Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 28

I ended up back at Hanna’s house, after being kicked out of school, just trying to figure out what to do. Kat was at school, and Mrs. Philips was working, so I was on my own, lost.

I mostly just sat in one place, thinking. It wasn’t productive thinking, more like cycling through all the losses and setbacks, over and over, on a depressing loop. Finally, I had to get up and do something. I noticed it was about time for school to get out, and I also knew, from Kat, that the main swim team didn’t have practice again until after spring break, so I took a shot that maybe Sydney was home.

I knew I was setting myself up for another possible disaster, but after getting shut down by her dad, I knew the only way I was going to get some closure with her was by confronting her face-to-face when he wasn’t there. There was a chance she wasn’t on board with everything her dad had been saying. She was, generally, very hesitant to ever go against him, so our relationship only had an outside chance of working. If there was a chance, I wanted to know. If there wasn’t, well, I didn’t really want to know, but I needed to. Just so I could stop worrying about it.

I pulled up to Sydney’s house and was relieved to see her father’s cruiser wasn’t in the driveway. If he was home, this had no shot of working. Her mom, however, was a little more understanding and would at least let me have a conversation with Sydney without standing over her shoulder intimidating her.

I parked down the street, on the off chance her dad did drive by or something, and walked up to the house. Ringing the doorbell, I still wasn’t sure if I hoped she was home or not. My emotions were all over the place, and honestly, I just didn’t know what I wanted anymore.

After a few moments though, the front door opened just a crack and Sydney peeked out. As soon as she saw me, a wild run of emotions crossed her face, and I could tell she was as conflicted as I was. I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not, but at least she didn’t look annoyed or disappointed to see me.

“Charlie, what are you doing here?” she asked nervously. “My dad will be home in a few hours.”

“I just want to talk to you, that’s all. I promise, I’ll stay less than five minutes.”

Sydney hesitated, glancing over her shoulder into the empty house. “I don’t know, Charlie...”

“Sydney, please, I can’t keep existing in limbo. You know everything that’s happened over the last week. I just ... I need you,” I said, my voice catching in my throat.

I was still somewhat emotionally blocked, but for a moment it felt like I was going to lose it. I almost turned and left right there. With everything that had been building up, once the dam burst, it was going to be bad, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to subject Sydney to that.

She made the decision for me, though, as she stepped back, opening the door a little wider.

“Fine, come in. But only five minutes.”

I stepped into the entryway as Sydney closed the door behind us. I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness, joy and fear at being with her again. I opened my mouth but suddenly found myself at a loss for words. Should I just come out and ask if we were breaking up? I didn’t know if I was ready to hear the answer to that yet.

Sydney’s gaze flitted to the clock on the wall.

“If you want to talk, talk,” she said, almost impatiently.

A bad sign.

“Sorry,” I said, taking a deep breath to steady myself. “I don’t ... I don’t know how to ask this without sounding like I’m accusing you of something or coming off like a jerk. At the funeral, and again when I tried to call you ... it feels like you’re avoiding me. I know your dad told me I needed to stay away from you, but I’m not willing to let him decide the status of our relationship. I guess, what I want to know is, is he keeping us apart or are you actually avoiding me?”

She looked at the floor, refusing to meet my gaze, and said, “We should break up.”

While I’d expected this as a possible outcome, I hadn’t expected it to be so ... sudden.

“What? Why?”

“My dad says dating you is dangerous. You yourself have told me that the district attorney has it out for you and has even been paying off our vice-principal to try to get to you. Dad’s worried that he might start going after the people in your life, trying to hurt us to get to you. I’m just starting my life out. I’ve got college to think about, I can’t risk all that.”

“You’re going to let your father decide if we break up? Why now? He’s been trying to get us to break up since the day we started dating. Why, right now, when everything is at its worst, are you listening to him?”

“I’m not letting him decide that I break up with you. Yes, he was the one who told me about your problems with Aaron’s father, but he didn’t make this decision. I did. I didn’t listen to him before because I didn’t think he was right, that you were dangerous. I know you’re a good person. But now, I do think he’s right. And you do too. Tell me Mr. Campbell won’t try and go after your friends? Can you promise me I’m going to be completely safe? That he won’t come after me and damage my life the way he’s hurt yours?”

“You know I can’t promise that, but you, of all people, are the least likely he’d come after, not with who your father is. Hell, your father is talking to my lawyer, trying to help me get out from under these charges. Sure, there’s risk, but there’s risk to everything. There’s risk every time you jump in the pool, every time you get in a car. That doesn’t keep you from living your life.”

“This is different than that, and you know it. I’m sorry, Charlie, but it’s over.”

“You told me you loved me. Hell, you got pissed when I wouldn’t say it back right away because I wanted to be absolutely sure. Are you saying now that you lied? That you don’t love me?”

“No, I didn’t lie, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t risk my future or my family just because ... it doesn’t matter. Things change, Charlie. People fall out of love; they fall in love with new people. I’ll always love you, but that isn’t a good reason to stay together. If we were older, established in our lives, maybe. But right now, I just can’t.”

“So you’re throwing it all away?”

“I’m making the right choice for me. Please ... leave. Don’t call me again.”

I nodded and left. She clearly made up her mind, if she didn’t want to be with me, I wasn’t going to keep forcing the issue. I’d hoped it was just her dad pressuring her, and he was, but she’d listened to him.

The worst part was, I wasn’t even sure she was wrong. Aaron’s dad would definitely go after her if he thought it could hurt me, especially once he found out her dad was working with my lawyer. Even knowing that, I couldn’t believe she’d actually done it. I really needed her and hoped she would stick with me. The whole, through thick and thin thing.

This had proved to me that I’d been right not to commit to love until I was sure. I’d had my doubts, and clearly, I’d been right.

I went home and locked myself in my room, which is where I still was the next morning, sprawling across my bed where I’d fallen when I’d come home. I was still staring up at my ceiling, replaying everything that had happened, having added Sydney’s final declaration, breaking up with me, to the end. A perfect coda to the last week and a half.

I was still dressed in the clothes I wore to school yesterday. The only thing that broke the quiet was the rumbling of my stomach, reminding me I hadn’t eaten since ... when? Breakfast yesterday? I couldn’t even remember, not that I really cared. Kat and Mrs. Philips had both tried to convince me to have dinner with them, but I’d told them I wasn’t hungry or in the mood to talk. Really, I just wanted to be left alone, with my thoughts and despair.

I think I’d fallen asleep at some point, but it was hard to remember. I was just thinking I might fall asleep again, or at least close my eyes, to get some variety from staring at the ceiling, when my phone started to ring. I picked it up, still having a small piece of hope thinking it might be Sydney. It wasn’t. It was Kent.

This was going to be bad news. He’d left things unfinished in our last call, just acknowledging my court case and the effect it was going to have on the gigs we had scheduled. I’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop since then. For a moment, I almost didn’t answer. He couldn’t fire me if he didn’t talk to me, could he?

Of course, that wasn’t really an option. He absolutely could fire me without talking to me, and I wasn’t the kind of person to just hide from bad news, especially if it was part of my responsibilities. I’d signed up for this, and knew it was a possibility the day I’d signed my name on the contract.

I gave a deep sigh and accepted the call.

“Hello,” I said, my voice coming out as a hoarse whisper.

“I’m sorry, Charlie, but we’re pulling your contract,” he said, getting right to the point, without any of the normal pleasantries.

“I see,” I said.

I couldn’t even muster up the effort to be surprised. I’d seen this coming since my last call with him. Honestly, I’d been surprised when he didn’t fire me outright then, but I guess he had to check with people or lawyers first.

“Based on the moral turpitude section of your contract, you’re expected to maintain a certain level of behavior. Clearly, your being arrested and charged with murder is outside this level of behavior, which is the official reason you’re having your contract canceled. You should receive paperwork to this effect in the next several days, but I wanted to call and let you know personally.”

What could I say? They had made it clear when I signed that they were going to try and pitch me to the pop audiences, and that I was expected to meet that standard. I guess if I’d had a rap or metal career, they could have used this to build up a rep, but who heard of a pop star who’d served time for murder?

“Yeah,” I said when he paused, feeling like I needed to say something.

“I want you to know I fought for you, Charlie. I really did. But the situation, you have to understand, it isn’t good for the image we were trying to build for you. We banked on using your age to sell your music, kind of like those kids coming up out of California. The court case though, it destroyed all of that.”

“The charges are all bullshit, though. I didn’t kill anyone. I defended myself from my alcoholic father. Hell, you dealt with him, you know what he was like. The sheriff here even agrees, and is working with my lawyer to get the charges thrown out. This is going to go away.”

“It doesn’t matter, Charlie. You’re right; I do remember your father. Unfortunately, so do the partners. He created a lot of opinions around here against you. I’ve been trying to warn you about it. You needed to keep a low profile, give them time to forget about him. This is the opposite of that. The partners feel you’re too much of a liability.”

“A liability,” I repeated back.

“Yes. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. We’ve canceled all scheduled tour dates, including Miami, and we’ve pulled all promotion for them. There will be no new shows scheduled by us and you cannot use any MAC resources to schedule new ones, should your restrictions be lifted. You are, from today, no longer represented by MAC Records.”

“What about the album?” I asked.

It was out there, on streaming platforms. That wasn’t the same as canceling gigs.

“You’ll still get residuals from any sales and streaming, but while we’re not going to pull you off platforms right away, we will stop distributing physical copies and we are ending all promotional support for it. Sales will start tapering off to the point where it will be no longer worth keeping the copy up and available, which is when it will be pulled off streaming. Expect to see a fast decline in your sales once we pull the promotions, and then a slow and steady decline the rest of the way until residuals stop entirely, which will probably take four to six months.”

“So just like that, it’s over?”

“It’s not just like that, Charlie. I’ve been warning you about your reputation. You should have seen you were in trouble when you got shot down for the charity gig last month. You needed to keep everything squeaky clean for a year. You didn’t do that. You had to know this was coming. The decision’s been made.”

The source of this story is Finestories

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