Every time Katy stepped on a plane to Los Angeles, she felt like she was going down the rabbit hole. Away from Arkansas and into a world where the city pulsed with a strange energy, where everything felt intense and foreign. The six-lane freeways full of cars weaving and squeezing into impossible spaces; the jumble of buildings, modern next to run-down, the signage changing language as the blocks rolled by. There was the sensory overload of Sunset Strip, and the tall buildings that doubled as billboards, each competing for attention to herald the latest movies and trends.
It was a city obsessed with itself, with its industry, with the business of creating celebrity. With lights and glamour and fashion and fun. It was overwhelming, and when Katy initially found herself swallowed up in it, she felt tiny and insignificant.
The first time Katy met Adam, she was intrigued. He was almost a personification of Los Angeles, she thought; a concentration of the drama and flair, packed to exploding in one tall, dark and handsome package. Yet he was open and friendly, with a ready laugh, and she felt her unease with their surreal circumstances begin to melt away.
In those first couple of weeks, it was hard to see anything beyond the excitement of Kris in the Top 13. It didn’t matter who was on stage at any given moment; Katy’s eyes were on Kris, butterflies churning anxious-excited in her stomach, waiting for his turn. Barely able to contain her pride and joy when he performed – her husband, her love – displaying his talents before the world, and winning them over.
It wasn’t until the third or fourth week that she really began to notice Adam. Oh, she’d paid cursory attention before; he was Kris’ roommate and his name came up most frequently in their conversations. But once the show had taken on a kind of routine – as much as American Idol could be routine! – she began seeing people beyond Kris.
Adam, she realized as he sang Tracks of My Tears, was electric. There was a passion to him, an irresistible pull, a sensuality that could not be denied. When he finished his performance, she found that her heart was pounding, tingles working their way across her skin. She wasn’t sure exactly what he did to her, or how she felt about it – but it was real, and she felt it down to her soul.
In the weeks that followed, she observed another phenomenon: the familiarity displayed between her husband and Adam. She knew they had grown close, of course; but watching their body language - comforting and reassuring, relieved and joyful - underscored the depth of the friendship. Kris had never been shy of touch, but the ease with which he interacted with Adam intrigued her.
Without even realizing it, Adam became the prism through which she viewed their experience. He was American Idol, she felt; in so many ways, he was who everyone aspired to be: confident, talented, eye-catching and fascinating – an idol in the truest sense, someone to either emulate or revere from afar, worthy of admiration.
And when she began to feel overwhelmed by his presence, started to feel concerned with how he overshadowed Kris by his very being, she would remember his laugh and easy friendship and total acceptance of both of them. And she would feel like they belonged.
It was a mentoring day, and Adam had been the fortunate first, while Kris’ turn wouldn’t come for a couple of hours. Katy gave a small sigh and tried not to fidget. People who thought television was all excitement and glamour were seriously mistaken.
Of course, Kris noticed her boredom. “Why don’t you go out?” he suggested. “I’m not going to be done for awhile, and I need to work on this arrangement some more anyway.”
She hated to leave, after lucking out into being allowed in the mansion on a shoot day, but knew he was right. It wouldn’t do for him to be distracted. “Okay,” she said, leaning over to give him a kiss. She stood. “See you later.”
Adam came around the corner in time to hear their exchange. “Where you off to, Kit-Kat?” He’d bestowed the nickname immediately upon meeting her, and it made her smile.
“Out, I don’t know.” She shrugged ruefully. “I’m distracting Kris.”
“Well, it’s about time he should have to deal with one,” Adam said, playfully narrowing his eyes at Kris. Kris stared back, wide-eyed and innocent; Katy had to laugh, even if she wasn’t in on the joke. “Come on,” Adam said brightly, holding out a hand to Katy. “I am taking you shopping.”
Suddenly looking forward to her exile, Katy took his hand and followed.
“Oh my god, look at this.” Adam’s voice came from behind her, and she turned. “You would look so fabulous in this.”
He was holding up a little sea green cocktail dress, the fabric shimmery and sexy, with a cut lower than anything Katy had ever had occasion to wear. “You have to get this for the show.”
Katy reached out and touched the dress, admiring how the fabric flowed like water under her fingertips. “It’s beautiful, but a little too much for Idol, don’t you think?” she asked. “I’m not performing, after all.”
“Hello, you have to wear it to the finale,” Adam retorted, as if it was obvious.
“The finale?” Katy laughed, startled. “You’re getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?”
Adam shook his head. “You and Kris, you haven’t mastered the art of positive thinking, have you?” Then he was in motion. “Come on, you have to try this on, and then you have to buy it.” And Katy was tripping after him, laughing, neither willing nor able to resist.
They were having lunch together on the patio of an Italian restaurant, enjoying the most fantastic weather Katy had ever seen.
“Oh, this is so fabulous,” Adam said, throwing his head back dramatically as he tasted a scallop from his butter-drenched pasta. “I will hate myself in the morning, but right now…” He moaned, and Katy giggled.
Though they hadn’t done anything particularly noteworthy (if shopping in Los Angeles with a future rock star could ever be ordinary), Katy had enjoyed herself immeasurably with the exotic creature across from her. Adam’s open pleasure in the simplest things was infectious, and though Katy knew she was hardly the sophisticated LA native he was, he never hesitated to share her awe and amazement in the city around her.
“Thanks for taking me out today,” she said, smiling. “I never would have known where to go.”
“Oh, I love it!” Adam exclaimed. “It’s so cool hanging out with you, Kris talks about you all the time.”
They may have been together for years, but the thought still made Katy blush.
“Aww, and you guys are so cute about it.” Adam smiled at her indulgently, and Katy couldn’t help but laugh.
“Hey, I kind of love him,” she replied with a little shrug. “He’s the best.”
Adam’s smile softened. “Yeah, he is,” he agreed, and there was an undercurrent to his voice that made Katy look at him a little closer.
“But!” Adam’s voice brightened, and he struck a pose. “He’s not as fabulous as me.”
She laughed and returned to her meal.
They fell into a relationship that was easy, comfortable. Adam had become so much a part of Kris’ world and, therefore, her own, that it simply felt like a natural extension of their relationship. Katy began joking about Adam being Kris’ ‘other wife,’ the one who shared his space and meals and moment-to-moment anxieties because Katy wasn’t allowed to. To her relief, she found that it made the separation easier – if she couldn’t be there, she knew that Adam would look after Kris with the same care that she herself would.
On those precious hours and days that she would get to spend with her husband, she found herself looking forward to seeing Adam with an intensity that surprised her. They made an effort to at least share one meal together, catching up and teasing and laughing and making Kris blush.
The three of them made a happy unit, content and comfortable, and Katy almost couldn’t remember those couple of months of marriage when it was just she and Kris.
It was never difficult to get Kris talking about Adam, and it was no different leading into Disco Week. “You’ve got to hear him, Katy,” he said, his hands gesturing for emphasis. “It’s so haunting, a perfect mood for the song. And it’s just so minimalist, you know? It’s the perfect strategic move, when so many of us are doing more upbeat stuff. The voters are going to go nuts.”
Katy sighed, finding it all too easy to envision Adam quietly dramatic, arresting the audience with slow poignancy. “I can’t wait to see it,” she replied, staring off as she tried to picture it. “I bet it’ll be amazing.”
There was a beat, and out of the corner of her eye she could see Kris’ mouth curling up in a smirk. “You have a crush on him,” he teased, jostling her with his shoulder.
She laughed. “No more than you do,” she retorted, pushing back.
Instead of laughing with her, Kris dropped his gaze and flushed, looking suddenly uncomfortable. Surprised at this response, she looked at him, and he winced when she caught his eye.
“Hey,” she said, putting a hand on his arm. “I was teasing. It’s okay.”
Kris raised his head but didn’t look at her. “There’s just… there’s something about him,” he said, his face stained red. “I don’t know, his energy, or something. I don’t mean to, and I’m not making excuses, but he’s got this pull to him…”
“He’s Adam,” Katy said simply, feeling it was all summed up in the name. “He’s a completely unique creature, and a wonderful one. I feel it too.” She shook him lightly. “You just said I have a crush. You aren’t threatened by that, right?”
Finally, he chuckled a little. “Of course not. He’s gay.”
“And you’re straight. I’m not worried.” She smiled and leaned over to kiss him briefly. “Adam is Adam. I think the whole world’s a little bit in love with him, or they will be by the end of the show. How could you resist when you’re around him all the time?”
“You really don’t mind?” Kris asked, still looking a bit anxious.
“No.” Katy smiled, slowly, then leaned in to his ear and whispered, “In fact, I think it’s kind of sweet.”
Kris flushed deeper, but smiled, and when he waggled his eyebrows at her, she had no choice but to laugh and kiss him.
Onstage was the only time she felt she could watch them, unguarded. A ridiculous notion, because they were on stage, in front of millions – but there was something about the rawness of it all, the surging anxiety and relief, that didn’t allow for many emotional barriers.
So she would watch them, full of her own nerves and joy; see their full-body hugs and pats that were more like caresses, gentle touches to the knee and clasps of the arm.
She would see the long looks exchanged between them, the way Adam’s face would soften as he looked at Kris. The way Adam’s whole world seemed to narrow to just him.
She began studying him. She couldn’t help it. She wasn’t even sure what she was looking for: confirmation? Grounds for jealousy?
But she didn’t want to be jealous, and she didn’t feel threatened, even though she wondered if she should. Yet all she managed was intrigue. And she watched.
They were at Starbucks when Adam noticed that her regard had changed. His animated story about the night before faltered, voice trailing off.
“You like him.” She was stating the obvious, but for Adam’s sake, she wanted to get it out there.
His face actually paled, and in an instant the gregarious, confident Adam was replaced with someone unsure, afraid. “Katy, I promise, I’d never do anything, please believe me -”
“Hey.” She reached out and grabbed his hand, gripping it tightly. “I know. I’m not accusing you of anything.”
He swallowed, those gray-blue eyes staring at her with a conflict and pain she’d never before seen in them. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She shook her head. “Don’t be. I’m glad he has you on his side.” She smiled at him, reassuring. “Besides, he’s pretty special.”
Adam relaxed a bit, and a small smile curved his lips. “Yeah, he is,” he agreed softly, his cheeks flushing as he glanced away.
Katy smiled and let him be.
When, right before Homecoming Week, Kris appeared with his thumbnail painted black, she lifted his hand and kissed it. It felt nothing but right that Adam would, in some small way, be accompanying them home.
The finale was an experience in the surreal. A fairytale, where the only unhappy thing was the fact that it had to end. Katy had spent all week telling herself how excited she would be when Adam won, and by the time of the show, she discovered that she actually was.
When Kris’ name was called, she almost didn’t know how to respond. It was a moment suspended in eternity, a whirlwind of screaming and hugging and crying, and at one point she found herself bouncing up and down with Adam, who seemed nearly as overjoyed as herself.
It was at the end of the night, after the afterparties and the after-afterparties, when Katy had reached a point of no longer knowing how she was conscious or how she could ever sleep again. They were preparing to go to the hotel, Kris with her and not at the mansion this time, his hand held tightly in hers. She saw Adam watching them, probably too tired or too drunk to realize he was doing it, with an expression of loss on his face that Katy knew had nothing to do with Idol. His eyes were gray in the bar light, lonely and dull.
Those eyes stayed with her over the next few days, on the drive to the airport, and on the plane as it took off.
Instead of going home, she felt as if she was leaving it.