November 24, 1989
The stage was dark and silent as George Ledger stood in the center, looking down at his feet. For a moment, nothing moved, nothing happened.
The lights went up, the spotlight glinting off of the rivets in George’s jacket as he was now dramatically illuminated.
The crowd cheered with enthusiasm as the man whom they had come to see raised his head, already bearing a small smile for those in the front row who could see it.
His face slipping smoothly into his entertainer’s mask, George gave them what they had payed what was admittedly very good money for.
“How’d I do?” George asked, stepping off the stage and instantly taking the fresh towel and water bottle handed to him by two separate stage hands.
“Fabulous, as always, sir,” a prim looking woman with a clipboard assured him. “The photographer got some great shots, I’ll be sure to get them out in tomorrow’s paper.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” he said quickly, heading backstage as people parted before him. “What’s next, then?”
George made a point never to know his own schedule. He had people for that.
“Another show here tomorrow night, then off to Chicago,” his assistant informed him.
Her name, her name... George racked his brain. Casey. Or Caroline. Or...Carolyn? It didn’t matter, in the end. She would inevitably remain whether or not he knew her name. He was paying her, wasn’t he?
She took care of that.
For his own sake, George decided to call her Casey.
“Get me a stiff drink, will you?” he asked, pulling open the door to his small powder room. More of a closet, really.
“What kind?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Surprise me.”
Casey nodded and hurried off, tucking her clipboard under her arm. Tossing the towel haphazardly on a chair, George studied his reflection in the mirror rimmed with tacky Christmas lights.
He was handsome, he told himself. Never mind the sweat that made his dark hair shiny and ran down his striking face, he was handsome. And he looked great in that jacket. George flipped on a small desk fan to cool himself off as continued to stare at the mirror. The Christmas lights weren’t exactly flattering. He had to resist the urge to rip them down and tell the place to install some real lights.
Though if all went as planned, George wouldn’t be back here after tomorrow night. As his agent had predicted, his fame was being carefully cultivated into a nationwide sensation. If the checks coming in the mail were any indication, it would soon be worldwide.
And it felt wonderful.
George couldn’t walk down the street without seeing posters of himself plastered on the passing buildings proclaiming:
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN VOICE
One night only
Tickets start at $150
They never failed to make him grin inwardly behind his calm and cool exterior. He would lower his sunglasses, give it a nice once-over, wink to any civilians who matched him up with the picture and then continue on his way.
Fame suited him.
The hustle of it all, the sounds and the sights, the rush and the noise, they all suited him. He knew that right now, a crowd of adoring fans waited at the exit, hoping to push their way past his security guards for an autograph, a picture, or even a smile as George made his way to the limo. He also knew that they would get none of those things.
Fame suited him, and it wore him out.
Someone knocked on the doorframe and George turned, hoping that it was his assistant back with his drink. It wasn’t. Why was it that when he asked for a checkbook, it was rushed to him in seconds, but a simple drink took an eternity? And what made people think that they could turn up at his dressing room without a drink?
“Am I interrupting?” the woman at the door asked, looking slightly confused as George processed all of this information in far too little time.
He blinked. She was beautiful. No, not just beautiful, she was gorgeous. “No, not at all,” he managed. “Come on in.”
She strode past him confidently, seeming not to notice that George’s gaze followed her, flicking over her long dark hair. And lower.
Recovering himself somewhat, George commented, “And here I hoped you were bringing me a drink. Ah, well.”
The mystery woman smiled and opened her purse. “How do you think I got past your security?” she asked, withdrawing a large bottle of liquor.
George blinked at it, taking it gingerly. “I told them not to let anyone through unless they were bringing me-”
“Money or booze,” she finished for him. “Yes, I know. I asked.”
“Oh,” George replied dumbly. “I hadn’t told them not to answer questions.” He looked up at her. “But I’m starting to think that I shouldn’t.” George raised a brow. “What’s your name?”
“Syrah,” she replied. Nodding to the bottle, she added, “I was hoping that you would share.”
Under any normal circumstances, George might have kept the bottle for himself, but when a pretty woman asked for a drink, he knew that he was morally obligated to oblige. He went and found two glasses.
“So what made you slip security and come back here?” George asked conversationally, handing her a glass.
“I was curious to see the famous George Ledger out of his show persona,” Syrah admitted. She sat her glass untouched on the small makeup stand.
“Well how’d I do?”
She cocked her head, considering him with dark eyes. There was a momentary silence. “Not bad.”
He grinned inexplicably. “In that case, I might have to put in a little work to improve my rating.”
Syrah folded her hands in her lap and gave him a bit of a smile, saying, “I thought you would be offended.”
“I value the truth,” George replied. He nodded to her untouched glass of alcohol. “Aren’t you going to drink it?”
“No,” she said again. “I just wanted to see if you’d share.”
George stared at Syrah in wonder as she rose from the stool on which she sat in one fluid motion.
“It was nice meeting you,” she said, slipping gracefully from the room with barely a backwards glance.
George sat for a moment in shock and confusion, looking at the empty doorway. He downed his own glass and then reached for Syrah’s. He needed it, he told himself.
Syrah was one of the most interesting people he had met in a long time. In his business, most of the women with whom he associated were beautiful, but shallow and wholly uninteresting. That was not the case at all with Syrah. She was intriguing to say the least.
And now she was gone.
Mentally kicking himself for letting her get away without even asking for her number, George stood up and slammed the small glass on his stand. Moving largely on impulse, as usual, he headed for the door, almost running into Casey as she rounded the corner to come into the room.
“Sorry, sir,” she apologized. “I have your drink.”
“Keep it, darling,” he said in passing, sprinting down the hallway.
Only later did it hit him that those words were foreign to his lips when speaking of alcohol. Something must be wrong with him. He shook his head to clear it.
George burst out of the exit with considerable speed, sending the door crashing against the brick wall. As expected, a ring of fans immediately tried to close in on him, stopped only by the security guards. Straining to see over the mass of people, he spied just barely Syrah’s dark hair bobbing against the grain.
“Syrah!” he called loudly. He ran to the edge of the security ring.
“Sir, you mustn’t go out there,” one of the guards said in a gruff voice. “It isn’t safe. If you want to sign anythin-”
“No, no,” George said distractedly. Her head had disappeared. “It’s just... never mind. Take me to the hotel.”
Syrah remained on George’s mind for the rest of that night and the next day. She distracted him as he was getting ready for his second show, merely through the bottle that she had left behind. She drew his attention from the posters of himself on the street corners as he was too busy scanning the crowd for someone who looked remotely like she.
It was highly annoying.
George attempted to push the thought of her from his mind as he stood again on the empty stage, waiting for the lights to come up. When they did, he had almost succeeded, and managed to pull down his entertaining persona once more for the start of the show.
It was not until about a half an hour in that he saw her. She was in the front row, so close that he could stand on the edge of the stage and touch her.
Nearly all of George’s already limited concentration was devoted to finishing the show. It seemed to take an eternity. The sight of her in the corner of his eye was like an itch that needed scratched. It bothered him until at last he looked over at her as she smiled that quiet smile.
When at last he had sung the last song, George hopped down off of the stage, ignoring the reproachful looks and warning gestures from his security guards. The audience seemed hardly able to believe it. Here was George Ledger, walking down the aisle in front of the stage, mere inches from their reaching grasps. He passed them by without acknowledgement.
He had eyes only for her.
George came to a stop in front of Syrah and the spotlight swiveled down to them in the front row. Suddenly, alarmingly, he was at a loss for words. He took one of her hands in his.
There was a nervous tension in the audience as the auditorium whispered to itself, waiting to hear what he would say. Who was this lucky lady? Was this a proposal? Was he merely asking for his scarf back from when he had thrown it off the stage?
George stared at her, trying to form a coherent thought. At last, he blurted, “How do you feel about Chicago?”
Syrah smiled slowly, gently. “Very favorably, in fact.”
They were married six months later.
October 19, 1991
Syrah sat on a stool in yet another dressing room in yet another theater and sighed. George came bounding in looking pensieve.
“How was it?” she asked gently.
“Wonderful. Amazing. Fabulous. Or so they tell me,” he said, leaning on his make-up stand to stare at himself in the mirror. His expression alone told Syrah that something was wrong.
“Then what’s wrong, dear?” she asked, knowing that he was waiting for the question.
He spun around, fire in his eyes. Syrah one mistook the fire for passion, but she was wiser now. It was ambition.
“All they tell me is how great I am. ‘You’re fabulous, you’re amazing, George. You did wonderfully, you sound great.’ Then we go off to another show. And they say the same thing. How am I ever going to move up? If I’m as fabulous as they say I am, how come I’m still doing shows on the same old circuit? When does being famous get me somewhere?”
Syrah nodded silently, as was expected of her. To listen, to provide encouragement and to calm him. It was growing tedious.
In the beginning, Syrah had been blissfully happy. She had gotten exactly what she had set her sights on once again. Sure George was a bit rash and temperamental, but he was famous. He was rich. He was fabulous. Hooking him had been so easy; her hard willed soul had allowed her to remain calm in the face of his theatrics, something that George adored greatly about her. He loved her for her silence, for her peace.
But now she hated herself for it.
Despite his discontent, George’s rise had been incredibly fast. His fame grew exponentially and the demand for his appearances more than tripled within the first few months of their marriage. As she said, it was bliss. But somewhere along the line, Syrah’s will began to weaken. She began to realize that the limelight wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Syrah had everything that she had ever strived for yet was unhappy.
Slowly, her cynicism and stoic heart had slipped to the point that it was merely a front that George expected. She hated herself for setting the precedent that she would be quiet, submissive even. Looking at him now, ranting to himself, Syrah couldn’t remember exactly what it was in him that she had loved. All she could see was a power-hungry, greedy and self-absorbed man. The man she had once thought was perfect.
“...I mean, I have suffered so much for this art!” he was saying, pacing the floor and gesticulating wildly. “Why do you think I’m so famous? Because I worked so hard for this! Because I didn’t get distracted by everything that glittered along the way.” Syrah nodded distractedly. “But now this is the top,” George said. “If I don’t win that Emmy, I’m going to be furious.”
Syrah longed to point out that if he didn’t win the Emmy award, it would be because he didn’t deserve it. Instead, she said, “But I thought you wanted to appear humble in the public’s eye?” Her words were laced with something that hinted he wasn’t fooling her.
“You’re right, you’re right...” he trailed off. “Let’s rehearse. If I win, I’ll accept reluctantly. Keep my image.”
Syrah played along. “Okay, fine. You just won. What do you say?”
George glanced around, snatching up a plastic hairbrush and holding it like a trophy. He cleared his throat. “Wow. I wasn’t... I didn’t expect this. What an honor. I can’t tell you how happy I am to spread my music to everyone out there, it’s just... fantastic. I don’t need a trophy or award for that. Simply seeing the smiling faces of my fans is enough. Really, you ought to give this to someone else, but since you’ve given it to me, thank you.” He looked at Syrah expectantly.
“Very nice,” she said with fake sincerity. “Keep practicing.”
As he smoothed his hair back for another attempt, Syrah finally admitted to herself that she couldn’t live this way any longer.
It was not until Syrah stood outside the hotel with her bag in one hand and umbrella in the other that she realized the irony of it all. When she had first met George, she was much like he was now: hardened, cynical, ambitious, and living beneath a false persona. Now, she had changed for the better and, in doing so, made herself less happy with her situation.
And George had done the opposite. He had gone from being genuinely fun and mostly likable to the conceited man he was now. The fire that was once passion had flickered to ambition which seared her with its intensity. How cruel was fate.
Syrah looked up at the window on the fourteenth floor one more time. The light behind the curtain silhouetted the figure of a man and a woman. Already. Syrah tried not to let it bother her as she turned away, the rain beating a tattoo on her umbrella as she disappeared into the night.