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, doing that. I wasn’t being selfish, I know that now, but for years I was made to feel like I was. 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’d be able to do, 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 the 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 that I’m feeling, 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 before 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. It was 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 our thing. People like us, we didn’t do shit like that, and I believed him. Agreed with him. For too many years he’d 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. Actually, 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 no-one else.”
“Bullshit!” Or maybe not. I’m beginning to think I’m right now, 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! I 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 krona I’ve shelled out for what’ll be my fifth time now. And all this crap? It can wait until Monday because, 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. She hadn’t been easy to miss, to be honest, even in a room full of thousands of people. Hoisted up onto the shoulders of some guy, her blonde hair hanging in glitter-decorated braids, her neon-pink T-shirt shimmering under the lights 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 Yves Vandale’s 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, next to the tree with the hanging branches and the flowers around the base of the trunk, down by the river that runs alongside the Steel River Stage.
Flipping open the small burgundy box I gently touch the simple solitaire diamond engagement ring I bought in Frankfurt last week, during my lunch break. And it wasn’t cheap, but I can afford to spoil her, thanks to a recent promotion at work. And 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. Two days ago Heidi was interviewed for the post of assistant picture editor for Flair magazine, one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world! An interview that she felt went like a dream, and next week we’ll find out whether she’s got the job or not, but she tells me the signs are all positive. We’re optimistic. So much is going right for us at the moment, I think this is our time. My promotion, Heidi’s interview, and we’ve 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. I just need her to say yes.
Closing the box I slip it carefully into my case, between a pile of clothes, I want to keep it safe. Have we ever talked about marriage? No, not really. But I know she feels the same way about me as I do about 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 is. Flair is one of the biggest names in the fashion world, much more than just a magazine, it’s a brand. And I could soon be a part of that team.
It’s been two days since the interview for the post of assistant picture editor, working predominantly on the digital version of the magazine. I didn’t even think I’d make it onto the shortlist, never mind be interviewed, and the interview itself? That couldn’t have gone any better. I think I did good, they certainly seemed to like me, so I’m trying to remain positive. Trying not to get too excited, too nervous, I don’t want to build my hopes up only for them to come crashing down, but without actually saying the words, it seemed as though they were ready to offer me the job. There were just a few things to sort out first, apparently. They’re going to be in touch next week, with all the applicants. So all I can do now is sit tight, and wait.
“I haven’t been offered the job yet, Mum.”
“No, I know that. But from what you’ve told me, you will. I believe in you.”
“Thank you.” I smile and plant a quick kiss on her cheek.
“Me and your father, we’re both very proud of you. Of both of you. You and Johan.”
My parents love Johan. They absolutely adore him, and he thinks they’re pretty much OK too. His own father died a couple of years ago, and that hit him so hard, him and his mum, but my parents – our family as a whole – we tried to help them both as much as we could, and it’s brought us all closer. Which I love. Family’s very important to me. Johan is very important to me.
“I think it’ll only be a matter of time before he pops the question.”
I roll my eyes and drop my gaze, staring down at the green and gold bracelet on my wrist. My Ethergy bracelet. And I smile again. “Stop it, Mum. We’re not even close to that stage of our relationship yet.”
“You’re looking for a place to rent together, when you get back from the festival, aren’t you?”
“That doesn’t mean we’re suddenly talking about weddings and babies and settling down.”
She looks at me, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes. “You think he’s close to proposing, too. Don’t you?”
I shake my head, but I can’t stop smiling. I can’t. Because she’s right. I think Johan is close to proposing. And I think he’s going to do it this weekend, at Ethergy. And I’m absolutely positive that he thinks I have no idea, but I know him too well. I can tell when he’s trying to hide something from me, when he’s trying to keep a surprise a secret, so I know. But I’m not going to tell him I know. I’m OK with surprises.
“Maybe. I mean, he already thinks this visit to Ethergy is one big celebration, so… Look, I might be wrong, so don’t go making any assumptions, OK? But…” I shrug. “He might have something planned.”
Her face breaks into a huge grin, and I allow myself to feel a flutter of excitement, why shouldn’t I? I’m almost sure I have this new job in the bag, Johan’s just been promoted, we’ve got a string of houses and apartments lined up to view next week, and if that wasn’t enough we’re about to head off to one of the biggest, most magical music festivals on the planet! Our lives are working out just fine at the moment. Everything is working out just fine…
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, my name is ever present, and it feels like I’ve been continually pumping out new tracks, playing 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 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 sunset to sunrise set. Over eight hours of non-stop music, all mixed live. 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, especially now. It feels like the perfect way for me to celebrate a quarter of a century in the business. A quarter of a century… Jesus!
“You got everything you need?”
Elia’s voice breaks into my thoughts, and I look at her and smile. “Yeah. I think so.”
She comes over to me, rests her hand lightly on my hip and leans in to plant a quick kiss on my mouth. Elia Ida. She was once one of those up-and-coming artists I collaborated with, but it wasn’t me who set her on the road to becoming the successful DJ and producer she now is, she doesn’t need me. She never did. But I think, now, that I might actually 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 all 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 older now, though. Just the wrong side of forty-five… Elia’s only twenty-eight. And that’s something else a lot of people like to make a big thing of. The age difference.
“You’re Arne Vos, remember?”
One of the godfather’s of electronic dance 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. The trouble is, so will everyone else. This festival attracts the biggest names, it’s that one weekend of the year when almost anyone who’s anyone in the world of electronic dance music gathers together, and while there are some of those I’m looking forward to spending time with – people like Kristos Garcia, Yves Vandale and Luna – there are others I’m not so keen on seeing. One in particular. For my own, very personal reasons. Reasons I’m going to have to try and keep under control, for Elia’s sake as well as mine. For us.
I have to remain focused. 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; if I don’t keep that focus. A hell of a lot to lose…
Copyright © Michelle Betham 2019
Are You With Me will be released on October 30th. It's available to pre-order HERE.