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Authors: Sarah Gagnon

Date With A Rockstar (7 page)

BOOK: Date With A Rockstar
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I hope to hell it arrives soon. Trains come in fifteen-minute increments, but I have no way of knowing when the last one left. I don't want to spend a single second in this place.

“'Scuse me. Pretty lady? What's in the bag?”

I ignore the words and move along the platform. I'll run back to the yellow mark when I see the eight train.

“Come back here!” the voice commands in suddenly clear words. I glance back at the man curled on the ground. The sleeves are torn off his shirt, showing wiry muscles. There's a red, scabby mark on his face, probably Fluxem. I shudder. He stares, but makes no move to get up. What's wrong with his legs? They're bent at odd angles. Can Fluxem do that?

I bounce from foot to foot. Ready for anything. The number six arrives and leaves. A single person exits and no one boards. The trains continue along their circuit whether anyone uses them or not. The thought sends a shiver through my spine. I crack my knuckles around the steel in my fist and refuse to let the fear settle in.

The man with Fluxem crawls toward me. At least he's slow. When he's ten feet away I dart around behind him to the other end of the platform. Scratchy music starts playing over the intercom system. The number four pulls up and leaves. Screams echo off the tile walls.
God, I hate the subway.

The number eight arrives from the other direction and the Fluxem guy blocks the door as it slides open. I have to make the train. The door starts to close. I dart around the reaching guy. His hand swipes at my foot,
but I jump through the train door before he can latch on. I release my breath as he's shut out.

The car rocks back and forth, speeding toward the airport. A shrunken man with beady eyes follows my movements. I stand in the center of the aisle, trying not to touch the seats or handholds. Minutes pass slowly. I feel like the guy is staring at my bag. Brakes screech as we stop at another station. A middle-aged woman climbs on. She's normal and clean. Her presence makes me relax a bit. We watch each other balance as the train jerks back to speed.

One more stop, then it's me on my way to Key West. I let out a deep breath. Suddenly the train lurches. I stumble against a seat and fall to one knee. “Damn train,” I mutter as I feel a pull on my shoulder.

I know the sensation and my elbow flies back fast and hard. I catch my assailant in the arm. I spin around, shocked to find the woman gripping my bag. I hesitate a second, then swing. My fist connects with her jaw, hard. She cries out and crab walks away from me. When I glance up, she cowers while the man smiles at me and claps his hands. His cackle sounds insane. The woman rubs her face and grinds her teeth, but the door opens and I leap out before she can move.

Ha! I made it.
The modern airport terminal feels like a different world compared to the subway. I open my sack enough to slide the metal cylinder away. I check my hands. Elbowing attackers is safer, less chance of busting open a knuckle and catching whatever they might have.

As I walk through the sliding glass doors, my security scan is welcoming. My metal cylinder shows up as an exercise device. People stride by me with purpose, and I cut through them to find a bench to wait on. I'm more than an hour early. I use the time to replace the images of the subway with composed business people. I dig for my ear buds and tap on
Jeremy's latest release. The player was a gift from Mom the year before we had to start saving, and the song I borrowed from the library. I wait for the music to erase the stress.

The song starts with a moan that sounds more like trapped wind than a human. The title is “Ocean 65.” I can pick out the sound of water crashing even though I've never been to a real sea. Boston Harbor, with its coal black tides, hardly qualifies. Wind and waves intersperse at the beginning of the song. Then the rhythm starts, matching the beat of my heart, then faster, bringing me with it. I tip my head back, close my eyes. I disappear into the spray of waves and thumping bass.

I'm startled by a tap on my shoulder. Praline stands next to my bench. Not my first choice, but I motion for her to sit down.

“You're early, too!” She's quivering with nerves and clearly not as shy as I first thought. “Tell me your name one more time.”

“Monet O'Neal.”

She has two magenta suitcases propped up against our bench. “I was a little excited, you know? So I came early.”

“Yeah, me, too.” Excited and trying not to get killed.

“I've been thinking all night and I'm pretty sure Jeremy will be on the plane with us.”

She fans her face with her hand. Jeremy on the plane. I hadn't considered the possibility. I guess I need to be ready to stand out. Maybe just being real will be enough. “Even if he is on the plane, he'll probably be in a separate section.”

“Oh, I thought of that, too, but I might get a glimpse.” She raises her eyebrows, and I again wonder what Jeremy saw in this girl. “Hey, it's Eleanor.” Praline hops off the bench and launches through the crowd to
intercept her. After that, Praline stands on the bench to make it easier for the others to find us.

Eleanor sighs as she sits down next to me. “That girl has too much energy,” she whispers. I nod. Praline seems like a different person from the shy girl in the back of the room.

The security sensor over the entrance sweeps a green light over the single file stream of people entering. I watch for the other contestants, surprised the studio didn't have a better system for gathering us up this morning. One of us could easily go in a different entrance and get lost. Hmm, would that mean a better chance at the prize money?

“Mel.” Praline waves frantically. “Crystal.” Then, unfortunately, the rest of the girls find us, and as a group we're lead through the airport to a private runway. Bill drives up to us in a luggage cart. The girls struggle to lift bursting suitcases onto the vehicle. Jasmine has a third bag on her back, but no one reprimands her. I opt to keep my tote bag with me. It's not heavy and since it contains every article of clothing I own, I'm not letting it out of my sight. I don't see Jeremy, but I don't think he'll be able to just walk through the airport without getting mobbed.

The big steel plane waiting for us intimidates me. My hands tremble as we cross the tarmac to the staircase. Hazy air sticks to my face and arms. I pull the strap of my bag tight and climb up. The aisles are smaller than they look on TV. We pass through a cabin of white leather couches, and then through a curtain to the back of the plane. I want to ask a ton of questions, but I don't want anyone to know this is my first time.

Shelley Anne sits next to me. “I've never flown before,” she says under her breath. I clutch my hands together so that she doesn't notice I'm shaking.

The Jasmine clones, Brie and Mel, are sitting together one row back, frowning and jealous of each other, I suspect. One Jasmine is enough, three of them is ridiculous. Claire walks past wearing a sticker with her name on it. Where did she get a nametag? Did she make it herself, or are they handing them out and I missed getting mine? She's not sporting her dance clothes this morning. Maybe those were just for the interview.

Then the curtain parts and Jeremy is standing at the front of the cabin. All of my negative thoughts grind to a halt.

“Hey,” he says. “I just wanted to say hi before we took off.”

After a second of shock, all of the girls are talking over each other to say hi. The wave in his auburn hair flips to the left rather than the right today. Dark circles rim his eyes and his shoulders slump under a rumpled T-shirt. He doesn't have his stage presence this morning. He just seems normal and tired. I'm staring at the hint of stubble on his face when his eyes meet mine. Oh, my. The corner of his mouth twitches and I wonder if he's thinking about smiling at me. He looks like a real guy. Someone I could talk to.

“Can't wait to get to know you all on our dates,” he says. His gaze flicks away from mine and the loss makes me sad. “Have a good flight.”

Again the girls talk over each other. I don't even try to make myself heard. The curtain falls closed behind him and I wonder if there are seatbelts on the white leather couches. What position does he sleep in? I think back to all the articles I've read, but I don't know the answer. Will he be thinking about new song lyrics on the flight? I wish I prepared myself more to win.

“I think he was staring at me,” Shelley Anne whispers.

I was pretty sure he was making eye contact with me. She crosses and uncrosses her legs repeatedly and I rub my knuckles. I already elbowed one person today and that was terrible. Why am I suddenly considering whacking Shelley Anne? She adds to the leg crossing by biting her fingernails and I try my damnedest to block her out. Was he really looking at her, and why do I care?

The roar of the plane's engine knocks me out of my thoughts. I sit on my trembling hands. Shelley Anne grips the armrest. I pretend to sleep so that she won't know I'm nervous, too.

In my daydream, Jeremy walks across the park and sits on my blanket. He pulls out a guitar, his long fingers wrapping around the neck of the instrument. There are big trees overhead, casting triangles over his features while he strums. He hums a line and I want to kiss him so bad. After the song is over, of course. Oh, and he's brought a picnic basket full of fruit.

Eleanor and Bill pass by and disappear into Jeremy's section, completely distracting me from imagining what types of fruit would be in the basket. Fifteen minutes later they come back through with a cameraman behind them.

Jeremy ruffles his hair and rubs his eyes. “They thought it would be good to have me ask you girls a few questions now in case they need filler for the show.” He holds up a piece of paper. “Uh, I'll just go down the row and ask a question to each of you.” Gosh, he looks tired.

Bill points out which girl to start filming—Shelley Anne, who is right next to me, and I'm strapped down with no way to escape, with a video camera two feet from my head. No pressure. “Question one: if you could have one wish in the world, what would it be?” Jeremy glances up from his sheet of paper and waits.

Shelley flips her hair one way and then the other. “There are a lot of things I would like for myself,” she pauses and stares right at Jeremy, “but if I only have one wish, it would have to be for world peace.”

Ahh, so cliché, and yet, what else could she have said to sound better? Bill points to me and Jeremy shifts his gaze. “If the world was ending and you could save one other person, who would it be?”

Oh, crap. This is one of
questions: if I say I'd save him, I'll sound like a loser. I don't really know him and I'd be essentially picking a complete stranger over people I've known my whole life. But then, I don't want him to think that I'm leaving him out there to die. “My mother,” I say with a sigh.

He gives a tired laugh. “You don't sound so sure.”

“I just don't want you to think I'm abandoning you in a field with fire and brimstone raining down on our heads as I grab someone else to save. I suppose I could trade you for me, but when it came down to it, I'd probably go for self-preservation.”

“That's as honest of an answer as I've ever heard.” He smiles again at me, but Bill points to the next girl. Claire. “What's your favorite food?”

“Butternut squash ravioli and cheesecake.” Ugh. I recognize the food from an interview Jeremy gave about his favorite meal years ago. Like that's going to impress him.

Next up, Praline. Jeremy rubs his eyes again, poor guy. “How long can you hold your breath?” Huh? Guess my question wasn't so bad.

She doesn't say anything and then I realize she's holding her breath. I hope Eleanor or Bill started counting. An awkward sixty seconds of silence pass. Finally she sucks in air. “About a minute,” she announces.

Bill shakes his head and points to a Jasmine clone, Mel, I think. Jeremy loses his place on the page and
runs his fingers over the words while we all lean forward in our seats, watching him. “If you had to pick one tool to survive in a winter landscape, what would it be?”

“A thermo tent,” she says.
I don't think that counts as a tool.

Next clone, Brie. “If you had to pick one other contestant to throw off the plane, who would it be?” Jeremy laughs as he asks. He's merging into deliriously tired. I know the look.

Brie points to Jasmine and all of us try not to giggle. I think Jasmine whispers “bitch” to her, but I'm too far away to make out the words. Jeremy turns to Jasmine and she's all smiles. “If you had to be cursed with either big feet or big hands, which would you choose?”

“These are funny questions. Did you come up with them yourself?” She bats her eyelashes at him.

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Oh, don't be. You're so much fun. I guess I'd pick big feet. They're easier to hide.”

Jeremy nods and Bill points at the next girl, but the plane bumps up and down and the seatbelt sign pops back on. “Thank God,” Jeremy mumbles.

Bill stands in front of us. “I guess that will be enough. Everyone make sure your seatbelts are buckled.” I watch him and Eleanor return to their seats. They have a pile of paper between them and I wonder if they're assigning dates right now. Or maybe that's up to the producers. Did Jeremy like the answer to my question? Is honesty a good thing?

Outside of the plane window, dark and light clouds pepper the sky. I bet if they were a food they'd be sweet. Maybe like marshmallows. Lucky for me, processed sugar is almost as cheap as vitamin spread. We're too high up for a view of the landscape below. According to most environmentalists, the entire country is as overbuilt as Boston. I'd like to see that for myself.

The plane tilts and circles down to land. Before we reach the ground, I catch a glimpse of foliage and blue water that look just like the brochure. Key West. Palm trees decorate the edges of the airport terminal. I instantly love them. All the leaves are on top, like the trees have big, shaggy hair. The city buildings are circled in thin clouds, but appear to be close. The plane bumps to a stop.

BOOK: Date With A Rockstar
4.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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