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Nocturne Andante

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Going home doesn't help. The rooms are filled with Jeff looming over her, like he's etched himself into every wall. She lies down for half an hour but all she can hear is do you think you deserve this bed? This room? These people who care about you?

So she walks. Calls a car to take her far enough from her own thoughts that she can walk her way back to them. Her momma used to call it starting again: going far enough away, you gotta walk a mile in your own shoes to get home.

Not that everything her momma had to say was worth hearing, but it's easy to forget – aint it. With drivers and buses and the money for a taxi cab to anywhere in the world, it's easy to forget how walking lets you slot yourself back together, one footstep at a time.

Bet you never had to walk in disguise, she throws out to the memory, adjusting the glasses on her nose. The streets aren't crowded, not this late, but then Juliette Barnes isn't exactly subtle. Streets are never going to be clear enough for her to go unnoticed, but she'll settle for un-picketed.

She signed with Edgehill at sixteen, doesn't even remember reading any of the contract beyond the name of the label and the place to put her name. It's funny, she thinks she would remember the clause stating she was signing away all right to privacy, all rights to her own life, all rights to any form of context for every single word out of her mouth.

Or maybe she wouldn't have noticed. God, sixteen. Younger than Miss Second Place Layla Grant and her perfect little life. Juliette can barely remember being eighteen, let along younger. She should've been in high school, learning how to do calculus or work a grill.

Glenn would've read it. Glenn who tracked her down at a talent show ten years ago looking for a pretty-face-decent-voice combo to launch his management agency and look how that turned out. He'd picked up a fresh-faced fourteen year old with a bright smile and daisies in her hair, ten years later he was still caught up in this shit.

He read contracts, it was his job to tell her when she was going to fail and when she was going to fuck everything he had ever worked for. She didn't listen, maybe should listen more, but she would remember him warning her about the contract. She would remember him mentioning that she'd have to sing to signs of homewrecker, sing to empty stadiums, send her heart off on the first bus home because there's no way of getting anywhere in this business without cutting free of it.

And now – now they say TMZ is the price of fame. Juliette could introduce them to ten years ago when the price of fame was a stinking tour bus. The price was never sleeping through the night, singing til you're throat was hoarse then jabbing yourself with a needle and singing more, baring your soul on stage every single god-forsaken night for a few bucks and a pat on the head.

Seems fame keeps getting more pricey, and there aint an opt-out clause once you've got this far. You've gotta follow the script until they set you on fire with it, or you hide forever and they don't write about you at all. Either way, in the end you're burning out. Toss-up between the flames of scandal and the ashes of obscurity.

And obscurity? Obscurity is a fourteen year old fresh off the bus from Nashville wanting to make her very first album. A hot pink diary full of gushing songs about love from a girl who'd never had anything like it. Obscurity was pouring her heard into ten tracks for her first album and watching them all get dropped.

Obscurity was believing all the men telling her that's just how it is – aint nothing you can do.

And she's tired – so tired – of the shit and the lies and the scandal, but obscurity is a trailer park and half a bowl of cereal for dinner and dreaming at the window every night and she can't be that girl again.

It was bad enough the first time around.

She keeps walking, running apologies back and forth in her head. I'm sorry I let you down. I'm sorry I let God down. I'm sorry I allowed myself to be anything less than one hundred percent the person every single one of you wanted me to be for the briefest moment.

I'm sorry for being a temptress, a harlot, an irresistible prize to a man who promised never to stray. I'm sorry that I destroyed a home built on such solid foundations that I didn't even have to try – just turn up and watch it pull itself down.

I am sorry that I cannot be happy one hundred percent of the time so you can criticise me for frowning in the same breath as tearing me apart.

Walking isn't enough. She breaks into a run – stupid thing to do in designer boots and denim but it turns out thoughts are harder to get away from than her momma always said. Her feet pound against the pavement until her throat is too sore to think about singing or apologising or doing anything but collapsing against a shop front and taking deep breaths in and out.

It doesn't matter than she can't find the words for an apology she doesn't feel. They have people to tell her what's going on inside her head. People to tell her when and how to smile, what she's feeling at any given moment. They can write an apology that will sound exactly like Juliette Barnes because Juliette Barnes was something they created. All she has to do is stand on stage and follow the script word for word, tear for tear.

A movement up ahead catches her eye and she turns to see a church, the pastor unlocking the main doors and checking his watch impatiently. She tilts her head to the clock tower, but though the world is getting a little brighter, the sun hasn't risen enough for her to see it.

Maybe she should've have left her phone at home, but it's hard to run from the world if you're carrying it around with you. She waits for the man to disappear instead, then tugs the wig and glasses off drops them in the closest bin and slips through the unlocked door.

She's never been here before – she's not even sure where here is – but the church is familiar, in some abstract way. At its heart, it's the churches she went to as a child, fidgeting in the pews just so her mom would put a hand on hers to keep her still. It's the churches she avoided like her momma's phone calls for so many years because she thought leaving was the same as getting out.

The label will probably send her to a church – somewhere high profile, or that they can spin as heartfelt. She'll get on her knees to pray with cameras in her face and a make-up team on standby and it won't be praying. It'll be begging.

Does that count these days? She clasps her hands, rests her head against her fingers.

Did the contract specify that she had to be a puppet? Did it give Edgehill control of every minute, every second, every instant of her life? Do they own her now?

They'll take the Opry. Take the best moment of her career and steal it out from under her with a teleprompter and cues to cry, to beg, to go on her knees and ask God for forgiveness.

And if she doesn't – if she walks away. Who is she then? If she's not Juliette Barnes –

Juliette Barnes is a file in the Edgehill PR office marked Urgent, a series of photos in magazines and camera phones. Juliette Barnes is too big, too bright, she could catch on fire and burn to the ground and in the ashes, maybe, would be a brunette in thick-framed glasses singing on a street corner with a boy.

She could meet that girl, she could play tambourine and wear jeans and be in love.

She could be that girl.

The sunrise warms the back of her neck like a sign. They want to burn her albums, her pictures, her songs.

She'll do them one better – send Juliette Barnes up in flames.

Cause there'll be someone left, someone singing and surviving in the ashes, and that girl – that girl – is worth fighting for.