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“…If you say you love me, tell my why you break my heart…If you say you love me, why am I falling apart…”
From backstage, I could easily look on in disgust as Claire Bailey knelt down and pretended to reach for a couple of fans longing hands only to jerk back as soon as she was too close to touch. It was mortifying. Heartbreaking. Just plain nauseating. It was gruesome to think that I was related to a self-centered snob like that.
“…You play these games, while I hang my head in shame…”
I was distracted from my thoughts when I felt a light, shaky tap on my shoulder. I whirled around angrily, ready to blow up at whoever was trying to talk to me, but quickly stopped my intended notions when I noticed that it was a couple of girls. They all looked to be at least thirteen, maybe younger. They were all wearing a hot pink T-shirt that read in big, bold white lettering:
“Broken Hearts” Tour
San Francisco, CA May 29, 2010
The girls were all looking at me expectantly as they bounced excitedly on their heels. They all juggled expensive digital cameras, cell phones, paper and pens in their slightly wavering arms. Just another one of Claire’s usual “Meet-and-Greets.” I tried not to look at them in disgust as I plastered a huge, fake smile on my face. If Claire wasn’t going to show some good, old southern hospitality, then I would. After all, I wasn’t ever going to let myself sink to her level.
“Hey girls,” I chimed sickeningly as I stepped forward to shake their hands.
“…If you have an explanation…”
The girls looked at me confusingly as I stepped back again. A moment of awkward silence played with the air and I cleared my throat nervously as I heard Claire finish up her last number.
“…Please explain these broken hearts…”
“Umm…Claire’s um…Claire’s just finishing up...”
“Are you Claire’s hairstylist?” one of the girls piped up. “You kind of look like her.”
“Her hairstylist?” I asked in confusion. The girl nodded and held up one of those stupid reality magazines that always have their facts wrong. I gently took the magazine out of her hands and read the blocky, bold title listed at the top of the featuring article.
Claire Bailey tells of the Most Important Things in her Life: “My Parents, Hairstylist, and Dog.”
I forced a shaky smile and shook my head as I handed the magazine back to the waiting girl. Then, without another word, I turned on my heel and walked away, sizzling with anger.
Her parents, hairstylist, and dog? What kind of crap was that? I was her family, her sister and she…what? “Accidently forgot about me?” That had been her excuse for the past few years anyway.
My riling anger had made me blind to the rest of the world and, before I knew it, I was flopped on the ground, arms and legs sprawling around like an upset caterpillar. A sharp pain pounded in my head, and I looked up to see a pair of enormous, dreamy blue eyes along with two-hundred and fifty pounds of rock-solid muscle gazing down at me.
In a couple of swift movements, I was lifted to my feet. Leyton held me steady as my body threatened to fall, then, after a few minutes, he carefully let me go.
I looked at him as if he were dirt under my shoe. “Thanks a lot. I feel like I just ran headfirst into a brick wall.”
“A brick building would be the more accurate phrase,” Leyton laughed.
Unlike most of the stupid celebrities in the world, I actually liked Leyton. He was considered “big and tall” with apologetic puppy eyes and a sincere humbleness. His parents had both been famous actors and he had undoubtedly fallen in their footsteps. Throughout his childhood and teen years, he had been a part of a very popular reality TV show. At seventeen, he broke away and spread his own wings by becoming the world’s most treasured comedy movie star. Now, at the age of twenty-one, Leyton Birmingham was working on his next big film while dating my extremely self-centered nineteen-year-old sister, who, coincidentally, was just as famous. Talk about a great life.
“Right,” I muttered as I rubbed my still-aching head. I seriously felt like a runaway train had just run over me. Wonderful.
Leyton must have seized a little bit of my pain because he said, “Do you need ice? I could get some for you. It’s the least I could do.”
I shook my head, and then winced at the startling pain that the little motion had caused. Leyton looked at me with an expression of concern mingled with doubt. Then, he put a fairly large package down on the floor and started for the refreshment table. Once he was gone, I bent down and fingered the package, wondering what it was for.
The package was wrapped and beautified in pretty purple paper and tied with a sparkly white bow. And old-English tag pronounced that the mysterious package was a gift for Claire. Of course. This was just another thing to add to her already-bursting ego. I swear, one day her head was going to explode like a volcano. For the time being, it was still dangerously brewing.
“You aren’t trying to steal your sister’s present now, are you Jessie?”
Startled, I leapt away from the package as if it were a venomous snake ready to bite. Then, with slowly-growing embarrassment, I looked up at Leyton, failing to force an annoyed facial feature on my face. Ignoring my grimacing expression and my lack of an answer, he handed a bag of ice to me and then swept up Claire’s gift in his grizzly arms. Muttering a quiet “thanks,” I placed the plastic baggie up to my head and immediately flinched back. The ice was as cold as the Arctic Ocean; so cold that it burned.
“Geez, Ley, how much ice did you pack into this thing?”
“As much as it would hold, Jess. After all, Claire’s little sister needs only the best of care.” Leyton flashed me his award-winning smile. I grudgingly smiled back, but before I could say anything, the group of teenage girls from my previous encounter was suddenly upon us. Actually, they were mashing themselves against Leyton, trying to get his autograph and ask a million questions at once while I stood in the background. Again. With a brief, inward sigh, I turned and stormed away, plugging my ears with my hands as I did. God, did they have to sound like a wild flock of pitchy, screeching seagulls?
I quickly located the blocky backstage door that led outside and started towards it. Halfway through my hasty march, I felt a hand on my shoulder and soon I was being spun around. After the nauseating dizziness had passed, I was left scowling at my mother. “What?”
“Jessica Lauren Bailey, do not use that tone with me.” My mother stepped back, folded her arms over her tiny chest, and raised a disapproving eyebrow at me. I could see that Claire’s hairstylist had just finished with her. My mom’s normally short, flipped hair was adorned with beautiful, long, flowing extensions. If I were a stranger, I would’ve thought that the fake hair was real.
I sighed as I tossed my own florescent blond hair over my shoulder. Unlike hers, the long, wavy length of my hair was real. “Fine. What’s up?” My mom raised both eyebrows at my short, sarcastic tone, but didn’t say anything. After a moment of tense silence, she said, “Jess, where are you going? There’s a group of meet-and-greets that need situated…”
“Leyton’s already got it covered,” I snippily interrupted. I noticed that my mother’s glossy, red lips had puckered which meant that she was beginning to lose her patience. The corners of my mouth twitched up in a grimly satisfied smile. Let her lose her cool, what did I care? As I turned to go, I was stopped once again. “What?” I snapped as I whirled around angrily.
“Don’t you want to watch Claire’s encore?” My mother’s voice had gone up an octave and it wavered slightly. Oh geez…she was trying to guilt me into staying! Well, three years ago that would’ve worked, but not today.
“No, as a matter of fact, I do not want to watch Claire’s stupid encore! I have better things to do with my life.” With that, I brushed my mom’s ring-plastered hand off from my shoulder as if I were chasing away an ugly, dirty fly. Then, I turned around and began to, yet again, storm off towards the backstage door.
As I walked towards the door, I thought over the previous scene. These “mother-daughter” encounters had happened all the time, even though lately, they’d been less frequent. I loved my mom, I really did, and I knew it was rude and vicious of me to scream at her like that. In the beginning of Claire’s career, after a fight like that, I would always apologize to my mom because I was guilt-driven. But, not anymore. There was a part of me that craved my mom’s attention, needed it like a fish needed water. Sometimes, I actually wanted these arguments to occur, just so I would know that my mother actually cares about me. But, there was always going to be that little voice in the back of my head that told me the same thing, over and over, day after day: She will always love Claire more.
For the second time that day, my hot, steamy head deprived me of my ability to see for as soon as I was outside, I was pummeled to the ground.
In a mass of blurry, sketched movements, I was pulled up off the ground and set steady on my feet. I felt a warm hand snake around my slender wait to support me as I swayed warningly back and forth. Then, a voice asked, “How many fingers am I holding up?” and a pair of fingers flew towards my face. I struggled backwards against my savior in an attempt to protect my face and in just a split second, I found myself back on the ground.
Rubbing a tender spot on my thigh, I glared up at the stranger, anger bubbling up inside of me. “What the hell is your problem?” Through my rage, I realized that the boy standing in front of me wasn’t a stranger at all. No, instead he was America’s most prized R&B/pop singer. At the age of sixteen, he had already sold two top albums, had three chart-topping hits, and two number one music videos. He also happened to be my favorite musician.
The million-dollar boy smiled apologetically down at me as he offered a hand. “I’m so sorry about that. I’m Jason Tyler by the way.”
“I know who you are,” I snarled as I refused his hand. After I helped myself up, I placed a hand on my hip and glared at him. Why I was glaring at my favorite singer, I didn’t know. Probably because he had just knocked me down and almost killed me with his stupid number test. And, besides, I had had enough of Hollywood stars for one day.
Jason’s facial expression turned from friendly to stunned and he slowly let his hand drop back to his side. His normally perfect medium-length brown hair was slightly rumpled from his “surprise attack” but, according to the ridiculous reality magazines, his eyes still shined like “a million stars.” He would’ve impressed me if it weren’t for the two security guards that bordered each side. After a couple of minutes of silence, I finally said, “You probably want Claire. She should be done with her concert by now. Don’t worry; I’ll get her for you.” As I turned to go, I felt Jason lightly grasp my arm. “Wait.” The butterflies in my stomach seemed to spark my every nerve and I felt an electrifying shiver run down my spine. I took a deep breath and shook away the unfamiliar feelings. With bossy, stuck-up Hollywood stars, a person needed to keep their cool along with an attitude.
“What?” I demanded as I turned to face him. I tilted my chin up defiantly and forced my sharp green eyes to meet his. Standing at 5’6, Jason was considered short for a typical teenage guy. But, compared to my 5’3, he seemed gigantic. I felt like a tiny poodle pup staring up at a tall great dame.
Jason gazed back down at me. His brown eyes held a slight twinkle of amusement and the corner of his lips twitched up into a half-smile. “I just wanted to know you name…” he trailed off as I rolled my eyes dramatically and tapped my foot. I saw that his stupid (but gorgeous!) smile had faded and he tore his gaze away from mine. He stuttered over his next words. “What I meant was—we—well…I mean…since I ran into you and all…”
“Jessica,” I cut in sharply. “My name is Jessica. But, everybody calls me Jessie. Now, do you want to see Claire or not? She’s got to be done with her show by now considering all the time we wasted out here.” I tossed my hair over my shoulder as I pushed open the long-forgotten backstage door. Without looking back to see if Jason was actually following me, I stalked through. I was careful to make sure that my hips swayed a little more as I walked; after all, I needed to keep the attitude. Well, that’s what I told myself anyway.
I immediately spotted my sister at the refreshment table. Like usual, she was complaining loudly about how every appetizer was either “too sugary”, “too fatty”, or “had way too many calories in it.” On rare occasion, she would even threaten to “fire the chef” but Leyton always hushed her up before she got too out of hand.
I looked over my shoulder to check if Jason was still following me. He was and when I met his eyes, he smiled. I started to smile back, but when I realized what I was doing, I quickly turned back around again. God, what was wrong with me? Jason was a multi-millionaire famous boy and I could guarantee that he was not going to get any satisfaction from me.
Claire’s back was turned towards me when I approached. Leyton was standing in front of her, cooing soothingly in her ear. That’s when I noticed that my sister’s fists were clenched until her knuckles were white. Not only that, but she was shaking her head like an angry mule. Oh boy, Claire was throwing another one of her usual hissy fits.
Leyton glanced up from my sister’s wet, but beautiful, face just long enough to notice me. When he saw Jason, his eyes grew wide and he shot me looks that I knew all too well. Looks that very clearly told me to turn and run because Claire was going crazy.
After reading his expressions, I immediately turned around and started to head back the way I came from. As I passed Jason, I slipped my hand around his wrist and pulled him along with me. Jason clumsily stumbled under my forceful grip and it took all my strength not to snicker.
“Umm…Jessie?” I heard him gasp from behind me. He took my stubborn silence as a cue to continue. “What are you doing? I mean, what’s going on?”
“I’ll explain later,” I hissed back to him. “Right now, could you please do me a favor and shut up?”
I ended up dragging Jason to my family’s personal trailer; family meaning my parents and me. Trust me, I did not want to bring this guy to my own living space, it just didn’t work for me. But, what other choices did I have? There were crazy mobs of paparazzi hiding around every corner. Even though they were trying to get a short-lived glimpse of Claire Bailey, a shot of Jason Tyler and “Mystery Girl” would be even better.
So, now here I was, sitting on an old, rickety wooden chair across from Jason, who had claimed the fuzzy, comfortable couch for himself. That wasn’t a surprise. I guess he was just greedy as all the other celebrities that unfortunately walked the earth. And it was me, of course, who had to put up with him. Oh, joy.
Jason was the first to break the silence. “So, can I ask you a question?”
I rolled my eyes for the fiftieth time that day. “Sure. Whatever.”
“What is it between you and Claire?”
The question caught me completely off guard and I stared at him with a look of incredulity, wondering if I had heard him right. “What?”
Jason’s deep brown eyes burned into me. For a second, I swore he could read my heart. I chased the wild, romantic thought away with an internal growl.
Jason leaned forward towards me, clasping his hands together. In all honesty, his hands weren’t as small as the gossips said they were. They were much bigger than mine, but they were much smaller than Leyton’s huge bear hands. His fingers were slim, but not slender, and his fingernails were all uneven, like he chewed them. Really, a person would think that somebody as famous as Jason Tyler would at least try to take care of his cuticles.
“You and Claire,” Jason’s voice flew me back to the present. “I know that I have no right to say this, but it seems like you two don’t get along very well.”
“What gave you that assumption?” I demanded with a fiery attitude. I crossed my arms over my chest and raised my eyebrows at him, challenging him.
For as selfish and greedy he was, it was amazing how fast he learned. I could have easily bet money that he was remembering his embarrassment from the last time he challenged me. I could see from his facial expressions that he was not going to push my limits again, and I sat back in my chair smugly. It gave me great satisfaction to think that I had gotten the best of Jason Tyler.
But, Jason’s next words immediately shut out my momentary good mood. “I just assumed that because when you were asking me if I wanted to see her, you said her name like you…”
My voice held a sharp edge as I finished his sentence for him. “Like I hated her.” I noticed that his eyes danced with tidbits of worry as he nodded his head slowly. I sighed and adjusted my tank-top straps, wiping away tiny beads of sweat that had collected along my shoulder blades. Curse California, it only brought me nasty celebrities and sweat.
I waited a minute for Jason to respond, but when he made it clear that he wasn’t, I sighed. A sudden tiredness had just overcome me and I felt like a girl who had seen a hundred years, not sixteen. With an effort, I managed to shift my gaze to his. He stared back at me, his long lashes fluttering occasionally, patiently. I sighed again. It was one thing to actually talk to him…it was a completely different matter to tell him my life story. But, when I looked at him, a strange feeling built itself over my exhaustion, and I actually found myself wanting to tell him. I sighed for a third time and massaged my temples. I closed my eyes and tried to think my way out of the mess that I had created. When nothing came to me, I opened my eyes and they immediately locked with his. When they met, the tension that was once puncturing the air like sharp knifes evaporated. A new, unfamiliar, comfortable echo mixed with a hot electrical spark made my surroundings come alive and I felt my mouth open and close, trying to find my voice.
Finally, I forced out a few unbalanced words. “It’s…it’s a long story…”
Jason smiled a smile full of friendliness and warmth. “I have time.”