May exhaled softly as she stepped away from Phoebe, her hand giving the latter’s a reassuring squeeze before settling in her Audi. Daniel, who closed her door after her, got behind the wheel and sped away from the two-story house.
She sunk into the soft seats, occupying a fraction of the space that was available. The low purr of the car was soothing as May reluctantly busied herself by riffling through her Instagram feed.
Around five past six was when May’s surroundings became all too familiar, a shuddering breath entering her lungs as the car approached the slew of distant lights. She tried dislodging the ball of anxiety in her throat, her teeth grinding against each other. It was embarrassing how nervous she was for this one event when she had aced bigger, livelier ones.
The Sportback was at the mercy of relentless barrage of flashes as it parked right in front of their venue. May exhaled forcefully, relieved for the black one-side view glass windows of her car as Daniel stepped out and forward to hold open her door. Interspersed with the constant clicks of cameras were the screams of her fans who had formed a huddle opposite the auditorium, a short barrier the only deterrent between them and her. May nodded at Daniel, picking up the end of her gown and letting it flow around her, silently saying a see you later. He reciprocated the action, his lips twitching into a subdued smile before turning and settling in his seat again and taking off for the parking lot behind the building.
May didn’t grant the cameras more than a few seconds, well aware that she will be facing them again at the red carpet, which was totally unnecessary now that she thought of it. She spun around, crossing the short distance to the other side of the road towards the jumble of people who had their hands outstretched with pads of paper clutched in them.
It brought a genuine smile on her face when she took hold of the first notepad that was extended towards her. The bodyguard that was stationed behind her offered her a pen and she proceeded to scrawl her signature on the piece of paper before continuing forward.
“We love you, May!” There was a disjointed cheer from her right as May turned, smiling brightly and moved closer to them.
“Thank you so much.” May chuckled breathily. Vibrant doe-like eyes peered up at her, blonde hair pushed up in two ponytails and May found herself unable to ignore the little angel. She stretched her hands above her head and passed May what she held. It was a picture from her last tour when May had visited New York. Illuminated with green strobe lights and synchronised camera flashes, May looked like a queen as she had hit the note flawlessly.
Her lips pulled into a wistful smile as she crouched down to the girl’s level, “What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Bianca,” she whispered in a voice like honey and May almost cooed. She signed the picture at the bottom corner with her best coherent calligraphic scribble, ending it with a ‘Love, May.’
Bianca took it shyly, gazing at it before giving May a full-blown smile - gums and all - “Thank you, May,” she shrieked, her eyes crinkling in the cutest way as May shook her head, face contorted into a spirited smile.
May stood back up, making sure to pull the hem of the dress away from her heels before continuing through the line. Everywhere she turned; wide eyes and beaming faces soothed her. Countless hands shook hers and soft clicks of camera lenses surrounded. They were excited chants of her name and May felt overwhelmed while at the same time she was the most comfortable she could imagine herself to be. It was a contrasting description, she knew but there was no way to explain it better. It was like the uniform marching of soldiers readying to head to a battle, eager to return and embrace what they are familiar with, the thing that brings them the most comfort. It should be unnerving but when something brings you a sense of purpose, nothing else matters. The thumping is familiar, the beat is comforting and the melody is like a long forgotten memory.
When May finally stepped back and let herself calm down from the heady feeling of happiness that flowed through her body in the form of adrenaline, she took a moment to just pause and look around all the faces. She would not remember all of them, not even close but a moment to appreciate the love and the smiles that she was being showered in was her privilege. Voices still echoed in her ears as her beautiful fans shouted out their love and May was so happy, it felt like she had a balloon in her chest. She waved at them before reluctantly turning towards the doors of the building. The bodyguards tailed her through, two buff men in black suits and stiff postures as they guarded her back and sides.
May pressed her lips together and proceeded to splay her legs in the limited space of her gown and leaned her weight backwards as she forced herself to stay calm. The words of the interviewer echoing in her head as if the incoherent playing of a broken record player.
Live, she reminded herself, this is all live. Her chest kept coiling though as if a snake was roiling around in her chest and her throat seemed to contract. May could feel her eyes soften and she blinked twice to push back the slight moisture that welled. She smiled at the cameras once, hitching her dress and strutting out of there as elegantly as possible.
After, to May what felt like hours, she finally made her way to the entrance gates. Now don’t get May wrong, she understood the need for interviews and photoshoots. It was a way for the fans to relate to the celebrities, provide them with constant content while bigger projects were under process, after all, she herself was a part of a few fandoms and she understood it, really. All that she wanted was for people to stop being so crass in their assumptions, was that too much to ask of her? People made opinions, it was almost an instinct but wouldn’t it be better for people to shut their mouths, listen to the other’s story and then start talking. ’But such an elongated period of grief, is it really appropriate for a celebrity who has millions of fans looking upto her every day?′ he had said, igniting a storm of anger, guilt and agitation in her chest.
The concert hall was for a lack of better term – huge and it was exactly to May’s choice. From the lustrous golden walls, velvet black curtains to the choice of alcohol; everything was chosen by May herself. Russet tables were peppered heavily throughout the area with at most eight seats each and the right side of the theatre was left open with lines of buffets including starters, dinner and dessert with wide gates leading to the open field outside. The entire front was occupied by a stage with two staircases ascending towards it from the two sides. A black microphone stood in the front centre of the stage facing towards the crowd.
May halted past the shining golden gates and breathed in the cold air of the hall. All the eyes in the immediate vicinity turned towards her. May would very much like to say that there was no judgement in any of them, but then she would have been lying straight through her teeth. As the line went, “Keep your friends close and enemies closer.” It wasn’t just her well – wishers who had been invited. Such a comeback as hers deserved all the eyes possible. Scrutinising gazes were searching for the slightest twitch in her body. She knew this was the moment they all decided whether they were here to support her or to jeer her. They expected her to cower in front of them so naturally she gave them all her brightest smile which had her pearly teeth flashing and started mingling with people. Slowly everybody resumed whatever they had been doing with a new whisper in the air and a fact engraved in their mind that May Maple was not out of the games yet. That she still held the laurel.
Sometime during her chat with a fellow singer she had previously collaborated with May’s eyes caught the sway of a navy blue amidst the crowd. It was a distinct shade, caught in the median of midnight black and indigo. She softly excused herself and made a beeline for that shock of hair.
May reached forward, her hand meeting the girl’s shoulder, a tiny smile slipping on her lips at how cheesy her reunion might look for the third eye. Dawn turned, a grin capturing her lips at the immediate sight of May as both the girls threw their arms around the other. It had been so long since they actually saw each other properly in the eye. May inhaled Dawn’s fruity smell, rose with a hint of something sweet, probably her perfume; May wasn’t good with those if she was being honest.
When they parted May admired Dawn who looked as if she had stepped straight out a fairytale. Dressed in a tiered strapless tulle gown that graced the floor in a sweeping train, the pink ombre shade clashing brilliantly with her rich hair, all of it left May overwhelmed with the amount of sheer beauty she was radiating. Her hair were curled tenderly and left draped over her shoulder, her makeup consisting of nude tones giving her an ethereal appearance of a Disney princess.
“May, you look so beautiful.” Dawn awed, reaching forward to feel the smooth fabric of her dress. May glanced down at her red strapless ball gown that fell in waves around her. The pleated skirt was one of the softest things she’d ever touched. It was one of those dresses you instantly form a fondness for, May was pretty sure this one was staying for a while. She had paired it with standard two inches patent leather peep-toe heels, a pair of silver chandelier earrings and not to forget her matching shade of lipstick.
“Thanks!” She grinned at Dawn, not withholding her opinion on her outfit either, “By the way, where’s Misty?”
Speak of the devil and she shall appear, May chuckled internally. Misty had donned an a-line satin dress with a high slit exposing her left leg from the thighs. Its colour was a pure aqua blue and framed her body flawlessly. The hem of the dress brushed the floor in a falling train around her figure, occasionally giving a peek at her silver pointed toe-heels and her hair was styled in light beach waves granting her a soft yet elfish look.
“Look at you, Misty. Don’t you look amazing?” May grinned, cheekily tilting her head in an exaggerated greeting while Dawn grinned and hugged Misty as well.
“Thanks, May, you do too.” Misty replied, joining them. “Come on, I found our table, let’s talk there.” Misty gestured as she made a beeline to the front.
Tables with red covers trimmed with white were distributed throughout the hall. They had small rectangle golden tags set on them which helped people identify their table. May plopped at the centre seat, exhaling a relieving sigh as her ankles were shown some mercy as Dawn and Misty settled on her left.
May diverted her attention to the two males who had already picked their spots. Ash, seated next to Misty had his shock of black hair stuck up in odd directions. There was something different about them that May couldn’t point her finger towards. Maybe it was the gel he had applied that helped his hair shine all the more black or maybe just the style. Paul, on the other hand had his thick shoulder length purple hair in a neat ponytail, opting for the sophisticated, more put together look than the I-woke-up-like-this look Ash had going on. His eyes were intense as he spoke with the other boy, his passion for music glittering in his eyes. Misty who clearly had been hearing this conversation for some time now, grabbed Ash’s hand which got his attention and he dropped the argument, shooting Paul a ‘we’ll continue later’ look.
People were settling at their assigned tables now. May who had been gazing blankly at the black curtains at the edge of the stage turned her head when she felt movement beside her. The first things to catch her notice were his bright emerald eyes. Not many people had green eyes, it was a rare occurrence, only 2% of people had them in the whole world, May would know, she had googled it. He set something in front of her. Martini. Dry with three olives. Just as she liked it. He held his glass of wine precariously by the neck with a grace that May was sure was inhuman, she had broken atleast three of those glasses back home. She faced him and smiled. It was a genuine smile. Not the kind she gave to the cameras but one that was infused with years of friendship and trust. Decades of camaraderie and laughs.
Drew flashed his teeth before turning and fist bumping first Ash and then Paul and proceeded to kiss Misty on the cheek and flick Dawn’s nose as a greeting.
He settled down with elegance, posture calculated and precise, wholly unlike the way she had practically fallen in her chair. His eyes shimmered with the excitement of meeting his friends after such a long time which admittedly was not long for him but whatever.
He didn’t say anything to her, he didn’t need to. He just intertwined their fingers, his slightly cold hand comforting in hers and settled back in his chair. She didn’t say anything and she didn’t need to either. She just gently squeezed his hand in return and hoped that this night would be perfect.
His little content smile certainly made her feel like it.
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