More Than Words
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One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.
—Joan of Arc
Ten Years Later
I threw back the shot of tequila and grimaced as it burned down my throat. Tequila was not my drink of choice, but my agent had ordered a round and I could hardly refuse. Well, I could have. I could do whatever the fuck I wanted. But why turn down perfectly good alcohol?
I brought the slice of lime to my lips and sank my teeth into it, the sour bite of the fruit soothing the lingering burn of the tequila. The room blurred slightly before coming back into focus. I’d already had too much to drink, but I felt warm and comfortably numb, and I leaned back in my chair, enjoying the familiar sensation. Too familiar recently, a small voice said before I tuned it out.
The chatter at my table was mere background noise, and I looked around the bar, my eyes snagging on the brunette cocktail waitress standing at a table nearby, a tray in her hand. She placed a glass of wine in front of an older man, and her eyes darted over to me, widened when she saw I was staring at her, and then moved quickly away. My heart jumped, a buzz of electricity shooting down my spine, and I frowned, surprised by my reaction. The girl stood straight, said something to the couple at the table that made them smile, and then turned and walked away, not looking at me again. I watched as she moved toward the bar, entranced for some reason I couldn’t quite pinpoint. She was pretty, but not exactly my type. I tended toward tall, willowy blondes … didn’t I? For a minute I was confused by my own thought. Suddenly I couldn’t remember what I liked. I couldn’t remember actually having any preferences at all other than available.
I massaged my temples, feeling a headache coming on, still unable to tear my eyes away from the girl. She definitely wasn’t willowy. Nor was she blond. She was neither short nor tall, average height, her hair in a messy ponytail, no makeup as far as I could tell, wearing an unflattering uniform, and I … God, I couldn’t stop staring at her.
“Where have you gone?” Charlène, the latest tall, willowy blonde purred, leaning close to my ear and running her hand along the inside of my thigh. Her French accent was strong, but not as strong as her cloying perfume.
I shot her a lazy smile. “I’m right here, baby.”
“But your mind is not.” Her hand moved farther up my thigh, stopping just before she got to my crotch, and I twitched in my pants. My mind might not be on Charlène, but my body was paying attention.
I tore my eyes from the girl, who now leaned over the bar, talking to the bartender, and returned my attention to Charlène. The contrast between the simple, clean prettiness of the girl I’d been staring at and Charlène’s sophisticated beauty struck me, and I was surprised that I wanted to look away from Charlène and back to the cocktail waitress. I resisted the temptation, my eyes moving downward as Charlène crossed her legs and the split in her black evening gown fell open, revealing smooth, tanned thighs.
I raised my eyes from her legs and smiled, turning toward her and focusing back on our conversation. She wasn’t going to let me fuck her later if I didn’t put in at least minimal effort.
“Did you see this?” Charlène asked, handing me her phone. I recognized the logo of a gossip website she had pulled up that featured a photo of the two of us from earlier that night at the award banquet where I’d met her. “Look what they called you,” she said, laughing softly and pointing at the caption beneath the picture.
I brought it closer and smiled wryly as I handed it back. “I’ve been called worse.”
“I’d have thought you’d like that one.”
You don’t even know me. How the fuck would you know what I like? I looked around the lounge, feeling suddenly claustrophobic. Idiot. Dimwit. Moron. “Sure,” I murmured.
Charlène sighed, smoothing her hair back. “You are strange, Callen Hayes. Any man would love to be called the Sexiest Man in Music.”
The male server who had been bringing us drinks suddenly appeared with another round, placing a shot of something amber in front of each of us, and I was grateful for the interruption. “Jesus, more?” my agent, Larry, asked, though he didn’t hesitate to pick his up, sniffing it and smiling appreciatively. There was a smear of white powder on the side of his nostril from his recent trip to the bathroom, and I considered letting him know in some subtle way but decided against it. No one here cared.
“It’s not every day a new classical composer wins the Poirier Award,” Larry’s wife, Annette, said, shooting me a tight smile that was closer to a sneer. She gave Charlène a frosty look and then raised her glass. “To Callen, who is … très bon at everything he does.” She gave me a suggestive smile and then raised her glass and threw the shot back, her long, elegant throat moving as she swallowed. I glanced at Larry, but he was laughing at something the guy next to him was saying.
I raised an eyebrow and nodded at Annette, throwing my own shot back, loosening the bow tie at my throat and attempting to take a full breath for the first time in what felt like hours. Dinner had been tedious, the award ceremony had been boring, and sitting here with these fawning, superficial people was completely tiresome. The catch was: I was one of them. No better. Fuck, I wanted nothing more than to ditch them all and go back to my hotel room alone. But the thought both lured me and filled me with clawing terror. I needed to start the new compositions I’d been hired to write, and so far I hadn’t come up with a single note.
I pushed the fears away as best as I could, the alcohol aiding in that effort. The same way sex would later. At least long enough to shut the words out—his words. Long enough to get something on paper. Please, God. But God had never answered me before, and I didn’t figure he would now. No, I’d have to do what I could to quiet the demons myself. Just as I always had.
Long enough to let the music play.
Three years ago I’d sold a composition I’d written to a small French indie film studio that had used it for one of their movie’s theme songs. The piece had gained so much popularity that a larger film studio in Hollywood hired me to write several songs for a movie they were producing—a movie that became a blockbuster hit. Close on the heels of that success, I put out an album of compositions to more critical acclaim, and then a second that received only lukewarm reviews, but even so, I’d suddenly found myself a sort of celebrity, with people snapping pictures of me in restaurants and on the street and being offered interviews on high-profile networks. It had been a fast and furious whirlwind, and I hadn’t always reacted well to the constant invasion of privacy.
As it turned out, that only made me more sought after, news-wise, as the “bad-boy composer.” They thought they had me pegged as some sort of dark creative who sat alone in his apartment, tearing at his hair and scrawling notes on paper in a mad frenzy before hopping into bed with three supermodels who simultaneously indulged my wicked sexual appetites. Which, actually, wasn’t completely off the mark. Although recently the music scrawling part had eluded me while the wicked sex had not.
The sex and alcohol had once offered the mind-numbing blankness that allowed the notes to take shape and form. I was able to lock myself away and write for days and days—weeks sometimes—whereas now I was lucky to get a few good hours of creativity. Which was unfortunate, considering I’d signed a contract to write a soundtrack and was expected to deliver something ingenious to the largest studio in Hollywood for a movie slated to come out the following year. I needed to produce something great, something that wouldn’t give the critics cause to say my talent was slipping and my initial success was nothing more than a fluke. Of course, that pressure was my own, but it was weighty nonetheless.
“So, Callen, what’s next now that you’re an international sensation?” the guy who’d been talking to Larry a moment before asked.
I shot him a look. International sensation? For the love of Christ. Who talked like that? Yes, I’d won a damn award, and I was proud of it. But why did everyone around me always sound like they were interviewing me for some article?