Track 23: Fall For Your Type

Track23buttonThe loud crashing of glass bottles tumbling to the floor echoed through the kitchen. Mack grabbed the corner of the marble counter to catch his balance as he stumbled.
“Hey, man. You a’ight?” Big Man hollered from the next room.
      “I just lost…stupid bottles in the way…” He grumbled, and then yelled back, “Yeah.”
      He went to kick a liquor bottle, missed it and kicked the cabinets. Pain shot through his toe and made him instantly jump back, throwing him further off balance. He gripped the edge of the counter tighter to prevent a fall and stop the room from spinning. For a moment, he thought maybe he had pushed it too far tonight; drank too much, smoked too much. The worry was fleeting, and he reached for a glass from the shelf.
      The kitchen was a mess. The counters were covered with every variety of alcohol, mixers and cups. The bottles were blurring together in a kaleidoscope of colored glass. He could hardly see straight. It was pointless to attempt to read the labels. Mack knew he was too far gone for that. Instead, he grabbed whatever was closest and sloppily poured it into his glass. He didn’t bother with measuring or mixing. He’d drink whatever it was straight. All that mattered was that it was alcohol.
      The more he drank the duller his mind got. The blur, the lack of focus and feeling was his blissful goal. Lately, any moment of peace he could obtain was the result of reaching the bottom of the bottle. Down there, in the lows of drunkenness, nothing hurt anymore. He could erase memories of her one sip at a time like a science fiction movie. The effects were short-lived. Sober, everything flooded back. His empty bed and lonely house were constant reminders that he was alone, again. Alisha was still engaged. All he had was money and fame, which suddenly felt like nothing at all.
      It had been a while since he could recall being sober.
      A firm grip grasped his shoulder.
      “You okay?” Big Man kept his voice quiet so the guests in the other room couldn’t hear.
      Mack nodded his head and reached for the glass he had just poured, but Big Man grabbed it faster.
      “I don’t think you need that. You got a room full of pretty girls out there and are you are a mess of a drunk in here. Pull your shit together, boy. I don’t know what has gotten into you lately. It has to stop. It’s embarrassing.”
      “I’m good…I’m good,” Mack slurred. His eyes were hazy as they tried to focus on one of the three images of Big Man’s face in front of him. Nausea started to well inside him, and he could hardly stand up straight.
      Big Man took his friend’s arm and threw it over his shoulder. He steadied him by holding his chest as he started to lead Mack up the back staircase to his room. Big Man tossed him on the bed.
      “Ow! Hey! What was that for?” Mack exclaimed and then began rolling around laughing drunkenly.
      He shook his head. “Get some sleep.”

~~~

Big Man entered the house and immediately felt the need to shower. It smelled like a frat house the night after a kegger. Stale booze lingered in the air, the marble floors were sticky and caked in mysterious black sludge, and there were empty bottles and red plastic cups scattered throughout the mega mansion. A big difference between this scene and that of a college campus was that it wasn’t sorority sisters passed out, but rather video vixens and models curled up and snoozing on nearly every soft surface. It was almost two in the afternoon and everyone in the house was sound asleep.
      He checked all the likely spots in search of Mack, but every bedroom turned up empty. He wasn’t in any of the three sitting rooms, not in the home theater, and there was no sign of him in the guest house. Big Man wondered if the kid was even home. He was moments from calling Trina, Mack’s assistant, when he spotted the rapper by himself soaking in the Jacuzzi adjoined to the pool. He held a cigarette in one hand and a crystal encrusted goblet in the other.
      “You look like hell,” Big Man said as he made is way over.
      Mack looked up at his mentor through his darkened shades. He spread his arms wide as if to showcase himself. He seemed to want to have a witty comeback but settled for a shrug and a nod of the head.
      Big Man slipped off his shoes and hung his feet in the water as he took a seat next to Mack.
      “Manny, if you’ve come to lecture me again, you can just stop now. I am way too hung over to hear it,” Mack launched in.
      “I got a call from your security team this morning,” Manny began. “If you are going to keep throwing parties like this, you gotta be more careful.”
      “I said I don’t want to hear it,” Mack said after taking another long drag of his cigarette.
      “A bitch tried to steal your ‘rari.”
      “But she didn’t. Isn’t that what I pay those guys for? To make sure my shit stays my shit?” Mack said plainly. “Now, if she had gotten away with it…that would be somethin’ else. Then we could talk.”
      Manny sighed and shook his head. “When’s the last time you left the house?
      “Why would I need to? I got everything here. And what I don’t got, gets delivered.”
      “Seriously, how long has it been? You’ve been back from tour for almost four months now. You broke up with that chick, Monique…”
      “Monica,” Mack corrected.
      “Whatever. Monica. You split and then became a damn hermit.”
      “You told me to stay away from the paparazzi.”
      “I didn’t tell you to lock yourself away at home like a freaking crazy person. What is up with you?” When there was no response, Manny continued. “You need to get out, bro. Tonight. Let’s do it. You get yourself cleaned up. We’ll go to my club and do it right.”

“I told you this is exactly what you needed. We own this shit. This club is ours,” Big Man slapped Mack happily on the back.
      A smile snuck across Mack’s face. The night had gone better than expected. After much protest, Big Man had finally dragged him out of his home down to the club. The DJ was on point. The crowd had a great vibe, and the women looked like a walking underwear catalog, especially the one next to him perched on a white leather sofa. Her legs seemed to go on for days, stretching out from the barely there black mini dress down to her sky-high pink pumps. Her black hair was long and straight, flowing down to her lower back. She traced her long red nails over his thigh as they talked.
      “What is it you said you do?” Mack asked pleasantly as he casually leaned back.
      She batted her impossibly long eyelashes, “I didn’t.”
      Mack laughed. “Okay, then what do you do, Amber?”
      Amber swirled the olive in her martini glass with her pinky nail then licked off the boozy liquid seductively. “I’m a dancer,” she conceded.
      “Nice, nice. What company are you with?” Mack’s brain instantly went to modern dance or ballet. When Amber didn’t answer, he kept asking, “Like a backup dancer or something?”
      Amber shook her head.
      Then it dawned on him. Suddenly it clicked. He didn’t need to keep asking. He knew she was a stripper. Over the years he had spent more time in strip clubs than most. He loved dancers, and they loved him, or at least they loved his money. Amber felt different. Even though she had made her way into the VIP and targeted Mack, he didn’t get the vibe she was after his cash. She was special.
      “I don’t plan on doing it for long. I’m saving up to move,” she added.
      “I feel ya. You should come back to the house with us. Keep the party going.”
      “I’m sorry. I can’t. I have to work.”
      “Tonight? Naw, no way. You can’t go into work. We are just getting started.”
      “Why don’t you come by? I promise I’ll make it worth your while,” Amber whispered in his ear.

Track 22: Messages From You

Track22buttonHer smile was the most beautiful he had seen in a long time. It radiated feelings of joy and Mack could feel it melt even his cold exterior. Her green eyes sparkled even in the dim bar light as she batted her eyelashes at him. The golden light from the overhead pendants glistened softly on her golden tan skin. She was practically glowing.
      “So you lied,” Mack said playfully.
      “Maybe a little lie,” she held up her fingers close together to indicate a small distance.
      “You do know who I am then?”
      “Of course, I know who you are. But what does that matter?”
      “Well, it’s incredibly unfair for starters.”
      “Unfair? How so?”
      “You know me, but I don’t know you, Lacy.” Mack could feel his cheeks start to hurt from smiling too much. It felt good to flirt, to make a connection with someone. Mack couldn’t remember the last time he had met a woman who was worth holding a conversation with. Lacy was different. Of course, she was beautiful, gorgeous even. She was more than that. She was smart, confident, and charismatic. She had sent him a drink from across the bar, which was a first for Mack. Usually, girls wanted drinks from him, not the other way around. It was a refreshing start.
      She had a real job, a lawyer, not a want-to-be model or actress. Even though she wore a simple black shirt and skinny jeans, Mack thought it was incredibly sexy. He was used to the women in his life dressing like they were in one of his music videos. Lacy had a level of class that he didn’t come across normally.
      “Well, I’m from L.A.” she started.
      “Boo,” he mocked.
      “Oh stop. I can’t help where I was born. You’re from New York or something, right?”
      “Atlanta, mostly.”
      “Close enough,” she said, jokingly dismissive.
      “Close enough? They are nowhere near each other! They couldn’t be more different.”
      “Eh, but are they really that different? All the East Coast is the same.”
      “That’s like saying everyone from California is the same.”
      “We are. I mean, you are born here with a juice cleanse punch card in hand, a yoga membership, and the incessant need to discuss what route you took everywhere. It’s a thing.”
      Mack couldn’t help but laugh.
      “I have to use the ladies’ room. I’ll be back,” she told him as she slipped off her bar stool.
      Mack happily watched her body move as she left. It was quite the sight. He pulled his cell from his pocket to check for messages. Instantly, his buoyant mood sank and his heart dropped to his stomach. The girl had a knack for finding the perfectly wrong time to text him.
      “Hey. I’m sure you don’t want to hear from me. I was thinking about you and wanted to say hi. I miss you and I hope you are doing well,” Alisha wrote.
      Tonight had been the first time in months, or longer, that he hadn’t thought of her. Tonight he wasn’t drinking to drown her memory. He was drinking with a beautiful woman he wanted to know. He cursed at her to himself, hating that after all this time she still had her claws in his heart. He hated that she could waltz back into his life with little more than a text message and throw everything upside down. She had a man. They were engaged, and still she couldn’t leave Mack be.
      “I miss you, too,” he wrote back just before Lacy took her seat at the bar.
      Mack smiled, but it wasn’t the same as a moment ago. There was a sadness now, dejectedness. He wondered if she would notice. He tried to go back and continue their conversation with the same enthusiasm and joy, but it was lost. The moment was gone and broken. Soon he made some excuse for having to leave. He paid the tab and took her number knowing he wouldn’t call. Lacy was great, incredible even, and maybe they could have been something. Still she wasn’t Alisha. No one was.

Track 21: Hate Sleeping Alone

Track21buttonThe tapping of stilettos on the tile caught his attention and pulled him away from his phone. “Sorry, what?” he asked, realizing he hadn’t been paying a lick of attention.
      Monica sighed impatiently. “Which one do you like better? The black or gold?” She pointed at her dress in a showy fashion as the store clerk held up the other one for comparison.
      “Just get them both.” He waved her off and returned to answering emails.
      “Baby, but which one looks better?”
      Mack put his phone on the plush leather “boyfriend-bench” the boutique had conveniently installed near the fitting rooms. He hated shopping. He hated being dragged along just to watch an endless cycle of outfits that looked exactly the same. He looked Monica dead in the eye to relay his annoyance with the process.
      “Seriously? You are a model. It’s literally your job to look good in clothes. They all look great on you. Now pick one and let’s go.”
      “You said I could get both,” she whined playfully.
      He didn’t respond. Instead, he stood, took out his wallet and handed his black American Express card over to the clerk. “She can get whatever she wants. I’ll be in the car.”
      Mack pulled his hands through his short black hair as he made his way out of a small boutique to his car waiting out front. The paparazzi were all over him like swarms of mosquitos buzzing about. The flash bulbs were disorienting, and he held his hands up to shield his eyes.
      “Get out of my way,” he grunted. The pack was thick. He had to push and fight his way through.
      “Who are your shopping with, Mack?”
      “When can we expect your next album?”
      “Where are you going? Did you and your girlfriend have a fight?”
      The shutterbugs were relentlessly hounding him for a sound bite. Mack could feel his temperature rising and pulse quicken like he was being trapped or hunted. The heat from the flashbulbs felt like it was searing his skin. It felt like the world was closing in on him. He had to get out of there and as quickly as possible. A large camera poked its way within an inch of his face. The lens felt like it was trying to bite him. Mack snapped and threw his hands up, smacking the camera out of the pap’s hands. An expensive piece of equipment fell to the ground, shattering into hundreds of tiny pieces. Now the hoard of people was shouting furiously at him. Quickly, they morphed into an angry mob, pulling at him, trying to make him stay and pay for what he did. Mack yanked his arm away, pushed another photographer in the chest, and slipped into his sports car.
      The engine roared to life. Mack didn’t bother warning them to move. If you’re willing to stand in front of my car to get a picture of my meltdown, it is at your risk. The crowd shifted to the sides as they banged on his roof and windows, yelling at him. Mack threw the car in drive and sped off. It wouldn’t take long before they all jumped in their cars to chase him. For a moment, all he wanted to do was enjoy the silence.
      It didn’t last for long. No more than two minutes on the road and his phone was ringing. Monica’s picture danced on the screen.
      “Shit,” he cursed at the air. “Hey.”
      “Where did you go? Please tell me you did not just leave me here like this. I know you don’t think I’m taking a cab home. What kind of girl do you think that I am?” she was talking so fast Mack could hardly catch a single word.
      “I’ll have Trina send a car.” He tried to calm her. In truth, Monica was the last thing on his mind. It’s not like they were a couple or even knew each other that well. She was this week’s warm body in an otherwise cold bed; a little piece of solace in his hectic life.
      Like all the others before her, Monica was wearing out her welcome and becoming too attached. He wasn’t looking for another girlfriend. It was just that when he was in bed alone, sleep never came. His mind was filled with thoughts of the past, haunting him. Ghosts of Alisha latched to his psyche and consumed his thoughts. Having a woman in his arms seemed to be the only thing that kept her at bay. Most of the time, he didn’t want anything from them, not even sex. All that mattered was the company.
      “Trina, I left Monica at some boutique on Hollywood. I don’t know. Check Twitter. I’m sure someone already put it on blast.”
      “Mack, did you really push a photographer and break a camera?”
      “News travels fast.”
      “You’re damn right it does. Should I call your lawyer?”
      “Yeah, and probably the PR team. Damn, I did not want to deal with this today.”
      Trina could hear the defeat in her boss’ voice. She had been with him since the beginning. She knew without asking exactly what he was going through. “I’ll send Monica back to her house. I’ll tell the boutique to cut up your card after she buys whatever it is you told her she could get. I’ll have a new one issued to you, should be here by the morning.”
      “Thanks, Tri.”
      “Hey, Mack, you okay?” She knew what he would say. She had to ask anyway.
      “I’m fine. I just need some sleep I guess. I’ll get at you later.”

Track 20: From Time

Track20button“You must have gotten it wrong.” Mack’s brain was spinning as he listened to his friend on the other end. “You must be thinking about the wrong girl. That can’t be right. I know it’s not right.”
      “Dude, believe me. I saw the ring myself. She came in the bar with Sean. It’s legit. They are engaged,” Freddie confirmed.
      “Naw, man. Naw,” Mack kept denying the news.
      “I mean, it’s not like it was a huge rock, but it definitely was there.”
      “I’ll get at you later,” Mack said and hung up the phone. He hit #2 on his speed dial.
      She picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”
      “What the hell is this I hear about you being engaged?” He launched right in on her.
      “Mack, calm down,” Alisha kept her voice level.
      “I thought we worked it out. I mean, didn’t we?”
      “It’s not even like that.”
      “Oh really? Then what’s it like? Because you are the one who showed up in my driveway. You were the one who wanted to grab lunch somewhere private so we could talk. You told me you missed me too, missed what we had. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not crazy. I didn’t hallucinate that crap.”
      “I know, I just…” Alisha tried to interject. There was no stopping Mack.
      “You just what? Lied? We had a plan. We were going to wait till I was off tour and then be together. Or don’t you remember that promise?”
      “I also remember you promising to stay out of strip clubs and stop paying other bitch’s rents. Judging by your Twitter feed, that didn’t happen.” Her tone was sharp.
      “Baby, it’s not a big deal. We weren’t actually together at the time. It was nothing.”
      Alisha laughed a little. “You know what. You’re right. We weren’t actually together. I told myself when you got back from tour, if you had changed, if you were honest, I’d give it another shot. Thank God I never actually left Sean.”
      “You didn’t leave him? I thought you said you would.” Mack could feel a stab in his heart or his ego, he wasn’t sure which.
      “Mack, when I talked to you that night on the phone you sounded so devastated and lonely. I knew I had to come see you. Then when you told me you were ready to settle down, that you didn’t want to be alone anymore and that you wanted to start a life together…it was everything I’ve ever wanted you to say. But something in the back of my mind told me I couldn’t believe it. Those were just words. Maybe you believed them at the time, maybe you didn’t. Either way, I had to protect myself in case nothing changed.”
      Mack listened to her words. She was right. He knew it. Nothing had changed. If anything, he was spiraling further out of control. He wouldn’t let himself admit it to her, however. “Why Sean? What can he give you that I can’t? He can’t provide for you like me. He doesn’t have money like I do.”
      “All you have is money. That’s it. That’s all you got. Stacks on stacks of money. You know what that’s good for? Strippers. But that doesn’t make a relationship. That doesn’t build trust or share dreams. All it does is buy shit. You know if you keep going like you are going all you’ll have left is money. You’ll either be 80 and rich or bankrupt. Either way you’ll be alone.”
      “You know what, forget you. I don’t need this shit,” he snapped.
      “Take care of yourself,” she responded. It was too late. Mack had already hung up.
      Usually, Mack would have chucked his cell phone or a bottle across the room in anger after that phone call. Instead he sat silently in his living room. A strange numbness crept over him until he felt nothing at all. All his rage, hurt and pain seemed to die inside him leaving nothing behind. All he felt was nothing.

Track 19: Marvin’s Room

Track19buttonWhen the metal corner of his phone hit the marble countertop it made the slightest clink. It was nearly inaudible over the loud music blasting from the expensive whole-home stereo system. Mack honed in on it. Somehow the simple noise and repetitive motion helped to drown out the emptiness surrounding him. His lavish condo was filled with empty people, with empty lives, speaking empty words. I’m becoming one of them.
      The tapping of the phone seemed to echo inside him, reminding him of how hollow he had become. His friendships were shallow and just for show. The women he was with were after him for his money. He paid their bills and supported them. He took pleasure in their company. It was like a business arrangement that was absent of all feeling. If they left his life tomorrow, it wouldn’t affect him in the slightest. Even his raps had become nothing more than superficial fluff about how rich and famous he was. The depth and sincerity in his lyrics were gone. His art and his life became a perfect mirror of each other.
      “Hey, baby, come dance with me,” Candy whispered in a sultry voice as she wrapped her arms around him. She caressed his chest softly nibbling on his ear.
      Mack brushed her off, “Not now, Cindy.”
      “It’s Candy,” she said with an attitude as she stood.
      He didn’t bother to respond. She’d get the picture and leave him alone. With a deep sigh, he took another sip of his expensive cognac. His house was filled with beautiful women, many of who would love to go back to his room. Then again, so was his phone. He could dial any number and have any woman of his choice here in minutes. Well, almost any woman.
      One contact entry plagued him. She had been invited tonight. Her friends had even showed up. She never came. It hadn’t taken long or required any difficult P.I. work to figure out that Alisha had a new man. Her friends dished all her secrets freely. He was a college friend and a manager at some restaurant, which is apparently how they had reconnected. Mack scoffed. He didn’t know the guy but could tell he wasn’t good enough for his Alisha.
      He should just call her and tell her that. Someone had to tell her she deserved better. Why shouldn’t it be me? Before his better judgment could stop him, the phone was ringing.
      “Hello?” her voice came through on the fourth ring.
      How long had it been since we spoke? Mack wondered for a moment. How many months? It must have been more than four, but he couldn’t quite figure it out through the alcohol-induced haze in his head. Maybe it had been closer to six months. She was drunk outside a club the last time he saw her in person. The last time they spoke she told him to stay away. He had until now.
      “Hey, you still up?” He wanted to launch into a rant about her man but couldn’t bring himself to. If things were perfect, she wouldn’t have picked up. She would have sent his call straight to voicemail, but here she was talking to him at 2:30 in the morning.
      “Yeah, I’m at home,” Alisha answered.
      “Did you go out?” The conversation felt strangely natural. It was as though they were old friends who had never stopped speaking to each other. Mack liked it.
      “Tonight? Yeah, we hit some clubs. Nothing major.”
      “You should have stopped by.”
      She hesitated, “Are you drunk right now?”
      “We had people over. Your friends were here.” He tried to sound as casual as possible.
      “Yeah, I know. Mack, is everything okay? Why are you calling?”
      “I just thought you were going to come over. We’re cool and all now. You too busy to come see an old friend.”
      “God, you are drunk. Mack. It’s almost three in the morning. You need to go to bed.”
      “So you aren’t coming over?”
      “No, I’m not coming over. I’m at Sean’s house.”
      “Screw Sean,” he spat out.
      Alisha didn’t respond. He could feel her annoyance radiate through the phone.
      “I’m sorry,” he quickly added. Then after a long pause he added, “I’m sorry for everything. I miss being able to call you. It’s all just been so crazy lately.”
      “I have to go,” she sighed. Mack always had a way of tugging at her heartstrings. No matter how far she removed herself, he could always pull her back.

Track 18: Furthest Thing

Track18button“It was great seeing you last night,” he texted her as he took his seat on the plane. He had to get to New York tonight to meet with Demarco Brass, the rock and roll super star from Brooklyn, who had finally agreed to do a rock-hip hop collaboration. Mack wanted to stay an extra night in Atlanta, see if he could spend some time with Alisha, but Demarco’s schedule was tight. He had no choice but to go.
He checked his phone incessantly until the stewardess told him all electronics had to be turned off. Knowing Alisha, she was probably still asleep anyway. She would text him when she woke. He knew she would.
      The moment he stepped off the plane his inbox was flooded with emails. Life never stopped. Work never stopped. Even though he was set to record with Demarco all week that didn’t stop Trina from booking other events for him. There were photo shoots and interviews to be done. Radio spots, business meetings, and fan Meet and Greets. His schedule was planned almost to the minute. The only consolation was the cash that came from all of it. If he had to be pulled in ten different directions, at least he was stacking up the paper in the process. Money made everything easier to handle.

~~~

Three days had passed and still there was no reply. He texted her once more. Still he heard nothing. For a while he wondered if she had the same phone number or if he was sending random messages to a stranger who was rightfully ignoring him. After a quick check by his security team that theory was proved false as the number was still registered to her.
      Mack sat idly in the studio listening to the beats Demarco had laid down. They were masterful, fresh and original. It would be a major hit and everyone in the room knew it. It had been almost a week since his encounter with Alisha. It was all he could think about. He should be focused on the music, but it felt like an impossible task. It was like he left his mind back in Atlanta.
      “Can we just take five?” Mack asked halfheartedly to the room, leaving before he got a response. His manager, assistant, producer and his boys all stared at him with confused expressions. He wasn’t acting like himself lately.
      Mack paced in the parking lot, weighing his phone in his hand as he weighed the decision in his head. In a moment of weakness, he unlocked the screen and hit “send.”
      “Hello?” she answered.
      The sound of her voice sent electricity through his body. “Hey.”
      “Mack…” she started in. The frustration in her voice instantly deflated his mood. “You need to stop. No more calls, no more texts. I’m not your girl. You ain’t my man. We can’t keep doin’ this.”
      He searched his brain for something to say but came up short. Eventually, he muttered, “You’ll always be my girl.”
      She didn’t respond.
      “And I’ll always be yours,” he added hopefully.
      “Stop it. You belong to your music and your groupies. You aren’t mine and probably never were. I borrowed you at best. I don’t even know you anymore. I can’t do this again. Please stop calling. Bye, Mack.”
      Before he could say another word, the line went dead. Mack let his arm fall to his side, almost releasing his grip on the phone. Her words ripped through him. He felt as though she had reached into his chest and yanked out his heart. It couldn’t be true. It simply couldn’t.
      He dialed her again and even before she had a chance to respond he began speaking. “You don’t mean it. You came to see me. I know you still think about me because I still dream about you. We are destined to be together. It’s the way it was always supposed to be.”
      “It was a mistake. Okay? I should never have come to see you. It was a mistake.”
      “No, it wasn’t. I know you don’t want to admit it. Hell, I didn’t even realize it until I saw you. You and I are connected. Don’t you get it, Alisha?”
      Alisha laughed on the other end of the phone. “Look, I know it has been a hard year for you, all the stuff with us and then with Sharra…” her words trailed off. “I never should have stirred the pot by coming to see you. Let’s be honest; you don’t actually want me back, Mack. And I don’t want you either. We don’t work together. It’s just as simple as that.”
      “But we could work together. You even said it yourself. It could be different this time.”
      “Mack, no. It wouldn’t be any different. We both know it. I’m just the only one willing to admit it.”
      Mack didn’t know how to respond or how he even felt about what she was saying.
      “We can’t keep doing this. You have to stop calling. Okay?” Alisha pleaded softly.
      “Okay,” he finally agreed even though he wasn’t sure he truly meant it.

Track 17: The Resistance / Connect

Track17buttonIt was starting to seem like every time Mack came back to Atlanta, it felt a little less like home. It wasn’t that things were changing. Things always changed. Also, it wasn’t about the people. He expected his friends and family to grow up, move away, and settle into their life as adults in the real world. What he never anticipated was how much he changed between visits. It was a slow progression that suddenly made itself obvious the moment he was surrounded with people from his past. They all fawned over him. He was no longer the kid they used to play with on the playground. He was a rap star they all wanted to get next to.
      Even the same clubs treated him like a newly different version of himself. He got in free, never waited in line, never arrived by himself or went unnoticed. Surrounding him at all times was his assistant, three of his best boys, and two models-turned-groupies that he brought with him. It was hard to remember the last time he traveled alone.
      As they pulled up to the club, he contemplated for a moment having the driver pull around back so he could sneak in. There were a couple photographers waiting out front. Even if they hadn’t been there, the long line of people waiting to get in the club, all with cell phone cameras were basically just as bad. Everyone wanted a piece of him. On second thought, he’d go through the front.
      “Showtime,” he thought as he adjusted his shades.
      Screams erupted the moment he stepped from the car. There had been rumors circulating all day about where he’d pop up. He wouldn’t confirm or deny any. Nevertheless, his fans figured it out anyway. They always did.
      Mack and his crew made a b-line to the VIP section in the back of the club where they were promptly greeted with bottles of champagne. Within moments the area just outside the velvet ropes were teeming with the beautiful women trying to be noticed. Mack pointed at girls. The bouncer let them through to the private section.
      “Hey, Mack!” he heard over the crowd. A guy was waving to get his attention. Mack recognized him as a friend from high school that he had fallen out of touch with.
      The bouncer looked at him for confirmation of action. Mack shook his head slightly; an almost unnoticeable movement, but the bouncer picked up on it.
      “At capacity,” he boomed.
      “Oh, come on. There is plenty of room. He knows me. We grew up together,” the man pleaded. “Just ask him.”
      “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to back up,” the bouncer said in a warning tone.
      “Ask him. He’ll say okay.” He looked to Mack for some confirmation. Mack just shrugged and mouthed “sorry.”
      “Asshole,” the guy yelled before storming off.
      “Oh, that’s my jeweler. He’s cool,” Mack pointed out another man in the crowd to the bouncer. “Hey, you think Alisha’s in town?” he asked off-handedly to Trina.
      She arched her eyebrow and paused. “Oh, you’re serious? You really want to head down that path again? You are one messed up brotha.”
      Mack ignored her and returned his focus to the plethora of girls vying for his attention. They hadn’t been at the club more than 15 minutes, and they were already down two bottles.

~~~

He draped his arm over the shoulder of the girl in the red dress as they spilled out of the club. He couldn’t remember her name. It hardly mattered. She was pretty enough and her body was astonishing. All he needed was a temporary fix for the night.
      “Mack?” a voice from his past pulled him up short.
      Alisha was waiting by the bouncer. She had dark circles under her eyes, her hair and dress were slightly disheveled, and her makeup smudged. Instantly, Mack knew she had been out drinking all night. It was the only time she didn’t look put together. Had her friends known she was going to try to come and see him, they would have stopped her. That was why she was by herself now.
      “See, I told you I knew him,” she said playfully and smacked her clutch against the doorman’s massive chest. As she stumbled her way over, Mack could feel himself instantly sober up. He unlatched himself from his new female friend and met her half way. Alisha’s heel caught in the crack of the sidewalk. She tumbled over. Quickly, Mack swooped in and caught her in his arms before she hit the ground. She burst into drunken laughter and muttered a quick thank you.
      “You guys go ahead. We’ll get another car,” Trina said as she helped Mack pour Alisha into the back of the limo. He saw the look of shock and disgust on the red-dress girl. It was no longer important to him.
      Alisha moved restlessly in her seat pulling on the hem of her short skirt. Mack looked her over. It had been almost a year and a half since they had last broke up. Even in her drunken state, she was every bit as beautiful as the last time he saw her. Excitement and disappointment rushed through him like a strange cocktail.
      “What are you doing?” he finally asked quietly.
      “What do you mean ‘what am I doing?’ I came to see you, silly.” Her words slurred.
      “No, I mean like this,” he pointed her up and down, “You’re a mess. I’m taking you home.”
      “Let’s go back to your place,” Alisha tried to muster her best sultry voice.
      “You’re drunk.”
      “I had a few drinks. A girl can have a cocktail if she wants, Mack.”
      “Trust me. You’ve had more than one.”
      He rolled his eyes and looked out the window. It pained him to see her like this or to see her at all. For a long moment they sat in silence. Earlier in the night he had been hoping she would turn up. She would have seen him in the club, living the life, surrounded by beautiful women, popping bottles, and spending money like it was nothing. Now that she was here, he wished he had made it through the whole trip without running into her. “Why did you come out?”
      Alisha tried to compose herself, suddenly aware of her state and embarrassed by it. “It could be different this time,” she said softly, almost as if it were a wish.
      “What could?”
      “Us.”
      It was quite possibly the last thing he needed to hear. The past was repeating itself like a broken record. Maybe she was right, and they would work if they tried it. Mack didn’t know if he could sustain the heartache if it failed yet again. He pulled her close and tucked her under his arm. Gently, she rested her head on his shoulder and drifted off in a drunken sleep. It was amazing to him how a petite girl, armed with a single phrase, could shake him so deeply.
      As he tucked her into her bed, he couldn’t help but wonder if he should stay. He could easily slip in between the covers and curl up next to her like he used to. He loved the way she looked in the morning; how she would smile when he was the first thing she saw. The truth tugged at him. She likely wouldn’t remember any of this in the morning. She clearly wasn’t in a good place in her life. That wasn’t the way he wanted to start things if they were going to dive into this again. He pulled the covers up over her, kissed her forehead gently, and headed for the door.

Track 16: Missin’ You / Successful

Track16buttonFor the first time Mack could remember he was alone. He hadn’t tried to maintain a relationship since the fiasco that was Sharra. It was too difficult out on tour. The schedule was too demanding to devote time to anything other than his career. The road was taking its toll on him. He could feel his brain start to fog over slowly. As he watched out the window of his overpriced, luxury tour bus, he couldn’t help but feel the miles wear on him.
      “Where are we?” he asked half-heartedly of his assistant.
      “Somewhere in West Virginia.” Trina didn’t even look up from her beloved cell phone.
      The answer didn’t matter. It was all the same. Constant change had become its unique form of stagnate. Every night was identical even though they were in a different city each time; the same music, same venue, same girls, same after-party. Some nights he went back to the bus alone, some nights with a random chick from the party who wanted to sleep with a celebrity. The trail of women he left behind in each city might have been impressive. To Mack, being with them felt the same as being alone—hollow and empty. They did little more than distract him for a few moments at a time.
      “You are on with Rap-Weekly in five. Should I reschedule?” Trina asked with a concerned look.
      He shook his head.
      The interview began with normal questions and Mack regurgitated the answers he always had.
      “When can we expect a new album?” the reporter asked.
      “Well, I’m on tour right now. I’m busy in the lab at the same time. Look at next year. You’ll just have to keep your ears open.”
      “What’s it like being constantly on the road?”
      “It’s tiring but it’s totally worth it to get to see my fans.”
      “How many chains do you own?”
      “As many as I can.”
      “I heard you bought a new Ferrari. How many does that make for you?”
      “Not enough.”
      And so on. Just when he thought the interview would be exactly the same as all those before, the journalist hit him with a question he wasn’t expecting. “We all know you are open and honest in your songs. You always talk about the girls you are in love with, especially your high school love. Do you ever wonder if you would still be together if you never left her to pursue the rap game?”
      It hit him like a wrecking ball to the chest. Thoughts of Alisha rushed back to him and suddenly the life he would have had flashed before his eyes. They would still be together, both college grads, with menial jobs that paid the bills. They would have probably been married by now. He had already bought her a ring once after all. They might have even started a family.
      “Yeah,” he replied quietly. Grief washed over him like he was mourning a relationship that never happened.
      The reporter continued to ask questions. He simply passed the phone over to Trina to finish the interview. He returned his attention to the scene passing by them outside. The thought plagued him. Does she ever think about me anymore? He guessed not. He was now just a relic of her past, some guy she dated once. Would she tell her new boyfriends that she dated someone famous or that he was as much of an asshole as they assumed he was? Or would she look back on their time together as fondly as he did? Mack compared every relationship, every woman for that matter, to her. No one ever measured up. Did Alisha do the same with him? Of course she didn’t.
      It was more likely that he was just a bump on her path to finding the right guy. A detour from “the one.” With that thought, something in him hardened. I don’t want to be the one who cares more, the one who is still hung up on their past. I will be the one who moved on to biggest and better things. Mack had deep pockets and lines of girls waiting to get in his bed. He could have any chick he wanted, two at the same time even. It would be the easiest thing in the world to replace Alisha.

Track 15: Fireworks

Track15buttonThe gossip blogs and respected news outlets alike ran the story: Pop star and DJ boyfriend jailed after violent dispute in the nightclub. It went on to detail the couple’s long time on-again, off-again volatile relationship. The article even threw Mack’s name into the mix as one of Sharra’s alleged gentleman callers, citing a photo of him leaving her place as proof.
      Mack squeezed the bridge of his nose between his fingers. That damn photograph. Even after months of work by his publicist and Sharra’s as well, the media wouldn’t let it go. No matter how many times their respective camps claimed that Mack had visited her place for strictly business reasons, no one was buying it. Pair that with the fact that there is a photo taken minutes later of Silas leaving the building, and it was the love triangle tabloids salivate over.
      It took an interview with VTV magazine to finally clear the air. He denied, in black and white, that they had ever been anything more than colleagues. It had been a hard sell. Finally, the press was coming around to the idea that they had simply been friends all along. All the chemistry and sex-fueled music videos were for show.
      He thought they had put to rest the romantic conspiracy theories. Judging by the latest round of media coverage, it looked like it was all going to be dredged back up.
      Without thinking, he grabbed his phone and dialed. On the fourth ring she picked up.
      “Hello?” Sharra answered, her voice weak and timid.
      “Hey.” Mack realized he didn’t know what he was going to say if she answered. He truly hadn’t expected her to pick up or even have the same number. It had been almost six months since they last spoke. It would have been safe to assume that after he walked in on her and Silas that Silas would have wanted her to change her number to break all ties with Mack. He was grateful now that it hadn’t happened like that.
      “Mack? What are you…” she began to ask, but he cut her off.
      “Shar, are you okay?”
      There was a long pause. Mack waited. He didn’t want to rush her. He desperately wanted her to answer. He wasn’t going to ask what happened and he never would. That was the media’s job. He just wanted to know that she was safe.
      “I’m fine.” To say Sharra didn’t sound like herself would have been an understatement. There was no fire or passion in her voice, no spunk or spice. She sounded distant and broken.
      “Hey, I’m here for you. Tell me what you need,” Mack urged.
      “Can I…can I come over? Are you in town?”
      “Sure. Yeah.” He was taken aback by the request. “Come over whenever.”
      After he hung up, he couldn’t help but laugh. It wasn’t a funny situation, not even in the slightest. He couldn’t help but see the humor in the fact that Sharra was coming to his place. In the time that they had been messing around with each other, she had never once stepped foot in his condo. He wondered how she even knew where to find him.
      Remembering her, remembering their time together brought the pain of regret bubbling back to the surface. The loss of her affection lingered in the back of his mind whenever he saw pictures of them together. If he was honest with himself, there had been a time when he truly thought they would have ended up together. He thought they would have stopped seeing other people, quite playing games. She would have let down her guard, let him in, agree to go public, and they could have been the crowning couple of hip hop. But in the end, it was as much of a fantasy as Sharra was.

Track 14: Brand New

Track14buttonIt was hard not to look at the sites. He hated the fact that they existed. It was smut. Celebrity gossip sites did nothing more than make up rumors about people and turn their lives into a real life soap opera drama for the masses. It was the lowest form of entertainment in Mack’s mind. But he couldn’t help himself clicking through the links about Sharra.
      They had both agreed to see other people, even though they had never spoken of it. He had taken it upon himself to call every hookup he had in the city; trying to screw Sharra out of his system. Sharra seemed to be of the same mind. A few days after he skipped out on pancakes, Sharra was spotted by the press in the VIP section of a night club with a random guy. Or at least it was supposed to be her. It was hard to tell because the woman in the picture was straddling the fellow and had her tongue half way down his throat. They never could prove it was her, but it wasn’t important. The tabloids would run whatever story they wanted.
      And it didn’t make a difference to Mack. No matter whom he slept with, or whom she was photographed with, somehow they kept ending up alone together. They would find some secret hide away – the back of a club, the studio, her place – and end up tangled in each other in no time. Despite their best efforts, a force seemed to be thrusting them together.
      But then Mack clicked one too many links. He could deal with making out with random men at clubs, dinner with football players, and even romantic getaways with actors. But this was too much. It was the one thing he didn’t know that he could forgive. Sharra had promised him it was over and yet the proof was in the photo that she had lied.
      He forced himself back from his laptop and yelled. Before he could give it a second thought, he was out the door and heading towards her place. He would take the back alley, one last time, only because the security guard was instructed to always allow him to her penthouse apartment. If he went into the front, the concierge might call her to ask if he was allowed up. He didn’t want to give her the warning. He didn’t want to give her time to prepare.

By the time he reached her door, his anger had only grown. Part of him had counted on cooling off a bit before confronting her, but the more he thought about it, the more enraged he had become.
      He didn’t even knock. He knew the door would be unlocked. Sharra had way too much trust in building’s security team. Mack threw open the door and stormed in.
      He froze, still standing in the doorway, squeezing his eyes shut. He tried to tell himself he was imagining things. When he opened his eyes he had to face the truth.
      Sharra was curled up on the couch in Silas’ arms. They were watching TV, laughing and drinking wine like it was their normal Thursday night routine. Like they were a couple.
      He wanted to run. He should have run but his feet wouldn’t listen to his head. Before he could move, Sharra looked over and locked eyes with Mack.
      “Shit,” she said in a hushed tone. At once, her shoulders dropped and her face sank into a sorrowful look. She shook her head. “Mack…”
      Finally, he found his footing and turned to leave, not bothering to shut the door behind him. He raced for the elevator in a zombie-like trance. He was sure it had been a dream. He must be sleepwalking. It hurt too much to accept it was anything else.
      “Mack!” Sharra grabbed his arm and stopped him just as he reached the steel doors. “What are you doing here?”
      He stood with his mouth hanging open. No words would come out.
      “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were coming in tonight.”
      Her apology sounded sincere. Still it ticked off Mack.
      “So, if you had known I was coming in you would have just done it another night?” he demanded.
      Sharra looked at him with a confused expression. She wasn’t following where he was going with the line of questioning. “Well, yeah. I never meant for you to see that. I said I was sorry.”
      “You’re saying sorry because I walked in on you, not because of what you did. God, I can’t believe you.” Mack yanked his arm from her grasp.
      “What I did? It’s not like I cheated on you. Mack, what did you think we were? We weren’t dating or anything. We weren’t together. I thought we agreed we were just having a good time, no strings attached.”
      “We did. With one exception.” Mack pointed back towards her place. His blood was boiling and he felt like he wanted to shake the stupidity out of her. Instead, he balled up his fists and shoved them by his side. “He is the exception. We both agreed Silas and Alisha were off the table. Christ, Shar. How many nights did we spend talking about how much they screw us up? How bad they hurt us? We promised, no matter what happened, that we wouldn’t let the other go back. We couldn’t let that happen again. And then here you are…You know if I had walked in and you were screwing his brains out, it might have been easier. Maybe you could lie and say you were drunk and slept with him in a moment of weakness. But this? This shit…Shar, you are legit back with that cat. What the hell are you doing?”
      Sharra stood in the hallway, too stunned to reply.
      Mack shook his head and bit his lip. He took deep breaths to calm himself down.
      “I treated you good, ya know? But if that’s what you want…if that’s the guy you want in your life, then you and Silas belong together. I’m done with this shit. Unbelievable.” Mack gave her a look of disgust and left her penthouse apartment for the last time.