A TWIST OF FATE?
My gaze returns to earth and when it does, it’s her eyes I see. Not the way I used to see them—around every corner, behind my own closed lids at the start of each day. Not in the way I used to imagine them in the eyes of every other girl I laid on top of. No, this time it really is her eyes. A photo of her, dressed in black, a cello leaning against one shoulder like a tired child. Her hair is up in one of those buns that seem to be a requisite for classical musicians. She used to wear it up like that for recitals and chamber music concerts, but with little pieces hanging down, to soften the severity of the look. There are no tendrils in this photo. I peer closer at the sign. YOUNG CONCERT SERIES PRESENTS MIA HALL.
Also By Gayle Forman
Sisters in Sanity
If I Stay
Just One Day
Just One Year
Just One Night
I Was Here
Table of Contents
A Twist of Fate?
Also by Gayle Forman
Special Excerpt from If I Stay
Special Excerpt from Just One Day
Special Excerpt from I Was Here
Published by the Penguin Group
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an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2011
Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2012
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Where she went / by Gayle Forman.—1st ed.
Sequel to: If I Stay
Summary: Adam, now a rising rock star, and Mia, a successful cellist, reunite in New York and reconnect after the horrific events that tore them apart when Mia almost died in a car accident three years earlier.
whether to live with her grief or join her family in death.
[1. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 2. Emotional problems—Fiction. 3. Rock music—Fictional. 4. Violoncello—Fiction. 5. New York (NY) —Fiction.] I. Title.
[Fic] —dc22 2010013474
FOR MY PARENTS :
for saying I can.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
Excerpt from “Love is not all:
it is not meat nor drink.”
BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
Every morning I wake up and I tell myself this: It’s just one day, one twenty-four-hour period to get yourself through. I don’t know when exactly I started giving myself this daily pep talk—or why. It sounds like a twelve-step mantra and I’m not in Anything Anonymous, though to read some of the crap they write about me, you’d think I should be. I have the kind of life a lot of people would probably sell a kidney to just experience a bit of. But still, I find the need to remind myself of the temporariness of a day, to reassure myself that I got through yesterday, I’ll get through today.
This morning, after my daily prodding, I glance at the minimalist digital clock on the hotel nightstand. It reads 11:47, positively crack-of-dawn for me. But the front desk has already rang with two wake-up calls, followed by a polite-but-firm buzz from our manager, Aldous. Today might be just one day, but it’s packed.
I’m due at the studio to lay down a few final guitar tracks for some Internet-only version of the first single of our just-released album. Such a gimmick. Same song, new guitar track, some vocal effects, pay an extra buck for it. “These days, you’ve gotta milk a dollar out of every dime,” the suits at the label are so fond of reminding us.
After the studio, I have a lunch interview with some reporter from Shuffle. Those two events are kinda like the bookends of what my life has become: making the music, which I like, and talking about making the music, which I loathe. But they’re flip sides of the same coin. When Aldous calls a second time I finally kick off the duvet and grab the prescription bottle from the side table. It’s some anti-anxiety thing I’m supposed to take when I’m feeling jittery.
Jittery is how I normally feel. Jittery I’ve gotten used to. But ever since we kicked off our tour with three shows at Madison Square Garden, I’ve been feeling something else. Like I’m about to be sucked into something powerful and painful. Vortexy.
Is that even a word? I ask myself.
You’re talking to yourself, so who the hell cares? I reply, popping a couple of pills. I pull on some boxers, and go to the door of my room, where a pot of coffee is already waiting. It’s been left there by a hotel employee, undoubtedly under strict instructions to stay out of my way.
I finish my coffee, get dressed, and make my way down the service elevator and out the side entrance—the guest-relations manager has kindly provided me with special access keys so I can avoid the scenester parade in the lobby. Out on the sidewalk, I’m greeted by a blast of steaming New York air. It’s kind of oppressive, but I like that the air is wet. It reminds me of Oregon, where the rain falls endlessly, and even on the hottest of summer days, blooming white cumulus clouds float above, their shadows reminding you that summer’s heat is fleeting, and the rain’s never far off.
In Los Angeles, where I live now, it hardly ever rains. And the heat, it’s never-ending. But it’s a dry heat. People there use this aridness as a blanket excuse for all of the hot, smoggy city’s excesses. “It may be a hundred and seven degrees today,” they’ll brag, “but at least it’s a dry heat.”
But New York is a wet heat; by the time I reach the studio ten blocks away on a desolate stretch in the West Fifties, my hair, which I keep hidden under a cap, is damp. I pull a cigarette from my pocket and my hand shakes as I light up. I’ve had a slight tremor for the last year or so. After extensive medical checks, the doctors declared it nothing more than nerves and advised me to try yoga.
When I get to the studio, Aldous is waiting outside under the awning. He looks at me, at my cigarette, back at my face. I can tell by the way that he’s eyeballing me, he’s trying to decide whether he needs to be Good Cop or Bad Cop. I must look like shit because he opts for Good Cop.
“Good morning, Sunshine,” he says jovially.
“Yeah? What’s ever good about morning?” I try to make it sound like a joke.
“Technically, it’s afternoon now. We’re running late.”
I stub out my cigarette. Aldous puts a giant paw on my shoulder, incongruously gentle. “We just want one guitar track on ‘Sugar,’ just to give it that little something extra so fans buy it all over again.” He laughs, shakes his head at what the business has become. “Then you have lunch with Shuffle, and we have a photo shoot for that Fashion Rocks thing for the Times with the rest of the band around five, and then a quick drinks thing with some money guys at the label, and then I’m off to the airport. Tomorrow, you have a quick little meeting with publicity and merchandising. Just smile and don’t say a lot. After that you’re on your lonesome until London.”
On my lonesome? As opposed to being in the warm bosom of family when we’re all together? I say. Only I say it to myself. More and more lately it seems as though the majority of my conversations are with myself. Given half the stuff I think, that’s probably a good thing.
But this time I really will be by myself. Aldous and the rest of the band are flying to England tonight. I was supposed to be on the same flight as them until I realized that today was Friday the thirteenth, and I was like no fucking way! I’m dreading this tour enough as is, so I’m not jinxing it further by leaving on the official day of bad luck. So I’d had Aldous book me a day later. We’re shooting a video in London and then doing a bunch of press before we start the European leg of our tour, so it’s not like I’m missing a show, just a preliminary meeting with our video director. I don’t need to hear about his artistic vision. When we start shooting, I’ll do what he tells me.
I follow Aldous into the studio and enter a soundproof booth where it’s just me and a row of guitars. On the other side of the glass sit our producer, Stim, and the sound engineers. Aldous joins them. “Okay, Adam,” says Stim, “one more track on the bridge and the chorus. Just to make that hook that much more sticky. We’ll play with the vocals in the mixing.”
“Hooky. Sticky. Got it.” I put on my headphones and pick up my guitar to tune up and warm up. I try not to notice that in spite of what Aldous said a few minutes ago, it feels like I’m already all on my lonesome. Me alone in a soundproof booth. Don’t overthink it, I tell myself. This is how you record in a technologically advanced studio. The only problem is, I felt the same way a few nights ago at the Garden. Up onstage, in front of eighteen thousand fans, alongside the people who, once upon a time, were part of my family, I felt as alone as I do in this booth.
Still, it could be worse. I start to play and my fingers nimble up and I get off the stool and bang and crank against my guitar, pummel it until it screeches and screams just the way I want it to. Or almost the way I want it to. There’s probably a hundred grand’s worth of guitars in this room, but none of them sound as good as my old Les Paul Junior—the guitar I’d had for ages, the one I’d recorded our first albums on, the one that, in a fit of stupidity or hubris or whatever, I’d allowed to be auctioned off for charity. The shiny, expensive replacements have never sounded or felt quite right. Still, when I crank it up loud, I do manage to lose myself for a second or two.
But it’s over all too soon, and then Stim and the engineers are shaking my hand and wishing me luck on tour, and Aldous is shepherding me out the door and into a town car and we’re whizzing down Ninth Avenue to SoHo, to a hotel whose restaurant the publicists from our record label have decided is a good spot for our interview. What, do they think I’m less likely to rant or say something alienating if I’m in an expensive public place? I remember back in the very early days, when the interviewers wrote ’zines or blogs and were fans and mostly wanted to rock-talk—to discuss the music—and they wanted to speak to all of us together. More often than not, it just turned into a normal conversation with everyone shouting their opinions over one another. Back then I never worried about guarding my words. But now the reporters interrogate me and the band separately, as though they’re cops and they have me and my accomplices in adjacent cells and are trying to get us to implicate one another.
I need a cigarette before we go in, so Aldous and I stand outside the hotel in the blinding midday sun as a crowd of people gathers and checks me out while pretending not to. That’s the difference between New York and the rest of the world. People are just as celebrity-crazed as anywhere, but New Yorkers—or at least the ones who consider themselves sophisticates and loiter along the kind of SoHo block I’m standing on now—put on this pretense that they don’t care, even as they stare out from their three-hundred-dollar shades. Then they act all disdainful when out-of-towners break the code by rushing up and asking for an autograph as a pair of girls in U Michigan sweatshirts have just done, much to the annoyance of the nearby trio of snobs, who watch the girls and roll their eyes and give me a look of sympathy. As if the girls are the problem.
“We need to get you a better disguise, Wilde Man,” Aldous says, after the girls, giggling with excitement, flutter away. He’s the only one who’s allowed to call me that anymore. Before it used to be a general nickname, a takeoff on my last name, Wilde. But once I sort of trashed a hotel room and after that “Wilde Man” became an unshakable tabloid moniker.
Then, as if on cue, a photographer shows up. You can’t stand in front of a high-end hotel for more than three minutes before that happens. “Adam! Bryn inside?” A photo of me and Bryn is worth about quadruple one of me alone. But after the first flash goes off, Aldous shoves one hand in front of the guy’s lens, and another in front of my face.
As he ushers me inside, he preps me. “The reporter is named Vanessa LeGrande. She’s not one of those grizzled types you hate. She’s young. Not younger than you, but early twenties, I think. Used to write for a blog before she got tapped by Shuffle.”
“Which blog?” I interrupt. Aldous rarely gives me detailed rundowns on reporters unless there’s a reason.
“Not sure. Maybe Gabber.”
“Oh, Al, that’s a piece-of-crap gossip site.”
“Shuffle isn’t a gossip site. And this is the cover exclusive.”
“Fine. Whatever,” I say, pushing through the restaurant doors. Inside it’s all low steel-and-glass tables and leather banquettes, like a million other places I’ve been to. These restaurants think so highly of themselves, but really they’re just overpriced, overstylized versions of McDonald’s.
“There she is, corner table, the blonde with the streaks,” Aldous says. “She’s a sweet little number. Not that you have a shortage of sweet little numbers. Shit, don’t tell Bryn I said that. Okay, forget it. I’ll be up here at the bar.”
Aldous staying for the interview? That’s a publicist’s job, except that I refused to be chaperoned by publicists. I must really seem off-kilter. “You babysitting?” I ask.
“Nope. Just thought you could use some backup.”
Vanessa LeGrande is cute. Or maybe hot is a more accurate term. It doesn’t matter. I can tell by the way she licks her lips and tosses her hair back that she knows it, and that pretty much ruins the effect. A tattoo of a snake runs up her wrist, and I’d bet our platinum album that she has a tramp stamp. Sure enough, when she reaches into her bag for her digital recorder, peeping up from the top of her low-slung jeans is a small inked arrow pointing south. Classy.
“Hey, Adam,” Vanessa says, looking at me conspiratorially, like we’re old buddies. “Can I just say I’m a huge fan? Collateral Damage got me through a devastating breakup senior year of college. So, thank you.” She smiles at me.
“Uh, you’re welcome.”
“And now I’d like to return the favor by writing the best damn profile of Shooting Star ever to hit the page. So how about we get down to brass tacks and blow this thing right out of the water?”
Get down to brass tacks? Do people even understand half the crap that comes spilling out of their mouths? Vanessa may be attempting to be brassy or sassy or trying to win me over with candor or show me how real she is, but whatever it is she’s selling, I’m not buying. “Sure,” is all I say.
A waiter comes to take our order. Vanessa orders a salad; I order a beer. Vanessa flips through a Moleskine notebook. “I know we’re supposed to be talking about BloodSuckerSunshine . . .” she begins.
Immediately, I frown. That’s exactly what we’re supposed to be talking about. That’s why I’m here. Not to be friends. Not to swap secrets, but because it’s part of my job to promote Shooting Star’s albums.
Vanessa turns on her siren. “I’ve been listening to it for weeks, and I’m a fickle, hard-to-please girl.” She laughs. In the distance, I hear Aldous clear his throat. I look at him. He’s wearing a giant fake smile and giving me a thumbs-up. He looks ludicrous. I turn to Vanessa and force myself to smile back. “But now that your second major-label album is out and your harder sound is, I think we can all agree, established, I’m wanting to write a definitive survey. To chart your evolution from emocore band to the scions of agita-rock.”
Scions of agita-rock? This self-important wankjob deconstructionist crap was something that really threw me in the beginning. As far as I was concerned, I wrote songs: chords and beats and lyrics, verses and bridges and hooks. But then, as we got bigger, people began to dissect the songs, like a frog from biology class until there was nothing left but guts—tiny parts, so much less than the sum.
I roll my eyes slightly, but Vanessa’s focused on her notes. “I was listening to some bootlegs of your really early stuff. It’s so poppy, almost sweet comparatively. And I’ve been reading everything ever written about you guys, every blog post, every ’zine article. And almost everyone refers to this so-called Shooting Star “black hole,” but no one really ever penetrates it. You have your little indie release; it does well; you were poised for the big leagues, but then this lag. Rumors were that you’d broken up. And then comes Collateral Damage. And pow.” Vanessa mimes an explosion coming out of her closed fists.
It’s a dramatic gesture, but not entirely off base. Collateral Damage came out two years ago, and within a month of its release, the single “Animate” had broken onto the national charts and gone viral. We used to joke you couldn’t listen to the radio for longer than an hour without hearing it. Then “Bridge” catapulted onto the charts, and soon after the entire album was climbing to the number-one album slot on iTunes, which in turn made every Walmart in the country stock it, and soon it was bumping Lady Gaga off the number-one spot on the Billboard charts. For a while it seemed like the album was loaded onto the iPod of every person between the ages of twelve and twenty-four. Within a matter of months, our half-forgotten Oregon band was on the cover of Time magazine being touted as “The Millennials’ Nirvana.”
But none of this is news. It had all been documented, over and over again, ad nauseam, including in Shuffle. I’m not sure where Vanessa is going with it.
“You know, everyone seems to attribute the harder sound to the fact that Gus Allen produced Collateral Damage.”
“Right,” I say. “Gus likes to rock.”
Vanessa takes a sip of water. I can hear her tongue ring click. “But Gus didn’t write those lyrics, which are the foundation for all that oomph. You did. All that raw power and emotion. It’s like Collateral Damage is the angriest album of the decade.”
“And to think, we were going for the happiest.”
Vanessa looks up at me, narrows her eyes. “I meant it as a compliment. It was very cathartic for a lot of people, myself included. And that’s my point. Everyone knows something went down during your ‘black hole.’ It’s going to come out eventually, so why not control the message? Who does the ‘collateral damage’ refer to?” she asks, making air quotes. “What happened with you guys? With you?”
Our waiter delivers Vanessa’s salad. I order a second beer and don’t answer her question. I don’t say anything, just keep my eyes cast downward. Because Vanessa’s right about one thing. We do control the message. In the early days, we got asked this question all the time, but we just kept the answers vague: took a while to find our sound, to write our songs. But now the band’s big enough that our publicists issue a list of no-go topics to reporters: Liz and Sarah’s relationship, mine and Bryn’s, Mike’s former drug problems—and the Shooting Star’s “black hole.” But Vanessa apparently didn’t get the memo. I glance over at Aldous for some help, but he’s in deep conversation with the bartender. So much for backup.
“The title refers to war,” I say. “We’ve explained that before.”
“Right,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Because your lyrics are so political.”
Vanessa stares at me with those big baby blues. This is a reporter’s technique: create an awkward silence and wait for your subject to fill it in with babble. It won’t work with me, though. I can outstare anyone.
Vanessa’s eyes suddenly go cold and hard. She abruptly puts her breezy, flirty personality on the back burner and stares at me with hard ambition. She looks hungry, but it’s an improvement because at least she’s being herself. “What happened, Adam? I know there’s a story there, the story of Shooting Star, and I’m going to be the one to tell it. What turned this indie-pop band into a primal rock phenomenon?”
I feel a cold hard fist in my stomach. “Life happened. And it took us a while to write the new stuff—”
“Took you a while,” Vanessa interrupts. “You wrote both the recent albums.”
I just shrug.
“Come on, Adam! Collateral Damage is your record. It’s a masterpiece. You should be proud of it. And I just know the story behind it, behind your band, is your story, too. A huge shift like this, from collaborative indie quartet to star-driven emotional punk powerhouse—it’s all on you. I mean you alone were the one up at the Grammys accepting the award for Best Song. What did that feel like?”
Like shit. “In case you forgot, the whole band won Best New Artist. And that was more than a year ago.”
She nods. “Look, I’m not trying to diss anybody or reopen wounds. I’m just trying to understand the shift. In sound. In lyrics. In band dynamics.” She gives me a knowing look. “All signs point to you being the catalyst.”
“There’s no catalyst. We just tinkered with our sound. Happens all the time. Like Dylan going electric. Like Liz Phair going commercial. But people tend to freak out when something diverges from their expectations.”
“I just know there’s something more to it,” Vanessa continues, pushing forward against the table so hard that it shoves into my gut and I have to physically push it back.
“Well, you’ve obviously got your theory, so don’t let the truth get in the way.”
Her eyes flash for a quick second and I think I’ve pissed her off, but then she puts her hands up. Her nails are bitten down. “Actually, you want to know my theory?” she drawls.
Not particularly. “Lay it on me.”
“I talked to some people you went to high school with.”
I feel my entire body freeze up, soft matter hardening into lead. It takes extreme concentration to lift the glass to my lips and pretend to take a sip.
“I didn’t realize that you went to the same high school as Mia Hall,” she says lightly. “You know her? The cellist? She’s starting to get a lot of buzz in that world. Or whatever the equivalent of buzz is in classical music. Perhaps hum.”
The glass shakes in my hand. I have to use my other hand to help lower it to the table to keep from spilling all over myself. All the people who really know what actually had happened back then aren’t talking, I remind myself. Rumors, even true ones, are like flames: Stifle the oxygen and they sputter and die.
“Our high school had a good arts program. It was kind of a breeding ground for musicians,” I explain.
“That makes sense,” Vanessa says, nodding. “There’s a vague rumor that you and Mia were a couple in high school. Which was funny because I’d never read about it anywhere and it certainly seems noteworthy.”
An image of Mia flashes before my eyes. Seventeen years old, those dark eyes full of love, intensity, fear, music, sex, magic, grief. Her freezing hands. My own freezing hands, now still grasping the glass of ice water.
“It would be noteworthy if it were true,” I say, forcing my voice into an even tone. I take another gulp of water and signal the waiter for another beer. It’s my third, the dessert course of my liquid lunch.
“So it’s not?” She sounds skeptical.
“Wishful thinking,” I reply. “We knew each other casually from school.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t get anyone who really knew either of you to corroborate it. But then I got a hold of an old yearbook and there’s a sweet shot of the two of you. You look pretty coupley. The thing is, there’s no name with the photo, just a caption. So unless you know what Mia looks like, you might miss it.”
Thank you, Kim Schein: Mia’s best friend, yearbook queen, paparazzo. We hadn’t wanted that picture used, but Kim had snuck it in by not listing our names with it, just that stupid nickname.
“Groovy and the Geek?” Vanessa asks. “You guys even had a handle.”
“You’re using high school yearbooks as your source? What next? Wikipedia?”
“You’re hardly a reliable source. You said you knew each other ‘casually.’”
“Look, the truth is we maybe hooked up for a few weeks, right when those pictures got taken. But, hey, I dated a lot of girls in high school.” I give her my best playboy smirk.
“So you haven’t seen her since school then?”
“Not since she left for college,” I say. That part, at least, is true.
“So how come when I interviewed the rest of your bandmates, they went all no comment when I asked about her?” she asks, eyeing me hard.
Because whatever else has gone wrong with us, we’re still loyal. About that. I force myself to speak out loud: “Because there’s nothing to tell. I think people like you like the sitcom aspect of, you know, two well-known musicians from the same high school being a couple.”
“People like me?” Vanessa asks.
Vultures. Bloodsuckers. Soul-stealers. “Reporters,” I say. “You’re fond of fairy tales.”
“Well, who isn’t?” Vanessa says. “Although that woman’s life has been anything but a fairy tale. She lost her whole family in a car crash.”
Vanessa mock shudders the way you do when you talk about someone’s misfortunes that have nothing to do with you, that don’t touch you, and never will. I’ve never hit a woman in my life, but for one minute I want to punch her in the face, give her a taste of the pain she’s so casually describing. But I hold it together and she carries on, clueless. “Speaking of fairy tales, are you and Bryn Shraeder having a baby? I keep seeing her in all the tabloids’ bump watches.”
“No,” I reply. “Not that I know of.” I’m damn sure Vanessa knows that Bryn is off-limits, but if talking about Bryn’s supposed pregnancy will distract her, then I’ll do it.
“Not that you know of? You’re still together, right?”
God, the hunger in her eyes. For all her talk of writing definitive surveys, for all her investigative skills, she’s no different from all the other hack journalists and stalker photographers, dying to be the first to deliver a big scoop, either on a birth: Is It Twins for Adam and Bryn? Or a death: Bryn Tells Her Wilde Man: “It’s Quits!” Neither story is true, but some weeks I see both of them on the covers of different gossip rags at the same time.
I think of the house in L.A. that Bryn and I share. Or coinhabit. I can’t remember the last time the two of us were there together at the same time for more than a week. She makes two, three films a year, and she just started her own production company. So between shooting and promoting her films and chasing down properties to produce, and me being in the studio and on tour, we seem to be on opposing schedules.
“Yep, Bryn and I are still together,” I tell Vanessa. “And she’s not pregnant. She’s just into those peasant tops these days, so everyone always assumes it’s to hide a belly. It’s not.”
Truth be told, I sometimes wonder if Bryn wears those tops on purpose, to court the bump watch as a way to tempt fate. She seriously wants a kid. Even though publicly, Bryn is twenty-four, in reality, she’s twenty-eight and she claims her clock is ticking and all that. But I’m twenty-one, and Bryn and I have only been together a year. And I don’t care if Bryn says that I have an old soul and have been through a lifetime already. Even if I were forty-one, and Bryn and I had just celebrated twenty years together, I wouldn’t want a kid with her.
“Will she be joining you on the tour?”
At the mere mention of the tour, I feel my throat start to close up. The tour is sixty-seven nights long. Sixty-seven . I mentally pat for my pill bottle, grow calmer knowing it’s there, but am smarter than to sneak one in front of Vanessa.
“Huh?” I ask.
“Is Bryn going to come meet you on the tour at all?”
I imagine Bryn on tour, with her stylists, her Pilates instructors, her latest raw-foods diet. “Maybe.”
“How do you like living in Los Angeles?” Vanessa asks. “You don’t seem like the SoCal type.”
“It’s a dry heat,” I reply.
“Nothing. A joke.”
“Oh. Right.” Vanessa eyes me skeptically. I no longer read interviews about myself, but when I used to, words like inscrutable were often used. And arrogant. Is that really how people see me?
Thankfully, our allotted hour is up. She closes her notebook and calls for the check. I catch Aldous’s relieved-looking eyes to let him know we’re wrapping up.
“It was nice meeting you, Adam,” she says.
“Yeah, you too,” I lie.
“I gotta say, you’re a puzzle.” She smiles and her teeth gleam an unnatural white. “But I like puzzles. Like your lyrics, all those grisly images on Collateral Damage. And the lyrics on the new record, also very cryptic. You know some critics question whether BloodSuckerSunshine can match the intensity of Collateral Damage. . . .”
I know what’s coming. I’ve heard this before. It’s this thing that reporters do. Reference other critics’ opinions as a backhanded way to espouse their own. And I know what she’s really asking, even if she doesn’t: How does it feel that the only worthy thing you ever created came from the worst kind of loss?
Suddenly, it’s all too much. Bryn and the bump watch. Vanessa with my high school yearbook. The idea that nothing’s sacred. Everything’s fodder. That my life belongs to anyone but me. Sixty-seven nights. Sixty-seven, sixty-seven. I push the table hard so that glasses of water and beer go clattering into her lap.
“This interview’s over,” I growl.
“I know that. Why are you freaking out on me?”
“Because you’re nothing but a vulture! This has fuck all to do with music. It’s about picking everything apart.”
Vanessa’s eyes dance as she fumbles for her recorder. Before she has a chance to turn it back on, I pick it up and slam it against the table, shattering it, and then dump it into a glass of water for good measure. My hand is shaking and my heart is pounding and I feel the beginnings of a panic attack, the kind that makes me sure I’m about to die.
“What did you just do?” Vanessa screams. “I don’t have a backup.”
“How am I supposed to write my article now?”
“You call that an article?”
“Yeah. Some of us have to work for a living, you prissy, temperamental ass—”
“Adam!” Aldous is at my side, laying a trio of hundred-dollar bills on the table. “For a new one,” he says to Vanessa, before ushering me out of the restaurant and into a taxi. He throws another hundred-dollar bill at the driver after he balks at my lighting up. Aldous reaches into my pocket and grabs my prescription bottle, shakes a tablet into his hand, and says, “Open up,” like some bearish mother.
He waits until we’re a few blocks from my hotel, until I’ve sucked down two cigarettes in one continuous inhale and popped another anxiety pill. “What happened back there?”
I tell him. Her questions about the “black hole.” Bryn. Mia.
“Don’t worry. We can call Shuffle. Threaten to pull their exclusive if they don’t put a different reporter on the piece. And maybe this gets into the tabloids or Gabber for a few days, but it’s not much of a story. It’ll blow over.”
Aldous is saying all this stuff calmly, like, hey, it’s only rock ’n’ roll, but I can read the worry in his eyes.
“I can’t, Aldous.”
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to. It’s just an article. It’ll be handled.”
“Not just that. I can’t do it. Any of it.”
Aldous, who I don’t think has slept a full night since he toured with Aerosmith, allows himself to look exhausted for a few seconds. Then he goes back to manager mode. “You’ve just got pretour burnout. Happens to the best of ’em,” he assures me. “Once you get on the road, in front of the crowds, start to feel the love, the adrenaline, the music, you’ll be energized. I mean, hell, you’ll be fried for sure, but happy-fried. And come November, when this is over, you can go veg out on an island somewhere where nobody knows who you are, where nobody gives a shit about Shooting Star. Or wild Adam Wilde.”
November? It’s August now. That’s three months. And the tour is sixty-seven nights. Sixty-seven. I repeat it in my head like a mantra, except it does the opposite of what a mantra’s supposed to do. It makes me want to grab fistfuls of my hair and yank.
And how do I tell Aldous, how do I tell any of them, that the music, the adrenaline, the love, all the things that mitigate how hard this has become, all of that’s gone? All that’s left is this vortex. And I’m right on the edge of it.
My entire body is shaking. I’m losing it. A day might be just twenty-four hours but sometimes getting through just one seems as impossible as scaling Everest.
Needle and thread, flesh and bone
Spit and sinew, heartbreak is home
Your suture lines sparkle like diamonds
Bright stars to light my confinement
COLLATERAL DAMAGE, TRACK 7
Aldous leaves me in front of my hotel. “Look, man, I think you just need some time to chill. So, listen: I’m gonna clear the schedule for the rest of the day and cancel your meetings tomorrow. Your flight to London’s not till seven; you don’t have to be at the airport till five.” He glances at his phone. “That’s more than twenty-four hours to do whatever you want to. I promise you, you’ll feel so much better. Just go be free.”
Aldous is peering at me with a look of calculated concern. He’s my friend, but I’m also his responsibility. “I’m gonna change my flight,” he announces. “I’ll fly with you tomorrow.”
I’m embarrassed by how grateful I am. Flying Upper Class with the band is no great shakes. We all tend to stay plugged into our own luxury pods, but at least when I fly with them, I’m not alone. When I fly alone, who knows who I’ll be seated next to? I once had a Japanese businessman who didn’t stop talking to me at all during a ten-hour flight. I’d wanted to be moved but hadn’t wanted to seem like the kind of rock-star prick who’d ask to be moved, so I’d sat there, nodding my head, not understanding half of what he was saying. But worse yet are the times when I’m truly alone for those long-haul flights.
I know Aldous has lots to do in London. More to the point, missing tomorrow’s meeting with the rest of the band and the video director will be one more little earthquake. But whatever. There are too many fault lines to count now. Besides, nobody blames Aldous; they blame me.
So, it’s a huge imposition to let Aldous spend an extra day in New York. But I still accept his offer, even as I downplay his generosity by muttering, “Okay.”
“Cool. You clear your head. I’ll leave you alone, won’t even call. Want me to pick you up here or meet you at the airport?” The rest of the band is staying downtown. We’ve gotten into the habit of staying in separate hotels since the last tour, and Aldous diplomatically alternates between staying at my hotel and theirs. This time he’s with them.
“Airport. I’ll meet you in the lounge,” I tell him.
“Okay then. I’ll order you a car for four. Until then, just chill.” He gives me a half handshake, half hug and then he’s back inside the cab, zooming off to his next order of business, probably mending the fences that I’ve thrashed today.