Sunday, May 15, 2011
Studio Time: Thirteen
She arrived late, slipped in through the riverfront courtyard, and stood shadowed by a pot of flowers while waiting, Rob suspected, not for Alex but for Cooper. And, as if he knew exactly where she was and when she planned to be there, the man everyone was really there to see strode up from behind her and took her arm and steered her off into another side room. "I need a word with you in private."
Rob had no qualms about eavesdropping, a moral issue he considered particularly prissy. The window was open; whatever came out of it was his to use; and moving close enough to overhear without being seen or heard was no challenge at all, something he could do in his sleep. Stepping carefully into the flowers, sliding past the window frame, the sprinkler, one boot to the left of it, idly wondering what idiot put ground floor windows with no guards in an upscale hotel, and sort of making a note to himself about it, Rob slid right up in there. He couldn't see them clearly, but he heard Coop's rough voice through the window and useless curtains. "The baby's not mine."
What baby? There was another woman with a possible baby? Uneasy, a woman with or without baby complicated things, Rob risked taking a half step closer. "Hey man, have you seen Beth? She was supposed to be here half an hour ago."
Startled, he drew a quick breath, swore silently, and turned without losing his footing and looked at the agitated and restless frontman for the band he had tried so hard to hold together. Rob stepped into Alex’s space, forcing him back away from the window, blocking him. "I don't know, Alex. Maybe she's picking up her kid. She might consider her kids more important than you are. You do realize that, don’t you?"
Alex stared at him, opened his mouth to say something, undoubtedly something pretty raw judging from his expression, when Sydney swept up and put her hand on his shoulder and announced, "We must do something with that shirt, Alex. Did you spill a drink? I can't let you go out wearing that, come on, come over here with me."
He tried to shrug her off, failed, Syd slicing a hole in the air with her smile and digging into his shoulder with her nails. Relenting, Alex went along with her, shooting one angry look back as he walked away, leaving Rob to breathe again. For a moment, until the door opened on Cooper and his lovely and annoying wife.
Cooper looked drawn but relieved. The woman looked blank. She had less expression than any human being he'd ever seen, nothing but eyes and nose and mouth painted on a skin mask. Cooper spoke her name. Coming from him, he owned it.
She lifted her face, looking up at Cooper. Then, disconcertingly, he realized she was looking directly at him now. And the lights went on. She smiled. She smiled at him, and she looked at Stanfield and smiled at him and said something soft and then walked away from both of them down the length of the room and back out the door. If she was taking her child and going home, Rob was going to have trouble keeping Alex here. He'd hoped she would simply bid on her damned husband and end it. It did not look as though that was going to happen. He didn’t know what she’d done or what was going on or why she’d looked at him like that.
Cooper took two long strides toward him and stopped, remaining protected from view in the shadows. He stood there, weight on one leg, poised, watching him. Rob rocked back, off balance, and met the man's gaze. Help me out here...go get your woman...do something. Cooper held him there for a few long silent strange seconds, then nodded briefly, turned his back and left. Rob watched him disappear into the night, whether he was going after her or going back to the private bar, Rob had no clue.
Shaking it off Rob moved toward the stage. He needed to keep Alex in line, keep him focused on anything other than Beth Stanfield. There, directly in his line of sight was Charlie Pera, that smug grin on his face as he watched Rob. Pulling Sydney into his body he kissed her, whispered something in her ear and guided her back stage. She made an attempt to shake off his grip and then acquiesced, allowing him to control her.
Rob was torn between tearing after her, taking her out of here and not letting her go or walking away all together. One thing was certain, this thing with Sydney - he was done with the cat and mouse game. He looked to where she had gone and, determined to get her to commit one way or another, Rob followed her in.
"He's changing." Breathless, watching something off to the side, Sydney brushed at her dress and asked, "What's going on?"
Rob saw Charlie Pera, still hanging around, striding across the room like the thousand pound gorilla he was, tossing one last smile in his direction before he picked up a drink and left. Alex was changing his shirt just like he changed women, dropping everyone else in the process. Maybe somehow he could keep the band together. Maybe he could keep something he cared about out of this whole damned mess, but he couldn’t claw at Syd and Alex and Shooter and Duff and keep all of it. He’d never really had her. Give it up, recognize when you’ve risked and lost. He glared down at her. "Do you think I care about Alex's shirt? What the hell is your husband doing here?"
Someone had stacked up a pile of clothes and a rack and propped a mirror in the middle. It wasn’t like Syd to be disorganized or to put up with it but she didn’t look at it. She grabbed at the side of the mirror and glanced past him, a glance that hurt, she was checking, making sure Charlie didn’t see them. "I didn't know he would be here. He won't stay. He never does."
Laughter and noise filtered in from the patio, lights turned down again. In a few minutes he'd be up on that stage going through a charade that did not come anywhere close to the one he'd been struggling with for years. Fun and games at first, before the whole Syd’s boy toy, Syd’s bedside drawer appliance, all of it, corroded and leaked and burned. It wasn’t Sydney but she did nothing to put an end to it. Not a word, not one word. Rob watched her, moving in slowly, but this time was the last time. "Syd, I can't do this anymore. Whether he's here in the flesh or in China or wherever the hell he is, he's not the one who stays. You are.”
Sydney did not move. She wasn’t as blank as Beth Stanfield had been, but there wasn’t much in her face. Rob tried to feel some sympathy for her because this was, after all, apparently what she wanted more than she wanted him, the spotlights and the assistants and all of it. “Thanks,” he told her, and he meant it. He did appreciate it. “Thanks for what you did with Alex."
Rob waited for her to do something, anything, even if it was only to walk away. Did she still see the alley cat, the thief, not what he had become? If that was true his heart truly would shatter. And if went down like that, if it did, like everything else, he would carefully control that catastrophic event, the same way he always fought to control every damned thing, all of it, keep it from spiraling into chaos, the people around him, everything. Except for her.
“Rob, please, I have to go. Can we talk about this later? Tonight?”
“Is there anything left to say?” Rob turned, took one painful step and then another and disappeared into the crowd. He drew a deep breath and focused his attention on Rayne who had just walked on stage because he had to focus it somewhere.
“Me, I’m gonna bid on you.”
"Toad don't, you can't afford - " Rob watched as Rayne hung back, stalling, one foot on the stage and the other behind the curtain while the boyfriend held on to his pretty delusions.
The boyfriend aimed a long rank smile at the assembled crowd, blinked, and hesitated, maybe realizing how far out of his element he really was and took a step back behind the curtain. Rob shared one uncomfortable glance with him before Jimmy hunched his shoulders and strode off out the door.
Sydney worked the crowd, starting the bidding at $1000 just like Wyatt. People were bidding, $2000, $3000 and it kept going. Jimmy, who had come around to the front of the stage, bid $12,000. No doubt his total take for the year from his contract, if it was a generous contract, a very generous contract.
“Can I get $13,000,” Sydney was saying. Rayne worked the lights, strode further down the stage, walking through hot lights, over them. Rob watched, watching to do something, watching because he had to do something, watching the girl as she stepped on the light, picked up her foot and put it right back down on the same light, a deliberate destructive step. She stepped on the footlight as if she wanted to put the heel of her boot right through the glass into the lamp. Crushing the lamp. Beheading the lamp. The wind picked up, blowing, whistling in the wind tunnel and lifting her hair off her neck. All around people laughed, a door closed, and glass clinked against another glass....
Beyond the reach of the light, in the dark, in the shadow, ignoring the paddle, one deep European voice: “Fifty thousand.”
Duff. The free radical he had not anticipated. Rob drew a long resigned breath....fuck....