The Past. London.
Wembley Arena was filled to the rafters with teenagers and parents alike. Every seat in the house had sold out within minutes of being on sale. The sound system rocked the very foundations as the band began to play, kids screaming in expectation. The bassists and guitarists found the beat of the drum and on she walked through the dry ice and bright lights. The crowd erupted again as the lead singer of Solar Flare threw out a “Hello Wembley!”
Song after song after song played out. Nobody sat in their seat; they danced in the aisles instead. It was loud and fun, the band enjoying the show just as much as the audience were.
Lucy Owen was stunning. Her long bleached-blonde hair swept up and to the side, her green eyes shone with anticipation and excitement as she stood there in the centre of the stage and gave her all, the centre of everybody’s attention. This was what it was all about: all the hard work and constant rehearsals, nights in the bus, back and forth from one town to the next. It was all for this: this atmosphere, this moment where it all came together, and she was the star.
The music pumped like a heartbeat that thrummed through your very core. Voices rang out, singing and screaming as the concert goers were whipped up into a frenzy of excitement. When a number of them were allowed to come on stage and sing with the band, it was euphoric.
It was the last night of an exhausting European leg of their world tour, and Solar Flare was looking forward to a few weeks off as they headed to America for a series of concerts that would catapult them to superstardom. Their first two albums had gone straight to number one and they were already a hit on both sides of the pond, but this would be the first time they had toured there, and nobody could wait!
When the curtain finally came down and they walked off stage to find their dressing rooms, Lucy Owen was pumped. The guys were all talking about hitting the bar once they got back to their hotel, but she had other ideas on how to spend tonight.
The plan was simple: they were to grab quick showers and get changed, then jump on-board their tour bus and be driven to Heathrow, where they would be staying in a 5-star hotel for the night. In the morning all of them would be flying straight out to the States. Once there, they would get 3 weeks to themselves before the tour prep started and a 63-date tour began. It was going to be the most hectic and tiring time of their lives, but it would also be the most exhilarating and adrenaline-filled time too.
All of them had dreams, and every single one of them took them to America.
British acts didn’t do well in the US that often, but when they did, it was the bigtime, and that was what Solar Flare was aiming for. They had worked hard. For 3 long years they had either been on the road touring or in the studio recording, and it had been torturous at times for all of them. They lived together, ate together, slept together too at times when all they could do was grab a few hours on sofas and chairs. They were a family; they had their share of arguments and disagreements, but on the whole, they were having a blast.
Lucy’s girlfriend Nicky was going with them and was already waiting for her in the dressing room. Her own mother had described her as tall and gangly, but to Lucy, she was gorgeous. Not just ordinary gorgeous, but the kind that comes along once in a lifetime kind of gorgeous. Her mocha-coloured skin glowed with a light sheen of sweat she had worked up dancing backstage. She was a long drink of something hot, rich, and vibrant that set Lucy’s mind racing with all kinds of possibilities. They were a striking couple, their skin tones complementing each other perfectly. They were a yin and yang, dark and light, but they shared the colour green in their eyes, almost exactly the same hue. They had to keep their relationship under the radar as far as the media was concerned, but everyone they knew was aware that they were in love, hopelessly.
“Baby, you were fucking brilliant!” Nicky said, her accent perfectly British unlike Lucy’s more common approach to the vernacular. She threw her arms around her neck and kissed her hard. “God, it makes me so horny watching you on stage.”
“Yeah? I hadn’t noticed.” Lucy laughed. “However, we don’t have time,” she replied, smirking at the pout she knew she had just caused. “Oh, come on now.” she said, lifting Nicky’s chin and staring into luminous green eyes, “You know that once we get to the hotel I am going to make it up to you?”
“You had better, darling,” Nicky said, smiling. “I am horny as fuck right now,” she whispered against the shell of her lover’s ear, sending delightful shivers of anticipation down Lucy’s spine in an instant.
It always amused Lucy whenever Nicky used such crass language. Her father had been born and raised in Jamaica, but had joined the British army at an early age, and that was where he had met her mother, while stationed in the UK. Looking at her and the way she dressed, the people she chose to hang out with, you would never guess that Nicky had been raised and educated in some of the best schools money could buy, until she spoke. When she did speak, it was eloquent, and every word was enunciated correctly, meaning that when she did choose to swear, it was fundamentally more enticing than anything anyone else could have said to Lucy.
A loud banging on the door followed by a deep voice bellowing, “Five minutes and we’re leaving!” ended the moment.
“Let’s just leg it and go to the airport by ourselves later,” Nicky suggested with a wink.
“You know we can’t do that, anyway it will be fun on the bus with the guys, a last hurrah,” Lucy argued. “They’ve got cham-pag-ne,” she sing-sang as she teased, knowing just how much Nicky loved to drink the bubbly stuff.
“I guess so. Why do I always let you get your own way, huh?” Her palm caressed Lucy’s cheek.
“Because I love you?” she smirked, kissing her quickly.
“I love you more,” Nicky countered, kissing the corner of her mouth once again.
“I doubt it.”
“Oh, it’s true, who else would put up with all the teenage boys that want to have their way with you?”
“Well, they don’t get to, do they?” Lucy challenged, raising an eyebrow and the sexual tension as they kissed once more. Lucy tugged Nicky’s body into her own by her belt loops. Someone banged on the door again, and this time it opened when Scott popped in and jerked his head towards the hallway. “Come on, we’re off,” he said. “USA here we come!” he continued to shout as he moved on to the next door down the hall.
They smiled at one another before both grabbed their bags and then, holding hands, they ran for the bus, laughing as they stumbled along the corridor.
There was a small group of about 50 fans outside, and they had to run the gauntlet to get through it. People always wanted to touch her, grab at her, talk to her, and on the whole, she accepted that as part of the job, but right now she just wanted to get to the hotel and spend a few hours naked with the woman she adored before hours of travelling and jet lag took its toll.
Greeted by whoops and high fives from the guys as they finally clambered aboard, they were all still bouncing on the adrenaline a show provoked. Scott played bass along with Jenna; Sarah and Ben played the drums; Chris, Rob and Mike played various guitars; and Sasha played keyboards. Lucy played the piano too, but she was the lead singer with the other guys all having their moments on the mic. Jenna, Sarah, and Chris did most of the backing and between them, they had a fantastic sound. A sound that was going to transcend the Atlantic and bring them worldwide success.
Someone opened a
bottle of champagne, the loud pop of the cork causing more whoops and cheers.
Plastic glasses filled quickly as they all toasted each other, all except
Sasha. She was strapped in and taking a nap like she always did after a show.
They toasted the end of this part of the tour and for further success in the
future, swallowing down the liquid in one. They were cruising, through life and
along the motorway. They were young, famous and rich, with the world at their
feet one minute and in the next, it all came crashing down, literally.
There had been no time to even think about what was happening. It was a small bump, barely noticeable, and then the bus careered out of its lane, skidding back and forth, tossing them around a little in their seats and down the aisle as the driver tried desperately to get it back under control, but it was too late. The road was wet from an earlier shower and the wheels had locked up, forcing the cumbersome vehicle into a skid. The back of the bus where all the weight was held swung violently into the central reservation and pushed the front of it out of control even more. The driver slammed on the brakes in a last-ditch attempt to gain control, but all that did was cause them to lock up further, and the bus rolled over onto its side. What had once been windows and a wall was now the floor as the bus careered along the ground at speed. Sparks flew as the metal came into contact with the tarmac. Its occupants were thrown around like rag dolls in a dog’s mouth. Glass shattered as windows hit and then imploded on impact. Boxes and bags that had been held in overhead compartments were now tossed around hitting anyone in their way. The cacophony of metal scraping was like a painful screech. Finally, the roof buckled as the motorway bridge pillar halted its forward momentum with an almighty crash, stopping it from sliding any further, crushing anything in its path.
The impact was earth-shattering. There was silence for just a moment and then the screams, the terrifying god-awful screaming of people hurt and frightened. Debris was strewn across the road leading a trail of destruction to the mangled and crushed vehicle.
A mere 45 seconds had felt like a lifetime, the power of the event monumental in its destruction. Lives that were full of promise and expectation just evaporated in a heartbeat that stopped dancing to its own rhythm, to any rhythm. Nothing would be the same again, for any of them or anyone connected to them.
Blue and red lights flashed around her. It was almost hypnotic, the way the colours danced around and over one another like a ballet of light that lit up everything for a second, before plunging into darkness once more. Over and over the colours swept across her. One minute there had been silence and then the roar of screams and machinery had deafened her. Her hands covered her ears and she felt warm tears slide down her face. She heard herself call for Nicky, but she couldn’t hear a reply through all of the noise.
And there was pain, a lot of pain, and yet, she couldn’t pinpoint where from; it was everywhere all at once. She tried to concentrate on each part of herself, to locate the epicentre of the agony. Her leg definitely hurt, her head hurt too, and when she tried to move she found she was pinned down. At some point, she tried to move again, and the pain that shot through her was so intense that it caused her to pass out.
The next time that she came around, she realised that she was still on the bus and a paramedic was attending to her. She had no concept of time; it could have been a minute, it might have been a day, and she didn’t know or care. She had no clue as to what had happened other than the obvious. Something was sticking in her arm, she knew that much; a drip maybe? And she was asking where Nicky was, but he just kept talking to her about her injuries. It was frustrating, and she was getting more worked up and annoyed. The paramedic was explaining that they had to move her.
It all went black.
Everything was bright, so very bright. When she tried to open her eyes, that was the only thought she had: too bright. Her head pounded when she rolled it to the left. A window. Blinds open and the sunshine was streaming through so clearly, she could see dust particles hanging in the haze of it. It was confusing. She didn’t remember making it to the hotel or going to bed, and she was definitely in a bed. Taking a deep breath, she rolled her head the other way and tried to work out what the machines were for. She tried lifting her head, but that wasn’t happening. So, she lay there and wondered if she was just having a bad dream. One that when she woke up would disappear into the subconscious, never to be thought of again.
The ceiling was white, the walls were white, and there was noise, she could definitely hear a lot of noise. Someone was crying, weeping really. Who was it? It sounded familiar. Her mother maybe? It wasn’t Nicky though, where was she? She tried to speak, but she wasn’t quite sure if she had said it out loud. God, this was tiring.
Lucy Owen was just 23 years old as she stood by the graveside of Nicola Abigale Jackson, supported by two crutches and her parents. She had been 19 years old when they had first met, 20 years old when they had first kissed, and 22 years old when they had last kissed. Her birthday had been just weeks ago, and it had passed by like any other day. She had received cards and flowers from well-wishers and fans, but with all the cards and flowers from the accident, none of them stood out as anything special; there was no happy birthday girlfriend card like there had been the year before. The card had been a happy birthday darling wife one, but Nicky had crossed out the word “wife” and written “girlfriend” instead. She smiled as she remembered that, and then she cried when she remembered there would be no more.
She thought back to when her doctors had explained it was a miracle she was even alive. The police had been equally amazed that she had lived; she had been sitting in the area of the bus that had had the biggest impact and where everyone else had not made it.
She had stared at herself in the mirror. Bruises that had been deep purples, blue and black, now just a sallow yellow and orange. They were everywhere, and it was obvious that at one time she would have been a horrific sight to look at. Stitches marked a zipper down her face. She hadn’t dared to even look at the rest of her body; her face was awful enough. One leg had been trapped in a cage-like contraption, screws drilled into her bones, holding it all together.
There wasn’t a minute of the day that she wasn’t in some form of pain. The physical pain she could numb; drugs could do a lot for a person like her. The emotional anguish was a different story. She pleaded to be sedated. The only time she didn’t dream of them was when she was anesthetised. Her only solace from the torture of it all was when she went under the knife to fix one part of her or another. Skin grafts, bone reconstructions. She would pray not to wake up, but each time she would come around, still breathing. In the end, she realised that death was too easy. She wasn’t supposed to die, that much was now obvious. She was meant to live. To live forever with the knowledge that she was the reason that Nicky was dead. It was her fault, and the pain of knowing that would be her penance.
She had stood by the gravesides of four others too. Scott, Ben, Sarah, and Mikey. She had missed every funeral. She hadn’t even known about them; goodbyes from her had had to wait. Her hospital stay had been two days shy of eight weeks.
She had 168 stitches, 23 of them down the left side of her face. A punctured lung, ruptured spleen, four broken ribs, and a leg broken in two places had meant for the first three weeks she hadn’t even been conscious. The families of the deceased had waited long enough to bury their loved ones, and so Lucy had missed them. The press had been to them, well they went to Scott, Ben, Sarah, and Mike’s. They printed nice little back stories about each of them and added photos of them and the flowers at the funerals. Nobody went to Nicky’s, she was of no interest to the media, not until afterwards when they got wind of the lesbian angle and then they wanted to know everything.
For Lucy, it was the end.