I really wasn’t in my right mind when I got sucked into the conversation with Digger and Mills. But I did anyway.
Mills was hanging around backstage, in the slightly larger room from the one we’d kept band-only. Like last night, the music industry people quotient was high here, too, which I expected. After all, on top of the fact the show was in New York, this was a charity thing so I figured lots of ass-kissers would be there. It didn’t really matter to me all that much.
I can’t even remember how the conversation got started, but at some point I forgot to keep my mouth shut and I mentioned we were going to play a version of “Milking It” in the opening set.
“That’s the track you laid in New Orleans?” Digger asked.
“We’re changing that title,” Mills said then, as if it was a done deal. “I mean, think about it. When it goes out for radio, that’s just not going to sound good.”
I wasn’t sure what he was getting at. Seemed a little far-fetched people would read a sexual innuendo into it. “What?”
“It sounds crass and commercial, like the only reason you did the song was for the money,” he explained.
“Oh, see, but that’s not it at all–” I started to say.
He cut across me before I could get into it. “People don’t get their impression from the lyrics. They get it from the title. Besides, ‘Star Baby’ works with the theme of the lyrics and as the theme song.”
I’d forgotten that “Star Baby” was the name of the movie. “Yeah, okay.” I really wasn’t attached to “Milking It” as a title, anyway. They say pick your battles and this wasn’t one I really had a stake in.
But Digger got a little hot under the collar. “Theme song? I thought we were looking at one track for a sales boost, an incidental cut.”
“Well, you know your film people better than I do…” Mills looked around as if some of them might be there, but we were on the wrong coast for that. “But I swear last I heard from them someone said opening title sequence. I didn’t think anything of it, you know. Star of the movie, star singer, made sense to me to make it the feature track for radio, but as for what they use it for in the film…” He trailed off.
“Well, I don’t know what they told you, but if they’re changing the way they’re using it, we need to discuss changing the deal, John.”
I’d forgotten that Mills’s first name was John.
“That’s a discussion we should have, but not right this second. ” Mills clapped Digger on the shoulder. “Daron, what say I introduce you to the fundraising chair? Got a minute for me?”
He gave Digger’s shoulder an extra pat. “I’ll be in LA next week, Don. Your office or mine?”
“Have your girl call my girl,” Digger said. Yes, he actually said that. And no, I hadn’t forgotten his real name was Don. I just hadn’t heard anyone call him that outside of telemarketers who used to call the house in Jersey. It was short for Donald. I wondered if Digger thought it was more respectable-sounding.
I didn’t have the chance to ask. I followed Mills into the hallway and shook hands with a couple of people he introduced me to. They must have been from Covenant House because they definitely didn’t look music-industry. I could hear the PA playing pre-recorded music out in the club. Tones on Tail. I approved.
Mills let me escape after that, and I went to find Ziggy again to run through our usual warm-up. It had been maybe forty five minutes since I’d last seen him and I was feeling antsy, like I was going to fall apart if we were separated for too long. Oh, that is not a good thing. Not at all. Some people like being head over heels–that’s why there are so many songs about it. But I found it hard to enjoy when all it meant when he walked out of a room was that a fist squeezed my chest as if he’d taken permission to breathe with him.
But there it was. A kind of agonizing thread of panic that subsided the instant I saw him. It made me want to run up to him and kiss him.
I had sudden sympathy for how Jonathan must’ve felt, that time he did run up and kiss me.
And then I had a new panic. If this was how Jonathan felt about me, then I was in way over my head. We both were.
Ziggy tugged on my sleeve. “You okay? You look a million miles away.”
“Fine,” I said, blinking. “Just getting in the zone.”
Ziggy gave me one of those you’re-a-terrible-liar looks.
“And looking for you so we can warm up,” I added. Which was 100% true.
“Good plan.” He cleared his throat a little and we went to the men’s room like we usually did.
And as usual, I felt a lot calmer and more centered once we ran through it. Mah, may, mee, moe, moo.
“Did your mother teach you to warm up like that?” I asked, when he was touching up his makeup in the mirror after we were done.
“Nah, I didn’t learn that until church choir,” he said, and I had a feeling I’d asked him before but I’d forgotten. I felt like I couldn’t remember anything, like I had to ask him everything I’d ever asked him before all over again.
Maybe this time I’d listen.
Maybe this time he’d tell the truth.
These kind of thoughts made my chest hurt and even my arms ached a little.
He turned slowly toward me, making it obvious that I’d been staring at him. “Want me to do your eyes?” he asked gently.
“Hold still. Look up.”
I did as he said but I had to freeze in place. I wanted to shut my eyes. I wanted to pull him closer, even though being this close was making me ache all over, too. I felt like I was getting the flu.
I knew it wasn’t the flu. It was Ziggy.
I couldn’t tell if he could tell what was going on with me or not. All I knew was that he was being nice to me. I felt pathetically grateful for that.
I held his hand when he was done, the hand that had the stub of the eyeliner pencil in it, and said, “You have to let me know if you start to feel too tired during the show tonight. We can slow it down. I can vamp to the audience. Whatever. Don’t push yourself as hard tonight as you did yesterday. Please, Zig.”
“You think I shouldn’t have?”
“No. That’s not what I mean.” I squeezed his hand harder, willing him to understand me. “I was so proud of you last night. That sounds so condescending and that’s not how I mean it. I was… touched and honored by your commitment to the show. Shit, and that sounded really pretentious. Do you know what I mean, though? My god, Zig. You’ve come so far. You just… That was awesome.” God, I was stupid when I was like this. Nothing came out right. I tried to get back to basics: “But don’t push yourself too hard. We don’t have to here.”
“I’m not saying hold back. I’m saying let me know if you’re feeling it, if you need a break.” Not that I wasn’t going to be as caught up in everything as he was, but I wanted him to know he had permission to put his foot on the brake pedal if he needed it.
“Okay, Daron, okay.” He leaned in close, as if he could make me believe it by staring extra intently into my eyes. “Now, come on, we’re going to absolutely kill tonight, you know it.”
Give me a kiss for luck, I thought. I wanted to say it. Even more, I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to say it because I wanted to kiss him and I felt the perverse need for an excuse for it. And I got tangled up in worrying about whether it was stupid to make excuses like that, and what if he said no? So instead I reached up slowly and put my fingers under his chin and pulled him that last few inches until his mouth touched mine.
Fuck. I mean, just… fuck. His lipstick tasted like wax but I don’t really think I was taking it in with my senses. I was too overwhelmed by him. I can’t even make a decent metaphor out of it. Time stopped. My heart stopped.
And then I licked the taste of wax off my own lips and refrained from cheesily thanking him for lending me some. I hear the door behind me and turned to look, but if it had been open, it had swung hastily shut.
“Did you see who that was?” I asked.
Ziggy shook his head. “Didn’t get a look.”
Amazingly, I felt almost no panic over who it might have been. The state of my anxiety over how plainly, undeniably, and stupidly I was in love with him was so high, so maybe anything else just didn’t make a dent.
It’s going to be different this time, said the optimistic side of my brain.
No, it isn’t, came the answer. You fool. You put yourself right back in the hole you worked so hard to climb out of.
I was used to having two voices arguing. This time there was a third voice, though. Third voice said, Shut up, both of you. You’re different. So it’ll be different. Unless you insist on dragging it back to the same.
So much of that depends on him, though, I tried to argue.
Yeah, and so much of it depends on you. What are you going to do now, Daron?
“Daron?” Ziggy asked. “Are you okay?”
I reached up and touched my lips with my fingertips. “I don’t know,” I told him. “I don’t know.”