do with us. Now, we have cool merch, EPs and even interviews scheduled in some cities. I definitely underestimated this Neil guy.
“Any questions?” he asks us when he finally finishes going over the plans for the next two weeks. I look at Pete, who is now biting all his nails, and he shakes his head. “Great! Shall we head to the venue?”
While everyone is standing up and getting ready to leave, I pull a shaking Pete to a corner.
“Are you okay?” I whisper.
“Yeah, sure. It’s just…” He looks around the room full of strangers.
I know what he’s thinking. We’re not only out of our element, but we’re also way behind. We don’t have a team. We don’t have a band. In less than a week, this guy got us more than we’ve had in almost a decade of our careers. We must look very green for them. Crap, I feel very green.
“Are you okay?” he returns the question.
“I’ll feel better when we’re on stage.” I squeeze his hand and he manages to give me a faint smile.
It takes us longer than I expected to get to the venue. We drive in two cars—the bands in one, the crew in the other. I resist the urge to put my headphones on, but can’t bring myself to engage in conversation. Not that I’d have a chance, since Tristan does most of the talking anyway. He makes sure to let us know that he has seen all of our videos and has listened to all of our songs. He even has a favorite, which he requests us to play in the show tonight. Pete agrees, even though it’s a song we haven’t played live in over two years. If I could see his face, I would glare at him.
After a few minutes of trying to keep up, I just give up and turn my attention to the window. I’m sipping water slowly and finally my throat is giving me a break. I’m still going to need hot tea, though.
“So, how long have you been living here?” The question comes from the person sitting by my side, presumably to me. I turn my head to make sure he’s really addressing me before I answer. Todd’s chocolate eyes are locked on my face, which means that, unfortunately, he is indeed talking to me.
“Eight years this year,” I answer.
“Not that long, then,” he says.
“No,” I agree, although it feels like a lifetime. It feels like I lived a hundred lives in this city.
“Where are you from?” he continues, even though I’m already looking out of the window again.
“Alnwick,” I say, predicting what he’ll say next.
“Alnwick? Never heard of it,” he repeats the same thing everyone always says when I tell them where I’m from.
“No one has,” I joke, but he apparently doesn’t get it and his frown deepens. “It’s a small district up north.”
“Right,” he nods. “Do you miss it there?”
“No,” I say, startling him with my honesty. So, I add, “There’s nothing much to miss, really. It’s really small.”
He nods, still with that deep frown wrinkling his forehead. I don’t know what to say next, so I start looking around, hoping to get Pete’s attention. He’s the one who’s good at small talk. Or any human interaction, for that matter. Luckily, he’s already paying attention to us. It’s his superpower—sensing when I’m about to put myself in awkward situations.
“We’re talking about Alnwick,” I tell him with a look I hope conveys my predicament.
“It has a population of a little over 8 thousand people, according to the last census,” he says. How does he know that? It’s truly a gift.
“Wow!” Todd smiles for the first time since the conversation started. I have to suppress a snort. Not amused by my joke, but by a completely boring fact.
“It also has a castle,” another voice from behind us says. “According to Wikipedia.”
“Yeah. It attracts a lot of tourists,” Pete says.
“Cool,” is all Tyler replies, and the conversation dies.
Luckily for me, there’s no time to start another, since we reach our destination. I get out of the car and follow Neil as he guides us through the backstage. It’s a venue I’ve never been to. It’s no O2, yet still bigger than any venue we’ve ever played at.
We’ll play two shows here before really kicking off the tour, both of which are sold out, according to him. He sounds far more surprised by this fact than I suppose he should have, but no one seems to be bothered. After showing us our dressing rooms—the first proper dressing room I’ll ever have—he takes us to the front. The stage. The part that really matters.
To my surprise, instruments and sound system are already in place. I can see my bright pink guitar sitting next to some classic Gibsons. It looks as out of place as I must. I wonder if anyone else notices the deep abyss that exists between me and Pete and the rest of them, or if it’s all in my head.
I also notice a keyboard, acoustic guitars, basses and a piano on stage, which reminds me that I haven’t heard a single current song from The Hacks. Pete made me watch their old music videos and read some of their interviews, but I totally forgot to listen to recent material. Well, I’ll experience it live in just a minute.
As we walk on stage and people begin to discuss how each set is going to work, I wander off towards the piano. I can’t believe there is an actual piano here. I try to imagine the logistics of transporting it from city to city. I try to imagine how much it costs. Is it theirs? Did they rent it? Can I use it?
“What are you doing?” a voice startles me just as I’m about to sit on the leather stool.
I turn around to meet Tyler’s glare. He’s not wearing his sunglasses anymore, which weirdly makes him look even less friendly.
“I couldn’t resist. It’s a beautiful piano,” I say.
“And expensive, too,” he adds, never breaking eye contact. I’m taken aback. Even though I’m not really sure what he means, I feel offended.
“I know,” I snort. “I have one of these back home.”
“Do you play?” Tristan walks towards us.
“A little,” I lie. My twelve years of classical training aren’t something I like to mention. Especially because they turned out to be useless.
“Cool! You never play piano in your concerts,” he remarks.
“Well, there’s not a lot of piano in punk songs.” I also don’t have access to a piano in the city. I also stopped playing piano a long time ago.
“That’s true,” he chuckles. “What do you usually play on piano, then?”
“Well, I don’t play anymore,” I admit.
“That’s sad. Don’t you miss it?” Tristan asks.
“Sometimes,” I shrug. Although I do miss it, I don’t miss the memories it brings along.
“Do you want to try?” he asks, and Tyler and I both shoot him wide-eyed looks. “Go ahead!”
I’m inclined to say I don’t think it’s a very good idea, but the thought of antagonizing Tyler and his shocked face gets the best of me. So, I sit on the leather stool and raise the fallboard… just to find out I have no idea what I’m doing.
I can feel the weight of everyone’s eyes on my shoulders as I stare at the keys.
“Play Getaway,” Pete suggests from somewhere behind me. He knows I’m in trouble.
I take his advice and start to play one of our oldest and easiest songs. It’s one of the many that we wrote together before leaving our hometown and one of the few that survived in our setlist.
“You sound fantastic!” Tristan claps when I finish.
“You sound rusty,” Tyler remarks.
“Tyler!” Tristan gives him an appalled look.
“You were very slow on the leaps and the transitions were blunt, not to mention the heavy pedal markings,” Tyler says. He’s right. He has a good ear. Well, given that he plays it every fucking night, he should notice these things. Just maybe don’t point them out?
“As I said, I haven’t played in a while,” I shrug.
“Clearly,” Tyler says and Tristan sighs.
“Don’t listen to him.” He shakes his head. “Feel free to use it in your set if you want. Or just for fun.”
“Thanks,” I smile.
Neil calls for lunch and as a herd of cattle, we all start to make our way backstage again. Tristan taps Tyler’s shoulder as he walks past, and he glares. My smile broadens. He turns his contracted face to me and I just can’t bite my tongue.
“Don’t worry, I won’t break your little toy,” I say.
I brace myself for a comeback, but his glare just becomes a blank stare. And then he walks away.
I immediately regret this little exchange. Something tells me I shouldn’t be bickering with one of the people who is meant to be opening doors for us.
My hands are shaking. I notice it when I’m trying to apply my eyeliner. I know that in punk fashion straight makeup lines are not a thing, but I sigh anyway. I pause, taking a sip of the tea Neil managed to get me, as I watch Pete pace back and forth behind me. His anxiousness is not helping mine.
It’s not the first time we’re going to play for people that know nothing about us and can potentially hate us. We’ve ‘put ourselves out there’ a lot—and I despise that saying. I shouldn’t be so nervous, I can’t be so nervous. Before I can pinpoint where this sudden fear is coming from, Pete stands behind me and squeezes my shoulders.
“It’s not make or break, you know,” he says in his usual big brother tone, the one he uses when I’m unreasonably preoccupied. “It’s just one opportunity.”
“It’s just one big, fat, life-changing opportunity,” I correct him, gazing suspiciously at his fake-calm expression through the mirror.
“One of many,” Pete smiles at my exasperated look.
“In eight years—”
“We got it,” he interrupts me, turning me around to face him. “In eight years, in twenty years, as a supporting act, at our own concert, in a crowded pub or Wembley—I don’t care.”
His smile broadens and he squeezes my shoulders again, relieving them of the weight I’d put there.
“How come you always know the right thing to say?” I ask him, always astounded by his way with words.
“One of us has to, eh?” he chuckles, pulling me into a hug.
“We’ve got this,” I repeat into his chest.
He lets me go and I finish getting ready—still trembling, but with new-found confidence. We walk out the cupboard that is our dressing room to find the venue’s stage manager waiting for us. He leads the way and the rumble of the crowd intensifies. My heart jumps in my chest at the sight of my pink guitar on stage.
He gives us some directions, tests our mics and we’re ready to go. Pete and I do our pre-show handshake and we’re suddenly on stage. The crowd cheers, to my surprise. I take it as a good sign.
I walk up to grab my guitar while Pete sits at Tristan’s drums. I walk back to the mic and look out to the sea of young faces looking at us expectantly. Probably praying for us to be brief so they can feast their eyes and ears on the main attraction.
“Good night, everyone! I’m Becky, this is Pete, and we’re gonna warm you up for The Hacks!” At the sound of their idols’ band name, they roar.
I glance at Pete, he counts, and we start playing. We had agreed to start on one of our slower tunes, easing our pop crowd into our usual bangers. As I start to sing, I hear a few cheers here and there, and some heads start to bob. Someone starts clapping at the chorus, and by the end of the song we have half of the place dancing around.
The second song is more successful, winning over those who were doubtful at first. When we’re about to move to the third, someone shouts, “Play She’s Not Mine!”
I turn to the crowd, confused and amazed at the same time. Someone here knows our songs! Someone is our fan!
“Wow, that’s an oldie,” I comment, trying to locate the source of the voice.
“It’s my favorite!” The girl raises her hand and I see her—third or fourth row, to the right. She’s wearing a The Hacks’ shirt, which only leaves me more confused and amazed.
“We haven’t rehearsed that one,” I say, glancing at Pete, unsure of what to do—I don’t like this song. He winks, silently encouraging me to indulge this one fan. “Sorry if we sound awful.”
The girl grins and shouts as I start playing the intro.
Playing the guitar oftentimes is like riding a bike—you can’t forget it. It may take a few tries to find your balance but, eventually, you're speeding down the street as if no time has passed. Unfortunately, the memories attached to the songs have exactly the same effect.
It must have been six years ago. Maybe longer. Maybe not. I have fuzzy memories from that time. I wrote the song after one of my break-ups with my then on-and-off boyfriend. It was a complicated relationship, if I can even call it a relationship. It was more like a shipwreck, where we slowly sank and inevitably drowned in the freezing waters of our metaphorical ocean.
It’s a weird song, because it’s from his perspective. He sings—well, I sing—about all of these things I love—well, he loved—about this girl. Me. It’s a mix of all the nice and terrible things he used to say about me, and to me. I never knew where I stood with him, probably because he never got to actually know me. He never really wanted to.
‘I could tell you a million things about her, you’d never know if they’re all lies, because in the end, in the end she’s not mine,’ I sing in the chorus as I see his face in my head and remember how much I wanted that to be true. How much I wanted to not be his. And how hard it was when I was finally free.
I open my eyes and spot a handful of people singing along. I can’t say if they knew the song before or if they just learned it, but I can tell they like it. I look back at Pete again, he sticks his tongue out to me. We’re definitely adding this one to our short set.
We bow in front of a rambunctious audience and, for a few seconds, I pretend they’re here to see us. Only us. It feels good.
We’re greeted off stage by Neil—who kindly has a cup of steaming hot tea for me. I like him already. Which is rare.
“That was fantastic!” he says, as he hands us towels.
“Thank you,” Pete grins.
Neil says something else, but it’s hard to hear since The Hacks are finally hopping onstage. Tyler mumbles something into the mic that I can’t understand as he points to where we’re standing and the crowd cheers louder. Then, they start to play and the arena comes alive.
“Can we hang out at the merch table?” Pete asks, getting my attention again.
“Oh,” Neil widens his eyes in surprise. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, we usually do this at our concerts. Since we have fans in here, I think they’d be expecting it,” Pete explains.
“Okay, well, go on ahead, then!” Neil agrees, not hiding his worry.
We head out anyway, dissecting our performance as we walk. This is one of my favorite parts—when we get to look objectively at what we did and point out what we can improve.
“About She’s Not Mine…” Pete trails off, testing the waters.
“I think we can add it to the set,” I say, faking indifference.
“You sure?” he asks suspiciously.
“No,” I admit. I can’t lie to him. “But we can try.”
“It’s just a song,” he tells me, still watching me closely. I sip from my tea, deciding to go on vocal rest again, since my throat is burning.
We reach the merch table and, as Pete predicted, there are a handful of our fans already there waiting to catch up with us. We chat, sign stuff, take pictures. Some of the other fans that are watching The Hacks concert notice our presence and whisper to each other. I notice most of their audience is female, which is not surprising—women are usually not afraid to admit they like shitty bands and songs.
After our fans walk out, Pete engage in conversation with Seth—who in addition to the light and sound stuff, is also in charge of the merch. I sit on the only stool behind the table, dividing my attention between his tour stories and the band on stage.
I watch closely the way they interact. The way bands communicate with no words during a concert always fascinates me. Something as simple as how they look at each other can tell you how long people have been playing together, if they enjoy what they do, if they get along. In The Hacks’ case, after just a couple of songs, I can tell it’s Tristan that commands the band, even though they make it look like it’s Tyler. He looks back at his younger brother on the drums every few minutes, making it look like he’s giving instructions, when in reality he’s taking them. It’s weird yet satisfying to see him do that.
My eyes fall on him for a moment. I slowly start to put his attitude into place. No wonder he feels like a rock star—his fans treat him like one. He’s clearly the most popular of them, not unusually, though, lead singers often are. And he enjoys it. He takes advantage of it. Although he’s not a very sexy figure on stage—more like a clumsy rag doll—he has the crowd on the palm of his hands.
He owns the stage, he owns his instruments, he has that nice out-of-tune-yet-still-pleasant voice, he demands attention. He makes sense in this context. And he definitely knows what he’s doing—every wink, every hair whip, every thrust is so clearly calculated. And the effect they have on the crowd is ridiculous.
When they’re halfway through the set and my eyes are still glued on Tyler, I have to admit it—he has it. Whatever ‘it’ is.
He walks from his piano to the crowd and puts one leg up on the speaker, slightly pushing his hips forward. I laugh.
“What’s funny?” Pete asks, startling me. I’m embarrassed to notice I’d spent so long watching their set, especially when they didn’t watch ours.
“Your teenage crush,” I say, pointing my head to the stage. Pete made the mistake of telling me he used to have a poster of Tyler on his wall once. I'm never gonna let him forget it. “He’s ridiculous.”
Yet, I’m still watching him.
“Still hot, though,” Pete shouts over the music and the crowd. I roll my eyes, knowing it’s a trap.
I take my phone out of my pocket and start to scroll through social media. I’ve had enough of The Hacks already.