I’m in a hotel room in Seattle, watching my hairstylist bounce around my chair with scalding metal wands, when something my manager says snags in my head.
“Wait, I’m what? I’m what-who when?” Mel looks up and sighs at having to repeat herself.
“You’re going to co-headline some dates with One Direction next month.”
I reel through everything I know about this band. It doesn’t take long. British, I think. Sort of a reality-show start? They don’t do synchronized dance, they dress like a J Crew catalog, they’re pretty and they sing songs about wanting to date you. I’ve heard their hits, but not enough to sing along. They are very, very popular.
Oh god, I’m going to get screamed out by crazed teen girls. Melanie must read the hesitation in my face because she goes on.
“Well, yes, you were supposed to be the opener but you’re too big for that now. Invincible going platinum, and “Forever”’s going to hit number one soon—next week maybe. There’s an old contract; neither of us can get out of the obligation. Apparently the band said they didn’t mind. This is best for everyone.” Melanie’s only paying half-attention to her words now, fingers flying over her phone as she wrangles my entire life. She knows how I’ll react.
I do what I always do. I shrug. What does it really matter, anyway? The journalists say I’m relaxed, that I’m low-key for a star, but the truth is that I just don’t care.
The hairstylist, Amy, catches my eyes in the mirror. “You’re so lucky, I love them!” she says, and I smile.
“Well, maybe you’ll end up doing their hair too. Could be more work than mine.”
“I wish!” she burbles.
I put those boys and their hits out of my head.
A few weeks later I’m in LA, doing more promotions, more events, more press. I am running out of steam. During the last interview I kept giggling to cover my yawns and I’m sure the writer thought I was a certifiable loon.
“Mel, I’m wiped, can I get some sleep or something before the show?”
“You want some coffee?” Or an energy drink, or some pills to keep me awake, she means.
“No, I want to take a nap.”
She taps around on her phone. “You’ve got interviews until three but after that you’ve got about an hour. We were going to use it to meet with the band but—“
I stop listening. Like I need to meet them.
The interviews drag on. I thank my fans, I could never have done it without them, my life is a roller coaster, everything is beautiful, I am a princess. I giggle and say I’m SO EXCITED to tour with One Direction for a bit, that I’m going to show them an America they love so much they won’t want to go home.
Then I am shepherded into a car and back to my hotel. I wave off my security detail and start climbing the stairs. It’s seven stories but I’ll take this opportunity to be alone, however pathetic.
Then I hear an echoing coming from above me, like a rhinoceros has learned how to use stairs and is charging through the hotel to his fate. Then the source of the sound thumps on the same landing as me and I look up to see not an escaped zoo animal but a seriously cute boy in a Henley and perfect dark-wash jeans, breathing hard and looking startled.
“Sorry!” he says, rocking back on his heels to avoid running into me. “I didn’t know anyone else took the stairs in these fancy hotels.” British accent, beautiful.
“Me neither,” I reply.
“Maybe we should form a club, yeah?”
“Stair-climbers?” I say skeptically.
“Well, it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had,” he laughs, and I smile slightly. His face changes, he looks confused now. “Wait, are you--?”
“Hanna Harris, yeah.” Mystery Rhinoceros LIGHTS UP, practically bouncing with glee.
“That’s brilliant, I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you! The lads and I were just watching your latest video trying to get ready for the meeting.”
Oh! This explains the killer clothes and his stupidly well-maintained hair. The way he looks like a puppy, so shiny and new. This is a member of One Direction. I try to cover the fact that I thought he was just a rhinoceros in the stairwell.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know all of your names yet, you’re…”
“Liam Payne, pleasure.” He holds out his hand, and we shake. It lasts a second too long and then we’re just standing there under the fluorescent lights, smiling at one another.
“Weren’t you—what were you running for?”
“Oh, I’m late for a meeting with you and the boys and the management.” He cocks his head. “But I guess you are too, so…”
“I’m not going,” I say. “Mel said she could do it without me, I don’t even—like, what would the point be?”
“Probably about the set lists or something. Or for us to meet.”
“Well, one down, four to go, I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.”
“What was so much more important, anyway?”
I make a small face, embarrassed. “Nap.”
“A nap? You blew us off for a nap?” He looks incredulous and thoroughly amused.
“In all fairness, it was nothing personal. I’d ditch any and all meetings for sleep.”
“Ah, that’s how you stay beautiful!”
I laugh, loud and disbelieving. “Do they train you with shit like that? Oh, I bet you’ve got like flashcards of things to tell girls.”
He’s smiling and shaking his head and I finally, finally move past him and start climbing the stairs again.
“Hey, can I walk you?” he asks.
“To my room?”
“Yeah, why not.” He’s almost blushing and it is, I have to admit, really cute.
“’Because it’s six floors up’ would be a solid reason.”
“Pssh, Hanna Harris, I eat six floors of climbing for breakfast.”
He stays by my side as we climb. It is comfortable and strange and I find myself wanting to make conversation, which hasn’t happened in ages. I shut my mouth, angry at my brain, but it turns out not to matter because Liam breaks the silence.
“So, where’re you from?”
“Nowhere. I was created by a bunch of publicists. In a lab.”
“Mm-hm. Everything pre-programmed. This,” I say, striking a comical pose and loosing a thousand-watt smile, “is what I was born for.”
The boy laughs.
“Not much better, actually. Wolverhampton.”
I quirk my eyebrows in confusion.
“What, English geography not your hobby?”
“No, but judging by the name it’s a killer place to live. Howls at the moon? Overly furry residents? Animal attacks?”
“Well, we do have sort of a serious rabid-raccoon problem.”
I laugh. “Seriously?”
He grins and shakes his head. I should feel foolish, but I don’t.
We reach my door. I want to invite him in and keep talking to him and check to see if it’s his shirt or his body that makes his torso look so nice—and then I give myself a mental slap. You don’t let people get close to you. Especially not boy-band members whose job is literally to be charming. So maybe I’m more curt than I should be when I gesture at the door. “Well, this is me, so it was nice meeting y—“
“Wait!” He cuts me off, slightly frantic-looking. “Why don’t you give me your number, you can meet the rest of us when there aren’t a dozen suits around?”
I hesitate, then nod. He hands me his phone and I’m just tapping through to the Add New Contact screen when my mouth starts talking, independently of my brain. “My name isn’t actually my name, you know. Harris is my dad’s last name but it’s not mine, legally.”
“I got it from a book. Until a year ago everyone called me Camilla.” The name feels strange in my mouth, unfamiliar, like I have changed so drastically that no part of it applies to me. I wonder what possessed me to tell Liam. His face is just so…open.
“Is that hard? Responding to a new name?” He slips his phone into his pocket, then focuses back on me. He leans over me like an umbrella trying to block out the sun.
“No, I just became an entirely new person. Presto.” I fan my hands as if I’ve just performed a wonderful trick, producing my room key and opening my door.
Liam looks confused.
“Oh, and don’t tell anyone about my name. The past stays in the past, yeah?” I wait for him to nod, then leave him on the other side of the door.
I get his first text that night.
Hey, it’s liam. What’s up?
I thumb back a reply.
Chillin’ like a superhero.
Then I pause and think.
Looks like we’ll be meeting again soon
I’m going to your dinner with Simon
Yeah, third-wheeling, always a joy
Don’t you mean seventh-wheeling?
Why are u coming?
I might be guest-judging something, I think.
I pause for a second, then add, also, free pizza.
I laugh, and before I’ve figured out what to say back my phone pings again.
You should drop by beforehand, meet the rest of us
I consider it, then decide I’d much rather face Simon Cowell with five acquaintances by my side than one.
Love to, where’s your base?
26641 santa clara
the password is “panda bagel”
We like to have fun with it.
So stop by tomorrow afternoon, we can hang
There’s a knocking on my door. Probably late for something.
Oops, gotta go, sparkly-dress emergency
See you later
I’m walking to the door but this stops me dead. I’m floored. C, as in Camilla? I should have been annoyed with him for bringing it up, upset with myself that I’d told him in the first place. Instead I feel a little smile creep on my face, like we are playing a secret game.