There comes a time in your life when you have to put yourself first. I never put myself first, not really. I mean, I wanted to, but for some reason I always felt like I was being selfish. I wasn’t being selfish at all, I know that now, but for years I was made to feel that way. And maybe that was partly my own fault, I’d only wanted a quiet life, so, you know, I’d done anything I could to make sure that’s what we got. A quiet, settled, safe life. None of it had been worth it.
Slamming the lid of my case down I zip it shut and lock it before hauling it up off the bed and onto the floor. I leave for Belgium tomorrow. I’m doing something very brave – for someone like me, anyway: something I never thought I would be capable of doing, because for so many years I was made to believe that I was weak, that I couldn’t do anything alone, I wasn’t capable of looking after myself. I am. I always was.
Walking over to the window of my soulless but clean and comfortable budget hotel room, I pull back the thick net curtain and peer outside, but there isn’t much of a view. The hotel car park; the airport. I watch as a plane takes off in the distance, rising up into the air, and my gaze follows it until it disappears out of sight. It’s getting late now. I should probably go grab some food from the restaurant before it closes, but I’m not really hungry. It’s a mixture of relief, excitement and nerves, I think. So many emotions…
Sitting down on the edge of the bed I reach for the remote and switch on the TV, flicking through the channels until I find something that might hold my attention for more than a few minutes – a cookery show. I like cookery shows. Or was it him who’d liked them, and I’d just pretended to because it kept him happy…?
Dropping my head I glance down at the green and gold band around my wrist – my festival bracelet. My ticket to freedom. Bit dramatic? Maybe, to some people, but where I’m going… I’ve never been to a festival before, this is my first time, and I’m going alone. To one of the biggest electronic dance music festivals in the world. For years I’ve wanted to do this. But it was just a dream, I never thought I’d ever get to go. There was always an excuse – a reason why it was never going to happen. Too expensive. Too crowded. It wasn’t our kind of music, remember…? His reasons. Not mine. But he’d always made me believe that he was right. It wasn’t for us. People like us, we didn’t do shit like that, and I believed him. Agreed with him. For too many years he made me believe that he was always right.
He was wrong. He was so wrong…
“Jesus, Olli, what do you want?”
“I need you to come in this weekend.”
“Are you kidding me? I’m flying to Belgium tomorrow…”
I throw my head back and roll my eyes, is he for fucking real? “Ethergy festival, Olli. I’m going to Ethergy, I’ve had this weekend booked off since January. You should try reading the fucking rota every now and again.”
Olli’s a dick. I mean, a real dick, I’m only working his bar as a stop-gap until I can find something better. He has zero respect for his employees, I’m surprised he’s still got any, to be honest. Maybe he hasn’t, anymore. Maybe that’s why he’s calling me. Maybe they’ve, finally, all walked out, we’ve been threatening it for long enough.
“You’re the manager, Markus.”
“Your point is?” I drag my case to the door and lean it up against the wall, tucking my phone under my chin as I grab my jacket and the holdall I’m using as carry-on luggage from the bottom of the stairs.
“You might want to rein in that attitude, kiddo.”
“Call someone else, Olli.”
“There is nobody else.”
“Bullshit!” Or maybe not. I’m beginning to think I’m right now, that they have all walked out. It would’ve been nice to get a text telling me that, though. Olli’s right on one score, I am the manager. They should keep me in the loop.
“I wouldn’t call if this wasn’t an emergency, Markus.”
That’s bullshit, too. He’s made calls like this frequently, demanding we come in when he knows we’ve booked personal days or are about to head off on a well-earned vacation, he does it on purpose, because he’s a dick. Plain and simple. And I’m not sure I need to be taking his shit anymore.
“Emergency or not, there’s no way I’m covering this weekend.” No fucking way at all. He can dream the fuck on, I’m out of here tomorrow morning. “Do you have any idea how much money I’d lose if I just bailed on this trip?”
“You’ll lose a hell of a lot more if I don’t see your face behind this bar tonight.”
“Are you going to fucking fire me because I’m taking the vacation I booked almost seven fucking months ago? The one you signed off on?”
“I don’t remember signing off on anything.”
I’m laughing because I can’t believe this guy’s balls! Seriously…?
“You are, aren’t you? You’re actually going to fire me?” I’m shaking my head because this is just too fucking surreal. “The rest of them really did quit, huh?” Of course they did! It’s becoming obvious now.
“Yes, OK, they quit.”
Ha! Knew I was right.
“And yes, I’m actually going to…”
“You know what? I quit, too.”
Just wanted to get that in before he had the pleasure of kicking my ass to the kerb, but in reality he’s cutting his nose to spite his damn-near ugly face. He has no staff now, none at all, I’m guessing. Can’t imagine any of them would have stayed if everyone else has walked out, we’re a pretty tight-knit group.
“You can’t quit!”
“I just have.”
And then I hang up. And I’m smiling, I’ve been wanting to say that for so fucking long, I just hadn’t realized how much until now. I mean, OK, I’m now jobless and broke, thanks to this weekend, it’s not the cheapest of festivals, but it’s worth every fucking krone I’ve shelled out for what’ll be my fifth time now. But I’ll deal with that when I get back. Right now, I’m heading to one of the biggest parties in Europe, and I’m going to have the time of my fucking life. Shit can wait. It can all fucking wait…
Heidi doesn’t think she’s beautiful, but she is. To me she is, to everyone, she’s beautiful. Inside and out, and I love her just as much now as I did the very first second I set eyes on her five years ago. It hadn’t been hard to spot her, to be honest, even in a crowd of over twenty thousand people, hoisted up onto the shoulders of some guy, her blonde hair hanging in glitter-decorated braids, her neon-pink T-shirt difficult to miss as she’d waved her German flag high in the air, it’s a moment I’ll never forget. Yves Vandale was playing a surprise set at the Steel River Stage, and the energy, man, it’d been off the scale! But my eyes kept going back to her. To Heidi.
That’s where we met – at Ethergy, about ten minutes after that set had finished. When I found out that the guy whose shoulders she’d been hoisted up onto, he was just some random stranger, nobody she knew. She was there with her cousin and two friends. I was there with my brother and three of our mates. By the end of that day our two groups had become one, and we’d all spent the rest of the festival together. That’s why Ethergy means so much to me. To us. We’ve been going every year since, as a couple. We met there. We fell in love there. And this year I plan to propose to Heidi there, in the very spot I first talked to her, down by the river that runs alongside the Steel River Stage.
Flipping open the small burgundy box I gently touch the simple diamond engagement ring I bought in Frankfurt last week. But this proposal, it isn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. Heidi’s my world, I can’t imagine a life without her in it now, and to propose to her in the place that brought us together; a place where we’ve created memories, made plans, had some of the best times… I’m nervous as hell, but I know we were meant to be together. Besides, we’re already celebrating. Heidi’s just been offered her dream job – assistant picture editor for Flair magazine, one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world! So much is going right for us now, we’ve even – finally – managed to save enough money to start looking for a place of our own, so we can move in together. It’s been a long time coming, but living with our parents a little longer than we’d intended to, it’s been worth it. Now we can start planning the rest of our life together; start planning our wedding. Fingers crossed.
Closing the box, I slip it carefully into my case, between a pile of clothes, I want to keep it safe. Have we talked about marriage? Not really, no. But I know she feels the same way about me as I do her, we love each other. And like me, she knows what a very special place Ethergy can be. Emotional. Exciting. Powerful. It’s way more than just another music festival. Way, way more…
“It’s an amazing opportunity for you, Heidi.”
Mum’s right. It would. Flair is one of the biggest names in the fashion world, much more than just a magazine, it’s a brand. And I’m being given the chance to become a part of that. It’s been two days since they offered me the job of assistant picture editor, working predominantly on the digital version of the magazine. And I haven’t said yes, not yet. I should’ve bitten their hand off, right? No. It’s not that simple.
“But you have to make a decision, and you have to make it soon.”
“I know that, Mum.”
They’ve given me until Monday – the day we get back from Ethergy – to make that decision. And it’s a big one.
“What does Johan think?”
I look up, biting down on my lip. “I haven’t told him.”
“You haven’t told him?”
“No. I mean, he knows I’ve been offered the job, obviously, and he’s happy for me, of course he is… I haven’t told him the job would involve me working on the Spanish edition of the magazine. In Spain.”
“I know, I should’ve told him, and I don’t know why I didn’t… Why I haven’t, I just… When I found out taking the job would entail me moving to Majorca, I panicked. I didn’t know what to do, it’s a huge decision for me to have to make.”
“He needs to know. You two have to talk about this.”
I nod and drop my gaze, staring at the green and gold bracelet on my wrist. My Ethergy bracelet. “He thinks this visit to Ethergy is one big celebration, and it should be. It is…” I sigh and drag a hand back through my hair. “I’ll talk to him.” I start rummaging around in the back of my drawer for the earplugs I know I’d put in there after last year’s Ethergy. They were good ones. Expensive ones. They worked really well, I don’t want to have to buy another pair.
“You should’ve talked to him about this before now, Heidi. It involves him too.”
“Yes, I know that, Mum.” I turn around and lean back against the dresser, gripping the edge of it. “I know, I just… I can’t ask him to uproot everything he has here to come with me, can I? He has a good job, his family are here, in Frankfurt, his friends...”
“He loves you.”
“And I love him. So much. But this is an opportunity…” I let out another frustrated sigh and throw back my head. I should be happy. I’ve just been offered my dream job, more money, a whole new life, and if that wasn’t enough I’m about to head off to Belgium for our fifth visit to Ethergy. Our festival. We should be celebrating, but instead my stomach’s a knot of nervous energy and I don’t even know why. We could work it out together, Johan and me. We could, we’ve never let anything get in the way of us, but this is bigger than anything we’ve ever had to deal with before. This is a big change, and I’m scared. “This could change my life, Mum. But at the same time, I like my life the way it is. Here. With Johan.”
Mum smiles, comes over, reaches inside the drawer and pulls out the earplugs I’d been looking for. How did she find them so quickly?
“Your head’s all over the place, Heidi. And you need to focus. Talk to Johan, tonight. Before you leave for Belgium. Don’t let this ruin the festival for you both, but you do need to talk to him. And you do need to make a decision.”
“I can’t turn it down, can I?”
She hands me the earplugs. “You have to think about what you really want. What you really want.”
“You said it would be an amazing opportunity for me.”
“And it would be. But I can’t make this decision for you.”
“I know.” I sigh, digging my hands into my pockets and dropping my head.
“Listen to your gut, Heidi. And listen hard. It always worked for me.”
She leaves me alone, and I look around my room. I’d never planned to still be living with my parents at twenty-six, but Johan and me, we’d wanted to try and save up for our first home together, and we’ve done that now. We were going to start looking at places as soon as we got back from Ethergy, and then this happened. This incredible, exciting opportunity unexpectedly happened, I’d honestly thought I wouldn’t even get as far as the shortlist let alone be offered the job! Is everything Johan and I have planned still going to happen? Our first home together. That future we’ve talked about for years now, one I’d wanted with all of my heart, am I about to throw all of that into doubt? Maybe everything will become clearer, once we’re in the festival grounds and that magical atmosphere takes over. I hope so…
Twenty-five years, that’s how long I’ve been doing this. Making music. Producing music. Collaborating with fellow DJs and producers, both up and coming and famous as hell. I’ve even been responsible for turning some of those up and coming young artists into big names, it’s what I do. I’ve graced the top of the Best DJs in the World lists for a long time now, ever present, and it feels like I’ve been continually pumping out new tracks; showing up at some of the biggest festivals, touring Europe, Asia, Australia; the USA on an almost permanent basis, I can’t remember the last time I spent more than a couple of nights in my own bed, here, in Amsterdam. Last night was a rare thing, a night off before I head to Belgium to celebrate my twenty-five years in the business at Ethergy. A festival I’ve played there every year since it started, it’s a very special place for me. And this year I’m celebrating by doing something I haven’t done for about eight or nine years now – a seven hour set. Sunset to sunrise. I’ve been planning it for almost six months, working on tracks, making new music to showcase, digging out old classics to rework, it’s taken over everything. But it’s necessary. It feels like something I have to do.
“You got everything you need?”
“Yeah. I think so.”
Elia comes over to me, resting her hand lightly on my hip as she leans in to plant a quick kiss on my mouth. Elia Ida. One of those up-and-coming artists I’ve collaborated with, but it wasn’t me who set her on the road to being the successful DJ and producer she’s fast becoming, she doesn’t need me. I need her.
“You’re going to be great.” She smiles, and I pull her a little closer, she’s so good for me. She’s risen above the crap that’s been written about our relationship, because that’s the kind of woman she is. Focused. Driven. She knows what she wants and she’s gone all out to get it, her talent is exceptional. Discovered in an underground club in Berlin she’s almost managed to create a genre all of her own – Techno Trance. It’s amazing. Her creativity, the way she looks at music, it was something I just hadn’t seen or heard before, which is why I’d wanted to work with her. That that working relationship then, somehow, turned into something more was beyond either of our control. It just happened, clichéd as that may sound. But those who’ve accused Elia of only working with me; of sleeping with me as a way of furthering her career, they’re out of line.
“I’m a little nervous, you know? I haven’t done this in a long time. And back then I was a lot younger.”
I was. ‘Back then’ – I’m talking about ten years ago now, maybe more – I’d do six/seven/eight hour sets a couple of times a week, mainly in Ibiza, but also at the occasional festival or a special one-off show, and I’d sail through them. I loved the vibe playing through the night until the sun came up created. I’m a bit older now, though. The wrong side of forty-five… Elia’s only twenty-eight, which is something else a lot of people like to make a big thing of.
“You’re Arne Vos, remember?”
One of the godfather’s of electronic music.
All terms that have been used to describe me, but I still just see myself as someone who loves what they do; who turned a hobby into a career… No. It’s more than that. It’s a lifestyle. But doesn’t there come a time in everyone’s life when things start to feel a little – I don’t know. Stale?
“What’s on your mind?” Elia whispers, her mouth close to my ear, her breath warm against my skin.
She pulls back a little, narrowing her eyes slightly, she’s not buying that. “I feel like you’ve had something on your mind for a while now, Arne. Come on. What’s up?”
“I don’t know,” I sigh, turning around to look out of the window, at the garden I never get time to sit in. “I just feel like…” I don’t finish that sentence. Because I can’t, I don’t actually know what I was going to say.
Elia comes up behind me, slides her arm around my waist and her fingers between mine, she doesn’t push me to say anything else, and that’s another thing I love about her. She knows I go inside my own head, a lot, and she lets me do that. Most of the time.
“We should go soon,” she murmurs, squeezing my hand, and I nod. She’s right. We should.
“Five more minutes.”
“OK. Five more minutes.”
I’m enjoying a moment of normality. I don’t get all that many, neither does she, and we’re apart, a lot of the time. But not for the next few days. She’s playing two sets at Ethergy, so for the first time in what feels like forever we’ll be in the same place at the same time for more than a night.
This is a big weekend for me, bigger than even I first anticipated. I have a lot to prove, to myself as well as everyone else. I have a lot to lose, if I don’t deliver what people are expecting of me. The one question I can’t stop asking myself, though, is, what do I actually have to gain…?
Copyright © Michelle Betham 2019
Are You With Me will be out in October in both eBook and Paperback.