The door pushes open without the formalities of a knock and my mother, Eve Carlysle, waltzes into the room looking every bit like the diva she is. Her perfectly highlighted and trimmed strawberry blonde hair hangs poker straight and ends just below her chin.
“New suit?” I ask her. I don’t really care, but I know if I don’t point it out right away, she’ll have something to say about how I’m always too concerned with myself to notice anything about her. It's a fight I’m definitely not up for having today.
“Chanel. No one else really does perfectly tailored suits like they do. It fits me like a glove, doesn’t it?” she asks, turning this way and that to show off the new outfit my latest single helped her buy. “Look at how tiny the white trim makes my waist look.”
I cringe slightly as I get a close-up view of the white, perfectly creased dress pants. Only Eve Carlysle would have the balls to wear white after Labor Day. She thinks it’s okay because it accentuates the long legs she sculpts and tones with a personal trainer every other day, also courtesy of my royalty checks.
She looks just like a show business mother, minus the mothering part.
When she’s satisfied with my perusal of her outfit, she breezes past me. The click of her black, four-inch Louboutin heels across my hardwood floors echo through the cabin, and the sickeningly sweet fragrance of her signature Gloria Vanderbilt perfume wafts through the air, the scent cloying and making me sneeze.
I slide my hands into the pockets of my jeans and stare at the woman I barely even recognize anymore. My mother's not the June Cleaver type, never one to hug me when I scraped a knee or soothe me when I had the flu, but the coldness that has come over her ever since I've made a name for myself in the music industry is astounding. She takes the role of being my manager very seriously. Nothing and no one can ruin the empire she’s painstakingly built brick by brick. My mother will never be ashamed of the way she’s gone about things: coercing her young, impressionable teenage daughter into signing an ironclad deal when she’d just lost her father and found out he had grown tired of her. How could she feel even a moment’s worth of shame when she has everything she’s ever dreamed of? I'm exactly where she’s always wanted me—under her thumb, doing everything she dictates.
“I have a few photographs you need to sign for the fan club and the list of radio stations you’ll be doing call-ins for tomorrow morning starting at six,” my mother states a she pulls a stack of black and white glossy photos out of her Birkin bag along with several sheets of paper.
I make my way across the room to my kitchen table so I can stare out of the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the woods surrounding the cabin while she methodically organizes the stack of photos next to a black Sharpie marker, standing there with her arms crossed in front of her waiting for me to do as she wishes. Just like always.
I pull out a chair, the legs scraping across the floor, and sit down with a small sigh, wishing—not for the first time—that I can say no to my mother. These three days are supposed to be vacation days for me and the band, time for us to regroup and take a break from the back-to-back touring schedule Eve booked the year before. For six months, I’ve done nothing but think about these three days, dreaming about not having to set my alarm in the morning and being able to take my coffee out onto my wrap around porch so I can watch the sun rise over the hills of Tennessee. Three whole days without my mother telling me what to say, what to wear, and what to sing.
I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. It never is with Eve. She's always working, always thinking about new ways to make a buck and increase my value. I've tried many times over the years to defy my mother, to do things on my own time, my own terms. But it never ends well. My mother controls every aspect of my life, and I've allowed it to happen.
Sure, I was young at the time, and I’d just lost the one person who I thought truly cared about me, but I should have known better. Eve made me promises and dangled dreams in front of me that could be mine if I just reached out and took them. I signed every paper she put in front of me the day of the funeral, thinking I’d finally done something to make my mother proud of me, make her love me. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was all a lie.
It comes as no surprise to me as I sit down at the cedar table that the promise of vacation time was a sham. I should have known better than to dream, even of something as small as a few uninterrupted days alone in my cabin. Nothing good ever comes from dreaming except disappointment.
I pick up the black marker and begin the tedious process of signing my name to hundreds of copies of a picture of me smiling straight into the camera with a cowboy hat on my head and my long, blonde hair hanging in waves around my shoulders. I don’t even pay attention to the name I scribble. As I flip picture, after picture, after picture, all I do is stare into the eyes of the woman in the photo and wonder why it looks nothing like the one I see in the mirror every day.
She’s late. Of course she’s fucking late. God forbid she realizes the world doesn’t revolve around her.
Reclining comfortably in my chair, my booted foot resting on one knee, and my fingers tapping a steady rhythm on top of the conference room table, I’m sure I look like the epitome of calm and cool. Inside, I’m about to punch the God dammed wall. Leave it to the princess to not give a shit about a meeting regarding her own personal safety.
I watch as her mother, Eve, glances at an expensive diamond and gold watch on her slim wrist and huffs in irritation.
Right there with you, sister.
Gwen had made all the arrangements with Eve Carlysle about the job, so I have yet to talk to her, aside from our initial introduction when I first got to Hummingbird Records a half hour ago. She seems nice enough, concerned about her daughter’s safety and all that crap, tells me I have full access to Layla, and she'll make sure this whole thing is my call. Whatever I need, whatever I ask—it's mine. She says her daughter most likely won’t be happy about the whole thing, but I expect that. And I don’t give a shit.
As soon as I got over my initial shock that the twenty-percent increase I demanded to perform this job was accepted, I began doing research on the twenty-three-year-old singer. Google was like the Great and Powerful Oz in all things relating to Layla Carlysle.
Pulling out the few printed pieces of paper I’d stuck in the inside pocket of my black leather jacket, I open them up and scan the words probably for the twentieth time while the small handful of people in the room talk amongst themselves quietly.
To say Gwen was irritated with me that I clearly had no idea who this person was is an understatement.
“Layla Page Carlyle, born to loving parents Eve and Jack, led a pampered upper class life,” I read aloud from the screen of my computer while Gwen perched on the edge of my desk. “Father started up one of the largest recording labels ever to hit the music scene in Nashville. Mother worked as a secretary for him. Layla attended—”
“How do you not know all of this information already?” Gwen questioned as she swung one of her legs back and forth, her foot banging against my desk over and over.
I reached over and placed my hand on her knee, squeezing my fingers just enough to get her attention. She scowled at me and I removed me hand, not really giving a shit if I pissed her off. At least she stopped making all of that racket against my desk.
“Why in the hell SHOULD I know this information about her?”
I continued to scroll through the article once I knew she wasn’t going to go back to annoying me with her foot pounding. Now she was just going to annoy me with her talking.
“Oh, gee, I don’t know. Maybe because she’s only one of the biggest recording artists in the country? She’s been around for years; she’s grown up in the public eye. EVERYONE knows all about Layla Carlysle,” Gwen informed me.
“Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but I’ve never heard of her. And from what I found on YouTube, I’m pretty sure there’s a reason for it. That shit is straight up Britney Spears, God awful―make-your-ears-bleed—shitty dance club music,” I told her with a slight shiver as I recalled the few minutes I had spent listening to a couple of her songs last night. Time I could never get back. I should add another ten percent onto the bill just for that shit.
“Oh come on, it’s fun! It’s great to dance to. It’s feel-good music. Emma loves her. She always makes me play her newest CD when I drive her to school in the mornings,” Gwen said with a smile.
“That is NOT feel-good music. Feel good music is Back in Black by AC/DC or Blaze of Glory by Bon Jovi.”
“Whoa, slow down there, Grandpa. You might bust a hip.” She raised one of her eyebrows and asked with a laugh, “You do know you’re only twenty-nine and not fifty-nine, correct?” Gwen shook her head at me. “You really need to expand your musical horizons.”
She jumped off of the edge of my desk and walked over to her own, sinking down in the seat, crossing her legs, and folding her hands in her lap.
Gwen started to ramble facts off from memory. “Layla went to the best private schools up until she started singing professionally and enjoyed your typical high society life while growing up. She lost her father at fifteen when he went to run some errands and wrapped his car around a tree. From what I heard, though, he was packing up and moving out. Wanted a divorce and wanted to get the hell out of doge. Anyway, Layla’s mother immediately took over Hummingbird Records, and within a few short weeks, Layla was signed to the record label and producing music.”
I clicked on the print button while Gwen took a breath. Who needed the internet when I had a sister who was addicted to tabloid magazines. While the printer whirred to life and spit out the pages of information, Gwen continued.
“Layla was an instant success at fifteen. She had that whole sweet girl-next-door demeanor going on, and she really does have a solid singing voice, although in my personal opinion, she doesn’t stretch it like she should. Anyway, within two months of its release, her first album went platinum and a month after that she was singing to sold out venues across the globe. Her first couple of songs, I Love That Boy, Girls Night Out, and Wishing for the Weekend, went straight to number one within hours of their release. Totally crazy how much her fans adore her and will seriously buy absolutely anything she puts her name on. Wishing for the Weekend was at the top of the charts for a record breaking seventeen straight weeks, beating the competition that held that record previously since nineteen-ninety-five.”
I got up from my desk and walked over to the printer to grab the pages that pretty much contained all of the information Gwen rattled off. I folded them up and stuck them in my coat so I could go over them later when Gwen wasn’t looking at me like I’d been living under a rock just because I couldn't have cared less about some Britney wannabe that had probably never even heard of Led Zeppelin.
I skim the pages one last time and the information on the last page jumps out at me, just like it had every time I read through this shit.
Layla was an overnight star and through the years her fans have remained loyal and enthusiastic, embracing each new record with mounting fervor. Given her overnight success and increased net worth, Layla has remained humble and close to her roots.
I snort to myself at that last line, knowing full well either Layla herself or someone in her camp came up with those carefully constructed words. No one born with a silver spoon in her mouth and worth more money than I will ever see in my lifetime could still be humble.
YOU were born with a silver spoon in your mouth.
I ignore the words my conscience screams. Sure, my parents have money, and Gwen and I had grown up well-off, but we didn’t take advantage of that shit, and we didn’t stick around long enough for it to change us. We are normal, everyday people who have to work hard for the money we earn, and we don’t take handouts from anyone. We are grateful for what we’ve been given, and Gwen and I have been through more hard times than this Layla Carlysle could even imagine. I may not have been in the private detective business for long, but what I see doing this job and my time as a cop in Nashville has given me enough real life experience about just how the world’s rich and famous behave: always a good show for the public—all sweet and innocent—and then as soon as the cameras are off and no one is looking, they turn into man-eating sharks ready to chew up and spit out anyone who got in their way.
I quickly refold the papers and shove them back into my coat pocket as the door to the conference room opens. I keep up my I’m-bored-to-death-and-don’t-give-a-rat’s-ass attitude as an entourage of five people enter the room, ending with the object of this meeting.
Google image search and YouTube don’t have anything on Layla Carlysle in person. She stalks into the room wearing a tattered jean skirt that clings to her hips and ends not much further down, showing off smooth, toned legs that look a mile long with the four-inch fuck me heels on her feet. The click of her shoes on the tile floor as she rounds the long table forces my gaze away from the naked legs I so desperately wanted to slide my hands up so I can feel if they’re as smooth as they look. She tucks them away behind the glossy mahogany table, which is probably for the best. The first thing that strikes me about her is that she’s not all done up in pageant hair, make-up, and sequins like she usually is in all the pictures I've seen of her online. The black, long-sleeved Jimi Hendrix concert T-shirt she’s wearing looks out of place with the image I had in my mind of how she’d look in person. That thing looks like it’s swallowing her whole. It isn’t molded to her body like the get-up she normally wears in the tabloids, but it does hang loosely off of one arm, and I can see a glimpse of the skin of her shoulder. There is a major contrast in public Layla and private Layla, ending with her hair. The wild, wavy blonde mane that is usually always around her shoulders and trailing down her back is pulled away from her face in some kind of messy knot thing at her neck, some of the strands escaping the knot and framing her face. If I didn’t know what kind of person this chick was, I’d have to say that she had been hand-picked for me with the concert t-shirt, the long legs, the natural face without all that gunk on it, and the blonde hair that isn't a fire hazard from all the hairspray…in other words, perfect.