Chapter 1: The Star
Tour buses pulled into the loading dock area of the Hammerstein Ball Room in New York City. Teen singing sensation Leighann DaCosta was close; scores of fans lined the street, hoping to get a glimpse of their idol. They held up posters and chanted her latest hit as excitement filled the air.
There were reports that fans camped out days before her arrival, much to the chagrin of the N.Y.P.D.; massive crowds were always difficult to control at these things, and it cost the city thousands of dollars. They knew they would have their hands full when tickets for her show sold out within an hour.
In six hours, fifteen-year-old Leighann DaCosta would step on stage and give the performance of a lifetime. Every performance since she was five was ‘a performance of a lifetime’.
This time she was burned out. She was on the last leg of her thirty-five city tour.
She felt trapped as if she had been living in a daze all her life, doing what she was told, eating what she was given, dressing how her stylist saw fit, saying what her publicist wanted her to say, singing what the record label wanted her to sing and smiling because the fans expected it.
Today she felt sick to her stomach. Today she didn’t want to do as she was told. Today she just wanted to hide from the world. Tears welled up in her throat.
The bus driver skillfully maneuvered the bus through hundreds of excited fans. Leighann looked at their hopeful faces through the one-way tinted window. She couldn’t understand their fascination with her. She was just a girl doing what she was programmed to enjoy. Her deepest desire was to be one of them … just a face in the crowd, with a family to go home to, a home to go home to.
Leighann’s home was a tour bus, and the band members were her family, but they had their own families to go home to.
She had Savannah—Savi—more her manager than her mother. Savi enjoyed the spotlight more than Leighann and had built Leighann’s career to exactly where Savi wanted it. She worked hard at cultivating Leighann into what she could have been if her parents had had any ambition or if she had Leighann’s talent.
Leighann was just five years old when Savi started entering her into numerous talent competitions. At the age of ten she struck gold, winning an international singing competition.
Her talent was further proven when she wrote and performed the soundtrack to a movie that went on to gross millions, which earned her a place in music history as the youngest artist to win a Grammy Award.
Critics were quick to label her a one-hit wonder, but Leighann proved them wrong by releasing a string of hits, which made the record label and Savi very happy and very rich.
At first Leighann enjoyed it; she loved writing music. She loved learning to play instruments and singing. Her distaste for the industry started two years ago. She had been constantly touring; the more popular she got, the more pressure was placed on her by Savi, the record label and the critics. Nothing she did was ever good enough. Her saving grace was her writing, but the label stopped using her songs. She didn’t like or connect with the material that was given to her, but she sang it anyway.
The tour bus came to a slow stop, and Leighann knew she had to suck it up and do what was expected of her. She took a deep breath and pulled up a smile from the deepest part of her soul.
After forty-five minutes of signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans, Leighann’s handlers ushered her from the press area down a long series of corridors to her dressing room. On the way they bombard her with the details of her schedule, which included stage rehearsals, dress rehearsal, lighting tech, more press interviews, more meet and greets, radio interviews, promotions and the other three million things she had to do; none of which included any down time.
“Where is Savi?” Leighann asked. The sickness in her stomach had returned. Just once she wanted her mother to protect her.
“She’s at the spa, getting ready for the show tonight,” One of the handlers answered.
How typical of Savi to load up her schedule, then take off to enjoy the spoils.
“Could you reach her, please?” Leighann asked pleasantly, hiding her annoyance.
“She asked not to be disturbed,” the handler replied.
Leighann did little to hide her disappointment. The handler felt sorry for her and tried Savi’s phone. The truth was, they all felt sorry for Leighann and could sense her fatigue but were too afraid to stand up for her. They were being paid good money to do as they were told.
Leighann entered her dressing room. “Could you guys give me a minute, please?” She closed the door.
They looked at each other and knew something was very wrong.
Leighann sat on the floor behind the door and sobbed uncontrollably. Her cell phone rang. It was L’Wren.
L’Wren was her half-sister, confidante and only friend. She always had impeccable timing; perhaps through some cosmic channel she sensed when her sister needed her.
“I’m so glad you called. I could use a friendly voice.” Leighann smiled through the tears.
“What’s wrong? Where are you?”
“New York. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I’m so tired; I feel like I could sleep for days.”
“Did you tell Mom yet?”
“No, she’s not going to like it.”
“That’s her problem. She’s not the one busting her ass on stage every night! You want me to talk to her?” L’Wren hated the way Savannah treated Leighann and had stood up to her several times on Leighann’s behalf. In the end Savannah always got her way because Leighann, out of some twisted loyalty to her mother, took her side and made it okay to be bullied.
As tempting as the offer was, Leighann declined and resolved to tell Savi after the show that she was going to quit the business.
Leighann took center stage for the final song rehearsal before the concert. Fatigue had set in. ‘Just get through this one.’ Her head spun as she picked up a bottle of water from the stage floor. Her throat was dry, her stomach tensed, and her hands were clammy. She sipped the water and felt its coolness coat the back of her throat. Sweat plastered her blond locks to her scalp as beads of sweat formed on her face. She felt the color leave her once-rosy cheeks. She looked over her right shoulder at the band leader. Leighann was not aware that she had dropped the water bottle, and a puddle formed at her feet. He looked at her strangely and said something to her that she couldn’t hear. Leighann fell to the floor with a thud that scared everybody in the room.
Days later Leighann woke up in a hospital bed hooked up to heart machines and an IV tube. The beep of the heart machine was the only sound she could hear. Every surface of the room was covered with flowers, stuffed animals, cards and other gifts from fans and people she knew. She felt strangely at peace and more rested than she had ever felt. The pain in her stomach was gone. ‘Maybe I’m dead.’ The thought of being dead put a slight smile on her face. She’d considered suicide once but had been too afraid to do it.
She thought about L’Wren and how much she admired her. L’Wren was independent and smart. She had one more year of college and was destined to be a fashion designer.
When their parents split, Savi took Leighann and L’Wren stayed with their father. To Leighann, L’Wren got the better deal. They kept in touch as much as their schedules would allow. Leighann was always happiest when she visited L’Wren in Los Angeles … usually for a night or two when she was in town doing press, touring or recording. She wasn’t allowed to see her father, according to Savi he was the anti-Christ.
Leighann couldn’t remember her parents ever being married or happy. She barely remembered what her father looked like. All she could remember were his hazel-green eyes, kind of like hers. They were kind and loving … or maybe she imagined that.
At times she’d imagine she was adopted and one day her real parents would find her. They’d live in a small house with a white picket fence … or live in a yurt; she didn’t care as long as they had a home.
Leighann closed her eyes and imagined. This time the house was in the country: a small yellow house with white trimmings around the windows, a beautiful red wood door, and shrubbery dotting the white wood rail wrap-around porch.
The front yard had a beautiful flower garden that her mother tended to while wearing a pale paisley flowered dress and wide brim straw braid hat to shade her flawless skin. A huge tree stood guard outside the white picket fence that surrounded the property.
She’d spend lazy afternoons sitting under that tree, with its massive branches covered in lustrous leaves. She’d listen to the birds singing while enjoying the cool breeze as it embraced her.
Her father would be a farmer like Jonathan Kent (Superman’s earthly father). Her parents loved each other and loved her. They’d have supper together and talk about things that family talked about.
Leighann’s eyes were closed and she wore a peaceful smile when Savi entered.
“Oh, honey!” Savi’s voice sounded of concern.
Leighann’s smile quickly disappeared as she jolted back to reality. Savi hovered over her. ‘Maybe she did care.’
“How are you feeling? The doctor said you were dehydrated, but you’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
Savi hugged Leighann … for a moment Leighann tensed up, then eased into it. It felt good being held by her mother. She embraced her mother for a brief moment, taking in the scent of her Baccarats Les Larmes Sacrees de Thebe perfume.
Leighann hoped that her stint in the hospital would improve their relationship … after all, her concern sounded sincere.
“I’ve rescheduled the Hammerstein concert for the end of the tour. We can spend two days here, then we’ll leave for the Jersey show.” Savi quickly switched back to manager mode, smashing Leighann’s hope of a mother/daughter relationship. She whipped out her iPhone and checked her schedule.
“I’m tired, Mom.” Leighann’s voice was quiet.
“I know, honey. You’ll be fine in a couple of days.” Savi dismissed her.
“I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Savi barely looked up from her phone. “You just need to rest.”
“The singing, the tours, I don’t want to do this.”
Savi sighed impatiently; she clutched the phone and looked at her daughter as if seeing her for the first time. “I know you’re scared, but when you fall down, you get back up again.”
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while.” Leighann sat up. She felt stronger. “I want to go to school and have friends, go to the mall, meet a boy, do all the things normal teenagers do.”
‘Shit, is she serious?’ Savi thought as she sat on the edge of the bed. She had never heard Leighann speak up for anything and almost respected her for it. “If you want me to push back the Jersey show …”
“No, Mother, I’m serious! I’m quitting the business.” Leighann was surprised by her own tone. She felt a weight lift off her chest. She felt empowered. This was what she wanted, and she wanted it bad enough to stand up to her mom-ager.
“This is your life. This is all you know how to do, and you’re good at it … why would you want to give that up?” Savi questioned, losing her patience.
“I want to move out to LA and live with L’Wren for a while.”
Savi got up from the bed and walked toward the window. She knew Leighann couldn’t possibly come up with that idea by herself … L’Wren was behind it. ‘That ungrateful little bitch, I adopted her and raised her as my own, and this is the thanks I get? Who the hell does she think she is, trying to take my little girl from me?’
The doctor entered the room and smiled at Leighann but could sense tension between mother and daughter.
“Leighann, so glad you’re back with us. You gave a lot of people quite a scare.”
Savi did not turn around. Her back faced Leighann’s bed as she stared out the window.
He checked her charts. “Looking good.” Then he did a physical check. Just then Savi’s phone rang. “Phones are not allowed in here, Mrs. DaCosta.”
Savi shot him a nasty look. “It’s Ms.” She walked out of the room with her head held high. Savi was not officially divorced from Leighann’s father, a secret she kept from everyone … including him.
“I can have you discharged tonight.” He smiled at Leighann.
“Does it have to be tonight?”
The doctor was taken aback by her question. He studied her for a while. “Most patients can’t wait to leave.”
“Can I at least have one more day?”
“You’re perfectly fine to go home.” He sensed things weren’t right, but he didn’t care enough to pry. “One more day, then check yourself into a nice spa or something.”
Leighann dreaded leaving the hospital. The black limo pulled to the curb at The St. Regis. She was greeted by the welcoming smile of a familiar doorman.
“Good day, Miss DaCosta.” He nodded.
She returned his smile as Savi brushed past them and entered the lobby. She and Savi hadn’t spoken since she had told her she was quitting the business. Surprisingly it didn’t bother her, she was taking charge of her life, and it felt damn good.
The elevator doors opened to the penthouse they had occupied. Savi disappeared into one of the rooms. Jace, the bandleader, greeted Leighann with a warm hug.
“I heard you were getting out today. I just wanted to welcome you home,” he said.
“Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“Are you sure you’re okay to come to rehearsals tonight?”
‘Is this some kind of joke?’ Leighann was shocked by his question.
“Didn’t she tell you?” Leighann searched his face for an answer but got none. “I quit the business, and I’m moving to LA.”
Jace was genuinely surprised. He sat down on the nearby settee.
“I’m sorry you had to find out this way.” Guilt started to set in as she realized how her decision would affect the rest of the band members. She cared about them but never gave any thought to actually saying goodbye to them. “We’ll pay you guys for the rest of the tour. I’m … I’m sure you’ll find something else. You’re a really good bandleader.”
Savi entered. “You think that’s how the business works?” Her voice was filled with disgust.
Leighann sat next to Jace.
“You are so immature. You have no idea how any of this works! You don’t realize that you are playing with people’s lives. People depend on you to feed their families.” Savi towered over her. “All you have to do is go out there and sing! We do all the work. I have sheltered you from the realities of this life, and now you want to piss on me!”
Leighann got up and headed out of the room.
“If you leave here, you leave with nothing!” Savi yelled after her.
That moment played over and over in Leighann’s mind like a broken vinyl.
“Miss DaCosta?” The beautiful Virgin Airlines flight attendant’s voice was gentle. Leighann had been asleep. The flight attendant was careful not to jolt her awake, despite the fact that she looked like she was having a nightmare, flinching and sobbing.
Leighann woke from a groggy sleep; she was in the first-class section of a Virgin Airline flight to Los Angeles.
“Please place your seat in the upright position. We will be landing at LAX in twenty minutes.”
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