Boys don't cry
Stepping out of Saint Laurent store in Mayfair in his tailored, designer casual wear, Lennon sees a couple of dedicated fangirls hovering nearby with expectation on their beaming faces. He greets a few of the girls with an extended hand. Juggling their delicate fingers, autograph books, and Sharpies, he works the crowd with an affable charm.
- You guys been waiting long?
- Yeah, no, like not long,- says one, flicking her hair in a deliberately nonchalant manner.
Well versed in these mechanics, he’s still surprised to see girls as young as these, eager for his scrawl on a piece of paper. He’s well known, constantly recognized and he wishes he could say he misses his anonymity. He doesn’t because well, he always liked attention and he always had it. Now it’s just on a worldwide scale. Most people know his name and he has more money than he ever had, one may say he’s made it.
Jorja follows him holding big shopping bags and joins him in signing autographs, gently smiling at teenage girls that keep shouting their names. To their disappointment two big bodyguards start pulling Lennon and Jorja to the car that’s been waiting for them. They enter the car with urgency, still hearing the girls screams and a few paparazzo cameras click. Lennon stares out through the tinted window of his chauffeur driven ride to the restaurant in Soho where the band will meet their managers to discuss their third album.
Rick and James, manager and an assistant manager of the band, are talking business while sipping on sparking water, answering phone calls from time to time. Lennon doesn’t talk much and mostly looks out of the window of a fancy restaurant, Jorja is sitting next to him eating caesar salad. After a while Sam and Nate enter the restaurant and join them at the large table, secluded from the rest of the establishment.
- Nice of you to join us. - Jorja mumbles annoyed while chewing on her cherry tomato.
- It’s not my fault traffic is a fucking nightmare at this time of day. - Sam spits back taking off his sunglasses, staring deadly at her and sitting next to Lennon, while Nate sits across from them immediately trying to catch the waitress’s attention in order to get a drink.
- Ok kids stop bickering, let’s get down to business. Now that you are all here.
Rick announces and Lennon rolls his eyes, hating this part of the job. But he keeps quiet knowing these meetings are also part of the job and the less time they spend talking bullshit the faster they will finish and get on with the day. He can see from the corner of his eye that Jorja is playfully sneaking her arm behind Lennon’s back reaching for Sam and poking the side of his back and Sam jolts in surprise, trying to keep his face straight. When Lennon looks at him, he can see a smile creeping on his friend’s face but covering it with his fist and trying to pay attention to what the manager is saying. Those two are being awfully strange with their fighting but not actually fighting, and Lennon would like to investigate more but he hears something that Rick says and it catches his attention.
- ... and we will change your record label. What you guys did in the last months with this album was incredible and we want to make it even bigger with the third album. But the contract we have with your label is not allowing you guys more freedom, they have been so hard to work with. You all remember how much we fought for certain songs and they just wouldn’t allow it, because apparently it didn’t fit your image.
- That’s right Rick, and also the promo was shit. - Nate adds drinking his beer and the rest just nodded.
- It was worth it in the end, your hard work with that last album and the fan base you have... I mean look at your number one singles and sales are going through the roof, you guys are the new thing that everybody’s been talking about. But now it’s time for the third album and it has to be bigger. And better.
- Yeah but you can’t just tell us make the third album bigger and better. It doesn’t work like that. It’s gonna happen or it won’t. - Lennon says, not understanding how the record label has anything to do with how good they are.
- Obviously Lennon. That’s not what I’m saying. I believe in you and I know that you can make more amazing music. And when you do, I want a label who will support you and your vision, not the vision of the label. And also we want the best, the label that can provide you with the best producers.
- Yeah Rick, we agree completely. - Jorja nods. Lennon does like what Rick is saying because more freedom for his music is what he wants as an artist. He trusts Rick and James, they’ve been good in managing the band since their first record deal.
- Thanks for doing what’s in our best interest mate. - Nate adds. - We’re already jamming and writing some new stuff.
- Amazing. I’m so proud of you guys. So James already scheduled a meeting with Peter Hamilton-Smith, from Hamilton Records on Monday, although we’ll meet with his nephew William and his team and there will probably be few producers that will be happy to talk to you about where you want your sound to go, and .... - Lennon’s hand grips the edge of the table and his knuckles are white.
- What the fuck did you just say? - everybody just stares at Lennon.
- I’m ... I just said you will have a meeting with the new record label on Mon...
- What record label?
- Lennon, hon, please, let’s... - Joja starts talking quietly and puts her hand over Lennon’s wanting to calm him down, but Lennon feels rage all over his body at the mention of that name, of the record label name, so he pushes Jorja’s hand away and looks angrily at Rick across from him.
- It’s Hamilton Records.- Rick says confused. - Is there a problem Lennon?
- Yes. I’m not doing it.
- What do you mean you’re not doing it? We all just agreed that we will change the label, you know it’s...
- I said no. Find another label Rick.
- Another label?! - Rick laughs.- You think this is a joke? This is a label for you! They are the best in business at the moment, the contract they are offering is everything you guys need.
- Don’t worry Rick, we’ll talk to Lennon about it...- Nate says eyeing Lennon. - He’s just being a little bit grumpy this morning...or this year. - the last part Nate says to himself almost whispering but Lennon hears him and points a finger at him.
- Nate, I love you but I swear I won’t hesitate to punch you in that pretty little nose of yours, you understand me? I won’t publish my songs under that name!
- Your songs? Last time I checked you were in a band, Lennon, and they are our songs, so before you say anything, think about what consequences will that have for all of us.
- Lennon, Nate is right. I don’t understand what is your problem with this particular label, and you don’t have to tell me but there’s no other choice. You will do it. I don’t care about your personal reasons. That’s the best and only option at this moment for the band.
- You. Don’t. Understand...
- Lennon, let’s just try, we will go Monday, talk to them, see what they have to say and we’ll go from there. If you guys don’t agree with their conditions then we can talk about ...
- I’m done with this conversation. - he stands up abruptly, the chair screams against the tiled floor as he pushes it away making most of the people in a restaurant turn in curiosity and he makes his way to the door. -
- For fucks sake Len, come back... - Jorja says.
- Gotta love a bit of drama. - Sam says amusingly while picking up his fork and taking some of the salad from Jorja’s plate.
- What did I say wrong? - Rick asks, confused.
- Ah... don’t worry about it Rick, you don’t want to know the... details. - Jorja says looking at Lennon leaving the restaurant.
- I’ll go talk to him.
When he leaves the restaurant he can’t even think clearly, he forgets where he is and stands confusedly in the middle of the street trying to figure out how will he manage to find a taxi in this rush hour. He takes his phone and scrolls through contacts, wanting to call their driver however his thumb pauses above the name Tinie.
- Len! - he can hear his best friend’s voice behind him and he shuts his eyes in frustration, and pockets his phone.
- Leave me alone Nate I’m not in the mood. You can tell Rick I said no.
- I’m not here because of Rick, you fool,he didn’t send me.- Nate talks calmly and pushes Lennon in the small alley behind the restaurant where there’s no random people from the street or noisy cars.- Talk to me. Shout at me. Scream. Punch. Just like you and I know.
- I... I don’t know what to say to you Nate.
- This is work Len. Just try to think about it like that. We need this contract.
- I know but... I don’t want to see him. Rick said his name, he... he’ll be there. Why? What the fuck Nate?!
- Don’t you read the news, mate? William took Peter Hamilton-Smith’s, his uncle’s spot in the label.
- How the fuck would I know? I don’t want to know anything about him, I finally moved on.
- Did you?
- Y ... yes. I’ve ...I’ve been better. -
He can’t remember the last time he cried, which is good, and he goes out to parties more often now. He deleted his number and a selfie of them that he had on his phone from that night he met him in New York, their faces mushed together when Lennon pulled him close to his sweaty drunken body, the biggest grins on their faces.
He even made out with a guy after the concert in that festival in Manchester this month. It was the day when he went to the bookstore next to the hotel before their set and then he walked past the newspaper aisle. There was a gossip magazine with William’s and Nina’s pretty faces on the front cover. It said they got engaged.
- I know he got engaged. That’s all I know. - he bites his bottom lip staring at the distance.
- It doesn’t matter Lennon, we’ll help you, you don’t have to talk to him, you just sit there and we will do all the talking, and he might not even be there, you never know, he is probably busy as a new CEO.
- New CEO. - he shakes his head in disbelief. - How fucking typical. Fuck... that means he’s here..
- He is back in London, yeah. And has his own record label now. - Nate says and grips his shoulders. - But you, my friend, are strong and you can do it. For me, for Jo and Sammy. We need this contract, we all worked our asses off to get here, Len. You know it’s the right thing to do. - the dark memory cuts him like a sword.
Nate was right. He can’t make scenes like this anymore. How much lower can he possibly get? He was already at his lowest, worshiping him for months, yet William didn’t even call him to say anything about the song in which Lennon shamelessly poured his heart out.
- Yeah I know, you’re right. I... would never want to let you down. Not after what you guys did for me after he ... he left.
It is Monday morning and he is holding his Starbucks cup filled with black coffee like it’s the most precious thing in the world. It’s not that he needs it to wake himself up, he hopelessly stayed awake the whole night. He needs something to calm his nerves, he needs distractions, he needs not to be entering this big, shiny building.
Lennon follows his band mates as they push past groups of businessmen and women to get to the lift and counts the black dots on Jorja’s silk blouse in front of him. He is growing anxious with every floor they pass. Third floor, fourth, fifth. The last bell and the doors open for the Top floor. Home to the CEO, the Boss Man of the Hamilton Records headquarters. They walk out of the lift and Lennon takes another sip of his coffee not looking around just focusing on the strong taste of his coffee and white clean tiles. He hears voices and doesn’t recognize any of them so that’s good. Nate takes his hand and squeezes it gently and asks if he’s alright and Lennon says yeah but he is not sure if he is.
All he knows is that he wants to get out of this place as soon as possible and go back to his bed, pop a couple of sleeping pills and sleep for two days straight. Yes, that is his plan.
By the waiting area, huge floor to ceiling windows showcase a beautiful view of the London skyline, cloudy as usual but still majestic. A few visitors wait in beige leather chairs while others pace the floor impatiently. One man approaches them with a smile and introduces himself as Mister Hamilton-Smith’s assistant and guides them to one of the many rooms on this floor. At the mention of that name Lennon tenses but he might be his uncle’s assistant so he tries to ignore it.
They all enter, sit and wait now, on a big leather couch in a spacious room that has a lot of comfy chairs and instruments and framed pictures of rock stars on the walls. Jorja moves across the room and sits in Lennon’s lap, her hair smells like hairspray and her tropical shampoo, she’s watching him worried - she knows.
- You are doing amazing. You don’t have to worry, he can’t hurt you.
- I just fucking hate him Jo.
- Ok you don’t have to talk to him, just sit here and we will handle the business stuff and then we’ll be out of here.
- Are you and Sam fucking?
- Excuse me, what?!
- I need a distraction, talk about something else, are you two doing it?
- Oh my God, no! Where did you get that!? -
She slaps his shoulder with an overly disgusted face and Lennon laughs at the same time the door opens and the sound of his nightmares fills the room. Voice of William Hamilton-Smith.
- Now where is this mysterious band? Uncle didn’t tell me anything about them.
He turns around to his assistant while entering the room. He isn’t even looking, he doesn’t even know Lennon is here, he realizes.
And then William looks up and stops. Lennon tapps his feet and looks at him, curling his hands into fists, hoping he wouldn’t notice them shake. William then scans the whole room and smiles. Lennon envies his composure. He was always very much in control.
- Hello everyone. What a surprise this is! - his perfect face. His perfect smile. His perfect voice.
- How have you been, mate?
Nate approaches him and they hug, and William smiles more and Lennon closes his eyes and remembers the nights he spent drinking alone and ending up passed out on his kitchen floor wearing William’s green hoodie - a piece of clothing he still had in his possession.
They talk some nonsense and William hugs Sam and then Jorja stands up from Lennon’s lap and she coldly says hello to William kissing his both cheeks. Then he looks down at Lennon. Lennon is fidgeting with the ring on his middle finger, and looks away.
- Lennon Lewis. - William says smugly and looks at Lennon testily then laughs a short, humorless laugh.
A haunting laugh that echoes mercilessly in the vacancy of his mind. Relax. Deep breaths. Think. Is what Lennon’s brain is telling him, and then he sees William’s hand that wants to shake his.
-Let’s stop with formalities and get this over with so we can all agree that we can’t work together and not waste anybody’s time. I have places to be. - Lennon blurts angrily, making William actually stop in the middle of the room and glare at him.
The room is dead silent and Lennon closes his eyes again but this time there’s not him crying on the floor, there’s him smiling while William kisses his nose under the covers.
Smiling while William takes his hand in his and kisses his knuckles.
Smiling while William calls him beautiful.
Smiling while William smiles back at him and Lennon sees his future brightly for the first time after his father left him and his sister left him and he realised his mother loved her next fix more than him and he stayed alone and empty ever since.
Then others start talking about something that Lennon can’t quite hear, he completely zoned out. Lennon’s heart lurches in his chest and begins to beat rapidly as William’s eyes meet his briefly. Maybe he senses fear in his eyes, or sees a look of desperation across his face, but for a second Lennon can swear that he sees something in William’s eyes. He’s broken like Lennon is at this moment? It can’t be. But just like hope, that look is fleeting, gone before Lennon can even grab hold of it, tuck it inside his chest and let it grow. He can’t bear to look at him for even a moment more.
William whispers his name now, none of that cockiness from only a few moments before, but Lennon can’t look at him because he has to leave. He knows leaving isn’t even the hardest part, it is what spirals after and that is staying away. He grabs the door handle, pressing his lips tightly together, he opens the door. Quietly closing the door behind him he embraces the true feeling of loneliness.