The beginning of the end
Nancy stood dockside, her suitcases at her feet and waited for her taxi to arrive.
She was allowing herself three days in the city before deciding what to do with her life. Arguing with her boss when she was in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea wasn’t her greatest decision. But then becoming a singer on a cruise ship at thirty two wasn’t her greatest move either.
And now, here she was, no job, no plans, dumped back in the middle of Europe, the closest she’d been to her British home in almost fifteen years. Had that been her plan all along?
Her divorce had come through six months earlier, and with it, came the realisation that she couldn’t stay in Australia any more. Even though it had been her home for most of the preceding decade. She had never become a citizen, after the split, her husband, or rather EX husband had gone home to New Zealand, their friends were all caught in the middle. And her life had spiralled out of control.
Paul Greenwood was a name synonymous with Marketing in most of the Southern Hemisphere, and as his nephew, Luke, her husband, shit - EX husband, was equally revered. She couldn’t say whether he’d deliberately black listed her, or if the story of their split had done its own damage. But after six years at a marketing firm in the centre of Sydney, she was ‘released’ in a down sizing operation. Cut adrift, left to float. Literally. Coincidence? She didn’t think so.
She had money, she’d worked hard, and Luke had settled a large amount when they finally divorced, but for the first time since her teens she had no direction, no idea what she was going to do. Other than leave Australia. Suddenly she had no good memories of the place. A bitter split would do that, but when her ex’s family was so well known, it became more than just the animosity between the two of them.
Taking a cruise ship job out of Malaysia was so out of the blue, but then maybe that was why she took it. A chance to be anonymous, untraceable for a while. It was her MO after all. Burying her head in the sand, as far away from her issues as possible. And she loved singing, she’d hidden that love for along time, and as soon as she stood on the stage for her audition, she felt relaxed, for the first time in a long time. She couldn’t think it was a bad move, but it had been an easy way out. Out of contact with the rest of the world for large parts of the week, and away from anyone she knew. It had worked on so many levels.
That made her gulp in anxiety, at the same time a car horn caused her to jump, her heart racing as a taxi stopped in front of her.
“Do you speak English?” She asked as the driver wound the window down. When he shrugged, she sighed, “I need a cheap hotel.”
Grunting he popped the lock on the boot, and she moved to toss her bags in the back. No offer of assistance from the driver.
The journey from the coast to the outskirts of Athens took about twenty minutes. The traffic was horrendous and there was no air conditioning in the car, which meant for large parts of the journey, the vehicle was static in hot, humid equally unmoving air. But it did mean that Nancy had a lot of time to dwell on all that had gone wrong. And there had been a lot.
She never thought she’d get paid to sing, though as a youngster it was something she’d thought she’d like to pursue singing seriously, but just as she was exploring that, there had been tragedy, and faced with that, and the anger and resentment it caused, she left that ambition behind, along with everything else. And it was true, on the boat, those times when she was on stage, singing, most afternoons and every night, she could forget everything.
Until she fell out with her boss, Sandra. Over a man.
“This is the Hotel Capital. It is budget and they have vacancy,” the driver announced in broken English as he slowed beside a rather dilapidated building. This was no Hilton, not even a Travelodge. There were no stars gifted to the establishment, but it was cheap. She wasn’t about to blow money on a luxury place when she had no idea when she’d get another pay check.
Nodding, she reached into her pocket and pulled out some Euros, passing them through to the driver, who once again popped the boot, but made no effort to come and help her lug her three cases out of it.
The hotel offered no more assistance, there was an automated check in desk, vending machines, and an ATM. As impersonal as it could get. Just what she needed.
The room was better than she imagined, clean, with a spotless en suite and a small Juliet balcony that she could just about stand on and smell the smog of the city. Regardless, she felt more settled than she had for a while.
She had loved singing, but hated her time on the ship. The entertainment manager, Sandra, had never liked her, she’d done everything to make her life hell in the six months she’d been on the ship. Ridiculous schedule, horrible costumes, difficult song choices. But having sex with Max, a pianist, and the object of Sandra’s unrequited affection had been cruel. He was almost ten years younger than her, they instantly got on, he was fun. Which worked, because neither of them was looking for anything more than that, a roll in the proverbial hay. Had she done it so that it would blow up with Sandra?
It was likely, she had an impulsive streak a mile wide that she managed to contain ninety percent of the time, but that night with Max had been a blip. Not an isolated one, she’d had fun with a few of the other male members of staff, but those had been discreet, falling below the radar.
Beneath decks in the staff quarters there were lots of ‘relationships’, being trapped on a ship seemed to increase some libidos, but there was a little quoted rule, no fraternising on the boat.
And she had.
And Sandra had sacked her on the spot.
She was only glad that the boat had made it through the Suez canal and into the Med, as this seemed like the perfect time to think about going home.
Unpacking a couple of her bags, she found her toiletries, and had a cleansing shower. That made her feel better. Then she dressed, in extreme need for some coffee, and not the type that came out of the vending machine in the ‘reception’.
In clean shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, she was just finding some money when her phone buzzed. Looking at the name of the caller on the screen, she froze.
Her heart started to pound, and a cold sweat threatened to drench her. Ignoring the phone, she took three steadying deep breaths, she grabbed her small satchel and left the room.
Even though she was a distance from the centre of the city and it’s attractions, it was still busy with pedestrians and cars alike in the street outside. A cafe on the corner enticed her in, and she sat in the window appreciating an espresso before she allowed herself to think about her phone. She’d ignored the call, but a message had buzzed a few seconds later, so she knew that Josh, her childhood best friend had resorted to messaging her. She’d not seen him since her wedding, which had been almost eight years earlier. He’d come out to Australia to be part of her day, as a best friend should.
But that trip had ended as the previous times they met up, with them arguing. To this day she rued ever getting involved with Damon, Josh’s best friend at college. Since that, and all that happened afterwards, she’d avoided all links to the past.
But here he was calling her again. To rehash how it was her fault that Damon died, again?
It was bad enough when you carried your own guilt around with you, but to be accused of causing your boyfriend’s death by all his friends, that was more than anyone should put up with.
So she cut off everyone who reminded her of that time. And made a new life for herself.
Opening her phone, after her third espresso, her heart buzzing for a different reason to the caffeine, she finally read his words.
Know you don’t want to think about it, but the band are reforming, lots of interest, and a tour planned. We need you on vocals, not just your song, all of it. Really need you, I’ve never asked for anything else.
There it was, unwritten in the last sentence, the guilt. “your fault, you owe us”.
Matt ‘Riker’ lounged in a seat across from Josh, his band’s manager, and two record label execs and shook his head. He wanted to jump out of the window, from the fifteenth floor that wasn’t a good idea, but the thought of launching himself into the Thames as it wove past this London skyscraper was far better than where this conversation was going.
Reforming a band, more than ten years after their last successful single was a risk, but then they were more than a band, they were a freak show. ‘The band with the dead lead guitarist’.
He groaned, every memory of music involved Damon, his best mate for as long as he could remember, until she ruined it. They’d still be playing, still touring, still be like brothers if she hadn’t come along. This was not happening.
“You may be the manager of Mark Four, but it’s my band. Me and Damon started things back in college, you cannot tell me what to do.”
Josh groaned, “you produced the best stuff when she was involved.”
“Damon did, cos he was fucking her. He’s gone, he has been a long time, and reforming without him is hard enough, but no fucking way, Josh. We are never working with her again.”
As Josh grimaced, one of the suits to his right leaned forwards, “we are funding this come back, and we have researched everything. Our profiling and market research shows your most popular music are the songs that include her, and female band members are good for current demographics. This is what will work best.”
“Don’t care.” He crossed his arms over his chest, unmoving. They looked at him like he was a child, but this was fucking everything!
The suit shrugged, “you need to put this to the band, because this is the deal. The four of you plus her, or not at all. You’ve had solo success, but the others? They’ve been wallowing in nothingness, and they don’t get the royalties that you do. They need this, even if you don’t. You willing to turn this deal down and ruin your so called friends.?”
Riker jumped to his feet and glared at the three men opposite him, he wasn’t going to be emotionally blackmailed in to this, “you can go to fucking hell. This is not happening. I fucking hate Nancy Fox. End of.”
The next sound was the door slamming behind him.