Stargirl

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Chapter 31: Distance

Veggie collapsed into the sofa, releasing a stream of air from his bulging cheeks.

‘That was… interesting,’ he said after a moment.

‘Yeah,’ TM agreed, not sure what else to say.

‘Al fucking Tyer,’ Veggie murmured.

‘It’s… kind of sad, what happened to him,’ TM said, descending onto the sofa next to his partner.

‘My heart bleeds,’ Veggie said. ‘Fuck him, TM, he took Ziggy.’

‘I know,’ TM reassured him.

There were a few moments of silence.

‘Oh, stick the TV on or something,’ Veggie snapped.

TM picked up the remote and hit the power button with a loud click.

‘I’m back,’ said Riegel O’Ryan.

’Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me,’ Veggie half-moaned, half-screamed at the screen.

‘It’s been three looooong years,’ O’Ryan drawled in her soft Irish tones, ‘and now I’m back to take on my greatest challenge yet. So tune in to my new show next week, and you’ll see survival in the most -’

TM turned the TV off. He sat there for a moment, his skin feeling burning, prickling hot all over.

‘She’s back,’ Veggie said quietly. ‘She’s back on earth.’

TM nodded silently, holding himself by the arms and trying to make himself as small as possible so there would be less of him to feel the burning.

‘Must be another runaway star,’ Veggie said, looking down at his feet.

TM nodded again.

‘Oh, balls to this,’ Veggie said, covering his face with his hands. ‘Look, she’s on TV in, like, Brunei or something, she’s already taken Ziggy, what more does she have to do to us?’

‘Probably enough,’ TM said quietly.

Veggie sank further back into the cushions. ‘Just let’s forget that Irish-Greek-cosmonaut-whatever-she-is friend-killer and move on, yeah?’ he said, looking and sounding more tired than TM thought he had ever seen him.

‘We already had to move on once,’ TM said, trying not to think about it.

‘Then let’s not give her the satisfaction of having to do it again,’ Veggie argued. ‘Let’s just… forget about it.’

TM collapsed as far into the soft fabric of the sofa as he could. ‘Fine,’ he agreed.

‘I’m not happy about this either,’ Veggie told him.

‘I know, I can tell.’

‘But… Marty’s got his Battle of the Bands tomorrow, so I just want to try to forget it, be there for him, that sort of stuff. You know?’

‘I know.’

‘Good,’ said Veggie, and went to bed.

TM stayed on the sofa for a while, wondering how it had gone from Dominika telling him to take care of Veggie to his partner trying to tell him to keep calm. He stared at the TV screen. He could still see O’Ryan’s face staring out at him, her charismatic presenter’s smile firmly in place. Then he looked at the ceiling for a bit, then at his feet. Then he went to bed too.

*

‘You know, Junior,’ TM’s father was saying, ’it’s nice to see you and Jonathan doing well and having success with your Muscly Shellfish thing, but you do seem ever so down since that nice young lady dumped you.’

‘She didn’t dump me,’ TM said, for what must have been the fiftieth time. ‘We weren’t together like that.’ He re-read the menu in front of him; he’d decided what he was having a good few minutes ago, but didn’t feel like looking up yet. They had come to an Indian restaurant; TM had suggested they go to Muscles & Mussels, but apparently his parents hated seafood.

‘Oh, that’s right,’ said Senior, though he clearly didn’t believe it.

‘Junior doesn’t want to talk about that, Tommy,’ Lily chided her husband.

‘It’s okay,’ TM said, trying to smile. ‘I don’t think Mum wants to hear about it on her birthday, though, Dad…’

‘You really ought to come and see us more often than just on our birthdays,’ Lily told her son.

‘Yeah, I know,’ TM said, scratching his nose. ‘Things are kind of…’

‘Busy?’

‘I was going to say weird, but I guess that too.’

‘It’s good to keep busy,’ Lily said.

‘Hm.’

TM kept re-reading the menu. Senior cleared his throat and leaned over. ‘You know, you can talk to us. About things.’

‘Yeah, I - oh, hang on.’ TM pulled his phone, which was vibrating away cheerfully, out of his pocket. ‘Derrida’s trying to video chat, for some reason…’

‘Go on - we won’t be going anywhere,’ Lily said with a faint smile.

‘Cheers.’ TM stood and trotted out of the restaurant onto the night-time street. ‘Derrida?’

Derrida’s face, poorly lit and stuttering around in the low-quality video, filled his phone screen. ‘TM!’ he yelled, barely audible over the sound of a roaring crowd. ‘This is amazing!’

‘What’s going on?’ TM asked; Derrida pointed to his ears and shook his head.

‘Can’t hear you,’ Derrida bellowed, ‘but you’ve got to see this!’ He held his phone up to show TM where he was; the camera flashed past the flushed, beaming faces of Veggie and Dominika before capturing an enormous room, every inch of floor space lined with a bouncing mass of people. To each side, cutting the audience into an H shape, stood a large stage. On one stood the Inciting Incident, facing across the room and breathing heavily. On the other, four women wearing white-constellation-patterned black jackets; the picture wasn’t great, but TM thought they looked strikingly similar, with high cheekbones, stern eyes and pixie ears sticking out from under their long black hair. ‘That’s Lauren and the Ire!’ Derrida exclaimed. ‘They’re sisters or something!’

‘How’s it going?’ TM said, putting his mouth as close as possible to the microphone. Derrida whipped the camera back onto his own face.

’They’ve done, like, two songs each, and they’re both fucking awesome,’ he trumpeted. ‘Ooh, ooh, they’re switching their lineup!’

TM caught a glimpse of narrow turquoise beams fanning out above Derrida’s head, and heard Marty’s amplified voice declare proudly: ‘That’s our laser harp. It’s new.’

‘Ooooh,’ went Derrida, along with the rest of the crowd.

‘Fancy,’ said the lead singer of Lauren and the Ire - Lauren, presumably. Her voice was soft, like a chamois cloth.

‘I like your cello,’ Marty said. Derrida’s head flipped side-to-side as each of them spoke, staring at each other across a sea of baying fans.

‘It’s a double bass,’ Lauren shot back.

‘Fitting,’ Marty said, ‘because you’re about to get double bossed.’

‘OHHHHHHHH,’ roared the crowd.

‘Dang, son,’ TM heard Veggie exclaim.

‘What do you say, you amazing audience?!’ Marty yelled. The crowd screamed. ‘What do you say, something.jpg?!’ Marty bellowed. More cheers.

‘Something.jpg?’ TM tried to ask Derrida.

‘Their mascot!’ Derrida shouted, possibly because he had heard TM or, more likely, because he had predicted the question. ‘They got an iguana mascot! Called something.jpg!’

‘Look, Derrida,’ TM tried to say, but Derrida was bouncing around enrapt. ‘Thanks for showing me and all, but I need to…’

‘I’ll let you get back to it,’ Derrida bellowed, as the Inciting Incident launched into ‘I Got My Buster Sword’. ‘Can’t hear you at all, but this is great! Wish you were here!’

‘Love you,’ TM quipped, and hung up.

‘Well, that looked like fun,’ Senior boomed. TM whipped around.

‘How long have you been there?’

Senior hiccupped and patted his son on the shoulder. ‘Since the laser harp,’ he said. ‘What an invention! Did you invent that?’

‘No, Dad, I didn’t invent the laser harp.’

‘You’re missing your friend’s show to come and spend time with your old folks?’ Senior asked, his voice as soft as it would go (which was, by most standards, not very soft).

‘I wouldn’t miss Mum’s birthday,’ TM said.

‘You missed mine a few years ago, if I remember,’ Senior said, though he didn’t look at all upset about it.

’Yeah, that was the day Ziggy invented the Puncture Repair Kit.’

’That’s one of yours?!’ Senior bellowed, slapping his thigh. ’I use those all the time!’

TM smiled. ‘Glad to be of assistance.’

Senior guffawed, then sighed heavily and plonked himself down on the kerb. ‘You know, Junior, I don’t get to see you as much as I’d like -’

‘That’s my fault, I know that.’

‘- but I know when you’re not alright. You were ever so down after that Zebra girl left, and then I thought you were getting over it, but today you seem as if you’ve just lost her again.’ Senior stared out into the lights of the city; TM was, as he had been before, surprised by his father’s perceptiveness. ‘You’ve hardly been this sad since you were a teenager with terrible skin,’ Senior continued, shattering the illusion somewhat.

‘That was years ago, Dad, you can stop bringing it up now.’

‘But it’s my acne-dote,’ Senior said, crestfallen.

‘Pff.’

‘Look,’ said Senior, shuffling up closer to his son, ‘I think I might be able to understand how you feel, a little. It’s not sad, not as such. More like you just don’t have all of yourself any more, at least not in the place you thought it all was.’

‘Something like that,’ TM conceded. ‘How do you..?’

‘I thought I lost your mother once,’ Senior said. ‘When you were born, she was…’ He sighed. ‘It could have ended very badly.’

‘I didn’t know.’

‘Not the sort of thing you tend to bring up.’

‘But she was okay,’ TM said. ‘You got her back.’

Senior nodded. ‘I did, but… if I hadn’t, I would have carried on. I wouldn’t have been alright, but I wouldn’t have given up. I would have had you to take care of.’

‘So you’re saying… I just have to tough it out?’

Senior hummed a few low, ponderous notes. ‘You have to find the things you can carry on for,’ he said after a moment.

TM thought about it. ‘That might be one of the wisest things you’ve ever said.’

‘I do alright, from time to time.’ Senior stood, stretched out, then threw his enormous arm around TM’s shoulder. ‘Do me and your mother a favour and come back in now, would you? I’m absolutely bloody starving.’

TM shook his head, smiling as he and his father walked back into the restaurant together. ‘Know what you’re having?’

‘Bit of everything, I reckon,’ Senior said.

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