“Is this really necessary?”
“Just be civil and have dinner with this guy. It’s not too much to ask.” Tanya had her eyes on her cell phone rather than Gordon. As a band manager, she was used to fielding complaints that tended to center on comfort levels rather than actual needs. She knew the bare minimum obligations that her clients had to meet, and she tried to push them slightly above that target. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. She turned her dark eyes on Gordon and brushed a few graying curls behind his right ear. “You know I love you, but you can be a real prick when you want to be.”
“Maybe I want to be a prick now.”
“That’s not news that’s fit to print. You know it’s already all over the Internet.”
He had much more of a reputation for being boring and awkward rather than a diva, but staying that newspaper shade of off-white took a great deal of effort. “Get out of here before I change my mind. I’m the frontman. I can do these things,” he deadpanned as his manager popped up and walked away. He noticed the way she tapped a man on the shoulder, and he prepared himself for the approach. Of course this hadn’t been left to chance. The reporter had been waiting on the opening, probably before his subject had even arrived at the restaurant.
“Gordon. Hi.” The man was a bit older than Gordon, with his gut beginning to retain the signs of a life well lived. His light hair was cropped short, pale green eyes making steady contact as he held his hand out for a shake. “Stuart. I’m with Pulse Magazine.”
“Right. Of course.” Gordon paid attention to exactly none of these details, but even if he had, chances are he would not have retained them. Making music was becoming a smaller fraction of being a musician by the day. So much of his time was spent answering the same questions for strangers who didn’t do basic research. It was better that he didn’t even bother to focus on it. If he did, he’d feel like a zoo exhibit rather than a man. “Well, Stuart, I’m going to just order myself a cup of coffee, not because I’m hungover but because I’m a bit scattered. Once that’s in front of me, you can feel free to take whatever potshots you have up your sleeves.”
For once, this seemed to be an amicable session. The first few questions were about the band’s current status, upcoming promotion, the usual. Stuart had nosed around well enough not to ask about the new album’s sound or inspiration, why they’d decided to record in London, and Gordon found himself grateful. Now past thirty, he found himself in the position of being precariously famous. His biggest work was behind him, a couple of singles that had been popular around the world with a couple less-successful albums following that, but the band still had name recognition and selling power.
“In spite of all you’ve done in the past few years, you’re still known for a song that came out five years ago,” Stuart ventured, as though he could read Gordon’s thoughts. Most people didn’t try to get under his skin like that, but he felt sardonic respect for how different that was.
“Most bands out there never get their one song, you know?” he said as he stirred milk into his coffee. He knew the other man was studying him and his reaction, and he wanted to appear casual. “We’re grateful for it. Do I think it’s our best song? Of course not, but it’s helped so many people. We hear so many stories from fans about what it means to them. It’s almost not ours anymore. It’s like the friend you’ve known for years who introduces you to other people.”
“But that song came with a price, didn’t it?”
“Five bucks at Walmart. You got in on that deal too?”
The journalist forced a laugh and flipped through his notes. The fact that he had pages dedicated to Gordon’s life unnerved him, but there was no point to getting nervous about it. To try to think of the man’s next step would be his downfall, so he watched those nimble fingers skim and smudge his own words. “You almost didn’t make it though, did you? Losing your bassist and your girlfriend at the same time, that must’ve been absolutely devastating.”
He didn’t notice that he’d let go of the spoon until it bounced off the lip of the table and took the plunge toward the carpeted floor. “Fucking clumsy,” he murmured as he leaned down to pick it up. His heart was already racing in his ears, and his head felt too heavy for him to rise again. How had this man heard? Who had told him? His love life had never been interesting enough to make the gossip rags because he never dated anyone famous (and, really, he’d never been convinced he was handsome or rich enough anyway). He wanted to take a deep breath, but there was really only so long a man could stay bent over to retrieve a spoon. “Where were we then?” he asked chipperly as he set the silverware back on the table.
“I was asking you about what it was like to cut ties with Keith and to be left by Lizzie.”
He had her name. Nobody had even mentioned her aloud to him in years, and he felt the blood drain from his face. He knew Stuart would have a field day describing the transformation. “Please don’t mention her by name,” he said weakly. “When you write this up. We went through enough together. I don’t know how you got her name, but I don’t think she’d want people knowing that she’s spawned a song that…” Had been on soundtracks and in commercials? Had dominated the airwaves? Had been covered countless times on shitty talent search shows? “…is so ubiquitous.”
“Oh, of course I’d not do that. I’m here to capture the truth, not ruin lives. I’ve decided to describe her as—“ Stuart cleared his throat and sat up a bit straighter to refine his diction as he quoted himself. “—‘a rare beauty, with a petite figure, olive skin, and chocolate eyes that are as sympathetic as they are analytical. One moment she’s a doe, and the next a tigress. Nothing escapes her.’”
“That sounds familiar, yes.” By those words, he knew that he had to have found her. Nobody could make those details up over the phone. “You spoke to her?”
“You’re actually the last person for my feature. I’ve covered your bandmates, old friends in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Keith, and then Lizzie.”
He knew realistically that he ought to show interest in the other people that factored into the article. People from New York might feel betrayed by how he had defected to the West Coast when success came calling, and Keith was surely ready to spit whatever venom it took to get his lawsuit settled and a big, fat check in his hand.
But here was the first person in years who had talked to Lizzie directly about him. He’d thought about calling so many times, but he never had the right words. He’d apologized, pleaded, bargained, shouted when they’d broken up, and none of that had worked. What else was there to pass between them? She wasn’t likely to forget how it felt to be cheated on, and to tell the world about that would certainly sour all of the romance of his biggest hit. Which he felt he probably deserved since it was likely only embarrassing to her.
His fingers made his coffee-stained cup rattle against its mahogany table. At this rate, he’d be flinging everything onto the floor and conducting the interview while sitting on the carpet. “So, how is she?”
“She’s getting on well, I suppose. Wasn’t all that keen on talking to me, if you could believe that. She had nothing but good things to say about you though.” Stuart didn’t disguise his surprise as he sipped at his own coffee, the very picture of composure. “With how highly she speaks of you, it really is a wonder you’re not together anymore. Time and circumstance though. At least, that’s what she made it out to be.”