Chapter 4 – Part 2
As Cynthia John’s leaned across Sara and her husband to meet Nora, the fit and flare navy eyelet dress stretched around her midsection for its dear life. Cynthia, as her family and close friends referred to her, loudly introduced herself, as Cyndi, with an i. Impressed with the English suburban mother’s style, Nora took her hand and earnestly admitted how nice it was to meet her. Cyndi’s thick dark blonde hair perfectly curled on its ends bounced euphorically while she sipped her vodka cranberry and explained how she and Robbie’s older brother, Roger, had decided on their way back from the West Coast, to stay in New York a few days longer to catch the rock and roll VIP experience. Accepting another vodka-cran from the server, she leaned in closer and shared her secret to get completely and utterly obliterated. Roger, almost a dead ringer for his younger brother, except perhaps the thinning hair and growing paunch, drew his eyes in embarrassment to the ground. Noticing his disapproval, Cyndi lobbed him on his shoulder and emphasized that it was not everyday that she had a holiday away from her children and if only that included him. Nora and Sara both threw their heads back and laughed.
“Welcome to New York,” Nora extended to the couple.
The women clinked their glasses leaving poor Roger out in the cold. Overwhelmed with her beauty, Roger, unable to look Nora in the eyes, soberly watched his thumbs wrestle and explained how due to his work, he and Cynthia frequented the States. Nora politely asked him what he did for a living. Before Roger could reply, Cyndi interrupted, insisting that no one was interested in hearing about the tediousness of programming. Sara, nearly fed up at this point with Cynthia, explained to Nora how it was Roger who had convinced Nigel to start his own business.
“We spend every Christmas with the Johns, well sans Robbie of course,” Sara remorsefully admitted as her eyes searched the room eventually finding Robbie and the rest of the Herberts seated at a table with a queue of fans patiently and excitedly awaiting their autographed photos.
Beneath the warm exuberate conversations and laughter, the filtered lights dimmed and the music became more audible. Beach House’s “Turtle Island” caused Sara to complain about the band’s musical choice, insisting it was macabre. In a very matter-of-fact-tone, Roger stated that it was a rouse to get the fans through the line quicker so that the lads could get back to the hotel to relax, party or whatever it was that they fancied. He went on to express that he noticed this stealth method was carried out at every show they had attended. Nora nodded, impressed and stated that she, not being as extroverted as say Ms. Cyndi, would incorporate this when entertaining. Sara balked at her, and pointed out how Nora was always playing depressing music and that since Nora entertained so rarely, what would be the point.
Putting the eyelet to the test, Cyndi leaned over again and asked Nora, “Do you ever eat, love?”
Roger dropped his head in his hand and groaned. Sara nearly spit her cocktail out and awaited Nora’s reaction. Nora’s large black eyes widened but remained soft. She gently touched her new acquaintance’s knee and simply replied, ‘who eats anymore, darling’.
“Oh, you cheeky bitch!” Cyndi roared.
Restless and seemingly bored, Alex drummed the table and signed his fans’ photos. Agreeing with Sara, he complained to Robbie that the music was too bloody gloomy. Robbie, trying to remain engaged in conversation with a teenage fan about the significance of each and every Herbie button covering her denim jacket, shook his head and gestured to Alex to pay attention to the fans. He signed the 13-year-old’s photo and taking Shelly’s tapping on his shoulder as his cue, stood to be photographed with the small girl clad also in Dirty Herberts earrings and a pink baby doll t-shirt covered in a silk screen image of his face. He crossed to the other side of the table and happened to glance over the crowd. At the same time, across the room, Cyndi complained of wanting to stretch her legs so she and Nora stood from the worn black leather couches and started for the bar. Shelly guided the young girl to her mark and asked her nicely to wait for Robbie. The dark haired girl constantly flipped her bangs from left to right and thanked Shelly profusely. Shelly turned back to instruct Robbie but he had disappeared into the tightly packed crowd. Annoyed and tired of dealing with the radio station winners, Shelly asked Alex where in the hell Robbie had buggered off. Alex shrugged and suggested that perhaps he went to change the dreadful tunes. Exasperated, Shelly was forced to go after him.
Free of his bodyguards and Shelly’s shield, the eerie sparse drum machine’s beat guided Robbie through the groping fans and friends. The dark nursery rhyme melodies glowed over him and enveloped those that tried to impede him. Floating through the rolling warbling slide guitar the opaque persistent vocals sang the words forming on her lips. In her tall heels, swaying, she seemed in slow motion – laughing and drinking with his sister-in-law. Behind him, angry and very worried for the young star’s safety, Shelly and his enormous square shouldered personal bodyguard, Squid, quickly followed behind. Aware of their tenacity, Robbie camouflaged himself behind the very tall Sir Lionel long enough for the search party to pass. He felt Sir Lionel’s hand pat his back and request that he do something about the mood killing music. Unable to stop, and having already interrupted his course, Robbie simply kept moving and in envy, observed Cyndi and Nora trading secrets. Never taking his eyes from her smile, he surprisingly found himself at a loss for how he might begin their conversation. As he approached closer, the butterflies in his stomach seemed to breed by the thousands.
“I’m Robert Michael Johns,” he seemed to have blurted.
Cyndi tried but couldn’t help but chortle, which caused Nora to laugh causing Robbie to assume that she was laughing at him.
“Robbie, you little shit!” Not wanting to miss her moment, Sara quickly crossed to the bar and wrapped her arms around his neck.
Barely audible underneath Sara’s arms, Robbie mumbled, “Hello Mrs. Stone.”
“Mrs. Stone!” Embarrassed, Sara fussed with her bangs and protested, “What am I 50? My God, call me Sara!”
“Yeah …umm…” Robbie stuttered.
With his momentum thwarted, he fell to Squid and Shelly. Shelly said a polite yet hurried hello to the Johns then explained to Robbie how she understood that he wanted to visit with his family but at this time, his obligation was to his fans. Recognizing Nora from the images she had presented to him as well as from the New York Daily covers, Shelly glanced at Nora then quickly to Robbie. In all of the years Shelly had worked as his tour manager and assistant, it was not uncommon for Robbie to act out against, what he perceived as Shelly being overbearing and too maternal. Her star was enraptured by another beautiful woman and was not going to listen to reason. She checked her watch and feigned a patient smile while listening to Roger’s technical inquiries. Robbie stepped in closer to Nora and dreamed of her blinking the sleep from those desperate black eyes while he ran his hand along the curve of her naked hip.
“Robbie, we mustn’t disappoint your fans,” Shelly tried to reason.
Keeping Jackson in mind, Nora tried to smile platonically in hopes that speaking with Robbie, wouldn’t be another broken rung added to Jacks’ ladder. Robbie stayed planted while Shelly and the guard fidgeted and waited it out. By this time, Alex had demanded that the music be changed and while Roger and Nigel had begun to gather, slapping his back and congratulating the band on a show well done, the Black Eyed Peas’, repetitive “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night” replaced the mysterious “Turtle Island”. Shelly continued to check her watch and resisted grabbing Robbie by the ear and dragging him across the room. At 18 or 19-years-old this action might have been appropriate but now that Robbie was a man, she would have to resort to more adult tactics. She whispered into the singer’s ear that he was holding everyone up and that perhaps if he invited the young lady to the Four Seasons, they could chat there.
Still feeling the sting from Robbie’s address to her, Sara attempted to steal the focus, “Nora, you do know that this is your fiancé’s rival, right?”
With the spell having been broken, Robbie finally acknowledged his surroundings; he hugged his brother and Cyndi and shook hands with Nigel.
“What happened to your face, mate?” Robbie quickly asked Nigel while trying to keep his eyes on Nora.
A large red scratch crawled from Nigel’s chin to his eye. Robbie’s question caused Nora to look to the ground, Sara to slam her drink and got Nigel stammering. He tripped over his carefully crafted words of a drunken journey to the loo, which somehow ended with a metal piece on his watch slicing open his face. The group seemed satisfied and put all attention back to the star of the night.
“Robbie, we really need to get on with it,” Shelly was losing patience.
He pleaded, “Just one more minute, please?”
Shelly, Squid and it seemed almost everyone, instantly backed off and allowed Robbie to wrap up his romantic encounter. He turned to speak to Nora but instead came face to face with Sara. He had reached for what he thought was going to be Nora’s hand and accidentally brushed against Sara’s hip.
“Robbie, we should at least wait for the ole ball and chain to leave, right?” she flirted referring to Nigel.
Robbie gave a half smile and scanned the area for Nora. He found her tucked in on the other end of the bar chatting with Cyndi and Sir Lionel. Sir Lionel was attempting to charm the two women with one of his many tales of touring with various well-known pop stars. Cyndi, more star-struck than Nora, was guffawing at his every notion. Sara, realizing where his gaze lay, tried to be the obstacle in his path.
“Oh don’t bother with her, she’s only here because of me, and besides that, she’s Conlon’s fiancé,” Sara said and gently removed a stray hair from Robbie’s eye.
“I understand Mrs. Stone,” he said quickly and rushed to the bar.
“I suppose for someone who is engaged to one so famous, my name dropping isn’t all that impressive, is it?” Sir Lionel accused Nora.
Nora finished her drink, set it on the bar and wondered why this man was trying so desperately to impress them. She was quite surprised at how many people were aware or cared of her relationship or knew who she was. Ignoring Nigel’s longing stares, her mind raced trying to determine whether or not damage control was necessary. As she pondered her every move and word, Robbie crept up from behind, and placed his hand on the small of her back.
“Hello?” he timidly whispered behind her.
Terrified of someone misreading her inculpable sentiments, she proceeded to take a step away from him, but tripped on a bar stool and losing her balance, she stumbled backwards. Acting on instinct, he reached out and caught her on the elbow, then kindly warned her to be careful. Just the touch of her small arm, to him, was bliss and he prayed that he would never have to release her. Nora’s eyes nervously scanned the room for gossiping onlookers and in that moment, he noticed that her slight limb had become rigid. He slowly released her arm, placed his hands at his sides, and muttered an apology. Feeling silly and unnecessarily paranoid, Nora tried to dodge the moment and commented on the music.
“Was this your idea?”
Realizing what she was referring to, he assured her that he was not a fan of the popular hit. Nora, expressed how she much preferred Beach House, and he snapped his fingers and in an instant, a young man called Charles appeared. Robbie whispered into his ear and Charles was off again. She stood awkwardly, swirling the vodka in the rocks glass while he watched Charles talk to the DJ. In a few moments, to the rest of the party’s dismay, “Turtle Island” oozed its way back through the speakers. Seeing Nora’s bright American smile was 50k well spent. She closed her eyes mouthing the words while he resisted with everything he had not to touch her. Immediately following Beach House, jolting a shock back into the party, all around them the floor hopped up and down to Icona Pop’s driving hit, “I Love It”.
Keeping his hands at his sides, he carefully leaned into her and joked, “Is there room in your purse that I might squeeze into and escape?”
“Are you not enjoying your own party?” she asked taking another step back and forcing a platonic air.
Shrugging, he tossed his moppy fringe from his large brown eyes and apologized for sounding so dashed. Recognizing that his lexicon had been lost on his American friend, he clarified that he meant not to come across as such a depressed bastard. She excused him and empathetically explained that large parties weren’t exactly her forte. She fell back into her usual silence and hoped that either he would leave her alone or someone would interrupt their tete a tete. Why hadn’t Cyndi butted in with a crass remark or quip? Or that annoying busy body Lionel? Nora observed that everyone – the band, their fans, the Stones, and even his family, although they shot curious glances in their direction, never approached Robbie and her. She felt completely surrounded but totally alone with him.
“Are you reticent because of Conlon?” his question echoed in her head.
She tried to limit her smile and thought that perhaps if she demonstrated disinterest he would find another skirt to chase or the esoteric air would be lifted. She attempted to gain the attention of anyone within close proximity but whenever her gaze was met with another, all eyes were cast down. He tried again.
“Did you like the show?”
“Yes,” she said hoping an aloof one – word answer would send him the message but he only pushed her further.
“Oh yeah, what was your favorite song, then?”
Unable to answer him and overwhelmed with the cultish tableau, she fell into a fit of laughter. Uneasy with her change in mood and not sure of how to handle her, he teased her further, that Sara had already told him that they had dragged her to his show, kicking and screaming.
“I’m sorry, it’s just…” she tried to explain but didn’t know what to say.
“I’m just havin’ a laugh, forgive me,” he smiled and lifted her chin to face him, “I have to get back but can we can please talk again tonight?”
Nora’s face burned with fear and confusion. Talk again? She had hardly said a word. Before she could respond, Squid appeared and ushered Robbie back to the autograph table. The music was turned up, and the chatter and laughter increased. As she scanned the room she noticed everyone’s eye trying to steal a glance at her.
“Weird,” she said to herself then ordered another drink.
“Well, what did he say?” Cyndi asked siding up next to her.
Nora shook her head and lied, “Not much.”
“Well that’s a first,” Cyndi said matter-of-factly.
Nora shrugged and shook her head.
“… My brother-in-law at a loss for words,” Cyndi verified and toddled off to find her husband.
“Well he’s certainly set his sights on you,” Lionel said now alone with Nora.
Nora looked at him puzzled, and continued to protect Jackson, “I’m engaged, so…”
“Yes, my dear, and how does Ian fit into your engagement?”
Angered, Nora demanded, “Who the fuck are you?”
“Well now look at what I’ve done; I’m sorry, Lionel Sebastian Witheby,” he said and extended his hand.
Ignoring his hand, Nora demanded to know how he knew her. He admitted that he and Ian, at least fifteen years ago had played metal together in London. Lionel had recently accidentally run into Ian in a small pub in London. They shared a pint and to Lionel’s surprise, Ian had just narrowly escaped serious trouble with the New York City police. He went on further and revealed that in order for Ian to avoid permanent deportation, he was ordered to immediately leave the country. Lionel expressed confusion that to him it seemed that being ordered to leave the country was deportation but since Ian was already back in the States, he supposed that there was indeed a difference. Nora dropped her drink and stared through Lionel. He gently touched her shoulder and delivered Ian’s message.
“He hopes that you are well and happy but he doesn’t suspect nor does he expect that you have forgiven him.”
Her body began to tremble while tears streamed mercilessly down her cheeks. Lionel, trying to console her, placed his arm around her shoulder. She brushed his arm off of her and with all eyes at her back, rushed out of the room.
Image: Andrew Lee | Environment Artist – http://sketchbook.andrewleeartist.com/2010_06_01_archive.html