Everyone geared up as Music Man started playing some chords we didn't recognise. For a moment, I thought that nobody would know the song, but then the bassist (wherever we came from; he was completely unfamiliar!) chimed in with the familiar bassline to Green Day's Longview and a roar came from the crowd.
Or what passed for a crowd. It was more like a mess than anything else - what had started as a collection of students crowded around tables and chairs with drinks had morphed, by the second half, into a largely open space with upended chairs as occasional hazards. The students, who probably weren't meant to be drinking as they were (mostly) under 18, had become an amorphous mass. I myself had typed out the band's set list in the library at school that week, but was still surprised to hear Longview.
"When masturbation's lost its fun, you're fuckin' lonely!" I hollered, mostly at Lightsinthesky, who was hollering it back at me as we hurtled to the front of the throng. Music Man, who would end the gig rocking back on his knees as he finished off Smells Like Teen Spirit, started playing a solo. It was a special moment.
That's when I noticed a small brunette sitting on her own in the corner.
Obsession had turned up earlier in the evening with her collection of friends. I knew her by association (and, by extension, LiveJournal) and she's always been civil, friendly even, to me. I saw her playing bass with a band she was in once, and then again, at these little gigs for the band that Music Man formed. And yet, here she was, all on her own. Why, I wondered, was she doing that, while the rest of us were pushing against each other singing Longview?
"Why Offspring?" I asked as we sat on the steps outside the pub, the heaving throng inside rocking out to All The Small Things. "In your MSN address?"
"Oh... they were my favourite band," she said sadly, pulling out her Nokia 3210 and showing me a The Offspring banner. "I still like them, but they're not my favourites any more." She paused. "Are you still into..."
"James?" I supplied. "Yeah."
All Obsession's friends, it transpired, had trickled away during the gig. They hadn't meant to abandon her, but had ended up doing so, drifting off in their ones and twos assuming there would be someone left over to accompany her. Evidently there wasn't. She was alone. Alone and short.
"Do you... do you want me to take you back to the tube station? So you don't have to be alone?" I ventured.
Obsession almost smiled - almost.
We went into the pub to listen to the final song and then beat the spill back out while she finished her drink. I convinced her that it wouldn't be any problem to walk her to the station and then set off. We had a nice chat, got to the station at the end. She hugged me as thanks and I gave her a quick kiss on the top of the head, then bid her farewell and walked back to the pub.
Lightsinthesky was surprised to see me back. Evidently he thought that "walking Obsession to the station" was code for something, and was a little disappointed that he didn't find someone to walk with too. We ended up on the bus home with the band, the Manics fan (with whom I would later want to have sex) and her slightly younger cousin, who was both completely oblivious to and hilariously impervious to Lightsinthesky's attempts to
Even though, a couple of days afterwards, I was starting to gravitate towards a relationship, Lightsinthesky wouldn't let it go. Walking into town with him at one point, he kept asking me exactly what was going on between us. I insisted that we were friends; there basically was nothing at all happening; I felt sorry for her because all her friends had vanished and was keeping her company; I knew her anyway so it was good to catch up; so what if we had a parting hug at the station? Hugs are nice.
Soon afterwards, I kind of lost touch with Obsession. As everyone was approaching university, people started pairing off (or, in Einstein's case, doing a Master's in Physics); Lightsinthesky had sex and wouldn't shut up about that either, my tall friend who now works at Pizza Hut learned to play Sweet Child O' Mine on the guitar. I was impatient, when I got to university, for some new experiences: I wasn't aware then, of course, that there had been so very many missed opportunities. The night before I left London, I was at a farewell party at Robinson's with all his mad friends, including Lovely - a missed opportunity for him, perhaps, that he managed to get back.
Just before we all left the sixth form, the band played a couple of farewell gigs, including a support slot for the band that Lightsinthesky's brother was in. This time, I took my girlfriend with me, and bought her a beer, unaware that a single pint would get her drunk. As I half-walked, half-carried her out of the familiar pub towards the bus stop, I noticed Obsession, sitting in a corner with the friends she had misplaced a few months prior. I waved.
She flashed a smile back at me. A genuine smile, full of warmth and life and the happiness that she'd claimed to be possessed of online, despite the fact that I'd seen her so low.
I only remember snatches of the night that followed. But I remember Obsession, the last person I saw in that pub. I've never been back since. But, for some reason, when I think back to those last few months, that smile's the thing that stays with me the most.
And I wish I knew where she is now.