After making sure that the roadies didn’t damage the stage while taking down the instruments – which was, surprise, surprise, actually something I was supposed to do – I was now to track down the person responsible for organizing the impending Meet & Greet with the band. These were the days that I wished I had never quit my old, magnificently boring office job.
After minutes of aimless straying though narrow and way too crowded corridors I bumped into Jared Leto’s personal assistant, who had been introduced to me as Emma, I recalled, and I let out a sigh of relief. I raised my hand in a gesture that prevented her from hurrying on past me and said with a friendly smile plastered to my face, “Excuse me, I’m looking for the person dealing with the Golden Tickets tonight.”
Emma nodded, stressed, but I found she was pretty even though she wore little to no make-up to cover the worry-lines on her young face.
“That would be Sarah,” she informed me before grabbing the walkie-talkie that was attached to her belt. Having exchanged a few words with someone, she put the black gadget back to where it belonged. Her hectic and fast movements were bewildering to watch and they reminded me that, for all I knew, her occupation was worse than mine.
“Sarah is already with the Meet & Greet people and I’m going to go fetch the boys before joining her. What is it that you need from Sarah?”
“I am supposed to make sure everything happens without any incidents,” I replied, feeling faintly embarrassed at the insignificance of my assignment. My hands moved on their own accord to tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear, which in itself had to make me look even more unprofessional than I already felt, face to face with a business woman like her. I fought to get my hands back down, away from my head.
“Oh there is no need to; we’ve got our own security down there. Take a break, you look like you could use one,” she smiled charitably and, without awaiting my response, walked past me, rounding the corner with swift, steady strides. I let out a huff of air, listening to her footsteps fading. If someone looked like they needed a break, it was definitely her, I decided. ‘Oh, god,’ I groaned inwardly, a sudden ache making me realize grudgingly that I really didn’t feel well right now, or generally, and that maybe she was right in the end. I tried remembering the last time I had felt happy or even relaxed in a fruitless attempt to convince myself that today quite simply wasn’t my day and that was all there was to it. The plastic smile I hadn’t noticed was still blemishing my face slipped, I stumbled a couple of steps forward, hands flying to my head – a puckering pain, throbbing, too warm, I needed to get outside.
‘What is this?’ I asked myself, rather furiously, as I forced my heavy legs to move, to get me out of this building. Shallow, slow steps, one more, another one, two, three… my hand on the wall, balance, it’s getting better, come on now Ana you’re stronger than this, but my limbs are weak – forget them, forget your body, another corner to round, there, there…
“Howdy Ana – wait, are you alright?” someone asked, stopped next to me, a hand on my shoulder. I nodded, “’s okay”, a skeptical look, a shrug, alone again.
“Pull yourself together goddamnit,” I whispered and halted my steps. Straightening up, I blinked through the persistent pain in my forehead and swallowed deeply, twice, before crossing the distance that separated me and the back exit. The door gave way and fresh, crisp air caressed my face – good, very good, it distracted from the headache. I sucked it in greedily, the cold hit the back of my throat like cool water, it swept the heat away. The door clicked shut behind me and the closed-off parking lot fell back into darkness that was only interrupted by two street lamps, one at the far end next to one of the buses and the other right opposite me. They gave off a languid yellow beam that was more of a decoration than a respectable source of light. Thus, it was understandable that it took me the better part of a minute to realize there was another person our here with me, standing no more than a foot short of the little halo surrounding the lantern. The gleaming cigarette stub was just a tiny speck in the dark but after my eyes had adjusted I was positive there was someone leaning against the wall there, someone petite and relatively short in body height.
“Want a smoke?” she asked, her voice sounding astoundingly close. I stared at her dark silhouette. I had recognized the voice; it was the woman who had been trying to apologize to Jared, hours ago, when I had locked myself in the tiny bathroom with the original intention not to eavesdrop, which I had quickly decided to abandon. I wasn’t sure if I liked her or not.
“In case you have one to spare,” I said and walked over to where she was standing. I was a little taller than she was and despite the bad lighting conditions I thought I could tell that her hair color was one or two shades lighter than mine. She let the stub she was still holding fall to the ground, in the other hand she was already holding a packet out of which she took two new cigarettes.
“I’ve wanted to stop for a long time,” she said, handing me mine, sounding very tired. “But not today, not before I’ve sorted this out.”
She lighted hers, then mine. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to comment, so all I said was “thank you” and “I don’t usually smoke”. She regarded me curiously for a second before bringing the cigarette to her lips and taking a pull. I copied her – it tasted nasty, as expected, but I didn’t mind and, to my surprise, I hardly needed to cough.
“What’s your name?” she wanted to know, speaking softly and turning so that the only thing touching the wall behind us was her shoulder. I saw the yellow shine of the street lamp reflecting in her friendly dark eyes.
“Ana,” I answered. “And yours would be..?”
“Vicki. I suppose none of us was really paying attention when we were introduced,” she stated, chuckling. I shrugged.
“I really wasn’t,” I admitted sheepishly. I had been too concentrated on not concentrating on Jared to remember all the names. But there was no way I would tell her that.
“Well, me neither, obviously.”
I took another deep breath of the pleasant night air, followed by another pull. I watched as the smoke mingled with the soft breeze that gently ruffled my hair and tingled curiously on the bare skin of my cheeks and hands. I wasn’t cold – thinking about it, I wasn’t anything at all; I wasn’t whole but I wasn’t broken, I wasn’t sad and yet I wasn’t content either. The pain was still there but it wasn’t bothering me as much anymore. I felt drained, exhausted, but I needed to do something, relieve the tumbling uncertainty, the twisting chaos in my insides. Again, and oh it hadn’t left me at all, the light shining dimly in two blue eyes that I knew by heart – since some point in the distant past, in a distant life, from somewhere in the abyss of forgotten events.
“Maybe you should try apologizing to him one more time,” I declared softly, gaze resting on Vicki’s unhappy expression. She winced, eyes narrowing slightly in distrust. “I overheard bits of your conversation but that’s not what’s important right now,” I muttered a bit uneasily but I was being serious.
“He won’t let me,” Vicki then said uncomfortably. “You should’ve realized as much.”
“Well… so you’re giving up on him?”
“Jesus, what am I to do, kiss his feet and beg for forgiveness? That’s not gonna do the deed. ‘Never apologize for what you’re thinking’ – I mean, hell, sometimes I really wish he would think like a regular human being.”
“I don’t know him but – jeez, what do I know? I don’t even know what you did. Don’t get me wrong though, you don’t have to tell me,” I babbled, unsure if I was crossing a line there. She looked up at me and sighed, sounding defeated.
“I wasn’t thinking, it just slipped. But he’s sensitive, more than he wants others to know. It must’ve really hurt him and god I feel like shit because of it. He’s been so quiet all day.” She ran a hand through her hair, messing up her fringe. “I have no idea how to make it up to him. I don’t – I’m not – we’re not that close. Shannon would know what to do but he’d kill me if I told him. Fuck.”
“Hmm,” I uttered. It was tough, yet I felt an urgent desire to help Vicki, if only so that I could forget the way he had looked at me. Because I really, absolutely didn’t want to see it every time I blinked or closed my eyes for the rest of my godforsaken life. Was it possible to be haunted by someone still alive?
“I know right? That man’s a piece of work. Still, I wouldn’t want to miss his friendship,” Vicki sighed.
Chewing on the inside of my cheek I attempted to put myself in Jared’s shoes, only to resign moments later. I didn’t know him, he was a real mystery to me and it was near impossible to understand the way he was thinking. The only thing I could do was imagine it was me who she’d upset, in whichever way.
“Tell him you weren’t thinking, that you didn’t mean to hurt him, that his friendship is important to you and that you wish he’d forgive you. Just don’t back down. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?” I suggested to her, knowing it was all I could possibly come up with. At least in my current unfavorable condition.
Vicki regarded me silently for a long time, the cigarette all but forgotten between her fingers, just like mine. When she opened her mouth, it stayed that way for a second until she clapped it shut again. I could almost see her thoughts floating about in the air around us.
“It’s time for me to go,” she finally said, letting her burned-out cigarette fall to the ground and stepping on it with her boot-clad foot. “The M&G should be over soon enough and Tomo will be looking for me. I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess?”
“Tomorrow?” I asked, flabbergasted.
“You work here, right Ana?” she demanded.
“Then I’ll definitely see you,” she told me with a rather sassy look on her little face, pushing away from the wall we were leaning against.
“Wait, why?” She had me completely confused.
“You really don’t know? Mars’ll be playing another show – due to high demand or whatever. But it’s old news, honestly,” Vicki grinned and, with a wave of her hand, went back inside.
And thus here I stood, unable to move a muscle while staring into space. My heart was thumping wildly against my ribcage, I could feel it in my fingers, in my head, my toes. An unexpected rush of heat was choking me as everything came crumpling down. It was silly, the first thing that entered my dumbstruck mind: ‘I’ve been given another day.’
No, I wasn’t religious, I didn’t believe in deities, I wasn’t sure if the thing called fate existed for real – but this, how could I explain this? Ba-boom-ba-boom-ba-boom-ba-boom-ba-boom-ba-boom… Breathe, you stupid thing, breathe! Not a big deal not a big deal not a big deal not a big deal not a – but it was. It was a huge fucking deal. He was a huge fucking deal! There had not been a doubt in my mind that all I would have was today, that he’d leave along with the rest of them, that this would stay a puzzle for ever and ever and that I would get to forget. Another day, would it be enough, or would it leave me yearning for clarity more than ever?
With everything in me I knew this was not just a figment of my imagination but real and it wouldn’t leave me alone. He had been a part of my life in the past as much as he was now in the present but I couldn’t for the life of me remember anything. I was weary of it, of the uproar he caused. Hell, I wasn’t even sure whether I liked him or not. He sure had unforeseen effects on me, they were contradictory and confusing and overpowering. No one, no one I had ever met had a comparable power over me and this stranger, this man, Jared Leto, didn’t even appear to be aware of it.
I heard Vicki’s voice echoing in my head: ‘Sometimes I really wish he would think like a regular human being.’
Her statement was capable of enchanting me, it was captivating me, the meaning of her words spoken so freely, like she was at least thinking them every other day.
A regular human being.
How was he not one, how was he different?
Yes, certainly he wasn’t your ordinary man, that much I had noticed, however her words were indicating that there was more to discover and my own forceful urge to do so was unsettling me. I hoped I wouldn’t lose my mind over this. That is, if I hadn’t already.
Yawning, I shuffled over to Mr. Jones’ bureau. I was beyond tired, worn out and I still had to ask him at which time he wanted me present tomorrow. Tomorrow. I made a face and lifted my hand to knock on his office door before pushing down the handle and entering. He really was there, which was a relief since he had been walking about giving frantic orders all day. He looked up when I walked up to his desk, his brown hair in even greater disarray now than earlier.
“Miss Bradley?” he asked, sounding as if he’d just had a nap on his computer keyboard.
“Sir, I wanted to know when you want me to be there tomorrow…”
Tomorrow, good gracious.
My boss frowned and for a tiny moment there I seriously wondered if I needed to repeat myself. The poor wretch sure needed some sleep, too.
“Why tomorrow?” asked Mr. Jones.
Three seconds passed in which I allowed myself to gawk at him like an idiot. “Because Fourty, no Thirty – uh, I mean today’s band – are giving another concert tomorrow,” I enlightened him.
“Yes Miss, I am aware of that. Moreover, tomorrow is listed as your day off,” he told me patiently.
“I – sorry, what?”
He let out a laugh before quickly excusing himself, smiling wryly. “Go home, take a warm bath, and sleep in late. You must be dead exhausted if this has slipped your mind.”
Shit, what was I going to do now? Spending my day at home was not, I repeat, not a possibility with Leto and Co. there. I really had forgotten all about it, I couldn’t even remember why I had taken a day off in the first place.
“Sir… could you please reschedule the date? I’m going to go to work tomorrow.” ‘Whatever it takes.’
This seemed to surprise him, greatly so. Scratching his chin, he eyed me questioningly before nodding. “I can do that. Make sure to be there at four p.m. – and please, take some rest. I don’t want anyone collapsing if I can help it.”
I smiled mildly. “Thank you. Good night,” I said, turned and left.
The same goddamn blue eyes followed me the whole way home, through the streets, people everywhere, neon signs. Blue eyes, every step down the corridor. Blue eyes in my mirror.
“Go away,” I breathed, closing my eyes and pushing my head onto my pillow. ‘Or tell me why you’re here.’