“True self-discovery begins where your comfort zone ends.”Adam Braun
Del Sol Valley "Late Talk" talk show set
The applause finally slowed down, but Vivien’s heart still had not, as she shifted nervously on the velveteen red sofa, trying to remember all the instructions about posture and correct behavior, while keeping a smile on her face.
The host of a very popular late night talk show was introducing her and her father next to her, by rattling down a list of their achievements, then played a clip from her latest music video for the audience on the large screen behind them.
Once the screen turned blank again, the host turned to her.
“Well, ViVa, thank you and your father for joining us here tonight, so great to welcome you here to this show finally. You have been taking the world by storm with your latest single. Tell us what inspired you to write it.”
Vivien swallowed the lump in her throat, feeling hot and cold, her brain utterly blank, when her father came to her aid.
“I was the inspiration. That girl was constantly on and on about boys and problems and that stuff, I told her to make a song out of it, so I would at least get paid to hear about it!”
Laughter and applause from the host and audience, which gave Vivien a chance to come up with a brief explanation of a song titled ‘Netflix and Chills’
“It is basically a song about the moment a romantic relationship turns sour and gives you the chills instead…”
“Interesting. I think we all can relate to that, especially me, considering I have been married four times and still not learned my lesson as I am going in for number five come Spring.” the host jested, which was met by a drumroll from the same live band that in a moment would accompany Vivien and Blaine when they performed their famous duet after this interview concluded. Vivien got nervous again, while the host talked to Blaine, who had smooth, clever and hilarious comebacks for everything.
Then the attention shifted back to Vivien.
“All right ViVa, everyone here just has to know about that handsome young man you attended the Starlight Accolade awards with. Tell us about him.” the host flashed his well rehearsed smile, referring to the very recent Starlight Accolade award show, which Vivien had attended with Liam as her “date”, the big screen behind them now showed a picture from that night of them posing at the Starlight Accolades Award Hall before the show, which generated ooohs and aaaahs and cat whistles from the audience.
“Oh, he … ahem … he is my … little secret.” Vivien attempted to be smooth like her dad and a bit deviant. But it backfired.
“Oh, interesting, because I read here that you two are related. Cousins, I believe. Isn’t that a bit strange to take a cousin to such an important milestone as your date?”
“Uh – second cousin. And I don’t see why. I used to go with my little brother Blake, but he couldn’t go this time as he had … ahem …. other obligations, so I asked my cousin.” Vivien barely caught herself, almost had said that Blake was grounded after he had been dropped off at the Mansion by a police cruiser, more of his shenanigans gone sour and definitely something that should never make the news. Vivien’s eyes met her father’s warning glance. Eeks!
“There have been claims that you two also lived together several times, or maybe even currently live together in San Myshuno.”
“Yeah, we shared an off-campus house at college and when I accepted a temporary engagement at the Grand Hall in San Myshuno, my cousin offered me his guest room, since it was nearby.” Vivien said as calmly as she could, purposely avoiding mentioning Liam’s name, just in case they didn’t now it.
“I see. Well, I personally couldn’t get paid enough to move in with any of my cousins – or even my sister – ha ha ha – sorry Linda. Joking aside though, there are several pictures showing you two being a VERY cozy with each other. A close-knit family indeed. Some might say a little too close for most tastes even.” the host chuckled when the sound engineer cued in banjo tunes.
“What?” Vivien was horrified and looked at her father for help, who frowned and shook his head.
“Let me ask you straight out then: Are you two an item? Kissing cousins? Keeping those amazing genes in the family to breed some more future hotness?” the host was on a roll, the sound engineer cued in canned wolf whistles, a banjo again, then a baby crying, causing roars and laughter from the audience, while Vivien felt like someone had tossed her into a tank filled with ice water.
Vivien struggled with keeping her composure, keeping the tears away and to keep herself from just running off the stage, when Blaine got visibly angry.
“Hey, you chimp, you had your fun, we’re done now with the fucked up gags or I’ll punch your lousy genes straight out of your DNA and mop the fuckin’ floor with the rest of ya half-wit!” he roared.
“CUT TO COMMERCIALS!!” Vivien heard someone yell backstage, as the dull roar in the audience got louder, security guards inched closer, the producer came running on stage and together with the host started to try to calm Blaine down, while someone else came out to entertain the audience.
“Mr. Cameron … Blaine … buddy, please be reasonable and get a hold of yourself. We have 4 minutes left in this interview, please calm down and sit back down. You do not want to be in breach of the contract, do you?” Vivien heard the host say.
“Not your buddy, you moron, if I had buddies like you I would have Kurt Cobain’ed myself years ago! I am gonna shove that contract up his ass if that fucktard comes at my daughter like that one more time! Contracts wouldn’t be the only think breached here tonight! His ass will be, by my boot, till that genetic traffic accident is split wide open at the seams! And to put a quick hitch in your giddyup, brother, if I hear ONE single word out of you regarding the rumors about my daughter, you will be the new studio plunger! And don’t you guys DARE come at me about legal shit, you are not the only ones who know how to lawyer up! My lawyers and I will sprinkle cinnamon over you all’s crazy asses and EAT YOU FOR BREAKFAST! If that upside down snail over there can act decent, my daughter and I will too, so think of some REAL questions for 4 minutes so we can get to the performance and then the fuck out of here! Stinks like BULLSHIT in this bitch!”
Impressed by Blaine’s outburst and afraid to drop ratings if they repel one of the most prolific rock singers currently, they all managed to settle back down, even though a still fuming Blaine slapped the brush out of the make-up artist’s hand who came running to finish his face again, but the interview continued more civil, avoiding uncomfortable topics, then the interview and the following live performance went over without another hitch.
Del Sol Valley Cameron Mansion Next morning
Vivien was currently staying in Del Sol Valley again, in her room at the Cameron Mansion, since her old workplace, the Grand Hall in San Myshuno was currently booked for an exhibit for some on-loan special art pieces, so Vivien had accepted a few other gigs instead, one of them being last night’s talk show. She had a few single gig shows and then would go on a tour as the opener for a famous band.
She was glad the interview was behind her, but damage had been done, as she would find out the next morning, when she checked her phone after waking up and all over the internet were headlines repeating the same line everywhere:
Always followed by snarky evaluations of what people thought they knew about her and Liam.
Vivien felt as if someone had emptied a bucket of lava over her head.
Did he know about this yet?
“Shit!” she said, then dialed his number.
He finally answered, sounding drowsy.
“Did I wake you?” she wondered with a glance at her watch. It was 8 AM for her, meaning it had to be 11 where Liam was.
“Something like that … what’s up?”
Vivien was about to reply when she heard a female voice in the background, saying something she couldn’t understand, but she heard Liam’s voice give instructions to the bathroom before turning back to her. Her blood turned to ice.
“Oh! You are not alone.”
“Don’t worry about it. Whatcha need?” he asked, by the rustling sounds in the background he was getting out of bed.
“Uh … I … did you see the news yet?”
“No, Viv, I don’t have a news ticker on the inside of my eyelids. What happened now?” he yawned.
“Ahem … well … hard to explain. Remember when we went to the awards together? Well, now there are rumors about us.”
“About us being cousins and … stuff.”
“Oh Viv, who cares? And we ARE cousins.”
“Liam, they think we are dating! It’s all over the internet.”
“Why would they? Just because of the show? Man, the world must have nothing real going on if they are this desperate for headlines. We sat next to each other and danced a couple times, so what’s the fucking deal there? Not like I had you bent over table pounding you while we were waiting for them to announce the winners or something!”
“Ugh – don’t even joke like that or it will be in the headlines next! I think it’s because of those nasty rumors Malik started about me … you know … my alleged weird sex habits. Screwing my own cousin would fit in nicely.”
“Who gives a fuck? We’re only second cousins anyway, even if we were out fucking in the streets all day long till my wanker ran hot, the only thing illegal about all that would be public indecency, the second cousin thing isn’t.”
“What about your family?”
“I am pretty sure my family doesn’t fuck out in the streets either. Joking aside now, they know better than to believe the BS in the news. They have been ignoring crap like that since your grandparents had their heyday. Give us simple non-celebrities a little credit. Hang on, Viv. …. What? No, I don’t want to go to lunch with you. I want you to get the fuck outta here now. Hey, watch that nasty mouth or I am gonna put you on the express elevator down off my balcony! …. You still there, Viv?!”
Vivien realized that the awkward part had been Liam’s less than charming farewell to his overnight visitor.
“Yikes. Are you always like that to the girls you date?”
“I am not dating her. We had some fun together, that’s all. At least we did until you called and interrupted round three, you love killer. Well, whatever her name was again and I, we had our fun. She served her purpose, I served mine, no reason to go have a meal with her. You don’t take your washing machine out for lunch, do you?”
“You were in the middle of … Why did you answer my call then!? Man, Liam, seriously! Well, I’ll let you scrub your steamy moments with the washing machine off then. Call me back after your shower, in case you stumble across the news and want to discuss.”
“More like a leaf blower than a washing machine, but I like the way you think. I’ll call you after a shower and a coffee … with pants on then.”
“Oh my god you’re naked?! I am talking to you NAKED!?”
“Well duh! That is how I usually fuck. Thought that was pretty universal practice.”
“Urgh, I don’t want to hear about you … fucking … or being naked.”
“I thought we already established that was what preceded your call. Well, sorry if I shocked your prude little heart. Gotta go take a leak or I’ll be sitting in a puddle. I’ll be in touch later.”
“Okay you weirdo …. sounds good. Talk to you later, creep!” Vivien mumbled before the call was disconnected.
Vivien put down her phone, groaning, because she couldn’t stop imagining Liam naked now. And then she imagined him in some hot and heavy love scene with some nameless, faceless girl and felt angry and jealous.
“OH MY GOD, what is wrong with me?!” she said to herself, smacking herself in the head.
On the other end of the now disconnected line, Liam had started checking the news, frowning, shaking his head.
“Goddamn smut scribblers and paparazzi assholes! Was this REALLY necessary now? God knows she has enough on her mind than to deal with this bullshit now too!”
Del Sol Valley Benefit Concert
That same day she had been booked for a performance at a benefit concert along with a handful of other up-and-coming singers and bands. Afterwards she was trying to sneak out the back to avoid having to talk to fans, when someone called her name. She turned around.
“YOU!?” she burst out when she saw Malik walk up in front her now. Her feelings were a rollercoaster of pain, anger, sadness, all mixed with a fight-and-flight instinct.
“Hi. Ummm .. great show. You looked amazing up there. You always look amazing …” he said awkwardly.
“I thought you hated pop music. What are you doing here?”
“May not be my jam, but I can admit if someone is a good performer. You definitely are. Congrats on the award too. You deserve it.”
“Oh, is that what this is about? My award? You think I just had a big pay day and thought you could fuck me over again to get more money!? FUCK OFF, you asshole!” she turned and walked off.
“Vivien, wait! PLEASE.” Malik caught up with her and cut her off.
“What!?” she hissed.
“Can we please talk? Just want 10 minutes of your time. Please hear me out.”
“I don’t want to hear your lies! I don’t care what you think you have to tell me, it makes no difference to me anymore! You gutted me … with the whole world watching! I have absolutely NOTHING to say to you.” Vivien could barely hold back tears.
Malik looked tortured, in a reflex tried to comfort her, but she stepped backwards and angrily hissed
“Don’t touch me!”
“Okay .. sorry. But please, Vivien, hear me out. Once I got to say what I had to say, I promise you will never hear from me again, unless you wanted to. I swear it.”
Vivien sighed, then shrugged.
“Fine. You can speak your peace and then we are SO done!”
“Okay, deal. Wanna go somewhere a little more … private?”
“I do not want to be ANYWHERE with you, least of all somewhere ‘private’. Just say what you have to say! Tic toc, Malik.”
“Right. Sorry. I want to apologize for everything that happened. I know I am 100% to blame for everything.”
“Not telling me anything new here!” Vivien interrupted him, tensely.
“If you let me finish … I am getting there. Maybe then you know why it all happened …”
“I already know that! You wanted money. Duh! So this is completely unnecessary.”
“No, that’s not what happened. It’s not easy for me to talk about this, so if you could just listen until I am done. That’s all I ask. After that, you won’t ever see me again. Promise. Unless you say you don’t mind if I were to …”
“MALIK! Just TALK already!” Vivien sounded purposely abrasive and rude, as just seeing him now hurt her deeply.
“You already know why it all started. Grandpa got very sick, the medication and doctor visits were eating Nikki and me alive. My university sponsorship program only covered some of the costs of me studying there, and then Nikki got pregnant too. The pressure with the finals on top of all that was too much, and I started … well … I … got into drugs again. I didn’t want you to know, so I was hiding that, but … when I saw you with Liam I couldn’t control myself. The drugs … I was in such a rage and couldn’t snap out of it and then … it was too late. I tried to fix it, but you didn’t want to see me anymore and Liam kept you from me. So I gave up. After graduation I went home and when I saw my grandfather, the man who raised me, the only father figure I ever had screaming in pain, saw what it was doing to Nikki … she was so heartbroken about her situation with her baby daddy … I tried to get a job, but because of my criminal record anything that paid enough wasn’t happening for me. I may have wasted 4 years of my life trying to get a useless degree. I was sitting there on the couch trying to figure out how to help and one of those call-to-action commercials seeking people for talk shows came up. It said they paid, so … I called and went to the audition, told my story about dating Blaine Cameron’s daughter and they offered me a contract. I signed right away! Once I got there to record the show, they gave me a script with all those things that I never said. I refused, and was told the contract I signed specified I had to say what they tell me to. So I had to, or I would have been in breach and the fines were so high … I couldn’t back out. I know, I should have read that damn contract, but I didn’t. So I sat there saying all this, got the money and it helped so much, grandpa finally got a good night’s rest and wasn’t in pain. So I accepted another show, and they paid even more, several thousand bucks. I could make sure we weren’t getting evicted and I could actually graduate. I was gonna go talk to you, explain everything and then I got the call. A girl I had been seeing while I was totally fucked up on alcohol and drugs … she .. well … I fucked up again. She was pregnant, the timing checked out and I knew I didn’t use protection. So, I realized it was too late now. No way I could try to fix things with you after everything when I had gotten another girl pregnant. I knew you wouldn’t deal with all that. It’s not the baby’s fault that its mother is a lazy bitch and a whore and its father is a fucking loser, so I got with my baby momma to try and make sure she stays out of drugs and alcohol, at least until after the birth. I need to take care of that baby, so I asked her to marry me, hoping my grandfather will live long enough to hold his great-grandkid, at least the baby will have his last name.”
“Oh my god, what a mess! And I hate you, Malik. HATE you! Not even for what you did, but for making me understand why you did it and now I even feel sorry and guilty that I wasn’t there to help. This really does suck.”
“Thank you for listening. I really needed you to know. I hate myself for what I did to you, but I really didn’t think it would turn into this. I really did love you, Vivien. And I still haven’t stopped. I don’t think I ever will, or can.”
“Oh no! Not that now. I just can’t.”
“I get it … I am sorry.”
“I don’t know what to say or do right now, Malik.”
“Nikki said you were planning to visit her and grandpa. Maybe whenever you do I could … join you? For old times sake? I mean, we did have some great times together, there is no denying that. We were friends at some point …”
“We’ll see. I don’t want to make any promises I am not sure I can keep. I better get home now. Good luck with everything. Oh, and congrats on the baby. And the engagement. And marriage – eventually.”
“Yeah … right … Thank you for listening, Viv.”
“Yeah, well. To be honest with you, you were so special to me at some point, I always thought we’d be together forever. Then it just ended, from one day to the next and I never stopped wondering why. At least now I have some more context. Thank you for not being the giant asshole I thought you were. You’re still an asshole in my book, but at least some of it all makes a little sense now. And as someone recently told me, thank you for giving me closure. Closure is important.”