Had this sitting around on my computer for a while so I thought I might as well post it! You can read the previous chapters here.
The promotion seems to drag on forever. Questions buzz around like angry flies in Matt’s head, whether someone is actually talking to him or not. He goes to events and people thrust microphones at him from all directions. He operates like a robot, signing autographs and letting his bodyguard keep the press – well, the uninvited ones – away from him. With his touring band, he rehearses every other day in preparation for the tour.
The amount of attention makes it a lot harder for him to just go to the store, but that’s the one thing that keeps him going right now.
He’s figured it out, the only days Azura doesn’t work – as long as she doesn’t disappear again – are Friday and Saturday. Even if he doesn’t buy anything he hangs around outside, just stares at her for a while. He can fantasize, at least.
Tonight it’s finally time for the first show, at a tiny venue where scalpers buy tickets and sell them for $800 each. He does feel excited about it; although a little nervous, too. Alison chats away to a group of fans who won all-access passes, flirts with his guitar tech. The fans ask for autographs and photos. His band are all going through their pre-show rituals, rehearsing one last time. Soundcheck. Ah. All the signs of a show about to begin.
It’s a great show, too. His new album was very well-received by the critics and the fans seem to love the new songs as well. The voices all crammed into the four hundred-capacity room sound as loud as the stadium crowds. Playing again is like being reunited with a lost lover.
If only Alison would smile at him at home like she does when he’s onstage.
“You guys think my wife is really admiring me or is it actually Tony, my guitar tech?”
He says it in good humour and the crowd don’t think anything of it… but he’s just bought a guarantee for a night on the couch.
A more uncomfortable night on the couch than ever. He’s not as young as he used to be. His throat is sore, his legs hurt from running around; his whole damn body hurts and he smells like shit, but he doesn’t have the energy to shower. Not if he can’t get into a warm and comfortable bed afterwards.
Well, he’s flying to Europe in a few days. Far away from Alison… far away from Azura.
Matt feels like all his bones are broken the next morning. This really doesn’t bode well for the tour. Fuck, does he have to start going to the gym or something like that? He used to jog to stay in shape but he’s at the peak of fame right now, he can hardly run two blocks without getting stopped for an autograph. The thought of paparazzi shots of him looking smelly in a tracksuit doesn’t appeal to him much, either. He considers finally leaving NYC, but it’s never been this bad before; maybe things will settle down when the tour is over.
The tour. He’s always so desperate to get back on the road, no matter how much home appeals to him by the end, but for the first time there’s something holding him back. His heart is in New York, in some damn drug store with a girl who doesn’t even seem to like him.
She probably won’t even notice that he’s gone.
Ugh. He should do something about it, before he leaves. Imagine if he could dream of a girlfriend back home, not just a fantasy… he needs to speak to her privately, but how the hell is he going to do that?
Well, the current image can go for a start. He goes to his hair stylist and asks her to dye his hair black and blue. There. He looks nothing like the Matt Grant on the billboard outside now.
Nobody seems to recognize him but still, he doesn’t really feel he can start talking to Azura on the street. He waits for her to leave work and tries to figure out which way she goes; she gets on a bus. Damn. Oh well, here goes nothing…
It’s so long since he last caught a bus. The driver looks curious but doesn’t say anything, thank God. He immediately darts to a seat far from Azura and hides his face behind a newspaper.
It just has to fill up at the next stop, doesn’t it?
A young girl with bright green hair sits next to him. She stares at him for a while and he’s sure she’s going to say…
“…Oh. Thanks. Yours looks good, too.”
She folds her arms and stares out of the window for a while; then suddenly she turns back to him.
“You look just like Matt Grant when he was younger. I bet you get that all the time.”
“Oh… yeah. Yeah, I do. Ha ha.”
“Have you heard his new album? It’s really good.”
“It’s not bad.”
“You can’t beat his old stuff, though. I love Adopted Lullaby. One of the best albums of all time.”
Well, next time some journalist asks about his strange experiences, he can now say that he’s chatted about his own music – pretending he’s a fan – on a smelly public bus.
The girl actually gives him her number and address. She’s very pretty and he’s flattered that she seems to like him despite his age, without knowing he’s a rock star. He isn’t interested, though, so it’s not as if it really matters; but he wonders how quickly that attitude would shift if the girl realised who he is. He’d suddenly be this alien God and she’d become the unreachable worshipper at his feet.
Well, he still sort of enjoyed talking to her. It was nice to feel detached from the sparkly image of Matt Grant for the first time in years. He makes a note to send her some tickets to his Madison Square Garden show when he gets back home.
Soon his mind is elsewhere.
Azura gets off the bus outside a dirty apartment block; squat and unwelcoming, unlike the soaring skyscraper he calls home. A second-floor window flies open and a man sticks his head out, holding a cigarette.
“Oi, Azura. Can you get some beer before you come up?”
She rolls her eyes. “I’ve been at work all day, get it yourself.”
Suddenly the man gasps, dropping his cigarette.
“Bloody hell, it’s Matt Grant!”
Fuck my life, fuck it over and over and over again. Fuck God and Satan and everything in between. I hate everything.
Azura slowly turns round to look at him, pretty face bewildered. Matt desperately wills the earth to open and swallow him up.
Oh, hi Azura, I just followed you home. Is that your boyfriend? Because if it is, please wait a moment while I rip off his head. For various reasons.
“Hello, I was just on my way to the club.”
Well, first time I didn’t sound convincing saying that.
“Look, mate, I am an absolutely massive fan,” the man at the window shouts – just yell it loud enough for the whole state to hear, why don’t you? – “Any chance you could wait for a minute while I run down there? Love the new hair.”
For a moment Matt glares at him, realising from the accent that he probably is Azura’s boyfriend; but damn, he can’t embarrass himself any more than he already has. He puts on his fakest smile and says that’s fine.
Azura uncertainly unlocks the door, and a moment later the skinny English man bursts out in a vest and boxers.
“Sorry about the attire, mate. Got this for you to sign! Here’s a pen.”
This smelly English guy in his damn underwear clearly has no idea how hard I’m fighting with the urge to snatch his damn vinyl record, sharpen the edge and slice his head off with it.
Matt takes his sharpie. “What’s your name?”
“Alright. Here you go, Ali. Thank you for being such a big fan.”
“Aw, you’re welcome! Thank you, mate.”
Unsure where he’s even going, Matt quickly scurries away; partly because he’s horribly embarrassed and partly because of what he wrote on the record…
“Guess who we just met!”
Ali bursts back into the apartment, followed by an uncomfortable Azura. Amy and Sharon, her other roommates, glance up at them, looking intrigued.
“Oh my God!” Amy squeals. “Oh my God, you’re kidding me! Azura, come here, tell me all about it.”
She grabs her arm and pulls her down onto the couch, her eyes wide. If they knew that she’d danced with Matt Grant at that club… it’s a miracle that it didn’t somehow end up on the Internet, but thank God for that.
“What was he like?”
“He signed my record!” Ali bellows, giving it to Azura to hold. “He thanked me for being such a big fan!”
She sighs. “He’s just a guy. Normal like us.”
“No way. He’s so hot.” Sharon drawls, rolling her heavily outlined eyes. “You know I hate rock music but his looks make up for that. He is so not just normal.”
“Wonder what he was doing round ’ere?” Ali says, grabbing a beer from the fridge and sitting down. “Bit shitty for a bloody millionaire like him, eh? I wish I was him, he’s loaded. All the girls love him.”
Feeling awkward, Azura is about to go to bed early when her eyes suddenly fall on the record… and what Matt wrote.
Fuck you, mate.
“Erm… Ali, have you realised what this actually says?”
“What?” he grunts, snatching it out of her hands. He looks at it and blinks bewilderedly. “Uh? What’s that all about?”
Amy sees it and hoots with laughter. “He obviously didn’t like you very much!”
“It can’t have been him. I knew his hair wasn’t like that. It was just some bloody lookalike and now he’s ruined my record!”
Even Azura can’t help sniggering at that, although when she goes to bed she’s left alone with knowing exactly why he was here. Her.
Eventually Ali crashes into bed and falls fast asleep. He’s going back to England tomorrow and he can’t even be bothered to make the most of tonight. He was more interested in talking to Sharon.
He’s just become a distant memory, four thousand miles away. Even when he’s here, he’s still just a memory; the old Ali seems forever left in England. Going nowhere, just like living in New York was. She’d been forced to move far from her crazy brother, rather than it being a choice, but she was still excited about it. She had family here who said they’d help her, but they dropped her once she got her Green Card. Thankfully she’d made friends with Amy, who was happy to leave home and share the apartment with her; but they couldn’t afford the bills alone. They didn’t really know Sharon, but they were desperate and she was willing, so they invited her.
Now Azura’s dreams have gone no further than the drug store, grounded in a dirty apartment with one roommate she actually hates.
At least I’m not famous like Matt Grant.
Embarrassed or not, Matt has to see her one last time before he leaves. Just one last time. He doesn’t have to speak to her…
He hears the door open again behind him as he heads for the elevator. Fuck, what does Alison want?
“Better go out with you, hadn’t I? It’ll look bad if we’re not together the day before you leave.”
Well, she’s sort of got a point, and a year ago Matt might have been grateful for it. But when she slips her hand into his as they step into the elevator, he feels like accidentally pushing her into the road.
It’s not just about Azura. Alison has forced her hair into her stupid unmistakeable beehive – or put a fake one on, whatever it is she does – and she’s wearing a baggy bright yellow dress. Everything about her screams “it’s Matt Grant’s wife if you haven’t noticed!” which completely counters his efforts to not look like Matt Grant. He questions how he ever found this person attractive.
“Look, Alison, can you get rid of the beehive thing? We’re only going to the store. I don’t want to sign autographs.”
“Why?” she exclaims, looking wounded. “I’m only expressing myself.”
“It’s just that your hair really draws attention to-”
“That’s not my fault.”
It’s all hopeless, as usual. Well, it’s alright for her, isn’t it? She laps up all the attention and then she doesn’t have to deal with the rest of it. Story of their lives.
He’s sure he’ll be able to get away from her once they get to the store but no, she won’t let go of him. Shit. Stupid overdressed wife on his arm is not what he wants Azura to see.
“Oh, they don’t have what I want. Let’s just go back home.”
“Alright.” Alison says, looking around. “I’m just going to get a drink.”
It’s too late. Matt prays they get that other assistant, Charlie or whatever his name is, but what difference does it make? She’ll still see them.
Of course, it’s not even him, they just have to get Azura.
She frowns at Alison’s hair and doesn’t say a word to either of them. Matt wants to speak to her but Alison immediately strides away, dragging him with her. She tuts and raises her voice more than loud enough for Azura to hear.
“That girl was so rude, little slut.”
Matt stops walking, grabs Alison’s arm. “Shut up.”
She glares at him, her face finally contorting into a scowl.
“What did you just say?”
“I said shut up, you jealous old bitch. That girl’s ten times what you’ll ever be.”
Her eyes widen in disbelief. Someone is staring at them.
“We’re in public.” she hisses. “What do you think you’re doing?!”
“We’ll talk outside, then.”
“We’ll talk when we get home.”
At least Alison walks off without him when they get outside. Pfft, he’ll just stay out and get drunk later, he can pack in the morning. Fuck everything.
He glances over his shoulder. Oh God, it’s Azura. He wants to hug her and take her home, never go back to stupid Alison and her damn beehive…
“Azura, I’m really s-”
“Thank you for standing up for me. That was really considerate of you.”
He smiles awkwardly, sort of feels relieved. “Sure.”
“See you around.”
She’s about to go back into the store but she freezes, looking at him expectantly. He takes a deep breath.
“I’m going on tour tomorrow. So, well, I won’t really… see you around. For a while.”
“Oh, okay. See you when you come back, then.”
I’ll miss you, I hardly know you but I love you, hell, I want you to come with me on the damn tour…
He doesn’t say any of the things his heart is screaming. He just smiles and says he’ll look forward to it. Then she does walk away, disappears for what might be the hardest six months of his life.
I've only proof-read and tweaked this chapter once so far, so it might not be entirely perfect. Comments and especially constructive criticism are always welcome! I won't freak out if you point out what's wrong with it, I promise. That's exactly what a writer needs
British English tends to creep in there when Matt is supposed to be American (you can see why I made Azura English! No confusion that way...) so please feel free to point that out too, if you notice it anywhere.