Two more days went by before I went back to the hotel for a real shower and a break. A few times Claire had looked around and made eye contact, but it was like she was looking at us through one-way glass and couldn’t see us looking back at her.
Ziggy came with me and we got in the shower together. Relief was quick, hot, and wet. He got out when we were done with each other and I washed and conditioned my hair so I could comb through it carefully and not yank the extensions. I did the first round of combing while rinsing the conditioner out, so it took a while. The hotel brand of conditioner smelled a little like oranges but mostly like some fruit that never existed.
When I shut off the water and climbed out, I could hear Ziggy’s voice. It sounded like he was on the phone. I cracked open the door to hear better.
“Oh, sure, sure,” he was saying. That didn’t sound dire. He sounded chatty. “I know exactly what you mean.”
I stopped paying attention to him and worked on gently wringing out my hair with a towel, then combing it through one last time before emerging to look for a clean shirt to put on.
Ziggy motioned me to come closer. His face looked far more serious than his tone sounded: “Oh, I’m sure that won’t be a problem. Oh, Patty, Daron’s here now. Can I put you on speaker?”
“Sure,” she agreed, but I could hear the kept on talking while he went to the phone to hit the speaker button. “–can’t go on like this. You need to find a way to get Digger out of my hair, or we’re going nowhere fast. Do you hear me? I mean it. Like hitting a brick wall. You don’t just stop, you go to smithereens.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but Ziggy gestured me to silence. “Patty, Daron and I just worked on a song yesterday.”
“God, I can’t wait to hear it. That just proves it. Everything’s ready to move, but if we hit launch and that brick wall’s in the way? It’s the Challenger all over again.”
I got goosebumps and pulled a corner of the comforter over myself.
“It’s just one song,” he said.
“That’s not the point.” She made a thumping sound, either her fist on the desk or maybe she had her feet up and they hit the floor? She sounded closer to the mic when she went on. “If we’re going to pull the trigger on this… it’s not just the lawsuits. What if he blows the publicity campaign? He needs to be out of the picture.”
I got a sudden image in my head of Patty as a mafia boss. What, were we supposed to bump him off in the night?
“Well, we’re expecting he may show up here,” Ziggy said. “I’ll be ready when he does.”
I made a questioning gesture. What did he mean by that? He waved me off.
“The settlement’s got to include ironclad NDAs,” she said.
“Fax me,” Ziggy replied.
“Good. Now, here’s the thing. He’s not the greatest risk, ultimately. You two are.”
“I can keep a secret,” Ziggy said. “And I know Daron can, too.”
“What secret?” I blurted out.
Ziggy waited for Patty to answer this one. “If we’re going to play this game, you have to play it my way. And that means no public acknowledgement of your non-musical relationship.”
And I thought I’d felt cold when she’d invoked the shuttle blowing up. I froze solid.
I could see Ziggy’s jaw was clamped shut, the muscle bulging.
“Fortunately, you guys have been pretty savvy about laying the groundwork. The second Ziggy gets back in the spotlight, the tabloids are going to have a field day wanting to know who the lucky girl is.”
I felt like I was about to swallow my own tongue. Ziggy did an almost Bruce-Lee-like cracking of his neck, and said, “For how long?”
“Until they lose interest in you, which hopefully won’t be anytime soon. Or until they lose interest in her, anyway. You have someone lined up?”
Ziggy held his hands up, fingers spread, like he was examining a manicure. “I think we’re misunderstanding each other. I meant, how long are Daron and I going to be under, for lack of a better term, ‘virtual NDA.’ Just until the publicity stunt plays out?”
There was a beat of silence, and I knew it was a beat too long. “You know this isn’t the climate to go public about that sort of thing.”
“I didn’t mean go public. I mean, I know I’m known for letting it all hang out, but Daron likes to keep things private. Besides, the only reason I’d ‘go public’ would be for strategic reasons.”
“Good to hear. That’s a bullet I want you to keep in the gun if you can.” Her laugh was throaty. “Okay. I’ll work on setting up the dominoes at this end.”
“Leave Digger to me, all right?”
“You know I would normally never trust an artist with this kind of thing,” she added.
“But you trust me.” Ziggy was all Cheshire Cat.
“This time,” she said. “Ciao, bella.”
“Ciao,” he said sweetly, then hung up the phone gingerly and tapped the speaker button like it might be made of hot lava. “Jeezus fucking christ.” He put his hands over his eyes.
I was still frozen in place. I swallowed. “Um. What? Did we just agree to…?”
He turned toward me, pulled the other end of the bedspread over his own shoulders, making it into a tent around us. “Engineering a publicity campaign built around a narrative of you and me getting back together musically depends on the public not knowing that we are already attached at the hip, dear one.”
I wanted to pull away and pull him closer at the same time. I opted for pressing against him. “I feel ill.”
“I was worried you might.”
“Patty thinks that–” The phone rang again before he could get any farther. He let out a cleansing breath. “Let me handle her, all right? Okay? Trust me?”
I kissed him hard on that clenched jaw muscle, which meant I basically headbutted him. “Okay.”
He let out one more breath, like that one you always blow in the wings before you step on stage, and picked up the phone with an overly sweet, “Hello?”
But it wasn’t Patty calling. It was the hospital.
(Can’t help myself. Had to go back to the 80s for a couple of chapter titles. -d)