Touring with Blue Phoenix fooled us into thinking we’d hit the big time and would never return to our ordinary lives again. Yeah, Ruby Riot dominates our corner of the music scene, we’re bombarded with questions and posts on social media, fan mail, and the whole deal. But, at the end of the day, we’re three guys and a girl in a band.
The band’s progress halted and life rewound when our lead singer, Ruby, danced off into the sunset with the Blue Phoenix guitarist and a baby on the way. Jax lost his shit over Ruby getting knocked up by Jem; but what’s the point in freaking out? She’ll come back; Ruby lives and breathes her music more than any of us. Apart from Jax, who was recently caught in feminine wiles of his own. Tegan, Bryn Hughes sister, kicked his backside into line in a spectacular fashion. I can almost see the thumbprint on his forehead. Things lulled as we finished the album and while Ruby has her baby. Then, we try again.
So, me and Nate rewind several months, back to studying and fulfilling our promise to parents. Mine still think we need a back-up plan for when our little musical venture fails. If they’d bothered to pay attention to our lives over the last few months, Mum and Dad would know this isn’t likely to happen any time soon.
We spent all our money from the tour within weeks. Now the choice is a job, which equals less time and energy to rehearse, or doing what the parents want and dutifully completing our degrees. No big deal, only a year left now.
Okay, big deal because I fucked up last year. I need high marks in all my courses this year or I’m going to fail my degree. An Arts degree. Nobody fails an Arts degree.
Living the rock star dream involved more than the odd weekend gig – rehearsals, obligatory partying, and girls. Hangovers equal missed lectures; but somehow, Nate juggled his student/rock star life as adeptly as his drumsticks. Nate studies the same course as I do, but we choose different class times. As only a handful of people in the world can tell us apart, between us we manage to attend at least one of the classes a week and keep our attendance average.
Nate became slack at note-taking last year, his hungover haze interfering with the ability to open his laptop, but somehow he muddled through and passed. I came a tiny percentage away from failing the majority of courses.
I only have myself to blame.
The worst subject is history. Nate talked me into this as our major, and I agreed, thought it would be easy, but no. Hardly any classes to attend, but so much fucking study. We study English lit too; that’s easier to scrape through by reading notes and creating my own crazy theories. History is bloody complicated.
Two weeks in, and things are off to a bad start.
“Shit!” I throw my paper at Nate, across the table in the cafe.
He looks at the assignment-marking sheet on the front and screws his nose up. “Oh, man. Fifteen percent? Was that for getting your name right?”
“I’m fucked!” I grumble and sit next to him. “What about you?”
“How? How do you do that?”
“I do study!”
I swear under my breath and pull out my phone. A text from Dee, the chick I hooked up with at the beginning of term; a starry-eyed Fresher who won’t take the hint I’m not interested. Times like this, I need to remind myself who I am. Will Campbell, bass player for Ruby Riot heading for the big time. Not Will Campbell, failing Arts student trying to keep his parents happy.
“What the fuck do I do? I tried this time! Really tried. I’m shit at history.”
“Man, if coming back to uni sucks this much, find a job instead.”
No way. As long as I’m here, I have cash flow from my parents. I promised that when Ruby Riot started making more money, I’d pay them back a thousand times over. Behind their smiles of agreement, I see what they really think: never going to happen.
“I can’t. I’m not doing some shitty job at a supermarket while I wait for Ruby to come back to the band.”
“Well, suck it up, princess. Keeps Mum and Dad off our backs if we get a ‘proper’ qualification.”
“When do you think they’ll believe we can make a living from the band?”
“When we actually do. The album launches next month, we have a few small gigs lined up. A bit of cash. Ruby’s coming.”
“With her kid?”
“Dunno. Maybe baby-daddy Jem will come and babysit.”
I laugh; we both do, at the image of Jem Jones – bad-mouthed, bad attitude, reformed addict – with a baby as his new accessory. “I’d pay to see that. Reckon he changes nappies?”
Nate screws his face up. “Dude, I’m eating.”
I steal one of his chips and watch the other students around. Most pay little attention to us, although we have hangers-on some days. Their belief we’re partying rock stars draws them to us, and the partying is one of the reason for my bad grades.
Nate slurps from his can of energy drink. “There’s a study group if you’re that worried.”
I stare. “Study group? Are you mad? I suppose that’s a group of chicks who meet in the evenings in the library and argue about feminist interpretations of history. Like the one in my class, can’t remember her name. Jeez, she doesn’t shut up and the guy teaching the class hardly gets a word in. No wonder I’m not learning anything.”
“Just a suggestion.” He pushes my paper across the table. “Fail this semester and you’ll be stacking supermarket shelves.”
“As if! What about the album? We’re gonna be big.”
“There’s no guarantee, you know that.” Nate stands. “Whose turn is it to go to the Shakespeare class this afternoon? Yours?”
“Oh crap, no, please don’t make me sit through that again. I bloody hate Shakespeare.” I stand too.
“Your name sake? No affinity there? What did you expect when you signed up for Lit as part of your degree?”
“Please,” I beg. “Do this. After that shit mark, I’m not in the mood.”
Nate wrinkles his nose at my pleading look. “Fine, but you do the next two classes.”
“I love you, man.” I grab the side of his face and kiss his cheek hard.
Nate pushes me off. “Jesus, Will!”
He hauls his messenger bag across his shoulders and wanders away. Slumping back in my seat, I chew my lip. Study group sounds like a viable option. Unfortunately.
I flick the switch in the library study room and the strip light illuminates the screwed up paper and abandoned pens from the last occupants. Muttering, I grab the bin and dump everything in. Some moron has spilled a sticky drink on one of the wooden chairs and I pull it away from the table. Four chairs are enough for the group.
A select handful of history student friends and I meet here once a week to combine our research and share ideas. We’re aiming to go onto post-grad study, and our co-operation makes sense. We’re in this together, not competing.
Some of the group failed the last paper and even I dropped below eighty percent, which hasn’t happened since my first year. Our understanding of late twentieth century European history needs work and we’ve decided that’s where we’ll focus tonight. Dragging my textbook from the bag and dumping it on the desk, I sit. Laptop open, pen out, and I’m ready.
Nita arrives first; her thick black hair pulled into a ponytail and a worried expression on her face. I’m surprised when Steph enters the room; we had a huge argument in the last session, and we haven’t spoken since. Steph doesn’t like to be wrong; neither do I, so we have issues. Her mark must’ve been really bad if she came back. The fourth member of our happy gang, Sam, wanders in after we’ve started, as usual.
“How’d everybody go with the paper?” I ask.
A variety of displeased grunts is my answer.
“Bombed. What about you?” asks Sam.
Nita glances at Sam. “Told you she would.”
Steph mutters, “We failed.”
“Well, the next one we’ll all pass,” I say attempting to inject some enthusiasm into the room. “Did everybody bring their textbooks?”
“Yes, Miss,” says Sam with a chuckle.
They can tease all they like, but I’m serious about my ambitions. Since I was a kid, my life revolved around books. Learning. Understanding. When I start my PhD, I’ll teach first year classes part-time too. I admit I’m practicing on my trio of study friends.
“The website links they gave us for research were crap,” says Sam. “I ended up going in circles and more confused.”
“Maybe we’ll map out the best ones today?” I suggest. “Some must be easier to navigate.” I pull up the bookmarks on my laptop.
The door opens and I glance up, annoyed at the interruption. A tall guy stands in the doorway. If it wasn’t obvious who he is, the Ruby Riot t-shirt stretched across his muscled chest is a giveaway. A half-smile plays across his mouth, one I remember from a couple of weeks ago. He pushes long fingers through his dark, spiked fringe as he looks over.
Nate Campbell. Or Will.
Whoever he is, this is one of the big-headed rock star twins. I don’t care which, because after Will’s behaviour at the party whoever he is can get the hell out. I wait for him to close the door and walk away. He doesn’t.
“Yes?” I ask.
“This the history group?”
“Cool.” He drags a spare chair from the corner of the room to the table.
“What are you doing?”
“Joining your group. To study.” Without waiting for an invitation, he sits and folds his tattooed arms on the desk. “That okay?”
“Depends. Which twin are you? Will or Nate?”
The guy studies me, and I return his scrutiny, looking for a sign of guilt or embarrassment over his treatment of me at the party. If there’s any chance at all that this is Will, he can bloody leave.
“Which one do you want me to be?”
I scowl at him. “I think you know which one I don’t want you to be. You were both there.” There’s no sign on his face of guilt, either this is Nate or Will’s too arrogant to care.
The guy ignores the response. “Is it because I have to ask nicely?” He clears his throat. “Please may I join your study group?”
Nita giggles and I glance at her. Great, she’s wide-eyed and silly because a Campbell is in the room with us. Steph looks less impressed, but Sam joins Nita in his interest.
“Why are you back at uni, man? Thought you guys made it big.”
Possibly-Nate-maybe-Will shrugs. “Want to finish my degree. Back-up plan and all that.”
“And you want to join us?” I ask, not wanting to waste time on his life story.
“Is that a problem?” asks Nita.
“I suppose not.”
“Welcome,” says Sam.
I glower at Sam; but despite my delusions, I’m not in charge here.
Is Fleur the leader of the group? Or does she just set herself up to be? If I tell her I’m Will, she’ll kick my ass straight out of here. Without replying which of the twins I am, I pull out my laptop. If this group is worth the time, I’ll figure out how to talk Fleur around. She introduces me to the rest of the group then returns to her laptop.
After the party, Nate questioned my drunken decision to hit on Fleur, and I shrugged him off, told him I wasn’t serious and just teasing. Truth is, I was serious, and I wasn’t teasing. Yeah, totally screwed up my chances now, but I have a thing for Fleur. I’m not sure how to define the ‘thing’. Fleur isn’t my type of girl. I prefer an edgy look. Ever since I saw her in a lecture two years ago, blonde hair falling across her face as she squeezed past me to take a seat nearby with her friend, I’ve fantasised about her. Okay, truth is when I stood to let her pass, her ass brushed against me, and that was the trigger for my fantasies. And my dick.
For a few weeks afterwards, I looked for an opportunity to talk to her; but hundreds attend my history lectures, and we were never assigned the same seminars. Fleur never noticed me, or if she did, never wanted to talk to me. I’ve seen her at parties in the past, but usually with a guy.
By the second year, I decided her lack of attention was what kept my crush going.
This year, she’s in a couple of Nate’s classes; and on the occasions I’ve taken them for him, she hasn’t spoken to or looked at me. Nate has nothing to apologise for, but she’s sour faced with me-him too. I guess we’re both on her shit list. Maybe something to do with the picture of me and her appearing on Instagram with a comment about how cute she is. The image was only up a few hours before I sobered up and took it down. Good thing I’m not as interesting as Jax, when he posted a picture of him and Tegan the world went bat-shit crazy.
Still, Fleur does weird things to me without trying, and I’d kill to get my hands on her. Chances of that happening now have moved from slim to none.
I shake out of my thoughts, aware I’m glazing over. Already, I’m lost and crane my neck to look at Nita’s laptop. “What are we doing?” I whisper.
“Checking out H-Net site.”
“Oh. What’s that?”
“Research site. Don’t you have the link?” she whispers back.
“Are you okay?” asks Fleur.
“I can’t find the site,” I reply.
“The one we signed up to at the beginning of last year?”
Crap. “I haven’t signed up yet.”
Fleur looks at me as if I’m from another planet. “Are you seriously telling me you’ve never once used this site? The key site? Did you actually pass anything?”
“Not much. I guess that’s one answer to why I failed most of last year.”
“Sign up now, then.”
“Don’t have passwords.”
“Well, I guess there’s no point you being here.”
I hold Fleur’s pissed off gaze, amused by her haughty attitude. “It’s okay. I’ll watch and learn.” I shift closer to Nita whose friendly smile indicates my semi-star status helps me out. “You can email me some details later, can’t you?” I ask Nita.
The next hour dizzies me. I have screwed up my studies, big style. I need to go back to history assignment writing 101. Why did I slack off mid-last year when the excitement of rising fame hit? Swept up in the moment, I convinced myself I’d hit the big time and I wouldn’t need to bother anymore.
Fleur knows her shit. Everybody here does. If I hang with them, maybe some of their smarts will rub off on me. As they pack away their laptops and books, I overhear Nita chat to Fleur about some one-on-one help. Right. Fleur’s the smartest. Could I persuade her to give me some extra help too?
Not if she knows I’m Will.
My options are limited and one thing I’ve learned over the last hour is I need to be in this group. The days of achieving a decent grade on my own are gone. Yeah, I could put extra effort in alone, but I don’t want to spend half my life trawling the internet for answers. These guys know a shitload more than I do, and are willing to share.
“Am I allowed back?” I ask Fleur as Nita leaves.
“You never said who you were.”
Her big blue eyes delve into my conscience and, for a split second, I consider telling the truth. The problem is my conscience hasn’t played any part in my life recently.
“I’m Nate,” I say and hold out my hand.
Fleur looks at my hand but doesn’t take hold. “Your brother’s an arsehole.”
“Sometimes. But that doesn’t mean I am, right?”
Her straight blonde hair falls into her face as she bends over to fasten her bag. “Depends. You both have a reputation.”
“I promise I’ll behave,” I say and attempt to sound sincere.
Fleur continues to pack her things and doesn’t reply. Ah, well, it was worth a shot.
“If you think the group can help you, and if you leave the Campbell attitude outside the door, then okay.”
Score. “Easy done.”
Could she look anymore doubtful? “We’ll be here same time next week, 6 p.m., if you want to come back.”
“Thanks,” I say as she walks to the door.
Fleur pauses. “You’re welcome, but I suggest you do some study between now and then.”
“Let me buy you a coffee, say thanks properly?”
“I’m busy, but thanks for the offer.”
“Let’s leave it at this, Nate,” she says and before I can respond, she leaves.
The realisation hits as the door clicks closed and my brain re-engages. I told her I was Nate.
Nate’s gonna lose his shit.