Sadie squatted down beside a wheelchair, a prehistoric school laptop casting a greenish hue on her cheeks. The year nine had broad shoulders, tatty walking boots, black school trousers and hair cropped short. She’d been called a lesbian so many times that it washed right over her.
‘What you looking at?’ Sadie asked.
Noah pushed his right wheel back a touch, so that he was facing her. ‘Did you see that survey?’
Sadie took half a second to realise Noah’s words had nothing to do with the website
on the laptop screen. ‘What survey?’
‘Scientists got this guy to go around a shopping mall. He had to strike up conversations with a hundred random women and try to get their phone number to set up a date.’
‘Is this, like, a joke?’ Sadie interrupted.
Noah tutted. ‘I heard it on the radio, let me finish . . . So the first time the guy dresses in a smart business suit. He goes to the mall, chats up a hundred women and twelve of
them give him their mobile numbers. The next day, he does the exact same thing, only he’s dressed like a rugby dude, wearing a tracksuit and carrying a sports bag. He gets seventeen numbers. On the third and final day, he dresses up like a rock star and carries a guitar case. How many babes do you reckon give him their number?’
‘How should I know?’ Sadie says.
Noah cracked a big smile. ‘Forty goddamned three! That’s close to half, just hitting on random women in a shopping mall.’
‘So what’s your point?’
Noah opened his mouth wide, as if Sadie was an idiot. ‘Chicks dig musicians. The way I figure it, losing my legs in a car crash is a major disadvantage when it comes to getting off with girls. But playing guitar pushes me back up to at least average.’
A pause in the conversation gave Sadie a chance to see what Noah had up on the laptop screen. She read some of it aloud in a mocking voice.
‘Ragecola dot com is proud to sponsor Rock War, a major new TV talent show for bands whose members are aged between twelve and seventeen . . . Would you like to spend your summer holidays at the Rock War Academy? Twelve bands will be picked from around the UK, blah, blah blah . . . Six weeks living on a luxurious country estate, having your skills honed by real-life rock stars and music industry pros. After that you’ll need everything you’ve learned as your band faces eight weeks of musical challenges, live in front of a TV audience of millions.’
When Sadie stopped reading, Noah read some more in a much more enthusiastic tone. ‘One or two bands voted off each week . . . Winning band will receive a recording deal worth over half a million pounds and a chance to spend Christmas on a beautiful
Caribbean island, recording tracks for your first album . . . To begin your shot at stardom, create a band profile and upload pictures, videos and demos of your band. The best bands will be invited to one of six auditions, held in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Manchester or Newcastle.’
Sadie shrugged and sucked a little air through her teeth. ‘I was into those shows when I was like nine, but they’re all exactly the same.’
Noah shook his head. ‘I never watched all that X-Factor rubbish in the first place. But who’s talking about watching it? I’m talking about being in the show.’
As Noah said this, he opened another tab in the web browser. ‘I started a band profile for the Unicorns.’
Sadie was moderately impressed when she saw the work Noah had put into the Unicorns’ profile on the Rock War website. He’d made and uploaded a band logo, plus some videos the three-strong band had made while jamming the previous summer, and he’d written a short biography for each member.
Sadie read the profile Noah had written about her: A tomboy with attitude, Sadie writes mean lyrics, plays drums or guitar. She really likes custard cream biscuits and has been known to eat them till she pukes.
‘So that’s what you think of me,’ Sadie said, half smiling. ‘But even leaving aside
the fact that twenty bazillion bands are going to try and enter this thing, the Unicorns broke up.’
‘We never officially broke up,’ Noah said. ‘We just haven’t practised for a while . . .’
‘For a year,’ Sadie said. ‘Chris doesn’t give a damn about music since Ellie stole his heart.’
‘Those two are so in love it makes me gag,’ Noah said. ‘But if I upload the profile and we get a shot at the Belfast audition, I reckon we can get him back in the band.’
‘I wouldn’t bet on it,’ Sadie said, as she shook her head. ‘Ellie’s dead possessive. Remember Easter hols when Chris was playing your Scalextric? She was texting him the whole time saying she was lonely and he left after barely an hour.’
‘You’re right about there being loads of entries,’ Noah said. ‘Miss McGowan put a Rock War poster on the music-room noticeboard. She said there’s at least four bands entering just from this school. But on the other hand, it doesn’t cost anything, except an hour writing some blurb about the band and uploading a few files.’
‘Whatever makes you happy, mate,’ Sadie said dismissively, as she glanced at her watch. ‘I’ve got that detention for not doing my RS homework. You gonna stick around till I’m done?’
Noah shook his head. ‘Profile’s finished. I’m just gonna hit the upload button and roll out of here.’
‘It’s only half an hour,’ Sadie said. ‘You sure you’ll be all right on the bus?’
‘I managed on my own for a week when you went on the geography trip.’
‘Right,’ Sadie said, a touch uneasily. ‘There shouldn’t be too many kids crowding around the bus stop by the time you get there. You want me to come round at
half sevenish and we can do that history assignment?’
‘Nah, my dad’s taking me to archery tonight.’
‘Tomorrow at the bus stop, then?’
‘Laters,’ Noah said, raising one arm into a quick wave as his best friend headed out.
After a thoughtful glance around his deserted form room, Noah turned back to the laptop. He started reading through the stuff he’d written for the Rock War profile, but he’d already checked it all twice and he decided it was as good as he could make it.
Noah slid a chewed fingernail down the trackpad until the mouse hovered over
the UPLOAD AND ACTIVATE BAND PROFILE button. He hesitated, thinking about Sadie’s whole, it’s cheesy, pointless and the Unicorns are not even a band any more vibe. But entering Rock War was free and he’d spent an entire form lesson making up the profile.
The screen froze just long enough for Noah to think he’d not clicked properly. Then a pop-up box with the Rock War logo appeared, and a message beneath it.
Your data has been uploaded and saved, but your band profile cannot go live because: %&Error21 Your Rock War profile is incomplete. You must enter details for all four band members.
Noah swore, then he muttered under his breath, ‘The Unicorns are a three-piece band, you stupid asswipe machine.’
After clicking again and getting the same error, Noah went back to the profile. His first thought was to trick the computer by sticking a few dots in the boxes for the fourth band member and trying to submit for a third time. But he decided to go back to the site’s main page and check the entry FAQs.
Noah thought he’d read them all before starting work on the band profile, but somehow he’d missed the third question:
What if my band has more or fewer than four members?
We’re very sorry, but due to the nature of the tasks and accommodation provided during the training camp phase of Rock War, the competition is only open to bands with four members.
‘Bloody hell!’ Noah moaned, as he pounded the desk hard enough to make the laptop jolt.
He tried to think his way out of the problem, but it would be a stretch just to get Chris out of Ellie’s arms to attend an audition. There was no way he’d be able to recruit a new band member, rehearse, change all the band pictures and make new demos in the three days left before the cut-off date for profile uploads.
Noah felt gutted as he snapped the laptop lid down and started wheeling himself towards the classroom door. It seemed that some things just weren’t meant to be.