Authors: Vivian Lux
"Hey, shush, we're late," I warned Zoe.
"So what?" She flung the back door open with a dramatic bang. "We're losing our jobs. We're entitled to boozy lunches that run wildly late."
She wavered a little as we made our way back to our row. I tried to slide unobtrusively back into my chair, but she banged her bag down on her desk and stretched her arms over her head with a yawn. "I think I'll take a nap," she slurred, and promptly plopped down and buried her head in her arms.
One thing I was trying to learn from my friendship with Zoe Chandler was how not to worry about what others thought of me. It was slow progress, and it came to a grinding halt whenever I put myself in view of perceived authority.
Like right now.
The sound of tapping heels in your aisle was never a good thing. Zoe lifted her head at the same time my heart leapt into my throat.
Marcia from HR was waddling down our row with a clipboard. "Which one of you is Scarlett Sawyer?"
"Awesome, and I've worked here two years next month," Zoe muttered.
"I'm Scarlett," I piped up.
"Kelly and Thad are ready for you."
"Now? Seriously?" I wasn't prepared and I was ever so slightly tipsy. "I thought we'd have until tomorrow!" I lamented.
Marcia looked bored by my panic. I wondered if her job was on the line. Would they make HR pitch themselves?
The young reporter stands up from her desk and smooths the front of her slacks. At the tender age of twenty-three, she managed to land a paid position with one of the premier music magazines in the US. Now, only six months later, she finds herself desperately fighting to save the career she has only just started.
It was a good opening paragraph. Too bad it was my life story I was writing.
"Your ace. Use it, Scar," Zoe hissed, crossing the aisle and squeezing my arm. "Don't worry about me," she ordered, then flopped into my chair and flung her arms out dramatically before rolling herself away, "save yourself!"
I saluted her and grabbed a notebook off my desk before turning to follow Marcia.
So this is how it feels to walk to your execution,
The innocent prisoner, wrongfully accused, holds her head high as she follows the guard down the long hallway, knowing what lies at the very end.
I closed my eyes.
A picture of dignity and poise, she knows she only has to say one word to save her life. Will she do it? Will she sink that low?
I opened my eyes in front of the conference room door. "In here," Marcia prompted me.
Thad and Kelly looked up from their lists and spreadsheets with bored expressions. "Name?" Thad asked, pen poised.
"Scarlett Sawyer, from the music desk."
Gone with the Wind
I smiled, though it felt like my face would shatter. "Yep!"
"Okay, Scarlett." He leaned back and threaded his fingers behind his head. "Wow us."
It was that simple. All I had to do was wow them. If I wowed them, I could keep my dream job, keep my apartment, my independence, the life I built. And all I had to do to wow them was bare my deepest secret.
The tender place under my ribs twinged. Reminding me what was actually at stake.
I took a deep breath.
"Keir Wilder," I exhaled.
I instantly had their attention. Kelly leaned forward. Thad's eyebrows nearly shot off his forehead. "Go on," he said.
I closed my eyes and formed the pitch in my head. I could see the words on the paper, right there in my mind's eye.
And they were brilliant.
Slowly, keeping my eyes tightly closed, I started to speak. "We've heard one million interviews from Rane Wilder. Rane Wilder is the image of Ruthless. He's got his image, his wealth, his celebrity girlfriend, Madeline Cole—and she's even his stepsister, for heaven's sake. The two of them are in the tabloids nearly every week. The paparazzi follow them everywhere. They are visible and press-savvy and they are always giving interviews, both about the band and their relationship. We know everything there is to know about them...and then some."
I paused, swallowed, pushed down my hesitation. "But what about the actual voice of the band? What do we know about Keir?"
I opened my eyes.
Kelly was leaning forward raptly, the collar of her starched white blouse falling slightly away to reveal a little glimpse of red lace.
So she's a wild thing. I bet she was a groupie before she went into music journalism. She's practically salivating.
I turned and pitched directly to her.
"He’s the singer," I continued, nodding so she'd nod along with me. "But we rarely ever hear his thoughts on the band, on his brother, on their music. He's the singer in a wildly popular rock 'n' roll band, but we only know him from the photographs we have." Kelly nodded like her head was on a spring. I pressed my hands into the table, careful to keep them from shaking.
Since I was little, I’d developed a script. It was a way of watching myself from the outside. Take away any ammunition that people could use against me, before they even noticed it, by scrutinizing myself carefully, every movement, every word choice. I felt myself slipping into it now.
The hard-boiled journalist lifts her chin. Her face is set, eyes clear. She stares across the conference room table like a battle-weary soldier facing down the enemy.
I moved my hands, spreading out the headline for them to see. "The Voice of Ruthless Breaks his Silence."
She lifts her chin, she clears her throat, she takes a dramatic pause, looking at both of them directly in the eye.
"I propose an in-depth, intimate interview with Keir Wilder."
I heard a rustling, the shuffling of papers. I knew better than to look at them. I had to be detached and disinterested. Let them come to me.
The silence stretched out for a second too long. I clenched my fists and willed myself not to smile, squirm or otherwise betray the way my heart hammered in my chest.
Sellout. You're selling out.
Then the moment was over. Kelly sat back. The gap in her blouse closed and she was all business once again. "No one has ever gotten an interview with Keir," she said disdainfully, picking an imaginary crumb off her finger. "We've tried a million times. He refuses to talk to the press." She flicked her gel-manicured nails. "That's a known fact."
She gives them a secret, satisfied grin.
"That’s because you've never had
do the interview."
"And what makes
different?" Thad asked.
I had them. Time to reel them in with my hook. The fact that I was selling my soul for this story was no longer an issue. This was a matter of survival.
"Keir Wilder knows me. From before he was famous."
I felt the words wad up in my throat like a logjam, not wanting to be spoken out loud.
"Keir Wilder…" I stopped, licked my lips, let my words hang in the air. My thumb went to my naked ring finger but, of course, there was nothing there. I had only worn his ring for three weeks before my mother finally noticed me enough to see me wearing it.
"I grew up next door to him. Keir Wilder was my first love."
I grabbed a towel from one of the roadies and made my way through the subterranean hallway that led back to the green room. Sweat was pouring off of my body, and I felt like I had been hit by a semi-truck.
Best feeling in the world.
My brother beat me to the green room and rushed to claim the couch. Maddie slung her legs over his lap, and he idly ran his hand up and down her calf as he watched me chug a bottle of water.
"Good shit out there," he said.
I nodded at him. My voice was always run to shit after a show, and Rane knew that I tried to use it as little as possible.
This was a habit he very much enjoyed exploiting.
"So, little brother," he said with that smirk on his face, "I can hear the girls screaming for you, even from way back here."
Maddie smacked Rane in the arm. "Would you leave him alone?!" she huffed.
Rane spread his hands innocently. "What? I'm just a concerned older brother, that's all."
"Your concern is touching," I whispered. "And a bit creepy."
Rane sat back on the cushion. "Hey, you know that phrase, use it or lose it?" He pointed in the general region of my crotch.
Maddie smacked him again. "Gross!" she cried.
"You have a disturbing amount of concern for the state of my dick," I whispered. He wasn't going to shut up unless I said something. If I blew out my vocal cords, it would be his fault.
"We are the 'Wilder Brothers.'" He put that title very firmly in air quotes. "We apparently have a reputation to maintain." He punctuated this pronouncement by reaching out to squeeze Maddie's breast. She swatted him away with a sigh and a giggle.
"You do, anyway," I muttered, and turned away. It was as I feared. He didn't believe my performance at the bar. He knew nothing happened in that back room.
And he saw how I had jumped when Twitch mentioned Scarlett.
Should I tell him I dumped the ring?
He would throw me a fucking party. I couldn't handle that kind of shit. Not yet, anyway.
Maybe I'd tell him when we were leaving on tour. Two more weeks and we'd be out of LA and on the road for the US leg of our world tour. Six weeks on the road. It would be grueling, but I was ready for it. I needed to get out of town for a while, see the country. Get away from this cesspool and all the people trying to get in my business. Then maybe I'd let Rane know I was ready to move on.
I chugged the rest of my water bottle and went in search for another towel. Another local show on the books. The tour had been postponed when Rane fell and shattered his hand in a terrible hiking accident. It was touch and go there for a while that he would ever play guitar again, but thankfully, his girlfriend whipped his ass into shape and forced him actually to do his physical therapy.
I hadn't been enough to get him to see that he needed to actually work hard. There was a part of me that still resented that I hadn't been enough.
Rane and I had been inseparable since—well, since I was born. Only eleven months apart, we moved through our neighborhood in tandem, always a pair, often mistaken for twins in looks if not demeanor. Where Rane was carefree, always ready to move on if something didn't work, I held on. It was my job to keep the two of us on track, and I accepted that as my lot from day one. He did what he needed to do for himself, and I did what I needed to do for the both of us.
But now he had Maddie. The two of them were talking about getting married in the next year or two. Seeing my brother engaged was bringing up all sorts of old shit for me. Shit I hadn't been able to fix. Shit I hadn't been able to hold on to. Shit I couldn't put into words.
I kept my cards close to my chest. When people thought they knew you, that's when they had power over you.
Very few people knew who Keir Wilder really was.
"Phone's ringing, Keir." Our bassist came over to me, handing me my phone.
I looked at the number. It was an LA number, but one I didn’t recognize. "Thanks, Balzac. I'll let it go to voicemail." If they had my number, it must be legit. I didn't give that out to anyone.
The voicemail light came on, and I hit the playback button.
A long pause, a sip of breath. That sip of breath was all it took to get my heart racing. My legs were already moving, running I didn't know where, but I needed to move. I needed to fucking jump and leap into the air because I knew this voice. I knew it.
"Hi." A very long pause. "It's Scarlett. It's been a long time, I know." A pause, a swallow...were those tears in my eyes? I blinked them away and saw my fist was clenched, my knuckles white. My heart was pounding. I wanted to punch something. "But I’m hoping you'll call me back. Hoping you’ll talk to me." She paused again. "This is the number for my desk at
magazine," she confessed in a sudden headlong rush. "I wanted to know if you'd agree to an interview. Please. Okay. Thank you. Call me back. Bye."
An ocean began sounding in my ears. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Rane stand up and limp towards me, his bad leg still stiff after the accident.
"Hey," he nudged me, "who is it? You look like you've seen a fucking ghost."
I let the phone drop from my hand, where it landed on the couch with a bounce. "No. I heard one," I said, sinking back down to the couch. I felt boneless, like I took a hit to the jaw.
Maddie slid over and rubbed my shoulder. "Hey," she said worriedly. "What's wrong?"
I buried my head in my hands, then just as quickly looked back up again with a smile. I felt like someone was running taps in my chest. Hot, cold, hot, cold. Shock was giving way to joy, joy into anger, anger into resentment, resentment into hope.
Her voice. I heard her voice again. I wanted to press play, listen to the message again, and I also wanted to smash my phone into tiny plastic fragments.
"That was Scarlett," I said.
I was smiling and baring my teeth. I wanted to sing and I wanted to hurt something. I wanted to hold my first love again and I wanted to hurt her the way she hurt me.
"She called me. She wants to meet."