Fact: I do not own anything that you may realize. However, everything else is from my imagination, and I'd appreciate it if you do not steal.
"How are you holding up, Ry?" Andy asked me.
I shrugged. "I'm fine," I managed half-heartedly. I looked into her warm chocolate eyes to see that she was genuinely concerned about my wellbeing.
"Don't hate us, Ryan, but we're going to the after party," Bailey announced. I felt like the air was sucked out of the area as the girls, Luke, Donovan, Derrick, Michael, and Cameron all took in a breath and held it, watching my response. They were wondering if I was going to lose it. I began to wonder when people started to see me as so fragile. Breakable. Weak.
"You should come," Derrick encouraged after an awkward moment of silence. "I hate being surrounded by the generic Hollywood people. We need you there to keep us honest." He offered a playful wink at his last comment which earned an eye roll from me.
I glanced over at Andy, who looked hopeful. "We've been asked to perform a song," she explained. "It would mean a lot to all of us if you could be there. You know, moral support and such."
I sighed, defeated. There was no way I could say no to them now. "Fine," I complied. "But on one condition."
Andy's eyebrow lifted. "And what's that?"
"What did you say to Zane?"
All eyes were on her now that I asked the million dollar question of the night. I could feel the tension in the air in anticipation. Everyone knew Andy's protective nature, and they were trying to imagine what she said to the guy that ultimately changed my life – changed me.
Andy's eyes looked at the group in confusion. "Jesus, I didn't threaten him or anything. Why do you guys always assume that?"
"Because that's your default," Rae answered easily. "You've done it since high school."
Lauren and Bailey laughed at the response, reliving their old memories for a brief moment. "How many times did you threaten Dalton, again? I lost count," Bailey said casually.
Andy shook her head in disbelief. "That was high school," she retorted. "I thought we all moved on from that."
Lauren shrugged. "It's just in your nature Andy. You threaten people to make them stay away so it's only natural for us to wonder what in God's earth you said to this asshat of an actor."
Andy made eye contact with me. Her warm brown eyes were fierce. "I told him to listen."
"To listen," I repeated. "What does that mean?"
"Just listen, Ryan."
We arrived at the after party an hour later. New York traffic was ridiculous and not to mention fighting through the crowds of paparazzi outside the building. The party was on the rooftop of some hotel and the majority of the attendants were the cast of the movie and their social circle. The DJ on the stage was playing techno music and people danced on the makeshift dance floor rather sloppily. I presumed they were drunk already because that's what people like them did. Work hard play hard, right?
Everyone transformed out of their red carpet attire and traded it for a more nightclub look, including my group. I was thankful for Rae for suggesting changing before we went to the party. I sported high-waisted black leather shorts with a sheer white tank top. I opted out of those ridiculous heels and traded them for bold leather black ankle booties. Rae said I looked mysteriously sexy, which I guess is a good thing.
"Did I ever tell you that I love your new look?" Donovan asked with a smirk.
"It definitely highlights your feminine qualities," Michael added flirtatiously.
"Maybe that's because you always saw me wearing guy's clothes on set?" I offered matter-of-factly.
Luke chuckled next to me. Similar to other guys at the party, Luke wore dark wash jeans and a simple white V-neck. His shirt clung to his torso tastefully to define his muscles. "Can you believe that was only a year ago?" Luke asked.
I stared at my best friend and smiled through my sadness. "It seems like a lifetime ago," I answered.
The movie itself was actually really well executed. As much as I hate to admit it, Zane was actually an impressive actor. I've never seen any of his movies before, but now I realize why he has won so many awards despite being so young. What impressed me the most was the editing. The editing was flawless as it transitioned between my takes to Zane's takes effortlessly without seeming awkward or staged, and it honestly captured the environment of the skate park that I used to love so much. I felt my heart strings tug every time I saw the familiar landscape. When I felt joy at remembering the excitement I had, I felt pain at the same time. I couldn't distinguish my emotions, and I found myself tracing my arm every scene that involved a skateboard. Pain soon dissolved into anger at the end when I realized that they used the majority of the footage from the impromptu skating competition between Derrick, Donovan, Michael, and I to fill in the scenes after I left. There was one scene in the entire movie where Zane did his own stunts. I could tell by his technique. It wasn't as intense as the footage from my takes, but I could tell it was raw footage of Zane skating. I couldn't tell if I was mad at him for using the stuff I taught him, proud of him for actually doing it on his own, or just mad at myself for even teaching him in the first place.
Luke put a hand on the small of back and helped guide me through the crowd. Derrick and Cameron were on the dance floor, Donovan and Michael walked away from us to try to talk to some socialites at the bar, and the girls were dispersed through the crowd – mingling and networking. I understood the fact that their career required a lot of networking, and Andy wanted to make sure that the band was well respected in the industry.
"I haven't seen him, Ryan," Luke said, leaning in so that I could hear him through the loud music.
"Seen who?" I inquired even though I already knew the answer. Who was I kidding?
Luke pulled away and gave me a look. "Stop doing that Ryan," he said seriously. "I hate it."
"Do you mind telling me what I'm doing, Luke?"
"Stop pretending everything is fine. Admit that you're still hurting."
I looked away from, glancing at the crowd. We were surrounded by people, but I knew that no one was paying attention to us. "I'm okay," I said. I'm not as fragile as they think I am. I can be strong.
Luke put his hands on my arm so that I could squarely face him. "No, you're not. Seeing Zane today – the movie – everything that happened in the past week is holding you back. He's holding you back. Can't you see that?"
"Stop treating me like I'm going to break, Luke," I said firmly. I never raised my voice at Luke before, but I couldn't hear another word that came out of Luke's mouth even though it was the truth. Zane was controlling me whether he knew it or not. "I'm not fragile."
Luke dropped his hands from my arm and gave me a long look. His eyes were sad, sympathetic. "Ryan, you're already broken."
My breath caught in my throat. I didn't know how to react. I forgot how much Luke understood me even when I didn't understand myself. "Luke," I began. A trace of strengthened summoned from my core as I stared at my best friend. "Thank you."
Luke gave me a confused look. "Thanks for what?"
I wrapped my arms around him, giving him a firm hug. Luke didn't hesitate to hug me back, and it reminded me of our days in Pitman. It was just us against the world. "For being here," I declared, pulling away from him. "You help keep me honest."
He offered me a genuine smile as he casually slung an arm across my shoulder. "I'll always be here for you, Ry."
I found myself smiling effortlessly. At first, I surprised myself because I don't think I did that at all tonight. "Does that mean you're moving to New York?"
He laughed and shook his head. "This is your world, Ry. I'm only here to tag along."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "You know that's not true. This is definitely not my world."
Luke gave me one of his matter-of-fact smiles and gestured toward the girls who were standing to the right of us, near a platform. "It is now," Luke said. "But you know what? That's okay. Honestly, I'm glad Andy found you. You needed her. And she and the rest of the girls needed you."
I nodded, agreeing with him. "But I need you, too, Luke. I need someone to remind me of my old life – when everything was normal."
"We can't change what happened no matter how much you want to. You're going to have to take what you have, Ry, and turn it what you want to be."
I punched Luke lightly on the arm. "Whoa! Where did that come from?" Luke demanded.
"When did you start being so smart?" I laughed.
He shrugged in response. "It's bound to happen sometime. By the way, that punch was something the old Ryan would have done. That's normal for you, right?"
I laughed at him before I tugged at his arm, trying to get out the crowd that seemed to be thicker than before. Where did all these people come from? We barely managed to get near the ledge of the roof and away from sweating bodies when the music began to decrescendo so that someone could tap a microphone. The party instantly became a standstill as they faced the man that stood on the platform in front of a band set. He was one of the few people wearing a suit and was in the middle forties. I assumed he was part of a management team or something of the sort.
"I hope everyone is having a great time," he announced. "On behalf of the director, Oliver Jenkins, and Zane and Samantha and the rest of the cast, I would like to thank you all for being part of such an incredible movie." There was a round of applause before the man continued. "Many hours of dedication were put into this so that we could see it succeed, and the final product was more than me or any of the producers ever imagined."
Another round of applause. My body instantly tensed at the mention of Oliver and Zane. They would surely cause a scene if I ran into either of them, and I don't have enough energy for that tonight. I know how to pick and choose my battles. "We have a very special surprise for tonight's festivities," the man announced. "Please welcome the lovely ladies of Eight-Three-One!"
The polite applause from earlier turned into a roar as people cheered at the announcement. I guess the girls were admired at this level, too. Andy, Rae, Bailey, and Lauren walked on to the stage and took their places with smile and grace. I instantly found myself relaxing and smiling as I watched my friends on the platform.
When the noise level eventual died down, Andy spoke into her microphone. "Thank you for having us tonight," she said politely. "Before we begin I just want to recognize someone quickly. We were fortunate enough to have this young lady stumble into our lives. Actually, I was lucky enough to find her. Without her, we wouldn't be here. We wouldn't have this song or finished an incredible album. She lent us her voice, and we are using our voice to reach you. You know who are."
I could feel the heat crawling up my neck. Listen. Lauren counted off with her drumsticks, and Rae strummed her guitar to begin the song. Andy followed with the vocals after a measure with the rest of the band filling in after her. Andy found me in the crowd and held eye contact. She inclined her head and gave me a knowing smile. Listen. I gave one firm nod toward her, physically showing her that I understood, before she walked across the stage. I listened as Eight-Three-One told a part of my story. Whether the crowd actually knew it was my story was beside the point. There was only one person who needed to hear it. I looked down at the floor and let myself think about Zane. I just wanted him to know that he was not the only victim from that summer. I just want him to listen. When I brought my head back up to look at the stage, I was startled by the intense stare of cobalt eyes from across the room. Zane was watching me. My heart stopped, and I almost forgot to breathe. I couldn't manage to tear my eyes away from him no matter how hard I tried. Was he listening? The song eventually finished, and I bit the inside of my cheek to physically motive me to turn toward the stage and applaud my friends' performance.
"Thank you," Andy said before the girls walked off the stage.
"C'mon," Luke said, waking me up from my reverie. "Let's go meet up with them."
"Yeah, of course," I replied and let Luke tug me through the crowd. I turned my head to look back at where I last saw Zane. This time he wasn't alone. A slender blonde had her arm wrapped around Zane's waist, and he was smiling at her. I recognized her as the actress that costarred opposite of Zane in the movie – the love interest. I guess he found the love that he was looking for after all – the love that didn't include me. And I think that hurt the most.
Listen. That's what Andrea Robertson told me – the singer. Andy. That's what Ryan had called her.
"Look, I don't care if you're some hot shot actor, okay?" she said once Ryan was out of earshot. I was beyond confused of whatever relationship Ryan had with Andy. How did Ryan know someone as famous as Eight-Three-One? She probably has some connection with her mom or something.
"Excuse me?" I asked in disbelief. This girl was trying to attack me. She literally looked like she was trying to refrain herself from hitting me physically. What is her deal?
"I need you to get over yourself for three minutes tonight. I just want you to listen."
"Listen? Listen to what?"
She raised her eyebrows at me. "You obviously won't listen to her so maybe you'll listen to us."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Just..." Andy trailed off and sighed. "Just listen. For your sake." With that, Andy stalked away toward the cinema entrance, leaving me with more questions than answers.
I had to mask my fluster as my team came up to me. "Zane, you really need to be inside. Now," Michelle declared. "Showtime is less than five minutes."
"I'm coming," I said, adjusting my jacket as if that would make me feel more comfortable. "Where's Samantha?"
"She's waiting for you just inside so that you both could enter the auditorium together. Good job on the carpet by the way. The paps were eating it up."
I rolled my eyes. "Fantastic," I said, dryly.
We walked into the cinema, and I saw Samantha with her makeup artist, who was touching up her lips. I guess smiling wore of her makeup. When she saw me, she flashed me her Crest white smile. I forced myself to smile back, acting the part. That's what I always do apparently. Act the part. Be whoever they want me to be.
"Shall we?" I asked with my most charming smile that I could muster and offered my arm.
"Let's," she replied with a smile and wrapped her arm around mine delicately. It was show time.
I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the movie. The editing was fantastic, and it made me look as if I actually did all of my own stunts. I felt a sense of pride developed within me as I watched the one scene where I did a couple of tricks on the rail and skated throughout the park. I did that on my own. That was me. Every time I saw some of Ryan's footage I couldn't help but remember our times together at the skate park. Then I had to remind myself that she sold me out to squash any tender feelings or memories that dared to emerge.
After the movie was over and the credits began to roll, the audience stood up and applauded, including the cast. It was a formality than anything. Once people began to disperse there were a couple of producers that greeted me and said that they were impressed with the movie. I thanked them and always gave credit to Oliver, the director, because that was what I was supposed to. Then again, he almost jeopardized this entire project by bringing Ryan aboard in the first place.
"You're going to the after party, right?" Samantha inquired when we finally managed to escape to our limo.
"Uh, yeah," I said after a brief pause. I remembered Andy and her message. Listen. I guess I'm supposed to listen for something at the party.
"Perfect! It'll be a lot of fun. Everyone is going to be there." Everyone including Ryan? Yeah, perfect.
When we finally arrived to the party almost an hour and a half later, it was clear that we were fashionably late. The party was in full swing as people danced, drank, and laughed. I found myself scanning the crowd – looking for someone with a trace of paint on their fingers. When people stopped to talk to me about the movie, I found that it was hard to focus as I tried to nonchalantly look over their shoulder.
"Are you okay, Zane?" Samantha asked. She hasn't left my side since we arrived, and it was honestly annoying. I really just didn't want to be around her anymore. "Are you looking for someone?"
I stopped looking around the room and focused my gaze on Samantha, hoping that she couldn't read my mind. "I was just seeing who was here," I replied lamely. "I wanted to make sure that I didn't have to be networking right now."
Samantha giggled. "Of course not! You're the star of a hit movie. If anything, people should be coming to you not the other way around."
I nodded at her, not knowing how I was supposed to respond to such a vain statement. Do I really sound like her? Thankfully, the music died down and someone tapped on the microphone, saving me from having to talk to Samantha anymore. It was one of the producers of the movie giving a small speech before he welcomed Eight-Three-One to the stage. I watched as Andy and the other girls walked on stage together, instantly capturing everyone's attention. I never knew how much influence they had over other celebrities.
"Thank you for having us tonight," she said politely. "Before we begin I just want to recognize someone quickly. We were fortunate enough to have this young lady stumble into our lives. Actually, I was lucky enough to find her. Without her, we wouldn't be here. We wouldn't have this song or finished an incredible album. She lent us her voice, and we are using our voice to reach you. You know who are."
We are using our voice to reach you. Is she talking to me? Is that what she meant from earlier? She wanted me to listen to her song? I watched Andy scan the crowd before settling her stare on someone across the room. Ryan. She's here. I followed her gaze and finally spotted Ryan. She was staring at the platform, listening with Luke by her side. I returned my gaze back to the platform and watched Andy who was walking across the stage now. I focused on the lyrics, actually listening. You obviously won't listen to her so maybe you'll listen to us. Once Andy sang the chorus, I realized that these were Ryan's words.
I sharply turned my head to where I last saw Ryan. Her head was down, and she had this look like she was contemplating something. The song. This was what she would have said to me. This was her story. No, this was only part of her story. I needed to know the rest of it. As my last thought barely escaped my mind, Ryan brought her head up, and I instantly met her gaze. Something flashed through her eyes. I didn't see the fear that I once saw on the red carpet. She looked more determined than anything.
The song's ending brought me out of my trance as Samantha wrapped her arm around my waist. "They are really good," she declared. "No wonder their single is number one."
I forced a smile at her because I was obliged to do so. She was my date for the evening after all. When a few of Samantha's friends approached us, I tried to find Ryan again. She wasn't in the last spot I found her, and I almost began to panic. I needed to find Ryan, Andy, Luke – anyone. I wanted Ryan to know that I was beginning to listen.
Good? Great? Awful? Review? Advice and constructive criticism is welcome. - ilymtwces