I run, my footsteps echoing around the dark alleyways. It's hard to breathe in the cold November air but still I run. Until...
I lose my footing on a patch of black ice. In brief moment before I hit the ground my breath catches and I know this is the end. I'm sprawled on the ground without remembering the fall itself, just the horrible moment before and the stillness after. My eyes water with pain but I don't dare blink in case it they think I've been crying.
I stand up slowly, steadying myself against a wall. My breath comes in short bursts as I try catching it. I double over, counting the heartbeat pounding through my head, feeling the stitch in my side.
There's a rule to this sort of thing: never give in and never stop running. Too late now.
Though the air still has its chilly bite, my lungs are on fire. Time to cut down on the ciggies. Sod it. I light one anyway.
I can hear them getting closer. Any second now. My name is called down the dark alley. They've caught me. I don't care. I've forsaken the challenge in the hope of living to see my eighteenth birthday.
I lean one shoulder against the wall, facing away from them so they don't see my flushed face. It's too uncomfortable to stay like that. I try placing my hand on the wall and resting on that. No use. Swearing under my breath I squint at it to see why it hurts so much. It's scraped and bleeding from when I used it to break my fall. I wipe it on my jeans. They're already filthy as it is.
I sigh heavily. My breath condenses in front of me. I take a drag on my ciggie. I watch as the smoke fills the air, looking like my breath but thicker, more dense. It takes longer to disappear. It clouds my view of the neon lit sign that marks my destination. I'll kill John. Shortcut my arse.
I add more smoke. It has a bluish tinge to it. I wait for it to disperse, listen to the footsteps. 3-2-1...
John claps his hand on my shoulder. Right on cue. I've learnt not to jump when he does that. I don't want to give him the satisfaction.
“You nearly did it this time, Georgie. It's only round the corner.”
“I don't know why I let you talk me into this.”
“You've got to earn your keep somehow, even if it's just by giving us a laugh. Good idea adding the trip to your routine. I've not seen that one before. And there I was thinking you were getting predictable.”
“There's no way I'm doing that again.”
“You only say that because you know you can't do it.”
“I can! I will do it next time.”
I shake my head disbelievingly. “Every single bloody time.”
The rest catch up with us now. Paul passes me my guitar case. I take it in my good hand, throwing my half smoked fag on the floor and stamping on it.
“Alright George?” Paul asks.
“I've 'urt me 'and.”
Paul takes my hand and examines it closely. “It looks nastier than it is. It'll be right once you've washed the blood off. Mind you, we should make sure it doesn't get infected. We don't want yer mum thinking we've not been looking after you right.”
“Yeah,” John adds. “We can't have mummy thinking her precious little boy's being mistreated, can we?”
“I'm not little. I'm seventeen. And I'm taller than Stu.”
“That's little enough. Strictly speaking you're not old enough to play with us grownups.”
“Fuck off, John. I'm more mature than you, not that that's saying much.” I lower my voice.
“Anyway, don't go shouting that I'm underage. It's meant to be a secret, remember? Or do you want me to get chucked out of the country?”
John tries to say something clever but Stu interrupts. “Listen, you lot. Are we getting to the Top Ten before Tony finishes or are going to stand here talking all night?”
“I'm going,” I say. “But once we've finished, I'm going back to the room. I need an early night.”
As we move off down the street, John says, “Still, Paul's right you know. You should do something about that hand. Like I said, you've got to earn your keep and a lead guitarist's no good with a bad hand. If you can't play, you might as well be carted back to Liverpool tonight.”
“Ay, well hopefully that won't happen.”
“Well don't keep your hopes up. Bruno's gonna be mad when he finds out we've been playing at another club. Getting you in trouble for being underage would be the perfect revenge.”
I smile wryly. “Paul McCartney, harbinger of doom.”
“Just saying, like.”
“Well, until then it looks like you're stuck with me.”
“You know we love you really, George.”
“Ta, John. I don't know if I could stand to go back now. I've grown used to playing for six hours straight and been woken up by the first showing.”
“You should feel privileged. You're not legally allowed to see those films back home but here you get to listen to repeat showings.”
“Good old Bruno, sticking us at the back of his movie theatre.” Paul grabs my arm and drags me along to make me walk faster. I'm not really keen on being manhandled like that but as it's Paul I let him. As we leave the alley, I watch as the red light washes over his face. I swear though he's older than me, he looks more baby faced at times. Not that it matters. Girls seem to like that about him and I sort of see why. He’s not bad looking, that’s for sure.
“It's just I feel like such fugitive sometimes.”
John puts his arm around my shoulders, sandwiching me between him and Paul, so there’s no escape. The smell of beer, ciggie smoke and Paul’s newly bought leather jacket fills my nostrils. I know I shouldn't enjoy being squashed against him this much but being this close to has become a thrill nearly as strong as the one I get from going up on stage. I’ve learned just to enjoy the feeing, and try not to question it. Paul smiles at me cheekily, completely oblivious to the odd thoughts racing through my head.
“Ay, well a fugitive you may be, George.” John’s voice breaks through my confusion and I turn my head sharply, grateful for the distraction. “But at least you're our fugitive.”