“Adam? Adam Wilde?” It’s a real paparazzo with a telephoto lens about a half block away. “Yo, Adam. Can we get a shot? Just one shot,” he calls.
Sometimes that works. Give them one minute of your face and they leave. But more often than not, it’s like killing one bee and inviting the swarm’s wrath.
“Yo, Adam. Where’s Bryn?”
I put on my glasses, speed up, though it’s too late for that. I stop walking and step out on to Ninth Avenue, which is clogged with taxis. Mia just keeps walking down the block, yapping away into her cell phone. The old Mia hated cell phones, hated people who talked on them in public, who dismissed one person’s company to take a phone call from someone else. The old Mia would never have uttered the phrase unbearably rude.
I wonder if I should let her keep going. The thought of just jumping into a cab and being back at my hotel by the time she figures out I’m not behind her anymore gives me a certain gritty satisfaction. Let her do the wondering for a change.
But the cabs are all occupied, and, as if the scent of my distress has suddenly reached her, Mia swivels back around to see me, to see the photographer approaching me, brandishing his cameras like machetes. She looks back on to Ninth Avenue at the sea of cars. Just go on, go on ahead, I silently tell her. Get your picture taken with me and your life becomes fodder for the mill. Just keep moving.
But Mia’s striding toward me, grabbing me by the wrist and, even though she’s a foot shorter and sixty pounds lighter than me, I suddenly feel safe, safer in her custody than I do in any bouncer’s. She walks right into the crowded avenue, stopping traffic just by holding up her other hand. A path opens for us, like we’re the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. As soon as we’re on the opposite curb, that opening disappears as the cabs all roar toward a green light, leaving my paparazzo stalker on the other side of the street. “It’s near impossible to get a cab now,” Mia tells me. “All the Broadway shows just let out.”
“I’ve got about two minutes on that guy. Even if I get into a cab, he’s gonna follow on foot in this traffic.”
“Don’t worry. He can’t follow where we’re going.”
She jogs through the crowds, down the avenue, simultaneously pushing me ahead of her and shielding me like a defensive linebacker. She turns off on to a dark street full of tenement buildings. About halfway down the block, the cityscape of brick apartments abruptly gives way to a low area full of trees that’s surrounded by a tall iron fence with a heavy-duty lock for which Mia magically produces the key. With a clank, the lock pops open. “In you go,” she tells me, pointing to a hedge and a gazebo behind it. “Duck in the gazebo. I’ll lock up.”
I do as she says and a minute later she’s back at my side. It’s dark in here, the only light the soft glow of a nearby street lamp. Mia puts a finger to her lips and motions for me to crouch down.
“Where the hell did he go?” I hear someone call from the street.
“He went this way,” says a woman, her voice thick with a New York accent. “I swear to ya.”
“Well then, where is he?”
“What about that park?” the woman asks.
The clatter of the gate echoes through the garden. “It’s locked,” he says. In the darkness, I see Mia grin.
“Maybe he jumped over.”
“It’s like ten feet high,” the guy replies. “You don’t just leap over something like that.”
“D’ya think he has superhuman strength?” the woman replies. “Ya could go inside and check for him.”
“And rip my new Armani pants on the fence? A man has his limits. And it looks empty in there. He probably caught a cab. Which we should do. I got sources texting that Timberlake’s at the Breslin.”
I hear the sound of footsteps retreating and stay quiet for a while longer just to be safe. Mia breaks the silence.
“D’ya think he has superhuman strength?” she asks in a pitch-perfect imitation. Then she starts to laugh.
“I’m not gonna rip my new Armani pants,” I reply. “A man has his limits.”
Mia laughs even harder. The tension in my gut eases. I almost smile.
After her laughter dies down, she stands up, wipes the dirt from her backside, and sits down on the bench in the gazebo. I do the same. “That must happen to you all the time.”
I shrug. “It’s worse in New York and L.A. And London. But it’s everywhere now. Even fans sell their pics to the tabloids.”
“Everyone’s in on the game, huh?” she says. Now this sounds more like the Mia I once knew, not like a Classical Cellist with a lofty vocabulary and one of those pan-Euro accents like Madonna’s.
“Everyone wants their cut,” I say. “You get used to it.”
“You get used to a lot of things,” Mia acknowledges.
I nod in the darkness. My eyes have adjusted so I can see that the garden is pretty big, an expanse of grass bisected by brick paths and ringed by flower beds. Every now and then, a tiny light flashes in the air. “Are those fireflies?” I ask.
“In the middle of the city?”
“Right. It used to amaze me, too. But if there’s a patch of green, those little guys will find it and light it up. They only come for a few weeks a year. I always wonder where they go the rest of the time.”
I ponder that. “Maybe they’re still here, but just don’t have anything to light up about.”
“Could be. The insect version of seasonal affective disorder, though the buggers should try living in Oregon if they really want to know what a depressing winter is like.”
“How’d you get the key to this place?” I ask. “Do you have to live around here?”
Mia shakes her head, then nods. “Yes, you do have to live in the area to get a key, but I don’t. The key belongs to Ernesto Castorel. Or did belong to. When he was a guest conductor at the Philharmonic, he lived nearby and the garden key came with his sublet. I was having roommate issues at the time, which is a repeating theme in my life, so I wound up crashing at his place a lot, and after he left, I ‘accidentally’ took the key.”
I don’t know why I should feel so sucker-punched. You’ve been with so many girls since Mia you’ve lost count, I reason with myself. It’s not like you’ve been languishing in celibacy. You think she has?
“Have you ever seen him conduct?” she asks me. “He always reminded me of you.”
Except for tonight, I haven’t so much as listened to classical music since you left. “I have no idea who you’re talking about.”
“Castorel? Oh, he’s incredible. He came from the slums of Venezuela, and through this program that helps street kids by teaching them to play musical instruments, he wound up becoming a conductor at sixteen. He was the conductor of the Prague Philharmonic at twenty-four, and now he’s the artistic director for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and runs that very same program in Venezuela that gave him his start. He sort of breathes music. Same as you.”
Who says I breathe music? Who says I even breathe? “Wow,” I say, trying to push back against the jealousy I have no right to.
Mia looks up, suddenly embarrassed. “Sorry. I forget sometimes that the entire world isn’t up on the minutiae of classical music. He’s pretty famous in our world.”
Yeah, well my girlfriend is really famous in the rest of the world, I think. But does she even know about Bryn and me? You’d have to have your head buried beneath a mountain not to have heard about us. Or you’d have to intentionally be avoiding any news of me. Or maybe you’d just have to be a classical cellist who doesn’t read tabloids. “He sounds swell,” I say.
Even Mia doesn’t miss the sarcasm. “Not famous, like you, I mean,” she says, her gushiness petering into awkwardness.
I don’t answer. For a few seconds there’s no sound, save for the river of traffic on the street. And then Mia’s stomach gurgles again, reminding us that we’ve been waylaid in this garden. That we’re actually on our way someplace else.
In a weird twisted way, Bryn and I met because of Mia. Well, one degree of separation, I guess. It was really because of the singer-songwriter Brooke Vega. Shooting Star had been slated to open for Brooke’s former band, Bikini, the day of Mia’s accident. When I hadn’t been allowed to visit Mia in the ICU, Brooke had come to the hospital to try to create a diversion. She hadn’t been successful. And that had been the last I’d seen of Brooke until the crazy time after Collateral Damage went double platinum.
Shooting Star was in L.A. for the MTV Movie Awards. One of our previously recorded but never released songs had been put on the sound track for the movie Hello, Killer and was nominated for Best Song. We didn’t win.
It didn’t matter. The MTV Awards were just the latest in a string of ceremonies, and it had been a bumper crop in terms of awards. Just a few months earlier we’d picked up our Grammys for Best New Artist and Song of the Year for “Animate.”
It was weird. You’d think that a platinum record, a pair of Grammys, a couple of VMAs would make your world, but the more it all piled on, the more the scene was making my skin crawl. There were the girls, the drugs, the ass-kissing, plus the hype—the constant hype. People I didn’t know—and not groupies, but industry people—rushing up to me like they were my longtime friends, kissing me on both cheeks, calling me “babe,” slipping business cards into my hand, whispering about movie roles or ads for Japanese beer, one-day shoots that would pay a million bucks.
I couldn’t handle it, which was why once we’d finished doing our bit for the Movie Awards, I’d ducked out of the Gibson Amphitheater to the smokers’ area. I was planning my escape when I saw Brooke Vega striding toward me. Behind her was a pretty, vaguely familiarlooking girl with long black hair and green eyes the size of dinner plates.
“Adam Wilde as I live and breathe,” Brooke said, embracing me in a dervish hug. Brooke had recently gone solo and her debut album, Kiss This, had been racking up awards, too, so we’d been bumping into each other a lot at the various ceremonies. “Adam, this is Bryn Shraeder, but you probably know her as the fox nominated for The Best Kiss Award. Did you catch her fabulous smooch in The Way Girls Fall?”
I shook my head. “Sorry.”
“I lost to a vampire-werewolf kiss. Girl-on-girl action doesn’t have quite the same impact it used to,” Bryn deadpanned.
“You were robbed!” Brooke interjected. “Both of you. It’s a cryin’ shame. But I’ll leave you to lick your wounds or just get acquainted. I’ve got to get back and present. Adam, see you around, I hope. You should come to L.A. more often. You could use some color.” She sauntered off, winking at Bryn.
We stood there in silence for a second. I offered a cigarette to Bryn. She shook her head, then looked at me with those eyes of hers, so unnervingly green. “That was a setup, in case you were wondering.”
“Yeah, I was, sort of.”
She shrugged, not in the least embarrassed. “I told Brooke I thought you were intriguing, so she took matters into her own hands. She and I, we’re alike that way.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Why would it?”
“It would bother a lot of guys out here. Actors tend to be really insecure. Or g*y.”
“I’m not from here.”
She smiled at that. Then she looked at my jacket. “You going AWOL or something?”
“You think they’ll send the dogs on me?”
“Maybe, but it’s L.A., so they’ll be teeny-tiny Chihuahuas all trussed up in designer bags, so how much damage can they do. You want company?”