The ghostly light of cell phones being held aloft looked like thousands of tiny beacons, beckoning him. Come here, come closer. Teasing him, daring him to walk off the stage and into the sea of them and disappear. He was tempted.
Everett Alden, the lead singer in the alternative rock band Tuesday’s End, felt slightly stoned and completely numb as the last of the band’s pyrotechnics ignited, showering the stage in shards of colored light. It was the big climax of their two-hour show, culminating with the performance of their biggest hit to date, “Dream Makers.” He’d done this more times than he could count, had stared out into a darkened sea of moving cell phone lights and sung to the point of exhaustion.
The shrieks of the seventeen thousand fans were so deafening that he could hardly hear himself. There were girls down front—little girls, really, barely old enough to be out on their own—dressed provocatively and screaming up at him, their arms outstretched. They all wanted him to look at them, anoint them with sex, with money, with fame.
Tonight’s performance was at Madison Square Garden, the last gig of one hundred and fifty cities on the best and biggest tour yet in the twenty years Tuesday’s End had been together. They’d been met by crowds just like this around the world, little girls everywhere, their arms reaching, their hands grasping, their cell phones aimed at him.
Everett sang, but there was no heart in him tonight. He’d lost it along the road somewhere, left it battered and bruised and flattened in some hotel room. Not that any of the cell phones knew—he was a professional. He knew how to deliver a performance even when he was somewhere else. Even when he couldn’t hear himself. Even when he was singing bubblegum confection with no heft in the music or lyrics. He could fake it with the best of them.
But he was done. He didn’t want this anymore, even when he tried to want it for the sake of his band. He couldn’t feel it anymore. He couldn’t feel anything but bone-deep weariness. His life had become a nebulous, undefined question, the same question Trey had asked in the hours before he’d died. Is this all there is?
That’s what Trey had wanted to know. In his last days on this earth, he’d wanted to know if this was all there was.
Everett didn’t know the answer to that. He couldn’t feel anything but the tear rolling down his cheek.
This was one big ship of hope—otherwise known as the 6 train—bobbing along on a sea of lollipop dreams. Otherwise known as the bowels of Manhattan. But even the stale air and the snores of the man next to her couldn’t keep Mia Lassiter from believing that things were turning around for her, that the cosmos had at last opened and shined its glorious light on her.
It wasn’t every day a perfect opportunity fell in her lap. Lately, it had been just the opposite. She’d recently lost her job (not the greatest, but at least something in her field), and her boyfriend (not the greatest, but at least she’d gotten some average sex out of it), and was on the verge of losing her apartment (yes, it was a pit—but a pit in a great location). So to have something so unexpected and so clearly meant for her fall into her lap filled Mia with optimism, and she was practically sailing uptown with the wind at her back and her portfolio tucked up under her arm.
When at last she emerged from the Big Hope Ship onto Lexington Avenue, she began striding purposefully across the street. Move out of my way, people!
Sure, she noticed some looks in her direction from well-heeled women with small children and dogs in designer carriers. Because Mia was wearing a dress she’d made from white muslin and had stained with Earl Grey tea, a vest she had knitted from thrift store sweatshirts, a pair of ankle boots, graphic tights, and a cloche hat she’d made from a piece of felt she’d found at a sidewalk sale. Her father accused her of living in an episode of Project Runway, and he most certainly would have advised her against this outfit for a job interview. He generally advised her against this sort of outfit, period.
But this was different. Mia’s father didn’t know August Brockway.
August Brockway was one of America’s most important artists and he was hiring an intern. When one of Mia’s former instructors from Pratt Institute had called her out of the blue to tell her about it, Mia had shrieked with excitement into the phone. She’d studied his legendary work. She loved the ethereal quality of his landscapes, the use of light and shadows in his still-life paintings. He was the artist she wanted to be.
It was a dream come true to have an opportunity to intern for him. It was the sort of opportunity Mia had assumed she’d get after she graduated from college.