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Far Too Tempting
By Lauren Blakely, Alycia Tornetta, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Lauren Blakely
All rights reserved.
I've heard enough music to know that the best songs and albums come from broken hearts. Maybe there just isn't anything to say when you're swooning, falling, floating, chasing. Maybe when you're deliciously, deliriously happy, nobody wants to hear about it. But if your heart's been stomped on, your emotions shattered, your feelings maddeningly unrequited, then you stand a much better chance of writing an opus.
If anyone disagrees, I'll just say "Layla." And then for emphasis I'll give you Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks." And once more just to prove my point, I'll mention Adele's "Someone Like You" for this generation and Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears" for days gone by.
If you still doubt me, may I now present Jane Black's newest album, Crushed? It is the essential breakup album for the modern age.
— Matthew Harrigan, Beat, August 14
There's more to Matthew Harrigan's review of my fourth album, but I've memorized it all by now. I memorized it the very day it came out. It was the first review I read for Crushed, while standing on the corner of Thirty-Fourth Street and Lexington Avenue on a hot August morning. I'd raced down the street to buy a copy as garbage men clanged and newsstands opened. I didn't care about the sun beating down. I didn't smell the garbage being hoisted into the nearby trucks. All I could feel was the rush, the thrill, the absolute, unadulterated bliss of being anointed a success by the music industry's most powerful magazine, whose reviews run on the home page of iTunes.
Finally, it had come, after years of clutching the faint remnants of the hope that I would be a rock singer, for a living, for real. I'd come so close to giving in, giving up, moving on, because I just wasn't making it at all. Then I was kicked to the curb by my husband, the father of my child, the love of my freaking life. Who would have thought — it never occurred to me at the time, at a mere twenty-eight — that I'd wind up writing the essential breakup album for the modern age?
Now it's late afternoon on a certain Sunday in February and our car, a ridiculously long and lush limousine — who rides in things like this for real? I never have — inches closer to the Los Angeles Staples Center, home to the Grammy Awards. I peer out the tinted window, my stomach doing a double-triple flip as I spy the sheer degree of star wattage posing along the red carpet in their metallic dresses and stylish suits. Pop superstars like P!nk and Christina Aguilera, as well as Beyonce and Jay-Z, mingle alongside legends like Tom Petty and Eddie Vedder, and then somewhere in the distance I can just make out the unmistakable silhouette of Madonna. I am going to be in the vicinity, same building, same stage as Madonna. I am actually going to perform in front of the most successful female recording artist of all time. Because I've been nominated. Nominated. I must be living someone else's life because I — a barely-holding-on little indie singer who's never had so much as even a hit single, let alone hit album, let alone Grammy invite — have only watched the Grammys on TV.
I shake my head, then click open my purse so I can feel just for a second the wrinkled page that I ripped from Beat magazine that day in August. I've kept the review in my pocket like an amulet for the last six months, in a bag, inside my wallet. It goes with me everywhere as a good-luck charm. I touch the well-worn page to remind myself that somehow this is actually real, that those words were really written, that I am here and not in some mirage. Then I tuck it safely back inside my pewter-colored clutch purse that's about the size of a passport stamp.
I smile, a crazy big grin at my older sister, Natalie, then at my younger brother, Owen, next to her, and at my son, Ethan. My six-year-old is head to toe in black tie, his blue-gray eyes ablaze with excitement, his sandy-brown hair, as usual, a veritable mop. The Beatles had nothing on my boy; his hair is thicker than a Siberian husky's in winter.
"We're almost here, kids. Grammy Awards start in one hour," Owen announces, as he taps his watch with one hand while the car shuffles closer to the red carpet where the driver will drop us off.
I shake my head, barely able to speak because there's a part of me that won't accept that my life in this instant isn't an optical illusion. That I will open my eyes and find myself back on the couch in my Murray Hill apartment watching the annual fete from far, far away. But I'm still here in this car, snapping my purse open and shut, distracting myself with the clicking sound from the fleet of supersize nerves camping out in my body.
Ethan fidgets with his scarlet-colored bow tie momentarily, while Owen adjusts the burnished gold one he's wearing. Ethan insisted they wear the colors of Harry Potter's Gryffindor house. Then I notice Ethan has taken off his shoes.
"Ethan! Put your sneakers back on."
"Okay, but I can't tie them." Ethan reaches for his sneakers, a pair of black Converse shoes, and pushes his feet into them. The shoes were his compromise. He'd wear a tux — a monkey suit, he called it — if he could wear sneakers. I've learned to pick and choose my battles, so I said yes.
"I'll do it for you," I say, motherly instinct kicking in. The car stops moving so I get out of my seat and kneel down on the floor to help him. "See?" I say, holding up the laces, grateful for something else to focus on besides the jumping jacks in my belly. "You crisscross, then loop under, then make the bunny ears."
"Jane, is now really the time to teach him how to tie his shoes?" Natalie asks, while picking up Ethan's baseball cards and stacking them into a neat pile. Her dark blond hair is pinned up in a sexy, messy bun with jeweled bobby pins to match her dusty-pink satin strapless sheath. Her ridiculously toned arms are displayed in their full glory as she corrals the cards. "And you're going to mess up your dress. Why are you kneeling on the car floor?"
Because if I think about what might happen in the next few hours I'll burst with the cocktail of anxiety and hope inside me.
She snaps a rubber band around the cards and leaves them on the seat. Ethan hops up, grabs the cards, and slips them into his pocket.
"You're bringing baseball cards with you?" I ask.
He rolls his eyes. "Mom, it's three hours. I can't sit that long."
"Fine," I say, waving him along. "Bring the cards."
I grab my purse, patting it once for luck, thinking of Harrigan's review tucked safely inside. Natalie cocks her head and looks at me. "Are you finally ready now, Jane?"
Ready. I turn the word over a few times — ready or not, here I come. People get ready — because words could become lyrics someday, and my record company has already been banging on my door, begging for a follow-up that I haven't even started but desperately need to.
I feel a lump rising in my throat. My emotions live close to the edge. All I need is a trigger and the tears that dwell near the surface are ready to roll — I can cry at any uplifting moment in a book, any slightly sappy scene in a movie, any heartwarming newspaper article.
Natalie reaches for a tissue and holds it toward me, knowing me too well. "Don't be a sap yet. Wait till you have that golden gramophone in your hand."
"Don't jinx me." I wave a hand in the air and suck back the feeling of overwhelmingness that threatens me right now. I'm not going to let a tear fall out.
"I am hallucinating, right?" I ask, looking at my sister and brother.
"Yes, you're going to wake up any minute from this dream as soon as you get out of the car," Owen directs playfully, his brown eyes sparkling with the same disbelief that infects us all, as he shoos me out.
Then the second the chauffeur opens the door, it starts.
The four of us step onto the red carpet and immediately we are mobbed. Throngs of photographers shout at me to look this way, look that way and a hundred cameras go off in my face. Ethan grips my hand tighter, and I squeeze back as I smile for the camera — not the trained smile I could easily flash from having been on and off stage for the last seven years since I graduated college, but a real smile. The one that comes from knowing this time, on my fourth album, heartbreak in hand, pain in every pore of my body, I did it right. After three completely middling records, a trio of mediocre music, I finally pulled out all the stops and did what critics like Harrigan said I should have always done — stopped skirting the edges and reached deep down inside to write. I didn't sell too many copies of those first three albums. But then Aidan left me, and man, did my next record fly up the digital charts.
Her man did her wrong, so she went to the studio for closure.
It's been a year now since Aidan sat down on the couch, confessed, briefly hung his head in his hands, and left for good. I stood there shocked, staring at the cold, heavy gray door of what was our apartment feeling like what had just happened couldn't possibly have happened. There was a mistake, an error. Hit the rewind button and do this over.
That next morning, I promptly began writing "I Don't Believe It," which became track one on Crushed.
Right from the very start, she grabs the listener by the shirt collar. Her gutsy voice, her throaty, Adele-esque style so similar to "Someone Like You" yet so uniquely her own, can do nothing but pull you back to that moment of disbelief after your most painful breakup.
Our quartet makes our way down the red carpet, as countless more camera crews shout directions and snap shots, capturing the parade of musicians for E!, Entertainment Tonight, MTV, and numerous other outlets. Then we enter the vast air-conditioned expanse of the Staples Center.
I see Matthew Harrigan in the lobby, because it's impossible to miss him.
He's so good-looking that my friend Kelly once called him eminently lickable when she was checking out a picture of him online before Crushed came out. I begrudgingly agreed — because even though he'd ripped my first three albums to shreds, I also couldn't tear my eyes away from the screen, either. He could make or break a musician, but he could probably make or break a heart, too, given the way he smiles with the most inviting grin and the way he's a very eligible bachelor in New York City. Not just because of his post atop music criticism, but because of his pedigree. He's scanning the crowd, always alert, dressed for the occasion in a tuxedo. He probably owns the tux, considering how it fits his tall and trim frame. Then again, he's the sort of man tuxes were made for. The sort of man who has the means to own tuxes, and not simply because he'd been dubbed the most powerful tastemaker in rock music.
His dark hair falls deliciously on his forehead, and he has the most mesmerizing blue eyes. I swear they twinkle, and he can probably even use them to hypnotize any gal to do his bidding. And while I was 100 percent faithful to my husband when we were married, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't noticed Matthew's looks every single time I ran into him at an event. Because you just can't look away from that kind of a face — that jawline, those dimples, that devilish fucking smile.
But breakups are never linear. You ache and mourn and then you hate and rage and then you ponder and mope and smash things and drink some more Macallan. And then you miss again.
"Hi, Matthew," I say as we walk past him. He flashes me his patented grin that sends a quick rush of shivers through me.
"You look absolutely stunning, Jane. Will you give me the first sit-down interview when you win?" he asks in that delicious British accent of his. Yeah, if he wasn't already winning on looks and job alone, he has the trump card in that accent that makes me want to swoon and say yes to anything he asks. And while I'm sure he's only saying I look stunning so I'll agree to the interview, I still feel pretty damn good about myself tonight in my knee-length dark blue dress, with its sapphire-and-aqua pattern of swirls. Barely there straps hug my shoulders. My impossibly curly hair has been straightened into submission tonight, courtesy of Natalie, an expert with a flat iron. It falls long tonight, to the middle of my back.
"Of course, but I'm not going to win," I say, giving him a wink, because why the hell should I not flirt back? The man is hot, and as I turn away, I hope those blue eyes of his are still on me.
Then I am whisked into the theater by an usher who offers me an elbow, Ethan, Natalie, and Owen still by my side.
"Don't jinx you? Don't jinx yourself, doofus," Natalie whispers in my ear.
As we walk down the aisle, I can start to feel the buzz of the room. There's an energy and heat that's swimming amidst this sea of the bizarrely, beautifully, and barely clad people. A white noise vibrates in the auditorium, like a slow hum, coming up through the floor, passing into the carpets and then clinging to the air. It's anticipation. The sense that great things, cool things, wildly implausible, I-can't-believe-it things could happen. The feeling that childhood and adult dreams might just be filled. Dreams that were almost shelved.
I wasn't even supposed to be here, I tell myself as the usher guides us down, down, down, closer and closer to the stage. I wasn't supposed to have this, this mere whiff of success. I was supposed to have hung it up, stopped singing and found a real job or something after my first three pedestrian efforts.
Except, somehow, I am here. The buzz in the room grows louder, but the thrumming in my body drowns it out as the usher gestures to the first four seats in the third row.
"You're going on at seven thirty-five, so I'll come back at seven fifteen sharp to get you," he instructs. I nod automatically and thank him, then gingerly reach for a patch of fabric right above my knee so I can sit gracefully. Natalie squeezes my hand and Ethan leans in to give me a kiss on the cheek.
"Don't worry, Mom, you'll be fine."
She plunges you into the longing, the lament, the where did it all go wrong, taking you on a tour of the hurt; first through the clinging memories in "Shape of You," then the practically primal pain of the inevitable protest in "But You Said," and next to the healing, coming as it does in fits and starts, in "It's Not Every Day."
In fact, it's really not every day that it hurts like it did that first day or the second or the third. Pain has a funny way of subsiding, eventually, so you can survive. It has this way of not suffocating you every single day. Sure, some days you're still blindsided by a memory, a feeling, a song. But other days, you realize you can get through and get by and not feel the claustrophobia, the fear that you'll never be normal again.
Tonight the past feels behind me, and the present is all I want. Because I'm not thinking about Aidan, or what happened. I refuse to. Because tonight, I am sitting down in the third row at the Staples Center for the Grammy Awards and my album has been nominated for Album of the Year.
She finally pulls you out at the very end with "Something Like Normal," leaving you at last with the sense that maybe, just maybe, you could try again without getting burned that next time around.CHAPTER 2
The lights dim onstage, a weird sort of mist rises, the band plays the familiar opening notes to "But You Said," and now, I am in my element. This is my zone; this is where I belong. Singing my heart out, because I love music like it's my life force. A microphone in hand, I sing the song I know so well, the song I lived, the chorus so harshly me ...
But you said you'd love me
You said you'd stay with me
And now I'm that girl
Saying those words
But you said, but you said, but you said ...
Excerpted from Far Too Tempting by Lauren Blakely, Alycia Tornetta, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Lauren Blakely. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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