“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”– Ernest Hemingway
Del Sol Valley Cameron Mansion
Vivien opened her eyes with a sad sigh, right next to her laptop which she had fallen asleep using. It was probably sometime in the evening, judging by the darkness falling outside the many windows in her room, but she no longer had solid times to rise and sleep or any concept of time. She barely left her bed, let alone her room and hadn’t left the Cameron Mansion in months. Her days were all just a blur running into each other now, only interrupted by daylight fading into night outside, and her father occasionally coming into the room, to tell her goodbye as he was leaving for performances, interviews and such. Even now, months after the rumors had started, Blaine was still doing damage control for his good name and brand.
Almost a year had passed now since graduation, and about 6 months or so since the lies Malik had spread, which still weighed heavily on her, the following lawsuit had become high profile fodder for the press and seemed everyone’s sole topic for weeks on end, you could not turn on the TV or any mobile device without reading or hearing about it, so to make it go away as fast as possible Cameron attorney Kai had recommended a settlement, they paid Malik off, making him sign an NDA to keep him from talking about the relationship he had with Vivien and anything regarding her person publicly on any form of media outlet again.
The issue has cost Vivien her friendship with Nikki. Since both girls stood on opposing sides, it had just become impossible to keep in touch until too much time had passed for either to feel comfortable to make the first contact. More heartbreak for Vivien, a very treasured friendship, lost.
And that still wasn’t all, it had caused much bigger and much more significant issues with Vivien, her appetite was non-existent, she lost even more weight off her already genetically skinny frame, instead she was taking prescription medications by the handfuls to at least managed the main problems.
All that she could have possibly even dealt with, somehow, worst of all for her was a paralyzing stage fright, for which there were no pills to subdue.
Stage fright per se was of course not uncommon in her profession, every performer had it to some degree, Blaine still suffered it a little even after all those decades, but Vivien’s had taken on astronomically dimensions to the point that she could barely function at all, would stand paralyzed, unable to take a single step, unable to talk, sometimes she would completely pass out without warning, was unable to keep down food or water for days before a show, even if she somehow made it on stage, she could not get a single note out at all, along with many other random symptoms which would pop up without warning, making it completely impossible for her to perform at all.
They had tried everything to work through it, breathing exercises, therapy, medications. Nothing worked.
At the end of the day Vivien had to face that this all marked the end of her career before it had even really started, at least for the time being. She hadn’t given up all hope it would eventually change, but with each day that passed like this, her hope dwindled a little more.
She was heartbroken about this, and while he did his best to hide this from her, she could sense her dad was as well. He had been nothing but supportive, but she knew his ultimate dream had been for them to perform on stage together for a full tour, national and abroad, her being his opening act and duet partner, to help jumpstart her career like his parents had done with his, but also as the crescendo of his career and fatherhood.
She quit even trying when she realized it was no use, all it did at that point was cost Blaine money and taint his reputation every time she had been listed on the concert posters only to end up a no-show because she absolutely couldn’t make it work. She felt like a failure, let her beloved daddy down, which only worsened her depression.
Liam on the other hand had been working harder than any other person at the law firm in San Myshuno and become the managing partners’ golden boy and posterchild of the practice, partially for his efforts, but his good looks helped a lot. He knew about Vivien’s misery, they stayed in touch over chat and phone, but there was no way he could drop all to jet clear across the county to be with her just so.
As if on cue, her laptop chimed with an incoming Skype call, when she looked at it, it was him.
“Hey Liam!” she greeted after hitting the accept incoming video call button.
“WHOA! What the hell is that on my screen!? Must be broken!” he theatrically acted as if he was hitting the screen like people did in the olden days to get TVs working proper again.
“Oh, Cousin It, is that you? Jeeze, I meant to call Vivien, but whatever, right?!” Liam started humming and snapping the “Addam’s Family” theme with his fingers.
“You are such a DICK!” grumbled Vivien.
“Am one and got one, wanna see?!”
“Liam … not that now!” Vivien’s words were tortured.
“Ah, another one of those days, huh?” his voice and face were serious. His usual way to get her mind off things had failed.
“I only have THOSE days now. Besides, I just woke up.”
“Woke up? It’s 9 pm here, so it’s 6 there … and you are only rolling out of the feathers NOW? Jeeze woman! Vivien, come on, you have to snap out of it. You are stronger than that! Try it, for me, okay?” Liam’s voice became soft and caring.
“Except, I am not. I am not strong, I am not fine, and I will never be fine. I am not like you, Liam. I’ll never get over this. Never. I am broken, damaged goods. Humiliated.” she talked fast and her depression was obvious.
“Hey, hey, hey, none of that! Yes, you will get better. And if you remember to take a shower, wash your hair and brush it, maybe slap on some make up, you are too special, too perfect and too gorgeous to waste all day locked up in your room. In other words, get that skinny ass into the shower NOW and don’t come out till you are pretty again. Or at least resemble a human. Copy that, soldier?”
“Not a soldier and I don’t feel pretty. Not now, and not with washed hair.”
“Well, right now you really are an insult to the eyeballs, making me feel queasy, no wonder you feel like shit. Nothing a shower, a strong cup of coffee and some make up couldn’t fix. And a hairbrush, you really need to do something with that crazy ass mane. Maybe some de-matting conditioner. Hm, maybe a flea collar, just in case. Say, you’re not doing that thing dogs do, when they scratch their heads with their hind legs, do you?”
“Asshole!” she said, but couldn’t suppress a light giggle, while casually trying to run her fingers through the worst knots of her hair but got stuck a few times. Yikes. This situation really needed some attention.
“Aha! Finally found the sweet spot. So, here is the plan. You de-grime yourself and get on a plane out here. What you need is a healthy dose of vitamin L – yeah, that’s right, L for Liam. I have all weekend off, we closed a big case early, so I don’t have to even think about work till Monday, meaning, I am all yours. Your miserable ass is coming out here, and I will be taking my favorite cousin out for the time of her life! Once I am done with you, you will be the old Viv again.”
“I don’t even know who that old Viv even is anymore. And you know I can’t just go out. People recognize me and … all the circus starts again.”
“Vivien, I know who you REALLY are and you ARE coming! And if anyone comes up crooked they’ll get a piece of me. And not in the pleasant way. You know I am good for that!”
“Yeah, you are. Fine, I’ll come see you. But you have to promise you won’t just disappear somewhere to nail some chick like you used to when we went out in college.”
“I always came back right after, didn’t I, like a good puppy. Woof. Not once did you have to walk home without me. Bonus: for a while I wasn’t grumpy after getting laid, but a pleasant, grinning son of a beach. Win:win.”
“Yeah, but still … you have a lot of great traits, but your hornball side is definitely not my favorite.”
“Fine, promise if it should get to that point I will tell you that I am going to nail some chick right quick. Deal?”
“Uh, no deal.”
“Okay, you could come with us and stand guard while whatever chick and I close the deal.”
“EEW! Absolutely not! I know you are joking, but that’s not even funny!”
“Fine, I promise I won’t nail any chicks. Happy?”
“Getting closer. Would the others be there?”
“What others? The cousins? Nah, Ethan is where we were about a year ago, in the midst of final-geddon. He isn’t going out, almost went totally dark. My sisters aren’t party people, they hardly ever go out, rather stay home and cook or garden or whatever, just like my mom. Eric and Evey are off to wherever with aunt Jenna and uncle Jordan climbing around on some mountain again. So it would be just us. You could bring Blake. Or Celeste.”
“Negative. Celeste is like your sisters, very domestic and too young too go out with. Blake would totally come, but can’t. He’s grounded.”
“Do I wanna know? Nix that, I totally wanna know.”
“Trust me, you don’t. He definitely is a Cameron. Definitely my dad’s son. I am almost embarrassed to talk about it at all.”
“Oh, now I HAVE to hear it.” he chuckled.
“Okay fine, so he likes this one girl, but her parents don’t like him getting too up close and personal with their daughter, right? Blake being Blake, they got caught making out hardcore anyway, you know, first items of clothing had been shed and all, her dad walked in on them, took a picture and sent it to my dad with the note “UNACCEPTABLE!” before kicking my brother out, telling him he was prohibited from ever setting foot on their property ever again. Well, Blake got his boxers in a bunch about that so much, that he snuck to their bedroom window, Lord knowns how long it took him, but he ended up taking a video of them doing the mommy and daddy thing and uploaded it to some open relationship site or whatever with their actual home phone number and some caption along the lines of “couple looking for other couples to join this action”. Evidently tons of creeps have been blowing up their home phone something fierce, day and night … Unfortunately for Blakey was he caught on their security cameras doing his little videographer action, her dad called our dad, ranting and raving, dad checked Blake’s phone and my dumbass brother hadn’t erased the video yet … I think he is grounded until he’s 80!” Vivien giggled.
“HA HA HA – Oh my god! That is hysterical! I love it! Go Blake, mah boy! That is fierce! A for effort! Tell him Liam is impressed and his number one fan!” Liam cracked up.
“Don’t encourage him. He constantly does shit like this, you have no idea. He looks like such a sweet, innocent boy too, but man, lemme tell ya. Mom and dad thought it was funny, until they spoke to Kai, he was not impressed AT ALL. Blake’s flame’s parents had instantly lawyer-ed up and Kai blew a few gaskets since this is so close to my drama, my family was supposed to lay low for a while to get my dad’s brand out of the news and in the clear again. So, major shitstorm at the Cameron Mansion – again.”
“Well, there you have it. That is your cue to get the hell out of dodge. In other words, start packing! I am tired, had a very long week and I need to rest up to be able to handle your drama. See you tomorrow then, right?”
“Fine, I’ll let mom and dad know and book, I know there is a direct flight out first thing in the morning, I’ll see if I can get on that, if not one of the later ones. I’ll send you the flight info once we got it. Assume you are picking me up from Oasis Springs International?”
“Nah, I thought a 5 – 6 hour walk and a swim over to the Windenburg Isle would do you good, so effervescent this time of year too. Well duh, of course my happy ass will be picking your skinny one up per usual. Hey, pack something cute. You know, sexy-like. Remember, we are going out, so don’t embarrass me. If you don’t come with adequate clothing, I will find you something to wear. And it will be slutty and you will be humiliated all night. Oh – and bring a hairbrush or I am giving you a crew cut!”
“Yeah yeah, I got it, I will be prepared nobody will be humiliated.”
Windenburg Isle Cameron Estate
As soon as he picked her up from the airport they had been laughing and teasing non-stop, and Vivien felt like herself again for the first time in ages. Her cheeks hurt, as did her stomach, however this time not because of anxiety but from all the laughter.
She was going to be staying with his family at the Cameron Estate, in the guest room.
“So, where are you taking me tonight?” she asked after they had dinner with Liam’s family, socialized with them for a few hours, and now it was just her and Liam in the guest room alone.
“Haven’t decided yet. What would you like to do?”
“Stay home, watch movies, eat popcorn and hang with you? Alternatively, get a big shovel from your mom’s gardening shed and dig myself into the sand till I am completely gone!”
“The candidate has zero points. Try again. What do you enjoy doing? Other than throwing pity parties, which by the way, you also suck at.”
“I don’t know. Singing .. well, used to … “
“Singing it is! There is a new karaoke bar that just opened up! Lock and load that superstar attitude cos our bitch asses are taking center stage, girlfriend! Woooo!”
“Liam, you know I cannot sing in front of others! That’s the whole point of why I am so depressed! I just can’t, Liam!”
“Neither can I. So we will get on that stage and embarrass us together. United we shall go down in a blaze of glory. Still woooooo!”
“You would go up there with me? I didn’t even know you sang at all.”
“It’s toe-curling, I do it to scare the critters away from my mom’s vegetable garden! Works too, the suicide rate in birds, mice, rabbits and squirrels on the island it through the roof now. So whatever you do, it won’t be the most embarrassing thing for sure! Enough talk, get your ass into some fresh outfit, bitch, and let’s get!”
“Am I dressing you?”
“Oh god no! Fine, give me half an hour.”
“You get 15 minutes. This doesn’t require any special outfit, the club is super-casual, just don’t smell like airplane and don’t look like Shrek’s bride and we are good to go. 10 minutes is all that takes, you get 15 because you are a girl and I am a gentleman. Clock’s ticking. Get cracking!” Liam said playfully strict, barely hiding a victorious smirk.
Windenburg, New Downtown Low-Key Karaoke Club
As soon as they reached the club they could hear people on other karaoke machines trying their luck, different genres mixing with off-key tones, the sound of people talking, laughing, cheering, and the typical bar sounds.
Liam didn’t even let her arrive, dragged her along onto the stage instantly, handed her a microphone, chose a song and the music started. It was a duet, a pop classic and Vivien couldn’t help but laugh at Liam’s exaggerated dance moves, instantly he began to belt out, totally off key, sounding horrid as he missed every single note, messed up some of the lyrics, yet undeterred he continued, so laughing she just naturally began to sing on cue when the female part came around.
When it was his turn again he sounded so horrible, everyone watched them because of it, laughing so hard, several patrons were coughing from it and turning red, others had tears of laughter stream down their faces. Liam owned it, unfazed, Vivien could barely get a word of the lyrics out, but this time not because of her issues, but because she was doubling over for laughter.
Once the song faded out, Liam bellowed into the microphone in his best Elvis Presley voice
“Thank you, thank you very much!”
Then he wrapped his arm around Vivien’s waist and pulled her along with himself, outside.
“Oh my god, that was hysterical. How can you be a Cameron and be so unmusical. You must be adopted or the milkman is your daddy! You are sooooo bad at singing, Liam, I had to sing extra loud to make it less painful! My sides hurt for laughter.”
“I know. And I care so little. Hint. In case you missed that one, here is another: BIG HINT!”
“I get it. Thanks Liam. I can honestly say that was the first time I managed to get anything out on stage in front of people in a long time. I don’t know how you did it, but you did it! Definitely a step in the right direction. Thank you, doctor Liam.”
“No problem, invoice is in the mail. Where to next? Feel like dancing? I am actually better at that.”
“Well, I am not. Unless we are talking about moves rehearsed with a choreographer for a stage performance, I am useless on a dancefloor.”
“Perfect. Decided then! This way.” he turned them around and headed down to the water.
Windenburg Downtown Club Zero
They hit the nightclub just a few hundred yards away by the water’s edge and once again, Liam just let loose, comically, and ended up entertaining the entire club, making Vivien laugh so hard.
By the time they arrived back home, they were still laughing, Vivien’s cheeks had gone numb from so much fun, as they tried to sneak up the stairs and not wake Liam’s sisters and parents, as they slipped into her room.
Giggling still, Vivien walked up to one of the windows in the guest room overlooking the bay.
“This place is really beautiful. I can see why you are so reluctant to leave.”
“Well, it is nice, but I am not reluctant to leave, my wallet is. City living is expensive. I would prefer to have my own place, like a big boy, closer to work. Still got a ways to go till I can afford that. But I am on the secret Dean’s list, which would give me a healthy boost financially. So that is something to celebrate.”
“What Dean’s list?”
“The partners keep a secret list of associates they would consider to make partner, which us little workers dubbed “The Dean’s List”. Making partner is like the highest of all feelings for a lawyer who doesn’t own his own practice. For a first year junior attorney like me, that is unheard of. I already fell up the career ladder skipping a bunch of steps. So, I am like a secret superstar there. Meaning … if I don’t fuck up … major kaching for Liam. And eventually, my own practice, wayyyyyy down the road on the horizon. But it’s there. Somewhere.”
“Oh, that is amazing. Congratulations! I am really proud of you.” she turned around to face him, her melancholy fading, making way for feelings of pride and excitement for Liam.
“Yah. Pretty proud myself. I’ll get something bubbly and alcoholic to lubricate the congrats for both of us. Wait here.”
“Of course, where else am I supposed to go? It’s a tiny island and the middle of the night.”
“Well, you’re right, and you’re not he most athletic to begin with, two strokes in the cold water and you’d sink like an anchor, so you are stuck with me, lead ass.”
“Maybe later. Be right back.”
A few moments later a quiet knock.
“Yeah?” Vivien said, right behind the door, wondering if it could be one of the other Camerons living in this home, maybe she and Liam had been too loud and woken them up.
“It’s me.” came Liam’s voice through the door.
“Well, come on in, doofus!”
She pulled the door open and revealed him here in the semi-dark hallway like a vision, holding a bottle of sparkling wine and two glasses.
“Didn’t know if you were changing or something.” he said with a crooked smile, looking more like a boy than a grown man as he entered, then placed the bottle and glasses on the empty desk in the guest room.
“Yeah, Liam, after you literally just left a moment ago to get us drinks which implies that you’d be back, of course chances were crazy high that I just decided to get naked ASAP, cos, why not, right?”
“Hey, a man can dream, right? Logic and sound decision aren’t really your strong suit so I wouldn’t put it past ya.” he chuckled, while she watched him pop the bottle open and pour.
“Well, you got that part right …. Hey, Liam?”
“Why do you think he did it? Malik, I mean. It still doesn’t make any sense to me. I mean, that’s not the Malik I knew.”
“Vivien, I don’t know. The obvious answer would be the money. We wanted to cash in on your family’s fame and fortune. Story as old as day, and one of the reasons my career as a lawyer is such a solid choice.”
“I just don’t know what I am doing wrong to attract this kind of guys, who just trample on my feelings like that. First a gay one who would have never told me the truth, and then this mess. I get the break up, people break up and those don’t always make sense, but did Malik have to do all the other stuff? I really thought he loved me.”
“Viv … let it go. It serves no purpose wracking your brain about that nonsense. It’s done enough damage.”
“Still. What do I have to do, who do I have to be, for a guy to want me for who I really am, my dad’s fame and money?”
“Well, there are guys like that out there. We are extremely rare, but there are non-douchebags around who are NOT after money and fame. We prefer to make our own and just want the girl.”
“We? Are you kidding now? You are the prime example of a male douchebag. You nail chicks by the dozen and I bet you don’t even remember their names after you’re done.”
“True, but I never lie to them. I never tell any of them that I want anything but screw for a moment. You call that douchebag, I call it honest. Besides, if you were a self-respecting girl, why would you go have sex with a rude, crude, arrogant big mouth like me after we literally just met? If any girl thinks that is the way to find eternal love and happiness, she needs that rude awakening to return to the real world.”
“Fine. I have to admit you have a point there. Can I ask you a question? Have you ever cheated on a girl you were with. I mean, when you were in a relationship.”
“Yeah, I have. Once. Not my proudest moment and I still feel like shit about it, goes to show you we all fuck up at some point, it’s what we do with it afterwards that defines us. I wouldn’t do it again – EVER. I had it done to me, I know it hurts, should have known better. But I was young and really stupid. Lesson learned though.” Liam frowned, clearly not happy about the instance.
“Did she know? Your ex?”
“Judging by the tirade of choice words she showered me with in between two juicy slaps to the face, I would say she did. Maybe I should have removed the half naked chick I was cheating on her with from between my legs.” his facial expression was slightly tortured, clearly he wasn’t proud of this, which he tried to cover with a smirk.
“Oh god. That’s terrible.”
“No, what’s terrible was that the other chick was so drunk, she didn’t even stop blowing me while my then-girlfriend was laying into me.”
“Liam! Oh my god! You are awful! Why didn’t you make her stop then?!”
“I was 17 years old or something like that, getting a killer blowjob and it was clear the moment my then-girlfriend walked in that I was instantly single, so why pass up on that?”
“Okay, now I am convinced that it really is better that you don’t really date. Eeew.”
“That’s what I have been telling you. I am a dick. I own it.”
“I think I always saw myself as some sort of tough chick, and then it turns out that in relationships I want the prince on the white horse whisking me away, confessions of eternal love and dedication, a bed of roses and all that romantic stuff.”
“I think I just threw up in my mouth.”
“So, you are not a romantic?”
“Only if it’s for the right reasons. There is a time and place for everything.”
“Okay, so what would be the time and place for romance in Liam’s book.”
Almost to the door, handle already in hand, he turned around to her
“I’ll let you know when I figured that out myself. As of right now, that sounds like a waste of time and money to me. Good night, get some rest, our day starts early tomorrow. Bootcamp Liam just got started for you, princess!”
“Oh, dear god.”
“You got that right. Say your prayers, take your vitamins, you’ll need it.” chuckling, he left.
“Liam, what about the wine? We barely had any …”
“Good point. We’ll save it for tomorrow, because you’ll need it. Tomorrow we are going to repeat this, but dressed like a million bucks and downtown San Myshuno in the BIG clubs. And we’ll go dancing again, because girl, you weren’t kidding. You need practice bad!”
He came back, grabbed the items, winked at her, smiling, then left for good this time.
Smiling and shaking her head, Vivien dropped down onto the guest bed, noticeably feeling … different. Better. Rejuvenated. Freed from invisible shackles. Hopeful. Reminded of whom she used to be before her world collapsed, leaving her paralyzed and sinking fast. In awe how Liam had gotten her to do something in one night that boatloads of pills, highly trained doctors and many therapists had not been able to do for months. She was up on a stage and she had sung, loudly. In between bouts of laughter, but it was a start.
“Depending on how tomorrow goes, I think boot camp Liam is getting a kick ass Yelp review, from me, but also my family. I really lucked out with my parents, siblings – but especially that very distant cousin slash best friend I got.”