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III. Bad Media Karma

He was quiet before me and I felt little. There was an intensity between us waiting to explode. A few seconds more of silence and the guilt crept up my skin.

"D-Do you want the tacos?"

I nervously stretched my arm with the paperbag. In one snap, Lucian slapped my wrist with the back of his hand, sending the contents of the bag to the wall. I couldn't breathe for a moment. Hell, I can't even move a muscle. All that I could hear was his breathing, as if he has given all his strength in sweeping my offer. I did not feel the pain then but as I held my hand now, it was burning.

In a switch, he reached out for my hand and kissed it, "I'm sorry." It may be the first time he snapped at me, but it was also the first I heard him say those words. Not like he had to say sorry for anything in the past cause all I could think of is how he has helped me. It was more as if our relationship as artist and manager never got this far. I've always obeyed him no matter what he asked of me to do. For him to apologize to me, means that he values me more than I can think of. And I felt happy.

"Why did you leave when I specifically told you not to?" He whispered.
"I just felt trapped, Lucian. We've been at this for three years and I can't remember the times I was really happy. I know you're working hard to get me to my dreams but I just wanted a change in scenery, that's all." I shuddered trying to explain myself and coming up empty of valid reasons.

"Well, Glory. While you were out having the time of your life, I and the Grid were working tirelessly to keep tomorrow your big day as scheduled."
"I'm really sorry…" I was dumbfounded.
"I really wish those words can fix the number of people who got your album ahead of time. It's gotten to a point where my people cannot control the sites where it appears. If anything, it only showed how people are eager to listen to what you have to offer. But you see, that's not the ones bringing in the numbers. Those aren't going to put you to charts. I know we've done several questionable things to play with the charts but I'm not gonna do it right at your big release. That will denigrate your talent and authenticity."

"What can I d--"
"Shhh, I'm not done."
And I cowered.
"You want to know what you just did?"
I didn't know how to answer the question but I was sure he was about to show me instead. With a press on his phone, he showed me a photo.

It was that of me and Jagger. At the park. He was holding my hand. And I got a smile of my face. It was cinematic. Not your run off the mill paparazzo shot. The headline, "Who's That Hunk?"

"Good question." Lucian pressed another button and the tabs changed.

Jagger Reed Fucks Hot MILF in the Garage. The description was unbearable. The thumbnail was worse. It has been viewed 1,034,102 times. And the related videos showed three more titles with Jagger in them. It undoubtedly changed everything I knew about the beautiful man I just met.

"Do you want me to press play?"
"No!" I had my hand over my mouth.

How could this be? How would I even know he was in this line of work? He was just like every other man on the street. We met by accident. Now the papers are all talking about how I'm dating a porn star. "What does her family think of her new beau?" was written as a caption in one of the photos. "Is this a part of Glory's transition to a racier image?" read another. The more I read about the articles, the clearer it became how I have sabotaged my own career even before it started. I couldn’t look at Lucian even if I know his eyes were on me the whole time. Tears started welling up eyes uncontrollably. I tried to take deeper breaths to calm myself down.

Before I could burst into tears, Lucian took me in his arms. I felt nothing but the cold lining of his suit. He stroked my hair and kissed my forehead. Somehow I felt relieved. And I was happy. "It's not your fault." He whispered into my ear. "I should have been there for you."

He sat me down and looked straight into my eyes as he held my arms, "This is an attack."

Puzzled, I tried to make sense of what he just said.

"They know your capabilities. That's why they're trying to bring you down. And you do not have to let them win. We won't let them. There's no doubt that they sent this man to play on our weakness. You are a trusting girl. It's the reason I have not let you go on interviews and kept you from the press. He's gonna come for you again and I won't let him destroy your image any further. They think they've won by using you. They're leeching off of your fame. I want you to be strong. We're gonna get through this."

The more I listened to what he said, the easier it was for me to piece together what happened back there. Something, however, didn't seem right. Something about what Jagger said. Precocial. Awakening. Would he tell me that just so the paparazzo can have a photo of us to sell? He made me feel like I was indeed trapped. But what if Lucian is right? I can trust him more than a stranger who mysteriously disappears and minutes after, a photo of us surfaces.

"What can we do?"
"They think your being silenced is a weakness. I'd say it's one of our hidden strengths. It's time you meet the press."
"I don't think that's a great idea, I- I- I don't know what to say."
"We're not going there unprepared," he smiled. "You're a fast learner. I'll train you."
"What if I fail you again?"
"You won't."

He stood up and he looked towering from below. His blond hair seemed like fire from the lights of the dressing room.

"We're releasing your album today."
"It's the only way we can fight the leak at this point. This means you're gonna have a word with the press tonight. We have 6 hours. Tomorrow, we're going to a radio show and your scheduled musical guest appearance at the Late Night."
"Everything's happening so fast."
"You'll get used to it." Something about how he said it caught my attention. He left the room for a while to answer a call. From a snippet of it before he walked out, it was about the album dropping online at the biggest online music streaming websites and digital stores.

Emergence. Out now. It consists of 11 tracks of several musical experimentations. I worked with a new producer who curated how my voice would mix well with electropop and synthpop beats while moving the genre forward. It was unlike anything in the scene. Safe to say we have introduced a new wave of post-electropop. Lucian says it's going to be the defining sound of the decade. Other pop acts will start to follow my lead. There have been songs that went in this direction. But we're going to be the first to push it. Usually, they would release singles ahead of the album. Lucian wanted to bring it to the market as a whole. Which I agree with.

I've never been in front of the media. I don't know if I can do it but I'll have to if I want to succeed. This sophomore album will make or break my career. Most artists would be in a slump for their second release. And a third is supposed to be a redemptive process or not. We're gearing my second to be my biggest.

Thinking about everything just made me realize I was hungry. Usually, I would just call someone to bring me food. Right now, I could only crave for street food. Which reminded me, there was another bag. I looked behind me to still find it on my table. That one seemed heavier than the tacos. The other made a mess on the carpeted floor by the wall. I was too hungry to care about the mess Lucian left. There are gonna be cleaning people anyway. What's important is I still have the other bag Jagger left.

When I reached inside, it did not feel like what I expected.

It was a phone.

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