Chapter 2 - Folie à deux
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Chapter 2 – Folie à deux


"Come on. To celebrate the last finals."


One of the wooden slats which formed the seat of the bench in front of the university library was missing. To get around the problem, they were sitting on the back, their feet resting on the surviving slats, which probably didn't have much longer to live either. Cyril was holding up a glossy concert flyer, and Ada was methodically deleting old pre-2011 texts on her phone to save some space. It had been one of her good resolutions, but she hadn't got around to it until months later.

Another of her good resolutions for 2012 was to finish at the top of her second-year chemistry class. Her parents had been very disappointed that the renowned university she was aiming for didn't accept her application, thinking it was because of her grades. Ada was convinced that her foreign family name had handicapped her. As for Cyril, he was living his best life as a law student, even if he seemed only moderately interested.

He waved the flyer again. His headphones crackled a little. "It's a little venue in the eighteenth1, it's super cool, I've already been there once, and they're only doing one concert in France… Come on. Please."

She was deleting some August 2010 text messages and didn't even look up from the screen. "I'm not even a fan of Midnight Blossom. I've never listened to an entire album. The only one I have on my mp3 player is the one you forced me to listen to back when we were in 11th grade."

"That's doesn’t matter. We'll have a blast anyway. Come oooooonnnnnnn."

In reality, she really wanted to go to that concert. She just felt guilty about the prospect of spending an evening doing something other than studying, or thinking about the fact that she should be studying, even though finals were over. She put her phone away and turned to face Cyril. "Look, I already told you that the giant-bangs-and-multicolored-bracelets bullshit was not my thing."

"Well obviously, if you rely only on the worst clichés to make an opi-"

She grabbed his sleeve. "Dude, you're literally wearing one of those fucking bracelets right now."

He grinned, baring all his teeth as he tucked some of his apple green dyed locks behind his ear. "That’s different, my little sister made me this one for my birthday."

"It's no coincidence that I couldn't tell the difference. That multicolored Scene fuckery is a stain on all punk movements, and considering all the pathetic bullshit we've seen already, that’s really saying something. I can't believe you're still into that shit. It's fucking 2012. The year of our Lord 2012!"


"And My Chem' dropped the emo aesthetic three years ago, and Panic is imploding, and the best we're getting in France is that dumb bitch Jena Lee, and no one gives a fuck about these music genres anymore, but you're still here with your neon highlights and your flashy bracelet, listening to Metro Station."

"It's Brokencyde."

She brought the dangling earpiece up to her ear. "Holy shit. I thought you were joking. I didn't think you were still listening to Brokencyde. I didn't think anyone still listened to Brokencyde."

Contrary to her expectations, Cyril looked weary rather than offended. "D'you listen to yourself when you talk? You sound like one of those bitches from the seventies who were clutching their pearl necklaces whenever they saw a guy with a safety pin in his nose."

Ada snickered and spread her arms to highlight the number of pins on her clothes. "Take a good look."

"Yeah, and behind the jacket full of patches I see a crazy old lady who says Pokémon cards keep you away from Jesus."

"Oh shit, did you see that video too?"

"Who hasn't?"

Ada looked at one of the patches on her own sleeve - it was in two parts, one half shaped like a dagger stuck in the denim to the hilt, the other with the blood-stained tip sticking out the other side. She had seen the same one on a guy's jacket the other day at the mall. Admittedly, codifying provocation tended to make it repetitive.

"I just don't get how drenching edgy stuff in fluorescent colors and glitter is provocative, I think," she said, contemplating Cyril's bracelet. His little sister had tried to write "destroy" with lettered beads in the middle, but had made a typo with two of them. Cyril hadn't corrected the mistake and was walking around with "destory" written around his wrist, perhaps thinking it was even funnier that way.

He stretched like a cat. "The mere fact that it pisses you off is the best proof that it's effective. When everyone is sad and gloomy, bright colors are an act of rebellion."

Her eyes went back to the flyer. Why was she so afraid of being judged for attending one stupid concert? Would it make a difference if she spent one evening listening to music instead of trying to reread her notes without really seeing the words on the paper?

She used her last card: "My parents will never agree."

He immediately answered: "You're over 18, we're going together so nothing bad will happen to us, and it ends early enough to catch the last train. They won't care."

She sighed.

"Okay. Fine. You won. When's your fucking concert?"


The subway train was rolling through the tunnels, and despite her initial reluctance, Ada was beginning to be won over by the excitement of doing something new. Of course, she had been to concerts before, but it was always with her family - those big star concerts in stadiums or large venues, where you sit far away and follow what's going on mostly on screens. Or it was those free concerts in tourist spots, where a small local band plays some covers, and sells their CDs with a cover straight out of their living room printer. This, in contrast, was almost an adventure.

She'd settled for her usual jacket with a few more badges and a T-shirt with a band logo, but Cyril had dressed up: he had a tank top with Midnight Blossom’s lotus flower logo, very exaggerated eyeliner, neon green nail polish, and black sneakers where he'd drawn stars with some kind of glitter glue, which looked a little weird on an almost twenty year-old guy. She was realising just now that the collections of black and multicolored latex bracelets he'd put on his arms also served to perfectly hide his self-harm scars, and she felt a little emotional.

"Are you okay? You’re looking at me funny."

She smiled. "I'm just glad we're here." Glad we're both still here, she almost amended, but that would have been far too melodramatic for him and he would have turned it into a grim joke again.

"You won't say that in an hour when your ears will start ringing."

She was about to slap him on the arm, but the subway stopped at the station just before she could. Don't make any jokes about Metro Station, she thought, or else we're gonna start singing like two idiots.


The place was less a concert venue than a club. There was strictly no seating, just a vast empty space in front of a stage, organized into vague "steps" on slightly different levels so that people in the back of the venue could have a chance to see anything. A good idea for a concert, but probably a horrible idea the rest of the time when the club was just a club – surely every single drunk guy would have tripped on that.

They had arrived a bit too early, and a mediocre dj was mixing some compositions of dubious quality. Some people had already gathered in front of the stage, others had gone to get beers; Cyril, like a dozen other people, was buying merchandising at a booth near the entrance. The rest of the audience had formed small groups where one could guess vague affinities. There were a lot of people in torn jeans and t-shirts bearing the logos of various bands, but also quite a few people dressed in the same type of emo-scene garb as Cyril, some pastel goths, a couple of old school punks, and even three cybergoths in a corner – dreadlocks made with neon plastic tubes, gas masks, lenses, goggles with a symbol of chemical contamination on them, boots with twenty centimeter soles and neon fur leggings, everything. In the end, she herself went rather unnoticed in this setting, and it suited her very well, thank you very much.

Her gaze stopped on a girl with fuchsia bangs, whose ears appeared to be lit from the inside. Where was the light coming from? Did she have LEDs in her earrings?

Not wanting to look rude, Ada tried to focus on something different, but she soon realized that it was very difficult for her to look at someone else. Not only was the light thing very intriguing, but the girl herself had a very specific way of dancing on her own, turning in rhythm with the only flashing spot in the room, and it had a hypnotic quality. She must have been barely two or three years older than Ada, but her level of confidence was centuries ahead of hers.

She tried to approach her discreetly to get a better look at the earrings.

"YOU LIKE THEM?" the girl asked her, half-shouting over the DJ's beats. Ah, not discreet enough, it seemed.

Seen up close, she was wearing large black rings which framed the circular hole of a piercing in each of her earlobes, and a warm light was glowing through them seemingly out of nowhere. "LOOKS GREAT, DOESN’T IT?" she added and turned her head, smiling – the light was also there when one was looking at the holes from the opposite side. Ada's brain was working overtime to try to figure out what her eyes were seeing.

"HOW DOES IT WORK?" she shouted over the music.


She politely declined the offer with a smile, but didn't walk away.

Two minutes later, Cyril joined them, looking very pleased with his purchases (a CD and a T-shirt, apparently, which he had stuffed into the large pockets on the side of his legs which, until then, had seemed quite useless), and with the public converging more and more towards the stage, they decided it was time to do the same. The DJ packed up his equipment, and vague background music was played through the speakers instead, while everyone was waiting for the band to get ready. Ada suddenly realized that this guy had a pretty thankless job - he was playing his own compositions, but no one had come for him, and he was just an appetizer before the main course. How did he feel? Was he proud to have an audience in spite of everything, was it just another job for him, or did he go home every night only to fall flat on his bed, thinking he was wasting his life?

She came out of her morose reverie and focused on the very animated discussion that was now taking place between Cyril and the girl with the fuchsia bangs, who, according to what she had heard at the beginning of their conversation, was called Leïla. They were talking about their respective tattoo and piercing projects, and her friend had already lifted his tank top to show the multicolored raven he had had done on his back the year before. Ada had seen it already but couldn't help but giggle again, and not just because he was almost stripping in public - the design had remained pretty much the same since that drawing he'd shown her in high school.

"That's my protector," Cyril explained. "Its job is to defend me against anything that might hurt me, but that includes myself, you know?" His shrink had explained that there were less dangerous ways to externalize his angst and that art was a good medium for that, and Cyril had taken him at his word and decided that was all the validation he needed to get that tattoo. There was, admittedly, the idea of a protective shield in those multicolored feathers, however dramatic and a bit immature the design was. But without all the context around it, Ada found his explanation very clumsy.

Leïla seemed enthusiastic, though. "Niiiiiiice. But it would look even better with Pichca's stuff."

"Who’s stuff?" said Cyril, putting his tank top back on.

"Pichca Sisa, the guy who pierced my ears. He's got a lot of super innovative techniques based on ancestral stuff or what, you know? I think he's Peruvian and - EH ASTRO! I’M OVER HERE!" she shouted, gesturing to someone who had obviously arrived late, carrying two paper cups.

The so-called "Astro" (probably a nickname) was an unusual sight and stood out even among this bizarre crowd – he was wearing some kind of yellow and purple tutu over torn leggings, and a studded leather jacket with several cryptic symbols of alchemical or astrological origin. A patch on his right sleeve proclaimed "Out of this world." His purple-glittered face was rather angular and manly, but when he first spoke, Ada's confusion only grew more intense because his voice was very high-pitched. "There you go, that’s the only thing they had," said the strange individual, turning his back on Ada to hand one of the drinks to Leïla, revealing a giant patch behind his jacket, shaped like a Ouija planchette, with a little ghost saying "If You Piss Me Off, I'll Just Leave."

"Hey Astro, we were just talking about tattoos, go ahead and show off with yours," said Leïla, nudging him gently.

With a conspiratorial air, the newcomer rolled his sleeve up, making his own cup swing, and showed them his arm, tattooed with a magician consulting a blue crystal ball. No, more like blue-green. No, green. No, yellow - the colour of the ball was gradually changing and swirling like smoke. Having left them speechless, Astro laughed. "Yeah, right, that always has this effect on people!"

"I don't understand how that's possible," said Cyril, echoing Ada's thoughts as she mentally ran through all the chemical possibilities for achieving such a chromatic effect on human skin, and discarded them one after the other.

"Me neither!" exclaimed Astro. "Nobody understands how it works! All I know is that as soon as I was told about it, I knew it would be my thing."

"Are you sure this is harmle-" began Ada, but she was abruptly cut off by a roaring sound and a drastic change in the lighting of the club, now plunged into darkness. The crowd screamed with joy, and a slightly overenthusiastic "YEAAAAAAH!!" from Leïla (whose strange piercings continued to be lit from within despite the surrounding darkness) made Ada wish she'd brought earplugs.

Lasers cut through the darkness and ran through the room, which vibrated under the bass. Letters were projected at the back of the stage (where the silhouettes of the band were vaguely visible as they finished setting up) and spelled out the words "WE" "BLOOM" "IN" "THE" "DARK", followed by some sort of neon pink lotus logo opening, the same as on the band's flyer. Ada giggled – for a band who could barely fill a small club in Paris, these guys were a bit pretentious. That being said, the magic was working, and she felt feverish, almost electrified. She glanced in the direction of Cyril, who, in the dim glow of the distant floodlights, had the face of a monk about to enter nirvana.

The tension continued to build and build until it exploded into a guitar riff, accompanied by concentric synth notes reminiscent of a deranged music box. A crimson glow gradually bathed the five members of the band, and the crowd went wild.

Without further preamble, a skinny little guy with heavy make-up around the eyes, wearing a black and white striped suit, yelled out lyrics that must have been something like "I'm the snake in the garden-", the fans in the front responded "SERPENTIIIIIIIIINE!", and the first song of the set started after the singer shouted "BONSOIWR PAWRIS" in a terrible approximation of a French accent.


"We'll have a blast anyway," Cyril had said to convince her. That was an understatement. It was a train wreck - the room reeked of fog machine, Ada had fallen twice, someone had spilled beer all over her jeans and shoes, the lighting effects were killing her eyes, Cyril had shoved her countless times, Leïla sang loudly whenever she had the chance and Astro had accidentally hit her while dancing with his arms in the air. In short, it was the best night of her life.

It really had nothing to do with a concert that one would follow sitting in the bleachers. At first she had tried to take up as little space as possible, but the movement of the crowd was contagious, so she had started tapping her feet to the beat, and then dancing on the spot from one foot to the other, something she would never normally have done. No one seemed willing to get angry at anyone, including herself. There seemed to be some sort of unspoken agreement that everyone in the audience was going to do something stupid, spill a drink or get in the way of someone else while dancing or singing at some point, that it was unavoidable, and that you just had to roll with it and try to have a good time anyway. Perhaps this utopian mood was in fact limited to the five square metres around her and that somewhere else in the room, people were having a terrible evening because of a particularly annoying person. Some part of her brain told her that it wouldn't take much for everything to derail completely, but she chose to ignore it.

The singer may not have had a great voice, but he sure could scream, and he had a hell of a lot of energy to spare; he would bend over to emphasize certain phrases, jump on the spot during solos, balance on a spotlight with one foot to lean into the crowd, all with frenetic, grandiloquent gestures. More than once he miscalculated a leap and backed up at the last moment before falling on some pieces of equipment, which added to the impression of spontaneity - less than stagecraft, it was as if this guy saw the world as a big bubble-gum ball to bounce on endlessly, screaming the whole time.

So far she didn't recognise any of the songs, but she tried to understand the lyrics, which often turned out to be very unusual - she'd expected the usual angsty songs you hear all the time in that genre, but the themes were often mythological or literary, and she was surprised to find that she enjoyed them without an ounce of irony. Sometimes Cyril would shout something in her ear to add details about an album or a track, or to tell her that a particular song was one of his favourites. She'd really liked something called The Very Next Day, the story of a ghost who didn't know he was dead and went around his house repeating day after day the gestures he'd made when he was alive, unable to go to heaven. Trial by Combat was about an astronomer accused of heresy who demanded a duel against God himself to prove that he was right, and it seemed to be a very popular song. Astro had been chanting every single chorus of From the Gutter to the Stars while clapping his hands above the crowd as if he himself were trying to reach for the stars - she was pretty sure the title was a reference to a nineteenth-century author, but she couldn't remember which one.

There was a pause during which the band emptied a few bottles of water, asked if everyone was all right in very broken French but too charmingly to hold it against them, re-explained that flashes were forbidden, and reminded them to avoid pogos since a small, drunken group to the left of the stage had tried to start one earlier during Torn Shirts. As if it were the climb before the last series of loops in a theme park attraction, the bassist slowly began to make the amps vibrate louder and louder again while the guy on keyboard dropped heavier and heavier chords. The singer pretended to throw his empty bottle into the audience but caught it at the very last second, laughing, wiping his forehead on his sleeve, then waved to the control room ; the lighting effects started up again, and the imaginary car began its fall toward the last segment of the rollercoaster.

The fog machine suddenly seemed to go haywire and belched out a slightly pungent smoke during the intro to the next song – judging by the reaction of the band, who stopped dead in their tracks, this was not part of the show. Strangely enough, a red fruit smell wafted through the club. A very stressed technician rushed to stop the faulty machine amidst a mixture of laughter and frightened yelps from the audience. The band members seemed to debate something, then started a different song, sparking more laughter from the fans in front of the stage - the reason for which became clear when it turned out that the lyrics began with "anxiety striking like a nerve gas, my head becomes a fatal hourglass."

Ada's head was spinning a little, but not unpleasantly so. Her vision was slightly blurred, and the violent lighting effects were beginning to mix with the smoke. For a few minutes it seemed as if she was in a completely unknown place, lulled by an organic tide, watching the bioluminescence of entities that moved far above her, making a melodious roar. The vibrations of the room became a kind of cosmic language, and she let herself be swayed by the rhythm of their cryptic sentences, which revealed all sorts of subliminal secrets to her. The lasers and glowsticks were magical creatures that moved in a dense, smoky atmosphere that should have been toxic to human beings, but which her body had decided to accept anyway. If this was how she felt without having drunk anything, what stage must all the people who had bought beers have reached?

She lost track of time. Several songs passed without her being able to distinguish them, floating in this new world that was beginning to resemble her old drawings, but in IMAX 3D version. No doubt her brain had decided to drop a Hollywood budget on such special effects.

A sentence with a very strong accent suddenly cut through the fog of illusion. "Je cwrois que vous la connahïssez, celle-ci."3

Ultra-bright synthesizer waves resounded and joined together to form insane pulses. The crowd erupted in a loud, enthusiastic cheer. Could it be – oh, here comes the electric guitar - and the throaty scream - she frantically shook Cyril's arm and jumped up and down as if she were ten years old again: "RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX! IT'S RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX!!" Even through the relentless decibels coming from the amps, she heard him burst out laughing in response.

It was fascinating to hear a live version of this single after spending so much time listening to it on a walkman with lousy headphones. By now she knew the melody by heart, every progression, every layer in great detail. This new version felt like rediscovering a country she had visited years ago - the landscape was similar, but details had changed. The season was different. More coral had grown. The winged guitar was fiercer, more agile. The brittle voice was more confident. "I WALK - I CRAWL -" the singer belted. "WHAT AM I? WHAT AM I??" replied the crowd, a forest of index fingers pointing toward the stage like so many threatening tentacles. Ada let herself be drawn enthusiastically into the call-and-response game. It was almost like a high mass where she knew only one hymn and where she had finally found her place.

The last song, Cyril informed her from the very first notes, shouting in a very hoarse voice, was called Last Scene and was based on a poem by Baudelaire where a guy dreamed that he was dying and that there was no afterlife. Astro saw fit to shout "Le rêve d'un curieux", and she assumed that was the title of said poem. They sounded like two young priests in an ancient temple trying to explain the words of their revered oracle to an apprentice who had just arrived.

The crescendo of the electric guitar and bass reached a point of near saturation, and the synth churned out a string of desperate, urgent chords - Ada's heart was speeding up again, as if she were running. Surely there was a science and a method to explain the effect of different scales and tones on human emotions, she thought, distantly, as if she were simultaneously in the audience being manipulated by the music, and a scientist watching her from behind a glass panel and taking notes. Manipulation or not, she felt the same kind of aimless anger rising in her as when she had broken that chair several years ago - but this time it seemed to her that the adrenaline rush was more positive. The same kind of current was flowing through the rest of the audience and everyone seemed to be in unison - a compressed spring just waiting to be released, painting the walls with brains. The level of accumulated energy was terrifying.

The energy of despair, she thought. The kind of energy that can lift cars or make you jump over a six-foot fence.

The singer spat his hoarse voice into the microphone again, telling the story of a failed actor with terminal cancer who was committing suicide in his hospital bed in the hope of finding an audience better able to appreciate his talent in the afterlife. An hour and a half ago, this concept would have seemed ridiculous - but since the atmosphere of curious positive morbidity conveyed by the band's music had filled the room, this kind of story suddenly seemed terribly grand.

As usual, the fans in the front row knew the lyrics down to the last comma, repeating some lines - "death is my new cure, and through this torture, this phase I'll endure-" - and what had to be the final chorus approached as inexorably as the thunder after the lightning strikes - "I need to be sure, and the-"

"CURTAIN IS RISING!" the singer screamed, jumping as the sound saturation reached a point of no return in a swirl of dazzling, almost strobe-like pink and blue lights -
"PUBLIC APPLAUDING!" - this guy was indeed going to get throat cancer in ten years if he kept abusing his vocal cords like that -
"MY HANDS ARE SHAKING!" - Ada's hands were shaking too, and water droplets were falling on her face -
"THIS IS HAPPENING!" - was Astro crying, on her right? -
"I turn around and it's an empty scene" - oh shit, there really was nothing after the narrator’s death -
"Is that it? Is that all there is?" - fuck, now she wanted to cry too -
"IS THAT IT?" - this crescendo of energy had to stop soon or she was going to blow up -
"IS THAT ALL THERE IS?" - she needed to break something -
"IS THAT IT??" - could kill someone with her bare hands -
"IS THAT ALL" - phase through walls -
"THERE" - burst out of her body fast enough to destroy the ceiling -
"IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIS??!" - explode like a supernova -

As if someone had suddenly pulled a plug, the visual effects faded away and the music ended to the frantic applause of the public. The lights gradually returned to normal, the band waved to the audience, the singer shouted "MERWCI PAWRIS", and, after a few more bows, began to pack up his gear as if everything that had happened tonight was routine.

The audience gradually dispersed. Ada's head was buzzing and her body felt unusually light. She walked through some kind of cottony unreality toward the exit. Strangely enough, her explosive impulses of just a few minutes before had been completely drained, and the critical mass of energy accumulated in the club, which could have triggered a revolution or restructured reality toward the climax of the concert, had dissipated as if by magic.

Once outside, the cool night air of June felt like a brutal return to normality. Only now did she realise she was sweating, and Cyril's make-up was smudged.

"That was insane," he concluded, a little dishevelled.

"They were better in London in 2010," Leïla objected.

As for Astro, he was wiping his eyes as discreetly as possible, sowing purple glitter all over the sleeve of his jacket.


"And where are you headed, then?"


"Cool, we'll ride the train together."

It was very strange to be in the metro so late, with the almost deserted corridors and the sound of their footsteps echoing everywhere. A space like this was supposed to be teeming with people and echoing with a hubbub of voices, but no - it was just the four of them on the platform, looking like a bunch of variably fluorescent scarecrows, and a single homeless man at the other end, lying on a cardboard box, his head turned against the tiled wall.

Having lived this concert side by side by chance seemed to have made them friends by obligation. Cyril and Astro were enthusiastically exchanging contacts and phone numbers - they seemed to be getting on famously. Leïla, for her part, had half collapsed on Ada's shoulder, while Ada herself was tapping away on her phone in search of more information about Midnight Blossom. She wanted to know everything about the band now.

They only had two albums to their name, not counting their demo, which fans traded pirated mp3s of via all sorts of internet forums as if they were sacred texts of great rarity. They were better known, of course, in English-speaking countries than in France, but they were still a long way from being able to fill large venues even across the Channel. Unfortunately, the band had broken through just as the emo movement had taken a turn for the worse, and they found themselves lumped in with all sorts of bands who had joined the scene a bit late without really innovating in terms of themes or sounds. Rolling Stones had apparently hauled the second album over the coals, criticising the pretentious writing, the fusion of screamo and future pop sounds almost as badly handled as Attack Attack's Stick Stickly, and the poorly controlled vocals. Mojo magazine called them "Hot Topic clerks who really wanted to be Tool, but with fewer brain cells between them than there were in Maynard James Keenan's left toe." A prominent music critic on youtube had said that he loved to read the band's lyrics and that they were a feast for the eyes, but that unfortunately, he also had ears. Ada snorted to stifle a small laugh.

Of the five members, the singer and the bass player, Cecil and Aisling, were brother and sister, born in Ireland, and they had started writing poetry together after a car accident that had really upset them and, according to them, "gave them a glimpse of the infinity of the universe and the terrible frailty of the human being" as teenagers. They had later recruited the other members of the band, made a demo, and changed their stage name following the subsequent incident that Cyril had already told her about - it had indeed inspired the singer to continue writing more weird and morbid lyrics with his sister and put them to music.

"But it's a double entendre name," Aisling explained in an interview. "It comes from a tragic event, because an untimely death always is, but that death accidentally gave birth to something beautiful and inspiring, you know? We want to turn it into a message of life and hope, an incentive to overcome suffering or the more mundane difficulties of everyday life. We want our fans to see it not as a cry of despair, but as a rallying cry, a line to hold on to when they're down, a motivation to hold on and create something beautiful. We bloom in the dark, together: that's what Midnight Blossom is all about."

It was indeed very pretentious of them, but it came from a place of good intentions, and it was phrased in a way that sounded rather sincere. Ada was beginning to regret not having followed them earlier. This evening had not only broadened her horizons, it had also revitalised her and made her feel more comfortable about her musical tastes.

Leïla pressed her head a little harder on Ada's shoulder, and her fuchsia bangs began to tickle her left cheek. Her hair smelled of sweat, hairspray and peach shampoo. She mumbled "no, no" in her half-sleep and stirred as if she was remembering something unpleasant. A fine shower of shiny, sandy particles washed over Ada's jacket - she eventually realised that it was emanating from one of Leïla's ear piercings. Whatever technique made them glow from the inside like that obviously had its drawbacks, but she decided not to question her further on the subject, given how tired she was.

One minute to go before the train arrived, according to the display. Cyril was trying in vain to fix his make-up in the reflection of his mobile phone screen. Astro was humming one of the songs from the concert, From the Gutter to the Stars, specifically a passage about looking at the vastness of space and feeling insignificant. It was true, Ada thought, space was big and cold and didn't give a damn about the little creatures that swarmed around this rock called "Earth" that was spinning at full speed around a burning ball of gas. If more intelligent creatures existed elsewhere, they would have no reason to look this way. Maybe she failed at not giving a shit about anything, as she probably should have as a self-proclaimed punk, but at least it was kind of reassuring not to feel judged by the rest of the universe.

"Hey, do you know where we are?" suddenly said Cyril, who, despite his efforts to fix his make-up, still looked like a member of the Addams Family who'd been hit by a tropical storm. Leïla gasped and sat up, blinking, sprinkling glitter particles all around her. Strangely, the light had stopped emanating from her piercings.

"Uh, if we're all on the same plane of reality, we're at Pigalle station," Ada replied.

"Yeah, but what type of place is this?" he insisted with the look of someone who was holding back from giving the punchline to a bad joke too early.

Oh no.

"Don't say we're in a-" Ada began, staring pleadingly at Leïla, but she'd already said "a metro station?" before she could finish her sentence.

With a theatrical gesture, Cyril triumphantly pressed a play button on his phone, and the song Shake It by Metro Station, horribly compressed by the phone's tiny speaker, began to echo across the platform just as their train arrived.

Ada laughed in spite of herself as she boarded the almost empty train, and gently fought with Cyril to press the pause button on the song, pretending to hate it when she was having as much fun as he was. Astro spun around one of the vertical bars miming a very, very bad pole dance, triggering a mixture of boos and enthusiastic shouts. They ended up collapsing on four seats, Leïla sowing glitter everywhere, Astro with his tutu-like skirt surrounding him like a halo, Cyril with his ghastly eyeliner and his feet resting on the opposite seat, and Ada looking around the dirty, vandalised train as if the whole world had started singing. Everything seemed wonderful to her, from the dim lamps to the tags on the posters, from the worn seats to the sound of the subway car on the tracks. Everything was miraculous in an universe where light was a rare commodity and life a chemical accident. And yet here they were, the four of them, together, and a little ridiculous. She felt alive. She felt like a miracle.

These are the best years of our lives, she told herself, still on her euphoric high. And it's only going to get better, now that we've left our demons behind.

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