An excerpt from Chapter One:
I could hear the cicadas outside my window, a white noise that used to grate. I could hear my Mom bustling around the house and Dad watching the news in the next room over. Everything was exactly the same as it usually was except for inside me. I was electrified. A live wire.
My best friends and I were in a band, The Betty Coopers, named for our blonde hair and blue eyes. A song I wrote and we performed went viral. Three months ago, we got signed by the biggest label in the industry, Intergalactic Music Group. They were flying us to Los Angeles in a private plane that night to start recording. They didn’t usually send private planes for newly signed, unproven talent but it just happened to be in the area, delivering an artist for a performance.
“Talia!” my mother’s warm voice called. Her voice perfectly matched her. As did her name. Heloise and my father, Rowan, had been married since they were my age. I had my mother’s face without some of the roundness. I didn’t have her eyes though. A deep brown where mine were blue. Her eyes were the warmest part of her.
“I’m almost done.” My shaky hands patted down the clothes in my suitcase before dragging the zip around the bag.
My mother popped her head in, her eyes red and her cheeks splotchy. “You sure you don’t want me coming with you?”
“It’s not that I don’t want you coming. None of us are bringing our parents.” We were all eighteen. Legally adults.
“I could fly separately. Meet you over there.” Her hands were shaking, too. I pulled my bag off the bed and set it on its wheels. I moved toward my mother and opened up my arms. The second they opened she grabbed onto me. I could feel her tears dripping onto my shoulder.
“Mom, it’s okay. It’s not forever.”
She sniffled in response. “I’m just so proud of you.”
I couldn’t help but smile. I had always played music, even written music and lyrics before Kelly and Ashley decided they wanted to be the Runaways of our generation. But I never could have imagined this.
“We gotta go.” Mom pulled away, wiping her eyes and nose with the neck of her shirt. She moved past me and picked up my luggage. “You sure you have everything?” she asked. I nodded.
I stood in front of my father, his gruff expression rarely changed but he switched the television off and stood up. He opened his arms and I fell in like Mom had into mine. He kissed my hair and said, “Be careful.” He didn’t want me to go but he never would’ve stopped me.
“I will,” I assured him. He nodded and sat back down, turning the television back on.
It was the middle of the night on a Tuesday so the drive to the airport should’ve been quick, but roadwork slowed us down. We were late. Would they leave without me? My phone started blowing up. “They said to go to drop off.”
“But, I have to park,” Mom argued.
“I can’t miss the plane,” I reminded her. Her lip started to quiver, and I knew a fresh batch of tears were on their way. “It’s okay, Mom. You have to say goodbye at some point.”
She followed the signs to drop off. It was eerily quiet. A nervous woman in a pantsuit paced outside by the doors. She waved as our car pulled up. “Who’s that?” my mother asked.
I stepped out. “Miss Shaw?” I nodded. The woman had a badge that declared her to be ‘Carrie - Private Aviation Passenger Liaison’. “You have luggage?” she asked. My mom took my bag from the boot and Carrie took it out of her hands. “We need to go quickly.”
I moved to my mother. She was anxious. She thought we had more time. I thought we had more time. I hugged her again, smelling that same shampoo she’d used my whole life. Did all mothers do that? Did she do it on purpose, to stay familiar? She squeezed me tight. “I love you,” I assured her.
“I love you so much. Call me as soon as you land,” she demanded. I nodded.
“We really need to move,” Carrie spoke again. Mom wouldn’t let me go. I didn’t want to either. As much as I wanted this, I was scared. And, I think she knew. “Ladies.” That Carrie was relentless.
Mom let me go with a sad smile. “I’ll see you soon,” I said as I followed Carrie inside. She had a buggy waiting and placed my bag onto the back seat. I took the passenger seat and looked through the sliding doors at Mom. She looked a little lost. I was her only daughter and I was leaving her. I waved and she waved back enthusiastically. The buggy started moving, much quicker than I imagined it would and then Mom was gone. Tears gathered in my eyes but I looked up into the fluorescent lights to scare them away. There was no time for it. Carrie took a corner hard and I had to grab the rail behind me to keep from falling out. The few staying in the airport overnight watched us fly by with moderate interest.
Another buggy came toward us, at a much more reasonable pace than we were moving. I made out the passenger in the other buggy and lost my breath. It was Laurie Siler. The singer. The Rockstar. He looked older than his 21 years. I’d always thought he was good looking, in music videos and interviews. But he was so much more beautiful in person. He had a strong jaw beneath a wide mouth, kind green eyes, floppy brown hair, slicked back but still brushing his shoulders. He wore a white t-shirt and black skinny jeans over tan Chelsea boots. I looked back to his eyes and they were staring straight at me. I was struck. Breathless. He smirked. The cocky sonofabitch. I grabbed my necklace, a nervous tick. At the last second as he passed me by, he waved. I waved back. My necklace was caught on my ring and broke, falling from my neck and onto the ground.
“Wait! My necklace.” Carrie wouldn’t stop. I looked back to see the silver shining on the floor. “You need to go back. I dropped my necklace.”
Carrie shook her head. “I’m sorry Miss Shaw, but I can’t stop. They’re all waiting for you. We can have the necklace collected and delivered to you.”
I turned back to see that Laurie’s buggy had stopped. Laurie was out and picking up my necklace. We turned another corner and he was gone. The buggy went through a set of double doors and then we were outside.
A few drops of rain had started to fall. We drove fast toward the jet. I counted five windows lit up from inside and a door still open. A flight attendant stood, unhappily getting wet, at the bottom of the stairs. Carrie stopped the buggy and rushed to grab my bag. The flight attendant came forward and ushered me up the stairs and inside. My bag came in soon after and the door came up. Kelly and Ashley were both seated in cream leather recliners but jumped up straight away and bounded over to me. I almost crashed with the force of them as they hugged me. Ashley’s hugs were crushing but comforting. She was our bass guitarist and backing vocals. Kelly, our lead singer and lead guitarist, stomped her feet and snuggled into us both before squealing a little as she often did.
“I’m sorry, ladies. We need you to take your seats.” We all sat and buckled up. The plane started to move.
“How was your Mom?” Kelly asked.
“A mess,” I answered honestly. They both laughed.
“Ours, too,” said Ashley. The plane began to take off.
“Oh my god. I can’t believe this is happening.” Kelly gripped the arm rests of her seat as she looked out the window. She had a childlike enthusiasm that was catching. Even in the worst of moods, Kelly had something kind of magical that could make you lighter. I looked out of my own window to see the ground falling away. I knew my Mom was down there somewhere. Maybe she was looking up at me. I hadn’t left her for longer than two weeks before this. I was old enough. But, I wanted her beside me all the same. No way could I have my Mom along when neither Kelly nor Ashley would have theirs. They’d give me endless amounts of shit.
I imagined Laurie down there, too. He was probably in some kind of limousine being driven to a fancy Harbour side hotel. Maybe the Park Hyatt with its Bridge and Opera House views. That was where all the movie stars stayed when they came to Sydney. I wonder what he had done with my necklace, if he had given it to the airport people. It wasn’t anything expensive, but it was sentimental. It was a long silver chain with a small silver wheel pendant. Dad had given it to me for my twelfth birthday. I rarely took it off. I could get a little anxious and fiddling with it could sometimes calm me. When I didn’t wear it, I reached for it.
I hoped he handed it in. He stopped for it which seemed a conscientious thing to do. In all of those interviews he seemed like a nice guy. Nice and unbelievably good looking. I kept picturing his green eyes looking into mine. My cheeks warmed.
“Did you guys see who came over on the plane?” I asked them.
“It was a guy. He was on the phone when we arrived. We couldn’t see him in the dark,” Ashley shrugged.
Kelly looked at me. “Did you see who it was?”
I considered telling them for a moment and then shook my head. Kelly looked back out the window. I decided I wanted to keep that moment my little secret.
The flight attendant came towards us with a smile. “Can I offer any of you a beverage?” The plane dropped a little and she had to grab onto my seat.
“Are you okay?” I asked. She nodded and smiled.
“Just a little turbulence. We’re expecting a little more of it so try not to be alarmed.”
“I’ll have a Coke,” Kelly asked.
“Me, too,” Ashley agreed.
“Just water, please,” I asked. She left us.
“Did you pack your black dress?” Kelly asked.
“We need to go shopping,” Ashley beamed.
“Maybe not. We’ll probably have stylists,” Kelly answered.
“Do you think they’ll give us clothes for free?” Ashley asked.
“Probably. Even though we’ll finally be able to afford it,” Kelly answered.
“You know that’s the best part,” Ashley said, shaking her head like she still didn’t believe it.
“The money?” I asked. They were so sure we were going to be mega famous super rich rock stars.
“That I’ll finally be able to look after my Mom,” she answered. Ashley’s Dad had left when she was little. Her Mom, Nadine, worked two jobs to keep them above ground until she had built up her career.
“She’s managing hotels now. She doesn’t need taking care of,” Kelly reminded us.
“Yes, she does,” Ashley answered. I smiled at her. I felt the same way. Kelly’s parents had always done well. They never had to worry about paying for her school trips. She always had the new cool shoes. My parents hadn’t always struggled but when they did, Ashley was the person I could talk to about it.
“The money isn’t the best part for me,” Kelly started. Of course, it isn’t, I thought. I saw that Ashley was thinking the same thing. “It’s having our music in people’s cars and houses and having people come see us in concert. We’ll get to spend our lives playing music.”
“Our lives?” I asked. Kelly was already imagining that our careers would go on forever. I didn’t dare have that kind of hope for fear of the letdown, but I loved that she did. She was always so sure of herself. And, sure of us as a band. On the really bad days, the really bad gigs, she kept us going.
“Of course, our lives. Your music, our lyrics. That face,” she pointed at Ashley. “Those legs,” she pointed at me.
“Thanks,” I replied. I loved being reduced to music and legs. But, I couldn’t help but laugh at her.
She became serious. “I was so scared, you know.”
“Of what?” Ashley asked.
“Of not making it. Having the people who said we never would, be right. The people at school. My aunt. My stupid brother.” I never had that kind of opposition. But, I never believed in us like she did. She would tell everyone that we were going to make it, and everyone had some kind of warning. ‘Barely anyone does.’ Or, ‘you might want to have a backup plan’.
“Screw them,” I said at the same time as Ashley said, “Fuck them.” We laughed, Kelly smiled.
“I was scared we’d all end up getting some terrible jobs and awful boyfriends and we’d stop playing music and…”
“We might still get terrible boyfriends,” I reminded her.
“We better,” Ashley argued. “We need some inspiration for the next album.”
We laughed. Kelly had seen her first boyfriend kiss a girl behind the school hall in year eight and Ashley and I had teased that every angry song she’d written since then was about him. She shook her head, “Yeah yeah.”
I looked down. There were barely any lights on below us. “We’ve gone pretty far already,” I said.
“Los Angeles,” Kelly said, her eyes twinkling. “I can’t wait to see it.”
The flight attendant came back with our drinks.
“Thank you,” I said. “Where is the bathroom?”
She pointed to a door toward the back of the plane. “Just there.”
“Thank you.” I stood up and walked toward the door. Another bit of turbulence hit as a rumble of thunder sounded nearby. I opened the door and my mouth dropped.
“You guys, there is marble in this bathroom,” I told the girls.
“I know right? It’s beautiful.” Ashley agreed.
“There is a shower, too,” Kelly said. I took a step inside and saw it: a wide shower head over a spa bath. I stepped out and showed them my shocked face. They laughed. I stepped back in and closed the door. Another shock of turbulence hit and I grabbed onto the sink to steady myself. I hurriedly relieved myself and washed my hands, thinking I should probably get back into my seat. I looked into the mirror with some horror. This is what I looked like when I saw Laurie Siler?
My usually bouncy blonde curls had been flattened in the rain, so I was less Carrie Bradshaw and more drowned dog. My pale skin and usually natural makeup had been replaced by a mess of colour and dark smudges around my blue eyes. We didn’t find out about the plane until the last minute. My young cousin was playing at doing my makeup when I got the call. I couldn’t have washed my face? At least I was dressed in a cute outfit. I looked down at my boots, black skinny jeans and … coffee stain. My blue shirt was stained with the coffee, right in the centre of my chest. I put my face in my hands and wallowed in my embarrassment for a few seconds before washing my face in the sink. The makeup came half off but a good scrubbing with the fancy private plane towels got the rest of it. The colours stained the towel. I turned it around on the rail to hide the mess.
I moved toward the door and was thrown off my feet as a loud crash sounded. It was so much louder than the rumbling thunder or cracking lightning. This was something different. The tub was beside me and I fell in, cracking my head. I felt dizzy. Warm red blood spilled down my head and into my eye. It smelt metallic and sickening. I could hear the girls screaming in the cabin. The plane was at the wrong angle. We were plummeting. I tried to stand up but there was a pressure. I grabbed onto a towel, hanging from a cabinet above me, desperately trying to get up and get back to my seat. I must have pulled too hard because the cabinet came crashing down onto my head, hitting me in the same spot. I let out a pained scream. There was more blood. It was drenching my hair, going down my back. Everything was hazy. And, then I was out.
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