Chapter 1 (Tracy) - December 20th -
As my driver pulls into the airport, I worry that I made the wrong decision about coming home. There’s just too much work to do. I’m not even going back to my place in LA since the press tour ended for the new album. I’m flying right from New York to Batavia. Charlie doesn’t like it.
“Why don’t I just go back to check in on things? I’ll meet you back at your mom’s place in a couple days,” he pleaded last night.
“What am I supposed to tell Mom when I show up without my husband?” I retorted.
Mom’s always worried that I don’t make enough time for family. She says I work too hard.
And now Charlie has refused to talk to me all day. He stayed back at the hotel while I hit the gym this morning and met with my team at the label one last time before the holidays. He took the last few weeks off from work, claiming we’d be able to spend it together. Obviously he didn’t pay attention the millions of times I told him that I had to work up until the third week of December.
What’s really set him off is where the argument turned last night. Where it always turns: kids. He says he doesn’t want to be in his sixties when our kids are just graduating high school.
The airport is crowded when Charlie and I enter. Typical of the holiday season, but before we even reach security, a group of girls stops us to get my autograph and take some pictures.
Charlie stands off to the side and flashes me his phone to show the time. No matter where I am I try to make time for anyone who approaches me for a picture. Charlie usually tells me to politely decline if I’m in a rush. He’s not a fan of my career. He thinks that I should stop working at this “silly singing thing” and focus on being a mother.
Yeah, like he doesn’t enjoy the private jet and the $3 million house this “silly singing thing” pays for. Not to mention his wardrobe of designer suits that he wears to impress his colleagues. I’m sure they know that I’m the real moneymaker in our marriage. That’s gotta be a blow to his fragile masculinity.
Just as the last of the girls is snapping a selfie of us on her phone, Charlie grabs my elbow and says, “Honey, we have a flight to catch.”
After security we use a special exit that takes us onto the runway to board the private jet. It’s equipped with the works—leather seats, kitchenette, TVs, you name it. It’s practically a flying house.
“That was rude,” I mutter as I take my seat.
“You’re the one who is in such a rush to get home.” He takes the seat behind me, which I don’t question. We haven’t really talked since last night’s argument—not that we usually do— and emotions are still high.
Hopefully going to my mom’s will alleviate some of the tension. Based on previous holidays and family gatherings, I know that as soon as we get to the front door, he’ll turn on his charm and act like the proud, doting husband that he has everyone believing he is.
After I told my mom I was coming home for Christmas, she immediately told me about Daisy Doyle’s grand idea to throw a holiday class reunion. I guess her married name is Daniels—still got those double Ds. Her husband has to be deaf. Or blind. Or both.
No, Daisy’s not the worst person I’ve met. When you mingle with entitled celebrities and name-droppers, your faith in humanity pretty much goes out the window. Daisy’s just… intense sometimes. Or at least she was the last time I saw her ten years ago.
She wants me to sing something at the reunion. I don’t even want to go. We’ll see. It’s supposed to be a pre-Christmas mixer to catch folks who are in town for the holidays. Everyone else probably already has plans for that day, so it’s likely to be a dud. Maybe I can talk her out of having me sing.
It’s not that I dislike singing. I love it. Obviously, I’ve made a career out of it. It’s just that I’ve escalated into a different world than everyone else. “Show business.” Singing will only shove my success in their faces and further prove that I’m different. That I no longer fit in with the rest of them.
Still, there are a few people I wouldn’t mind catching up with. People I haven’t seen since graduation. I had a lot of fun in high school. Besides my family, there isn’t really anyone from back home that I still talk to, which is a shame.
I look out the window as the plane rises above the city. The lights beneath are beautiful. Mom would likely be trying to take a million pictures. Of course, she would have to ask for someone’s help to find her camera app, then she’d complain about the glare from the window. I can’t help but smile at that.
I’m anxious to see my mom. Since Dad died, her health has been slipping. Complications from her diabetes and congestive heart failure. My guess is she hasn’t been watching her diet like she’s supposed to. My sister, Kimmy, checks on her as often as she can, but she’s married with two kids of her own. She’s busy. I’m busy. So busy I can’t even call my mother every week. I’m hoping this visit will help with some of that neglect.
The plane lands an hour or so later at the small county airport just outside the city. If you would’ve told me as a teenager that I’d be using it with my own private jet, I never would’ve believed you. But then, I never would’ve been able to predict any part of my adult life.
The brisk December wind hits me as Charlie and I descend the stairs onto the runway.
My hair flies in my face and I don’t notice my sister at first as she approaches, but I definitely hear her loud scream when she spots me.
A wide grin stretches across my face. Someone genuinely happy to see me for me, not just my accomplishments? I immediately feel at home. Besides, she’s my big sister. Even though I’m extremely busy, I’ve managed to keep in touch with her through texts and the random tagging on Facebook.
“Oh, I’ve missed you so much!” she nearly shouts in my ear over the roar of the wind and the plane. She squeezes me as tight as she can in our puffy coats.
“I’ve missed you too!” I hold her out at arm’s length. “You look so good! Did you cut your hair?”
Kimmy might as well be the antithesis of me. She has short-cropped brunette hair, I have long blonde hair—now platinum blonde due to my stylist determining I need a “bold” look. While she’s always supported my career, she would never even think of pursuing the same profession. Too much detail on perfection, too much focus on beauty, too much exposure, too much time.
Besides, Kimmy’s purpose in life has always been motherhood. Even before she had kids, she was always the more responsible one. The one to sacrifice her free time to make sure I got to class or practice on time. The one who treated our pets as her babies. Being a celebrity doesn’t allow for time to start a family. Especially not when you’re “Tracy Slater.”
Kimmy reaches back and pats her bare neck. “Yeah. Do you think it’s too much?” “No!” I exclaim. “I think you should put a hat on in this weather, but it looks cute!” My sister and husband exchange polite nods, but her attention returns to me.
Some of the airport staff usher us into the terminal, where Charlie finally speaks up. He goes in for an awkward hug with Kimmy and says, “It’s good to see you. You guys should come out to California sometime with the kids.”
Yet another reason why we’re not ready to have kids. Charlie just doesn’t get it.
It’s not like we don’t have the room for my sister and her family. I would love to have her. It’s just not feasible. Besides, what would the kids do at our house? Sure, we have the pool, but I just know Charlie will throw a fit when they start tracking the water inside the house or knocking too much of it out. And all of our “art”? Consider those gone, Chuckie.
My sister must sense my mood and politely smiles at my husband. “Maybe this summer we can meet up with you guys on tour. I know the boys loved it when Trace brought them on stage with the last one.”
“Right. Yeah.” The mention of my upcoming work obligations causes him to lose interest.
“Do we have everything?” I ask.
Normally my assistant would be on top of moving the schedule along—even if it’s a vacation—but I gave her the rest of the year off. I already felt guilty for having her work so late into December. Usually I give her the whole month off, but the label wanted to push Black Friday and pre-Christmas sales, meaning press got bumped closer to the holidays.
“Yeah.” Charlie grabs our bags and heads to the door to the parking lot. Kimmy brings her eyebrows together and I roll my eyes in response.
* * *
Nothing can quite compare to sitting in my childhood home decorated for Christmas with the fire crackling and the likes of Nat “King” Cole, Dean Martin, and Brenda Lee playing softly in the background. Add my mother’s turkey casserole—likely made from leftover Thanksgiving fixings—and you have the perfect evening.
My sister couldn’t stay for dinner. Her oldest son was in his first school play: A Christmas Carol. I guess he insisted that his parents go to all three showings. My mom went last night. Tonight is the final night, and I would’ve liked to go, but I didn’t even bring it up. I knew Charlie would make a face and grumble the whole time. For someone who claims to want kids, he doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for them.
Not to mention I still need to prepare myself to see everyone. Returning to my former high school in one of my camera-ready outfits is not what I want to do. I purposely packed jeans and modest sweaters to help blend in. I’m not here to upstage anyone.
“Has Daisy talked to you yet?” Mom asks as she pulls the casserole out of the oven.
I fuss with the corner of the forest-green placemat. “Sort of. I’ve e-mailed her a few times. She’s mostly talked to Missy since I’ve been so busy with the album drop and everything.”
“Oh.” Mom nods. She begins dishing out our plates.
“Do you need any help, Mom?” Charlie asks. Mom? That’s new.
She smiles. “No, dear, I’ve got it all under control. You two just take a seat.” Charlie sits back with a smug smile on his face.
When Mom joins us at the table, she continues, “You really should give Daisy a call. She’s so happy you’re back in town for a bit. She says everyone who’s coming to the mixer is excited to see you.”
“She told everyone I’m coming?” I groan.
“Well yeah, sweetie. They’ll be happy to see you. Why are you upset?”
I shrug. “I don’t know.” I poke around my plate with my fork. It’s not worth it to go into how people expect to see “Tracy Slater,” the celebrity, when all I want to be while I’m home is just Tracy, the old high school friend.
Charlie doesn’t like it when I talk about the two sides of myself. Apparently it’s bogus and I’m just fishing for attention. He doesn’t get it. Not like he used to. When we first got together, I felt like he knew everything about me. Of course, we only dated while I was on tour and married shortly after it ended. I suppose it was like summer camp. It worked when we made a special effort to see each other, but now that we’re married and have two very different careers, it’s just not the same.
“I’ve got her number by the phone. Give her a call. Oh, not tonight, though. She’s in charge of the school play.”
I give a tight smile. “Of course she is.”
“It’s a shame we missed the play,” Charlie says. He taps his plate with his fork. “This is very good. Thanks for making it.”
I look down at my plate and roll my eyes. What an act.
“Oh, I’m glad you like it!” Mom smiles. “The play was cute. Maybe someday soon you two will be going for your kid.”
“That would be nice,” Charlie adds.
“Tracy, you’re not getting any younger. Trust me, I was older when I had you girls, and there were certainly challenges. Look at me now! I may never get to see grandchildren from you.”
“Don’t say that!”
She shrugs. “I’m just saying…” Charlie nods and looks at me.
I bite my lip and look away.
Mom gets up, grabs something from the counter, and hands it to me. It’s one of the magazine covers I did. I haven’t seen it yet, so it must’ve just come out.
“Tracy, I think it’s great that you’re doing so well, and you know how proud I am of you, but look at that. I’m just worried that you won’t have any maternal instincts left if you keep things like this up.”
I study the cover and try to determine what she’s taken offense with. It’s not one of my sultrier poses that she usually condemns. I’m actually smiling in this one!
“What is it?” I finally ask.
“Is there even a reason for you to be wearing a top if you’re going to show off the girls anyway?” She shoves her hands under her breasts and gives a little shake. Not what I expected from a woman wearing a sweater with kittens in Santa hats.
My top in the picture is cut lower than I’m used to wearing, but it’s still pretty modest compared to most magazine covers. Besides, compared to other pop stars, I’m a saint. But based on the look on my mother’s face, I look like a whore.
Charlie glances over. “Mmm, you’re right. I don’t know if I would’ve approved of that one if I were there.”
I glare at him. First of all, he doesn’t approve of anything I wear. Second, he was there, and I’m pretty sure he was drooling at some of the pictures that were taken. I believe he told me later that I don’t fix myself up for him like I do for the camera. And yet, he’s stumped why we don’t have more sex.
I toss the magazine back on the table. “Mom, these covers are all digitally modified.” “And you’re okay with that? What if they changed it so you were naked on the cover?” “Well, they can’t do that.”
“Then why didn’t you ask to see the final photos?”
“If I asked to see the final photos for every picture that’s taken of me, I’d never get anything else done!”
“I agree with your mother,” Charlie cuts in. “You need to be careful about what you’re putting out for the world to see. Our future kids will be seeing things like this eventually.”
“Charlie…” I growl between my teeth.
He knows. He knows exactly what circumstances I’m in. He knows how busy I am and how carefully I put together my brand. Showing some cleavage doesn’t ruin that. I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing it for years. Besides, my children—if I decide to have them—will know how to respect women.
But if he agrees with me, he can’t play up to my mother’s expectations of being the perfect son-in-law. I know she sees through the ruse sometimes, but other times I can’t believe how gullible she is.
My mother’s objections to some of my career choices don’t bother me. She usually nitpicks the little things, but I know she’s proud of the big things. It seems like she takes an ad out in the paper every time I win an award. And to my knowledge, she’s never missed one of my performances on TV—thanks to Kimmy showing her how to use the DVR. She’s definitely always been cheering me on, even if she has an opinion on some things.
What bothers me is my husband’s complete abandonment of support whenever it suits him. Sometimes I wish he would just go away.
* * *
My old bedroom is now a guest room. The flowery wallpaper remains, as well as the spot by the closet door that I had used as a coloring canvas when I was six. I remember my mother scrubbing at it for a long time, working away the colorful wax. It still stained the paper, leaving an odd salmon color.
It’s a small room for a double bed, but without any other furniture besides a dresser and an end table, it works. What I’m not looking forward to is sharing such a tight space with Charlie. At home we have a king size, so I can pretty much put as much space between us as I
need. Besides, our work schedules differ so much we barely spend any time together in the same bed.
“You seemed awfully chummy with my mom,” I say as I unload my clothes into the dresser.
“And you seemed awfully pissy.” He lies against the headboard, his eyes on his phone. “At least I’m not putting on a show for everyone.”
“It’s what you do every day. You should be used to it. What did you tell me? There are two versions of you? Which version am I getting now?”
I slam the dresser shut. “Never mind. You obviously don’t get it.” I try to walk by him and out the door, but he grabs ahold of my arm.
“Hey, come here.” He stands and pulls me into a hug. He has my arms pinned to my side, making it impossible to return it. “Just try to lighten up. It is the holidays, after all.”
He leans in for a kiss, but I back away.
“Lighten up? I’m not the one ruining everyone’s time.” “Really? You’re ruining my time.”
“Maybe that’s your problem, then.”
He overturns his hands. “I think you’re the one with the problem. What’s the matter?
You’ve been short with me ever since we got here. Before that, even.”
I cross my arms and glare at him. “Do you really want to do this now?” “If it’s the only time I can get you to open up, then yes. Let’s do this now.”
I study him, trying to decipher whether he knows what I’m thinking. This relationship has turned hostile in the last year. I’ve lost an unhealthy amount of weight. His anger has been growing steadily, not to mention his back acne. Add the cost of his dermatologist and expensive zit cream to the tab of his sugar mama.
“This isn’t working anymore.”
He looks confused. Clearly we’re not on the same page. Either that or he’s playing dumb to make me look like the bitch. Wouldn’t be the first time.
“What are you talking about?” he asks. “I want a divorce.”
I shrug. “Or a separation or something. Maybe see a counselor until we figure it out. But for the time being, you and I can’t solve our problems on our own.”
He shakes his head. “No, we’re not separating. I’m not divorcing you.”
“Okay, so I’ll divorce you. If I want to end the marriage, there’s really nothing you can do about it.” That last bit of information came straight from an attorney I’ve already got on retainer.
I squint my eyes at him. “No?”
“Little Miss Tracy Slater is going to get over herself and actually think about someone else for a change. It’s time you showed me a little respect.”
“Respect?” I fight to keep my voice down. “Charlie, you constantly discredit my accomplishments.”
He rolls his eyes. “Please, you’re not curing cancer.”
“And you are?” He’s an investment banker. Basically, shifting money around. Back when I met him, he was my reminder than real people have day jobs. That, and the label loved that his company was always willing to sponsor my shows.
“That’s enough. Now let’s put on a happy smile and go enjoy the holidays with your mother, which you insisted on.”
“I never get to see her, Charlie!” I whisper-shout. “None of my family. I think I deserve to spend a week with them for Christmas.”
“And what about my family? You don’t think I want to see them?”
“We just saw them for Thanksgiving! Not to mention the cruise we went on last summer with your brother, or don’t you remember the private yacht you insisted I pay half for?”
“We paid half for!”
“That’s funny, because I’m pretty sure the cash came out of my account.” “Our account.”
“You can say that all you want, but I still make more than you, and that’s a fact you can’t stand.”
I’m thrown onto the small bed, his finger in my face.
“Just because you sell yourself out like a cheap whore doesn’t mean you can throw it in my face!”
I stare at him, my heart pounding in my chest.
He balls his fist near my face. “And you keep your mouth shut about this divorce business.”
I watch as he leaves, still frozen in place. My heart races. I hate that man. I want him gone. But in this tiny bedroom and with the approaching holiday, I’m trapped.