You know who I am.
I'm not tooting my own horn.
You know who I am.
And because you know who I am, you'll know that I rose to fame because I entered a talent show and won. I'm the sweetheart of the nation, the girl who wowed the millions with my voice and my face. I'm not tooting my own horn.
It's all true.
You know the story, but I'll humour you.
Girl next door wins TV talent show, girl next door gets record deal, girl next door releases album, girl next door goes platinum, girl next door gets famous and girl no longer next door gets rich. It's your dream, but I'm living it.
And then one day, I woke up and was seized by a sudden horror.
Was this really as good as it was going to get? Was this the highlight of my life?
I wanted more.
In that one moment, I knew that I didn't want my life to be an endless list of things to do which were written down in that trusty planner of mine. I didn't want my day to be filled with insipid, shallow facts or my manager managing not just my career, but my life. I wanted to throw abandon to the wind, and just live a little.
I wanted be so caught up in a moment that I didn't want it to stop. Ever.
I had never felt that way before and it terrified me. The realisation that I was that girl was petrifying. Mortifying.
When had this happened? How had I become this girl living a life I didn't like?
Whatever the answer was, I knew that I didn't want to be that girl any longer.
The It Girl.
I wanted control.
What I didn't want was this huge responsibility of being a role model on my shoulders. I didn't want to be a pop star anymore. I wanted to make music and have fun.
I'd forgotten what that word even meant; it had been so long since I'd had any.
If you asked me right then how I was going to get away from all that, the truth was that I didn't know what I wanted, only that I wanted out.
My name is Azriel.
You saw my rise, and now you'll see my fall.
Six months ago, my cousin did a stupid thing.
She got it into her head that it'd be a good idea for us to show the world exactly what the Cadie cousins were made of. So, we called ourselves Duette and auditioned in front of twenty thousand sceptics.
They loved us.
Actually, six million people loved us. They loved us so much they voted for us. It was a landslide victory, an event that would catapult us into stardom. We went down in history as the cousins that won over the nation, the cousins that won that reality TV show.
Almost overnight, we became sensations.
Now, everyone knows my age, my middle name and my shoe size.
They know all these weird freaky facts about me, like how when I was two, I wanted to be a star and used to sing into a wooden spoon because my mum wouldn't let me use her hairbrush.
Oh yeah, and when I was six, I got so excited for a school talent show I wet my pants. I absolutely loved it when my nana told the six point eight million people watching that.
When we won, it was incredible.
It was this huge adrenaline rush that made me numb. It was like being in a room, but not really being in a room. I was in a state of shock. Still am. Christie took it into her stride. She'd been born for this kind of thing; fame pumped through her veins. I was just along for the ride.
I didn't have time to adjust to my new found status. It was straight to the recording studio for me; twenty hour days filled with hair, makeup, lots of interviews and singing. I didn't mind the singing. I loved singing, nothing would change that. I didn't go home that night. Instead, I went to a fancy studio in a posh part of town with the works; flat screen TV, electric blinds, plush carpets and marble countertops. I tried not to show how impressed I was with it all but it was a losing battle.
It was beautiful, and it was mine.
But I was so tired, that all I could do was flop onto the couch and sleep.
A month later, a month after we'd won the contest, the album came out and shot straight to number one. It was a huge relief to me and definitely not a surprise to everyone involved. They always said that the show was pretty much free publicity and that considering the public picked us, it was a definite that they were going to support us.
As the months passed, I was still busy. We were doing interviews and singing live and all the stuff my manager told me to do. I'd turn up, do my thing and then go to another place and do it all over again. My day would start off as a blur, and it would remain a blur of never ending cycles of singing, practising singing, recording, interviews and occasionally, sleep. Everyday was a day in which I was overloaded with the realities of my new life. It was only when someone pressed a microphone into my hand that all my problems fell away. It's a cliché, a thing that happens only in movies, but even now, when it happens, I'm five again and I'm back in my old front room, in the house that was too small, too old, too damp. It's in the front room that was always too small, the sunlight streaming through the net curtains, me standing on the sofa, my grandma, my brother, my adoring fans looking up at me. i'd always loved singing, never thought I'd had enough room in my heart for something – or someone – else.
For a little while, I lived the dream like the whirlwind it was.
I'd smile for the cameras and give answers to questions that had been scripted hastily by my manager's own fair hand. I'd endure gruelling workouts to improve my fitness so I could dance a routine I didn't really know and wear dresses I didn't really like. I'd sing for little kids that were dying, try not to cry when they told me they loved me and I'd try not to recoil when strangers were so eager to talk to me when I didn't know who they were.
These were things that Christie took all in her stride. She worked hard and partied harder. Of the two of us, Christie was the Cadie that had been born with fame running through her veins. She relished the attention, relished the clothes and most of all, she relished the boys.
I still maintain that he really should have seen it coming.
I mean, honestly, Christie Cadie (the more promiscuous half of Duette) was not a girl well known for her ability to keep her underwear on. In fact, she was notorious for not only her inability to keep them on, but for not wearing them at all!
I mean...that's what I'd read.
Christie wasn't really like that.
Some girls broke hearts and Christie Cadie was a heartbreaker. That was a fact of life.
I folded the paper back up, my eyes pinned on a printed version of Christie Cadie, solemn and clad in dark glasses and skimpy jeans. She looked sad, and I knew this because the corners of her mouth were drooping and her trademark red lipstick was missing. Just because girls like Christie Cadie broke hearts, didn't mean that she didn't have a heart; it just meant that she sucked at fidelity. And that, that wasn't her fault. It was nature's. I would know; I'd done biology.
The minute she got back home, I heard her before I saw her.
"I swear I didn't mean to do it!"
She was bawling into the sofa, her mascara running down her pale cheeks as she shakily wiped at her eyes.
"It's just...we'd had a fight last night. And he was really mean. And I went out, had a couple of drinks, and it just happened! I didn't mean for it to happen. It just did!"
"Shh." I pulled her into a hug and rubbed her back soothingly. "I know Christie, I know."
The truth was that I didn't know. Christie was showing remorse and that was rare.
"And now, they're making me out to be this monster! We'd broken up, for God's sake. Christie Cadie does not cheat! I don't, you know I don't!" Sobs wracked her body.
I'd misjudged her.
She wasn't mad. She was furious.
The absence of her lipstick and the minimal amount of makeup was defiance. Without it, Christie was human, prettily human with her soft freckles and smooth skin. With it, Christie could be made to look evil; a beautifully, cruel caricature.
"Did he know this?" I asked carefully.
I didn't believe what I'd read; I knew better. I also knew that sometimes, Christie was rash.
"Of course he did! We argued," she spat out between sobs.
"Yeah, you might want to tell him that."
I pulled the paper out of my bag; it was a tabloid, of course.
She scowled as she scanned the headline: 'Cadie's Not A Lady,' and tossed her hair indignantly. "Stupid tossers."
I didn't correct her, just began to rub circles into her back.
"Well, what can you do?" It was more of a statement than a question.
They were the wrong words to say, I realised this as her back stiffened and her eyes glowed.
When Christie Cadie had an idea, it never bode very well for anyone.
"I mean," I continued quickly, trying to stop whatever idea was forming in her head. "Tabloids will be trashy. It's their prerogative."
Christie still possessed that gleam in her eye. "Well."
I knew that look. I'd seen it before and I'd see it again.
Just because Christie possessed a face that belonged in magazines did not mean that she didn't have anything behind it. She would go out again tonight, and for the next fortnight or so, each tabloid story about her would be more scandalous than the last, until she got bored, or they got bored. It was always her to give in first; the long nights up to no good catching up with her. She would show him what he was missing out on, flaunting herself in the process, breaking boy's hearts. And when the anger faded, she would be back again, eyes smeared with mascara and eyes brimming with tears because once again, she was alone. Being Christie Cadie, as famous and as rich as she was, had it perks and its consequences.
At heart, Christie was still a little girl waiting for her prince. But until he came, she would do exactly as she pleased, thank you very much.
I loved my cousin, but I knew that train wrecks needed to heal themselves.
"I'll get you a cup of tea." I patted her back, heading into the kitchen and flicking the switch for the kettle. The ritual was always the same; the predictability was comforting.
Christie came into the kitchen, pulling her cardigan closer around herself.
"Do we have any biscuits left?" Her voice was back to normal, no sign left that she'd been sobbing moments ago.
A small smile graced my lips as I rummaged in the cupboard for the jar, flipping the lid and passing it to Christie. It wasn't often she indulged in sweet treats (they had a tendency to glue themselves to her butt and refuse to leave), but I suppose times like these would have warranted the exception.
I prepared the tea in silence, my actions punctuated by Christie's sniffles. We sipped our steaming mugs in silence, the warmth radiating from our insides out. I enjoyed moments like these, when Christie became my cousin again, when her only worry was how not to burn her tongue on the hot tea.
The day was cool; a breezy autumnal day, with leaves swirling around in the wind. It was the kind of day that was quiet, a sort of day that sympathised with Christie and her current predicament. She stared out of the window; the view that was nothing but grey streets and imposing buildings. It was the only window in the flat that did not have the blinds down or the curtains drawn.
I left her with another mug of steaming tea - camomile this time - to go out for a run. It was my form of meditation, an outlet for my mind to wander as I took in the fresh air and let thoughts swirl around my head. It was a good way for me to come up with new ideas, new lyrics. The paparazzi were still outside the gates, security standing by in case they decided to trespass. It'd happened before.
I left by the side entrance, passing them with swift paces. No one stopped me, because underneath all that make up disguised a pretty average girl - without it, I faded into the background. I wasn't like Christie; I didn't dress flamboyantly like her or court the cameras.
Christie got mad sometimes because I didn't act in the way that displayed our - her - glamorous lifestyle. In a way, we lived through each other and for each other. Christie did all the bad things I dared not to, and I did all the good things Christie had sworn herself against. We complemented each other. It worked.
When I came back, fresh from my morning jog, my mind swarming with new lyrics I wanted to commit to paper, I found him. He was a mess, slumped against the door, bow tie in one hand, bottle of champagne in the other.
I knew him. He was the last person I thought I'd see. Suddenly, I became hyper-conscious of the sweat running down my forehead and my dishevelled hair clinging to the back of my neck.
"Oh. It's you. You her maid or something?" He took another swig, blurry eyes peering up at me. "She's gone and done it now, hasn't she? Screwed one boy too many."
I crouched down beside him, my hands resting on my grey tracksuit clad knees. I'd seen the photos, heard the rumours. It was true. He was as good looking in the flesh as he was on screen. But, just because he was pretty didn't mean that he could diss my cousin. Only I could do that.
I shoved the key in the door, pushing it open. The thump as he fell backwards and the groan he emitted as I stepped on him to get into the flat was thoroughly satisfying. "Shut up, you lush. And I'm going to call you a cab home. Don't show up here again, or I'm not going to take mercy on you and I'll even allow Christie to skin you alive. And you know she'll do it - her nails are definitely sharp enough."
He mumbled into the bottle, something rude no doubt, something that would make me frown and purse my lips in displeasure.
That was the first time I met Ace.
And then after that, living the dream didn't seem so fun anymore.
Ace was a boy who'd been living the dream for ages now. He'd been cut from the same cloth as Christie; only higher powers had given him a pee pee and neglected to give Christie one. Ace was a boy who'd been around so long; he knew how to handle the press. He was almost a pro. I don't know why some people said he was a bad actor. He was pretty good at sitting with a stoic face while his PR manager read out a statement he clearly hadn't penned.
If anything, I thought his ability to read and write should be questioned.
Even down the lens of a news camera, he looked bored. His eyes were covered by sunglasses, either to give the illusion that he'd been crying or to cover up the fact that he was hung over.
Mitchell turned off the flat screen TV in his office and Ace's face disappeared.
"Right. Damage control." He looked pointedly at Christie who stared back defiantly. "For the next month, you're essentially grounded, Christie. No boys, no drink, nada."
Christie opened her mouth to argue but snapped it shut at the look on Mitchell's face.
Just because Mitchell was losing his hair, didn't mean he wasn't scary. All in all, he was a pretty good manager, bossy and full of bullshit. Mitchell had earned his reputation as 'Madman,' a jean and black t-shirt wearing bundle running on coffee and very little sleep as he barked orders at us over his phone from his comfortable executive chair in a trendy part of town.
He thought the world of himself, but I had to admit that he knew how to bag us the best gigs and could always weasel an extortionate fee from whoever was willing to pay us. Mitchell was one of the showmen in life. He took Shakespeare's words to heart. The ink across his heart read 'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.'
It was a motto he lived and died by. And a motto he was decorated by, as evident by the red velvet drapes in his office.
After he had finished chastising Christie, Mitchell turned to me, a glint in his eye. "And you. For the next month we're going to take the heat off your cousin and create a little distraction."
I didn't like the direction this conversation was taking.
He pressed the buzzer on his desk, and he walked in.
He was cool.
He was unphased and so utterly composed.
I was pretty sure many a girl had melted at his feet. The way he sauntered, the way he strolled, his hips rolling, his strides long as he closed the gap between us was designed to make hearts beat faster.
He sat opposite me; legs splayed out and eyes flickering as he took me in. They affixed themselves to my ratty converse, slowly creeping up the hole in the right knee of my jeans and all the way up to the new electric blue streaks in my hair.
I stared right back, my brown eyes boring holes into his forehead.
Mitchell lit his cigar, puffing away, the smoke swirling ominously into the air. That gleam was still in his eyes.
"Azriel, meet DJ. DJ, say hi to your new girlfriend."
Thanks to sealednectar for being an awesome, awesome beta. I totally owe you. And yes, you may hold me to that.