She found it strange how memories can creep up on a person, like the ones that swam around her old student flat and the green armchair they'd kept in the sitting-room. Some nights, when the house was coated in the type of silence that arrives once the darkness had persuaded even the most stubborn to go to bed, she would find herself leaning back against the familiar faded leather. Her fingertips traced circles in the ink stains that decorated the arms and she could close her eyes and hear the music and laughter as her boys sprawled themselves across the room.
Danny was always last one to come in, relegated to the floor since the few seats they had would already be taken. He would lounge against the cluttered coffee table; legs sprawled out across the rug and his guitar resting in his lap. He was their music, the one who could pluck mismatched notes and twist them into tunes that wound themselves through you. She had tried to repeat them to someone else once, but the song came out confused and stilted.. It was only Danny who could make his music work.
George would be stretched out across the settee, his cigarette hanging between two fingers, never lit but almost always present.
"An unlit cigarette has more impact!" he claimed. He explained to her that it made people question the point of the cigarette, and in turn this made them question him. He liked to obscure other people's trails of thought. She'd nod, understanding him somewhat.
Danny just snorted, abandoning his music momentarily to throw a cushion at George's head.
All of this would lead to Peter rolling his eyes, making out that he couldn't understand how he ended up there. Their philosopher and rogue. He put up with them because she was there, if they fell out then it hurt her and without her there was no 'them'. They needed the 'them', though none would ever admit it except maybe her.
Peter had claim to the beanbag; squished up against the side of the green armchair so that when her fingers hung down from the arm they almost brushed against his shoulder. He poured himself into books, inking notepads with ideas for new worlds and stories, ideas that he never thought to share with anyone. He wrote about the girl he'd fallen in love with, the one he adored, and the one who adored another.
Everything changed when Danny claimed the green chair as his own. He curled his arms around her waist and pulled her into his lap instead of the guitar. The beanbag was abandoned all together and Peter shoved George's feet off the settee, placing the coffee table between himself and the couple. She hadn't realised until years after that he'd always blame Danny for what happened, even when she'd blamed herself, or when they'd both blamed the Blonde in part.
Danny's blonde crashed in and curled up in the green armchair, coaxed him into playing songs that had been on the radio the day before. George's unlit cigarettes were binned, and cruel curling lips kept him from replacing them. The clutter from the coffee table was cleared when she came home one day and Peter's notepads crumpled beneath the curious fingers that flicked through the pages and laughed at the 'nonsense' within. The blonde took her boys apart one by one, tearing them from their own identities.
She tried to fix it, but Danny just fought back and called her jealous. She tried to sooth harsh words from Peter's mind but his pen was already locked away, the notepads remained half empty and abandoned. George just went quiet, stopped thinking about the depth of ideas and thought how he was told to think. Even the green armchair lost its hold; she couldn't sit in it anymore, the blonde's perfume had sunk into the leather.
Danny dropped out, moved out, and shacked up with his blonde. She could remember it only lasting a few months before the phone call at three on Sunday morning, a policeman's voice and the coroner pulling back the white sheet. Suicide. No note. Just a tape with her name on it, one she could never even take out of the plastic case.
At the funeral his blonde didn't even bother to show. Instead they stood, the three of them, staring at a sleek mahogany coffin with Danny's mother sobbing in the front row.
The blonde had cheated she found out. Danny caught her and she was the one to kick him out! Instead of coming home he had chosen a pistol and a bullet.
"These artistic types." She'd heard one of the police officers say as a young woman pressed overly sweet tea into her hands. The police officer had been about as wrong as someone could be, art connected Danny to life, his death reeked of peroxide.
After graduation she lost touch with the other two. George's expressionless face passed across the television screen from time to time, watching audiences with half interest, as powerful politician stood to hear him speak. He did well; followed party policy and managed to win them an election. It wasn't one she voted in. It was his initiative to renovate the old student flats, 'modernisation' and 'better facilities' he claimed. She watched him press the button that brought down a familiar red brick building and she knew. She saw him try to wipe away the blonde memories, they both failed at that.
She was never sure what happened to Peter, he wrote now and again, the stamps mapping out the globe in her letter box. He never spoke about himself, just about the places he'd seen, and sometimes she would notice a book in a shop window, his name printed beneath the title. He was the only one of 'them' who seemed to survive the blonde.
When it came to the reunion George kissed her, impassionate and on the cheek. She cried in the bathrooms afterward, ignoring the sympathetic glances from those who used to know her, the ones who remembered Danny and thought that it was him haunting her thoughts.
Next to the dance-floor the blonde tried to hug her, smiling with too much teeth and red lipstick. She almost smiled herself when the blonde turned ashen white, flinching as she hissed 'murderer' under her breath and pulled away.
George followed her outside, catching her arm to ask if she was O.K. and she had seen the blonde's hold break a little in his concern. She had turned to the smokers beside the door, begged a cigarette and stanched it from outstretched fingers. She didn't light it, just pressed it into George's palm and left.
In two days she spotted him back on TV, twirling something small and thin between his fingers as he began to question everything he had once been told to say. His career crashed within the month, and it was coffee at a backstreet café every Wednesday for her and him. He wrote a book, his own philosophy of the world today, she read her name in the dedication and remembered the abandoned stories in crumpled notepads.
Peter cost a ticket to Peru, vaccinations and a headache in translation. It still seemed like too little. He had blinked at her in a stunned way, standing in some ancient ruins and watching her stumble across uneven stepping stone before catching her as she almost hit the bank. He asked why, and she caught his lips, she had thought he'd escaped the blonde and he was fine, but she hadn't remembered her own blind barbs until George's book had weighed down her hands.
The green armchair was wrought into a memory, lost between the rubble of demolished student flats. Or so she thought. She came home to an open door, and while Peter was still heaving luggage out of the car boot she wandered into the house.
George waved his spare keys at her, stretched out across her settee and holding an unlit cigarette between his fingers. She'd heard Peter laugh behind her, suitcases forgotten in the hallway as he crashed into a beanbag she couldn't remember buying.
"Look!" George had grinned, nodding across the room.
The green armchair stood beaten and battered by the fireplace, separated from the settee by a coffee table covered in cups and plate that George hadn't bothered to clear away.
She had tipped out her handbag into the mess, fingers ghosting over the tape that always clattered around between her makeup and diary. They had both watched her hesitate, draw back from touching the plastic case.
It took Peter's urging to make her pick it up: "Put it on, you'll miss him if you don't."
The tape hummed a lazy mismatch of notes, winding themselves around the room. She leaned back against the faded leather, tracing the familiar ink stains and closing her eyes to listen to the music. There would always be less laughter, sadness holds in the memory much closer than joy, but she could always fall back on her boys.