"Yeah, Ashur, yeah. That's great, that's... great."
"Jimmie," she could hear her manager sigh amongst the crackling of the phone line, "You're not grasping the magnitude of this! The numbers are back, your tour was one of the most well received in SimNation this decade! This decade, Jimmie! Every single show was sold out, and the public is clamoring for more! Not to mention Distastrophe was at number one again this week...."
Jimmie examined her nails as Ashur went on. It wasn't so terribly long ago that any bit of the news he was telling her would have sent her over the moon with excitement. Now it was all she could do to muster some form of positivity.
"No, really, that's great, Ashur," she said at the first opportunity. "And I'll get back in the studio just as soon as... just as soon as I can. All right?"
"Well it's gotta be soon, Jimmie, we've got to strike while the iron's hot!"
"All right, Ashur...."
"One week, Jimmie. Take a week off, then get back to the studio." It wasn't hard to miss the finality in his voice. "You're not the only one working hard here, Jimmie. Take me, for instance. I never stop trying to get your name out there, get you the best gigs and the best contracts. And Nicky, he works night and day on promotional marketing. He's got your own website in the works, you know, in addition to everything else. And Lucia! Look how hard she works to keep you looking good. We're all working for you, and with you, Jimmie. The least you can do is try to muster a little bit of enthusiasm for your work."
'But what if I don't want all of those things done for me?' Jimmie wondered, but couldn't verbalize it. "Yeah," she agreed finally, "I know. I'm sorry, Ashur. I know ya'll work hard, and, uh... I'll get back to the studio next week."
"Good." She could hear the smile in his voice. "Then we can discuss your next tour. We want to get you out again this spring, we're thinking late April, early May. But, one thing at a time!"
Hanging up the phone, Jimmie sighed. Success was an amazing thing, exhilarating and incredibly gratifying, but it was far from freeing. Long gone were the days of singing in smoky bars and tiny clubs, hitch-hiking with her bandmates Jhonnie and Oatsie from show to show, and being without obligations and expectations. She started out making music because it was fun, it was freeing and because she was good. Now she was making music because... because it was expected?
Her passion was still there -- she felt it every time she stepped on stage in front of a roaring crowd. But that's the only thing that kept her going. Hours in the studio, trying to hit just the right notes, to give just the sound Ashur and the others wanted; giving interviews to reporters who asked the same questions, over and over again; touring every few months, in venues where the crowd is so vast and so far away, under lights so bright, she could barely see the faces of those in the front row. And isn't that why she started? To see the reactions of sims in the crowd? To see them listening to her, hearing her lyrics and finding some part of themselves there?
Almost without realizing it, she dialed the number of the one person who
reminded her why she started singing in the first place.
Across town, despite the late hour, Leander was still in the studio, belting out the chorus of 'Get Up, Get Out'. It was his first acoustic recording session. Ashur said it would be a great way to show of his vocal range, but Ashur was no where to be seen. In fact, being so late, it was only Leander left in the studio, with his trusty techie counterpart who was dutifully in the control room.
"... So I've gotta
Get up, get out!
I can't stand how it feels,
To be livin' a lie
When I can't even steal
A glance from you.
Now it's all I can do
To get up, get out,
Get away from you...."
His voice broke, on the last note.
"One more time from the bridge?" Asked the voice of the woman behind the mixer, but Leander shook his head.
"Nah, mate. Gimme five minutes." Leander wandered out and grabbed a bottle of water, swigging it down. He'd been there about five hours working on three songs, and had anticipated getting to work on a few from his new album. His voice just wasn't working with him that day.
He was wondering with some level concern if he'd managed to strain his vocal cords, or something equally unfortunate, when the phone rang.
"I knew you'd be there. I didn't even bother trying your home phone this time."
Leander grinned. "Ah, g'day, Jim! How are ya, darl?"
"Peachy cream," she grumbled, "How about you? Working hard?"
"You know it," he grinned. "Christ, girlie, I don't think I've slept in a week, but it's a good kind of exhaustion, ya know? Imagine what a beaut of an album I'll have, if I keep workin' at this rate."
"Are you any closer to getting it done?"
"Well, not yet, but once I get through with this acoustic bit Ashur wanted, I'll get ter work on it."
"Unless he tosses in a tour in between now and then."
"Oh, that'd be amazin'! I tell ya, Jim, I'd jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge if Ashur asked me to. The man knows what he's doin'!
"Yeah, he does. And after that last tour, it won't be long until you're headlining on your own. Just look at the reaction you got in Apple Valley! I've never seen a crowd that hyped."
A grin spread itself across Leander's face. "We sure duxed it, Jim."
"Duxed it! You know, topped it, rocked it, did well. Am I speaking a different language here?"
"Um, yeah, actually!"
Leander grinned at the sound of her laugh, something she didn't seem to do often. He glanced back at the mixing board, and took another gulp of water. "Well, I best get goin' Jim. Is there somethin' in particular ya needed?"
"Nope," he heard her say lightly, "You actually told me exactly what I needed to hear. Good luck tonight, and don't overwork yourself. You haven't been around long enough to develop burnout."
"No worries about that, mate. How can you get burned out doin' somethin' you love?"
He waited a moment, listening to the silence on the end of the line, before he heard her say in a strained voice, "Yeah. Good night, Leander."