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Ace of Hearts (Part 1)
The club speakers blared with the newest electronic dance hit single. My new hit single. I maneuvered my way through the mass of sweaty bodies towards the balcony. Outside, the chilly air circulating through the darkness in a cool breeze refreshed my senses and helped me catch my breath from dancing. The night was still young and Manuel, my agent, still had many people he wanted me to meet. The music business is harder than you think. Sure, making music is fun, but all the soliciting to gain publicity? The soliciting was just tiring.
Because of all the light from the city, the L.A. sky was devoid of stars. I thought of the B.O.B. song “Airplanes”. Singing and rapping came easy to me, but I couldn’t seem to listen to my own music much or own anything with my face on it. The country’s teens could wear t-shirts with my face on them but the only thing I willingly possessed with my face on them was pictures. Normal pictures; not photo-shopped, blown up, life-size poster “pictures”. That was how I liked to keep it.
Growing up in a small town, I wasn’t naturally vain. But, then again, I wasn’t as pretty or that fit then either. I was kind of plain in a “naturally-pretty-brunette” way. That was me. People liked me, and I was friends with most of the school, but popularity and grades weren’t enough to satisfy me.
When my friends started posting videos of us dancing and singing on the internet, my mom wasn’t supposed to know. When our videos became popular and we were offered a contract with Pop Arts Recording, she wasn’t very enthusiastic. Then being 15, I decided to try it out anyway and packed my bags for the studio. Mom relented, but still remained very worried. She made me call three times a day and then called me every time I forgot. It was an insane system, in which I felt very confined, but I complied.
Jules, Sapphire, and Ace; those were our stage names. Mine was Ace, for Acelin, Teutonic for “noble”. Even though Acelin is pronounced “az-LEEN”, my friends and the record company only took the spelling in mind to make my new nickname. Which was perfectly fine with me. At the time. Julia had always been “Jules” and “Sapphire” was Sapphire’s real name. I had liked my name as it was, but I guess I couldn’t go back either way. Every time I met someone, I just told them to call me Acelin. They had no problem because to them, it seemed like “Wow, this shiny star is telling me to call her by her real name. How personal!” Shallow was definitely a fashion “do” for the Hollywood party scene. Music producers weren’t much better.
I gazed intently at the sky, watching for any possible sign of a star. The only lights I detected, other than the clear blue moon, surely belonged to airplanes. I redirected my attention to the lights of the city, burning bright into the distance under the Hollywood hills.
“Ah, I found you,” said a voice behind me. I turned, startled, to find none other than Zack Fielding, hottest teen pop star of the generation. The one who was the object of the whole female population’s hearts. His charms were only magnified in person. And he was speaking to me, looking for me.
Trying to find words, I replied, “Oh, yeah, well, here I am.” and swiftly diverted my gaze to the city lights. Zack stepped out onto the balcony and joined me, leaning against the railing and looking into the night. Then, I got my first real look at him. His bright blue eyes and brown hair. Stereotypical teen pop star as he was, he was still a fine specimen. I told myself to call my little sister, Kayla, later. She’d be positively overjoyed.
“The night is so nice… And cool,” Zack observed, searching the night.
“It is,” I replied, coolly. I was not about to blow my laid back attitude so early in the game. Personality changes? Easy. Part of what made my transition to Hollywood so simple and clean cut. I wasn’t the type of girl who would faint at the sight of a celebrity, much less a hot guy. And I’d like to keep it that way.
“Jeanine told me that you are releasing a new album next month,” Zack said of his agent. I turned to look at him and found his eyes trained on me, no doubt waiting for my reaction. He probably wanted to see if I would faint yet because him (world famous singing sensation) hearing news about me (new, rising and still kind of struggling star) was so unheard-of. Yeah, right. Once again, I was determined not to lose it. And this time, it wasn’t so hard.
“The album? Oh, right. That album,” I took in a breath, as if to quickly explain the rest and dismiss the subject, only to catch Zack’s amused expression. I preceded with caution, “‘Dreams Like Sugar’, my band’s new album will drop next month, but my solo album, ‘Deck of Cards’ will be out the month after. We’re all releasing solo albums at the same time. ‘Diamond Dream’ for Jules, ‘Green Hot’ for Sapphire, and ‘Deck of Cards’.” I looked at Zack’s face this time to find it kind of impressed.
“Two albums being released so close together? Wow, how do you find all the time to put in the work? 15 tracks take a long time to finish. Because you girls do all the vocals yourselves, each working at melody and then even background vocals, it must take even longer than that. What’s your secret?” I could read curiosity in his expression as his intent gaze cut into mine.
I lowered my voice and said into Zack’s ear in a low whisper, “Studio time before gym time.” before swiftly turning to the balcony doors and leaving the beautiful night behind.
I skirted the crowd to a hidden staircase before kicking off my heels and retreating down into the darkness. When I stopped at the foot of the staircase, I reached out an arm to the wall and felt around until I found the light switch. The lights clicked on soundlessly but the gasp that escaped my lips could’ve been heard by anyone in a 100-foot radius.
There was, before me, what looked like a club from long ago. Not a night club smelling of sweat and broken dreams, but an actual classic jazz club from quite classier times. A large stage with red curtains and many tables and chairs took up what had been just darkness to me only seconds before. A grand piano sat in a corner of the stage, no doubt the former main center of attention. I slipped on my heels and walked further into the room. It looked so out of place, at the bottom of one of the more “up-scale” clubs overlooking Los Angeles. I closed my eyes and could experience the sights and sounds of what had been: the swirls of smoke from gentlemen’s cigars, the laughter of the party goers, clinking glasses being carried back to tables from the bar, the sweet sounds of the piano with its spot-lit glow, a star singer to accompany it. I reopened my eyes and found that yes, there was a bar. There was also a small office branching off it, with a light that had already been lit.
Carefully, I took small steps toward the office and peeked in a dusty window. The chair inside was empty, but from the looks of the fairly new Mac computer and yesterday’s newspapers, I could tell it was still in use. The door was halfway open, so I decided to explore. A bad choice on my part, but at 16-going-on-17 you’re destined to make a few. Sneaking into the unguarded office was easy. So was looking through the desk drawers. It was not easy, though, to sneak out. Especially when an 18 year old male was standing in the doorway, watching me. A very handsome male.
Did I mention that he looked like he’d been standing there for a while? He met my shocked expression with an amused one of his own. What was it with guys and looking amused? I shook it off and just watched him as he leaned against the door jam, still smiling slightly. Did he think I knew who he was? Did he think I was there looking for him? Did he think I was checking him out? A million questions ran through my brain.
“Hello, Ace,” he purred. I jumped. He knew my name. He was a creep who had been out to get me. I was confused and genuinely about to pass out.
“Who are you and how do you know my name?” I demanded in what I thought was an authoritative tone. It was, apparently, his turn to look confused.
“You don’t know me? I thought that, by now, you would,” he went on without answering my question. There was a certain look in his eyes. Hurt pride? Most likely.
“Once again, who are you? How do you know me?” I persisted. His hurt pride vanished as if it had never been there.
“My name is Eli Oscars. And I know you because, if you haven’t noticed, you’re kind of famous now.”
Recognition dawned at the sound of his name. Eli Oscars, famous music producer. The one that owned this club. The one that wanted to produce for me. My bad. Number one on Manuel’s list of people to meet. Only, hadn’t the famous Eli Oscars said he would be busy at precisely this exact time and hadn’t had time to meet with me? If my young memory was to be trusted, I could’ve sworn that he had. My eyes flicked to the newspapers where I found my own face on each copy.
“Of course I know you! No wonder… I thought you looked familiar, but I was confused. I think I danced a little too much. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” I was just about to slide past Eli when he caught my wrist in his hand, gently dragging me back into the office.
“Not so fast, Acelin. You can’t just waltz into my office and ransack it when you think I’m not looking, only to waltz back out when you discover you’ve been caught. Talk to me for a little. There’s so much I don’t know about this young talent I’m pursuing.” Eli’s eyes softened as he said this. There was much about this guy that I didn’t know, either. Like why he wanted to produce for me. Or talk to me. I looked longingly up at the ceiling, from which the sounds of booming music and loud chatter cascaded. The world I had just wanted so desperately to escape became the world I now so desperately wanted to reenter.
“You can get back to the party after you answer a few of my questions. Does that sound fair?” Eli’s eyebrows rose at the end of his question, both asking and challenging me at the same time. The room seemed to get tighter around me, my white mini dress suddenly feeling too tight and too hot. I accepted the challenge.
“First, why don’t you answer a question of mine? Why did you say you were too busy to see me when you were really right here in your office?” I could see Eli’s caught expression. It was surprisingly satisfying to see him looking like a deer caught between headlights on an open road.
“Don’t you ever take time for yourself? Away from parties and loud music and annoying people… I wanted to relax a little. And then you came right into my relaxation time and ruined it. So here I am, talking to you anyway.”
For the first time that night, I looked at Eli. Really looked at him. I took in his dark (but not too dark) hair and broad shoulders. His tall frame and handsome features. His dark jeans and worn gray t-shirt with oddly matching new black and gold high-tops. After staring him up and down for a while, I realized his ever changing hazel eyes checking me out as well. We stood for a while in silence. When I was ready, I spoke.
“Sorry for interrupting. I guess I can answer your questions now. Then I’ll leave you alone, I promise.” My speech obviously had broken into his thoughts and now he looked at me again as if only seeing me for the fist time.
“Ok… I was wondering, since you seem to have only been focusing on your music for a year, if you have any other strong relationships besides the band. Any boyfriends you have now that could impact your career?”
His question was a strange one. Kayla would’ve said from hearing this that he thought I was hot, but I knew better. The look on his face told me he was talking business, and I was glad. After my last (very) bad breakup, I wasn’t sure I could handle anything.
“Nope. No boyfriend, no stalker ex-boyfriend; I got nothing,” I answered back just as seriously.
“Do you have any problems with anyone who works with you?”
“Maisy, the assistant we hired for the nutritionist, shoots us all looks that could kill. Definitely not someone who helps relieve stress.” Plus, I was pretty sure that she and the trainer’s son were “in a relationship”. I’d caught him dropping her off early in the morning a few times. Eww. Maisy’s artificially platinum blonde hair and ditzy-mean attitude was an interesting concoction that made her seem like she herself had come out of that gross HealthyU blender. I absolutely hated that HealthyU blender. Eli caught me shuddering.
“Alright. We’ll have to get rid of her then,” Eli replied slowly, slightly smiling when he saw the relief in my eyes.
“Wait, ‘we’? So you weren’t just inquiring about working with me, you are working with me?”
My surprise and mild panic must have shown because Eli then said, “Yes, which was initially the reason I wanted to ask you some questions in the first place. Do you have any problems with it?” As soon as the question was out of his mouth, I saw it return again. That expression of pure amusement. Oh, how I despised that expression.
“Why on Earth would I have a problem with working with you? You seem nice enough. My search through the office desk has only confirmed that,” here a sly smile crept onto my lips as I proceeded, “Nothing weird there. Although I do have a question: why do you have all of these newspapers when you have a computer right there? Couldn’t you just look everything up on the internet?”
“Some things are better on paper. Don’t think that I don’t use the internet though, because I do. Quite frequently, actually.” Eli then sat down at the desk chair.
I glanced down at my high-heeled feet and realized that they hurt. He moved some paper clips and patted the desk for me to sit on. I looked at it waveringly, not sure if I wanted to sit on the desk. I hadn’t done that since I was 13. I shot Eli what I hoped was a razor sharp-cutting look before hopping onto the desk. It was actually pretty comfy.
“So, how many more questions must I answer before I can go back to that awesome party up there,” my tone dripped of sarcasm as I pointed up above where Manuel was surely looking for me.
“Just a few more. I want to know your background.” I pointedly redirected my eyes to Eli’s stack of newspapers featuring stories about me. “I want to hear your story from your point of view. A personal summary of your life. And maybe even your goals and how you view yourself,” he clarified.
“Well, first of all, I was born and raised in a small town called Kaleview in northern California,” I paused. “Not too far from here, actually. Maybe, what? A six hour drive. Anyway, I attended school there and was an A-student. People always liked me so I made friends easily and then met the girls. You should know the rest. Made the videos, my mom wasn’t supposed to know, we became one of the most viewed on YouTube and then, BAM!, out of nowhere there are record labels knocking down our doors and practically ruining our lives. But we just had to follow them. We just had to attempt to become a success.” Here I smiled ruefully and then added, “I’m just hoping something good can come out of something that turned out to be a sort of beautiful nightmare.” I had unconsciously started staring down at my dangling feet and kicking them about to amuse myself. Hey, I thought. At least I stopped that weird habit of punching my hand while nervous. I got complaints that that was scaring people.
“Well you didn’t know that it was going to be so stressful. You were just a kid. What matters now is that you don’t give up.” Eli reached out to reassuringly pat my arm.
It was a small gesture that surprisingly calmed me down from the edge of breaking into sobs and stuttering about how hectic and demanding the music scene could be. I hid several deep breaths and my frantic blinking by staring down at my feet again before lifting my gaze to meet his. He seemed so strong. Not unaffected, just like the type of guy who takes what is thrown at him and makes the absolute best of it. As I focused on his intense stare, many questions coursed through my brain that made me wonder how Eli had become how he had become. Questions that made me realize that there was so much more to him than I could’ve learned through a whole decade of accidentally-on-purpose raiding Eli’s desk and having a few instantaneous conversations with him.
“Hey, Eli?” I asked.
“How’d you get into this business in the first place? I’m a cyber kid and you’re a... A what?”
“I grew up originally in L.A. and moved to New York when I was 14. It was a family decision, my sister was going to attend Julliard and I was supposed to follow suit when I got old enough. My parents were wealthy and could keep the house in L.A. and buy a second one so we moved and I was forced into starting 9th grade in a snobby private school. I genuinely hated it from the beginning. Even the grass looked fake, like most of the students.” Eli smiled a genuine smile. Such a beautiful…
“Are you okay?” His question broke into my thoughts.
“Me? I’m fine. Haha. Tired. Finish your story,” I mentally shook myself awake so I could hear the duration of Eli’s life story and then hopefully find a soft couch or sofa bed to crash on.
“I have always loved music. I started making a few friends here and there from drama clubs and such and we started making music together. We started entering competitions, some having to do with school programs, and eventually I was recommended for an art school that was private but not with stuck up kids who have always had nannies standing behind them, ready to wipe their noses, but with actually naturally talented people. I loved that school. It not only offered normal academics, but also enriched art curriculums for those interested. As for how I got here,” Eli gestured around him. “Between my own skills, the fact that I came highly recommended, and my family’s… contacts, I finally started to meet the right people and make the right connections. Everything just clicked. It’s amazing to me how I could find a job I love so early in my life. I mean, this is the first year I’ve ever been legally allowed to vote.”
I just sat on the desk and looked at Eli, watched the way his face lit up as he went on to explain various details of his life now and the way he used animated facial expressions and hand motions while trying to describe different objects and concepts. As I stared at him through the dim office light, I tried to absorb and process everything Eli was saying. And I realized that I liked him a lot. Way more than I had liked any other person I had met in Hollywood other than my new DJ friends (who were actually supposed to be more like business partners because they mixed my songs) and the nice girl at the grocery store down the street who always asks me how my day is going and seems to actually care as I stop in for my daily lunch while I’m exhausted from doing studio time.
“Do you know what time it is?” I asked, trying to stifle a yawn and let go of my train of thought so I could possibly, just maybe, sleep a little bit.
“Right now it is 1:42 AM,” Eli responded, reading the time off of his rock-and-roll/diner-style classically red framed wall clock, and also looking somewhat sleepy.
“Do you have a couch or something? Because if you don’t I’d be fine sleeping on this desk, if that’s okay with you. It is particularly warm in here,” I stammer, fighting to stay awake for a moment longer to secure a proper place to rest.
“Yes, I do have a couch. In fact, I happen to have two couches and they are especially comfortable. Follow me.” Eli stood up from his cool swivel office chair and helped me down from the desk before flicking off the light behind us and escorting me to yet another hidden staircase down the hall.
“I keep a small studio in here. Just for my own personal reasons,” Eli explained, unlocking the door at the top of the stairs with a key from his jeans pocket. He turned on another set of lights to reveal a room about the size of my old living room and dining room combined, attached to a recording booth and excessive sound board. In the main big room was two flat screen TV’s with X-Box 360, PS4, DVD player, and Wii hookups, two large and soft looking black leather sofas with blankets just in case, a fridge, sink, microwave, pool table, and posters featuring famous musical artists as well as what looked like family/friend pictures (some containing Eli) lining the walls. It was like a teenage dreamland. I looked up. Yup, surround sound for MP3, the booth, or movies. This was some kind of heaven.
Too tired to gasp anymore, I removed my shoes and sunk into a sofa, pulling a blanket onto myself and closing my eyes.
“Goodnight,” I whispered before my world faded to darkness and I fell asleep.