April 10th 2007

Peter smiled out at his crowd. He could only clearly see the faces of the first few rows, their pale marble-cast skin glowing gold in the footlights. Eyes smeared with eyeliner, panda eyes. Glittering throats and wrists where they wore their cheap costume jewellery and razorblades for earrings. They were at fever-pitch, drawn to a climax by the music. By drum beats that thrummed like their pulses, by guitar melodies that carried them away.

"Thank you, and goodnight, Brixton!" Peter called through the microphone and stepped away. Octavia was already throwing her bass to her roadie, and Harry's drum technician was creeping onstage to start dismantling the kit as soon as possible. The dry ice and cigarette smoke caught the frantic lights as they flitted from emerald green to ruby red.

The crowd began to leave. Peter started to walk off, stubbing out a final cigarette with the heel of his cowboy boot. He caught Octavia's eyes, still violet with tears after all this time, and smiled at her. She smiled back, truly happy despite the lingering sadness that plagued them all.

A rare moment of mutual understanding. A series of messages passed between them.

AJ would have liked it to be like this.

Yes. Together.

It nearly went the other way. It nearly went very wrong.

Harry joined them on the seemingly endless walk to the wings. Peter saw the meaning in his glance. Someone missing.

Backstage, they were greeted under strip-lights in the whitewashed corridors by record company executives and family members and friends. Audrey and Spider were there, smiling gently at Peter's success. Automaton had broken up almost six years ago.

The group moved to the dressing rooms and the liquor began to flow. Amber whiskey and jade chartreuse, diamond vodka. Dirty ashtrays and crisp packets and empty cigarette cartons began to litter the floor. There was chatter and laughter.

People kept catching each other's eyes, seeing the quiet grief there barely masked by the festivities. It hung over the room like a cold miasma: someone missing.

Harry sat on the sofa beside Peter (by now three years sober and clean), not quite touching him. The drummer was holding his sleeping daughter in his arms, amazed at how she was able to sleep amidst this type of chaos. That was eight-year-olds for you.

Eight years.

In unison, the two men took shaky breaths and looked out at their dancing friends, passing more silent thoughts back and forth like a tennis ball.

You OK?

I think so.

Don't cry, or I will too.

Someone raised their glass of champagne and everyone in the room followed suit. Octavia silently put a fluted glass of orange juice into Peter's hands. "Octavia-" he started, but she'd walked away already. Bassists were funny like that.

"A toast to the end of a tour," someone called. "And happy thirty-fucking-fourth birthday to somebody in the room!"

Harry broke into a grin, elbowing Peter.

"Alright, alright. I'm a dinosaur. Let's not rub it in," Peter grumbled good-naturedly, swigging his orange juice and declaring it an excellent vintage.

Somebody missing.