Genre: #OwnVoices Contemporary Young Adult
Title: What You Have of Me
This is how you handle a paparazzi scrum.
Head up, shoulders back, sunglasses on (no anti-glare: anything you can do to ruin a photo is good). Flanked by two intimidating bodyguards. Hands relaxed: clenched fists means the internet’ll be speculating about what has you so angry within the hour. You look straight ahead and you don’t stop walking no matter what.
This is how I screw that up.
It starts when I’m coming out of my last exam and my dad’s voice starts bouncing off the empty lockers lining the hallway. It trips me up, because my dad’s sitting in an office downtown. My head jerks toward the sound, and I find the source: the guy beside me, a guy who didn’t say more than four words all semester, is wearing shitty headphones with the volume turned up too high. One song changes to another, and, yup, that’s Apollo Knight’s third studio album. Weird choice. Everyone always says that’s his worst one.
(I try not to take it too personally, since it was born the same year I was)
“That was impossible,” says Carly Smithers, who I only ever talked to in this class and probably won’t talk to again. She catches me mid-eye roll, and I stop myself.
I hum in vague agreement, even though the exam was ridiculously easy. I don’t know her well enough to know if she’s the type of person to run and tell some reporter I walk around thinking I’m smarter than everyone.
“Was that your last exam?” She asks. I nod. “Same, thank god. Now it’s just The Show.”
Carly stretches, one languid full-body motion that could only come from a dancer. She’s either still wearing her dance clothes, or she’s already wearing them, or they’re all she wears. She wouldn’t be the only one, most of the school in intense rehearsal-mode for the summer concert. She glides beside me and I feel small walking with her, my head at her shoulder.
I’m saved from having to watch Carly try and tell me I’m lucky I don’t have to perform at The Show and that weird, confused smile I always get, by my phone starting to buzz in my hand. When the theme song to Jaws starts playing, though, I cringe.
My dad’s PA doesn’t bother with hellos.
“We’ve got a bit of a crisis here,” Mary tells me in a clipped tone that means something’s really hit the fan. “If you could make your way down as inconspicuously as possible, I’d appreciate it. I sent a car.”
“I drove to school today—”
She hangs up before I can ask her what she expects me to do with my car, and I clench and unclench my toes in my dirty uniform shoes so I don’t lose it with Carly still around.
“I have to go,” I tell her, but Carly’s staring at something on her phone. She looks up at me, eyes wide, and nods.
“Of course. Have a good summer.”
If whatever’s happening is already on Carly’s phone, Mary showed real discipline by not pulling me out of my exam.
Malcom’s waiting for me, outside the school but inside my dad’s least-conspicuous car, our arrangement for when he picks me up.
“How’d you do?” He asks as soon as the car door shuts.
Malcom laughs. He knows Business in the Digital Age was my easiest A.
I’m tempted to take out my phone and search my dad’s name, find out what near-strangers like Carly, apparently, already know. Last time I did that, though, I found an article that claimed my dad hurt my mom when they were together. After the Twitter storm I stirred up with my response to that, Mary banned me from social media for a week and a half.
“Do you know what’s going on?” I ask Malcom. We’re already at a standstill on the freeway and I start tapping my foot. Dirt and glitter and other arts school shrapnel fall onto the otherwise-spotless tan car mats.
Malcom just shrugs, because nothing we do surprises him at this point. His hair’s greying at the sides, a little, or maybe it’s always been like that. I’ve gotten used to him being vaguely frazzled every time we see each other.
“Thought Mary was going to explode,” he says. “Y’know that vein, the one on her forehead?”
If Mary’s forehead vein has made an appearance, we’re in the danger zone.
“What office are we going to?” I ask.
“She’s got me going to Apollo’s house.”
That raises my eyebrows. A meeting at my dad’s label office means he’s fucked up. A meeting at his house means, probably, the end of the world.
“Jesus,” I brace myself for whatever this is going to be.
I run through scandals in my head. It’s probably not drugs, since Apollo Knight’s been famously clean for the past fifteen years (a voice in my head reminds me the longer he’s been clean, the bigger the scandal a relapse would be). As far as I know, he hasn’t been dating, so it’s not some gold-digger trying to come after us.
“What’s the plan?” I ask once all the possibilities start pressing on my windpipe and I have to make myself stop.
“Mary’s got security waiting at the gate.”
“Seriously?” I lean forward until my head’s almost touching the back of his neck. “We’re not going through the back?”
“Don’t shoot the messenger.” Malcom’s shoulder twitches.
If I’m walking up my dad’s driveway, that means three things. One, paparazzi are camped outside his house. Two, he wants people to see me getting there, so, three, whatever he did can be improved by us pretending we’re a happy family. A united front.
I start digging through my backpack for my emergency pair of jeans, letting out a little noise of accomplishment when I find them buried under a stack of flyers for The Show I said I would put up but forgot to.
“Mary wanted you to stay in your uniform,” Malcom eyes me in the rearview.
“Mary’s gonna have to live with the top,” I wiggle into the jeans under my skirt. “Every time I wear a uniform skirt in public I end up on niche porn blogs.”
Malcom doesn’t have anything to say to that, so the rest of the ride is quiet. I take a few breaths and try to make a list of all the things I have to do in my head, which lasts me the entire half-hour drive to my dad’s ridiculous mansion.
I’ve never seen it like this.
My dad’s managed to hold onto his A-list status through obnoxious guys my age who think he’s the Last Real Rock Star and the handful of number ones his label’s produced, but everyone knows Apollo Knight is not exactly at his peak. He might get papped grocery shopping every now and again, but we all know in a few years he’ll be surviving or dancing or racing with “the stars” on some reality show.
With the crowd outside his house, you’d think we’ve gone back twenty years.
There’s at least fifty of them, being pushed back by three security guys I know by face but not name as they try and swarm my car. Malcom tightens his grip on the steering wheel, because last week Mary lectured him about not revving the engine to freak swarms out anymore.