Chapter Four of Gifts
The next day, Rob had created fifty copies of the disc, and Chad had taken many promotional photos of them. They picked the one they all liked and printed that out as a flyer. Allison attended another interview the next day, while Rob and Holly drove around the area, pitching their discs to pubs and clubs. But nothing happened for the next few weeks except for Allison receiving the news that she had been accepted for a position in retail. Not the most glamorous of jobs, but it was a job. Almost a month after the recording, Rob came back to Allison with the good news. ‘We’ve got a booking!’ He shouted at her down the phone. Allison recoiled at the noise in her ear. ‘Great, but don’t make me deaf before we get there.’ ‘Actually,’ Rob said, a little calmer. ‘We’ve got three!’ Allison smiled. And then her face fell as she realised what had happened. She was about to perform. In front of people! Real people! The most who had ever seen her do that were the people in her music class. A total of twelve students. This would be an entire pub of strangers. ‘Allison?’ Rob’s voice brought her back to Holly’s living room. ‘Are you there?’ ‘Mmhmm,’ Allison murmured. ‘That’s … great.’ The days flew by until the date of the first booking, and when it was time, she got changed out of her work clothes and helped to load all their stuff into Rob’s van. ‘Are we really doing this?’ Allison said as they pulled up to the driveway outside the pub. Rob turned to her and smiled. ‘Definitely.’ Allison barked out a nervous laugh. ‘Then let’s do this.’ ‘Okay, team,’ Rob opened the door to the van. ‘Let’s rock.’ Holly sighed in the back. ‘You gotta think of something more original, Rob.’ Allison stepped out of her side as Rob slid open the side door. He held out a hand for Holly. ‘There’s a reason why it’s a classic.’ Chad jumped out after Holly and stretched. Being cramped up in such a small place for his tall frame must have been uncomfortable. Allison would let him have the front on the way back. The pub wasn’t large, but it had space for two bars and a restaurant area, with room cleared out for the band. Allison looked at the tiny spot and wondered how she’d be able to perform in such a small space. Well, if they could play in Rob and Chad’s spare room, they could play anywhere. Rob spoke to the barmaid while Allison, Chad, and Holly unloaded the rest of the van. ‘Could use some of those psychic powers right about now,’ Holly said, lifting the large bass drum. Allison pulled out a set of lights. ‘Yup. But I’d rather not expose myself to that level of scrutiny.’ ‘Come on, you could earn a fortune. And then you can afford to pay someone else to do this.’ ‘I’m still unsure of these abilities. And even I don’t fully understand them yet. Maybe someday, when I’m ready, I’ll come out.’ ‘I thought you were already out?’ Rob said as he came back out of the pub. ‘Not that.’ ‘Oh,’ realisation dawned on his face. ‘You got too many secrets, girl.’ Allison rolled her eyes. ‘Anyway, the barmaid says we can set up whenever we like, but most of the patrons will be here around nineish.’ He looked at his watch. ‘Time for an ale before we start, methinks.’ Once they brought in all the equipment, the four of them sat down at the bar and ordered drinks. The barmaid smiled at Allison as she placed down a Coke, and Allison admired her nicely proportioned rear as she turned away to serve another customer. She shook the thought from her mind. Kate was still out there somewhere. And when Allison found her, she would like to say she had been faithful. She took a sip and the barmaid came back. ‘I really like your stuff,’ she said. ‘Who’s the singer?’ Allison put her hand up. ‘That’d be me. Well, Chad as well, but I’m the main one.’ The barmaid’s eyes brightened. ‘You’re just as gorgeous as your voice.’ Allison smiled into her Coke. ‘Thanks.’ After their drinks, they set up the equipment and began a sound test. All the while, the barmaid kept catching Allison’s eye. Over the next hour, members of the public arrived in ones, twos, and some in groups of three or more. When the pub was half full, Allison turned to Rob. ‘What if they don’t like us?’ ‘Just relax. We’ll be fine.’ He paused and looked at the barmaid as she smiled at Allison. ‘And even if they are all insane and don’t like you, she sure does.’ Allison smiled back at the barmaid and gripped the plectrum in her fingers as she began to strum. The first song was a cover. Something the crowd knew and could dance to. Few of the patrons did dance though. Many stayed talking to their mates, or ordering drinks, playing pool, eating their meals and whatnot. But most turned to look at them every now and then, while some tapped their feet. None seemed unhappy with the music. And that cheered Allison up. She was right; the venue wasn’t ideal for moving about, but she was still able to do more than stand still. When the song was over, Allison grabbed the microphone. ‘Good evening Hungry Horse, I hope you’re all enjoying your night. On bass we have Robert John Page,’ Rob let out a little riff from his guitar. ‘Banging on the skins is Chad Seymour King,’ Chad’s sticks jumped around the set of drums and cymbals in a display of his brilliance. ‘And my name is Allison. Together we are Lotus Vale, and we’ll be your entertainment for tonight with a mix of covers and original music. This is our first gig, but if you enjoy us, it won’t be our last. CDs are available, and we’ll be selling them during our break at half ten, so if you want one, just let us know. In the meantime…’ she let go of the microphone and launched into ‘What She Said’. The crowd seemed to enjoy the original song, for the most part. And when it finished, she went straight into a series of popular covers. They finished their set at about ten twenty-five. Rob and Chad both began to put down their instruments, but Allison kept hers on. ‘We’re going on our break in a few minutes, but I’d like to debut a song dedicated to lost loves.’ She plucked at her guitar, a soft melody flowing from the instrument, and began to sing. She finished the first verse, and heard Chad pick up the beat, and Rob accompanied the melody with his bass. She had never shown this song to them, and it was fantastic that they were able to pick it up immediately. And it sounded good. The solo for the first verse, all three instruments for the second, and then the strumming began on the third. Though Rob was unprepared for this, he picked the first few notes, then strummed the rest of the way. When the song finished, Allison held the mic again. ‘Ok, we’re taking a break now, we’ll be back in fifteen minutes. In the meantime, if you want to get a CD come see me or Rob, and we’d be happy to help you out.’ Allison lifted her guitar off her neck and placed it on the stand. ‘That was fantastic.’ She heard behind her. Allison looked around to see the barmaid beaming at her, an armful of empty glasses. ‘Thanks. Never performed in front of an audience before. Can’t tell you how nervous I was.’ The barmaid gave a shake of her head. ‘It didn’t show. Would you like a drink?’ ‘Yeah, I’m parched.’ The barmaid went behind the bar and placed the glasses in the glass washer. ‘Coke?’ Allison nodded. ‘What’s your name, by the way?’ ‘Trudy.’ She began to pour out a glass of Coke. ‘I’m due for a break in a sec. Do you want to go outside? Get a bit of fresh air?’ Allison accepted the glass Trudy gave her. ‘Sure. It does feel a bit hot in here.’ ‘If you play it right, it could get even hotter.’ Trudy winked at Allison and went through a door behind the bar. ‘You’re becoming a real rock star now,’ Rob whispered in Allison’s ear. ‘Soon you’ll be fighting the all girls off.’ Allison looked at him and playfully pushed him away. ‘Shut up.’ She didn’t want all the girls. Just one. But what if she never found Kate? The internet may help, but that would only be useful if Kate was also connected. And if she hadn’t contacted anyone for six months that almost certainly meant she couldn’t. Allison’s smile dropped. What if she was dead? No. That thought could go die. There’s no way to even consider that possibility. But if they never found each other, was she to spend a lifetime of loneliness in the hope of finding Kate again? Besides a few hugs from Holly and Rob, she hadn’t felt any human affection for eight months. Should she accept it and move on? Trudy came back through the door behind the bar and smiled at Allison, indicating her to follow. Allison hesitated for a moment. What if— ‘Just go,’ Rob interrupted her thoughts. Allison looked at him, then back to Trudy leaving through the front door. Allison followed. Allison stepped outside and looked around. She saw Trudy sitting down on a bench beneath a tree. ‘It’s a little chilly out here,’ Trudy said reaching into her pocket, ‘but I’m sure you need to cool down a bit. I’ll just have a fag and we’ll go back inside if you want.’ She pulled out a pouch of Amber Leaf and began to roll a cigarette. ‘So how long you been playing for?’ Allison sat down opposite Trudy. ‘I learnt guitar when I was ten or eleven. Been singing since I can remember. Listen, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea or anything…’ Trudy’s face dropped in the middle of licking the cigarette paper. ‘You’re not gay?’ ‘No, I am,’ Trudy went back to sealing the cigarette; she looked relieved, ‘but … oh it’s complicated.’ ‘You’re seeing someone?’ ‘Yes. Well, no. I’m not sure. We were together, but we lost contact. And I still love her, but…’ ‘You don’t know if you’ll ever see her again, so you’re having trouble moving on?’ Trudy held the cigarette between two fingers and took hold of Allison’s hand. ‘It’s tough. I understand. But wherever she is, I’m sure she wouldn’t want you to be lonely.’ Allison nodded. Trudy was right. And she seemed like a nice enough girl, but not in the manipulative way that Linda was. Allison smiled at Trudy as she lit her cigarette. ‘Tell you what,’ Trudy said. ‘If you ever find her again, I’ll back off. But I wasn’t thinking of a long term arrangement.’ Allison laughed. They sat talking until Trudy finished her cigarette. Then it was time for Allison to start the second set, which seemed to go much better than the first. The crowd had a few more drinks in them and became rowdier and more boisterous. They were harmless though, and most just danced at the songs they knew, danced at the songs they didn’t, and danced between the numbers. By the time midnight came, they had reached the last song, and Trudy took the last of the orders and stood watching them. Allison smiled at her, and at the climax of the final piece, Trudy ran over to Allison and placed her lips on hers. The crowd cheered, and Allison even heard some wolf whistles.
Allison lay awake that night, Trudy lying next to her, and looked into the darkness above. She focused on it and slowly the image of a sword filled her vision, transparent and gleaming beneath a spotlight. The floor it was stuck in crackled with energy. She closed her eyes, but the image remained with her. It had to be a vision of the future. But why could she not see anything else? Had she just driven Kate away forever? If she even found her. Would her life amount to nothing more than playing in pubs and shagging random girls? Or would she make it big? These were questions that precognition would be useful for. But no, all she ever saw was some measly sword. Granted, it was a pretty sword, but what did it have to do with her future? It told her nothing. She rolled over to look at Trudy. The girl slept with her mouth open, and a strand of hair covered her eyes. Allison brushed the hair away. What did this girl truly think of her? Luke said she would be able to read minds, but did her subject need to be awake? And how would she do it? Allison stared into Trudy’s closed eyes, and put a hand on the side of her head like she’d seen Spock do on an episode of Star Trek. She almost laughed at the inspiration, but she had no better ideas. Allison closed her own eyes and imagined herself to be where Trudy now was, asleep and dreaming. It took a few minutes for her mind to settle on the image, but when it did, she saw herself. She was singing in a room she didn’t recognise, but instead of her usual guitar, she played a pair of bongos and belted out ‘Eternal Flame’, a song she had never played. Allison opened her eyes and drew her hand away. Allison fell back onto the pillow and stared back at the ceiling. That was far too easy. Could she do the same without touching Trudy? She closed her eyes again, and reached out to the girl. Now she saw herself lying on a beach in just her bra and a pair of Crocs. And to her horror she saw that she wore no locket. How dare— But then the locket appeared on her neck as Trudy lay down next to her. Did she just influence Trudy’s dream? She tried again, this time she thought about something to cover her lower half. And suddenly she wore a red mini skirt. ‘What’s in the locket?’ Trudy asked her. Allison almost stepped out of the dream. It was as if Trudy had spoken directly to her, rather than the image in her head. The Allison in the dream opened the locket and inside was a picture of Kate, exactly the same as in the real locket. Allison tried to jump out of the dream, and felt Trudy fall through the sand on the beach. She felt a jolt next to her as Trudy shook awake, and Allison was now back in Trudy’s bedroom looking at the ceiling. ‘Sorry,’ Trudy said, stifling a yawn. ‘Did I wake you?’ ‘No,’ Allison threw the covers off and stood up. The faint light falling through the pale curtains suggested it was now early morning. How long had the dream lasted? ‘I think I woke you.’
Allison left Trudy’s flat an hour later, and caught an early train back to Holly’s house. She sat in the kitchen with a cup of tea and had nearly finished it when Holly came downstairs wrapped in a stripped blue dressing gown. ‘Morning,’ Holly said, rubbing her eyes at the brightness of the fluorescent light overhead. Allison downed the rest of the tea. ‘I think I can control people’s thoughts.’ ‘Good,’ Holly touched the kettle to ensure it was still hot, and went to pour herself some tea. ‘Just don’t go making me cluck like a chicken.’ ‘Do you realise how serious this is?’ Holly opened the fridge for some milk. ‘Honey, a countdown to a nuclear detonation isn’t serious before I’ve had a cuppa.’ ‘I influenced Trudy’s dreams last night.’ ‘Trudy?’ ‘The barmaid from the Hungry Horse.’ ‘Oh,’ Holly said, the hint of realisation in her eyes. ‘The one who kept staring at you. Wait.’ She looked at Allison wearing the same clothes as last night. ‘Did you sleep with her?’ ‘Yes. But that’s not the point.’ Holly smiled. ‘Look at you. One night as a rock star and you’re already turning into a cliche.’ Allison looked into Holly’s eyes. ‘If I can affect a person’s dream, what’s to stop me from affecting their mind in other ways?’ ‘Decency?’ ‘No. This is huge.’ Allison reached out with her mind and poured herself another tea as a display of her abilities to Holly. ‘I’m not only one with these powers. And what else can I do? I’ve barely scratched the surface.’ ‘Allison.’ Holly placed her cup on the kitchen side and forced Allison’s floating mug down as well. ‘Calm down. You can do some amazing things, but that doesn’t change who you are. And if there is someone else out there who can do what you can, then they’ll be stumped when they meet you. I suggest you hone your abilities, and do the best you can with them so you’ll always be prepared for this hypothetical confrontation.’ ‘It’s not hypothetical.’ Allison sat down at the kitchen table, and motioned for Holly to do the same. Holly stared at her before slowly seating herself opposite. ‘I’m still not certain how true any of it is, but so many things have happened over the past two years that I’m forced to come to the conclusion that it is.’ Allison started from the beginning and told Holly everything. In the absence of Kate she needed someone she could talk to about this. Holly listened and didn’t make her feel crazy, or deluded. She believed every word, and once Allison had finished, Holly stood up and took Allison in her arms.
Over the next few weeks, Allison practised what Holly had said. She used her powers for everything, and even played her guitar with them. Holly was also willing to be a test subject for Allison’s telepathic sessions. Allison wrote some new material and showed it to Rob and Chad who both liked it, offering changes where they felt her songs needed improvement. Allison continued the boredom of retail for five hours every weekday bringing in a measly pay cheque. They had another gig at a different pub, but this time It wasn’t the kind of crowd Allison dreamed of, they didn’t seem to like their own stuff, but responded well to the covers. At another booking, the place was virtually empty and those who were there seemed to treat the music as a distraction. The next one was more like it. The crowd danced around the band, some even coming on stage to sing along with the more well known songs. Their own material seemed to be received well, and they got cries for an encore, something none of the previous venues did. It was also the first one where the managers asked if they could come back. The next two went by without much significance. The one after was for the same venue as a previous one, but the next gig Allison could feel was going to be different. She tried to See how different it was going to be, but all she saw was a rowdy crowd and another bombshell of a barmaid, and then that damned sword again. The crowd was indeed rowdy, and the barmaid was as hot as Allison had Seen. By the time they took a break, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. ‘Same as last time please,’ she said to the barmaid, enjoying the view of her fine figure as she poured out some Bacardi. A man stepped up to her and ordered a drink from the other barmaid. ‘You know,’ he said to Allison, ‘of all the bands here who write their own stuff, you’ve got to be one of the best.’ ‘Thanks,’ she said as she paid for her drink. ‘My name is Kevin Bales,’ the man said, holding out his hand. Allison shook it. ‘Allison. Always nice to meet the fans.’ ‘I’m not sure you can call me a fan exactly. I take a keen interest in new talent, and I have a healthy desire to see them succeed. Now, usually I wait until I’ve seen a group a few times before doing this, but I’m willing to give you an exception.’ Allison took her drink and looked at Kevin. ‘What are you saying?’ ‘I’m saying that I represent B&L Records, and I have an offer for you.’
For the next month, Allison spent her days at work distracted and anxious to get home. And when she was at home, she was restless. She played on her guitar for five minutes at a time, then checked her email for news from Kevin—which would often be nothing—and then she’d pop into the kitchen to find something to eat or make some tea. Eventually Kevin asked them to his offices to begin recording and sign a contract. Allison’s fingers trembled as she held the pen. She looked to Rob and Chad. They smiled and encouraged her to sign. She grinned back and scribbled her name. The studio was a drastic change from the one they’d made the demo disc in. This wasn’t a basement, it was one room of many, large enough to accommodate a larger group, and the equipment had an expensive feel about it. It even had a few rooms to relax in, complete with vending machines and TVs. Allison and Rob gathered together enough of their material for one album and recorded it over three days. The end result sounded perfect. They spent a day being photographed, and a few days designing album covers. When the product was finished, Allison held it in her hand. It looked like something she could pick up in HMV and it took an effort to realise that it was her on the cover. They chose ‘Memory of Lightning’ for the first single, and Kevin organised a music video for them to shoot. Even though Allison’s luck prevented her from getting fully used to the crowds of a pub, it still felt unreal to be in front of a camera in a filming studio. But once she started to play, nothing mattered except the notes. She signed on for television appearances, some of which were very high profile. It appeared that Kevin and his business partner Tom Lucas had gambled a large portion of their budget to market the band. B&L didn’t seem the kind of label to play it safe. In early October, they gained some radio airplay and the video was seen on many channels throughout the country. By the end of the month, the single was released and gained a modest position at number twelve in the charts. Word of mouth seemed to sell more records and it climbed the charts over the next two weeks until it got to the top spot. And stayed there for a month.