What do you do when the third member of your girl band shows up at your suburban semi, hell bent on a reunion?
“Don’t you two have any homework to be doing?”
My kids – Daniel, fourteen, and Jess, twelve – sat smirking at each other in the lounge as they waited for my visitors to arrive.
“No Mum,” they replied in unison.
“There’s no need to look like that. Everybody has a past.”
The ring of the doorbell interrupted their giggles.
“I don’t know why you’re finding this so funny.”
I frowned, rather glad my husband was working late and couldn’t join in.
On the doorstep I found Melissa, who I hadn’t seen in years – and Fran, who’d I’d seen just yesterday, since she lived round the corner.
“You look the same.” Melissa, tall and blonde, grinned and waved a CD case. “Look, it’s our disc! I still have loads of surplus stock at home.”
“Oh… Good.” I waved her inside. “Well, come on through.”
In the lounge, my kids sat on the edge of their seats.
“This is Melissa,” I said as Melissa held out the CD rather like a barrister offering Exhibit A to the jury.
“Have you two seen this?”
Dan snagged the CD first.
“No. Never. Not once. Mum kept it a secret. We’d never heard of The Dominoes before today.”
Don’t mention pizza, I willed him. Kids really don’t care what their parents used to get up to, do they?
As if to prove the opposite, Dan blurted, “Is that really you, Mum?”
On the CD case was a photo – Melissa, Fran and me dressed all in black and white, just like a set of dominoes. We each wore cargo pants, crop tops and massive chunky boots.
“I uploaded a video of us last night onto YouTube,” Melissa said. “It’s from 1995.”
“I’ll just go and see if I can find it online.” Dan shot out of his seat.
His sister charged out in his wake.
“I bet I find it first!”
Their noisy chatter echoed all the way up the stairs.
Melissa shrugged her way out of her coat. The years hadn’t touched her figure.
“Right,” she said, “Come on then, let’s see how much you can remember of our old routine! I still have it memorised, I never forget a thing.”
“I can’t even remember where my car’s parked half the time,” Fran admitted.
“Me neither,” I agreed.
“Shuffle. Shuffle. Hip dip. Turn. Look cool.” Melissa started dancing without us… and without any music either.
She’d been the driving force behind our little band. Since she’d studied music at school, she’d done most of the singing, and the composing and everything else in-between. By the time we’d started gigging along to a backing track in local pubs we’d all just turned eighteen.
No one had ever expected a music producer to see us. No one had expected his midget record company to put out a CD, either. It charted somewhere in the mid zillions, although the track was catchy and did get played on our local radio station now and again.
“I need some wine,” I decided as Melissa jigged about.
“Me too,” Fran replied. “I’ll help you…open the bottle.”
“Mel, make yourself at home.”
I hurried out into the kitchen, my friend right behind me. Fran went to the fridge to find a bottle of white.
“I didn’t expect to have to dance,” I said. “I thought we’d just reminisce for a bit when you called and told me Mel had turned up.
“You don’t think she actually expects us to reform, do you? I mean, the last I heard she had a lucrative career in song-writing and was hobnobbing with chart toppers. She was…you know… pretty well off.”
“She is,” Fran replied in a whisper. “She told me round at my place she has a house in London and LA. I mean, if she wanted to form a group in her forties, wouldn’t she hire some professionals?”
She shook her head. “No, no, we’re worrying over nothing. She did say she was only down here for the day. She’ll be leaving tonight so she can’t have any plans for us.”
She nearly poured wine all over the counter top when music boomed out from the lounge. Melissa had found the CD player.
“It sounds like she’s brought all our old backing tracks with her,” I said.
I picked up a glass of wine, draining it to the dregs as my friend added those magic words that always signal doom.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a bit of fun.”
“I can’t… I won’t… stop loving you,” Melissa sang when Fran and I, wine in hand, returned to the lounge.
We froze in the doorway. Melissa could remember all the words, as well as all the moves that had gone with our single.
“We’ll never lose this feeling… it belongs to ninety-five…” she sang as she stared down at the carpet, then up again from under her brows. Years ago, she’d choreographed every twitch we’d made. She waved at us. “Come on. Join in. I need my girls!”
“No, you don’t,” I whispered, setting down my glass.
Fran nudged me then plucked at my sleeve, clearly unwilling to enter the fray alone. My arms flailing, one foot kicking out, I bumped into Melissa after two moves. Fran tried a turn and promptly fell over her own shoe.
“It’s three steps there,” Melissa instructed. “Remember how we memorised it – make a bridge with your hands, then scratch at the ground like a chicken. Two steps forward, pretend to look under a bush, and then turn around. One step left and swing your hips like a wrecking ball.”
That was Melissa, always creative, always astonishing. We’d known when we first met her in junior school that she’d go far.
She’d never be the type to marry, settle down, have kids and get a job in the local library – like me for example.
“Didn’t we have the time of our lives?” she called out as she danced the routine with grace and ease.
If she’s looking for her lost youth, she’s not going find it here, I pondered as Dan interrupted. He came scurrying in, his laptop laid across his palms.
“Mum, look!” His face glowed. His sister’s cheeks were a cherry-red exact match. Were they thrilled or embarrassed? Sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference.
“You could actually dance.” Dan cleared things up a little as he set his laptop down on the coffee table and everybody gathered round.
Melissa wore a wistful expression. “Those were the days.”
We’d been very trim in the nineties, our young bodies tight and toned. We moved in unison on screen. Now and then we glanced at each other, little grins sneaking across our faces.
Only, in actual fact we were performing on the stage of a grotty old pub with carpets that squelched. We’d changed in a smelly toilet. It had one cracked mirror and a dirty lightbulb and we’d barely got paid that night.
All this rainbow-coloured reminiscing is a mistake, I thought.
“We can’t go back,” I pointed out. “I mean, we’re not going to do any of this again. That would be ridiculous.”
Melissa gave a jolt then a choked cough. Then she turned for the kitchen.
“I need a glass of water.” She clattered off in her heels.
I winced. I’d upset her now. Only surely, she could see the truth. I’m forty-three. I’m a mum. I have a house, kids, a garden and a husband.
This kind of thing was for young girls. I’d have to set her straight.
I found Melissa by the fridge, quaffing down great chugs of wine instead of water while sniffling.
“Are you all right?”
From the lounge, I could hear Fran trying to teach my kids our dance.
“Make a bridge with your hands while scratching like a chicken. Two steps forward, pretend to look under a bush…”
“You’re not… I mean, you’re not really…” I took a deep breath and tried again. “Mel, you’re not seriously thinking that we could reform the group? I mean, this was always your kind of thing. Not ours. We were totally different people.”
“Were we? I never thought so.” She bit her quivering lip. “I thought we were identical in loads of ways. You two were so loyal and dependable.
“I mean, you and Fran never expected me to supply a bit of easy money, did you? You were never out to fool me with some shady investment deal or sell me something dodgy.
“You certainly never scoped out my house so you could come back later and steal everything.”
I blinked. Oh no, had all that actually happened to her? Was that what her so-called friends had done? No wonder she was looking into the past for a bit of solace. No wonder she seemed so lonely. Loneliness does turn up in the most unexpected places sometimes.
In the old days, The Dominoes had a motto – If we lean on each other, then we’ll never fall! It might not have been Shakespeare but it had made sense to three young girls.
We’d started saying it one night after Fran had missed a few steps and a man in the audience threw his cheese and onion roll at her.
“You’re terrible!” he’d yelled.
Like a high wall, Melissa and I had surrounded our teary, trembling friend.
Are we leaning on each other now? I wondered. She’s still the Melissa I knew. I bet she still giggles at silly Knock-Knock jokes and loves strawberry ice-cream.
“We are different, Mel,” I tell her. “Because only you would have thought you needed a song and dance routine as an excuse to come and visit. Only you would think you needed to carry us off into a dream world. Real friends don’t need any of that… and that’s what we are.” I opened my arms. “Now come here, you silly cow.”
Just as the two of us hugged, Fran peered round the door.
“Am I missing a group hug?” She flung her arms about us both and we all rocked from side to side, sniffled and giggled just like we used to in the old days.
I offered a box of tissues.
“Mel, why don’t you stay in our spare room for a few days instead of going straight back to London?”
“Oh, yes, good idea,” Fran cut in. “You could stay with my lot for a bit after that. We’ve got so much catching up to do.”
Melissa, her face red, her grin very wide, nodded.
“Thanks, you two. You’re the best. You always were and you always will be.”
She flung her arms about us once more, all of us comforted by another group hug.
“We can’t sing and dance any more,” I said with a laugh, “but we have reformed after all. We’re still The Dominoes in all the ways that count.”
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