I stood outside the front doors smoking my last cigarette. My flask rattled around my inside pocket cradling the little booze I had left. I wanted to leave.
“Everyone’s looking for you,” said a familiar voice behind me.
I flapped my moist eyes once and rubbed my sleeve across them. My fingers squeezed the filter of my cigarette until it was brown and gooey. My throat could barely push words past my front teeth.
“Just having a smoke,” I whispered.
“There are some people I need you to meet. Get yourself a drink and meet me at the table,” said Clay.
Clay walked by and pushed me closer to the glass doors. He looked back and smiled with eyes like a vulture. I turned away and faced the cold winter breeze. My chest was warm under an old pea coat and a half dozen whiskeys. Beads of sweat froze as they pushed through the pores of my forehead. I pushed the glass doors open and walked inside. It was a jungle. Stale cologne filled walking suits and brittle bones held up black cocktail dresses. A champagne glass was shoved into my hand every few minutes and bumped by ten others. Unfamiliar hands grabbed my shoulders as I waded through bogs of people. Unacquainted eyes followed my every step.
“Congratulations on going platinum, Mr. Payton,” people would say.
They didn’t know my first name.
“It’s the best of the decade” another said.
They didn’t know my first album.
“Meet me in the bathroom,” a blonde whispered to me before she stuck her tongue inside my ear.
No one gave a fuck.
The long narrow room was dimly lit. A long bar lined the left side of the space while large format photographs were hung on the right. Towards the back, round tables were dressed in white linen. Guests traveled 10 stories from their office upstairs for the celebration, the office that distributed and sold over a million copies of my album. They had no idea who I was. They came down for free drinks and a glimpse at the person responsible for the influx of money into their bank accounts. The room felt like a shoebox.
“Over here!” Clay yelled.
He spotted me from across the room and hurried over, wrapped his long arm around my shoulder, and escorted me to our table. He held me close as we made our way through the crowd. It felt good the way Clay protected me. I pressed my face into his chest and listened to his heart. The rhythmic pumping of the organ drowned out the sounds of the people. I could feel my mother’s soft skin rub against mine. I pressed closer and could smell her. Her silky blonde hair fell softly on my shoulders.
“Sit,” said Clay as he pushed me into a chair.
Everyone at the table stared at me. They eyeballed my long greasy hair, faded leather jacket, and quarter-sized pupils. They studied me as I played with my hands and tapped my feet. To them I was an investment, a bond. I had a premium interest rate because they found me before everyone else. They pay low, I sell high. I sat quietly, making whiskeys vanish like a magician. Clay handed me something under the table. My phone vibrated. It was a text:
I pulled my hand out from under the table and stared at a large white pill. I felt the chalkiness disintegrating in my clammy hands. I looked back down and it disappeared; I’d already swallowed it. The gritty pill clawed down my dry throat. My heart slowed and my mind wandered. The half-lucid conversations dampened to waterlogged sounds. I fell off my chair and rolled around on the ground. I smiled and laughed, then rolled some more. I rubbed my face in the sweet-smelling Idaho grass and kicked dirt up with my bare feet. I stuck my hands in the fertile dirt beds that pushed up the flowers my mother planted in the spring.
“To you, Mr. Payton.”
My eyes rolled from the back of my head and slowly focused on a round of champagne flutes waiting for me to lift my drink. Clay nudged me, so I lifted my weak arm as high as I could. I looked up at him and told him that I wanted to go home.
“Just a little longer, I’ll go grab you another drink,” he said.
Clay sat at least a foot higher than me. His shoulders were as wide as my wingspan; they looked like they would burst the seams on his size-sixty suit. His shaved head glistened off the light of the chandelier and his goatee evenly wrapped around his plump red lips. He takes care of me. He’s my agent but also my friend. He came all the way to Idaho to scout me a few years ago when I was getting hype. Nobody thought anything of a kid from Idaho, but Clay heard something that nobody else did. We started from nothing and grew into something larger than we could ever imagine. Without me there is no Clay. Without Clay there is no me. He convinced my mom to take me to New York City and we never looked back. He taught me how to be a rock star in a strange city. He told me innocence is like virginity, and virgins are pussies. I was 19.
“We have a party to go to later,” he said.
My lips stuck together. I pressed my tongue against them and slowly peeled them apart. Dry skin flaked off as I opened my mouth; it burned. I slid my tongue across them and lubed them up. I tried to protest the party, but Clay had already left to get me that new drink. I nodded to myself and pushed my straw to the corner of my glass, reaching for some watered-down whisky.
“I’ll see you in the bathroom,” the same blonde woman whispered as she walked by.
I watched her move to the bathroom. Her pasty white skin tightly wrapped around her showing bones that poked at the outside like they were ready to rip through at any second.
“Excuse me,” I said as I left the table.
I looked around and spotted the woman entering the single bathroom. My blurry sight focused. I no longer felt drunk but nervous, excited. My pants swelled as I opened the door to the bathroom, expecting a half-naked chick with her legs open, ready to fuck. No one was there. I reached down to my sock and pulled out a little baggie. There was something written on it in black sharpie. It said:
You’re a rockstar now!
“Thats the expensive stuff,” Clay said as he came into the bathroom. “None of that fluorescent light bulb meth shit you usually put up your nose.”
He pulled a key from his back pocket. Then he grabbed the bag and squeezed it open, just wide enough to stick the key in. He dipped it and put a large mound close to my nose. I held my left nostril and sucked in as hard as I could. It ran up quick and hit the back of my throat.
“Thanks, “ I mumbled.
“I’ll hold onto this, just until later,” Clay said, putting the baggie in his pocket.
A Xanax and a few shots of whiskey get me singing louder than Marvin Gaye; Clay knew that. My nostril was numb, the chemicals absorbing into my mucus. I sucked in and swallowed whatever shit I could. My heart skipped a few beats, then got faster. I felt the drugs race down my numb throat. I tasted my mother's soft boiled potatoes. I could see the fresh cream butter melt as she rubbed it over them. I heard her husk fragrant corn freshly picked from our backyard.
“Hey, get up,” Clay said, lightly slapping my face.
I was looking face down at the bathroom floor. The cold tile felt good. My eyelids were slow to open, and my body was like liquid. Clay grabbed me by my jacket and pulled me up in one smooth motion. I found the ground with my feet but grabbed onto the sink for balance. Clay splashed water onto my face. I stood there looking at myself in the mirror. Clay came up from behind me and rested his large hands on my shoulders. He stared right into the mirror.
“We made it. No more tour buses, no shitty bars. We sold out Madison Square fucking Garden. You need to be in decent shape.” He was staring right into my eyes. “There are people out there that need to see you function. Let’s go, I’ll grab you another drink.”
I left the bathroom and stumbled to our table. The man next to me tried talking to me about which show I was most excited for. I turned and looked at him with my eyes half-open and tried to mumble "go fuck yourself."
Another glass of whiskey was dropped in front of me. My eyes couldn’t stay fixed on it. I grabbed it and brought it close to my mouth, but it slipped and shattered on the ground.
“Let’s go,” Clay said. He grabbed my right arm and started dragging me towards the exit.
My head fell on the table and I stuck my tongue out to catch some of the spilled whiskey.
“Now.” Clay grabbed my arm again.
The suits laughed, the dresses looked away.
They don’t know where I’m from.
I could barely hold myself up as he pulled me through the glass doors. There was a black car waiting for us. I stopped.
“I want to go home,” I said.
Clay turned around. “We’re just going to one more party, then I’ll take you right back to your apartment.”
“I want to go back to Idaho.” I was slurring my words. “I’m done.”
Clay turned around, walked to the car, and opened the back door. He stood with his back towards me in silence. I was scared. Clay had a bad anger.
“That just isn’t possible,” he said, letting out a quick laugh.
“I don’t care, I need to go home,” I mumbled. My pathetic eyes filled with water. I was a child.
His eyes were narrow. Clay used to tell me we would be big someday.
“Now get in the fucking car,” he growled.
I thought about hailing a taxi straight to the airport. I thought about buying a one way ticket to Idaho. I didn’t.
“Everyone’s waiting for you,” he spoke softly.
I moved slowly towards the black van and stepped in. I felt like I was in my beat up pickup truck waving bye to my mom as I left for the pond to catch some trout. Ice cold beers and clear skies. I saw Clay take out the baggie.
“Are you ready for tonight’s show?”
Jordan Anderson is a writing student at New York University living in Brooklyn, New York. By night he cooks for strangers in a West Village restaurant.