chapter 25

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As the final chords of our song rang out through arena, the place erupted into screams. I was sweating, exhausted and completely out of breath, squinting into the beaming lights that shone into my face from afar. Cameras flashed, twinkling lights in a vast sea of people and I could scarcely believe the size of the crowd to which I had just performed. I glanced down along the front row, at the mascara streaked faces of the fans who adored me so intensely that my presence alone reduced them to tears. I still couldn't quite get my head around that, around the reasons that made them worship me so infinitely. I was nothing special, really, was I? In fact, I was quite annoying. I scabbed people's chips, I always said the wrong thing. Awkward in social situations a lot of the time. I had to try quite hard to portray the cool, indie, player image I had going on before Tamara came into my life. I dragged my feet; I was easily embarrassed and a bit insecure at the best of times. And yet they still fell at my feet. I'd heard people say to me before that I should never feel lonely, because so many fans had my back; they loved me. But they didn't really, I thought. Not the real me. They loved the image, the face, the person they saw on the television, the computer screen. I'd seen that guy too, and he most certainly was not me.

"Thank you all so much," I breathed into the mic, waving politely out to the crowd, watching as they screeched and waved back and wept over the contact I'd shared with them. I blew kisses, eyes sticking to one girl in particular. About fourteen or fifteen, with long brown hair that she obviously spent an age styling this morning. She was gazing at me, eyes full to the brim with tears and a look of awe and desperation. The sort of fraught look that told me she needed me. So I raised my hand and pressed a kiss to the tips of my fingers aiming it directly at her...but the lights went down abruptly. Darkness. And I was left with her expression imprinted in my mind, wondering sadly if my kiss would have made her happy.

The five of us scurried through the dark to the backstage area in time for the next act to take our place. I traipsed along clumsily at the back behind Niall, following their lead blindly. I'd enjoyed the performance, of course I had. I loved being up on stage, singing. It was all I'd ever wanted, but I was just feeling distracted today. Downhearted. Sad. That was the word I was looking for. So simple, and yet it summed my emotions up entirely. It just felt like one of those days that I couldn't shake off, no matter what I did or how hard I attempted to force a smile and mean it. I felt a little bit hollow, and I knew exactly why. The reason for my sadness had a name; Josh Devine.

"Hey man!" a loud exclamation rang across the room, and it took every ounce of energy I had left to lift my head. I managed to pluck up a smile as Grimmy bounded towards me, arms outstretched for an embrace. I extended mine to receive him lovingly, and doubled over when he changed his mind at the last minute and instead of hugging me, punched me in the balls as an alternative.

"Ugh, God Nick!" I groaned, clutching my hands protectively over my aching crotch, "What the fuck was that for?!"

"For being a careless little shit," he replied loudly, and it should have been offensive had he not been grinning at me so widely, "You've gone and impregnated her haven't you, you massive cock!"

"That's his way of saying congratulations, I think," another voice piped in, and Ed appeared from behind a beaming Nick, raising his ginger brows at me in amusement. He clutched his guitar as he pushed by me, still bent over with pain.

"Funny way of showing your good wishes," I exhaled heavily, trying to stand up straight but keeping my eye on Nick warily as I did, "By making me infertile."

"He means well," Ed chuckled, before finishing his sentence once again with an uncertain, "I think."

I allowed myself a smile, feeling a flicker of light in all the hopelessness inside me. These guys were really good friends to me; they cared about my wellbeing. They knew the real me. It was nice to be around different people, people who weren't so immediately involved in everything that was going on. It was refreshing.

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