by Sibylla Nash
AFTER A FULL DAY of sightseeing in Paris with eight writers and then a sound check at the famed Olympia, I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and sleep. Long and hard. I unlocked my hotel room, took two steps in and flung myself face down on the bed, landing on top of the scratchy, green bedspread with my high heels and short trench coat still on. My room was the length of my arm span, which was fine on a day like today. Tiny, dark, enclosed spaces couldn't make me feel any worse.
I buried my face in the pillow and tried to stave off the nausea. It felt like the beginning of the flu and it had followed me from Los Angeles to Paris, and had dug its heels in at the hotel along the Champs Elysees. It didn't help that Paris hadn't gotten the memo that it was spring, or maybe I didn't read the memo that said to pack layers of clothes. Either way, it was damp and chilly outside. It was hard to look chic in goose bumps, no matter how cute my shoes were, and my Louboutins were hot; save for the beating they were taking from all the cobblestone walkways.
I checked the time on my cell phone. I had less than two hours before I had to wrangle everyone back on the bus for the main purpose of the trip, watching one of the biggest hip hop artists in the world, Cameron perform at the Olympia, one of the oldest concert halls in Paris. He was signed to Savage Rhythms, the record label that employed me as a publicist and subsidized my stiletto habit.
My phone chimed and a text message from my friend Justine came through. Growing up, we used to live four doors down from one another in New Jersey and had been as inseparable as cake and ice cream at a birthday party. Now, living on opposite coasts, we were like caviar and a bottle of hundred-year-old scotch, only on special occasions.
Happy B-day Ellie! Hope ur enjoying ur trip in city of love! ☺ :> :>)
She included her usual assortment of happy faces and other crazy icons that always made me wonder if she dictated her text messages to her 12-year-old.
Bleh! Another birthday. I grabbed a pillow and put it over my face. Born four years apart, my sister Evie and I shared the same birthday. I'd much rather pretend the day didn't exist. I moved the pillow and rolled over on my stomach to send Justine a quick message. 35. Yaay. I'm working & how much fun can it really b w/my man on another continent? Before she could reply, my phone rang.
"Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!" Diego Rivera's baritone sang in my ear with only the slightest of interference from across the Atlantic. I smiled, happy to avert a trip down memory lane. Even after two and a half years of dating, the sound of his voice still made my stomach tingle with erratic butterflies...or it could have been the escargot from the other night. Two words. Never. Again.
"Thanks honey! I miss you. How's New York?"
"It was great. Think I closed the deal. It's going to be big. We'll celebrate by taking a little trip to Majorca. Get you in a bikini."
"Hmph, bikini? I don't know about all that," I said as I sat up and unbuttoned my high-waist pencil skirt. I was going to pass out if I didn't. An angry red indention snaked around my almond-colored stomach like a belt. Not a good look. "Where are you going next? Frankfurt?"
"Yeah. I sent you flowers, did you get them?"
Diego believed only flowers could capture the beauty and passion of a woman. He sent a different arrangement to my job almost every day. I told him to send me diamonds every day and he would be astounded at how passionate I could become.
"No, I didn't check the front desk but I don't think I have any messages." I craned my neck to look at the phone on the nightstand.
No lights were blinking. Not that it made a difference, they could leave a message saying, "evacuate immediately, assassins have overtaken the hotel" but it would be in French. I only knew important phrases like, "I'd like those shoes in a size seven," in four languages.
"Go check at the front desk and call me back."
I dragged myself to the elevator and studied my shimmering reflection in the gold colored doors. My ready smile was on hiatus and faint shadows lingered under dark brown eyes, a souvenir from being jet lagged. Those were the only chinks in the armor though. Perfectly arched eyebrows, ready to be raised at the slightest amusement or disdain, a flawless French manicure and pedicure as showcased in my peek-a-boo heels. Heels that accentuated my long legs, my best feature, a throwback to my years of running tra ck. Only a hint (and that's all I had really) of cleavage peeked through in my pleated, keyhole halter-top. Jet-black shoulder length hair, with razor cut bangs blazing a sharp path across my forehead, was straightened into a shiny curtain. My motto was look good feel good, but it wasn't quite working for me today. The doors glided open and thankfully the ride was short. Downstairs, I was lucky enough to catch an English-speaking concierge.
"Hi, I'm Elle Nixon in room 24. Do you have a package for me?"
"No, but your car is waiting for you."
She pointed me in the direction of a long, sleek sedan idling at the curb. It dwarfed the brightly colored, tiny Smart cars crammed together like forgotten toys up and down the narrow street.
Oh no they didn't. I specifically asked for a van to arrive at six, they were two hours early. I hoped they didn't think I was paying for those two hours. I stalked outside and tapped on the driver's side window wishing I knew how to say "What the hell?" in French. I was startled when the back passenger side window rolled down revealing a gorgeous bouquet of red and yellow roses. Behind the flowers was Diego with his wide grin bookmarked with only one dimple.
He opened the car door and stepped out as I wrapped my arms around him. He slipped his arm around my waist and pulled me closer. The tide of human traffic pushed around us. My headache was forgotten as laughter spilled out of me. I nuzzled the crook between his neck and shoulder, drawing comfort from the familiar faint soapy scent still clinging to him.
"What are you doing here?"
"You know I wouldn't let you spend your birthday without me, even if you did go halfway around the world."
He was a man who knew my heart; he surprised me with a trip to the Givenchy emporium for a purse. It was a wildly extravagant gesture, but that was Diego ' his spontaneity was the perfect foil for the life I had outlined and scripted for myself. Besides, when in Rome you do as the Romans, and when in Paris...you shop.
We held hands in the backseat on the ride back to the hotel, his long fingers intertwined through mine. I rested my legs across his lap and gazed at his profile as he fired off text messages with his free hand, his thumb racing across the keys. He looked like Idris Elba's Stringer Bell from the Wire. He hated when I called him that. He could be bookish and intense with his studious face anchored by a strong jaw, wearing the prerequisite glasses and always buried in a book, phone, iPad or something. His tight goatee, lent him the attitude he needed to deal with his clients. Tall and broad shouldered, he wore his confidence like a tailored suit. As a financial advisor to an A-list clientele, he had the ability to charm money out of many closed wallets. I lightly traced one finger across his lips, which were tugged downward in a frown.
He put his phone in his jacket pocket. "Nothing, now that I'm here with you." He turned his full attention to me, the top buttons undone on his tailored shirt, giving him a carefully composed casual air. When he wanted, he had a way of making you forget everything except the moment at hand.
Laden down with bags, we arrived back at the hotel just in time. I left Diego in charge of herding the writers on the bus that would take them to the Olympia. I wanted to make sure Cameron and his band, were ready to go. Cameron always seemed to court lateness like it was the only girl on the block.
Once we arrived at the Olympia, it's famed red sign acting as a beacon, and everyone was settled and the lights dimmed, I remembered this was why I loved my job. It was always about the music. Cameron walked out on the stage, cloaked in confidence, imbuing each step with a sexy swagger. His trademarked gravelly voice greeted the crowd sending the women into a squealing frenzy with its seductive edginess. The stage went black as the sound of orchestral music filled the hall. When the heavy bass kicked in and the spotlight found Cameron, it was on. He radiated energy as he stalked from one side of the stage to the next spitting out rhymes, singing verses, dancing, and putting on a show for 60 minutes.
We signed him a year ago because his mixtape had generated so much hype, it broke the record for downloads on iTunes. Blending his gritty lyrics with a sophisticated fusion of jazz and hip-hop as well as singing hooks that were catchy as hell had helped catapult him from the underground to multimedia superstardom. He had more YouTube views and Twitter followers than citizens in a small country. His first studio album went multi-platinum and now he was an artist with something to prove. Did he have staying power or was he a disposable cultural phenomenon? Hopefully, his performance at the Olympia would help seal his status as the newly anointed king of pop culture ' for the moment. Unfortunately, the shelf life of pop icons lasted only as long as it took to refresh the page on TMZ.
Being in the same music hall where legends like Jimi Hendrix, Josephine Baker, Diana Ross and the Supremes performed was simply intoxicating. Cocooned in the dark, surrounded by pulsing bass, I breathed a sigh of contentment as Diego rested his hand territorially on my thigh. It had been a good trip. All of the reporters had a chance to interview Cameron and would be filing their stories with their respective outlets when they returned. The performance and the crowd's response would be a great centerpiece.
After the concert, we all piled into a restaurant back along the Champs Elysees and sat five tables deep. Savage Rhythms had a very generous expense account. Thanks to them, on this trip every meal was an event unto itself and lasted for hours. Each course was a delectable orgasm for the tongue. Laughter and wine flowed easily all night. Diego was in his element as he regaled the tables with his stories. One of the female writers, Scarlett, seated to the left of me said, "Lucky girl! Your boyfriend flew all the way here from LA just to spend your birthday with you?"
I glanced over at Diego and his head was bent in deep conversation with Cameron. "I am pretty lucky aren't I?"
"Or it must be gold plated down there...you must know some tricks!" She laughed, tipsy from one cocktail. I saw the way she eyed Diego. As for the next junket, this is what I saw: Scarlett Jackson.
Later, a rousing round of "Happy Birthday" was butchered over a dish of tiramisu with a candle in it as everyone in the restaurant serenaded me. It was close to 2 am by the time we stumbled back into my hotel room, giggling like teenagers. Somehow, I'd managed the trip from the restaurant with a bottle of champagne still clutched in my hands. I found two plastic cups and poured in the remaining drops.
"A toast to my sister Evie," I said solemnly, hiccupping only once.
"To Evie," Diego repeated.
The next morning, the dull throbbing in my head from a combination of jet lag and hangover made it impossible to move, much less talk.
Wrapped in gauzy pre-dawn light, Diego gathered his things in the shadows; we fumbled a kiss before he left on the train to Frankfurt. I was to pick him up at LAX the next night, Monday.
If I had known that was to be our last moment of normalcy, I would have held onto it and him longer. Savored the barely-there scent of his cologne and the strength in his arms wrapped around me. Instead, he disappeared into the morning as I tried to recapture sleep before getting on my flight back home.
ON MONDAY WHEN I returned to Los Angeles, I was feeling so run down, I went to visit my doctor. No big surprise there with the schedule I kept. I had crisscrossed the country three times and made one overseas trip in just in the last three weeks alone. I wasn't quite at the level of George Clooney's Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air, but I was getting close. New York for Letterman. Arizona for Wango Tango. Back to LA for Jimmy Kimmel. Off to Paris for my artist Cameron. As a music publicist, it was the same on both coasts, and on any continent: schmooze, smile, hand hold and of course, get blamed for any bad press suffered by my artists. Take the red-eye, land in the morning and go straight to the office. Sounded glamorous on paper but after eight years it was about as exciting as surfing the 'net on dial-up.
I had expected my convo with Dr. Madison to run something like:
"Elle, here's a prescription for Amoxicillin, take one every eight hours for 10 days and slow down, get some rest. This bug is really getting around."
Instead, as I sat perched on the examining table, shock had unhinged my jaw and it felt as loose and flimsy as the paper gown gaping open at my backside when she said, "Elle, you're about six weeks pregnant. Here's a prescription for prenatal vitamins. No alcohol and ease up on the caffeine." No alcohol and caffeine? She might as well have said "lay off on the breathing." I always assumed if I were to have a kid, it wouldn't be easy. A turkey baster and test tubes or surrogate mom would be involved or at the very least, months of trying. At 35, my eggs were supposed to be a cycle away from being on life support from what all the magazine articles and websites touted. I had happily stood in line and bought tickets to the myth that motherhood and careers were divergent paths and to choose one was to forsake the other.
After the doctor dropped her bombshell, I drove back to my office in Beverly Hills on autopilot. I ignored the tall palm trees that lined the sidewalks, their fronds swaying in a lazy salute to a sky that was perfectly blue as long as you didn't look northward where the Hollywood Hills jutted toward a sullen, gray cloud of smog and exhaust. It was a typical April day, a balmy 70 degrees. Standard for LA. Or at least it was typical this morning when I left for the doctor's office. Now everything had changed. I had a passenger traveling with me. The sharp stench of tar stung my nose and the staccato beat of a drill thrummed a budding headache as I tried to merge into one lane and out of the way of the roadwork being done. Crater-sized potholes littered the streets adding an obstacle course feel to the process. The stop and go traffic was second nature and allowed my mind to wander.
Children had never really come up between us. We thought they were cute when they were someone else's accessories and did the obligatory "oohs" and "ahhs" over the rugrats of acquaintances. We didn't exactly share a kid-friendly lifestyle. We were unapologetically married to our careers and were still young enough not to have any regrets. We wanted to have kids someday in that vague, hazy future sort of way as in "someday I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro." But today was never that day.
I had the media elite on speed dial. Getting some of my B-list and unknown clients into A-List events? Not a problem. Getting an upgrade to first class without the required mileage points? Could do it in my sleep. Knowing the best bars in eight different cities in four countries when on a lay over? Easy. I also could make a mean vanilla martini. Knew the best caterers in town. If you needed to buy a last minute dress that would turn heads at the Grammy's, the address was already programmed into my GPS. These were all very valuable skills to have in my world. Breastfeeding and changing diapers? Not so much. Hollywood made it look easy but they had an army of personal trainers, chefs, nannies, therapists, pool boys and plastic surgeons on hand to keep them looking and feeling young. Motherhood was nothing but a set prop for them but for me, way above my pay grade. You might as well ask me to build a rocket ship that ran on flax seed oil. I shook my head to restart my thoughts. Babies were supposed to be a blessing...gift-wrapped in stretch marks. I was unnerved by the guilt that came rushing in for being so thrown by Dr. Madison's news. My maternal instinct was on hiatus; maybe it would kick in once the hormones started flowing.
Just to make sure though, when I arrived at my office, I checked my dates. I tossed an envelope of receipts on my desk as I flicked on the computer. It was by no means a corner office...yet. It had just enough room for a leather loveseat and coffee table, horizontal file cabinets, four platinum album plaques on the wall and my desk. I kept the look minimal, no need to get too comfortable here.
Once the computer loaded, I clicked on my calendar. It filled the computer screen as I scrolled through the weeks. Last month had been busy (as usual) with juggling listening parties, album release parties, accompanying my acts to television studios, sitting in on interviews all the while attending mandatory staff meetings, pitching media outlets, creating publicity plans and trying to do more while my budget was sliced and diced because of the economy. Aha. I found the date I had been looking for, the listening party for Sexual Chocolate, the new "it" girl group. That was the last visit from my monthly friend...March 8th. So, I was late. So used to it being on time, I didn't even notice it was mid-April and a week had passed after its expected arrival. With everything that had been going on, it was the last thing on my mind. I also vaguely remembered doubling up on the pill, thinking it would be fine that one time. Guess not.
Even though I was picking him up from the airport later this evening, I sent a text to Diego, omg!!! call me, important. I sent him another text with 911, just in case it wasn't clear. If I was freaking out, he needed to freak out with me or be the voice of reason. Hopefully he would see my texts during a layover. I hadn't heard from him since he left yesterday morning.
The smoggy Hollywood Hills were visible from my window in the penthouse suite. I slipped on a Bluetooth headset for the office phone and stifled a yawn as I stared off into the distance. The row of bobbleheads that lined my desk nodded and stared too. They were my "yes" men. I started running calls as I listened to my voicemail and checked my email. Benny, a product manager had left me several messages, each one escalating in tone until I needed to be a dog in order to hear the high pitch shrill formerly known as his voice, which was a sharp departure from his native tongue of mumble. I hated to talk to him, but just like a colonoscopy, sometimes it was necessary.
I called him as I checked my email. First up? The online proof for my parents' 40th wedding anniversary "surprise" party invitation. Gala was more like it. Everyone and their unborn knew about it except my father, further perpetuating the old wives' stereotype of the clueless man. Right below their email was one from my mother with 15 "small little changes" ranging from the menu to the music to the guest list and she wanted to know when the invitations were going out. She was inviting friends and family from out of state and wanted to give them enough time make arrangements. She long ago made me rue the day I gave her my email address. More than once I offered to let her handle the arrangements and she would always demur I knew best. Right. It was four months away but I felt more pressure from planning this than I had for any other event in my professional career. I'd worked the Grammy's, the AMA's, fielded questions at press conferences about nude pictures, affairs, drugs, you name it, I'd seen it all and had to write the press release about it. Even attending a soiree at the White House was less complicated than this.
I scanned the invite again before clicking "accept" for the proof. In a few days I'd have the pleasure of personally printing out labels and mailing 100 invitations to friends and family. I wish I had the type of assistant who would do my personal tasks, but it was hard enough getting Veronica to do the bare minimum work-related tasks.
Another email came through. This time from Triad. Triad, an indie record label snapped up by a major, was the closest competitor to my current employer, Savage Rhythms. They were looking for a VP to head up their publicity department and they were a cautious suitor. Finally after two months of eyeing one another, we were just getting around to first base. They wanted to meet with me, more formally on Friday. I sat up. Their email made me remember the goal at hand...and I lived by lists and goals. The minute I swung my tassel to the other side and graduated from college, I knew I wanted to make it big in music...except I couldn't sing or play an instrument. Hello, publicity. I was supposed to have been vice president of publicity at a record label by 35. My 35th birthday was now behind me. I was behind schedule. Triad could put me back on track.
I didn't even want to think about how I would handle the whole maternity leave issue. No matter what the law said, I knew they would strike my name off the short list of contenders if I looked bloated or even gave off a whiff of morning sickness. I checked my calendar to make sure I would be in town before I sent them an email saying yes. I'd gone as far as I could go at Savage and unless my boss suddenly sprouted a second head and hit the talk show circuit, she was going nowhere, which meant I was going nowhere. I had skyrocketed right to the glass ceiling, unless they invented the title, "Most Seniorest Director." I needed to get Benny off the phone. I had been half-listening to his ramblings. How he managed to accomplish much as a manager was the Eighth Wonder of the World.
"I don't think I'm hearing you correctly when you say she's 'suddenly sick' and can't make the press day I've been busting my behind to set up for the last month. I mean, please tell me you're kidding."
"Chantal's not feeling well and-"
"Look, you wanted to be THE MAN so badly, Mr. Run-Everything-Through-Me. Just get her to the Four Season by noon."
"I'll see what I can do."
"You were her product manager and wanted to make the jump into artist management. Make it happen. Chantal can't afford to blow off the Weekly Reader much less Rolling Stone. You know the last time she had a hit record? FIVE YEARS AGO. News flash, she ain't on top anymore. Just get her to press day and make sure she's sober...and wearing underwear." Just to be safe.
I pulled off my Bluetooth and leaned back into my chair. My morning was spiraling into that out-of-control region. Most days, I lived for the thrill of extinguishing the wildfires. I loved being the invisible puppeteer pulling the strings. Creating the reality that the media would hand-deliver to the masses. If there was a problem (and with the potent mixture of Twitter and celebs ' there was always a problem), all I had to do was put a spin on it and tip off TMZ, Radar Online, and any other hot gossip sites of the moment. Problem solved. Sure, most people would think, it's only music and I'm only a publicist. It's not like I was solving global warming or the food crisis in some Third World country or our own country for that matter. But I lived in L.A., where entertainment was more powerful than religion unless you were Mel Gibson and found a way to combine the two. My pops would say, "might as well FedEx yourself to hell since you're going there anyway," for even saying that. But it was true.
After this morning though, I seemed to have lost my enthusiasm for converting the masses. I was dragging and the types of calls I was getting made me want to fast forward to the end of the day when I could go home and curl up with Diego. I put on some old school Lenny Kravitz to keep me going as I slipped on my earpiece and again became the mouthpiece for Savage Rhythms. After fielding an hour's worth of panic-stricken and/or attitude-laden conversations with everyone from magazine editors to managers to our own promotions department, I was beyond stressed. I had long ago sucked dry my tall double latte from Starbucks and was considering licking the bottom of the cup to see if there was any spare caffeine. I would have to ease off the caffeine in steps, going cold turkey would kill me. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of seeing Diego in a few hours. I checked my cell but didn't see any text messages from him. Even though our schedules kept us on different coasts half the time, we always managed to text/IM/Skype/Facebook/Tweet or call one another a few times a day. Social media made it so easy to stalk the ones we loved. Diego was on a serious blackout because nothing had been updated since yesterday morning when he left my hotel.
I couldn't dwell on him for too long. Decisions. Decisions. Was it better to have Chantal float into press day and let anything fly out of her mouth? Or cancel and do some serious ass-kissing to the 20 or so journalists probably already on their way to the "Meet and Greet" that was scheduled? Either way she was screwed because the album sucked. Known for her powerhouse vocals, her newest album sounded like Auto-Tunes 101 with tracks recorded from her cellphone. Even the little boy on YouTube singing a Lady Gaga song into his banana was better than her.
Of course, Chantal showed up thirty minutes late at the hotel looking crazy. Wearing oversized sunglasses, and garish scarf to hide a blond weave that had seen better days in its former life as a house cat. Her husband, a fame whore extraordinaire, was glued to her side and had the nerve to include his demo in the press kit. The only spin I could put on it was groveling and bribery. I promised more exclusives than I had artists.
I was washing my hands in the hotel bathroom when Chantal stumbled in to freshen her lipstick.
"I think it went well, don't you?" she asked as she puckered her lips in the mirror.
I looked around and then scanned the stalls for any feet. No witnesses. "Seriously? I mean were we just at the same event?"
"What do you mean? They loved me."
I snatched the paper towels from a cute wicker basket and dried my hands. "We've worked together at what, two, three labels now? I've known you long enough to not have to kiss your ass as much. Whatever you're smoking or drinking, you need to quit. You're destroying everything you worked so hard to get and those people out there? If you don't know this already, they're not your friends." Chantal had that type of raw talent that could move you to tears or a "go on and sang girl" shout with just one note. I didn't want to see her fail. I walked out knowing I'd hear from her manager or my boss, Melanie, about what I said. I didn't care. The entertainment industry was littered with fallen stars shot down by shooting up. My job was to enable them by spoon-feeding excuses to the public. More importantly, as a hired hand I was to never, ever upset the talent. I really should have just cancelled the press day.
Back at the office, I kept one eye on the clock as the light of day was slowly fading. I needed to get to the airport to pick up Diego, but it didn't feel right. I should have heard from him by now and his silence was troubling.