“Liam!” Emily yells from the bottom of the stairs, “Could you please put the drumsticks away for a while? I am getting a migraine.”
Emily rubs her head and thanks God when the constant booming that had been emanating from upstairs for over an hour finally ceases. She immediately reminds herself that it was her who bought the drum set for Liam, and that she knew at the time she would regret it. But, it was worth it to see the ecstatic look on her son’s face when he opened his eyes the morning of his twelfth birthday. In all honesty Emily had been surprised when he’d said he wanted drums, but she shouldn’t have been. Music had always been the one thing Liam completely understood, and now if he found some people, he’d have enough instruments to form a full scale garage band. He already owned guitars, amplifiers, and a keyboard, all of which he had bought himself by saving birthday and Christmas money. The drums were the icing on his rock and roll cake.
She hears footsteps coming down the stairs. Around the corner comes her floppy haired “younger” son, who plops down on the couch next to her and says, “Can I go to Al’s?”
“There’s a new guitar that came in, and I want to try it out before it goes up in the window.”
“I don’t have time to take you right now sweetie; your Aunt Melissa will be here any minute to watch you and your brother. I have a mandatory rehearsal before tonight’s performance, so I have to go early.”
Liam nods, ever the introspective child. He had always been the more contemplative of her two boys. When Ty was at his most outgoing, Liam was often sitting in the corner tuning one of his guitars or scribbling in a notebook. For years people had just assumed that Liam was simple-minded or slow because Tyler would talk for him, but the truth was Liam was just quiet. Melissa called him “a thinker”, and Emily always thought that was a good way of putting it.
She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him on top of his head. Then she hears the sound of an identical pair of feet coming down the stairs at much more rapid pace and Tyler comes bounding around the corner. He plops down on the other side of his mother, and she wraps her free arm around him. For a moment she can’t believe they belong to her.
Tyler and Liam are nearly identical. If it weren’t for their eye color and the good three inches Liam has on Ty, they would be almost impossible to distinguish. But for Emily all the subtle differences were there. Tyler had sandier brown hair than Liam did, reminding her of her brother Brian. There was a very slight point to Liam’s chin, and a roundness to Tyler’s face that to someone who hadn’t looked at them every day of their lives would be indiscernible. But, Emily had looked at them every day since the day they were born, and every day she found something new to love about them. Her perfect little boys, what would she do without them?
The doorbell rings and Emily tells Ty to run and let his aunt in.
He opens the door and Emily hears him exclaim, “Junior!”
“Hey buddy!” she hears a deep voice return Tyler’s greeting.
In a flash Emily is off the couch, Liam trails behind her slowly. She rounds the corner ecstatic that Junior is actually there at the door, Melissa on his heels.
“Hey there!” she says, pulling him in for a hug. “It’s so good to see you!”
“You too, Ems,” he replies, “But you just saw me like three days ago.”
“Yeah but I thought you were going back to California, and I’m happy to see that you didn’t!”
“Come in you guys.”
“Thanks sweetie,” Melissa says giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
“Hey Junior, I got the new Madden game. Do you wanna play with me?” Tyler asks him.
“I would love to bud, but I think we have other plans.”
Emily asks, “What other plans?”
Melissa chimes in, “What would you boys say about going to see your mom in the show tonight?”
“Seriously?” Tyler yells, and even Liam perks up at the idea.
“We got the boys tickets as an early thirteenth birthday present,” Melissa explains. “Great seats too, third row!”
Tyler jumps around the room excitedly, and tries to get his brother to join in. Liam hops around to humor his brother and Emily can’t help but grin at the sight.
“Melissa, you didn’t have to do that. I could have gotten you all tickets for free! I am one of their principle gymnasts after all.”
“Well, it isn’t everyday that we all get to go see Cirque du Soleil together, and I didn’t want to bother you with it.”
“I wanted to see the show,” Junior says, “That’s why I stayed in town.”
“Rutherford Archibald Cagney Jr.!” Emily giggles, “Are you ignoring your adult responsibilities to spend more time with me?”
Everyone laughs at Junior’s full name, and then Melissa starts to pester the boys about changing into some nicer clothes. They head upstairs, leaving Junior and Emily standing in the living room. It had been years since Junior had been in Vegas. He had only recently contacted Melissa, apologizing for his years of estrangement. He told her that he had really realized that his father had as much of a hand in their messy divorce as she did. Max, Junior’s older brother, had yet to contact Melissa or Junior about any of it, but Emily was ecstatic that Melissa got at least one of her sons back. Not to mention Junior had been amazing with the boys, watching them at least six times in the last two weeks while Emily was doing shows. It was a gratifying but time consuming business that Emily had entered into, and she was grateful to Melissa and Junior for helping her raise her sons.
“You didn’t have to stay,” Emily tells him.
“I know I didn’t have to, but I was having so much fun here with you and the twins, and with mom, and then she mentioned your show, and I wanted to stay. Do you like swing around on the ceiling or balance on a bunch of chairs or something?”
Emily laughs, “Chair balancing is my friend Yuki’s job, but yes I do swing around on the ceiling from various trapeze apparatuses, and if they ever need any kind of traditional gymnastics work done, I’m the girl who does that.”
“Do you wear all the freaky make up and tight costumes and stuff too?”
“It kind of comes with the job. I love my make up for this show though. It’s all sparkly and fun. I’ve worn some really weird animal type make up, and that’s not really my favorite, but the whimsical stuff I absolutely love.”
“How long exactly have you been doing this?”
Emily thought for a minute, “Uh, I guess it has been since the boys were three or four so nine years, maybe. It’s been a long time. I’ve loved every show we’ve done, and now that I’ve been working there for so long I get to do a lot more. It’s nice to still be able to do what I love, even if I never won a medal for it.”
“You could have.”
“I don’t know. The girls I trained with were hard core, and every single one of them medaled in at least one event at the Olympics back in 2012. God that seems like such a long time ago,” Emily says shaking off the feelings that the past revived. She didn’t want to go there, it was too negative, and she was done with everything that had happened back then.
As if on cue her phone rings, the screen cryptically reads: PAYSON KEELER. Emily almost can’t believe her eyes. She lets the call go to voicemail, hoping it’s just a butt dial and nothing more. Looking at the time she realizes she is running late for her dress rehearsal.
“I’ll see you after the show,” she tells Junior, giving him a quick peck on the cheek and walking out the door. She gets in her car and heads for the Bellagio hotel, where her show is currently being housed. The show she is currently performing in is a revival of the successful Beatles tribute show “Love”. Emily role is to soar over the audience holding onto nothing but an elastic rope, as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” among other things. It was one of the best shows she had ever been a part of.
As she entered the backstage doors of the Bellagio she heard someone call her name. Looking over she sees a short, Asian girl and a tall blonde bombshell scurrying over to greet her. Yuki, the short one, was in most of the shows balancing acts, and also dabbled in ballet. She had learned balancing from her grandmother who was raised in post-war Japan and had to earn a living street performing. She was incredibly proud of all Yuki had achieved in America, and Yuki called her every Sunday to tell her the newest American gossip. Emily and Yuki had been hired around the same time and became fast friends as amateurs in the first few months they performed together.
The lanky blonde was Stardust, but most people just called her Dusty. Her parents were new age hippies, and she had two sisters named Sunflower (who they called Sunny) and Rain. Her brother Arlo also worked in the show. They were both contortionists. Sunny and Rain worked for a different show at the Mirage hotel. Dusty was probably the most gorgeous person Emily had ever seen, and all of her siblings were just as attractive. Dusty and Arlo had begun their work about five years after Emily, but soon became something like family to her. Arlo and Emily had had a brief fling, but found that work and play simply did not mix and instead called it quits.
“Hey girls,” she says, “How are we this evening?”
“Dusty lost her sparkly make up. Can she borrow yours?”
“Oh yeah totally, just let me do mine first. I have to get in the paint chamber, but after that it will take me like five minutes.”
“Sounds good lady! Go get painted!” Dusty replies scampering away.
Emily laughs and puts her stuff down next to her vanity. She heads over to the room where they administer all of the body paint.
“Emily, darling! Have you come to be painted?” the resident makeup artist, Klaus who is more queer than a two-headed penny, exclaims as Emily walks in.
“Just the usual Klaus, make me shine bright like a diamond!”
Klaus gave her protective eyewear and asked Emily to strip down to only her undergarments. She did, and Klaus began to work. First he started with a light misting of white paint, making Emily glow. Then he finished off with a pattern of silver up and down her arms and legs that would flow right into her costume. Klaus finished off by spraying Emily’s hair a stark black color. When Emily got back to her vanity she would bind her hair, which was almost to her butt, in a tight braid, wrapping it in silver ribbons. Then she would paint her face the same white color and use her sparkly make up and some thick, black liner to accentuate her eyes. Her costume was a tight white leotard with a pattern of shimmering blacks and silver in it. When she put it on it looked like the only thing she was wearing were the black and silver bits, otherwise the leotard matched her skin.
When she was all dressed and ready to rehearse she stood in the wing of the stage that her first entrance came from. From behind her she heard a sharp whistle.
“Look at Lucy. She is looking mighty fine tonight isn’t she girls?”
Emily turned, laughing, “Arlo, you are too much.”
“I try,” he concedes walking up to her, his sister’s arm linked in his own, Yuki trotting along behind.
“You look especially radiant today Ems,” Dusty observes. “What’s the occasion?”
“My family is coming to watch the show tonight!”
“Wait like your sons?” Dusty asks excitedly. Dusty had met both of the boys when she had first started working at Cirque and Melissa had brought them to visit. She and Arlo were obsessed with Liam. They called him “Springsteen” and swore he was a child prodigy. They constantly brought her new music for him or books about rock artists from the sixties and seventies that Emily had let pile up to give him when he was a bit older. She told them it wasn’t necessary, but they insisted.
“Yes ma’am, Tyler, Liam, my godmother Mellissa and her son Junior are all coming to watch. It’s the first real show the boys have ever seen. I just want to make them proud you know. I spend all this time away from them, and want them to know it isn’t for nothing.”
“I’m sure they already know that,” Arlo says.
Emily shrugs, “Still, it’s important to me.”
“Of course it is,” Yuki says. “They’re your babies! You should have Ty stick around after the show; I’ll show him some new tricks.”
Emily smiles, “I’ll do that. I’m sure he will be thrilled.”
Tyler was the athlete of her two boys. He was always running around playing some kind of sport, baseball, basketball, soccer, but it wasn’t until he met Yuki that he even acknowledged gymnastics. He saw her balancing act for the first time when he was about eight years old, and ever since then gymnastics had taken over his life. Emily was pretty proud of him for it, and he had won a few regional competitions, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted him to get in as deep as she had. She knew that there was always an open invitation for him to go and train at the Rock, but she questioned putting that much pressure on someone so young. She had been there, and she didn’t want him to be stuck in the same place as her.
“People, listen up!” their director, Miles Jones yells from the seats of the theatre. “I hope you all had a wonderful vacation. I just want to run through the opening number, make sure the fine tuning is still there since we haven’t done a show for a few weeks. I want you all to really focus on the little things.”
Emily goes through all of her usual motions as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” blares over the speakers. She feels the harness she uses to fly around the auditorium being fastened into place by two stage hands. She grabs a hold of the white rope that will catapult her into the air and inhales sharply as her feet leave the ground. She flies out onto the stage and does the only thing she really knows how to do. The feeling she gets from soaring high above the rest of the players is indescribable, and she knows how lucky she is to be able to get that feeling every day.
After the dress rehearsal ends Emily walks back to her vanity to touch up her makeup. Her phone begins to vibrate on her desk. The caller ID reads: PAYSON KEELER. Once again Emily can’t believe what she’s seeing, and once again she ignores the call. Why would Payson be calling her now? Emily had not spoken to anyone in Boulder for over ten years. She hadn’t spoken to her own mother, much less any of her old teammates, and she didn’t want to. That was a life she had left behind where the people she thought had cared about her had all abandoned or betrayed her. Payson and Lauren had never once tried to contact her after the boys had been born. Her mother had actually encouraged her to get an abortion, something Emily wasn’t sure she could ever forgive. Kaylie had run off with the father of her children, and who knows where they were now.
Emily shook her head, she would not let the past get dug up again just because of a few misdialed phone calls. She had a show to do, twins to raise, and season six of “Charmed” waiting for her at home on Netflix. Life was easy and sweet, and she planned on keeping it that way. That night she soared above the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd and felt very proud of how far she had come. From an unemployed ex-Olympic hopeful, to a stunning gymnast in one of Las Vegas’ premiere shows, not to mention, she was a pretty kickass mom.
She sat at her vanity after the show. Her skin was no longer the stark white it had been painted and her hair had returned to its usual chestnut brown that lays stick straight down her back. She begins to braid her hair, but stops short when she sees two people reflected in her mirror.
It can’t be, she thinks, but it is. Slowly Emily drops her hair, which quickly unravels, and she turns around. Standing before her are two people, one man and one woman. The woman is tall, muscular, blonde, and has wide cheekbones accentuated by the most inviting, effervescent smile Emily has ever seen on a human face. The man is tall as well and lankier then she remembers. His light brown hair now hangs in his eyes which are a bright blue color. And the smirk on his face, Emily notes, is the same as it had always been. She opened her mouth, but she couldn’t form words. She had no idea what to say, because there was nothing to say.
Finally she choked out the words, “What are you doing here?”
“Hello to you too Emily,” Austin Tucker replies, handing her a bouquet of flowers, “You did a fantastic job this evening.”
“Uh, thank you,” she says accepting the flowers.
“You haven’t lost any of your talent Emily, I was floored. I’ve never been to a Vegas show before so, yeah it was fantastic. You just like soared around the whole place, it was amazing, and you looked so beautiful and---“
“Payson,” Emily interrupts her, “You’re babbling.”
“Oh, sorry, I---“
“Do that when you’re nervous, yeah I know,” Emily finishes for her. It’s amazing how much you remember about a person after so long.
Payson smiles, “I’m sorry to just drop in on you like this. I tried calling.”
“I know, but I just assumed they were misdials. We kind of haven’t spoken in, oh I don’t know ten or so odd years.”
“I know, and I can’t even tell you how good it is to see you again, especially now that I’ve seen how successful you’ve become. It just makes me so happy for you.”
“Does it? So what if I was a broke single mother living in a trailer park with a drug addiction? Would you still be happy to see me?” Emily asks angrily turning back around in her chair. How dare Payson just show up here and expect to catch up like old friends. Payson had never once tried to contact Emily, had never once tried to find out if she was okay.
“What are you here for?” Emily asks suddenly realizing that Payson couldn’t just be here for a friendly chat. Not after all this time.
“What makes you ask that?” Payson asks.
“Well, I haven’t seen or heard from you since 2012 and now you’re popping in for a visit. There must be something in it for you or someone else. If my mother sent you, don’t bother.”
“Actually Emily---“ Austin starts, but is cut off by the squeals of two shaggy-haired little boys running up to hug their mother.
“MOMMY! You were so good! You were flying!” Tyler exclaims.
“Good job, Mom,” Liam adds in his ever subtle manner.
“Thank you babies, I’m glad you had a good time,” Emily replies, hugging them tight, consciously ignoring the obvious stares she was getting from Austin and Payson.
“Twins,” she hears Payson whisper.
Sighing she turns to her old friends, “Yes twins. This is Tyler and this is Liam. They are my sons. Boys, meet Austin Tucker and Payson Keeler. They used to do gymnastics with Mommy when she was younger.”
Tyler’s eyes immediately get wide, “Wait like gold medalist in 2008 Austin Tucker, and all around gold winner Payson Keeler? Are you for real?”
Austin and Payson both start laughing.
raised him right,” Austin says giving Tyler a high five. “Do you like
Tyler answers by pulling himself up into a handstand on the back of Emily’s chair and then swiveling around to face the other way before flipping clean off and landing perfectly on his feet.
“Show off,” she hears Liam mutter and can’t help but smile at the whole spectacle. Thankfully because of the time it takes to get all of the paint off of her body she is usually one of the last ones in the prep area. She really didn’t want everyone she knew to see the circus her life had somehow turned into in the last ten minutes.
“You’re great, little man!” Austin tells Tyler. “Do you train somewhere?”
“No, I mean I used to go to the YMCA when I was littler, but now I mostly learn from Mom and her friend Yuki. She balances on chairs, like ten at a time, it’s crazy!”
Austin looks at Emily, “You should get this kid to a gym. He’s amazing.”
Emily rolls her eyes, “So was I. And I’m sure you tell your children they can all be Olympic athletes, but it’s a little more complicated than all that.”
“Emily I didn’t mean---“
“It doesn’t matter Austin. And it really doesn’t matter why you’re here, I’m not interested. Come on boys, we’re going.”
“But, Mom,” Tyler begins to argue.
“No, Tyler, we are leaving. Where are Junior and Melissa?”
“Outside,” Liam answers.
“It was great seeing both of you. Give my regards to Lauren,” Emily says, her tone dripping with sarcasm.
Heaving a sigh Emily throws her bag over her shoulder and takes her sons’ hands. As she leaves the dressing room she feels a little bit like she has chopped off her own arm. A part of her had always thought that her old life might be there waiting for her in the future. That she might someday live in Boulder again, be friends with Payson and Lauren, but now she realized that would never really be an option. So much bad blood existed between her and her old friends; she just didn’t see a way around it.
She did feel bad about Austin though. He had always been there for her while she had been training at the gym, always with a smirk on his face, always ready to joke away her problems. In fact Austin Tucker is the only friend in Boulder she could say she wasn’t mad at. He had been betrayed by Kaylie the same way she had been betrayed by Damon. Emily would never forget the way he helped her out in France after she had snuck out and gone to Paris. He had found her in a Parisian train station doing back flips to earn enough money for a ticket back to Calais where the National Tournament was being held. Without him she might have never gotten back. There was a certain spark in Austin that she had always been drawn to, and Emily noticed that while the smirk lived on, the spark had been lost to time. She imagined her own fiery spirit had succumbed to the same affliction, and she couldn’t help but want to turn around and apologize for her rudeness. But she propelled herself forward. There was no use in dwelling on the past, she had told herself this a million times. Somehow it always seemed to be able to come back to haunt her.
Forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight… Damon counted the seconds it took to walk from his dressing room to the stage. Like every other show they had ever done together Kaylie had refused to see Damon beforehand. She claimed that it helped her relax, but Damon wondered if it was just meant to mess with his head.
This was the fourth night in a row they had spent performing in Tokyo, and the crowd was just as huge, and just as boisterous as it had been the previous three nights. Being as big of an act as they had become in Europe and Asia, Damon had come to expect it. Their band headed out onto the stage ahead of him. Kaylie was nowhere to be found, as usual.
When the announcer boomed, “Ladies and gentlemen, Brainwashed by Boulder!” Damon was afraid he was going to have to do the show by himself. The second he begins to walk out onstage he feels someone’s shoulder brush his. Kaylie.
“Nice of you to show up,” he snips.
“Isn’t it?” she replies coolly. “I’m sorry. I was meditating and I lost track of time.”
“Let’s go, huh?”
They walked out onstage and their fans roared with pleasure. Damon just couldn’t understand it. Thirteen long years they had been at this, and it took them half that time to become this popular in Europe and Asia, but every time they tried to go back to the United States, to L.A. or New York, they were outsiders. Damon could only speak so much Japanese and he longed for a perfectly cooked American hamburger, or a pizza from the Pizza Shack back in Boulder. The place he had tried so hard to stay away from now sounded incredibly appealing.
The show ended about an hour later, and Damon felt exhausted. He was ready for the break they had coming up, and ready to relax. Touring had been fun when they were just starting out. He and Kaylie had shared a cramped van and driven all around Northern Europe eating everything, seeing everything, and most importantly spending time with one another. As time went on and BBB had become more popular Damon began to see less and less of her. She became busy with dress fittings, business lunches, and ‘relaxation’. Maybe it was Damon’s fault for giving her sole control of the business side of their group, but he didn’t know anything about business, and Kaylie’s mom had been showing her the ropes for years when they finally made some money worth mentioning.
He missed her all the time, and wondered if she ever felt the same way. Had fame and time ripped apart all that they had once had? They had never gotten married even though Kaylie had wanted to. Damon thought that they were fine the way they were. He hadn’t wanted to ruin it with legal papers and stressful planning. And who would they invite? Kaylie’s parents were really the only family either of them had, and the band was the extent of their friend circle. No one from Boulder had contacted either of them in all the years they had been gone. If any of them had seen the Rolling Stone article on them where they explained why their band was called “Brainwashed by Boulder” he didn’t blame them for not calling. It had been one of the only American interviews they had ever done and they spent half of it berating the American city that they came from. He and Kaylie had been so ready to leave their old lives behind they hadn’t stopped to think of the repercussions it would have five or ten years later.
“Good show Damon,” Kaylie says walking off the stage.
“Yeah, great show,” he replies sarcastically.
She nods and begins to walk away.
“Kaylie,” Damon says, and she turns, “Let’s go out, get something to eat.”
“Where are we going to go where we don’t get mobbed by a thousand people?”
“Los Angeles,” Damon suggests.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, let’s fly out, go get some cheeseburgers and call it a night. Or let’s order take-out back in the hotel room, just don’t flake on me and go to some big party tonight. I want to spend time with you, like we used to. I want to fall asleep with you in my arms,” he says lowering his voice the closer he got to her.
She looks up at him, her eyes wide, and he half believes that she is going to accept the offer. But just as quickly as it came the look left her eyes.
Kaylie shakes her head, “I got invited to a party tonight, I’m sorry.”
“By who?” he asks.
“Just this guy I met,” she replies like it’s not a big deal.
“No one, he’s just a friend.”
“Just a friend, Kaylie do you expect me to believe that? I’m so sick of this!”
“Sick of what, Damon?”
“Of you sneaking off in all hours of the night to meet god knows who, doing god knows what. I’m tired of waking up in the morning and finding out that you never even came home the night before. Do you even want to spend any time with me?”
Kaylie avoids eye contact, and Damon finally plucks up the courage to ask what he had wanted to ask for months, “Do you love me anymore Kaylie? Is this how things end between us?”
Kaylie’s head shoots up, a stricken look across her face, “Damon, I… I just need some space. I need some room to breathe for a while.”
Damon takes her hand in his, “I still love you Kaylie, and I think I always will. I have done things for you that you cannot even begin to comprehend. When you’re ready to commit to me again, if you ever are, give me a call. I can’t do this anymore.”
Damon turned around and walked away. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he knew that he had to get out of there. The love of his life no longer wanted him around and he had no idea how to feel about it. He and Kaylie had been so out of touch for so long, but hearing her say that she wanted time away from him had hurt more than he could have ever imagined. He couldn’t help, in that moment, to think of Emily. Is this what she felt when he had left? If so, he couldn’t believe he had ever made anyone feel that way. It was like someone had ripped his heart out of his chest, thrown it on the ground and not even cared at all about what might happen to it.
Damon exits the concert arena onto the streets of Tokyo, forgetting about the massive throngs of people there to see him. Immediately he is stampeded by thousands of Japanese fans. Quickly he heads back inside, this time stopping in his dressing room to grab his aviator sunglasses, leather jacket and beanie. He also throws his phone into his back pocket, grabs his earbuds, and his guitar, and heads for the back entrance, hoping the glasses and the hat will be enough of a disguise for him to make it to the street and grab a taxi. Thankfully it is.
Getting into the taxi he tells the driver to take him to the Tokyo airport. Damon wasn’t sure where he was headed, but anywhere was better than here. Tokyo was one of those cities that was never asleep, never quiet, and never dark. It was amazing at first, and Damon had loved it, but now he was sick of it. He wanted to go somewhere with wide open spaces where he could see the stars and write music again.
The taxi arrived at the Narita International Airport and Damon hopped out, thanking the driver in what little Japanese he did know. Looking at the board of outgoing flights Damon knew immediately that he wanted to go back to the states. He’d been to Europe and even to parts of South America, but nothing was quite as grand as the good ole U.S.A. But where would he go? Los Angeles is where he had wanted to take Kaylie, so now he felt no need to go back to the place he had last been with her. New York would be a new and interesting option, but not much different from the craziness he had been enduring for years now. Chicago was a pain, but he could buy a cheap car and drive to somewhere in Indiana or Wisconsin. Something in his mind triggered when he thought of farm towns and fields in the Midwest.
Remembering something, he pulls out his phone and dials the number to his old friend Razor. The phone rang a few times before going to voicemail, “Hey this is Razor, leave a message and depending on what you want from me I may or may not get back to you. You know what to do.”
Damon couldn’t help but laugh at the outgoing message before leaving a message of his own, “Hey Razor, it’s Damon Young. I know it has been like forever since we talked, but I’m looking for something new to do with myself. I think I remembered hearing you were out in Nashville working, and I was wondering how you would feel if I dropped into town and looked for some work. I’m about to get on a flight out of Tokyo but I’ll try you again when I get into the states. Alright, bye.”
Damon headed over to the ticket counter and bought a one-way ticket to Chicago, hoping that he was making the right choice. Since he had no bags to check, his wait in the airport terminal seemed existentially long. When his flight was finally called over the loudspeakers, Damon had looked at Facebook on his phone four times over, and watched two reruns of The Office. As he boarded the plane he did his routine counting, one… two… three. It took sixty-three seconds to get to his seat and settle himself. He couldn’t wait for the plane to get off the ground so he could sleep.
“Excuse me,” a woman says, trying to get past him to her seat.
“Oh, sorry,” Damon says letting her pass and sit down in the window seat. She is dressed impeccably, he notices, like a businesswoman, pencil skirt, blazer, her black hair up in a bun. He can’t put his finger on exactly what is so familiar about her until he sees the tattoo of the Olympic Rings on her right wrist. It was barely noticeable on her dark skin, but he realized who she was almost immediately after seeing it.
“Hey you’re Jordan Randall aren’t you?”
“Who’s asking?” she says, taking her hair down.
“Uh, I’m Damon Young, lead singer of Brainwashed by Boulder. I’m Kaylie Cruz’s boyfriend, well, ex-boyfriend now.”
Jordan’s eyes light up, “I remember you. You were the one at the American Music Awards back after we won gold. You’re a guitar player or something.”
“That’s me, the guitar’s in the overhead compartment.”
“I’ve heard of your band too. Aren’t you like, super famous here, and in like Europe or something?”
She gets her answer when two Japanese girls in their early twenties lean over from the seat across the aisle and ask excitedly if he is indeed Damon Young. He replies that he is and signs a few autographs for them. Finally they retreat giggling as they go. Damon turns back to Jordan who is smiling at the whole spectacle and shrugs.
“So what do you do now?” he asks with a smirk. “You’re dressed so fancy.”
Jordan responds first by kicking off her high heeled shoes and then by replying, “I’m a talent scout for the United States National Gymnastics Organization. I was checking out a potential gymnast, born in the United States, living in Tokyo.”
“And how did that go?”
“She was good. Our offer is on the table and this time next year she could be an Olympic hopeful.”
“I congratulate you on a job well done then,” Damon replies.
“Well, she hasn’t accepted the offer yet, so let’s not speak too soon.”
“You know you’re a lot less uptight than I remember,” Damon observes, “Even with those pantyhose on.”
Jordan rolls her eyes, “You and I were in the same room for all of two minutes, and Kaylie, Lauren, and Payson were way out of hand if I remember correctly. They used to get so crazy when they would talk about the past. It bothered me.”
“So I take it you don’t see much of them anymore?”
“I only see them if I’m working with a gymnast at the Rock. Lauren and Payson both have kids training there, and Pay is one of the assistant coaches.”
“I see, so life in Boulder is just about the same as I left it.”
“As far as I know,” Jordan tells him. “But, I never really lived there, so I’m not really the girl to ask. Are you headed back there?”
“Boulder, no way, there’s way too much history there. I’m actually headed to Nashville to meet up with an old friend, maybe try my hand at a little country music.”
She nods as the pilot comes over the loudspeaker and asks everyone to please fasten their seatbelts for takeoff. Damon and Jordan do so in silence.
It isn’t until the plane is up in the air that Jordan decides to talk again, “Music with Kaylie hasn’t worked out for you has it?”
“Not how I thought it would work, no it hasn’t. It took a long time for us to fall apart, but I can definitely say we got there,” Damon told her, happy that he could vent even a little to someone.
“What happened, if you don’t mind me
“I don’t mind, and honestly I don’t know what happened. One day we were in love, and the next… You know I think it really started after we started making it big. Kaylie started changing, staying out late, bringing strange people back to our hotel rooms, and she stopped talking to me. That’s what I hated the most you know. It started to be like I wasn’t even there. We did our four shows a week and other than that I was nonexistent. I can’t say for sure what triggered it. Maybe I… Maybe I could have done something different.”
Jordan is quiet for a moment, “You know, I had known Kaylie most of my life before everything between you and her went down, and she never was the most reliable person. She’s ruled primarily by her emotions, which I think is what caused her anorexia and that whole breakdown.”
“I loved that about her though. Not the breakdown of course, but the passion she had because she wore her emotions on her sleeve. It was part of what drew me to her. Now though, it’s like she has completely shut down all emotions. She’s not the same, I’m telling you.”
“You really love her don’t you?”
Damon nods, “Even after everything she’s done, I still love her. I haven’t been able to stop since the first day I met her, and it has hurt a lot of people for me to be with her.”
“Emily Kmetko you mean? Wasn’t she like pregnant or something?”
“My only regret in life, though I
have a feeling more are heading my way shortly, was leaving her with absolutely
no explanation. She didn’t deserve
it. She was ready to commit to me even
though I could tell she didn’t love me anymore either. Emily was in the habit of giving things up
for other people. She gave up gymnastics
for our kid, and she was prepared to give up her happiness for me, and the
family she wanted us to have. God it
seems like yesterday… But, it wasn’t. I
have to leave the past in the past.”
Jordan, sensing that a shift in the conversation seems necessary, kindly changes the subject, “So, Nashville, huh? It’s a great city.”
Damon smiles, “I hope so. I just feel like I need some space, you know, to find myself again. I want to write music again, like I used to. I want to feel something real. Nashville seems like as good of a place as any to start looking for that feeling. Where are you headed?”
“Chicago, to look at another gymnast.”
“They sure work you hard at the NGO, huh?”
She laughs, “Nah, it’s my job, and I love looking at new talent. I help make dreams possible.”
“That is pretty amazing Jordan, I must say.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just got done with a show and I am bushed. I’m going to take like a five hour nap.”
“I don’t get how you can sleep on a plane.”
Damon slips his sunglasses back over his eyes, “Practice makes perfect my dear Jordan.”
“Goodnight Damon,” Jordan laughs.
“Night!” he replies, and is quickly lulled to sleep by the hum of the plane engine.
Kaylie had no idea what to do as she watched Damon walk away. She didn’t know what to feel either. It was like every emotion she had been keeping down had started to boil over, and it was everything she could do to keep them on a simmer. What had she done?
The last few years played before her eyes now. She saw their first big show together in Athens, how happy Damon had been, and she had been happy too. Happiness. That was a feeling almost alien to her now. She remembered when it started to happen, the numbness. Her Dad had called to say that her mom was sick and everything began to crumble around her. Damon didn’t even know. To him she had just grown distant and unfeeling for no reason. But her mother was dying and she couldn’t even bring herself to enter the United States because the pain was just too much.
She hated the feeling of helplessness she got when she thought about it. In fact the more she thought about it the less she wanted to eat. Often, she could feel the stress bottling up inside her, filling her until she felt full enough to skip one meal, then two, then a whole day. Kaylie had been fighting a battle and losing for months now and she could feel herself beginning to fade away. The only thing she could think of that might make it better was to go out and party with people that didn’t mean anything to her. She was unattached to them, free to leave and not care how they got home.
She knew that she had been distancing herself from Damon long before he even realized it. The thought of losing him scared her more than most anything. He had once been a great constant in her life, but now he was just a reminder of how much she could lose in such a short time. So, as Damon disappeared from her life now, she couldn’t help but feel relief, then guilt for feeling that way, and then relief again because why lie to herself? He was a threat to her well being, it was simple. Damon leaving was the last link to be broken. Kaylie was now completely unattached to the real world. There was nothing left to make her feel pain, because there was nothing and no one left to care about.