Actions

Work Header

Alright (Still)

Work Text:

 

 

 

 

2006

 

 

 

 

Spencer’s in London when her friends decided to be idiots. Specifically she’s in London, in this bar she doesn’t really want to be in, sitting with a group of people she doesn’t really know, listening to this brunette – Lila, Spencer vaguely remembers her introducing herself as – drunkenly explaining her theory of whatever between tongue-fucking the guy her friend came with, when instead of calling Brent, her best friends contact her. Or their manager does. The call feels long, but when the line goes dead, the same song that had been playing when she answered was only halfway though. It’s not even finished by the time her phone (her stupid sidekick that Pete got them all addicted to using, that the record companied paid for) is shattered across the floor.

She doesn’t remember much after that.

Which maybe is ironic, or maybe just her taking her allotted turn at playing the idiot because when she snaps out of it the tour is in another country and she is no longer on it. No longer part of anything. Because her best friends aren’t complete assholes the hotel room is paid until the end of the week. So is her return flight. Or maybe that was just the record company trying to avoid (more) bad press. Nothing sends sales falling faster than a crying fat girl story.

The only person around to see it, said crying fat girl story or lack thereof, is this Lila girl – ‘Lily,’ she corrects Spencer flippantly as if it means something. ‘As in Lily Allen. – on whose bathroom floor Spencer wakes up hangover the next day and who spends what remains of the pre-paid week hanging around Spencer’s hotel room, working her way through the mini bar and the room service menu while trying unsuccessfully to offer Spencer some form of comfort when it becomes more than apparent that Spencer is unwilling to accept any from anyone else (Fuck sympathy calls and misspelt emails, she’s Spencer Motherfucking Smith, not Matt Pelissier). She also steals Spencer’s favourite (and only) pair of stilettos and returns them scuffed, with one heel broken.

“I’ll buy you another pair,” she says, looking at the waiter seating them rather than Spencer, flipping her glossy hair over her shoulder and smiling sweetly.

The waiter responds accordingly.

They spend next five minutes being faux coy and flirting. When Lily decides she’s had enough, she turns to Spencer and tells her the shoes – red, green and gold Jimmy Choo’s that Spencer saved and saved up for after wearing them once (and falling in love with them) during a photo shoot – looked horrendous anyway, totally two seasons ago, and besides, it wasn’t like Spencer really, honestly liked them.

“I mean, you could only really wear them for Christmas parties with looking like a complete and utter joke,” she muses. “You really need something classic, something that would work with everything.”

Spencer feels like telling her to fuck off. Or something. Anything. She liked those shoes and she liked wearing them everyday with jeans and faded band t-shirts and what the fuck was a girl who was wearing a cocktail dress and dirty combat boots doing talking about fashion anyway? But Spencer doesn’t say any of that. Doesn’t say a word actually. Instead she makes herself take a sip of orange juice and push her breakfast around her plate.

“Good,” Lily says pleased, taking Spencer’s silent as assent. “I’m glad we’ve got that settled. I hate having stuff lingering. Fucks a friendship up.”

Spencer makes herself nod. “Yeah,” and looks at her plate. Somehow all the food is gone.

Lily makes a comment about carbs.

Spencer thinks about saying or doing something to make her stop. She thinks after years and years of fucking fat girl jokes she is due for a break, if only for a day. But the only thing she ends up doing is tightening her grip on the cutlery. Lily, of course, is oblivious and even if Spencer had opened her mouth and said something, Lily’s interest had already shifted. To be specific, it had shifted about five metres back to the right to the bar.

The waiter manning it winks at them both.

Lily flips her hair over her shoulder again, just to focus his attention. It works. The waiter brings the check and a piece of paper that looks like it had his number on it. Lily takes both and smiles, all wide doe eyes and parody of innocent charm.

“My treat,” she tells Spencer. “I think you deserve it.”

Spencer stops herself from rolling her eyes, but only just (maliciously, Spencer wonders exactly what Lily thinks she deserves). Lily catches her though, and she smirks. The expression seems to suit her more than the sweet smiles she had tried on the waiter. But that doesn’t stop her from throwing one over her shoulder at him as they leave.

“So, I was going to wait until you’d, like, mourned this shit and moved on, but Spence,” Lily says, she lead them into the first of what looks to be many boutiques. “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I have a record deal, and my label is ignoring me. I think together we could change that.”

Spencer picks up a cobalt blue Marni pump and pretends that it fascinates her.

Lily sighs, dramatic and a touch too loud. “Seriously Spence, think about it.”

Making a sound that is neither one of agreement or dismissal, Spencer put the pump down and lets Lily direct her towards a section of the store which contains a dust rose peep toe Valentino heel that doesn’t really suit Spencer half as much as they look like they’d suit Lily. Spencer tries them on anyway and they don’t look too bad. Lily agrees but her compliments have a certain tone to them. Spencer doesn’t have a lot of girl friends, but she does have two younger sisters. She knows the tone and she knows she doesn’t want to deal with it. Not today.

By the window, there is a pair of matte black Gucci Helena cut out boots. Obediently, Spencer makes a comment about them, and takes the shoes she’s wearing off. Lily puts them on.

She doesn’t take them off.

Later, after handing over her credit card to pay for Spencer’s replacement shoes and her own new ones, Lily gives in and starts talking again. About her music, her label, the stupid fucking A&R people who were focusing all their limited brain cells on promoting Coldplay and Gorillaz and not her. Lighting up a cigarette she blows smoke rings in-between sentences and forgets to offer Spencer one but des invite her out to some new bar.

"You should meet some of my friends tonight. We can talk more about us working together.”

Spencer thinks not. But she doesn’t count on Lily’s charm and/or determination (it all depended on the light) working on the concierge to wrangle a second key card out of him, nor the Brit’s uncanny ability to make a habit of stopping in on Spencer’s suite and making herself completely at home there. Both things results the complete and utter lack of time Spencer gets just to herself.

Lily rolls her eyes whenever Spencer comments on this fact.

“I’m more interesting than sitting alone in the dark watching a soap opera,” she tells Spencer. “Way more interesting, and for the record, so are you.”

Spencer thinks Lily is a liar. But she also is ignoring the hotel phone, her ever exploding email inbox and the notes the hotel staff keep telling her are piling up at the front desk. She doesn’t want to think. So Lily ends up getting her way every single time she turns up at Spencer’s door that week. Her rotating group of friends don’t seem to get her or Spencer’s name right half of the time (or even part of the time), but they always buy them both drinks. The combined effect works wonders on Spencer’s wish not to think at all.

Then the week comes to an end.

With it ends the free ride, and her mother’s patience. But Spencer doesn’t want to go home. Can’t. Or maybe she just won’t. Lily invites her to crash at her place instead.

By then Lily (with only the slightest amount of assistance from Spencer) has worked her way through the hotel’s mini bar twice over. So when she makes the offer it sounds like a wonderful idea for all concerned. Her place however isn’t so much hers, as it is her family’s home. Her brother is a bit of a – Spencer knows exactly the sort of words she’d use to describe him, but she hadn’t known Lily long enough to have the right to say them so she doesn’t.

Everything is going very nicely until one day, after a few weeks have passed, Panic! plays a show in Chicago and they announce at the start of the show that the temporary drummer they hired (the old drum tech who used to bring Spencer bottles of chilled water after every single performance and always say ‘You’re welcome’ to Spencer’s ‘Thank you’) will officially become part of the band.

Spencer closes the door to the guest room Lily gave her and doesn’t open it for three entire days. And then, she only opens it to allow Lily to come in with a nicely made sandwich she must have gone and bought (because lord knows the girl can’t cook to save her life) and glass of water. In exchange, she makes Spencer come out from under the covers and pushes back her lank hair with one hand. Her huge brown eyes look so sad; Spencer doesn’t want to look at her.

She stares down at the messy bed sheets.

“Oh Spenpenny,” she says.

“Shut up,” Spencer tells her.

Lily’s eyes get wider and sadder.

Spencer feels like the bitch everyone said she was. Maybe that’s why she lets Lily get her grubby fingers all over her laptop and shows her all the demos and mix tapes she had up on her myspace page.

“They could be so much better Spence,” Lily explains, and Spencer finds herself agreeing even though everything inside her tells her this is a bad, bad idea.

Lily talks about English music and music in general, and girls playing it. She uses big words without ‘like’s’ or ‘totally’s’ peppering her speech. It’s a sales pitch. Spencer knows it is. She knows why and something about her opinion of the other girl changes when Lily admits it without being prompted.

“I know you don’t think you are, but Spence, you’re sort of famous. Together we could make something out of this. I have a record deal. It isn’t worth much but it is one album. Guarantied.”

Spencer will give her that. She’s got a deal. She’s also got fuck knows how many people following her myspace page. The silvery blue light of the laptop screen illuminates her face and for a second it feels like Spencer is in LA one year ago. It’s so familiar Spencer’s shoulders ache. Lily’s grin is bitting; all excitement and unshakable ambition. That’s familiar too.

“Come on,” she pleads, unrelenting now she’s gained an inch. “We’re in exactly the right place at exactly the right time Spence. Fuck Brit pop and emo boys. This is fate.”

The fucked up thing is, Spencer thinks Lily really believes it.

Really.

And when Spencer opens her mouth the only thing that comes out is an, “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Spencer nods. “Yeah. Okay.”

In an instant Lily’s grin shifts from cautious to excited.

And maybe Spencer’s days start to be filled with more than hating her old friends.

 

 

 

 

Together, they stumble their way through a few gigs. Spencer drags a, drunken Lily home after them, more often than not. For most of the shows, Spencer drums on a crappy borrowed set, and Lily sings – sometimes off key, sometimes fucking beautifully – and for a very, very short time, it’s them against the world.

Over time, as Lily is very good at getting what she wants, those few punters buying tickets turn into more than a few, and the number of downloads on Lily’s myspace only grow and grow. In turn Spencer makes her music better and better, while keeping her in a state fit to record it. And somewhere in between that and stopping Lily from getting alcohol poisoning, Spencer cashes the first check from Regal Recording. It isn’t close to Lily’s, and even hers isn’t much really, but it’s a pay check which comes in handy as the royalties from Panic! aren’t nearly as much as Spencer originally thought they’d be.

“Fucking motherfucking fucks,” Lily offers when anyone asks her opinion on the matter and often when they don’t.

Spencer doesn’t say anything. She might have been the only member of the band with a cunt but she wasn’t really a bitch and she didn’t intend to become one anytime soon. There were more than enough people willing to take the walking wounded role and after two drunken emails from Tom fucking Conrad telling her about his experiences and all about how he (and thus, how he inferred she) felt, she was happy leaving others to fill it. Subtlety has never been one of Lily’s virtues so it is a sign of what good friends they have become that she chooses not to remind Spencer about the time she had been one.

Those three days she retreated into her locked guestroom were more like three months of Spencer, this girl Lily didn’t really know other than from interviews in teen magazine, not talking or eating and refusing to cry when her mother called and when the call she was waiting for never came.

For a while, that is that.

Spencer cashes the check and her plane ticket home, and with the proceeds she gets herself into out of Lily’s guest bedroom and into a shitty apartment in a shitty part of London. With what’s left over she buys herself a drum kit. She puts it in her shoebox apartment and tells Lily not to fucking touch it (Lily does; Spencer shouldn’t have picked the glitter finish). Then, to celebrate it all, they go out and get drunk. About a third of the people they sit with know Lily’s name. No one knows Spencer’s. Halfway through the evening Lily disappears on Spencer with the DJ. Spencer ends up waking home barefoot at four in the morning by herself.

She tells herself that she is okay.

She tells herself she’s not a kid anymore. She tells herself to suck it up. She tells herself to get with the fucking programme. She tells herself a lot of things and when she stops to breathe, she gets herself a new mobile number that she gives out to people who didn’t have the old one.

 

 

 

 

The thing about Lily, is that she is good at creating buzz.

And sometimes Spencer forgets Lily wants to be famous more than anything else in the world.

Sometimes Spencer forgets that before friendship there was another reason why Lily asked her to play music with her.

And maybe too much time passes and maybe Spencer isn’t taking enough notice because somewhere in between the drama, of maybe partly because of it, Lily becomes big. She’s still a bit of an annoying shit most of the time, but almost overnight people start writing about her and suddenly all these important people on the London music scene are playing her music and more and more people are tuning in to listen. Sure, sometimes they listen just to hear Lily make a huge fucking fool out of herself, but it’s exhilarating.

Spencer isn’t totally stupid okay. She’s always known Lily has grand plans. Or two things she wants above and beyond anything else; namely to be rich and to be famous and not necessarily in that order. By her side, Spencer watches with her mouth firmly shut. They’re not exactly a band – no matter what Lily says – but Spencer ends up signing some papers so she isn’t an employee or a groupie of Lily’s.

When the time comes to actually make the long delayed debut album, they get two weeks and Lily’s choice of producers. Out of the pack, she picks two. Their names are Greg Kurstin and Mark Ronson. Out of the pair of them, Spencer likes Mark the most. Or she likes working with him. Probably the latter.

“You know how this all works,” Mark comments one night when they are working late.

Spencer shrugs. There isn’t much she could say.

Mark laughs loudly. Like an asshole.

Spencer tells herself she doesn’t mind. After a while it’s true. They aren’t a band, not really. The music, just like before, is not hers. Before – Before, Spencer thought she was a reasonable drummer. Good at what she did. Not great or fucking fantastic, but good. Good at keeping pace and keeping everything together. Solid. It takes a while for that to come back. For her to believe in it again. On that topic too, Lily is silent. The session drummer the studio has on call is better than Spencer. But he never once drums on Lily’s album.

When the label starts organising the first real tour, Spencer initially plans on joining it.

Lily makes a fuss of course when the inevitable happens. She says a lot of things and pisses off a lot of people. Spencer does not. Maybe it all feels familiar. Maybe this time she sees it coming. But as long as the royalties from both albums are too, and the checks from all the shit she gets dragged don’t bounce when Spencer banks them, Spencer doesn’t mind as much. She read the fine print this time around. It’s okay. The bottom has already dropped out once; it can’t happen a second time.

She’s not a kid anymore.

She knows exactly what she is and what she’s not. Her name might get Lily’s myspace account a few thousand more hits, but out in the real world no one gives a shit about Spencer. No one takes a second glance when she walks by. The people she spends her evenings with get her name wrong more often than they get it right.

Though the first press they do, is done together, there is a reason the interviews that follow feature only Lily. Journalists like her. Spencer understands why. She might be good at saying the right things, but Lily is good at saying the wrong things and those, predicably, are the ones that make more money. That’s what the barebones truth is, whether Lily wants to acknowledge it or not. So instead of joining Lily on covers of magazines or on her tour, she offers to replace the session drummer Mark uses when the guy he normally calls first, quits.

And for a while that’s the way it is.

Occasionally she fills in on for a few of Lily’s local gigs when one of her many rotating roster tour musicians walks out on her; shitty half assed shows where Lily’s mere presence makes things different – ‘Better’ a traitorous part of Spencer’s brain whispers. Sometimes works with Mark. Sometimes Greg Kurstin even calls her up and about some work he might have for her. And sometimes, just sometimes, if she squints, she isn’t a fuck up seventeen-year-old has-been.

 

 

 

 

It’s mostly Mark who phones her at all times of the day and night, desperate for someone – anyone – to come and fill in the latest, and to his mind, greatest percussion sound he came up with or stole from someone else. Spencer pretty much always answers his call. She might be better off than a seventeen year old with nothing more than a high school diploma to her name should have any right to be, but London isn’t a cheap place to live. Not even with her half assed royalties cushioning her.

She makes an okay living as a studio drummer. She enjoys it even. Thanks to Mark and Lily dropping her name in one of two more conversations (also apparently, one Mark had held with his best friend who had one of the finest musical pedigrees imaginable), Spencer has contacts and is known by far more musicians and producers than an ex-emo kid rightly should. It just takes her a while to realise there’s really only room for one Meg White in this world.

That’s not to say she isn’t an okay drummer. She is. In a pinch.

It’s just, sometimes she stays late in his studio after the act Mark’s recording has left. Just sometimes. Mark loves music. It’s in his blood and bones. He can talk and talk for hours. She... she doesn’t know about herself. Maybe she isn’t a natural, or maybe she doesn’t put enough effort in, but – she does not know. A few people have started calling her up – friends of Mark, friends of Greg, friends of their friends – asking for her to do a day here, a week there, but... she doesn’t know.

Not anymore.

She goes nevertheless, but she doesn’t know. There is a different between her and the musicians that call her. Not a big one, but it’s there. She thinks they should be able to tell. Should be able to see. The calls keep coming though. She does not know why. She’s an okay drummer. She really is. But that’s about it. She’s not a good sight reader. She’s not even particularly good at reading sheet music when given time. Some people might be able to or have a way with words, but she does not. Maybe she might be able to play things by ear. Maybe she might have a good memory. But that only goes so far.

Between it all, Spencer finds herself rising up the food chain a little. Or at least becoming ‘that tall blonde girl’ in all the photographs sold to English tabloids. It’s a bit stupid, and a lot meaningless. It reaches its height at a Burberry after party Lily had been given front row tickets to. Spencer is around seventeen going on eighteen then, teetering between the two ages with no amount of grace, and when this guy tells her she should be a model she wants more than anything to laugh.

But instead she picks up another side job.

It isn’t much really (neither of them are, not really). She doesn’t even bother to advertise it, because really, her? A model? There was a reason she wasn’t halfway around the world drumming on Saturday Night Live. She has some pictures taken for her thin portfolio though. She even goes to the occasional casting calls when she has a free day. She dresses herself in dark jeans and logo-less tank tops and she stands in line with a hundred other girls who all look alike and sound alike and look like –

She goes to the casting calls.

The first one isn’t worth her time.

She arrives early and stands in line for over an hour. When she finally gets seen by the casting agent, she is barely in the door when he glances at her. A week previously she’d had some test shots taken. Lame and clichéd, they fill the first few pages of portfolio. The casting agent doesn’t even bother asking to see them.

“Too tall,” he say, blandly.

And – that is that.

The next one, she actually makes it into the room before she is labelled the three-letter word. And, okay, it’s not the first time she’s been called that, but usually people wait until her back was turned. The casting agent just says it, as if commenting on the weather.

Her agent is unsurprised.

“You could become a little more toned,” he says, which really means she could stand to lose more weight.

Okay, Spencer thinks. Fuck it, she can do that.

She stops taking public transport and starts riding her bike, then, when that isn’t enough she makes herself get some use out of her gym membership. She runs and she swims and she puts up with stupid perky trainers and their stupid dietary regiments. She does it all.

Except now, she’s too small.

“We’re not in Paris, Spence,” her agent relays.

The day before she was rejected by a cheap English high street brand. Spencer is well aware she isn’t working in Paris.

Over the next few weeks she is also made aware of the face she is too blonde, not blonde enough, has an awful posture, that her eyes are too far apart, then too close together, and that her walk is strange. Once, she is too short. At this she blinks. In the middle of yet another painful growth spurt, she is pushing 5’11. A month passes. She nears the 6’ foot mark. Still, that is the reason. Often though, she isn’t given one. Just summarily dismissed.

Meanwhile, the tanned, perfectly preened and presented girls that stand on either side of her at the meat market castings chatter and gossip in groups. One by one they are picked to advertise skinny jeans or feature in the fashion spreads of glossy tween and teen magazines. And Spencer, she just isn’t right. She never seems to be.

 

 

 

 

For reasons she doesn’t understand – stubbornness, maybe – she doesn’t know, she keeps going to those stupid cattle calls. She fits them between acting as Mark’s studio drummer, and being borrowed by his friends and Greg’s friends and suddenly time is passing and it’s winter in England and she ends up flying home for her parents 20th wedding anniversary. At the airport her mother hugs her tight and her father takes her luggage when her sisters (little brats) refuse. She flies back a week later.

Her first night back is spent with Lily at some party she insists they go too.

Lily gets drunk. Spencer does not. Alcohol fucks her up. Or fucks her weight up. ‘Up’ being the important word in the sentence. ‘Up’ being the word that stops her from getting booked and has guys asking ‘Glamour model?’ whenever someone mentions Spencer’s part time job.

Except somehow one drink becomes two and two drinks becomes Lily making some guy with a rancid looking tongue piercing shouts everyone drinks and the whole ‘Spencer not drinking and not getting drunk’ thing becomes a huge lie because she does both. It’s stupid and irresponsible and it makes Spencer a liar.

Squished in between two of Lily’s new adoring friends, Spencer feels like a fool. Everyone around her and Lily spends the night treating them as if they – her included – are something special. They talk and talk and Spencer doesn’t have any answers or even anything to say, not really, but they keep talking and talking and in her six inch heels Spencer’s feet ache and ache and ache.

With the recording process cames what Spencer hoped (but judging by the hollow pain in her joints, wrongly) to be her last grow spurt. Now Lily needs her highest heels to look Spencer in the eye, and Spencer doesn’t need any at all when she talks to Daisy Lowe (one of Lily’s new best friends) at the bar while waiting for the bartender to get her a fresh mineral water.

Daisy’s very pretty in an incredibly English way and her strangely childlike eyes track Spencer’s every movement.

They don’t talk about anything in particular. Just how quickly the year has gone. Then when the bartender finally gets around to handing over their drinks, they clumsily make their way back to the VIP area where Lily accosts Daisy. Throwing an arm over her shoulder, Lily talks to Daisy as if they were best friends – no, sisters. But Spencer can spot the look in Lily’s eyes. At the beginning of the night, William Cameron Jr.had given Spencer his number. He had been sweet, and maybe a little unsure of himself. Spencer had given it to Lily. Now, with Lily eyeing Daisy as if she were an animal of prey, she gives it to her with a laugh and a promise that ‘He, like, couldn’t keep his eyes off you.’

It’s a bit of a pathetic lie, but in general most things that come from Lily’s mouth are.

When she turns to Spencer later, she laughs at the look Daisy’s face had gotten tangled up in, the way her mouth had fallen open and her eyes had widened. Lily’s drunk and soft by then, smelling of sweat and whiskey and sex. Equally made a little more agreeable and a little less indiscreet by mixed drinks. Spencer can’t be bothered ignoring her.

“He looked like he could be fun.”

Spencer rolls her eyes.

Lily makes a face of her own.

“I don’t want fun,” Spencer gives in. “Fun is boring.”

“No,” Lily says, eye make up smudged. “You want someone with a girlfriend.”

She laughs when she sees the expression on Spencer’s face.

“I see you,” she whispers, raising one hand to point a finger in Spencer’s general direction. “One guy with a girlfriend is a mistake, two is a horrid coincidence, but three? Three is a pattern.”

It’s more than three.

Spencer doesn’t say that – would never, she’s not that sort of girl, no matter what people say – and thankfully Lily lets the conversation die.

But not other things.

While in America for her first transatlantic showcase Lily gets way too much attention and talks far too much about everything and unfortunately one of those topics is Spencer. Apparently finding time between insulting Bob Geldof –

(“I didn’t say anything,” Lily argues.

“You called him a cunt on myspace.”

Lily looks at Spencer, clueless, and Spencer, well, she knows how to choose her battles)

- and getting into a war of words with Katy Perry (one of many people stupid enough to use Lily for cheap laughs and cheaper publicity) after the girl had called Lily fat, Lily says a lot of stuff about Spencer that, Spencer probably would find been endearing if it wasn’t so annoying.

Since she says it all in America, of course it gets airplay.

When Lily says Spencer was abandoned in London, Spencer tries to correct her and say it wasn’t like that. Not many people listen, or care to listen, but Spencer tries and when Lily says they kicked her out of the band in the time it took for a Ramones track to play start from finish, Spencer counters and says it had been a long time coming. What she didn’t say was maybe it was true. Maybe it had been a long time coming. Maybe it took so long to get there, was so gradual she didn’t see any signs because she had become so desensitized to them.

She had gotten used to a norm that wasn’t normal. That shouldn’t have been.

She tells herself this on the taxi ride back to her apartment. She tells herself this instead of looking at her mobile inbox filled with Happy Brithday messages from everybody but the people that never once rung. Not even once. Over and over she tries to tell herself that they don’t have her new number. That’s why. But touring – strike that – knowing Pete Wentz makes that stupid wish impossible. Fuck if Spencer can help Lily can get Katy Perry’s number to blackmail her with, then they could have gotten Spencer’s.

 

 

 

 

In time, she comes to accept she’s not particularly good at anything. Good, not great on drums, passable back-up singer, and an okay model. And everything is fine apart from the fact she doesn’t want to be a part of it anymore. She doesn’t want to drum or tour or join any stupid band Mark knows through a friend of a friend of some guy or girl who happens to be looking for a drummer. She doesn’t want to go to University or College or whatever the hell higher education is called in England and she doesn’t want to go home either and she – she just doesn’t know.

It’s around this time, Spencer meets Giancarlo Giammetti at a party Lily takes her to. He is tall, silver haired and has eyes that are sharper than anyone else’s in the room. He asks her if she is a model.

She nods.

“I’m a cliché,” she adds, even though with eyes like that he probably knows.

Just like she knows she’s only there to make up the numbers in Lily’s entourage, and like she knows Lily’s only there because of the freebies, and that the PR people only invited Lily because the press trail after her frothing at the mouths, cameras attached to their hands.

Giancarlo looks at her. She does not know what he sees.

Her Givenchy pumps pinch at her toes. They have been doing so for the last hour she has been on her feet. They are half a size too small, but Lily’s stylist only had that one size spare. A waiter drifts past with a tray full of champagne glasses. Giancarlo takes two. He hands her one.

She thanks him.

They talk a little about various things. All obvious topics: fashion, the party’s host, London, business, politics. The party is loud and filled with too many faces that seem familiar but really aren’t (at least, not to Spencer). They talk about them too, but only in passing. At the end of the evening he gives her his business card. She takes it. He eyes her again. Clever and knowing and – quick. She looks back at him.

“Do you have one?” he asks after a moment too long.

She had not known he had been prompting her.

She shakes her head.

“No,” she answers him, not that it mattered. “I don’t.”

As it didn’t mean anything either way, she takes a pen out of her envelope clutch and writes her number on the back of his card and gives it back to him. His expression shifts. In her peripheral vision, Spencer searches for Lily. She cannot find her. This is not surprising.

Giancarlo smiles.

“It was a pleasure making your acquaintance,” he tells her.

His tone sounds honest.

But most do. Even hers, when she echoes the sentiment.

 

 

 

 

About a week and a half a week later, he calls and asks her out for lunch. It comes as a surprise.

He is polite and articulate when he extends the invitation.

“I am returning to Rome in two days,” he explains. “I would very much enjoy your company.”

There are many reasons to agree. Spencer sees them all. Of course he does too. He isn’t the type not to. Nonetheless, together they conduct a conversation that needn’t be performed. They perform it; he, because he is clearly a gentlemen and Spencer, because for better or for worse, she’s always been that sort of person. When they finish, the manner in which he excuses himself speaks of grace and good breeding. She does not know how she comes off.

They dine at a restaurant she is not familiar with.

She takes a taxi and arrives five minutes early. She had planned to arrive earlier. Traffic is bad because traffic in London always is. But she’s use to it by now, and even if she wasn’t, there was no way in the world she is turning up to lunch in clothes stained with the smell of the underground and hair battered from the stink and strain of public transport. She isn’t completely useless. Giancarlo is already waiting for her. Without the crowds of ‘Someone’s’ and ‘Somebody’s’ occupying the space around them, he cuts an even sharper figure as he stands and helps her take her seat.

For a while they canvas the same topics they had discussed the first time they met. Though the talking points are the same, Spencer chooses her words more carefully and watches each response they draw. Giancarlo’s gaze is very knowing; it makes her – she tries harder, only pausing at the appropriate interval to take a sip of her mineral water.

Together they fill time until the waitress makes her way over to them.

She is older than Spencer, and understands the language Giancarlo order’s the wine in. When she returns to the table with it, Spencer doesn’t know what to order so she chooses something at random. One of the specials perhaps. It doesn’t really matter. The waitress nods, and nods again when Giancarlo decides what he wants.

When he turns back to Spencer, the expression in his eyes is different once more.

Spencer doesn’t understand.

She listens though, when he starts to speak. He tells her about his business in London and about this painting he had his eye on that was in the next auction at Christie’s and nothing he tells her is particularly private or revealing, but when he speaks she listens and when he turns the conversation around, she answers his question to the best of her ability.

They part an hour later.

Giancarlo kisses her goodbye and wishes her well. He also expresses a desire to see her when he is in London again. Spencer responds appropriately. She doesn’t care what that makes her. Honestly and truly, she walks away liking him. It is something she holds onto tightly once her agent catches wind of the lunch date.

He talks and talks and sends her on more and more casting calls.

One or two pay more than the usual amount of attention to her.

People talk.

The girls in the waiting room flick their eyes over her. Spencer meets their gazes. Spencer isn’t stupid.

With indifference she had stopped straightening her hair and let it grow long for the first time in years. She had also stopped dressing like a boy and learnt how to wear red lipstick without getting it on her teeth. Now every time Spencer sees her agency they look happier and happier with her. Though it isn’t exactly under their direction – she isn’t signed for any reason other than the obvious - she knows points have been scored in her favour.

Image is important.

It’s easier to sell a girl if she looks like something a guy would want to fuck rather than someone he’d play baseball with on the weekends. People she gets sent to see on go sees seemed to agree. For the most part. One photographer spends the entire casting session staring at Spencer’s mouth. He offers buys her a drink afterwards and puts his hand high up on her thigh. He doesn’t call her a fat once. Or a loser. He does call her a future super model which sounds stupid to her.

Over the next month she is offered around half a dozen jobs. She takes them all (except that one). She takes them and she does her job. She turns up on time and she is polite and professional and she gets things done. Fuck what she hears people say behind her back.

None of it is new.

 

 

 

 

The next time Giancarlo is in London, he sends a car to pick her up.

It’s painted a dark glossy colour and it surprisingly discreet for a man who drove around Rome in a bright red Mercedes during the days of the Red Brigade. The driver doesn’t attempt to start a conversation. Spencer idly smooths the fabric of her pencil skirt and looks out the window.

When she arrives, Giancarlo greets her with a smile and warm embrace.

They eat outside with one security guards seated a discreet distance away. Giancarlo enquires about her schedule for the upcoming fashion weeks, one of the two busy periods in the fashion year. A little time too, is devoted to Giancarlo’s questions about her latest studio gig – she does not like way she sounds when she names Names, but Giancarlo asks politely so she tells him. For a little while after that, they talk about Sean Lennon.

Spencer does not know how he is friends with Mark, neither does she know how he is friends with Giancarlo. All she knows is she just finished working on Sean’s third solo album and that the time she had spent in the studio with him had been like nothing she had experienced before.

She does not like being subject of pity.

But Giancarlo, he – she doesn’t feel like that around him.

She should. She knows she should. Her agent dressed her for the lunch. The combined cost of her outfit he bought for her would have been enough to leave Spencer short for her month’s rent. However, her agent insisted. He said one only looked a certain way (read; an expensive way) when one dressed it. He told her that he’d take it out of her next job. She hates being in debt to anyone. She feels as if she is in borrowed clothing; its expiry date looming on the horizon. Except this time the clothes are not Lily’s but her middle-aged agent.

The label at the back of her neck itched against her skin.

Giancarlo doesn’t look at her shoes or her blouse though. Not once. They talk about the state of the market, something Spencer has been paying a great deal of attention too.

(It is neither a tasteful topic of conversation or is it a particularly interesting fact, but money doesn’t last forever, not now. Figures add up. Or subtract, as the case may be. Early on she had gotten in touch with her bank and organised herself an appointment with a financial advisor. She had jumped though all the hoops and hurdles, and made sure to reads the fine print. She asks all the dumb questions and she takes notes and she pays attention. She doesn't know what it's worth, or if it's worth anything at all, but she's trying her hardest to do it the right way this time around. She doesn’t care what that makes her. She doesn’t. It was only when that was all over and done with, she had signed a lease to that shitty share apartment in the shitty part of the city and told her mother to stop worrying.

She knew Ginger wouldn’t, but Spencer said it anyway. She still says it.

Ginger doesn’t believe her. Spencer can hear it in her voice whenever they speak.

They don’t speak that often.)

 

 

 

 

Giancarlo visits London at least once every month. Spencer finds herself getting used to politely expressed invitations and having a car sent to pick her up. She even, maybe, starts becoming accustomed to Giancarlo and the way he focuses so completely on her when she speaks.

She still watches her words.

She doesn’t have a way with them. She has to be careful. They get her in trouble. They always have. If she doesn’t keep an eye on what she says, they get away from her. She knows they do. She knows. So she’s careful. She likes Giancarlo. She likes the time they spend together. She likes him. So she’s careful. She is careful and polite and, she hopes, agreeable.

She comes to rely upon their time together.

 

 

 

 

The next time Spencer goes home (for Christmas this time), she lets herself stay there for more than a week.

While she’s there, the sort-of band Mark had been trying to get her to join breaks up.

It never had been much. She had never let it be. Spencer just had a few free evenings now and then. They meet for drinks once or twice, talked a little and played together a little less. All it had been was a couple months of haphazard (and half hearted) wooing and half a dozen practices that no one really bothered to attend. No one has made any promises.

The news doesn’t feel like a surprise. Mark calls her to talk, but Spencer doesn’t have anything to say.

“Something else will come along,” he tells her, in that roundabout way of his. “You’ll see.”

“Yeah.” she replies, just to say something.

She hadn’t even bothered to tell her mother she was sort of in another band.

From across the other side of the ocean, Spencer hears rumours that the lead singer has gone off to do some solo stuff; in other words, Victoria will get to do what the fuck she wants without anyone getting in her way. The other two members, Marie and Lucy, return to making real music. They call and talk once or twice – their intentions obvious – but Spencer finds that she is indifferent to such proposals.

As if on school break, she hangs around Vegas by herself for a while, killing time while everyone else goes crazy trying to fill it with all the last minute Christmas crap they’d left too late. Just before her mother gets that look in her eyes, Spencer runs into a few people from high school that, if she squints, were almost friends. They’re more interested in gossip than in her, but it gets her out of the house.

On the third night out this kid, who can’t be out of high school yet comes up to her and tries to pick her up. He tells her all these things; that she’s hotter than fuck and that he’s a musician in a wicked cool band and that, hey, if she could buy him this drink he’d totally pay her back. And the people she’s with laugh, and she looks over the kid’s head (which is easy to do given the last grow spurt and her most recent splurge on heels) and there are all these tiny little boys looking at them with wicked little looks on their faces.

“I play base guitar,” he tells her. “I’m hella good.”

She looks down at him from under dark lashes.

In the background, the littlest of his little friends burst out laughing.

“If you want, you can come and see us play,” he offers, undeterred.

She flicks her hair over her shoulder and lifts her gaze so now it’s him looking up at her.

“Oh,” she replies.

“We have a gig this Saturday,” he says, pulling out a photocopied flyer and shoving it at her.

Before the night has ended, she loses it.

 

 

 

 

As luck has it, Spencer sees the kid again, the next night at another bar they are both too young to be in.

“I looked you up.” he says instead of a ‘hello.’

“Really?” she drawls, pulling the word out disinterestedly.

“You used to be in Panic! at the Disco.”

She used to be a lot of things.

“You still know Pete Wentz?”

There are many things she could say to that. But he is young, annoying and will probably blog about whatever she says on buzznet or something equally insipid. So she watches her mouth. She’s over being part of the myspace generation.

“Of course.”

The sarcasm is lost on him.

“Could you give him this?” he asks, shoving a demo into her hands. “I mean, we’ve left messages on his myspace like you guys did, but it’d be really, really fucking awesome if you could give him a copy, like, in person.”

He looks at her and – Fuck.

Fuck.

The demo’s handmade; the track title, band name and contact details all scribbled onto the CD with purple magic marker. Spencer – she doesn’t plan on listening to it. She doesn’t intend on anything except as it turns out, Las Vegas is a kind of boring town if you live, rather than holidayed there. And for some reason it’s even boring enough for Spencer to load the kid’s demo onto her iPod so she can have something new to listen to on her morning run.

They’re good. Surprisingly.

Something inside Spencer allows her sisters to convince her to take them to see the kid’s band perform live (even if it means going to a fucking youth centre hall in the middle of the afternoon). Halfway through the set, she calls up Mark and holds her cell up towards the stage so he can hear.

“These kids,” she yells when they tumble off stage. “You have to sign them.”

Against her ear, she hears Mark laughs, bright and a little too loud.

“They could be golden,” she tells him, because she can see it. See it in the beat and the metre of their music.

They can be great – they can. They have it in them. Mark can bring it out of them. He can. Spencer knows it for certain.

“Yeah,” Mark tells her. “Yeah.”

He flies out within the week.

The kids don’t know what’s hit them until Mark’s there, unannounced at the end of the bass player’s... Cash Money’s – wtf – driveway. Not a single one of them knows who he is, but by the end of his lightening quick stay they’re converted (and so are their parents), signed and flying to England with Spencer.

 

 

 

 

Along with signing them, organising their visas and flying them out, Mark finds them the crappiest little share apartment of all time, in a particularly awful part of town. It’s even worse than the one Spencer started in. But somehow, despite that, the five of them – all annoying, gangly teenager boys – latch onto Spencer, like little imprinted ducklings.

Mark doesn’t care either way as long as they don’t end up in a ditch.

But Spencer, she’s suck with them. 24/7; or so it feels.

Cash demands to be shown around London. One Alex makes Spencer treat him to coffee whenever he happens to see her (and he happens to see her a lot once Spencer makes the mistake of giving him the address to her apartment). Another Alex – Spencer thinks maybe it could be Singer, but she’s not totally certain – steals all her breakfast cereal when she isn’t paying attention.

The only sane one is Ian, and truthfully that isn’t saying much. He’s the newest to the band and neither Mark nor Spencer can figure out exactly how he managed to join up with The Cab until he mumbles something about how he used to go to school with Cash and stuff about his cousin and his cousin’s friend. He’s pink faced and refuses to meet their eyes and Mark thinks it’s fucking hilarious because he’s an arsehole like that. His laugh is a little forced though, when Ian furnishes out the story with a few details and a few names.

“Oh,” Spencer says, when Ian names Shane and then Brendon. “Okay.”

Ian is deathly embarrassed now; his chin tucked into his chest and cheeks red now instead of rosy pink.

“It’s nothing. Just, like–” Ian mutters a few more things and Spencer stops listening.

Later Mark summarises; which makes sense because they are Mark’s newest brightest things, not Pete’s and certainly not Brendon’s. But they could have been, Mark explains.

“They gave Urie a copy of their demo too,” he tells her in a halting manner, as if he isn’t certain he should be telling her at all. “About a month or so ago.”

Spencer takes a drag of her cigarette, then hands it over to Mark so he can do the same.

“They neglected to mention that.”

Mark winces. “I think that was their attempt at watching your feelings.”

Spencer feels like rolling her eyes.

“Stupid kids.”

“Stupid talented kids,” Mark corrects.

Spencer has to nod. Fuck, they are and fuck, Mark’s going to make them big. And fuck, she really shouldn’t be smoking. Sure, she grew those extra few inches that pushed her up to the almost six foot mark, but fuck, it’s so 90s. She isn’t Claudia Schiffer, and no one hires models with yellow teeth, and fingers that matched.

She makes herself shake her head when Mark tries to pass the cigarette back to her.

Enough.

“They don’t know what they missed out on,” Spencer tells him.

Mark pauses.

“No,” he says, his tone mediated. “They don’t.”

 

 

 

 

By this time, she’s spending more time doing the whole model thing than working with Mark, so when he invites her to see this band he’s heard about she joins him and a couple Cab boys to take advantage of the free tickets and drinks and tag along too. The band itself isn’t great. The lead singer’s out of his mind – either on a combination of prescription drugs or, just naturally out of his mind – but Mark’s good at working with people like him. She tells him this when he asks her opinion.

“They’d need work though.”

He nods.

“They’ll also probably need a new drummer.”

He winces, but nods as well. They both know she is right on that count.

On the other side of the room Cash is hooking up with another somewhat shady and very skanky looking girl, while Ian watched with that look in his eyes. Spencer knows it well. Snorting, she finishes what was left of her drink and orders a fresh one – this time a bottle of water (the photographer she is working with for this gig at the end of the week took any chance to bitch about her ‘sallow skin tone’).

“You could do this,” Mark says after a little while.

She screws the lid back onto the water bottle.

She could. But –

“I don’t want to.”

“Yeah.” Mark breathes or maybe sighs; sometimes it’s hard to tell with him, “Make sure you drop me a line when you figure out what you do want.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

2007

 

 

 

 

 

In between everything she gets featured in a magazine. It’s one of those obscure ones that would never been seen stocked next to OK or Marie Claire. It’s a short little nothing of an article. Just a quarter of a page, with three paragraphs of text. The unnamed author calls her a ‘Cool kid,’ and ‘the sort of girl you want to know better, but know you never really can.’ (Which is just too pretentious for words). The photographs they use of her are ones that feature Lily and Giancarlo and suddenly things are happening.

After landing a contract for a fashion spread in Yen she thought she missed out on, Spencer moves closer into the city. The apartment is still small with one bedroom and a matchbox living space but this time around it’s clean and in a relatively good neighbourhood. One might even apply the description ‘respectable’ to it. That’s what Mark tells her after she gets formal written complaints from the buildings co-op telling her when she can and cannot drum, rather than the neighbours banging on her walls like they did at her last place.

When Mark’s latest and greatest find steps off the tarmac everything and nothing changes.

She has no idea where or when or even how Mark discovered Daniel Merriweather, all she knows is by the time she meets him face to face, it almost feels like a surprise that they haven’t known each other for years, and it really is the first time they’ve met. Thanks to Mark, she’d heard almost everything about Daniel before they meet face to face, but somehow he isn’t what she expects at all.

He’s the second act Mark signs to his label, and everyone expects big things from him. After getting called in to do the drum line for his first track, Spencer thinks she does too. The first time Spencer drums for one of Daniel’s informal gigs, she learns with a jolt, what being a tour drummer is meant to be like. In short, she turns up on time, plays, and then gets paid. It’s so simple it’s stupid. It makes her laugh.

Despite his stories of writing rap songs for criminals and his scarred knuckles, he is kind and gentle and should be no fucking match for her. Or London, no, fuck the city – the world – should have chewed him up and spat him out within the first week. It doesn’t though. It doesn’t even touch him.

When not MIA (or forgetting that part of having a best friend involves calling them more than once every six months) Lily still drags Spencer out on the town whenever she’s in London. Mark does the same; always networking, always with his eye out for the next big thing. Daniel however, calls her up on her landline (the only person besides her mother that ever does), not to talk but to hold his end of the receiver up against the radio to hear some song she’s never heard of before, playing on some random radio station she’s never once tuned into. And for all the things Lily and Mark have done for Spencer, it is Daniel who she finds herself opening her door for when he shows up with crappy b-films and sits with her on her ratty couch and watches them all day without a word of complaint.

When she and Brendon were sixteen, he was kicked out of his parent’s house. Spencer remembers doing the same thing at the time. She remembers nights of Ghost Buster and Star Wars marathons and of sleeping over at his crappy apartment whenever he’d let her; wrapping her body around his and holding him. She remembers the sagging, lumpy mattress and the sound of his neighbours fighting and fucking at all hours of the night. She remembers Brendon curling into her side, tucking his head into the crook of her shoulder.

When Daniel falls asleep on her couch, he snores and holds her tight. His warm breath against the back of her neck calms her more than anything. He does not ask for more. Not with that, or with anything else. Spencer knows what she is and what she is like. But Daniel never gets cut by her words, or notices when she fucks up (again).

 

 

 

 

Mark has this way with things. His whole family does really. It’s like they get an idea, and then it happens and it’s just golden. Just like that. When he gets the idea to redo classic songs his way, Spencer knows it is a bad idea. You don’t fuck with Morrisey. You just don’t. Except Mark Ronson wants to, and does.

He gives The Smiths to Daniel.

“I’m thinking heavy drums and lots and lots of synthesizers. Make it an electro pop dance song. A long, long dance song.”

“I think the world’s going to hate Dan almost as much as you,” Spencer comments, when she finds out.

On the other end of the line Mark hums what might be the chorus, but Spencer isn’t sure (all she knows is it really doesn't sound like the original did).

“I’m totally going to get beaten up for this,” Spencer tells Mark a day later at the studio when he hands her the drum line to her for Daniel’s cover.

Daniel laughs. “If anyone’s going to get beaten up it’s going to be me.”

Mark makes a face. “Fuck you all. This is going to be amazing.”

“This is going to be a disaster if you’re not careful Ronson.”

“I’m always careful. This is a great idea. Both of you shut up.”

Then Mark convinces to Kaiser Chiefs – who (quite rightly) think Mark’s a fucking asshole of the highest order – to let Lily redo one of their songs. A feat no one except for Mark thought was possible. He even manages to make them like him, and Kate Bush too, whom he charms into letting The Cab take a shot at reworking one of her classics and then quite suddenly he has an album underway.

“What song are you going to give Spence?” Lily asks while they are laying down her vocals. “I mean, you were going to give her one. Right?”

Spencer laughs, but Mark just turns his eyes on her and gets that look on his face. Spencer has never bothered to fool herself with Mark. He likes big voices; he adores the Lily’s and Daniel’s and Amy’s of the world. Spencer at best is a passable back-up singer (in a pinch) to that sort of voice (but only in a pinch). There are only two reason she’s sitting in the studio with him and that is because she can drum and she can also turn up on time.

“How about ‘You’re so vain.” Lily suggests, and Spencer laughs again.

So does Mark.

It becomes a joke. The next day it’s something more ridiculous. And it keeps going that way until one day, just as they're finishing up, Mark tentatively asks if Spencer would be willing to work on the Radiohead cover. The last week Amy Winehouse had filled the studio. Everyone had fawned over her. Spencer had just drummed.

Mark twitches.

Spencer pauses; waits.

“I was thinking of getting someone to do Just,” he finally spills.

“Me?” Lily questions, narrowing her eyes.

“Uhm, not quite. I actually thought I might get Alex Greenwald to do vocals,” he pauses, and looks uncomfortable. “You guys were friends, weren’t you?”

The atmosphere between then changes; Spencer doesn’t know what to with her hands. She shrugs and makes herself look at Mark.

“I knew him,” she says, her tone deliberate but the effect of it is ruined by her fingers which twitch as she puts aside her sticks.

“I can get someone else.”

And it’s been almost a year. Almost a whole year and slew of number one hits and a VMA award without her for them, and dozens of drumming credits and back-up vocals and stupid runway things that don’t mean anything and fifteen pounds of weight that won’t stay gone and – it’s been almost a year.

She shakes her head.

“Fuck that,” she tells him.

She repeats herself again as she rides her bike back to her apartment.

Except when she sees Alex again, after so long, she feels freshly seventeen again. Freshly seventeen and shoved to the very back of the frame so she ‘won’t fuck with the vibe.’ Or she does for the first moment. It’s a moment she hates herself for. So instead of any other things she could do or say, she makes herself smile as if it all means nothing and laughs when his ‘Hello’ sounds surprised.

“I didn’t know you’d be here,” he says, as if that meant anything other than a mere statement of fact.

She makes herself smile wider; brilliant and maybe a little too sharp.

“I am.”

The ‘still’ is left unsaid.

Afterwards when they finish, they go out drinking and Spencer manages to stay for almost all the night. She drinks a few drinks, talks to a few people – talks to Alex even – and doesn’t flinch once when he drinks too much and starts talking. Four days later he goes back to America and Spencer, well, she rolls out of bed and rides her bike to Mark’s studio and takes the coffee Daniel offers her and that is that, as much as it can be.

 

 

 

 

It’s during one of their by-monthly lunches when Spencer says what she hadn’t known she was thinking for months and months and months.

“I think I’m going to quit modelling.”

Giamcarlo Giammetti pauses, and considers her and what she said for a moment before asking a simple: “Why?”

She feels young and tired as she shrugs her shoulders.

“Spencer,” he prompts, eyes sharp (though not cutting – never cutting).

She bites her lip. The words are all there, just waiting to be said. But she doesn’t want to voice them. It feels – it’s Giancarlo. She knows what people in the industry say about her; the girl with connections in all the right places. But she doesn’t feel like that. She never did. For a second she wants to say something else, something that will make it clear that she’ll never ask him for anything, that she’s not that type of girl.

He touches her hand.

She shrugs again, like the teenager she should have outgrown being.

“I don’t like the way it makes me feel.”

He sighs.

Sitting there in her costume jewellery and hand-me-down designer clothes she feels achingly worn, as if she hasn’t slept properly for weeks. She thinks of humiliating casting calls, photo shoots at dawn, and being sown into outfits that made her feel fat (and of photographers that repeatedly tell her she really should lose ten more pounds).

And Giancarlo looks at her, and he holds her hand in his and he has done so much for her that when he speaks, she listens.

“What do you plan to do instead?”

She does not know.

“Music?” he suggests. “School?”

She is eighteen years old. She could do either.

She doesn’t want to though.

He must know, because he looks at her and there is no pity in his gaze.

“Four years. Three at the least.” he suggests, seriously. “You work, you think, and then you can do anything.”

And really, despite everything, he’s right. Spencer knows he is. Modelling can’t last forever even if she wanted it too. For the time being, she should make the most of it.

 

 

 

 

There is no particular tipping point.

It’s just afterwards, after Singer fucking kills Wuthering Heights, and after the last of a million stupid joking song suggestions of songs that Spencer should cover, Mark rings her up at five in the morning and instead of suggesting another stupid song title he says something else.

“I emailed Char your portfolio. She said you can walk her S/S fashion show if you want.”

And maybe, maybe it sounds like an okay idea instead of a joke. Maybe because she’s half asleep and maybe a tad hung over and maybe because Daniel’s been trying to teach her how to play the guitar and Lily’s been almost completely uncrazy lately (aka hasn’t drunk dialled in almost three whole weeks). Or maybe because somehow nearly a whole twelve months have passed and when Spencer thinks about it the first thing she thinks about now is how she has two semi-regular job, a bike, people to go drinking with at night and a closet filled with truly awesome shoes and not about the things she doesn’t have.

Still.

“I don’t need your help,” she says, because it needs to be said.

Mark laughs, bright and maybe a little loud for – Spencer glances at her alarm clock with one eye – still far too early.

“Shut the fuck up Smith. Last season three girls blew Char off. She ended up not being able to show five looks.”

“Hire better models then.”

“Fuck you.”

“No, fuck you.”

He sighs.

“Come in today. We’ll talk and if you can stop acting like a little shit I’ll give you Charlotte’s number.”

She bites her lip. And thinks.

“Okay.”

Okay.

 

 

 

 

Spencer doesn’t mean to – she doesn’t want to be one of those people – but accidentally during one of her lunches with Giancarlo, she mentions something about one of the jobs (for some fucking awful high street brand that she hates) that her manager insisted upon sending her to try out for.

She doesn’t mean to.

Normally she sticks to general descriptions and vague answers. She doesn’t want to be – she doesn’t want him to think she – fuck. She likes him. She likes him. She doesn’t like him because he’s the honorary president of the Valentino Fashion House. She doesn’t look forward to their time together because he’s Valentino’s right hand. She doesn’t. She doesn’t. She just likes him.

It comes out because her agent is sending her to more and more castings calls – she had squeezed one in that day, right before rushing off to meet him – and even though she got that one editorial, she keeps missing out. She’s going through another growth spurt and nothing fits and all the other girls are perfect and seem to instinctually know what to say and how to say it and how to walk and which angles suite them and – they want it. They want it in the right way and everything they do articulates it and Spencer keeps missing out for being too tall or too short or too untoned or too something or other. She keeps missing out and her agent is getting annoyed and Spencer, well, it’s pretty fucking insulting to miss out on getting a job advertising junk from one or another high street shop.

Giancarlo places his silverware aside.

“You need a better agent,” he informs her, without any of his usual niceties.

Heat stains her cheeks.

“Tonight I’m going to dinner with some friends. You are most welcomed to accompany me.”

She does not know what to say, so she nods. Dinner with Giancarlo’s friends turn out to be dinner with one of the head agents for Model 1 and two from Elite Model Management. All three of them express an interest in Spencer’s career. Giancarlo tracks the conversation, and where needed, directs it. At the ends of the night, he kisses her goodbye.

Spencer receives offers to sign with both agencies within the week.

Now she stands in different lines of girls and gets called different things. One of them is Spencer Jane Smith the Fifth – not merely Spencer Smith, and instead of round or plump, her face is doll-like. Instead of her eyes being hard, they’re sharp. Mostly, she’s called a blank canvas. So are all the other girls Spencer (or Spencer Jane, as she’s now rebranded as) finds herself waiting in line with now. Give or take a few features, they all look a little alike, variations on a theme that happens to be popular.

She’s not beautiful, she’s marketable. It’s an important distinction.

All the parts of her that gathered such derision now are viewed as virtues; something to be praised or envied in turn. She gets work because of them. Contracts are even extended because of them. She’s never going to be on the cover of Seventeen, but what she has, what she does, is better.

New York fashion week looms. With everything that had happened, Spencer had missed most of the castings. She arrives with only Charlotte Ronson’s show booked. And okay, okay. Spencer thinks that won’t do. Thinks it isn’t good enough.

She decides to change things.

She changes it so she’s the most booked model in the fucking town. She changes it so no one calls her the replacement Gemma Ward or Abby Lee Kershew or Lily Cole or the replacement anything. Fuck sleep. Fuck eating or breathing or speaking to anyone that wasn’t her agent or someone hiring her to walk their show.

For her first real fashion week, she ends up getting booked for sixteen shows in New York. She opens eight and closes three. Her agents are triumphant. There are three now. A New York based one picked her up after seeing her do Marc by Mark Jacobs. Okay, it isn’t much, and one of them (Diane Von Furstenberg’s) she wouldn’t have gotten without Giancarlo’s personal recommendation and another one (Charlotte Ronson’s) without Mark singing her praises, and maybe the rest she wouldn’t have gotten without Giancarlo’s name being attached to hers but Spencer takes them. She can read between the lines. But she can also see the bigger picture.

The number more than doubles or even triples for the following London, Milan fashion weeks, until finally, it’s the Parisian fashion week.

Spencer is standing backstage with a gaggle of other models. Her face made up and her hair is pinned away from her face. Every single person in the building is waiting for Miuccia Prada. Filling in time, scores of dressers are steam clothes, re-organise looks, double check that all the accessories have arrived. Around them the backstage staff are doing one last final technical run through before the audience is admitted into the venue. They – Spencer and the other models – are waiting for Miuccia to arrive to make her final show selection.

Spencer is almost completely made up (with only the curls in her hair needing to be unpinned) and waiting and she doesn’t know Miuccia Prada. She hadn’t met the woman once. But she’s standing there and something inside her snaps and she thinks ‘Fuck it,’ and she thinks, ‘She’s going to pick me.’

No.

Spencer doesn’t think it. She knows it.

And when Miuccia gets there, Spencer stands tall and when Miuccia looks at her, Spencer looks right back at her and – something must show.

Miuccia points at her and says something in Italian. Spencer has only just started learning from those touristy language tapes, so she doesn’t understand a word. But she does get what’s being said. She’s not stupid. When a backstage official motions for her to follow, she doesn’t look back.

Fuck what people say.

She may have entered New York fashion week with nothing more than hype surrounding her name, but that sure as hell isn’t how she leaves it.

Giancarlo is no way apologetic when they see each other next.

Because by now time had furnished them with an understanding of each other’s character, neither comments on the matter. However, there is an amount of pleasure in his voice when she calls a week later for advice regarding a Miu Miu contract she has been offered. Yet that is all he allows himself to express, before requesting a copy of the contract.

If Giancarlo is Valentino’s secret weapon, he also becomes Spencer’s.

Though he does not come to Miu Miu shoot where Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott spend hours insuring she looks flawless and then when photographing her, make her look as if her colt like limbs are twice as long and three times as uncoordinated as they really are, Giancarlo does help her navigate the legalities and negotiate the best deal beforehand. Afterwards, though neither of their opinions hold sway, he looks over the proofs and together they discuss what works and what does not.

 

 

 

 

Spencer doesn’t notice she’s stopped drumming until she’s looking for her favourite new season Bottega Venete boyfriend blazer and finds it draped over her snare drum.

 

 

 

 

Giancarlo introduces Spencer to Valentino when neither of them are prepared for it. They’re at another event – this time a gala celebrating ballet dancer Irina Lazareanu's career. (Lately it seems like Spencer’s always being told to go to one event or another. Visibility just as important as those stupid casting calls, if not more so.)

The whole thing is totally contrived and Spencer’s the only one who picks up on it. Valentino is delighted when he and Giancarlo ‘accidentally’ run into Spencer. His face lights up as if she were an old friend.

“I have heard so much about you,” he says, after kissing both her cheeks affectionately.

Everybody has heard about Valentino. Everybody. Even Spencer’s mom.

Words fail Spencer. They stumble out of her mouth in an embarrassing mess. In an instant she finds herself becoming the exact parallel to those earnest tweens who used to fall over their feet at signings. It is a miracle she manages not to fall over her own as he help her into her seat.

Colour fills her cheeks.

His suit is immaculately tailored and pressed. Yet it is the warmth in his voice that disarms Spencer, and the kindness in his hands when he helps her into her coat at the end of the evening, that she remembers.

“He hates change,” Giancarlo tells Spencer afterwards. “Hates it. But I knew he’d love you once he met you.”

He says that with such certainty. As if there were no other possible option, and not even a handful of days have the opportunity to pass before he is proven to be right.

Whereas Giancarlo had taken his time – taken months in fact – forming her acquaintance with lunches and dinners; building upon each conversation with the greatest care, Valentino is perhaps, the exact opposite. He immediately invites Spencer to Capri, to Paris, and even to Gstaad despite the fact she has no idea how to ski.

It takes Spencer aback.

She has no idea what to do with such attention. It is one thing to be connected to Giancarlo. It is another to be handed a gilded invitation into he and Valentino’s inner circle.

The music world seems to hate anyone that has it easy. Overnight success stories had to had years of bad gigs in front of no audience. To actually want to be successful was the worst kind of sin. Tall poppy syndrome ran rampant and unchecked. In contrast, the fashion world loves its darling ‘it’ girls and as soon as both Giancarlo’s and Valentino’s name are connected to Spencer’s, she starts getting work without really having to work for it.

The first time she accepts one of Valentino’s invitations she doesn’t not know what to do with herself. She packs for all kinds of occasion, filling her suitcase with heels and gowns and jewellery, but finds herself on Valentino and Giancarlo’s yacht sailing up and down the Almafi coast line with a few of their close friends. Though she most certainly does not roam the decks in her pyjamas, the atmosphere is comfortable and carefree. She only has a week or so free before her next job, and despite the location and the company she spends most of it reading newspapers with Giancarlo, and swimming in the ocean when they dock at Capri.

The days flit and flutter through her fingertips and somehow, right when the trip is suppose to end, she finds herself being convinced to accompany Valentino’s party to their Parisian home, the Chateau de Wideville.

“It is only a short drive from Paris,” Valentino tells her, when she mentions her upcoming shoot for Jalouse.

They install her in one of the many guest bedrooms and instead of reading The Economist or The Wall Street Journal in her apartment while the Cabbabies eat whatever happens to be in her fridge, she finds herself sharing them with Giancarlo on the villa’s newly restored terrace.

It – everything – confuses her.

Even when she is flown back to England in their private plane, she does not quite know how it all came to happen. Just that it did.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, when Spencer isn’t paying attention – isn’t being careful – she wants to be fifteen again. Fifteen, in Vegas. Chubby and boyish, with no band or music in her life; just Ryan. Just him. Only him. It’s a traitorous thought. Lily despite her faults is Spencer’s best friend now. She swears and is horrid, but she is loyal and Spencer really does think if it came down to it, Lily would pick her every time.

But still, Spencer sometimes wants to go back.

Sometimes, she dreams of long afternoons spent riding their bikes to the local pool, or of late nights where they would curl up together like puppies and talk until dawn broke.

And when she wakes she feels like the worst sort of person in the world.

 

 

 

 

When it happens, it happens without her really noticing.

It’s just instead of her first instinct telling her to go to Ryan or Brendon or even Brent, now it’s Lily, or Daniel, and even once or twice Mark. She’s standing on the platform underground, waiting for the train to take her to her monthly meeting with her stock broker when she realises Ryan and Brendon aren’t her best friends anymore.

It undoes her, almost, and it must be obvious because people skirt around her, and when her train comes she turns her back on it, and the next thing she knows, she’s standing on Daniel’s doorstep and he’s asking her what’s wrong, if she is okay, if something had happened, if she is hurt, if someone has done something and it makes her bite her lip harder and she can’t say anything, for if she were to open her mouth, she is certain nothing good will spill out of it.

Daniel ushers her into his apartment and he watches her and makes her eat lunch and catch up with his favourite soap operas and when night falls he makes her stay over. Halfway through he gets up and calls Lily. They speak quietly for a little while. Spencer only hears a few words. Then he hands the phone over.

“You’re going to tell me what happened,” Lily orders, forgoing any pleasantries.

“Nothing happened.”

Spencer thinks Lily will do that thing where she snorts in disbelief then says something cutting, but instead she changes subject. She talks about her latest show and how this guy she went out on a date with bought her cheap wine and how cool that wasn’t. She talks and talks and without saying anything of the sort, she lets Spencer know everything that is important. Eventually Lily ends the call and when Spencer hands the phone back over to Daniel she doesn’t feel like she did at the start.

“I’m okay now,” she tells him.

“I don’t completely believe you,” he tells her, quiet and obstinate.

He leaves it at that though and in the morning he shouts her breakfast at a local cafe and walks her to the nearest station. Her train is delayed. Daniel waits with her until it arrives. In day old clothes and hair a mess, she doesn’t match any of the photographs in her portfolio.

Everything inside her aches.

Bone weary she stands on the platform and she waits and eventually her train comes. It comes and Daniel kisses her goodbye and waves as it pulls away from the station. A day later pictures of him doing so appear on some gossip site, but are quickly replaced the day following that by photographs of Kate Moss snorting cocaine, or seemingly snorting cocaine. In the aftermath Spencer receives the lion share of contract offers. She takes two, one of which she shares with Lily Cole. The remaining Burberry contract goes to Gemma Ward.

Three or four months later, she and Daniel move out of their two dirty shoebox apartments to a share one slightly less crappy two bedroom. Without missing a beat, The Cab take over the leases of both abandoned properties. (Immediately afterwards Spencer receives distressed phone calls from her former roommates, but there is little she can do.)

She isn’t in London much anymore. Neither is Daniel. His first album is about to drop and Mark has him doing duets and on every tour, every TV show and in every magazine humanly possible. Most of her time is spend alternating between Paris and Milan. If she were sensible, she would probably move to one of the two cities. But she doesn’t. For the time being at least, she’s content to rack up her frequent flyer points. Even when she’s wrecked and barely able to stand, it’s still nice coming home to a place that doesn’t smell stale and to open a post box without finding it fill to the brim with bills and junk mail.

Maybe her financial advisor has other ideas, but Spencer isn’t going anywhere yet.

 

 

 

 

Valentino can do many, many things wonderfully, and anybody who knows him or watches Oprah knows that one of those is throw a party. Spencer had wakes up to find a garment bag hanging on her door despite the fact she is certain the household staff (and therefore Valentino) know she brought an outfit for the occasion. When she opens it she finds a Balman mini dress; all embellishments and poisonously fashion forward glitz. It is the sort of thing that would get her listed on the worst dressed list in any number of American tabloids and featured in all the European editorial pages.

She wears it like armour that day.

And eventually the party ends.

Valentino fusses over his dogs and Giancarlo annoys Spencer about getting her act together and finally investing in property – ‘The timing has never been better. You must!’ – and it’s nothing like Ryan or the others would imagine and the knowledge aches inside her for reasons she doesn’t understand.

Lily caught him talking to Agyness Deyn and some of her friends a week or so before.

Words had been exchanged – Lily was proud of this fact when she reported back to Spencer the next day. Spencer… She would like to think she had not been, but she does not know. Something deep, deep inside her rages a little at the thought of him talking to her friends. Or not a little. That would be a lie.

 

 

 

 

While Spencer has two almost jobs, Mark has about fifty real ones and one of them is a radio program he does that Spencer never really listened to because Mark... well, he can be a bit of a pretentious douche sometimes. She does however know the way to the station, and has been there more than once with Lily and her entourage.

Mark offers to buy her lunch.

At the time he and Spencer have been working though half a dozen shots of something fucking strong and Lily has been working her way through her unwitting girlfriends’ naive boyfriends. Wrongly, Spencer assumes Mark’s invitation is just one of those things people say to make the space between conversation topics more comfortable. However in the light of day Mark had calls again to say he is serious about lunch and that he has made reservations.

Spencer isn’t stupid (but she hopes for good news nonetheless).

In the greenroom or whatever the fuck Mark has christened it, she hears him talking over the start of some song (which, for the record is a habit Spencer hates more than almost anything) but at least the copies of Marie Claire on the rider table are current so she tries to read those instead of grating her teeth, partly because Mark already knows her opinion of his hosting style but mostly because her dentist is completely booked out for at least the next decade, and also on a different continent, and Spencer’s doesn’t want to tempt fate.

But apparently it is tempted enough by the thought because when she flips the magazine open her made-up face stares back at her from a Miu Miu two page advertisement. She flips the page over to a free perfume sample. Dior – J’Adore. She rubs it onto her wrists.

“That’s my favourite part,” someone says as the door opens.

Someone being Gerard Way and his band who have apparently have comes to be interviewed. Jemima, the station’s current work experience girl smiles nervously at him and offers to get him another copy. He shakes his head like a child; his tangled hair flies. The others move toward the rider (which presence in the room now makes sense) to lay claims on the coffee and food that remain.

Spencer fights the urge to glance at her watch. Mark told her come in time for lunch. It’s just on twelve thirty now. Mark should be finishing up his show anytime now.

Skipping forward to the shopping pages Spencer makes herself read all about the do’s and don’ts of this seasons current shoulder padded clothing options. According to the bubbly author, the high street is overflowing with great choices for women of all shapes, sizes, and budgets. One of the jackets featured looks a little familiar; Spencer is pretty sure she’d modelled it a week or so before.

“Do I know you?”

Spencer let her eyes flick up from the text to Mikey Way.

“I have one of those faces,” she decides to lie.

She turns the page and looks at some more blazers with huge shoulders that would make Spencer look like a linebacker. No wonder none of her pictures in the editorial featured that look. Air brushing can only achieve so much.

She keeps reading until they’re escorted to a studio to be interviewed by someone (probably Mark – it would explain him being so late) and then only stops when Mark pokes his head into the room half an hour later to tells her to get a move on because he’s made reservations he doesn’t want to lose.

“No apologies for making me wait?” she asks.

He snorts. “You were the one to come early.”

“Fuck that.”

Mark points at his wristwatch.

Spencer – well, there are many things she could do, but she’s known him for a while now and must have built up some sort of immunity because all she can do is make a face at him (and steal some crap from MCR’s rider).

 

 

 

 

Over garden salad and mineral water, Mark leans across the table as if they were still in high school and catches her eye.

“Bob liked you,” he tells her.

“Drummer Bob?”

“No, the fucking work experience student,” Mark swore. “Of course Bob Byrar.”

‘Oh’ Spencer thinks.

“Oh,” she says.

Mark’s eyes flash with amusement. “Yes, ‘Oh,’

And that’s about it.

 

 

 

 

There isn’t any grand beginning or story of cross continent wooing.

The next time they meet Spencer has just finished working on her first campaign for Carven, the French fashion house, and Lily has turned up out of the blue (smelling of cheap wine and wearing an expensive dress) offering to let Spencer tag along to the 2007 BRIT awards. Since being announced as a nominee, Lily has found great pleasure in alternatively making people aware of that fact and then reminding them of it whenever she suspects they might have forgotten.

The night itself isn’t much of note.

Spencer arrives late in a dress that is both borrowed and rejected. To be specific, it was borrowed from Christopher Kane’s fall 2007 line and one of the many that had been brought too and subsequently rejected by Lily. Short and black with a hard pleated leather trim, it didn’t suit Lily in the slightest. In matching black tights and with her hair knotted into a long thick plait, it works far better on Spencer. At least that’s what Lily says when she forces it on her. According to Mark, it makes Spencer look like an extra for a Muse video.

“Well, you look like your borrowing your father’s second best suit,” she replies evenly.

Mark schools his face into an expression of heightened distress. “My father had excellent taste!”

Spencer feels like rolling her eyes. His father had been a politician. One of his sisters is a fashion designer. It is a little ridiculous. His other sister, Samantha, is actually there that night, and not in LA. For a while Spencer stands with them and listens to them bicker and chide each other like only siblings can. Somewhere between Mark annoying Sam for not visiting more often and Sam annoying Mark for the exact same reason, Bob Bryar leaves the red carpet and finds himself in close proximity to bar which was coincidentally where they were too.

Mark snags him with one overfamiliarly arm, and Sam draws him into the conversation, and they are the Ronson siblings. Bob never stood a chance. Spencer sure as hell hadn’t when she’d first walked into the studio at Lily’s heels.

It isn’t romantic.

Just, at some point the conversation stops being led solely by Mark and Sam, and Spencer starts to talk to Bob and he starts to talk to her. There is an element about him that makes her stop, and listen. Steady and even, he talks a little about London and a little about not knowing what to do on the red carpet. She nods and maybe he doesn’t believe her when she says she understands the red carpet thing, but he doesn’t laugh nor does he make it into a joke.

When the night starts and they both need to be at their respective elsewhere’s, they exchange numbers. She doesn’t know that she has agreed to that until after her number is stored away in his mobile and his is safely recorded in hers. The colour in his cheek when she tries to read his face for clues is reassuring.

The night ends with Bob and his band leaving early, and Lily leaving without anything.

Spencer and Sam find Lily on her way to getting really fucking drunk in the bathroom, with Russell Brand suspiciously close given he is meant to be hosting the night and Lily is currently swaying ominously from side to side in the women’s and not the men’s bathrooms.

“You’re ruining my fun,” she mumbles into Sam’s shoulder as they drag her away. “You buzz killers.”

Sam makes a face. “Sure. Just don’t puke on my shoes.”

Lily struggles a little at that. “I am not drunk, and even if I were, I can vomit wherever I like, and that includes on your Germaine Greer shoes.”

Spencer feels her head start to ache.

No wonder Lily’s PR agent had arranged her spare ticket.

“Also,” Lily adds indignantly, almost losing her balance. “For the record, you’re only here because your brother invited you.”

Sam snorts.

“Fuck you-,” Lily retorts. “And fuck the Brit awards.”

Spencer rolls her eyes.

 

 

 

 

Nothing spectacular happens the next day.

Bob doesn’t call her desperate to spend his last hours in the country with her. They don’t run into each other randomly on the street or in a cafe. Gossip magazines don’t fabricate stories upon stories about them (Lily and anyone she talked to receive that rare honour). All that does happen the day after is Spencer wakes up on the floor in Lily’s apartment. Sam and Mark are slumped over and snoring on the couch above her, and Lily appears to have disappeared into thin air. Spencer hopes she is off getting them all breakfast, but she doesn’t count on it.

A few days pass.

Lily continues to complain about being robbed by BRIT’s. Sam flies back to America. In her absence, Mark sulks. Stuck right in the middle of recording their debut album, The Cab take advantage of their boss’s mood and strip his liquor cabinet bare. They also take off with his loose change and go get themselves drunk at McDonalds. Right in the middle of all that, Bob sends her a text message. It doesn’t really say or mean anything – just about Frank being a shit – but he text’s her.

She sends a message back to him.

Within ten minutes her mobile beeps again.

Life moves on. Lily gets nominated for other awards. The Cab make a video for their Kate Bush cover – it’s expensive and pretty fucking ridiculous. Daniel’s Smith’s cover goes up the charts. Spencer works. She works and time passes and whenever Bob sends her a text she sends him one back and then they’re emailing and talking on the phone and he doesn’t say a lot but –

But what he does say matters. Always.

 

 

 

 

Spencer doesn’t know what she’s thinking when she calls Bob in Prague. She has a flight home booked. The shoot is over and the check has been banked. She has no reason to hang around, no reason to call him. None at all. But that’s what she does. She hangs around a whole day – lets MCR get one country closer – then calls and tells him they’re in the same neighbourhood.

Across the phone line he laughs low and sweet. “Come and see me Spenpenny.”

“Don’t call me that,” she tells him, sharp but not really.

“Don’t make me.”

“Fuck you.”

“I’ll get Brian to put you on the list,” he says, completely ignoring her.

Once there she isn’t sure what to do with herself; isn’t sure where to stand, what to say, how to act. The dress she packs – a last season Paul & Joe one that she sort of maybe stole from a shoot – feels too European, too polished and expensive. She would have never worn anything like this before. It would have either been stupid vintage clothes that she didn’t really like (and usually didn’t fit her at all) or old worn out t-shirts and boy jeans, maybe paired with scuffed sneakers instead of thigh high boots that feel too much like an invitation she doesn’t want to give.

From the side of the stage she watches the show and – time might have passed but she can still remember every word to every song. If she were to close her eyes, she thinks she might open them to find herself back in Vegas, in her bedroom with her mother just seconds away from yelling at her to turn down the volume.

She doesn’t close her eyes.

Afterwards, when they’ve showered and changed and packed their gear away for the night, she sits between Bob and Brian at a crowded table and counts options on the menu rather than talking.

Everyone is loud and they're family and she remembers that, remembers almost exactly and she feels awkward and out of place and – Bob puts his arm over her shoulder and presses a kiss into her hair and no one comments. No one even seems to notice that there’s something to comment upon. Everyone is tired and happy and just about finished riding the post show buzz. No one knows she had a flight home booked, and that she missed it to be here with their drummer. No one gives a shit. Not about her being there or about Bob inviting her and maybe she shouldn’t, maybe she’s got it all wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time), but when they get back to the hotel she follows Bob up to his room.

In heels, she’s the same height as him and when he smiles at her in the elevator, all lazy and content, she feels bold. She presses her mouth against him and kisses him. The lifts mirrors reflect it a dozen times over.

Behind the locked doors of his room they stumble out of their clothes. Spencer fights with her Louboutin boots, cursing the acres of laces and the tight black tights underneath them. Outside the room, Frank and Brian are arguing –

(“Why can’t I go down to the pool?”

“I said no.”

“That’s not a good enough answer.”

“That’s all you’re getting kiddo.”)

And when Bob kisses her again, she’s laughing. Off centre, he ends up kissing the corner of her mouth, his hands on her waist. Taking his face in her hands she rights the kiss, and deepens it.

Something thumps on their door.

Bob makes an exasperated sound against her lips.

“Shh,” she hushes him, giddy and stupid.

“Fucking fuckers,”

Spencer tips her head back and laughs.

She laughs and she laughs and she tugs him over to the bed and maybe it’s been a while since she’s done with without a few drinks in her system or the need to prove something spurring her forward, but she crawls on top of him and he steadies her hips with his hands. Legs tangled, she hides a gasp in the crock of his shoulder when he pushes one of his thighs up just a little between her legs. He does it again; his calloused hands tracing nonsensical patterns and lines across her body.

Want flushes bright and sharp and – he’s right there.

Naked and right there underneath her but she cannot get enough. Cannot touch enough, cannot do or have enough. Lips bruised and mind completely shot, when he kisses a nipple it catches her by surprise. His name flies from her mouth. He does it again and again and she curls her fingers through his pale, pale blonde hair and uses it to hold him tight to her.

She can’t remember wanting anyone as much as him.

Her heart is beating so god damn fast. She can’t get enough air into her lungs and she accidently might knee him a bit when he moves his mouth away from her breast but she cannot find the words to apologise. She can’t really find words to say anything. There is no air left in her lungs to do so.

They fumble, and she doesn’t really know how to touch him (how to make it good – or even what he likes) but he doesn’t seem to mind and he seems to like most things she tries. Only letting out a pained huff of breath once when she reaches for her purse and accidentally catches him in the face with her elbow – but so does she (her funny bone connecting with his jaw wasn’t nice for her either).

He braces his feet on the starched hotel sheets and she lets him keep his hands on her. One on her hip, the other just underneath where her rib cage ends and it’s been a while but she’s never once encountered a rhythm she couldn’t keep or match. It’s a bit of a mess, really, but it’s also good and sort of easy.

The alarm on Bob’s mobile wakes her early the next morning. Bob mumbles something into her ear and when she moves to shut the alarm off, he tighten his arms around her. The grey morning light barely touches him. Cradled gently against his body, it doesn’t touch her at all.

MCR are on a long tour. Spencer has looked it up. When she first meet him they were almost at the end, but dates just keep getting extended and extended.

“Stay,” he tells her, as they dressed.

And there are so many reasons running though her head – for and against and everything – but she finds herself nodding. Pausing – one arm in his jacket, the other reaching for the arm hole – Bob grins at her, his face tinged with colour.

Something inside her spilled over.

 

 

 

 

Spencer’s never been a liar (if she can help it). She stays.

While the tour bus is being loaded she quietly makes a few calls and rearranges a few things. Apart from three pairs of heels in her carry on, she has her phone, laptop, portfolio and passport. Despite what Valentino or even Giancarlo might say, those four items are the only things she really needs. Besides, it’s only a few days. It wasn’t like she is going to need or miss too much.

A few days become a week. A week becomes two.

There’s a shoot in Copenhagen in between those weeks, so Spencer leaves the guys in Holland and flies over to Demark for four days. While there Mathias Lauidsen, a fellow Valentino model and good friend, invites her to have dinner with his family. They’ve know each other since her first Parisian Fashion Week when Spencer was invited to watch the Valentino Homme show. Ambitions and clear headed, they quickly recognised like for like (though other words were used to describe Spencer). It’s good to see him. With their schedules, they rarely find the time to catch up. Valentino grumbles when he finds out afterwards. Unbeknown to her, he and Giancarlo are currently in London for the races.

“And you, my Darling, are in the back of some dirty bus in the middle of nowhere, rather than having dinner with us.”

They are currently in Moscow.

Spencer holds her tongue. Giancarlo would be proud.

Alicia comes out and joins the middle leg of the tour for a few days. A few of those days overlap with Spencer’s. There is a strange sort of tension between them. Spencer hadn’t disliked Krista, but it had taken some time to like her. The same could be said for most people she knew now. But there was something different about Alicia. They don’t skirt around each other, or confront whatever it is; it twists through stilted sentences and carefully placed gazes.

It doesn’t take Lily any time at all to pick up on it when her tour and MCR’s crisscross kiss in St Petersburg. In the backstage area, between all the buses they walk arm in arm and talk with their heads bowed together so no one can overhear them.

“I think it’s because she knows you’re Mikey’s type,” Lily explains, as if it is simple (and it probably is to her). “And since you’re not going to ask me to explain, I will anyway. You’re the type that attracts guys with girlfriends or wives or significant life partners.”

“Not everything is about sex.”

Lily rolls her eyes. “It is. Don’t try to be all P.C, Spence.”

Spencer makes a face.

Lily doesn’t see it.

In front of them, Mindless Self Indulgence, MCR’s opening act, stumbled off their bus and into the parking lot. Almost immediately Gerard latches onto to his ex-girlfriend/current good friend’s side. Sensing weakness in his boyfriend, Frank takes the opportunity to launch himself on Gerard’s back, knocking him to the ground. From the sidelines LynZ snickers.

“And that is why partner swapping is a bad idea,” Lily tells Spencer, yet again over sharing what is not hers to share (Spencer still didn't know how Lily had unearthed that little detail). “Shit like that only sounds good on paper but in real life no one wants to share. Or, like, return things they were given.”

In front of them, Matt and Bob pull Frank from Gerard. Flailing in their hold, Frank wriggles and kicks and laughs hysterically. One of his kicks lands on Gerard, winding him. Huffing and puffing, Gerard rolls over. He stays like that. Huffing and puffing and staring up into the cloudless sky. No one moves to help him up.

Lily offers Spencer a cigarette.

“Fucking men,” she mutters, lighting up.

“Fucking men,” Spencer echoes.

 

 

 

 

Spencer doesn’t know what time it is when she wakes. But she knows if she looks at her watch she won’t find out. She can’t even remember what time she had last set it on, let alone where she’d been. Instead she crawls out of the bunk and sits with Gerard on the other side of the kitchen table as they cross yet another time zone and watches as he tries to re-paint his nails black.

Biting his bottom lip, Gerard switches from his good hand to his bad.

He’s a little paler than usual in the artificial light and maybe she is too. There is something in his expression that makes her think she might be. In the background she can hear the faintest, faintest sounds of Bob and the others snoring and mumbling in their sleep rising above the hum of the buses engines. Most of the details – the sound of Bob rolling into the space Spencer left, the track playing in Ray’s mussed headphones – are cancelled out, but Spencer can almost pretend they are not.

As the bus jolted a little over some bumps, she reached out and he let her take one of his hands in hers.

“Let me,” she offered, her voice sounding too loud in the unnaturally quiet bus. “I’m good at this.”

His nails are a mess, and she tries to be gentle when she removes the smudges of polish with a cotton wool bud. He’s quiet as she works. When she takes off the last remaining fleck, he twists his fingers a little. A smile tugs at her mouth.

“Black’s a little passé,” she comments.

Her nails are – she had to glance at them to confirm – painted the exact colour of her skin. It makes her fingers look longer than they really are, and, strangely delicate considering how bad drumming had been for them.

He shrugs. “I guess.

“It’s a good fallback though.”

He nods in agreement. Then he points to her toe nails and compliments the colour (currently deep berry purple and pristine).

“I have a lipstick that matches it exactly. Want to try them?”

His eyes get a certain look in them. She takes it as a ‘yes’ and gets to work. She’s done enough castings and runways – the backstage rush and frantic hurry – that she’s good at this. Her hands are steady and the bus might be moving across the country but that doesn’t stop her doing an impeccable job.

“Bob’s my first boyfriend.”

She doesn’t know why, but she says it to Gerard anyway. She laughs too. Because it is funny – to her at least. He merely cocks his head to the side, the expression on his face soft; perhaps caught between gentle amusement and confusion.

“First real one,” she decides to clarify, but maybe she really should say ‘First to belong just to me.’

Maybe she doesn’t need to clarify either way. Or at all. Because he is.

 

 

 

 

 

2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

As much as she might like, she cannot stay forever.

The black skies of London greet her as she steps off the plane, and so do The Cab when she unlocks her apartment to find them curled up like puppies on her couch watching Clueless.

Singer blinks. “We were just watering your plants.”

Spencer rolls her eyes. Neither she or Daniel have any. Dumping her case, she squishes in between Cash and Ian. Singer offers her the popcorn. She waits until the morning to call her agents. They are ecstatic to have her back, and to see her working harder to make up for lost time; booking more jobs and actually showing an interest in working outside of Europe.

“This is exactly the sort of attitude I want you to keep up,” her London agent tells her, as he sends her off to another casting.

She’s still not sure if that’s what she wants, but she does think Giancarlo’s right. She can make it through a few years. Make some money, see the world and then move on. Maybe back to making music – not just playing for other people – or maybe to something else. College would please her parents, and this way when it comes to that point Spencer can actually pay for a good one all by herself.

It surprises her though, how happy Bob is when he finds out she’s working in America – or at least open to working closer to it. Sure, America isn’t her market like Europe is. But then again she isn’t a tanned, sun bleached blonde girl next door.

(“More like an odd-looking, possibly anaemic Eastern European pre-teen boy,” Lily comments without being prompted.

Spencer gives her the finger.

Lily rolls her eyes. “Fuck you too.”)

But the first time she actually goes stateside since beginning to date Bob – this time for her second New York Fashion Week, he’s touring. But even if he wasn’t, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Or so she discovers. Across phone lines and state borders she listens to him talk about sound checks and performances and stupid things Frank has done (or is doing) and in turn she tells him bits and pieces from castings and fittings.

But when the week actually starts there is no time for anything other than work. It feels like she’s in a constant state of motion, moving from one venue to another (contracted to so many more shows than her first year), being sown into and cut out of gowns, taped into shoes and pushed down runways and there are drinks and cocktails and designers and names to learn and she never stops. Never. And then the European fashion weeks start up and since she made it clear to her agent that she wanted to get serious about modelling Spencer ends up going to more and more fashion weeks and – it just goes on and on and on.

She works and she works and she works.

She talks to Bob when she can – on taxi rides, between stops on public transport – and listens to Lily’s voicemails whenever she remembers. (She forgets too often, and they build up). Mark and Daniel are missed calls most of the time, and her parents are lost causes.

Then she is done.

All she can think of is her hotel room and it’s big soft bed, but Giancarlo finds out and spends fifteen whole minutes she could have spent in the shower telling her how ridiculous she’s being and how really she can sleep on the road and if she was any sort of vaguely intelligent girl she’d realise if she did, she could sleep with her boyfriend too.

 

 

 

 

When Bob fucks up his wrist, Spencer’s in Rome with Giancarlo and around one to two dozen people employed by Valentino, watching as his latest design is walked by the house model, Marla. The soft chiffon almost seems to float as Marla sweeps her way down the informal runway. Out of the corner of her eye, Spencer spots Giancarlo’s mouth twitch. Cocking her head to the side, she looks at the lines and form of the dress closer. Her eyes are not yet as skilled as Giancarlo’s. She does not see any faults.

She makes herself look more critically.

On the other side of the room, surrounded by the majority of his PR people and personal staff, Valentino is pleased, his hands flying as he talks to one of PR people.

“It is good, no?” he asks, turning towards Giancarlo almost instinctively.

Giancarlo looks at Marla again.

“The proportion is off,” he replies, waving a hand towards the one shoulder.

Valentino turns red and starts to splutters. “It is asymmetry!”

“Yes,” Giancarlo agrees. “But the angle of the cut of the caplet sleeve–”

“It is light.”

And Spencer has spent enough time in their company to know how it will go from there; within moments they begin bickering in a way only lifelong companions can. Or Valentino does, while Giancarlo as close to bickering as he will ever get; the pitch of his voice altering from calm to tired. Spencer feels like snorting. The sound of her mobile ringing was the only thing that stops her.

A smile touches her face; the call listing flashes with Bob’s name.

Except when she answers it, it isn’t Bob on the other end of the line but Brian. The first words that leave his mouth are reassurances the Bob’s okay, that he’s fine and she shouldn’t worry. She – she thinks what, and she thinks fuck, and then within the space of two days she opens the door to her London apartment to find Bob on the other side with his wrist in a cast and his bag filled with pain medication he hasn’t taken.

Bob sleeps most of his first week in London, only waking up groggy and glassy eyed to stumble from her bed to the bathroom and back again.

Spencer tries to be around as much as she can.

With Daniel away on tour, the apartment is quiet. Though The Cabbabies offer to drop by, they aren’t exactly the most ideal company for Bob. They get past Spencer once though. Using the spare key they had got cut (without permission), they sneak in while Spencer is on a job and make themselves right at home.

Because they idolise Mark, when Spencer gets back she finds them all badgering Bob without an ounce of shame. Johnson talks about drums, Cash about a possible collaboration, and Singer about the Pete/Mikey rumours.

It’s mortifying.

Bob only laughs.

(But she wouldn’t be surprised if it’s caused by the pain)

 

 

 

 

Spencer has heard Lily is dating some new guy. But since Lily is dating or screwing around with some new guy every second week, she doesn’t really except it to come to much until Lily announces she’s pregnant.

“There’s a little human inside of me,” she whispers, eyes glittering with joy.

Spencer does not know what to say, but Lily is happy. That is all that counts. Because Lily actually manages to luck out, Ed Simons is a good guy. He not only sticks around but he works on making the whole situation, well, work.

 

 

 

 

Spencer is half asleep when Lily calls. Bob is completely asleep and he grumbles when she rolls away from him to grab her mobile. The name displayed on the call listing that greets her isn’t really a surprise.

“Leave it, Spence,” he tells her, blinking slowly.

“It’s Lily.”

Bob sighs. Loudly. It’s kind of annoying.

“You can go bail her out of whatever mess she’s in later–”

Spencer doesn’t hear the rest of what Bob saying. All she hears is Lily whispering that she had a miscarriage and making a small sound – half a cry, half a whimper. And – Spencer pushes herself out of bed and into some clothes and the first pair of shoes she finds.

Lily looks so tiny when Spencer pushes open the door to her bedroom.

Tiny, tear stained and grief stricken. Kicking off her ballet flats, Spencer crawls over to sit next to her. Blinking back tears, Lily turns away. Spencer heart just – she has no words for what it does. After a little while, Lily tucks her head under Spencer’s chin. Hidden by a curtain of thick dark gold hair, that is how they stay.

Outside her room, Spencer hears Ed fumble around in Lily’s kitchen. She still thinks he’s a stand up guy. Honestly though, she doesn’t expect to see him around too much longer. But it’s the thought that counts and when he brings them some tea, Spencer thanks him. When he leaves the room she pours Lily a cup.

Smoothing her tangled hair, Spencer puts an arm around Lily’s shoulder and when she starts to shake, Spencer pulls her close.

“Oh, Lils…” Spencer finds herself whispering.

 

 

 

 

Spencer goes home when the last of the afternoon light has waned. If she were able to stay longer, she would. But Bob was back at her apartment, with his wrists fucked and still refusing to take any pills for the pain.

Kissing Lily goodbye, Spencer tries to reassure herself that Lily will be okay. Or if not that, at least with Ed working on a batch soup, she is not alone.

She doesn’t really succeed.

While helping Bob cook dinner, she feels herself fray. She’s chopping onions because Bob can’t, not in his state, and – gently, she feels Bob take the knife out of her hand and puts it back down on the chopping board.

“Hey,” he mummers, gathering her up into his arms. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not. It’s really, really not”

“No.” Bob concedes quietly. “It’s not.”

She shouldn’t cry. She shouldn’t. But she does. Bob rocks her a little, and presses a kiss behind her ear before gently turning her. It ridiculous. She’s being ridiculous. It didn’t happen to her. It’s just –

“She was so small,” she says, trying to make him understand. “I’ve never seen her so small.”

Bob nods.

Spencer hurts so much for her. She just – Lily was happy. She was just so happy and so full of joy and excitement. Spencer closes her eyes tightly, but that doesn’t change anything. Not a single thing.

When she opens her eyes, though, Bob’s still there too.

They end up order in. Bob makes her eat and then they watch some shitty reruns. It isn’t late when he turns off the TV but it feels as if it is. Exhaustion overtakes her suddenly, as if it had been nipping at her heels for a long time. Without word, Bob undresses her. She should stop him. His wrists are shot to hell. He shouldn’t be dealing with clips and hooks and her. He really shouldn’t.

“Shhh,” he whispers.

Bob’s hands are so carefully with her. Slipping her cardigan off her shoulders, he slowly unbuttons her jeans and pulls her loose silk-georgette camisole up over her head with such care. In only her underwear, her boring flesh toned underwear that she’s worn to a hundred different castings, runways and shoots, she feels painfully vulnerable. Slowly, he unclips her bra until she’s standing almost naked before him.

The heat in the apartment kicks on.

She shakes nonetheless.

Grabbing one of his clean t-shirts, he threads her arms though the sleeves, and just as carefully as he had undressed her, he pulls it over her head over and tugs it down to her thighs.

He doesn’t say a word.

She can’t.

The bed is unmade. He tucks her in and smooths the covers. Half asleep, half awake she watches him unbuckle his jeans and throw them and his dirty shirt into the laundry pile. Broad and strong, he moves quietly and with a certain amount of thought.

It is only when he is lying beside her, she allows herself to shut her eyes.

 

 

 

 

Spencer stays with Lily for the best part of a week.

Ed makes more soup and tea with honey. Lily doesn’t have the flu, but no one point that out to him. Bob doesn’t come over. Lily can barely manage to have both Ed and Spencer in her room at the same time.

If not for the shoot for Purple Spencer would have stayed longer.

Even with it written in her calendar, the cover/editorial had completely slipped her mind. She almost pulls out at the last minute, but Lily doesn’t let her. Won’t. The shoot takes four days. The flights too and from the location eat up an additional two days.

When she returns, Lily is worn and her publicist and agent had just released a statement on her behalf. Spencer reads it on her Blackberry and holds Lily’s hand when she reads it online.

And as horrid as it sounds and as it is, time goes on.

Ed and Lily drift apart. They were never going to last. But Spencer sees hurt in Lily.

Bob heals slower than everybody would like. He misses his band and his band misses him. He tires of London too. Maybe he can handle the weather and The Cab, but in Chicago, he’s just this guy. Maybe a few kids stop him every now and then for autographs or something. But in London there is a price attached to his name. After getting flash mobbed by paparazzi after one of his final rehab sessions, he reaches his limit.

“Want to go to Chicago?” he asks her when she gets back from her A Magazine shoot.

Spencer looks at him. The shoot was in the desert. Haider Ackermann’s dystopian vision included horses, and her in the dirt. Lots and lots of dirt. Under her nails and in her hair and embedded in clothes she had been dressed in. Dirt, dirt and more dirt.

He had the grace to look a little sheepish.

“Fuck,” she sighs. “I guess I’m already packed.”

 

 

 

 

She’s been stateside more than once, but it’s different staying with Bob in his apartment. There are no shoots to go to or events to make an appearance at. It’s just the two of them. The domesticity of it all unnerves her. He’s only got a free month before the MCR tour machine starts up again (well for him, the others have been on the road almost continuously since he left) and she’s taken off time modelling – just a fortnight or so – to be here with him. And logically she knows Chicago is where the whole music thing started, but she doesn’t really know until he mentions this party.

Lily, of course, offers advice.

“You should wear something slutty.”

Spencer feels a headache beginning to build. She should have known it was coming, but sometimes Lily still catches her by surprise. On the other end of the phone line she vaguely hears Lily bossing her minions around, and her slightly empowered minions trying to get her to do something (with no luck).

“Fuck all that editorial crap you packed.” Lily continues, as if she hadn’t been abusing her star power privilege yet again. “Not one single guy there will know or care that the contents of your carry on cost more than their house deposit.”

Spencer closes her eyes.

“Also,” Lily adds. “Nothing vintage. You’ll just end up standing in some corner talking about, like 1930s bias cut skirts with, like Mikey.”

“Mikey’s not going to be there,” Spencer finds herself replying.

“Some other hipster then,” Lily says, waving her rebuttal off. “You should wear that black dress I gave you. The sort of backless one with those strap things.”

“You said that looked elegant.”

“Of course I did. You wouldn’t have taken it if I told you the truth.”

“Lily!” Spencer exclaims.

She wore that dress the last time she went to dinner with her parents.

Lily being Lily and not, like a good person only laughs and says, “Besides, it’s totally Bob’s favourite.”

“Is not.”

Lily laughs again. “It totally, totally is Spenpenny.”

And of course Lily is right, because the moment Bob catches sight of Spencer wearing the cut out Kimberly Ovitz dress, he pauses. Spencer thinks again, shit; she totally wore it to dinner with her middle aged parents and her twin sisters. No wonder Crystal had talked so much about her gender studies classes and Naomi Wolf.

The party it actually a house party and maybe kid’s Spencer’s age might go to them all the time, she personally can’t remember the last one she went too. All she is certain of is the ones Valentino throws at his various homes don’t count.

Unlike the handful of events and gala’s Bob had attended with Spencer while they were in London, the moment Bob arrives he relaxes. Getting them both drinks, he loops an arm over her shoulders and spends most of the first hour he’s there catching up with Ray and Frank.

The evening goes on.

Spencer excuses herself. The lines to the bathroom are long. By the time she returns, Bob has drifted away from his band mates. Over by the speaker system, she sees him nod thoughtfully to something Patrick says. As the song being played shifts into a different one, the crowd momentarily parts. She attempts to catch Bob’s eye. She fails. He isn’t looking her direction.

Her drink is gone.

Spencer gets herself a new one. She doesn’t pay attention to her surroundings.

“Hey,” Pete says, apparing out of nowhere and standing way too close. “I heard you’re, like, doing the model thing.”

Spencer makes herself nod.

‘The model thing.’

“Yes,” she tells him but almost immediately once she finishes she knows she should have said ‘Yeah’ or something less formal. Less abrupt.

Pete grins, wide and too many teeth.

“We’re just about to launch out new season Clan stuff. You should totally be a part of it Spence. Keep it in the family and shit.”

Condensation drips down the side of the can of soda in Spencer’s hand, tricking over her fingers and down her wrist. Spencer makes herself take a sip. When she finishes, she makes herself smile absently down at Pete from up upon her six-inch Prada platforms.

She thanks him, because that’s what Giancarlo would do.

“I don’t really do catalogue work, though.”

Then she smiles, a little, because that’s also something Giancarlo would do.

“Oh,” Pete says.

“I can recommend a few people, if you want?” she offers, but not really.

She looks for Bob. He’s talking to Patrick. Still.

 

 

 

 

And maybe she might be focused more on Pete, and the others. Or maybe just on herself; the kicked out drummer and betrayed friend and whatever else her pathetic psyche thinks up on the spur of the moment, but it comes to her late as they are getting ready for bed; warm under the covers and lulled by Bob’s steadying heartbeat.

“Patrick,” she whispers so no one but him can hear. “You guys were–”

“Yeah,” he breaths, body tense underneath hers.

Spencer bites her bottom lip.

“You guys still?”

“No,” he tells her, voice full of meaning. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”

And it’s funny, because most of the time it’s her. Her, Spencer, ‘doing that’ to some other unsuspecting significant other. Not the other way round.

 

 

 

 

Lily calls at one in the morning Chicago time, and for the first five minutes of the call Spencer doesn’t hear much. What she does hear she doesn’t understand until Lily spells it out.

“Warped, Spence. I’m going to take over America and you’re coming with me.”

And okay. Okay. Spencer can do that. She looks at Bob who has thrown an arm over his face and is groaning, and yes, she can do that.

It’s stupid, but fuck, if Gemma Ward can take a season off, so can Spencer.

Lily arrives – to collect Spencer and take her along on her tour bus instead – on the second day of Spencer’s visit and five days later than her contract stipulates, with her usual aplomb; knocking on the bus door while on the phone to someone else more interesting than the person – Ray – who opens the door.

“Lily,” Bob greets warily, from where he is standing in the buses tiny kitchenette.

“Bob,” Lily replies as she ends her phone call, wrinkling her nose.

“You’re late.”

“No. I’m right on time,” she retorts. “Where’s Smithy?”

It isn’t exactly an auspicious beginning but it is the beginning.

Warped with Lily consists basically of watching her seduce Brian Schechter and bitch about people on twitter. Actually, it’s more like she spends the first week trying to pick between seducing Ray or Brian, and only decides to go with Brian after she sees him – well, Spencer isn’t sure what makes Lily go for him, all she knows is she’s glad Ray’s wife isn’t going to be out for blood when she makes it out to visits them on tour.

“How long do you think it will take to get into his pants?” Lily asks from the side of the stage as MCR performs their set.

Spencer wants to be fair on Brian, she does. He never minds her joining Bob on tour and he doesn’t give a shit when she steals him back to London when the band take their occasional breathers. But Spencer knows Lily.

“Maybe a week?”

Lily lets out a huff; patience was for losers and people that played golf.

Spencer recalculates.

“Probably less.”

Lily nods (then glares enviously when Gerard hits a particularly awesome note).

Because Brian didn’t walk into managing MCR or any of his other bands with having some survival skills, he eyes Lily suspiciously when she starts in on him.

“Are we really going to do this?”

She looked at him, all doe-eyes and pinafore dresses. “Come on, it’ll be fun. Promise.”

“I don’t fuck talent.”

Being Lily, she laughs, loud and bright and completely undeterred.

“I’m not your talent. But nice try at shooting me down. Won’t work though.”

That is pretty much a summary of their relationship.

The twitter thing is a little less complicated. It basically consists of Lily cyber stalking almost all the other acts on the bill (except the boring ones – which translated means the ones with members she doesn’t current hate or want to sleep with).

“It’s not stalking if you’re following someone online,” Lily corrects Spencer as they walked though the parking lot at the back of the festival grounds. “Also, you should be thankful. I totally convinced the world at large that Brendon Urie has a tiny prick and has no idea what the fuck to do with it.”

Spencer would say something akin to ‘You didn’t’ but knowing Lily as Spencer does, she knows she totally did, and come to think of it, Spencer vaguely remembers Lily sending rather ostentatiously worded (and badly spelt) emails to some girl – Laura Jade? Lana Jane? – a little while back.

Snorting at her own cleverness, Lily catches Spencer’s hand and swings it back and forth like they were children.

“This is going to be great.”

She would have gone on, but then she catches sight of the Gym Class Heroes bus.

“Did you hear they’re dating again?”

“Who?”

“Travis and her.”

‘Her,’ is of course Katy Perry. Spencer really doesn’t even bother to ask.

“And I should care about this because?”

Lily makes a face, and then, seeing movement behind the dark bus windows she pulls Spencer closer to it and announces her plans to seduce Travis.

“That will show her.” Spencer manages to say with only a minimum amount of sarcasm.

“Oh fuck you and your Norwegian boyfriend.”

“You look old when you get angry,” Spencer retorts, and then she swears when Lily pinches her. Hard.

“Don’t be a bitch.”

“Don’t you be a bitch.”

Spencer rubs her abused arm – damn Lily and her acrylic nails – and decides rather lamely to take the high road. And then she opens her mouth.

“I can’t believe I agreed to spend three whole months on the road with you.”

Lily’s eyes shine, and she bounces a little. Disagreement forgotten, she loops her arm back through Spencer’s and pulls her forward.

“It’s going to be wicked, Spence; just you, me and the adoring masses.”

This time Spencer rolls her eyes, “Yeah, yeah and just so you know I saw you eyeing my new Charlotte Olympia boots. I’m not letting you borrow them. I haven’t even worn them yet.”

“Piff,” Lily exclaims, waving her hand. “Think of it as me breaking them in for you.”

Later in the afternoon Lily calls Alicia a bitch to her face.

Luckily for Lily, Mikey is holding Alicia’s hand in his. If he wasn’t, Spencer is pretty sure the other girl would have lunged for Lily and taken her out with one well placed right hook or something equally spectacular. Instead the set of Alicia’s mouth tightens and her expression becomes cruel. She calls Lily a ‘dumb whore’ in return.

If anything it makes Lily like her.

Or at least respect her enough not to eye Mikey over dinner (Spencer might have a boyfriend, but Lily certainly does not).

Instead Lily plays at being charmingly British and annoyingly annoying and manages to insult everyone and everything and Spencer thinks if she were around MCR for more than a few hours in a row she would wear her welcome out completely. As it is, when she retires to her bus at the end of the evening, she does so with a modicum of grace.

 

 

 

 

Because Lily is new wave, she totally doesn’t mind selling out and she’s one of the few acts on the bill that religiously performs at each and every single side venue she can. Unlike the other acts, Lily looks forward to free days with a different sort of enthusiasm. Her bus drivers all hate her now for making them drive in rush to the next festival location during the early hours of the morning instead of the afternoon or evening.

“Not everyone can get tickets to Warped,” she preaches to Spencer, when not gushing over the obscene amounts of money she is making. “It’s almost like I’m doing Warped just for these gigs.”

Her record label (still as inefficient as ever, despite Lily now being one of their main cash cows) originally set her up with a rotating crew of opening acts. But by the third show in, one has stolen one of her stage costumes, and another has turned up high as kites. It isn’t cool for Lily. She totally is the only one allowed to get away with that crap.

In the end Spencer end up calling Mark, and with glee he sends The Cab over to fill in. With their debut album almost finished, they arrive with polished songs and egos to match. With eyes filled with Lily-inspired awe, they take to their role as the substitute opening act like ducks to water. This appeals to Lily’s sense of narcissism and greatly endeared them to her, but somehow Spencer still ends up playing a few covers with Ian wrangled in to accompany her.

On alternative nights, one of Lily’s pianists or base guitarist will play too, snickering as Ian trips over the wire cords as he tried to get to the microphone. Lily pay Spencer in praise on twitter and occasionally on her almost abandoned myspace page, and pays Ian with a few twenties (from her expense account) and a drunken hand-job she ends up giving to Singer instead of Ian, but it works in its own way.

A few times they cover stuff from some of the bands she’s done the occasional bit of drumming for.

A few find out though and complain, so they stop. She stops.

The tour moves forward.

Spencer isn’t sure if anyone other than Brian likes Lily – half the time Spencer doesn’t know why she likes Lily – but with Brian sticking around, MCR begrudgingly gets used to Lily’s presence in their bus. Also backstage and in their greenroom. Pretty much wherever Brian is, Lily is sure to be too and vice versa. Gerard is in equal turns fascinated and horrified by her.

Over breakfast (before any of the guys have had nearly enough coffee) she talks gender/sexuality politics in her usual manner.

“What’s with all the stage boy on boy action?”

Frank blinks.

Lily zeroes in. “It’s an awfully clever marketing tactic. But you do know you’re hijacking another culture and appropriating it to express your own views and values.”

No one is awake enough for this, least of all Gerard.

Frank takes over. “No. We’re making a statement against homophobia.”

Gerard opens his mouth and then closes it. It really is too early for him.

“Frank and I are together,” he managed to get out, but he forgot it was Lily he was addressing.

“But you’re not out out. And even if you say you’re making that statement, that doesn’t stop your actions from being construed as an appropriated vehicle and one that has arguable gotten you guys more media attention and thus more sales.”

At the ‘sales’ bit, Lily’s eyes lit up and her attention splintered away from Gerard.

“I’m not making out with you,” Spencer pre-empts, because she knows Lily and she sees exactly where the conversations going.

“Why not?” Lily pouts.

“You already have enough money and fans.”

Returning to the latest issue of The Economist, Spencer picks up exactly where she left off. Bob lets her share his cereal. Lily sulks. Time passes. For reasons that escape all of them, Lily decides she and Gerard should be friends. This takes many forms, one of which involves kicking Frank out of the room he is sharing with Gerard on one of the few precious hotel nights and corralling him in the cramped bathroom.

Bent over the salmon coloured porcelain sink, with black clippings scattered around his feet, Gerard lets Lily don plastic gloves and get to work. Spencer had no idea why. She had been certain that despite letting Frank kick him in the balls on stage and tackle him to the ground off it, Gerard would have had at least an ounce of survival instinct buried deep inside him. It isn’t the first time she’s been wrong though.

“Are you sure it’s meant to burn?” he asks.

Lily rolls her eyes.

“Beauty is pain.”

Within the first month of being signed, Spencer had her hair cut five times. She still remembers the expression on Lily’s face when she saw number three.

“She said ‘at least you don’t look like a boy anymore,’” Spencer informs Gerard as Lily finishes bleaching his hair and begins to bleach her own. “And then she laughed.”

“I did not.”

“Lily.”

Lily rolls her eyes. “Fuck. Okay, maybe that does sound like something I maybe might have said. But in my defence they were a series of increasingly awful hair cuts.”

“They got me work.”

Lily snorts.

“The only thing they did was stop gay dudes hitting on you.”

“You’re an awful friend,” Spencer tells her.

It isn’t a lie.

Lily shrugs.

Three weeks – two states and one cover of Cosmopolitan and a scattering of paparazzi photographs – later, Lily frowns. Peering at the advanced copy of Cosmo and then at the snapshots of Gerard, she purses her lips.

“He’s a prettier blonde me,” she concludes finally.

“He looks like a serial killer,” Spencer argues.

“I look like I stole Lindsay Lohan’s weave.” Lily counters, and now that she points it out, well, there is only so much Spencer can say.

“You don’t look like you scalped her,” Spencer offers.

Lily sighs.

They try pink next. Same result.

The darling Cabbabies argue otherwise of course, but there is only so much they can do. Or get around to doing. Mostly they get drunk and high and into trouble more times than they don’t, and Mark ends up having to fly out to try and talk them into being the bright young slightly respectable rock stars he knows they can be (and are, deep, deep down). It’s about time. As good at Spencer might be with them, she isn’t Mark. After bailing them for the hundredth time, it’s a relief to have someone else take the reins.

Since Mark is an opportunist, he sticks around. Of course he tells everyone shitty reasons like how he’s going to swing by and visit his sister(s), but no one (who knows him) actually believes him, and anyone who might have stops after his first week of ‘networking’ and bus hopping and on one memorable occasion, bus chasing (because he’s a class act like that).

Within the first week of his visit, Lily and Mark fight – loudly and in front of absolutely everyone – and then make up. She introduces him to Brian afterwards, and they compares their ‘don’t fuck the talent’ philosophies. Neither have had much success. By the end of the talk they mutually agree that the person who manages Lily deserves a fucking medal or at the very least a substantial raise. (Knowing Lily’s manager personally, Spencer doesn’t think the lazy bastard deserves either.)

A month before Warped ends, as the summer reaches its peak, Panic at the Disco’s second studio album is released.

There isn’t a lot of buzz or fanfare, not like the first one.

There are whispers about them. Everybody has heard. Even Spencer.

She’s also heard they’ve been playing the occasional new track live. Once she’d even hung around in the MCR’s greenroom with Lily and Brian and listened to them play it. But it is different holding the finish product in her hand.

Spencer listens to it with Lily. Lily buys it off Amazon because occasionally she can be discreet. They sit in her bus and lock everyone else out. The air condition rattles and Lily’s laptop (open and on her twitter page) glow, and together they listen to the album from the start to the finish.

A lot of it goes over Spencer’s head. Maybe all of it, if she is honest. She doesn’t get the wolf metaphor, but then again, she doesn’t get why they’d make a musical concept album. And maybe that’s really the point of everything.

Quietly, as the last notes of the final song fade, she thinks about her long neglected drums, and Mark’s ideas and the snatches of music Daniel leaves on her voicemail and when the last song comes to a close she plays with her now chipped nail polish and tries to think how to say all the things she does not have the ability to articulate properly.

In the end she doesn’t say anything.

“Fucking derivative trash,” Lily comments, but her tone lacks spite; she looks like she wants to hug Spencer.

Spencer makes herself nod, and after a beat Lily puts the album away. Spencer doesn’t think she’ll see it again. She thinks it’s for the best.

From the top step of the bus, Lily hooks her chin over Spencer’s shoulder and wraps her arms tightly around her waist. Before them, Spencer sees Mark waiting for them, and Gerard looking slightly twitchy talking to him.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Lily tells Spencer, whispering it into her ear. “I am.”

Spencer feels like she is made of cellophane instead of flesh and bone.

The sun blinds her.

“You’re just glad I was able to get Katy Perry’s mobile number so you could blackmail her properly.”

Lily stills.

“I think it’s time you did something,” she says, her voice measured.

Spencer shrugs.

Lily takes a step away from her.

“Sometimes I don’t get you Spence,” Lily tries again, her dark eyes serious. “People would kill to be in your position.”

Maybe they would.

Spencer wouldn’t really know.

 

 

 

 

For what’s left of the tour she tries to enjoy herself and in the process, somehow Spencer ends up having a reasonable time. On hotel nights she sleeps with Bob and then gets piggy back rides down to the lobby for breakfast and on every other night she hangs out with Lily, who is demanding and refuses to share her with any American boy, no matter how good he is in bed except for when she decides to go experience how good Brian is in bed first hand. On those occasions Spencer is totally free to sit next to Gerard and talk about what Marc Jacobs was like on the two occasions she meet him (while Bob yawns and acts totally bored).

Like everybody else in the world, Gerard thinks Marc Jacobs can do no wrong. He also isn’t ashamed to admit that Marc Jacobs is number one on his and Frank’s List of Exceptions.

Somehow, between all the time she spends with Bob, and the time she spends with Lily and Gerard, something maybe starts to happen between Mark and Patrick. Patrick, as in the guy her boyfriend is in love with and the guy she’s avoiding. Lily catches them talking about music (man). Then everyone else does when Lily connects the dots.

“You’re a traitor,” Lily says, because Spencer won’t (wouldn’t ever). “He’s the enemy.”

“He’s a genius,” Mark replies, standing to his full height.

“He’s a filthy rotten backstabber,” Lily shoots back, glaring up at him.

“He didn’t do anything.”

“Exactly.” Lily snaps loudly, as if Mark has just nailed the last nail into his coffin. “He didn’t do anything. Spencer was abandoned in London, all by herself, and he didn’t do a thing. None of them did.”

And more than anything Spencer wants to walk away. People are looking. Mark looks destroyed. Lily is red-faced and looks triumphant in the way children who win arguments with their parents do. Wrapping her fingers around Spencer’s wrist in a supposed gesture of support, she grips it tightly and pulls Spencer away from Mark.

Mark and Patrick don’t really stop, but after Lily’s dramatics, something changes.

Maybe, Bob notices.

Or perhaps, Spencer does.

And maybe that’s all it takes for things to unravel. For the uneasy truce to shatter and Spencer, fuck, she feels too embarrassed for words. She doesn’t know what she’s doing still on tour, still on Bob’s bus, still with Bob months and months after discovering the truth. She feels like a fucking fool and like some pity case and when she packs her things away she knows that she should have done it long ago.

 

 

 

 

The apartment is empty when Spencer arrives back in London.

The curtains are drawn and there is nothing in the refrigerator. Daniel is on tour. Everyone is. She puts her bags in her room, unzips them and unpacks them. She puts her shoes back into the correct boxes, her toilettes back into the bathroom, and divides her clothes into a laundry pile and a dry cleaning pile.

It’s noon.

It feels later.

Her agents return her calls one by one.

She briefly speaks to her Parisian agent. Her American agent is less succinct. The call takes longer than it should. Assumptions are made. No corrections from her are offered. She is tried when it ends. Her London agent invites her out for lunch. It is not clear if the offer is made for appearance’s sakes, or if it is meant. Spencer knows she should accept either way.

She is nineteen.

She is getting old.

Words are said. Dates and times are relayed.

When zipping herself into a clean dress, Spencer catches her finger. She does not know how. Pulling away instinctually, the metal teeth make short work of her index finger. In the spotless kitchen she runs cold water over the cut. Only half done up, the dress’s sleeves slip down her arms.

The city is empty.

She decides to leave it.

 

 

 

 

She works and she works and she works.

Spencer’s done this before. She knows she has. She still has the scars. But inside she aches anew; for Bob and for what she had and didn’t have with him. They weren’t even together that long. She knows this. Only a year or so. That’s not too long. Not really. Not in comparison. And she’s not alone. Lily is a phone call away. Giancarlo is too (not that she’d bother him, but still, he is there and she knows he is). And she had other people.

Has.

She has other people.

She has Giancarlo, who brings her into his arms and holds her like she is blood instead of a girl he picked up out of the gutter at party during London Fashion Week. There are other people besides them people she knows and can talk to and from whom she occasionally accepts invitations to parties and events and even just to have coffee in the time it takes the photographer to dismantle one scene and set up the next.

She’s not alone.

She tells herself this when she’s being stupid.

Break ups go a certain way. Gerard and Frank and Ray and Brian and Mikey – they all belong to Bob, just as much as Lily and Giancarlo belong to her. It’s how things go. She shouldn’t be surprised and she shouldn’t be ungrateful. She shouldn’t.

Then Gerard texts her a photograph (that Frank must have help him take and send, since Gerard is fucking hopeless when it comes to technology).

The first is of him in stage make-up. Nothing she hasn’t seen before; just him, beautiful and childlike and sweet broken doll disturbing. The second is one letter: ‘u?’

And she laughs.

She cannot help herself. It escapes without warning. And of course Bob would let her have this too. Of course. And for a second, a totally unforgivable and excruciating second, she loves Bob too much for words. Too much for her own good. Really, exactly like she always had.

She waits for about a fortnight; does New York, London and Milan.

And then she gets to Paris fashion week.

With shaking hands, she sends him one of her at Louis Vuitton, and then one at her next show. Finally, at Viktor and Rolf she sends him a text, telling him to watch the show online. She’s the last girl out. For the first time in her career, she envies the girls before her. Each model has a light rig and speakers strapped onto them. Some girls make it look effortless.

Her, well, she doesn’t know.

But her rig is fucking huge, and she’s in five inch wooden clogs and if Gerard doesn’t get a kick out of it, she doesn’t know who will.

He calls her almost immediately after the avant-garde show goes online; he splutters and waxes poetic and talks concept and metaphors and she – she wishes more than anything Patrick was old news, that he was forgettable and forgotten, because Bob is better than almost everyone Spencer knows.

And it’s the truth.

Even though she knows better (even though she knows she did the right thing), she wants and she wants – Bob’s given her so much and so she shouldn’t want more but she does and she wants it and she wants it and – she will make herself stop. Given time. Well, she hopes.

Lily calls a week later.

“You’re on that motherfuckers website.”*

Spencer hasn’t slept or eaten in… fuck, she doesn’t know how long. And she had a show in less than an hour and three more after that and more than one after party and also, a gala? She’s not sure about the last one, but her agent likes her to be seen and Giancarlo agrees (as long as she isn’t seen too much) and she is in a taxi and really, she should have looked at the ID before she answered the call.

“Lily?”

“Pete Wentz. He fucking put one of your pictures on his fucking website. And quoted Rachel motherfucking Zoe.”

The taxi pulls up at the pavilion and Spencer has to get her wallet out and figure out the bills and she’s tired and coffee makes one’s teeth yellow and fucking stunts growth and – what?

“Don’t worry, Spence, I’ll take care of this for you.”

And Lily hangs up and Spencer knows she should worry or call her back or call Mark or do something but she’s on the verge of being late and she really can’t be late – she’s not one of those models – so she runs and she doesn’t think about Lily even though she should.

She’s booked and booked and booked all up and there is no time, none at all and then – then she has the Valentino show and. And – she’s fine. She’s fine. She turns up early and she kisses everyone hello and gets fitted and learns the choreography and memorises the order she’s walking in and she gets made up and she gets put into her first look and photographs are taken and –

She knows people are talking.

They talk every year. Every season.

It never means anything. It has never meant anything. Except, Giancarlo is guarded with his words and Matteo is talking figures and Valentino isn’t quite how he should be and three of the PR people burst into tears after the show and Spencer thinks ‘No,’ and she thinks ‘He can’t.’ Suddenly Giancarlo is using his thumb to make sure her mascara doesn’t run everywhere before they’ve finished taking the last of the promotional pictures and –

“Spencer,” he says, and then he repeats himself which is unusual because he never does, never.

She tries to look at him, tries to meet his gaze. She does. Her hands are shaking. They are. She clenches them into fists. Tight and carefully; carefully because she’s wearing a diamante cocktail ring and the dress she’s in is made of the finest silk tulle and there is only one in existence and if the fabric got caught it would be ruined and so she is careful, as careful as she can be. Giancarlo takes her hands though, even though she was watching them, and he holds them in his.

“Do not cry,” he tells her softly, so softly she almost doesn’t hear. Not with all the camera’s and people and rush.

“I’m not,” she retorts. Because she isn’t.

She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t play that card.

They have pictures to take. The media wants one of all the models and Valentino. They want one of Valentino and Giancarlo. They want one of Giancarlo and Matteo and they probably wouldn’t turn down a few of her scattered in the background with a few other people.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he tells her.

He brings her close and he tells her that, kisses her temple and she tries to be careful and not to get make-up on his suit or to make a mess of her hair. She does. She does. She’s fine. Giancarlo doesn’t have to do this. She’s fine. She feels like a fool, but she’s fine.

She is. Really.

 

 

 

 

Spencer’s mother usually calls maybe once or twice a fortnight, normally on the weekend or a Monday morning. She’s good with time zones and good with dates, so usually Ginger’s timing is perfect. But one Thursday night she calls. Spencer is in the process of checking into a flight back to London. It’s late and Spencer only just manages to get the call before her voicemail service picks it up.

She’s booked to do the cover/editorial of i-D and her agent tells Spencer to get her arse back in the U.K. as quickly as possible because the publication is running late and the editor likes to talk more than he likes to edit and Spencer needs to make a good impression (as per unusual). The security guard is eyeing Spencer and Spencer really shouldn’t be on the phone when she’s checking in; it’s rude and being rude isn’t good business if you aren’t Naomi Campbell and Spencer sure as hell isn’t, and she means to tell her mother that but –

Ginger tells her Ryan’s father has died.

Ginger tells Spencer to come home.

Spencer – Spencer changes her flight.

 

 

 

 

The too bright light of Vegas nearly blind her when she walks out of the airport too many hours later, sleep deprived, maybe a little bit hung over from those tiny bottles filled with tiny amounts of liquor. She has no driver arranged so she gets into the taxi line, but when she reaches the front she realises she has no American money in her purse. (She was meant to be going back to London, London.) And she is a mess and she can’t find an ATM so she ends up getting ripped off by the money exchange people and it’s only as she walks out into the arrival lounge, dragging behind her a suitcase full of totally unsuitable things she remembers Ginger had said she’d send her father to pick Spencer up.

The whole thing is a fucking shit storm.

Spencer’s carry on suitcase is filled with her favourite trench and long silk scarfs and high heeled boots and things that are beautiful and perfect but for a wintery Paris and for work or for parties, not for Las Vegas and certainly not for the funeral of George Ross. She doesn’t have enough time. Her flight took up hours and hours and when she gets home Ginger says a lot of stuff and most of it is stuff Spencer doesn’t want to hear and her suitcase, it doesn’t have anything in it. Spencer wants to tell Ginger she doesn’t have anything to wear, not even her reliable pair of black patent leather pumps that she pulls out at least once a week.

She doesn’t though.

It’s such a stupid thing to say. Such a cliché. Every part of it is stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and Spencer tries, she really does, but the soft leather of the high waisted Chloé skirt she had borrowed from Lily keeps catching her eye. She packed that, but not her black pumps?

“Spencer,” Ginger says again, and Spencer can’t listen.

She can’t shop either, it seems when she manages to borrow her father’s car and get herself to the mall. The mall, for God sake; one day ago she’d been on the Champs-Élysées. She can’t even remember when she’s last been in a mall.

She doesn’t buy a thing there.

But she does spend a small fortune on the strip, buying a last season’s Gucci dress. The sales assistant doesn’t recognise her. Not even when Spencer sees footage herself from the previous season’s show running on a continuous loop on the store’s flat screen.

However, the woman does smile at Spencer when she helps her zip up the size two dress, “You look like a model in this.”

Spencer doesn’t correct her.

Instead she accepts the compliment, and offers her credit card in return.

 

 

 

 

The next day, Ginger drives them to the funeral.

Crystal and Jackie sit either side of Spencer in the backseat. They talk. Spencer knows she is invited to contribute. The embargo of her previous visits had been lifted. She does not. Words have abandoned her. Instead she watches her mother drive.

Dressed in her only black dress, she drives in orange crocs. In the passenger’s seat, Geoff holds her heels. At the traffic lights, Spencer notices her bra strap has slipped off her shoulder. It is black. Plain, with no lace or embroidery. Utilitarian. It is getting a little frayed. A tiny strip of elastic is exposed, matte and rubbery against her tanned skin.

The lights change.

Ginger turns.

As she did, her dress rides up a little. There is a ladder in her stocking. Just a small one. It is hardly visible at all when she gets out of the car and smooths her dress back down over her knees. Spencer wouldn’t have suspects a thing if she hadn’t seen with her own eyes.

There are no runs in Spencer’s stockings.

Neither Crystal or Jackie are wearing stockings. They aren’t wearing heels either. Neither has noticed that Spencer is, and that they are one of the pairs she had gotten them for Christmas the year before.

They haven’t been worn. Brand new.

They are half a size too small. As they draw close to the church, Spencer wishes, again, that she had brought her own.

The service is short and unmemorable. Her family sit near the middle. Ryan, his band, his mother and her new family all sit up the front. Ryan’s mother holds on to his step father and weeps.

At the cemetery, the stiletto heels of Spencer’s borrowed shoes sink into the muddy ground.

Words are said. Spencer does not hear them; Ryan looks at her.

Ryan looks at her and she looks back at him and one moment Spencer is standing next to her sisters, and the next she takes a step forward and then another and then he is pulling her, pulling her to the front, pulling her close.

She holds him.

She wraps her arms around him and holds him close and his tears stain her collar bone. With his head tucked under her chin, she kisses his crown, his hair, the corner of his eye and he clings to her. Bunching up the cotton of her trench coat with one hand, the other tangling in the loose silk of the too big and too expensive black Gucci dress she had bought on the strip.

The ceremony ends.

They break apart; Panic is waiting for Ryan. So is a girl, lithe and blonde, that Spencer vaguely recognises. Vaguely. Spencer cannot think. Spencer’s mother takes Ryan into her arms.

“Oh, Ryan,” she says, pressing a kiss to his stained cheek. “Oh, baby.”

Spencer takes a step back, and then another and then another. She gets into her mother’s car, sits next to her sisters. They don’t say a word.

The wake is held at Ryan’s old house.

It hasn’t changed. Much.

Spencer isn’t sure if it should have, or if it shouldn’t have. Someone must have cleaned it up. Someone must have. The lawn is mowed, rooms aired and the carpet recently vacuumed. Probably there was some company that came out and did it. Ginger would know. Maybe Ginger organised it. There are so many people. It is beyond Spencer’s understanding how many people are there for George Ross.

Crystal takes the casserole that Ginger made into the kitchen.

Spencer looks at the makeshift bar. She looks at it and she thinks to herself she wants a drink. She thinks she wants a whole bottle full of drink. Maybe a whole bar fill. It’s ironic. Or tasteless. Or maybe both. Probably both.

She makes herself look away.

The company hired for the evening should have been better briefed.

At one point in time, she must have been better than this. She must have been.

Jackie bumps her hip against Spencer’s.

“I’m going to check on Mom,” she announces.

“Okay.”

“I think she’s still helping with the food. Want me to bring you back anything?”

Spencer shakes her head.

She looks back at the bottle of vodka.

One day ago she was in Paris. Or maybe it was two? Hours of flight and the shifting time zone seams add up. Mostly. Sometimes they subtract. Sometimes. She looks back at the bottle of vodka. It’s gone though. One of George’s old army buddies has opened it and is mixing a drink.

“Hey Spence,” someone says. They touch her arm, too.

Brendon.

“Hey,” he repeats.

She echoes him. But she’s pretty sure her tone lacks what it needs.

He’s in a suit. It’s black. Not charcoal or midnight, just black. It doesn’t fit him. The arms are a little too long. But that’s the wrong thing to focus on. She tries again. His eyes are red rimmed. His face is worn. They were almost the same age originally. She’s sure of it.

“It’s good to see you.”

She blinks, and opens her eyes to see Jon there too.

“Yeah,” Jon adds. “Except, you know, for the circumstances”

“Yeah,” she tries that on for size. “Yeah.”

A sweep of the room makes her aware of Zach and Brent, but not her replacement. Maybe he could be in the bathroom. She doesn’t know. From the periphery of her vision, she catches Jon shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He’s in a suit too. Suit and skinny tie. Cassie must have bought both. Or a stylist sent in by the label. Probably a stylist.

“You in town for long?” someone asks, maybe Jon. Probably Jon.

The answer is on the tip of her tongue. Yet she shakes her head instead of articulating it. Three days. She can’t stay any longer. Her agent said. One of them. Well, she thinks that’s what someone said. Initially, maybe she said that. Schedule-wise, she is completely booked. Or she had been. Goodbye cover/editorial in i-D. There goes one more valuable good first impression out the door.

Across the room, the blonde girl exchanges a few words with Ryan.

There is something in the way she holds herself, that is familiar. Something about how she agilely moves the lengths of her body that Spencer recalls from somewhere. She isn’t really tall though. Not in comparison. Made up of soft sun-bleached hair and pink lip gloss, she is sweet. Sweet and pretty.

Brendon touches her arm again.

When she meets his gaze, he and Jon are looking at her. She must have missed something. They must have said something and she must have missed it.

“Sorry,” she tells them.

“It’s okay,” Jon says, slowly. “Bren just asked if you’d have some time tomorrow to catch up.”

“My flight is tomorrow afternoon.”

“Ours isn’t.”

“Okay.”

Okay.

 

 

 

 

They are seated in a booth, right near the windows. The sun glares through the glass. It cuts at Spencer’s skin and she doesn’t take off her oversized sunglasses. Tapping her nails against the table, she lets herself order a bottle of water and a fruit salad. She feels awkward and exposed. Her nail polish is perfect. Dark red. No chips or smudges. She should be careful. She also should have ceased the tick long ago. She presses her fingertips, one by one, against the Formica table. There. Better.

“I guess those photographs I took of you are worth a bit more than I thought.” Jon says.

Spencer looks at him and blinks. It would be polite to remove her sunglasses. She knows this. Her mother taught her manners. Giancarlo makes her want to practice them. She keeps them on. It’s almost noon. The sun is getting higher. She really should reapply her sunscreen. Freckles don’t sell.

Brendon makes a throw away comment about her now needing ten thousand dollars to get out of bed.

He laughs.

Five days previously Marc Jacobs paid her two point five million to lay half naked in a meadow holding an oversized bottle of his newest perfume against her breast. Apparently he and Juergen Teller were pleased with her. So pleased they have talked about making her the face of the Spring Marc Jacobs line. She would be replacing Meg White. She doesn’t tell Brendon any of this.

Her mobile rings.

She answers it.

“Sorry,” she says, “It’s my agent. I have to take it.”

She is seated by the window. Ryan is next to her. He doesn’t make any move to get up and let her pass. She takes the call at the table. The call is short. They hear every word. Turns out the rumours have been right. Marc thinks she’s darling and interesting, and thus, the new Marc Jacobs girl.

Brendon says, “Wow. That’s cool.”

Spencer puts her phone aside.

Their orders arrive.

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, outside, they make small talk. They offer to drive her home.

She shakes her head.

“It’s a short walk,” she tells them.

Ryan doesn’t look at her.

As soon as he can, Ryan is putting the house on the market. That’s what he says. Spencer thinks that nothing ties any of them to Las Vegas anymore. She thinks that if she wanted, this could be the last time she ever saw any of them. This could be it.

She –

She blinks and all of a sudden, Spencer realises she doesn’t know any of them or play any part in their shinny new lives.

Spencer’s phone rings. She should take it. She should. But she doesn’t. She lets it go to voice mail.

She – she doesn’t know anymore.

When they offer, she lets them exchange numbers.

 

 

 

 

 

2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spencer returns to Europe.

She returns to work.

She apologises to the people, companies, and magazines that had to reschedule because of her unexpected absence.

A few bookings are made. A few more are talked about.

Spencer, she just –

Maybe all of life is about knowing the right people. The only thing is, Spencer knows the wrong set of right people. It’s awful and she knows she shouldn’t be so ungrateful. She knows she’s lucky. Fuck, she’s beyond lucky.

But there is it.

At the Carven shoot, Catherine Baba makes Spencer into a modern day Ophelia, dressing her in a silk slip and putting wilted flowers and brambles in her hair. With the help of the photographer’s assistants, they put her into a bathtub and fill it to the brim with water. It slops over the edge every time she moves. The thin material of the silk slip sticks to Spencer’s skin, made translucent by the water. Her hair gets tangled in the spaghetti straps and around her neck. It isn’t really glamorous, but Spencer hopes the photographs will be.

The water is uncomfortably lukewarm almost cold by the end of the day.

She walks away with a headache and wakes up the next morning to a cold.

 

 

 

 

Giancarlo invites her to brunch. She hasn’t been back in London for a full month. But what’s another flight? She makes herself repack her bags. Or unpack them. She makes herself get on another plane too, and get off it and into the car waiting to pick her up.

Her arrival seems to be timed perfectly with the arrival of Matteo Marzotto, the President of the Valentino Fashion House. He helps her out of the car and greets her with kisses on both cheeks. Everything about him embodies charm. Yet as much as he is liked and received with pleasure, Spencer knows there is a difference between being liked and being respected. There is also a difference between being liked and being trusted.

It is unfortunate in many respects, but there are lines drawn between them.

That does not stop him from being amiable company or her from responding in kind. Spencer does not expect an invitation to be extended for him to join Spencer and Giancarlo’s lunch. And it is not. Because God gave with both hands, Matteo accepts the matter without fuss. He even makes the scene between the three of them pleasant. Charm smoothing over all slights. It’s amazing to watch. If Spencer could, she would imitate it. But she cannot.

Overall, lunch is a quiet affair.

It hasn’t even been a month since Spencer left Las Vegas, but it feels like a year. She is certain that Giancarlo, who examines her with surgeons' eyes, knows this. Though they are seated inside, she shivers a little as one of the waitresses passes their table.

Spencer finds she has little to stay. Unusually distracted, Giancarlo tries but his attention strays at times.

“I have booked you for the entire season,” Giancarlo announces abruptly.

She does not understand.

“You were getting too over exposed,” he supplies without being prompted.

Spencer nods, though she is confused.

Together, she and Giancarlo had carefully moderated and controlled her career. She ran every contract and offer buy him – no matter how big or small. Unlike her agents who, can’t be trusted with absolute certainty not to say whatever suited them best, Giancarlo is honest and he knows the business like the back of his hand. He also unconditionally looks out for her interests, this time when he invites her to stay with he and Valentino in their Roman home.

Though she knows she shouldn’t, Spencer takes up the offer to stay with them in Rome.

It isn’t until a few days have passed and Spencer has settled, Giancarlo invites her to review the progress achieve of the so far. Decades of glorious gowns, paillette covered suits, heavily embroidered skirts, feathered coats and all kinds of glorious accessories are brought pulled from archives. In one of the largest studios she joins Giancarlo, Valentino as they survey them with the help of Hamish Bowles, and the head designer for the retrospective being held in the Aras Pacis.

From the side of the room, Giancarlo and Spencer watch Valentino, Hamish and the other exhibit designers go through them. In raptures, Hamish cannot bring himself to even touch a single item. With wide incredulous eyes, his glaze darts from coat hanger to coat hanger and then to Spencer.

Spencer goes to step forward.

Giancarlo places a firm hand on her arm.

“I did not bring you hear to act as an in house model,” he reprimands afterwards.

She doesn’t really understand until Giancarlo invites her to sit in on a meeting with Matteo, Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda (the designers of the Aras Pacis exhibit), various board members and other individuals whom are all involved with the anniversary celebrations.

The Valentino House is filled with a strange sort of energy.

The meeting is filled with odd moments, with people tip toeing around Valentino and the inevitable (and currently unanswered) question regarding his retirement. Spencer feels like the odd one out. No one comments on her presence though. Giancarlo’s insistence on her inclusion is enough to stop anyone from being so bold. It’s a slight though. One that goes ignored by Matteo and unnoticed by Valentino who edges on moody and unpredictable as the plans for the festivities are proposed.

This year will make forty five years in the fashion industry for Valentino.

Huge celebrations are in the works, the grandest that the fashion world has ever seen. At least that’s the plan. Amidst it all, rummers of a take over are rife. Spencer finds it disgracefully. Yet parts of her are not surprised. It is a product of today’s market. When Giancarlo and Valentino sold up they did so at exactly the right time. They not only received the best price for the Valentino Fashion House brand, but Giancarlo arranged the best terms.

Later Matteo’s easy charisma is even more remarkable when Giancarlo quietly talks about the take over bid that Permira, a private equity fund, was in the process of making. Certainly, Spencer had been aware something that happening with the House. Though no one had asked her personally if she knew anything, when the trading of the Valentino Fashion Group was suspended a week previously, there were whispers. As the documentary camera’s roll, and the whispers increase in volume Giancarlo – he frays a little. Not noticeably, but he does.

Over a casual lunch after the meeting, Giancarlo allows someone else rather him articulate the buy outs certainty. In a crisp cotton shirt, his expression is completely unreadable. The sun glares down on them. Spencer fishes her sunglasses out of her Marcello de Cartier tote. The documentary cameras roll. From what Spencer knows, they’ve been doing so for a while. Spencer supposes Matt the director has been counting his lucky stars. Instead of a mere film about fashion, he now had the makings of an epic. Or, if not that, one hell of good story.

“It looks like they will acquire the majority share within a few days” Giancarlo explains later in the privacy of his office; his tone even and carefully modulated.

And they do.

The neat sum of 782.6 million euros buys Permira 29.6 percent of the company.

“We have been bought and sold as if we were a baseball card,” he mutters, almost under his breath.

Spencer is silent. It is true.

The Valentino House is the pearl in Permira’s collection. Giancarlo did the right thing selling when he did. Spencer knows both Giancarlo and Valentino recognise this. Everyone does. But it is still their life’s work being shuffled around in a new company’s deck.

Throwing his pen aside, Giancarlo swears.

 

 

 

 

The night before the first day of celebrations, Spencer joins Valentino and his staff for a private dinner at Ristorante Gusto. As much as it can be, it is a lovely night.

Ryan calls Spencer, just after one of Valentino’s drivers had taken her home.

It’s early. He doesn’t know what time zone she’s in. But she’s up anyway. She’s always up. She doesn’t know what time it is where he is. She does not even know where he is. She can though, if she wants. All it would take is one google search. Or an E! news search.

She has no idea what to say to him.

“I wanted to speak to you,” he says. But that is where he stops.

She thinks he doesn’t know what to say either.

She thinks he just lost his father. She thinks a month ago she held him as they lowered his father into the ground. She thinks a month and one day ago George Ross was alive and they hadn’t spoken to each other in years. She thinks once, there was a girl who couldn’t imagine a future where she and Ryan weren’t tangled up together.

She makes herself imitate an easy conversation.

He talks about the band and about the tour.

“We’re in Phoenix,” he tells her. “Last night a fifteen year old girl asked Brendon to marry her.”

“I hope he said no,”

There is a muffled sound. Maybe a laugh. Maybe not. It was a lame reply.

“Brendon always makes Zach work for his pay check.”

“I’ll bet.”

For a little while longer, Ryan talks more about the tour, about cities that are cold and press that are stupid and his having his girlfriend Keltie dancing on their tour (now Spencer remembers her). He sounds worn and so sad and in the background she can hear the sounds of the road.

“I’m in Rome,” she offers, because it is true.

She thinks she should say more. It feels awkward though to mention the Carven shoot she recently completed and it feels uncomfortable gauche to discuss Valentino and her place within the celebrations. Her head is empty though, so she tells him about both.

“I thought you were doing Marc Jacob?” he asks afterwards.

“I am,” she answers. “Carven, Marc Jacobs, Hermes, and probably the new perfume that Valentino is releasing new month.”

She thinks it’s likely. The House extended her contract (Giancarlo insists she has her legal team look over any and all Valentino contracts despite their relationship), and both Giancarlo and Valentino agreed she will be opening the Haute Couture show. Being chosen as the face of the House’s new perfume is the next likely commitment.

“The exclusivity contract just pertains to this seasons fashion weeks,” she clarifies.

Ryan is silent for a while.

Spencer cannot think of anything to say.

Bowing her head, she catches sight of the pair of platforms she had left out in her rush to get changed in time to make it to dinner. The tips of the toes are a little scuffed. Earlier that day she accompanied Giancarlo to a final site inspection at the Temple of Venus just to double check everything would be perfect. Traces of the ruins irony rumble are visible in the scratches.

Over the phone line, she hears Ryan’s breath catch, then break.

“Spence,” he whispers, so quiet she can hardly hear him. “Spence. I never got to make it right with him.”

Spencer –

“Spence,” he says, his voice small and hard. “I hated him. I fucking hated him.”

She closes her eyes. Closes her eyes and presses the back of her wrist against them. Ryan lets out a not-sob. He repeats himself. Again and again. He must be running out of air, but he doesn’t stop. Spencer cannot feel a single thing. He can’t stop and she cannot feel a single thing. Not the heat of the radiators or the rattle of the floorboards above her or the draft from balcony French doors. Not anything.

“Spence,” he says. “I fucking hated him”

His voice is desperate.

“He loved you, Ryan, no matter what,” she says, speaking over him. “I know he did.”

He isn’t listening though so she has to say it again, louder.

Ryan stops.

The phone line crackles.

Ryan’s calling from the tour bus. He told her this. He’s on the road. Miles could be whipping past him. She does not know. He could be going anywhere. If he hadn’t told her, he could be anywhere.

“I didn’t speak to him once since you left.”

Ryan’s thousands of miles away from her. He’s in fucking Phoenix.

Spencer makes herself speak.

“That doesn’t matter,” she says. “He loved you.”

He had.

Spencer hated him too. She hated him. Hated every bruise, every cut and sprain. Hated him for every night Ryan crawled through her window, and crawled shivering and shaking into her bed. She hated him for the look he put in Ryan’s eye. He had been a drunk. He had rarely acted like a father should.

But he had loved Ryan. He had.

Spencer is old enough now to see that – to see it and to understand it for what it was.

“I’ve got to go,” Ryan says after a while.

Spencer looks at her boots. The sky is getting light. Morning is only a few scant hours away.

“Me too.”

 

 

 

 

The phone call rattles her. She feels off balance and... just off.

The next day the celebrations start, formally, at the Ara Pacis with the opening of Valentino’s retrospective. She wakes too early and spends the hours until dawn staring at the ceiling. In her head, she runs and reruns through the phone call a hundred times her.

The day before Valentino had sent her a dress. It takes her longer than it should to make herself slip it over her head and zip it up. She feels so much – awful and angry and guilty and pained and just everything - that she is numb. Inside her chest, her heart thumps and throws itself around with an irregularity that, once or twice, leaves her struggling and short on breath.

At the Ara Pacis, she forces herself to stop. To breathe and to smile.

Inside the antique ruin around three thousand items of haute couture from various decades and designed for his various clients are displayed beautifully on gold mannequins arranged on colour coded platforms and hung up from the walls.

Spencer is one of the first to stream inside. Within moments she finds herself separated from Giancarlo. For a moment she finds herself with a few of the seamstresses. She catches a little of their conversation (her Italian is very much still a work in progress), but only a little. They point out looks they remember and reminisce about hours and hours of work.

The crowds are intense. The media presence matches. She behaves appropriately there and at the post-exhibit gala dinner at the Temple of Venus. Matteo arrives with two beautiful women on his arms. Spencer sees him on the red carpet. For a man who has pretty much lost his job, his performance is flawless.

She sees him again during the high wire performance.

The women are gone. Replaced by film stars and champagne bubbles. Above them, the acrobats dance to Maria Calla’s aria’s in long Valentino red dresses.

Though having examined every part of the Hadrianic Temple during the preceding week, it feels different that night. Bathed in red and lilac light with Dante Feretti’s fibre glass columns standing where the originals once would have been, Spencer can hardly recognise a thing.

Standing in the mist of the crowd she tries to remember how it had looked before.

Someone calls her name.

She turns – Matteo raises his glass to her.

There is one less line between them now. She can acknowledge it. Lifting her glass, she mirrors his action.

Surrounded by actresses, models and socialites, he grins back at her.

 

 

 

 

Strangely, Spencer feels calm on the dawn of Valentino’s fashion show the following day.

She wakes a little late, but still makes it to the Santo Spirito, where the show is being held with time to spare. A few people she knows are already there. For a while she, Flavia De Oliveira and Natasha Poly talk. Wearily, Flavia closes her eyes while they do her hair. Every now and then she winces. (The shows upon shows having left her skin oversensitive and hair fried within an inch of its life). Spencer leaves them shortly – her hair still in rollers – to do a final practice with a few of the other girls and the chorographer.

There is fuss and drama of course. Valentino throws a tantrum over the state of something or other and Giancarlo has to calm him. But, Spencer does not feel how she expected herself to feel.

While getting the final touches put on her make up she overhears Giancarlo being interviewed. An Italian journalist asks him to describe what it is like to have devoted his life to Valentino.

“Happiness,” he answers simply. Honestly.

She does not know how she ever mistook his intentions that first time she met him.

The show runs seamlessly and without a single hitch. With the collection being unusually large this season, Spencer walks more than her normal amount of looks. Backstage scores of dressers shove and shoehorn her into and out of looks and onto and off the runway, and all in record time. They only stop when Spencer takes her final walk; closing the show in a ruffled dusty pink silk gown and heavily embroidered ruffled coat.

Once she reaches the end, one by one all the models walk out again and as they to the venue – Spencer doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to articulate the exuberance and appreciation that the audience shows. As Valentino walks out and bows, they rise to their feet and give him a standing ovation not just for that collection but for every single one he created over his forty five year career.

With tears streaming down his face, Valentino reaches for Giancarlo.

Without hesitation, Giancarlo steps into his arms.

Together they share the applause.

Backstage everyone is in tears. Spencer too, but not like the previous season. Not at all.

 

 

 

 

Shortly afterwards the celebrations end, Valentino announces that his next show will be his last. After forty five years in the fashion industry, he is retiring.

“One should always leave when the party is full,” he explains, when asked.

Privately, (though there is no need) he asks Spencer walk it.

She cannot think of a greater honour.

Though completely unrelated to Valentino’s announcement, within the same week, Panic at the Disco announces that Brent ‘left’ the band. Quietly Jon Walker replaces him. No one is surprised when the news breaks.

Spencer finds out when Brent calls her, looking for somewhere to crash. She isn’t in London – and has no plans to return yet – but after getting Daniel’s okay, she gives him permission to stay for a while. Maybe it’s the high of stupidity on her part. Maybe not. Either way, she lets him stay.

“Thanks Spence, I always could count on you,” he says.

“It’s nothing.”

Brent laughs wearily. “It’s really not.”

He doesn’t ask her too, but she makes a few other phone calls on his behalf. The London music scene always needs a bass player (and Mark always needs someone to support his various flights of fancy). It isn’t difficult to get him set up with a bit of session work.

“Is there a reason this dude is playing on my second album rather than you?” Lily asks, when Spencer gets back to London.

Spencer shrugs. “He needs to eat.”

“He has two records worth of royalties to fall back on,” Lily says, articulating the obvious. “One more than you did.”

“So?”

Lily gives Spencer a look.

Perhaps she deserves it, perhaps she doesn’t.

Regardless, he’s thankful. He says some complimentary things about her networking skills. It’s funny how different words are used to describe her. Two years ago she was 'shrewish' and 'controlling' and 'manipulative' and ‘greedy.’ Now she is ‘ambitious’ and ‘organised’ and 'mature' and 'responsible.'

She hasn’t changed.

Despite all their best intentions, eventually, like the proverbial house of cards, it falls apart. Not badly or irreconcilably, but in the end Brent staying with Spencer just doesn’t work and they both realize it. Spencer doesn’t really have the energy for his drama, and the truth is he’s not meant for London. He misses Las Vegas and his ex-girlfriend.

He goes home.

Somehow, Spencer buys an apartment in Rome.

She hadn’t been planning too – normally she prefers staying with Giancarlo more than anything, but she has. But both he and her financial advisor have been pushing Spencer to invest in real estate. Maybe it’s a little too big for her, but she can afford it and it’s not a bad thing to have space to grow into.

It’s close to Valentino’s Rome Headquarters, and it cost Spencer two arms and a leg. While she pays more than she originally budgeted for, it is rather reasonable purchase given its location and square footage. At least that’s what Giancarlo tells her when they inspect it before signing the final paperwork.

 

 

 

 

Spencer is in Venice – just for three days – when she wakes to a knock on her door.

She had only meant to rest her eyes. She had just lain down to rest her eyes a little before she met up with the others for dinner. She had set the alarm on her Blackberry and – she had only closed her eyes. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep. Not when she has Leonardo and Fulvia Visconti Ferragamo expecting her at their charity event. In the June issue of Fallen she had worn one of their jackets and two of their dresses. They liked how the lines of their clothes look on her. They had her open their last show. They are expecting her presence.

Forcing herself upright and back into a pair of six inch platforms, she glances into the mirror before going to the door. Her lipstick is okay. Her hair on the other hand is a bit of a mess. With nimble fingers it becomes a passable M.O.D mess. Passable. If she squints.

She opens the door.

Brendon Urie is on the other side.

“Hey,” he says. His eyes are bloodshot. A single case is in his hand.

“Can I come in?”

Spencer –

“I’m just heading out.”

“Oh.”

Brendon bites his bottom lip.

“Sorry. I –” Brendon pauses. “I didn’t think.”

He doesn’t move.

The doorway is only so big.

She cannot go around him.

“Spencer,” he says. “Spence.”

His eyes are bloodshot and his bottom lip is bitten and chapped.

She takes a step back. He takes one forwards.

 

 

 

 

Lily calls at four in the morning because she’s never given a fuck about time zones that she isn’t personally gracing with her presence.

“Hello Kate Moss.”

Blinking awake, Spencer doesn’t even bother to check the time. It isn’t fucking daylight; that’s all that matters.

“You pressed the wrong button, Lily,” she tells her in a mumble instead.

“No, I think I called the right person, because only my friend Kate Moss would be stupid enough to fuck around with a musical hack/junkie/disloyal motherfucker, not my best friend Spencer Jane Smith the Fifth. She’s smarter than that. So, obviously the report I saw on E! News was of Kate hanging out with Brendon Urie, not Spencer. Right?”

Spencer blinks.

“What don’t you fucking get, Spencer?” Lily asks rhetorically, barrelling on, her voice mean and ugly with anger. “They’re not your problem anymore. You’re not under any obligation to play keeper. You don’t owe them anything.”

“Lil, I can explain.”

Lily snorts, “I highly fucking doubt it.”

Then she slams the phone down.

The dial tone mocks Spencer.

 

 

 

 

Brendon does not come to the Salvador Ferragamo shoot.

She is not that kind of model and she has no plans to become one.

Spencer doesn’t know what to say to Brendon. The way he looks at her, frail and achingly vulnerable, is unfair. She wants – she doesn’t know. To lash out – to say something cutting and harsh. To be indifferent. To say nothing. She wants – she doesn’t know.

He is and isn’t how she remembered him.

She wants to ask them what they thought would happen to her. Did they really think she’d – fuck, she doesn’t even know!

It is five in the morning when she leaves him, and late when she returns. They have dinner in the hotel restaurant. Brendon has trouble with the menu. He shouldn’t. It isn’t that sort of place. The majority of the clientele’s first language is English. But he does.

Spencer does not know what her place is now. Thankfully a waiter comes over and tells them the specials. Relief floods into Brendon’s face. The sight takes Spencer back. She thinks that he should have learned better, by now.

They place their orders and eat while making minimal conversation.

After they finish, Brendon goes all quiet. With huge, exhausted eyes he tracks her movement, almost as if she’ll disappear on him if he takes his eyes off her. Against her skin his gaze feels too open, too honest and entirely insensitive. It makes her straighten her back and edit her actions and motions.

 

 

 

 

The hotel room is overheated as all hotel rooms seem to be in Italy.

Spencer reaches for the light.

Taking the advantage Spencer didn’t even noticed was available for play, Brendon presses himself against her, presses her against the door. Her body bounces against the pine. Her head connecting with the frame. Desperately, he pushed his knee between her legs and slides his hand up under her skirt. She is in shock.

He hasn’t even kissed her.

Her hands are a tangle. All breath is stolen from her lungs.

“No.”

They break apart.

He is across the room in the blink of an eye. Shaking.

She has no idea what just happened, or why. None.

The next day, Spencer flies back to Rome. She does not ask where Brendon plans on going.

 

 

 

 

Lily talks to Spencer again because as much as Lily likes feuding with people, she does gets tired of it eventually (at least when it comes to Spencer). Also Karl Lagerfeld signs Lily to do a campaign for Chanel and maybe things between them aren’t ideal, but there is no way Spencer isn’t going to be there for Lily when she needs her.

She goes to the Coco Cacoon bag shoot and she cheers Lily on (and to adds the occasional splash of rum to her coffee) and does her best to make certain Lily gets the best shots possible. As expected, that isn’t hard. Karl adores her, and it shows in every picture he takes of her. It also shows when it comes time to launch the campaign. He and Chanel cater to her every whim, throwing her one of the largest and most lavish parties Spencer has ever attended.

Spencer puts up with Lily sulking for almost all of the day leading up to the launch before Lily opens her mouth and finally says exactly what Spencer expects her to say.

“She’s engaged.”

She of course is Katy Perry (pointedly not invited thanks to Lily).

“Bitch,” Lily adds, wrinkling her nose.

Spencer feels like rolling her eyes.

Then Lily turns and blames Spencer.

“If you had only let me fuck Travis McCoy this never would have happened.”

A few years ago Spencer may have been lost for words, but that was then and this is now. Instead she arches a brow dubiously and waves at the waiter to order herself a fresh drink. Once she has done all of that she eyes Lily and points out the obvious.

“If you had fucked him you would have caught something.”

Lily makes a face.

But when she lights herself another cigarette, there is a shake in the hand that holds her lighter. They are both avoiding the obvious. They both know it. Spencer wishes there was something she could say. Some way to make it better. But there isn’t. Turning away, Lily blows smoke out of the corner of her mouth.

“Want to go buy something pretty at Chanel?” Spencer offers.

Lily makes a face. Spencer takes it as a no. She changes tacts.

“Want to go annoy the Chanel sales assistants by asking for discounts and free shit?

The corner of Lily’s mouth quirks upwards.

“I’ll pretend to be from Texas,” Spencer sweetens, allowing herself to grin a little.

“They know who you are.”

Spencer can’t stop herself from laughing at how ridiculous Lily’s comment is.

“I bet you fifty pounds that images from your campaign are everywhere in the store or will be by the end of the day.”

Lily’s eyes light up. “I suppose we won’t have to ask for discounts then.”

Spencer only just bites her lip in time. She doubts Lily has paid anywhere close to full price for years. Fuck, she doubts Lily pays for much of anything these days. But instead of saying anything, she calls for the check (puts up with Lily flirting with the waitress), pays it, and gets them moving.

“I still blame you,” Lily mutters under her breath as they leave.

Putting her purse back into her bag, Spencer snorts. “Well, I still blame you for breaking my first pair of Jimmy Choos, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Lily rolls her eyes obnoxiously. “You’re still hung up over those fucking ugly shoes? Fuck Spenpenny, I bought you your first pair of designer boots. You should be fucking thankful that I took pity on you.”

 

 

 

 

Brendon calls Spencer. Or leaves a message on her voice mail. Amidst the static and his shallow breathing, he says he’s sorry.

Instantly, Spencer is furious.

She wants to ask them exactly what they thought would happen after they kicked her out. She wants to ask them exactly what they thought she would do. Go back to Vegas? Become a charter accountant and spend her days getting paid to do accounts and count other people’s pennies or some shit? Fuck that. Fuck that and fuck them.

Her hands form fists and they shake against her side.

Fuck them.

And Brendon; his voice trembling as he tells her he is sorry.

How dare he?

The rage she is filled with does not leave her. It clings to her every cell and pore. Potent and ugly, it refuses to be shed or shoved out of sight. Like a second shadow, it trails along after her. Following her each and every step.

It tires her out and leaves her brittle.

It shocks her too. She hadn’t though herself capable of such an overwhelming fury.

Lily is surprised. “Of course you are. We all are.”

“No,” Spencer says. “That’s not what I mean.”

“What did you mean?” Lily queries, leaning a little forward in her seat.

Spencer feels her cheeks heat. “You know.”

“No.” Lily answers, slowly. “I don’t.”

 

 

 

 

Spencer is interviewed by a tiny little Fashion/Art magazine. One almost exactly the same as the one that got her career started a few years back. She still isn’t sure why. Editorials, campaigns, and runways are what she is good at. At those things, she is successful. It is a fact she is proud of. But interviews are different.

She is never sure exactly what drives them. The majority of the time they are really about some else. At the start, half the questions Spencer got asked were about Lily and the other half were about Panic (Panic ‘without the exclamation point’ at the Disco – its fate was the same as Spencer’s). Now a vast majority are about Giancarlo, Valentino and their empire.

Mostly she avoids them.

During fashion week and sometimes during magazine shoots she gets asked for beauty secrets or to recommend various skin care products. Once in a while she gets asked to talk about her M.O.D style, something that never stops being strange.

Spencer doesn’t really know why photographers insist on taking backstage photographs or get it when people call her or any of her friends fashion icons. During fashion week they all live out of suitcases. Some with more success than others. Spencer’s almost one hundred percent certain Abby Lee has just packs a random mess of clothes – the sheer fact nothing at all matches making things match. Her exact opposite is Raquel Zimmermann, who looks like she is a cross between Grace Kelly and Gloria Vanderbilt, who (at all times) makes everything all look effortless. Others like Maryna Linchuk – though she never says as much, everyone knows – survive by dressing like a female Gerard Way (okay, a clean Gerard Way) in mostly blacks.

“Do you know what they call you?” the interviewer asks towards the end, leaning in close; as if they were girls sharing secrets at a slumber party.

Spencer knows people have called her a great number of things. Some to her face, some in print, and a great deal behind her back.

‘The best thing to come out of Panic At the Disco.’” he quotes.

“I don’t know about that,” Spencer answers.

The interviewer bursts into laughter, as if Spencer has told a particularly clever joke.

 

 

 

 

For a while now, Spencer travels with Giancarlo, which really means she travels with Valentino and his entourage. She’s in Paris with him when there is talk of Karl Lagerfeld’s people contacting hers but nothing really means anything to her until Giancarlo mentions talking to Karl about her.

“He wants to photograph you.”

“He wants to photograph Lily,” Spencer corrects, because it is true.

Lily has been gloating about being Karl’s darling for almost as long as Spencer has known her. Front row tickets, freebies, parties, whatever she wants she gets. Talk, if there really is any, is nothing more than a product of being Lily’s long time ‘plus one.’

Giancarlo smiles at her, and shakes his head.

A week later, she flies out to one of his villas. A male model is already there. He is introduced as Baptiste Gianconi. He is tall, dark and a very specific kind of handsome. Specifically the kind that dries the mouth. But he is not there for her. He is there for Karl, and Karl spends the majority of the weekend photographing him. She is an accessory. Something to fill the background.

Karl is dangerous to be around.

He is full of such blatant charisma and talent that after being in his company for even the briefest moment she wants to tell him everything; tell every secret and reveal every precious untouchable thought.

They are exact opposites.

He is an unreality; she needs it. Reality grounds her, reminds her of her place, and of what she needs to do. He abhors it. He wants no reality in his life or in anybody else’s. Of course he sees that in her. He lets her skate around him, lets her get away with vague answers.

Of course, she realises why.

She isn’t that stupid.

Spencer realised that the moment she met him more than a year ago at Valentino’s 45th Anniversary gala. He had been seated next to Anna Wintour and when Spencer had been introduced to them, they glanced at her and unpacked her in a moment. And in the early hours of a Sunday morning, she lets him use his camera lenses to capture everything.

Afterwards, raw to the bone, she and Baptiste sit together on the green, green grass. He’s half naked, or maybe completely naked, with only a fur rug wrapped around his waist. She squints in the sunlight. Boneless and spent, they are alone for the first time since being flown in.

Done for the day, Karl has gone to have breakfast.

Spencer supposes they should go join him and the others. No hurry is imposed on either of them. Before them, the sun rises slowly.

“Want to make out?” he asks almost indifferently, handsome and all kinds of golden in the morning light.

She looks at him and bites her lip.

“Not really,” she answers finally with a shrug. He’s not meant for her.

He echoes her shrugs with one of his own.

 

 

 

 

Spencer first crosses Abby Lee Kershaw’s path at one of their first casting calls. At the time Spencer and every other girl waiting to be seen by the designer’s ‘people’ were outfitted in a uniform of heels, dark jeans and plain tops. Abby Lee was wearing tight stripy tights, an oversized cardigan (which Spencer later found out Abby Lee had stolen from her father) and a hot pink mini skirt. She also made faces at all the girls who eyed her with a smug sense of superiority. Spencer had not been one of those girls. She had been too busy trying to get Mark to text her the exact details of when she needed to come in to redo some drum line.

Mark had been elusive and thus Spencer had been getting steadily annoyed.

It really was no surprise that Abby Lee got the job.

(“You looked like you were going to shank them,” Spencer’s London based agent would later inform her at their regular debriefing.)

Spencer hasn’t really thought about the whole thing at all, until she is confronted with Abby Lee backstage the day before Givenchy’s Spring/Summer ’09 show. Choreograph is always a bitch, but Spencer is good at hitting her marks. Or she would be if Abby Lee didn’t sidle up next to her and start trying to distract her with industry gossip.

“I heard we might get cast as the new faces for Versace,” Abby Lee tells Spencer, her nose ring glinting as she breaks into a grin.

Spencer has heard that too; sinking ships make for loose lips. She’s also heard the family is considering Kate Moss. For what it is worth, Spencer doesn’t think either of them stand a chance against her. Even if they do, the house is barely staying afloat and if the rumours are to be believed, they are lucky to be in that state given the Donatella’s excesses and the general bad management she and the family have let the label fall into after the death of Gianni.

She makes herself shrug indifferently.

Abby Lee rolls her eyes.

“I’m doing it and as long as the check’s good, Miss Smith the Fifth, so should you. Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”

 

 

 

 

Ryan cheats on Keltie.

They break up.

Spencer hears though the proverbial grape vine. Something unarticulated sparks through her nervous system at the news, momentarily disrupting her pattern of thought.

 

 

 

 

She’s backstage at Christophe Josse show and there is panic and nothing fits and one of the dressers is attempting to steam the dress Spencer is currently in the process of getting zipped into and it’s nothing new, not really, not even the fact that the girl next to Spencer (who is getting sown into her dress, because that’s just how it sometimes ended up being, no matter how big the name) is telling her dresser that she has just turned sixteen and –

The only person Spencer can talk to about it is Lily.

But she feels embarrassed, so she doesn’t.

She was a teenager. She was only one year older than Olga, the Slovakian brunette who is walking after her. She was a teenager and she was kicked out of a teenager’s band. Fuck. It’s totally the wrong time to be thinking these thoughts. She knows it is. The show is due to start in mere moments and Spencer has to be ready. Has to be on the ball. At her best. Because she’s opening it and fuck, now really isn’t the time, only she’s played for other bands, she’s played with other musicians. She’s been offered positions in other bands too. Even if she hadn’t been, she’s played drums for more people than she can remember. She’s played on tour and her name is listed in the liner notes of more albums than Panic, Lily, Daniel and The Cab have made combined.

It was a stupid teenage thing.

It was a teenage pain, inflicted by teenage friends. Spencer has new friends. She has Lily who is unflinchingly loyal and Mark and Abby Lee and the Cab babies (who have taken over her apartment) and she has Giancarlo and Valentino and Mathias and Lily and the Cab boys and Spencer can keep going, keep listing name after name after name, she can, and she –

It is her – not Ryan or Brendon or even Brent – who shoulders everything that she carries inside her. It’s her.

It infuriates her – how much they hurt her, how deeply their betrayal cut. Fuck. Teenage betrayal. She’s meant to been too old for that shit. It’s the wrong time. The show is soft, sweet and romantic. The dress she’s wearing is long, lacy and her face has been made up to look like she stumbled out of the pages of a Jane Austin book. They don’t want her to look like she feels.

But the fact remains; Spencer has been in other bands and she has other friends.

Panic at the Disco and Ryan Ross and Brendon Urie shouldn’t matter.

But they do.

They do.

 

 

 

 

Time is a difficult distance to cross.

At this point, they have years between them. But Spencer wants to try. So when her American agent calls and says Rachel Zoe requested her for some 80s inspired editorial, Spencer accepts it even though it’s not even a week since she walked her last fashion week show and technically she’s jet lagged even though she’s still running on Parisian time. That’s where she started (or maybe finished) and she didn’t get nearly enough time (or sleep) to adjust to any of the other time zones she visited so briefly.

She calls Brendon at exactly 11:45am (LA time); she doubts he’ll be sharp enough to realise what time she’s calling from in Paris. She calls at 11:45am and she gets him just as he’s finishing a late breakfast and drinking his way through at least three oversized coffees.

They’re trying to be friends. She’s trying to be friends. To be his friend and let him be hers.

She tries and she says, “Hey, I’m heading your way.”

“Like the states?” he asks after distracting her with ‘Hello’s and ‘How are you?’s and ‘You’ll never guess what happen yesterday’ and also a, ‘I saw your face on a billboard on Sunset Strip!.’

“Like L.A.,” she tells him.

And she’s always know – she always remembered how Brendon has this thing where he never edits what he says before he says it, and perhaps it should have changed (or been changed) but it hasn’t. He’s no longer seventeen, but he asks for when's and where's and what for's and she answers them one by one.

“The end of the week?” he queries. “That’s sort of short notice, isn’t it?”

Her shoulders twitch. She does not shrug though. Brendon cannot see.

“Not really,” she tells him instead. Because it isn’t for her. Not really.

“Cool.”

It isn’t really. She may like Rachel and her team, but L.A is hot and the sun burns and freckles don’t sell. Girls like her don’t either. Excluding magazines like V, L.A isn’t her market. She doesn’t want it to become her market. But that isn’t the point. She makes a sound that hopefully signifies agreement to his statement before soldiering on.

“Any chance I could crash with you and Shane for a few days?”

“Yes.”

There is no pause between her question and Brendon’s answer. Not even a little one.

Spencer looks down at her bare feet and points her toes. There are soft shadows of bruises around her ankles. Yves Saint Laurent had featured platform heels with ankle straps. Of course every other label she’d walked for had variations on the same theme. But the jewel tone ones she had worn for Yves Saint Laurent had been two sizes too big. She’d had to buckle them tighter than they should have been buckled. One of her dresser had even gone so far as to punch extra holes into the leather. She’d also almost tripped backstage as she’d run back over to the rack where her next outfit (and three panicked dressers) were waiting for her. Two days ago they had looked red and angry. Yesterday they were black and blue. Today they are almost gone. She heals quickly.

“I should arrive at–” Spencer pauses to squint at her schedule in the muted light. “3:30ish in the morning.”

“I’ll pick you up,” he answers, without a question being asked.

“I usually take a taxi or car service. You don’t have to.”

“I’ll park in the arrival bay,” he tells her. “Or in the short term parking if you need help with your bags.”

Spencer looks at her case. It is deceptively empty. Over half is off getting dry-cleaned. The other half is shoes or toiletries. If she stops over in London she can unload all her winter clothes and new, totally frivolous purchases and gifts (that Giancarlo really should stop Valentino giving her – especially when things that should be in the Valentino House archives). She is tired though. Two flights are more than one, and one is more than enough. L.A is not Paris. She can’t wear what is in her suitcase even if there is a freak change in weather.

“I’ll be travelling light.”

“Okay,” Brendon says. “Okay.”

But he sounds like he is talking to himself and not to her. In her head, she imagines him sixteen with a furrowed brow and a bad haircut. She doesn’t make herself stop. Lily still occasional likes to post unflattering pictures of people she doesn’t like for one reason or another online. From all appearances, nothing much has changed.

Across the line, Spencer hears the sound of papers rustling and keys on a keyboard being pressed.

“There,” he announces, “4:30 AM, Thursday: Pick Spencer up from LAX. I wrote it in my diary and on a post-it that’s now on the fridge.”

“3:30,” Spencer corrects.

Brendon laughs; it sounds a little off.

Spencer points her toes a little bit further; they become a concave curve.

“3:30am Thursday: Pick Spencer up from LAX.” Brendon repeats. “I’ll be there.”

His voice still sounds wrong. Spencer wishes she had used the landline instead of her Blackberry.

“I’ll see you then,” she tells him.

This time there is a pause before he says ‘okay’ and then ‘goodbye.’ Spencer notes it but tries not to think too much about it.

 

 

 

 

Brendon is there early.

With oversized pink sunglasses perched on the top of his nose and a grande coffee in his hand he smiles too wide and waves too energetically. Nerves and anxiety thrum out of him in waves.

“You’re right on time. That’s like, totally awesome since most of the flights seem to be running late or something. Most of mine do anyway. But, not yours, huh? The pilot must have been running on super special ‘Spencer Smith’ time and not, like my ‘late ass, I’ll get there when I get there’ time.” The words fall out of his mouth in a jumble.

Shifting his weight from foot to foot, he smiles and smiles and Spencer takes pity on him.

“Thanks for picking me up,” She offers. As the words float listlessly between them, she makes herself add, “I hate cabs.”

“Me too,” Brendon answers.

His voice is a little small. But many she’s wrong. Maybe that’s how it sounds without an international telephone connection moderating and altering it. She can’t tell for sure. Perhaps, she could remember if she thought hard enough. But she doesn’t. Venice is put aside.

“So, an editorial,” Brendon tries. “Sounds cool.”

“It’s okay.”

Again, her response isn’t enough. She makes herself offer more. “They said something about a Xanadu theme.”

“Oh,” Brendon exclaims. “Cool.”

Spencer smiles. “Yeah.”

 

 

 

 

She does the shoot for V.

Rachel Zoe and Brad and all the hanger-ons whose names she does not know (but who know hers) dress her and make her up and she works with Mathias Lauridsen, which is a surprise because she had been told Taylor Fuchs had gotten the job instead.

“Purse!” she exclaims, when she sees him. “What are you doing here?”

“He had to pull out,” Mathias explains as they wait for the light levels to be altered. “So you get stuck with me, Elbow.”

Generally speaking Spencer likes Taylor. He’s a bit of a typically male model, but he’s reasonable professional for someone who’s always had some of the best luck (without doing any of the usual leg work) in the business. But Mathias is different. Or maybe it is just Spencer who is different, because around him she can relax.

But even with Mathias there instead of Taylor, the shoot goes on forever.

Rachel has an eye like no other, but she’s a perfectionist and since she’s at the top of the food chain, more often than not people let her do exactly what she wants. This means things take longer than they should. Mathias, being the pro he is, totally rolls with the punches and does everything in his power to not only make it go faster but make it easier on Spencer.

At the end of the day they only have managed to get enough images to fill a six – not eight – page spread.

They’re good images though – at least to Spencer’s eye.

Mathias agrees, talking a little about them as he waits for her to get changed back into her street clothes. He’s always had an eye for the bigger picture so Spencer listens. He’s in a good mood. He was just offered a six-figure campaign for a new men’s brand being launched in – Spencer can’t remember – but he’s happy and after they do the rounds (thanking everyone and generally working to perverse the good first impression that they both took such care in creating) he smiles a little.

“They said I was their first choice,” he tells her as he hails her a cab, as if he is confiding a secret and not recognising the fact everyone else in the industry already knows.

She smiles, lips still painted the bold fuchsia from the shoot.

“I’m flying straight out to NYC after this,” he tells her. “You?”

Spencer rummages through her purse for a mint. “I’m hanging around for a few days.”

He nods and when he helps her into the cab, he kisses the crown of her head and wishes her well.

By the time she gets back to Brendon’s place it’s late.

Time is a funny thing though. Spencer travels through so much of it that sometimes it doesn’t really apply. Maybe somewhere in the world she’s running exactly on time. But even in Rome she ranges from a little to a lot off. Sitting up at two am completely awake isn’t new, nor is falling asleep before the six o’clock news. She tries to explain it to Brendon when Regan catches her yawning and suggests they cancel their plans for the evening ahead.

Spencer didn’t know they had plans, but this isn’t the first time she’s had to hit the ground running.

“It’s okay. I’ve managed on less sleep.”

“That’s stupid,” Brendon tells her. “It’s just a MTV party.”

Spencer – she is tired but she isn’t that tired – she keeps her mouth shut.

Brendon gives her a look, as if she had gone ahead and said what she had thought. “It’s not a contractual obligation. It’s just a party sponsored by a vodka brand to celebrate the release of some new Wii game.”

In the corner of her eye, Spencer sees Shane makes a face and mutter, “But what about the goody bags?” to Regan.

Regan pinches his arm. “You can buy the game yourself. Don’t be a freeloader.”

Spencer feels – she makes herself smile, bright and engaging. “It’s okay. Just give me twenty to get ready and then we can go.”

Her face is still made up from the shoot. Maybe it’s a little heavy but it’ll work for the red carpet. Her hair's a bit of a mess, but she can work that. All she needs to do is figure out if she has something suitable in her case. If worse comes to the worst, she can probably call Taylor and get her to pull something for her. Tay still owed her after Spencer had gotten her an in with Proenza Schouler right before the label took off.

“Spence,” Brendon huffs. “You just worked a fourteen hour day after an eleven hour flight.”

“No. It’s alright. Promise.”

“Spence,” Brendon says. “I’m going to give Pete a call and get him to take Regan and Shane, and then I’m going to call for pizza. Does vegetarian work for you, or should I get something else?”

Spencer feels her shoulders slump a little in relief. That – that sounds good.

“Vegetarian works for me.”

“Then it’s settled.”

 

 

 

 

The half week in L.A passes quickly.

Most of it is spend in the same fashion as her first night. Instead of going out, they stay in and watch marathons on the Food Channel and suffer though mindless reruns of old 80s films.

In the mornings Spencer accompanies Brendon and Shane down to the beach where they show off their somewhat dubious surfing skills. With brand new pineapple waxed boards they recklessly throw themselves about in the ocean. Brendon catches more waves than he misses. The opposite applies to Shane. But that does not stop him. From the safety of the sandy beach, Spencer watches.

Spencer’s a strong swimmer.

She runs and she swims. Mostly she runs, and mainly just because she can do that anywhere. It doesn’t matter if the hotel has a gym or if it doesn’t. She can just pull on a pair of trainers and go. However, she’s a better swimmer. Thanks to the days spent sailing through the warm waters around Italy and the Mediterranean with Valentino and the hours she spent in the waters, she transformed herself from a mediocre one into a good one.

Under the watchful gaze of the lifeguard stand (and slathered in sunscreen), Spencer dives in.

She dives in and though the waves batter and hammer her, she does not stop or turn back. She swims and swims until she reaches a buoy. There she catches her breath and looks back to the beach. Around her, surfers paddle out and patiently wait for the perfect wave back to shore. Tanned and lean Brendon is one of them. He catches sight of her and waves. She waves back. Hanging onto the floating structure, she rises and falls with the flow of the sea.

From her position, the ocean now seems so calm.

They have no set plans for the rest of the day. If she wanted, she could stay out in the ocean all day. There is nothing stopping her.

Not a single thing.

In the evening, they go and see Ryan.

He lives further out, away from the beach and in the hills. Brendon drives. He knows the area. But even if he didn’t, Spencer thinks she would. She’s seen enough of the world to recognise the circle Ryan has chosen to place himself geographically within.

Ryan lives in a house which looks like it once belonged to a movie star from a bygone era. Filled with people, it – Spencer does not know what to think of it. She doesn’t see Ryan. She looks, but she does not see him. At the door, she’s offered a shot by a girl with long white blonde extensions. Her face looks familiar. But Spencer gets her name wrong.

“Taylor,” the girl corrects. “Jenny’s just the girl I play on TV.”

Something in her tone suggests this isn’t the first time she’s said that.

Spencer apologises.

When they get a few yards away, Brendon snorts into his drink. Spencer gets herself a new one. Her flight’s the next morning. Flying hung over never works, no matter what Lily says or how many Xanax’s she offers. Spencer sticks to mineral water.

Spencer still can’t see Ryan amidst the rabblers. She looks, but she cannot see him.

Brendon does not leave her side. It takes her longer than it should for her notice. He knows a few people, sure, but that’s all. Not many people seem to know him. They get stuck talking with a group of people for a while. One of them gets Brendon’s name wrong. They call him ‘Brent.’ (They call her ‘Spencer Jane’). Brendon laughs it off. There is a moment though, where she catches that look in his eyes. The one she doesn’t think he had before.

She excuses herself a little while later. Brendon follows suit.

The night is in full swing when Spencer finds Ryan in the den, surrounded by people she does not know. No one bothers to make introductions. Spencer supposes there is no reason too.

Ryan looks at her once. But before she can catch his gaze, it slides away.

A girl wearing thick tortoises shell glasses says something funny. Ryan laughs.

Spencer doesn’t.

Taking a sip of her drink, she traces the sharp line and angles of his jaw with her eyes. Her mineral water is getting flat. A guy offers to get her a fresh one. She shakes her head. Her time in London had long since taught her not to take every drink or pill or whatever that was handed to her. Partly because as much as Spencer loves Lily, back then Lily was often absent and when she wasn’t, her taste pretty much always was questionable, but mostly because it wasn't and still isn’t safe (especially not if you are female). Maybe she is overreacting; maybe the guy actually is as nice as he appears. But she doesn’t know that.

She gets her own drink.

When she gets back, Ryan is making out with the girl in the glasses.

He has her crowded against the wall. One hand is braced against the yellowed Florance Broadhurst wallpaper, the other is just under her breast. With her once sleek hair mussed and glasses crocked, she kisses him back. Her lips swollen and her tongue chasing his. When they break apart, he nips her bottom lip lightly. As he does, he looks at over at Spencer. She recognizes the glint in his eyes. She can name it too.

Something sharp wedges itself in her throat.

Spencer does not know what she’s doing here.

She isn’t seventeen anymore. She’s too old for this.

 

 

 

 

They are and aren’t her best friends.

Up until a few years ago, they knew everything about her. And Ryan, Ryan knew everything. Now she doesn’t trust him not to use that knowledge against her. How much would those stories sell for? Firsts and fights and other miscellaneous anecdotes, Ryan knows them all. There must be a scale or some way of grading them. Obviously certain things would go for more. Brent. Her fucking Brent, then Gabe all within the space of a few days.

Inflation has sure done a number on her.

She bets Ryan could sell that story for a pretty penny.

 

 

 

 

That evening, Spencer catches a flight to London. With the Spring/Summer fashion season approaching it’s one of the last chances she’ll get to catch up with everyone before her schedule explodes with castings, fittings, shows and she finds herself learning choreography and instead of sleeping.

It’s nice to be back.

Though, the apartment isn’t really hers anymore, nor is it Daniel’s. The Cab boys have taken it over. Rent and all. Though the walls of Daniel’s room, she hears them giggle and gossip and badger each other. She’s glad he’s on the other side of the country on tour. Cash is a noisy fuck.

Somehow though, she sleeps.

Spencer is greeted by hail and thunder when wakes the next morning. Rome might have offered a better reception, but it isn’t where Lily is throwing her ‘Come celebrate my second album going platinum' bash.

As a general rule Spencer doesn’t go to many of Lily’s party anymore. She doesn’t remember the reason why until she wakes up the following morning hung over, with some random guy snoring against her side and a random girl sprawled on the other.

“Fuck,” she mutters, wincing in the morning light. “Fuck.”

The random guy twitches. Blinking a little, Spencer rolls out from under their arms, and ambles out of Lily’s guest bedroom. In the hallway she steps over three freshly off tour Cabbabies and totally ignores the fact two of them aren’t wearing pants and the third one isn’t wearing a thing. It is too early for that shit.

She finds Ian and Cash and for some reason Mathias curled up in a pile in Lily’s new kitchen. Lily is nowhere to be seen. It isn’t completely unlikely her to have left her own party halfway through for something more promising. She’s done it before. Fumbling for her coat, Spencer tries to be quiet but Mathias wakes up groaning anyway.

“What happened?”

Eyeing the hundred pound note tucked in waist of his jeans (which are currently tangled around his ankles), Spencer shrugs.

Vaguely, behind the pounding of her hangover she remembers Lily laughing and saying a whole lot of shit. The memory might belong to any other night, but Spencer is pretty sure the part where Lily offered Cash what was in her wallet to make out with Ian comes from the night before. She is also almost completely certain that she remembers Mathias opening his mouth and letting everyone in the room know that for that sort of money he’d get down on his knees and give a blowjob.

Giving up on finding her coat, Spencer grabs one of Lily’s. She’ll return it later.

Mathias glances down at the pair of boys sleeping at his side and the expression on his face changes. “Are they even legal?”

Spencer shrugs.

“In England they are,” she offers finally.

“Shit.”

Spencer can only nod.

 

 

 

 

In between everything that is happening with Ryan and Brendon and what had once been her life, something strange and wonderful happens. Lily drunk dials Brian at four am and Brian answers her call.

“You really shouldn’t be drunk dialling a recovering alcoholic,” Spencer tells Lily, because she is pretty sure it has to be said and she is pretty sure out of the two of them, she is the only one who will say it.

Lily waves the comment away. “It wasn’t like he could tell.”

Spencer eyes Lily. “I’m pretty sure he could tell.”

Lily shrugs. “He could have hung up if he felt uncomfortable or shit.”

Yes, he could have. Technically.

“You just would have called him back again and again until he answered.”

Lily’s mouth narrows dangerously. “You don’t know that.”

“You called me fifty seven times in one day, two months ago.”

“I needed to talk to you.”

“I was working.”

“You could have answered your phone at some point.”

“They had me strapped to a rig fifty feet off the ground.”

Lily narrows her eyes to match her lips. To the untrained eye, perhaps the situation looks a little dicey. However Spencer knows that Lily had only the day before had her nails done. She won’t risk fucking them up so soon. Settling back into her seat, Spencer takes a sip of her drink and lets Lily fume until she has gotten it out of her system.

“So anyway,” Lily starts again. “I spoke to Brian.”

Spencer waits.

“And we talked,” Lily sighs and looks Spencer dead in the eye. “Were you serious about being friends with Bob? Like really serious? Not just ‘friends’ like I’m friends with my ex’s”

Spencer wishes Lily had waited until they were in a more appropriate setting for this type of conversation. They’re out in the open, at one of Lily’s Chanel associated parties. There are too many people that know or know of them within hearing distance and really, Coco Chanel’s era has passed. No one is as discrete as they say they are. But Lily is Lily, and Spencer thinks maybe her and Brian are meant for each other.

“Yes,” she replies, because it’s true.

Lily’s gaze is sharp and searching and (it’s totally grade school or something but) they’re best friends.

“Okay,” Lily announces finally. “Okay.”

And she leaves it at that.

 

 

 

 

It’s kind of strange how strange Lily and Brian dating isn’t – not to Spencer anyway.

Far removed from the lazy deadbeat summer of that one Warped tour, Spencer gets used to seeing them together; bundled together in the back of clubs, or holding hands on the red carpet. (She has her eyes scarred accidentally by walking in on them once). It becomes part of life, part of everybody’s. Lily still tells the world how fucking fantastic Brian is in bed, and Brian still eyes Lily like she’s this poisonous snake or something equally as threatening to his health. Really, considering who they are, Spencer really does thinks Lily and Brian being LilyandBrian was inevitable.

“It’s sickening,” Bob comments, when they get the chance to discuss the situation.

With MCR is on hiatus, Bob is living in a state of terror. Lily invades his home city every second week to be with Brian. If Brian wasn’t one of Bob’s oldest friends, Spencer is pretty certain he would have moved to New Jersey the moment news of Lily and Brian rekindling whatever they have surfaced on twitter.

(Lily personally tweeted the news with delight; much to Brian’s abject horror).

Watching as Lily (hand) feeds Brian little bits of her meal, Spencer can only agree. Currently perched on Brian’s lap, Lily is a mix of heart eyes and wandering hands. Brian is so fucked.

“Dude, at least you don’t have to watch a fucking lap dance while trying to eat.”

“Hey! We had a rule! No details!”

Over the international phone line, Bob sounds very scandalised.

Spencer rolls her eyes. “Be a man Bryar. You’re not the one forced to see it”

“Fuck you, Smith.”

 

 

 

 

Spencer hears through Ian, rather than the grapevine, that Panic are talking about recording their third album in London.

“Abbey Road,” he tells Spencer, awkwardly scratching the back of his head.

He avoids Spencer’s eyes. When she doesn’t reply, he changes his mind. She doesn’t know what he sees when he looks at her, but he quickly averts his eyes.

All of Spencer’s worry (and all Lily’s scheming) comes to naught when it turns out that Panic isn’t actually recording their next album. Not in Abbey Road, not anywhere. Privately, Spencer isn’t even sure there will be a third album. Not with how things were between them in L.A.

Brendon calls a week or two later, just to let her know he’ll be in her part of the world pretty soon.

“I don’t live in London anymore,” she tells him.

Brendon doesn’t say anything and articulated, her answer seems wrong.

“I just bought my first apartment in Rome.”

That too, isn’t enough, so Spencer tells Brendon about it. About the ancient streets and the large windows and hardwood floors that probably need to be replaced and how the spare room is filled – literally filled – with boxes.

 

 

 

 

Spencer’s nowhere in particular when she cocks her head to the side and notices that the first song she ever recorded is playing in the background.

Quietly, she thinks ‘oh.’

“Oh,” she whispers, for the world to hear.

 

 

 

 

Valentino likes attending parties as much as he likes throwing them, so they are all invited to the New York Met Ball. Of course, out of their party, Valentino’s the only one that anyone really wants there. Maybe Giancarlo in a pinch, or Spencer (but only if a more mainstream model drops out at the last minute) but Valentino doesn’t go anywhere without company and he isn’t about to start now.

Spencer and Giancarlo go half a day early, taking a red eye flight to make it into the city before dawn.

Valentino derides their choice. He detests being separated from Giancarlo. But business is business and although Spencer’s New York agency isn’t as important as those in Europe, it’s still important to touch base and review her upcoming work, current contracts, and future prospects. Giancarlo joins Spencer, and really, he plays a larger role in her career than all of her agents combined and everybody who’s anybody knows that. In person though, he sits back and lets Louis, Spencer’s agent, talk.

It’s still important, he tells her, to touch base.

Spencer listens.

She listens when they go and meet with the American branch of the Valentino House. Giancarlo is always selective with his words. The meetings they attend might not be graced with the presence of Matteo Marzotto, but Giancarlo speaks with equal parts intent and care. Spencer does not say a thing. She watches and she takes everything in and when they are finished, Giancarlo offers his arm and she takes it. They do not speak a word about what had happened or did not happened in the boardroom until they are on the street outside.

Once outside, he squeezes her hand. “That went well, no?”

Spencer lets herself nod.

It had. Quarterly figures are good. Considering the wretched state of the American market, the sales are really quite solid. They have even increased, which Spencer finds remarkable. It saddens her that it’s perfumes and shoes and handbags driving those profits rather than Valentino’s designs. There is little that can be said or done about that though. It is the nature of the business. Valentino can make the most beautiful clothes in the world and dress the most beautiful women, but when it is all said and done, the bottom line is the bottom line. Unlike yesterday, today Valentino's couture doesn’t make the company money. Beauty products, shoes, and accessories do.

Giancarlo talks a little more.

As he is only talking to her, he chooses his words differently.

It is not a secret that Matteo finds him to be a harsh man. Many share his opinion. If asked, Spencer would choose other adjectives. They are not the important facts though; Spencer concentrates. Together they break down the figures, the meeting, and the individuals who took part in it. Though officially retired, unofficially Giancarlo holds the same role as ever.

Spencer doesn’t hear her name being called at first.

Her name isn’t particular common nor is she particularly well known outside certain circles, but Giancarlo brings up a comment made by one of the PR people and Spencer remembers the tone he had used, and it takes her more than a second to realise the yes, that is her name called, and oh, yes, the voice is familiar.

More than familiar, it’s Jon.

Not only, Jon, but Jon and Tom, who wave at her from the other side of the street in ratty jeans and dirty flip flops and smiles that match. Spencer raises her hand, and in the corner of her eye, she sees Giancarlo follows the angle of her body, tracking Jon and Tom as they brazenly jaywalk across the busy intersection.

“Spencer,” they greet her as they reach her side of the street. “Spencer Jane Smith the Fifth.”

Spencer returns their greetings, and with Giancarlo still holding her arm, she makes the necessary introductions. Afterwards, Tom gets a look on his face. Spencer remembers it in a vague way. Giancarlo knows it in a general way. Tom, of course, is oblivious. He always is.

“What are you doing in New York?” Jon exclaims, speaking over the non-verbal conversation occurring between Tom and Giancarlo.

There is more than one reason. Other than the myriad of meetings Giancarlo has blocked out in his schedule, an editorial for American Vogue has been offered. The offer isn’t one that Spencer particularly expected, given her look and her preference for working in Europe, but Valentino and everybody were already going to the Met Ball and Spencer has never been one to turn down an offer like Vogue, even if it perhaps is only given because of the viral image of her smiling on the end of a Chanel runway during fashion week in Paris earlier that year.

(All the girls were asked to do something different. Sasha Pivovarova took her mobile out on the runaway, Irina Kulikova curtsied, and Spencer – well, just as she got in front of Lily and her band who Karl had personally invited to play, Lily started sing ‘Not Fair’ and Spencer laughed).

“Last time I heard from you, you were in London,” Jon adds, too happy to see her to be overly bothered with knowing the why.

“I flew out this morning. You?”

A familiar expression flickers across Jon’s face.

“Final tour date,” he answers.

Tom opens his mouth.

“I’ll get you tickets. You should come,” Jon offers, before Tom gets a chance to speak (or embarrass himself). “The show is tonight.”

Spencer – Spencer feels Giancarlo by her side and the cool air of the city nipping at her skin and –

She shakes her head and is careful to smile when she does so. “Sorry. I already agreed to attend the Met Ball.”

If Spencer was speaking to anyone else, and if her smile hadn’t been as carefully placed, she supposes the conversation would fall apart at that point. But it’s Jon and as much as she has been trying with Brendon, Jon is even better with her. He makes a face; but one that draws out a brighter smile from Spencer and also from Giancarlo, who gives out such expressions not sparingly, but based on merit.

“You should come out with us tomorrow to Angels and Kings then. They’re throwing the first annual ‘Ashlee is Awesome’ party,” Jon offers instead, “You too, Giancarlo.”

“Yeah, come,” Tom pleads. “Pete’s going all out. It’s going to be huge.”

The corners of Giancarlo’s lips tip upwards, but when he speaks, his voice is not unkind. “I think perhaps I am beyond such festivities.”

His answer acts as a distraction.

Jon’s face falls into something too endearing and Tom says a whole lot of weird semi-complimentary shit that doesn’t mean anything but still takes up enough time for Spencer to collect herself.

When the appropriate place in the conversation presents itself, she shrugs and says, “I’ll see how I feel after tonight.”

It is a reasonable answer.

Jon can only nod.

 

 

 

 

The annual Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a little bit of a strange event. Or it feels like it is to Spencer. Though maybe she just spends too much of her time in Europe, away from the shimmer shine gloss of Hollywood starlets, stars, and various people who command a capital ‘S’ when refer to as a someone.

Although Valentino and Giancarlo had been partners for almost fifty years, Valentino’s date for the evening is Jennifer Garner, while Spencer is Giancarlo’s. No one in their party has met the actress before, and she is running late. They are told her dress, the one her stylist picked from Valentino’s last collection, doesn’t fit and that it needs some last minute alterations.

Because Jennifer Garner’s dress was Valentino red and apparently there could only ever be one of that colour on any red carpet at a time, Spencer is wearing a monochrome dress from the same collection. Backless, the black tuxedo top cuts high across the top of her collar bones, and then at her waist turns into a fluid ivory silk skirt. It’s simple and Valentino designed to for her. He dreamt it, and made it, just for her.

Spencer does not mind that she is not wearing his signature colour.

 

 

 

 

Spencer sleeps late, and when she wakes, Giancarlo shares his morning papers with her. On the other side of the room Carlos quietly returns his missed calls. Valentino rises last, but pretends otherwise as he smooths a hand over Spencer’s rumpled hair before claiming a kiss from Giancarlo and a coffee from a member of the kitchen staff.

When the evening comes, Spencer calls the same girl who did her hair and make up the night before and zips herself into a metallic silk mini dress and buckles herself into another pair of Prada platforms. Valentino kisses her goodbye and Giancarlo makes her promise to use their driver to get home.

She arrives at the hotel they are staying at exactly on time.

But they are running late.

Jon’s outfit is wrinkled and should have been dry-cleaned the night before. Brendon isn’t even dressed. Ryan is sequestered away in the bathroom. No one seems to know exactly what is or what should be happening. Spencer bites her tongue. When she had called at noon to say she could make it, Brendon had just told her to meet them at the hotel. That was all he said. She had assumed the details were taken care of. But there is no car and the invitations are lost and three vaguely familiar gangling girls dressed in ill-fitted thrift store clothes (the word ‘vintage’ is thrown around far too liberally in New York) are taking about a pre-party party and Spencer – Spencer bites her tongue.

She stands by the window and pretends she’s texting someone on her Blackberry. When Tom offers her a drink, she shakes her head. About half an hour passes before anything happens and even when it does and they troop down to the lobby, they get stuck hanging around because it’s New York and there is always traffic.

Spencer wants to offer to call her driver; the words are on the tip of her tongue. She stops herself. It is not her place.

Standing under the awnings outside the hotel entrance she shivers.

“You should have brought a coat,” Ryan tells her. It is the first thing he has said to her all night.

Jon offers his jacket.

Spencer does not accept it.

“You’re cold,” Jon tries; pleading with puppy dogs eyes.

She’s wearing Victor & Rolf. Taylor – no longer of Rachel Zoe – Jacobson had pulled it and a few other dresses for Spencer. It was a last minute job and even then Valentino had still taken over at the last minute, picking it out of the selection with an eagle eye. Short, sharp and metallic, it photographs well and paired with a pair of edgy platforms it is appropriate for the event.

“It would wrinkle my dress.”

Ryan looks at her as if he doesn’t know her. As if she’s this girl pulled off the street or off the runway; someone he never meet before in his life but is being forced to co-exist with for the time being. Like they are both just guests at a party or something.

One or two of the girls make a face.

Spencer doesn’t.

Hi-resolution images are never kind. Even if they were, she’s used to the cold. She’s gotten used to it. It will pass.

The car, when it arrives, is too small.

Spencer sits with Ryan pressed tight along one side, the door handle digging into the other. Her heart does things. She wishes it didn't. But it does. Still. When they get there, she gets out of the car and uses the seconds before stepping onto the red carpet to run a hand over her dress. She takes long strides, and separates herself from the others. She keeps her spine straight and her head held high. One the red carpet, journalists pester everyone for short, TV-ready answers regarding Ashlee recently being fired from Melrose Place.

“Hilary Swank left after sixteen episodes,” Spencer offers, letting the fact become an answer.

They ask for more. Beside her, other people say other things, sharing their opinions when given the vaguest invitation to do so. But Spencer doesn’t really have much else to say. Two red carpet events, two nights in a row is too much for her. There is fatigue in her limbs and in her mind. Momentarily put off by the flashes of cameras, it sets in once more when she escapes inside.

The first drink she is offered, Spencer takes it.

Somehow she gets cornered by the girls from The Like. They take up the offer of free drinks with a certain amount of gusto. Spencer doesn’t think this is their sort of crowd either, but she hasn’t forgotten how much her opinion is worth. She uses her mouth to smile. They smile back at her, all ironic post-modern suburbia charm, and they talk to her about Ryan.

One of them, Z, has fucked Ryan. Or is still fucking him.

Spencer can tell. She always could.

They talk about Ryan and they talk about Panic and then they talk about themselves when Spencer prompts them too. Apparently they were on the cover of Nylon. In addition, as they happily tell her, apparently they have read more books than her and listen to more music. No. Read the right books. Listen to good music.

Ryan hasn’t outgrown them.

“It’s no big deal,” Tennessee says, regarding the cover.

Laena lies too, and nods.

Spencer was in the middle; the editorial. She had flown out and spent a day with her hair in knots and her legs tangled in bed sheets and wrinkled evening gowns. The resulting images had been black and white and very sharp. Those sorts of things are never not a big deal. Fuck the quote unquote music, PR matters. It matters a whole fucking lot.

She keeps smiling, even and agreeable. There is no need for a dubious edge.

She lasts for about two hours. Maybe a little less, maybe a little more. Underneath the lights and the filtered DJ beat, she loses track. Slipping out towards the emergency exit, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it sort of is to find Bob already out there. Halfway through what looks cigarette number two or three or maybe even four, he smiles a crocked grin and offers her a smoke in lieu of saying hello.

“No thanks.”

Spencer’s pretty sure she might have quit her social smoking a while back. “More for me.”

His tone is amiable and it has been too long. He looks ragged in the fluorescent lights. Older than he was. When he takes a drag, he closes his eyes and keeps them closed as he slowly exhales moments later. It has been a while. Lily has mentioned a few things about the guys, but Spencer’s first hand knowledge is limited to random text messages and the occasional phone call.

“Wentz goes all out doesn’t he?”

“Yeah,” Bob answers.

Opening one eye, he glances at her.

“I needed a breather,” she explains.

“Me too.”

Spencer thinks if the rumours about MCR and Bob and Frank are true he needs more than that.

He sighs.

“You look tired,” she tells him, careful with the tone so he won’t take offence.

Bob opens his other eye and smiles. “I am tired. You look fucking beautiful, though.”

Spencer doesn’t blush. She does look away for a moment. She thinks she’ll never not miss him.

Bob finishes what’s left of his cigarette, drops it to the ground and steps on it. Then he lights a new one. The click of his lighter is loud in the back ally; the heavy exit door muffles the sound of base. It doesn’t catch, so he tries again. His fingers fumble clumsily trying to get the cheap piece of crap thing to work.

He swears when it slips from his fingers and clatters to the ground.

Picking it up, she flicks it and lights his cigarette for him.

“Thanks.”

She feels like rolling her eyes. Instead she holds out her hands.

“Come on.”

He gives her a look. To which she responds by wriggling her fingers a little until he gave in and holds his hands out. Clenching his cigarette between his lips, he is quiet as she rubs small gentle circles against his wrists. Back in the day, she used to do this a lot, usually after everyone else had crashed, or during the rare private moments they managed to steal in hotel rooms or their half abandoned apartments. After the operation, she had mediated every touch, like he was made of tissue paper instead of flesh and bone. At night she would lie so still when he would hold her close and during the day she had made herself lay her hands on him so delicately.

It is easy to remember.

Bob’s eyes flicker closed after a second. Spencer smiles a little.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

“I was invited,” she answers, but since he is Bob and nobody else, she adds, “By Jon and the guys.”

Bob does this thing with his mouth, and moves his cigarette from one side to the other.

Spencer shrugs.

“Rebuilding bridges and shit.”

“Fuck,” Bob swears.

He was always good with words.

 

 

 

 

Inside her, underneath her rib cage, her heart swells and constricts. It is painful and there is no safety in it. Not one of her ribs or the seal of her mouth protect her. Trying her best to keep what she feels safe; to keep it unknown – just as much as to keep it her own – is a waste of time for just as surely as she reads the arch of Ryan’s brows and the tilt of his jaw, he sees right though her in return.

What she feels is not her own. It never has been. Not with Ryan. Never with him.

It feels, sometimes, like she is a failure for loving him.

 

 

 

 

Spencer ends up taking a commercial flight back out of N.Y.C. Everyone bar one maid (who Spencer had left behind to close the penthouse) has already flown back after the Met ball. Most have gone back to Rome. Spencer doesn’t.

It’s three shoots, a Dazed & Confused cover, nearly half a dozen industry events and far too many flights later when she does get back.

She likes Rome.

She likes pretty much everything about it. It’s loud and crazy and it’s her home. It isn’t Milan or Paris, or even London or New York, but she likes it despite that. And sometimes, just sometimes, the fact is isn’t one of those places is one of the reasons she likes it.

 

 

 

 

Ryan comes and sees her the next time she's in N.Y.C, about a fortnight after the Met Ball and the night at Angel's and King's.

Spencer has stayed in the same set of north-east facing rooms in Valentino’s New York penthouse every time she has visited. The colours are rich and the furnishings match. Perhaps they are not her taste, but she likes them. Has come to like them. The wardrobe is filled with her clothes. Or clothes Valentino has decided to give her. The en suite is stocked with brands of toiletries she prefers. She does not know how or when this happened. She should. But she doesn’t.

Ryan fits.

In his mustard yellow three piece suit and carefully laced brogues, he compliments Valentino’s baroque aesthetic. Leaning back into one of the antique armchairs, he hooks his left ankle over his right and doesn’t look at her.

“I didn’t think you’d be the sort of person to own monogrammed suitcases,” Ryan comments.

With one too long finger he traces her initials one by one. They are hand painted, a frivolous extravagance on her part. The mid-sized case, the one she uses most frequently, is already scuffed and stained. If it had been up to just her, she would have bough something much more utilitarian and practical. But Valentino had overheard her discussing the matter, and he has this way of speaking about beautiful things.

Spencer makes herself shrug.

The sun is still high, and the light that comes through the window looks golden against the brocade wallpaper. She knows what time it is from looking at the shadows. But she has no idea which time zone her body is running on. Something – weariness, perhaps – tugs a little on her heels. It’s easy to ignore. Practice has made her almost perfect.

“Does it make them easier to spot at the airport?” Ryan asks for reasons she does not know.

She does not shrug.

To repeat the action would be telling. Childish, even.

“A little,” she tells him.

She flew out on a private plane. The distinction isn’t one worth mentioning. A seat had only been offered to Spencer when Catherine McNeil, Abby Lee’s close friend and one of Donatella’s darlings, had decided to go visit her girlfriend rather than go to New York. Abby Lee had charmed a friend of a friend to charter the flight for them. Spencer does not know why. It had been cramped and the small aircraft had bounced around through the bad weather and frequent air pockets. The flight was over five hours long. By the halfway point they had split a valium pill. Spencer threw her half up three patches of turbulence later.

“Are you dating Z?” Spencer asks, suddenly. Suddenly desperate to know, desperate enough to ask.

The world feels quiet. Still. Static. She does not move from where she is standing. With her heart swelling and constricting at each moment in Ryan’s presence, she feels more and more like a fool. Ryan looks at her. His gaze is heavy. And he must see straight through her. He must. Because she can read him just as clearly as before, and if she could, she would shake.

“No,” he answers, finally, as if that were enough.

“Is she dating you?”

Ryan looks at her, as if that question is the same as her first. “No.”

They are going to cannibalise their friends. Spencer can see it now. Until the two of them are the only ones standing. Until they have claimed back the space at the others right hand side. Spencer knows it.

He must too. He must.

“You used to be my best friend,” Ryan says, suddenly, the words tumbling out of his mouth. “Do you remember?”

The words hit Spencer and reverberate as if inside a hollow drum.

A breath leaves her and is not replaced.

“Yes.”

Yes, she does.

She wants to take a step back but cannot.

“Do you?” she asks him instead.

He looks away.

She does not receive an answer.

 

 

 

 

Spencer does the shoot and returns to Rome. Ryan does not call her. She does not call him. She tells herself there are reasons. She tells herself that. But mostly she thinks other things.

It’s a not particularly notable weekday when she hears a knock on her door.

She opens it to find Brendon standing on the other side.

“Hey,” he says, with circles under his eyes.

“Hey?” she says back. Her tone makes the one word a question instead of an echo.

He fidgets. They’ve done this before. Still, she steps aside and lets him in.

He crashes on her couch and sleeps for about fifteen hours straight. Three hours in, Spencer looks at her mobile. She searches for Jon’s number. She finds it, but then she stops herself.

“Fuck it.”

And instead of calling Jon, she calls Ryan.

He picks up on eighth ring. She counts them. One, two, three to eight… One more and it would have gone to voicemail instead.

“If you are wondering, your lead singer is on my couch,” she says, instead of a greeting or small talk.

“Spence?”

“He turned up this afternoon.”

There is a pause.

“Okay,” Ryan answers.

“Okay,” Spencer echoes, because okay, that wasn’t too hard. “Bye.”

Her hands are shaking though, as if that is a lie.

“Bye.”

 

 

 

 

A day passes. A new one begins. A fortnight previously, Carlos invited Spencer along to the opera with his ex-wife and his two sons. Spencer had accepted. Now, a fortnight later, Spencer isn’t sure she should go. When she mentions the why, Carlos extends the offer.

“I didn’t bring a suit,” Brendon tells her, when she brings it up.

He didn’t bring much of anything really.

He bites his lip, “Maybe–”

Spencer sees where the thought is going and no, “No. You can’t wear a hoody and jeans to the premiere of Armida at the Teatro dell'Opera.”

Brendon looks at her and she recognises the expression in his eyes.

"What are you wearing?"

"Yves Saint Fucking Laurent,”

“Not Valentino?” he asks, pointedly.

“I’m a model, not a billboard,” she answers; matching her tone to his until he looks away from her.

With her help, he buys himself a suit. He doesn’t embarrass her at the tailors or at the theatre. Carlos and Charlene Shorto de Ganay walk away from the evening liking him. So do their children, Anthony and Sean. Even Gianluigi Gelmetti, the musical director and chief conductor, is impressed.

The music is still ringing in Spencer’s ear as she unlocks her apartment. Brendon hums a few bars. Despite the evident excitement in his voice as he talks about the opera and the delight he has gotten from the music, there is a sadness about him that she wishes was not there.

“You could do that,” she tells him, when he finishes.

Brendon laughs.

Spencer does not know why. “Rufus Wainwright and Regina Spektor did.”

“No. I can’t.”

“Why not?” she pushes. “You did a wolf musical concept album. That’s almost the same thing.”

“Ryan did that,” he corrects, his voice stiff.

Spencer stills. She stills and she looks at him carefully.

Brendon blushes bright, bright red and uses the difference in their height as an excuse to not meet her gaze. Curled inwards and highlighted only by the light she has left on in the kitchen, he doesn’t look a day older than seventeen.

And for a second, she is seventeen again.

Seventeen and surrounded by these long and lean dancers who are effortlessly graceful and beautiful, she’s fighting with Ryan in front of Brent and Brendon (and anyone that happens to walk passed the dressing room) about the latest stupid costume they (he) wants her to wear. A strapless corset with boning and lots of laces and see-through panels and she’s in-between growth spurts and is sweaty and red faced and feels fat. Is fat. She’s screaming a lot of shit about how the costume is misogynistic and exploitative. But really she’s seventeen and self conscious and certain she’ll look pathetic and terrified that she’ll fall out of it while drumming and – she’s seventeen and she’s not used to being put on display, not used to being subject to any of the intense attention that is now focused on her.

And he’s meant to get it. He’s meant to understand.

And Spencer blinks and she – she’s not seventeen, but Brendon is looking at her and she has missed something because the conversation has shifted in a new direction.

“You heard it?”

Spencer should have watched her words. But it is too late. They have been said and Brendon is looking at her with such need in his eyes.

Spencer nods. “Yes. I did listen to it once.”

“What did you think?” he asks, his voice revealing far too much.

She thinks the whole thing was a musical overindulgence on Ryan’s part. She thinks Pete should have taken him in hand, or sent Patrick to do his dirty work. She thinks they have toured it for too long and haven’t made anything, at all, since then. But she cannot say any of that.

“Your voice was beautiful,” she says to him instead.

As she says it, Brendon seems to almost shrink.

“Yeah,” he says, like he’s had the conversation before. “Yeah.”

She puts her hand on his shoulder.

Brendon looks up at her and there is nothing Spencer can say to him.

Together they go and sit on the balcony and she thinks about being sixteen and she thinks about driving to LA and looking in the rear view-mirror to see Brendon and Ryan sleeping in the back seats and loving them so very much.

She’s never felt anything close to that since. Not with Bob or Giancarlo or Lily or anyone.

She does not know what to feel.

 

 

 

 

The fucked up thing is that Spencer can’t hate any of them. Not the new guy. Not the others. Not really. No matter how much she tries she doesn’t really mean it. Not anymore.

 

 

 

 

Spencer is in Gstaad with Valentino and his entourage, and it’s been a few years since her first trip to the snow but she still can’t fucking ski to save her life. To make matters worse, some bastard cuts her off and she almost breaks her neck for real and she’s complaining about it to Valentino at the bottom of the slope and then later in the evening she tells Giancarlo about the incident before Valentino steals the phone from her even though he had just spoken with Giancarlo not more than an hour previously and nothing in her world is out of place or strange.

On the other side of the world though, some girl has just finished putting up a picture of Ryan Ross on her facebook page. It features him curled up with three girls on a couch, some bottles of near empty liquor on the table with a packet of cigarettes and lines of cocaine.

Knowingly or unknowingly, it’s a picture of Ryan with cocaine.

Like wildfire people find it and it and Spencer might be in Gstaad, with her toes still numb from the cold, having dinner with Valentino and their friends, but within days – no, hours – everybody has seen it. Everybody. Lily, Mark and his sisters, Daniel and The Cab (even though they’re on tour together) and people are gossiping and journalists are writing stories and media outlets are running them.

While in Gstaad no one in the party addresses the matter.

However over the course of the following week, Giancarlo and Valentino invite Pierre Bergé, Donatella and Allegra Versace, and finally Marc Jacobs and Bernard Arnault dine with them at their Roman home. Though Spencer has her own apartment she is persuaded to stay.

And maybe Spencer is many things, but she’s not oblivious.

She lets them talk. She listens to Pierre when he speaks about his and Yves’ past and she lets him take her hands in his when his voice falters. And she listens to Donatella and she listens to Marc and finally, when Giancarlo takes her aside and talks about Rome and how it was here, not Paris or New York that he and Valentino made their home and fashion house, she bites her tongue because she understands why.

Though Valentino shows in Paris, it was the distance Rome provided (coupled with Giancarlo’s influence) that helped prevent Valentino from falling victim to the drug culture that affected many of his contemporaries.

The cocaine pictures are a big deal.

“It is not that we do not trust you,” Giancarlo says eventually, holding her hands and her gaze. “But I trusted Valentino. Yet I do not regret persuading him to stay away from Paris and that environment.”

Spencer cannot say a word. She does not know how.

Decades and decades of work are stored in the Valentino House archives. Spencer loves Valentino but she thinks without Giancarlo standing there by his side during the excesses of the 70s and 80s, she might not have had the chance to meet him and even though she met Ryan when she was five, she’s not sure she knows this boy who’s still stuck on the party scene.

Ryan is a mess when she calls to him.

“I didn’t even know it was there,” he tells her, his voice a wreck. “I swear.”

Spencer – Spencer bites her lip.

She thinks he does, but she does not know what a promise from him counts for anymore.

“Spence,” he says. “I swear.”

At seventeen Spencer learnt to drink with Lily. Over the first few months of their friendship, they drank and they smoked and carelessly fucked around on the London party scene. A scene where no one really gave a fuck about her, or whether she had an extra drink or two or three rather than going home straight edged sober. More than once she drank too much and more than once she woke up hung over on Lily’s bathroom floor and maybe it was a crash course, maybe Spencer never really tried any drugs but Spencer knows her limits. She knows how far she can go and she knows how much she can push herself.

Those same boundaries were and are continued to be enforced by the modelling. Fuck what anybody said before, Spencer is a professional. It’s something she stands by. She turns up on time and she turns up in a state fit for work. She watches her body and she looks after it. Her reliability is part of what keeps her work steady and her reputation in good stead.

Ryan...

She doesn’t know.

The phone line crackles.

Ryan swears.

She's taller than him. She forgets sometimes, but she is. Even barefoot inches separate them. And taking a deep breath that burns, she remembers and maybe, before, she would have seen the very first moment Ryan started falling apart. But now, now - fuck - she only sees what's in front of her.

Across the line she hears a beep.

“Fuck,” Ryan swears again. “It’s the label. I’ve got to take this Spence.”

The call ends there.

Spencer – Spencer puts her phone down.

 

 

 

 

She turns twenty-two during the last days of Paris Fashion week.

She doesn’t remember until Mathias points it out to her. Drunk on free champagne and compliments, he drapes over her shoulders and tucks his hands into the pockets of her coat. In the chilly September air, they stand around waiting for a driver. Spencer isn’t sure whose. Maybe the one Giancarlo always arranges for Spencer to have while in the city, but maybe Abby Lee’s. Or maybe Coco Rocha who is, currently, more important than all of them combined. At least in Paris.

“Happy Birthday,” he murmurs into her neck, sweet and stupid.

“I’m getting old,” she tells him. “Twenty two this week, eighty next week.”

“No,” he corrects. “You’re only getting lovelier.”

Abby Lee tips her head into the other side of Spencer’s neck, and Alice Dellal, who is nothing but gentle sweetness no matter what anyone said, giggles. And Spencer, Spencer can only laugh too. Because really, she is a year older and everyone knows what that means. Especially the people surrounding her.

Apparently Mathias isn’t the only one who has over indulged or maybe Spencer just isn’t paying enough attention because roughly a month later when she surfaces from her twice yearly fashion week(s) overload, Brendon has assembled a pile of clippings that rival the contents of her mother’s scrap book.

Unscrewing the cap on her bottle of mineral water, Spencer lets her gaze flick over the glossy bad resolution images. Brendon twitches. Spencer rolls her eyes.

“Who’s he?” he gives in and asks, not the slightest bit shy or coy.

The photographs have captions for a reason.

“A friend,” Spencer replies anyway.

The answer appears not to appease Brendon. Boldly, he plucks her tortoise shell sunglasses away from her eyes and shoves them on himself. Spencer wishes he were more careful. Unlike the styles he favours, her pair wasn’t purchased at a chain store or won at a carnival booth.

“A ‘friend’?” Brendon repeats, turning her statement of fact into a question. “Have you known each other long?”

Spencer looks at him.

“Yes,” she says simply, because that too was in the caption underneath the image. “We’re both contracted to the Valentino Fashion House. That’s how we meet.”

“Oh,” Brendon comments. “That’s nice.”

His tone is off again.

Spencer wishes he hadn’t taken her sunglasses.

Taking a sip of water, Spencer decides to spell things out.

“I don’t date male models,” she tells him, plainly, because he’d never get it otherwise. “They expect you to pay for everything.”

“I wasn’t–”

“You were,” Spencer says, because he was.

Brendon reacts as if hit.

“That’s okay though,” she hastens to add, stumbling over her words, knowing they were far from the right ones. “I know you didn’t mean it like that.”

“You do?”

And yes, Spencer thinks she does.

She nods.

 

 

 

 

Spencer gets a Rag and Bone campaign.

It’s shot in New York City, and although the shoot itself is expected to only take up a day or two, she ends up stay for about a week or so. Although Valentino persuades her (as per usual) to stay in his penthouse, Spenser ends up spending a good proportion of her time bumming around at Abby Lee’s place.

Abby Lee’s apartment is always a bit of a mess, but Spencer likes hanging out there with her and the random assortment of people that have a habit of drifting into and out. They drink red wine and sometimes dangle their legs over the edge of her fire escape stairs and talk about nothing in particular.

She doesn’t call anyone. She doesn’t call Brendon or Jon or Ryan. Or, to be specific; Ryan. She doesn’t call him. She should. She knows she should. The world is very small and even if it wasn’t, paparazzi and buzznet mean there’s no such thing as discretion.

She is a contradiction. Everything she feels is at war with each other.

She hates that Ryan does not consider her his best friend like he once did. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right. Lily is Spencer’s best friend now; she’s the one Spencer talks to and tells her secrets to (and everything else). It isn’t fair or right or anything to be jealous of Ryan forgetting her or to expect Ryan to be jealous of Lily. But Spencer still is. Before, they had shared one life. Every person in Ryan’s life had been in Spencer’s life too. She knew their names, was a part of every in-joke, was just a part of it all.

Now they have two lives.

Ryan has his life; all that it had once been and all that it has become. Old faces Spencer knows, and new ones that Spencer has yet to be introduced too. Spencer has a life too. One made up of so many pieces that are separate from him.

Maybe it is better this way. Maybe one life was too small for them. Maybe everything that has happened is nature’s way of giving them the space Spencer at seventeen years old had done everything in her power to prevent. Maybe. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t really know anything for sure. Not when it comes to Ryan. Not anymore.

 

 

 

 

There was this casting, ages ago.

A little after she left her first agent. Back then Spencer was used to seeing Abby Lee around because they looked sort of the same and thus competed for the same jobs and maybe, if she squinted, they were acquaintances.

Abby Lee was ahead of her in line. She was called in first. A few minutes passed. Spencer isn’t sure. She can’t remember. She wasn’t keeping track. It was just another casting and the fact it wasn’t for some crappy glossy magazine was enough to make Spencer reasonably content with the situation. Except when Abby Lee came out, her face was white as a ghost and –

She grabbed Spencer’s arm. Her grip was like a vise, and she dragged Spencer out of the line and down the stairs and she only let Spencer go double back to grab Iekeliene Stange; Iekeliene was older than both of them but was still practicing her English, silently mouthing the words just in case.

“He wanted–” Abby Lee had started, but she had not needed to finish.

Iekeliene and Spencer could figure it out. And the worst thing was, one of the girls that they had been standing in line with would probably give it to him. Or have it taken from them. Because that was the way it was.

Because they were young and replaceable, they all were.

Spencer has always known she is lucky. At the beginning, back when Giancarlo got her signed to new agencies and his name got her hired at all those shows during her first New York fashion week, she perhaps had chaffed at it. But she knows now that she is lucky.

She was alone in London when he found her. Every day she had been sent off to see photographers and clients, dressed by agents, appraised and had her body treated as if it were a piece of meat. It was his name – his reputation and influence – that protected her.

Out of everybody she knows, only Abby Lee, and Iekeliene understand.

They are the only ones that can.

 

 

 

 

Out of everybody Spencer knows, no one loved technology as much as Lily. Not even Matteo, who takes advantage of anything and everything that will advance the Valentino brand. Of course for Lily technology is less about becoming richer than it is about gossip (at this point).

It isn’t something Spencer is against in general; it just isn’t for her.

Maybe Spencer is lame, or maybe just too controlling, but she doesn’t think the sort of people who hire her want to know the mundane details of her life. Mystique is important. Advertising the fact she bought a new pair of shoes or bitching about Perez Hilton writing something shitty about Lily doesn’t exactly maintain the image she has spent the last few years carefully building. Which is why, when Lily calls, her voice reed thin with worry, Spencer is completely in the dark.

“Have you heard about Ryan?”

Spencer spoke to him two days ago. He was in L.A and they had talked a little about photography. Tom is planning an exhibit. It is meant to be a bit of a big deal. Considering her memories of Tom, Spencer is pretty sure it is. It had been nice. Earlier in the month, Spencer had visited Berlin with Abby Lee to see Iekeliene Stange’s first solo show, I Like Ponies. It had been deeply eccentric and intensely personal.

The call had ended on a good note. Ryan had asked for a few links to the gallery and Spencer had offered to send him the exhibits catalogue. It had been nice and familiar and Spencer’s heart had done stupid things the whole time. Ryan was fine.

“What’s going on?”

Lily exhales hard and loud against the receiver; Spencer’s answer must have been the wrong one.

“He got married.”

All the air in the room disappears.

“Spence?” Lily says. “Spencer?”

Her voice is tinny and Spencer hears it ring through the line. She makes herself put her phone back to her ear.

“Who?”

“Z.”

“I spoke to him yesterday,” she says, because she had. She had.

“He’s a bastard,” Lily swears, like that is an answer.

Spencer cannot move.

She tries again. “I spoke to him yesterday.”

Inside her, her heart thunders and bashes itself against her ribs cage. She doesn’t understand. She spoke to him yesterday. They talked and it had been almost easy. Almost like it had been.

Spencer looks at her watch.

“I’m running late,” she tells Lily. “Really late.”

“Will you be okay?” Lily asks.

Spencer holds her phone to her ear with her shoulder. Grabbing a coat hanger out of her wardrobe, she shoves herself into a random jacket. She’s running late. She opens her mouth to tell Lily. But she said that already. Not just once, but twice. She says something else.

“I’m sorry.” Lily replies. And that. That’s not right.

Lily doesn’t say things like that. At least Spencer doesn’t think that she does.

The call ends.

Spencer hooks her bag over her elbow, locks her apartment, but when she gets outside, she can’t remember where she is meant to be going. She can’t. Nothing is written in her diary or programmed into her Blackberry. But she is running late. There has to be something, if she is running late.

And she blinks and when she opens her eyes she is outside the Valentino Fashion House building.

She doesn’t enter.

From the other side of the road, she sits on a bus bench and looks at the House. Together, over the course of a lifetime, they built it, turning Valentino’s ideas into a worldwide empire. Giancarlo and Valentino are not there anymore. This year Alessandra Facchinetti is designing the House’s collection. It is her, not Valentino, working within those walls, and it is a new, Permira approved director, sitting in Giancarlo’s office.

She doesn’t know how much time passes.

Buses come and go. People bustle around her. Tourist snap picture.

Marla comes out and wordlessly sits beside Spencer. Putting two cigarettes between her rosso valentino lips, she lights them with one practiced flick of her lighter and hands Spencer one. It’s been along time since Spencer’s smoked. She holds it in her hands and lets it burn down to the filter.

Marla blows a smoke ring, tilting her head back to look at the sky.

“Antoinette called Mr. Giammetti.”

Spencer nods.

Marla brings her cigarette back to her lips.

Spencer blinks again and this time, when she opens her eyes she is sitting in Giancarlo’s office in his Roman home, watching him make a phone call. Speaking in rapid French, Spencer only picks up one or two words.

She has no idea how she had gotten from point A to B.

Absently, she twists the hem of her jacket.

Giancarlo places his hand on hers, stopping her. The light touch startles her. The office is quiet. The conference call is over and done with. Gently, Giancarlo takes her hand, twisting his fingers through hers, unlatching them from the cotton of her trench.

“I wasn’t paying attention,” she tells him, looking at the mess of creases and wrinkles she had created.

“That can be fixed,” he answers.

They go downstairs and in the noisy laundry quarters one of Giancarlo’s staff presses it for her. When finished, the seamstress, Angelique, an old Italian lady with coiffed steely grey hair and nimble hands, cups Spencer’s cheek in her hand.

She says something in Italian.

Spencer’s been listening to audio tapes and reading books to learn the language for a while now. She thinks the woman tells her not to be sad.

 

 

 

 

A day later, Spencer feels like a fool. He hasn’t gotten married to Z. It is a joke. A laugh. Something to show E! News and MTV and all of his teenage fangirls that Ryan Ross is more clever than all of them put together.

The 'marriage' is nothing more than a hoax. One Spencer was stupid enough to fall for.

“Fool on me,” she tells herself as she flicks through his twitter feed. Because really, she should have known.

“Why?” Lily asks later, when Spencer brings it up.

Spencer shrugs.

Lily looks at Spencer. Her eyes are very dark and there is more than one reason Karl likes her. There is also more than one reason she and Spencer are still friends. Though in her fingers she holds a lit cigarette, she does not smoke it.

“Why were you all alone at that bar where we meet?” Lily asks suddenly, without warning. “Why were you there and not in the hotel? Why hadn't you invited Brent or Ryan or Brendon or even told Zack where you were going?

“I –” Spencer throat closes over. “I don’t know.”

Lily looks at her. “Spencer. You do.”

And okay. Spencer had wanted to be alone. To take a break from all the drama and fuss and she had been so tired of looking after everyone! She just wanted to take a breather. Fuck? Was that too much to ask.

”No,” Lily tells her. “No. It wasn't.”

There is no relief in the admission. None.

She does not know why Lily forced it out of her.

Ryan calls eventually, because that’s what they do now. They talk on the phone and they email each other. Because she has stopped initiating either, he calls her. After a fortnight. He walks his way through the conversation and though she does not wish to play a part in it, she forces herself to do so. She is not seventeen. She can’t tell him what to do. She can’t.

She is everything Ryan should love. She is everything he should want. She dresses in the right clothes, walks in the right circles, knows the right people. She is the right sort of person. But he doesn’t want her. He wants girls that dance and sing and look like they stepped out of an episode of The O.C or off the cover of Nylon (but not from the pages) and it isn’t right and it isn’t fair. It just is what it is. Just like Spencer knows her mother and father think she’s a bit of a joke; her ‘career’ consists of walking straight lines, poising, then turning and walking back. Her college going sisters think she’s a relic, an embarrassment who lets herself be objectified and air brushed and – and they have to put up with sleazy guys cracking on to them because of her.

It cuts. It makes her heart ring and clench.

She counts backwards from one hundred.

It doesn’t work.

A few days work in Iceland for Fallen doesn’t help either.

The bind her, Tanya Dziahileva and Natasha Poly into something with a lot of boning and tulle and paint her face plainly. Then they strip her down to her underwear and use thick black and white paint to draw a skeleton onto her skin. The makeup artists tell her to stay still, not to move.

Spencer closes her eyes.

The brushes tickle as they trace a path along her bones.

The palazzo they are shooting in feels as if it is made purely out of marble. Despite the artificial heat of the lights and equipment, the polished stones under her bare are cold. Spencer bits her lip, hard, to stop herself from shivering.

The paint they are using smells a little like shoe polish. The scent of it fills her nose as they paint a skull onto her face, and onto her hair. There is something vaguely humiliating about it all. The feeling cannot be undone by all the zeroes on her pay-check.

She opens her eyes.

She positions her body in the exact same poses as before.

At the end of the day, the photographer lets her see some of the shots. The two images are overlaid. The result is strangely haunting. Spencer sends one to Gerard.

Afterwards the three of them go out for a drink to celebrate.

It sometimes seems like models are Russia’s main export. Tanya laughs when Spencer articulates the thought. When she laughs, the planes of her face change and she looks very different. Spencer cannot quite find the words to describe it.

Sitting with them, nursing a drink, the world feels very small to Spencer.

“It is,” Natasha answers sagely, her accent heavy despite her near constant travels. “It contracts every day.”

Tanya nods. “Tomorrow we shall know everyone in this room.”

In unison, they bring their glasses together, as if to make a toast.

Behind them, the bar buzzes with life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spencer flies into N.Y.C late (this time for a Self Service cover) and when Spencer wakes the next morning, she wakes quickly as if she hadn’t been asleep at all. The numbers flashing on her alarm clock tell a different story.

She goes running in Central Park with Abby Lee.

Around the same height, they match each other pace without effort. Abby Lee’s trainer meets up with them halfway. Spencer’s never needed a trainer to keep her (her tendency towards micromanaging did have it uses) in shape so she splits away and lets them have their session in peace.

She’s about half a mile away from Valentino’s apartment, when she runs into Daisy.

It’s strange how some things work. Though there is no reason for Lily’s long forgotten charade of friendship to still hold water, it does. Daisy’s doing quite well for herself. Among her other achievements, just recently Marc Jacobs chose her to be the face of his Marc By Marc Jacobs line. Life is good – or so Spencer supposes until Daisy’s huge dark eyes fill with tears.

“I’m homesick,” she admits to Spencer, before saying she is going back to England.

Back to her boyfriend, William Cameron Jr.

“Oh,” Spencer replies.

Oh.

Daisy wipes her eyes with the sleeve of her cardigan. Sniffing a little, she tries to put herself back together.

“It’s good to see you,” she says.

“Yeah.”

Daisy smiles a little.

“I guess I’ll see you in London soon,” Spencer tells her.

“Yeah, you will.” Daisy promises, kissing Spencer goodbye.

Something inside Spencer's chest rattles as she watches Daisy step into a cab. She has friends and family and a life of her own making. She has a life. She knows this. But still, she thinks of Daisy who has just started making a name for herself, yet is flying back to be with William.

Only a year separates them in age. It feels like there the gap should be larger.

She exhaled shakily.

 

 

 

 

Spencer remembers Ryan once told her everybody wanted to be someone else. She remembers being tired and the voice of reason and being tired of being the voice of reason and being pissed off and still having a million phone calls to make and emails to send. She remembers taking a deep fucking breath that didn’t centre her or calm her down or anything. She remembers putting her sidekick down and turning to him, and coolly asking him who he wanted to be (because it obviously wasn’t someone that turned up to sound check on time or read the stuff he was signing before he went ahead and signed his name to them).

He didn’t answer her.

 

 

 

 

Instead of running, Spencer ends up taking her time and walking back to Valentino’s apartment. There are messages waiting for her on her Blackberry when she gets back. She opens one at random and it’s Gerard. In town to promote the Umbrella Academy, he invites her out to see the ballet. It’s maybe too late in the day to accept, but she does.

During the intermission Karl walks over and tells Gerard he liked the song he did about his grandmother.

“It’s too short though,” he notes.

Gerard opens his mouth. Nothing comes out. Spencer weighs her words in her mind before articulating them aloud.

“How long should it have been?”

He turns to one of his assistants.

They shrug.

“I’ll get someone to call you,” he tells Gerard.

Spencer nods, and just like that Gerard ends up writing the score to Karl Lagerfeld’s latest Fendi show. He insists she walks it too. She thinks it’s a horrid idea; it isn’t the 90s anymore. Thank fucking God. But Karl is the same person who once hired strippers to walk for Fendi instead of models, so of course he doesn’t see what her problem is. He just offers more money and it’s embarrassing when Giancarlo brings it up over lunch just before the S/S fashion season kicks off.

“I’m not going to do it,” she tells him.

He nods. “Good.”

Their order arrives.

“You should attend,” he adds. “Perhaps with that boy of yours.”

His statement covers a great many boys. Purposefully, of course. Giancarlo isn’t one to be frivolous with his words. Spencer thinks he could mean Gerard. On the surface at least.

“Perhaps,” Spencer answers.

Giancarlo leaves it at that, allowing the conversation to slow and eventually shifts into something else. She is grateful.

After they finish, Giancarlo takes her to get coffee at Café de Paris.

“This is where I meet Valentino,” he tells her as he helps her into her seat. “Right here, at this very table.”

She met Ryan in a sandpit when she was five years old. She still does not know if she had been too young. Children were supposed to belong to their parents for long than just five years. Children were meant to belong to themselves after their parents’ claims ended. She had been five when she had meet Ryan. She has been Ryan’s ever since; loving him has been her default setting ever since. Even now. Even after everything.

Out of everybody, everybody, Giancarlo will understand. Spencer is sure of it.

His eyes are soft now.

“We have not been apart since,” he tells Spencer.

Rome roars and rushes around them.

She likes this city more than any other place in the world. It would have been smarter to buy a home in Paris, or Milan or New York – or to stay more often in the apartment she still sort of shares with Daniel in London rather letting The Cabbabies take it over one Alex at a time. But she loves Rome.

She loves Rome. She does. It’s her home.

Spencer cannot remember exactly how she got here. For a moment it feels as though the day before she was sixteen and stuck in Las Vegas. Giancarlo takes a small sip of his coffee; she blows cool air over hers.

She wants to tell him about Ryan, about how they skipped school on summer days and how he can read her mind with a single glance. She wants Giancarlo to know how Ryan can be devastating and how he can be so stupid despite being so smart. She wants him to know everything.

She wants him to know Ryan.

Giancarlo lays his hand on top of hers. She releases a breath she had not been aware she was holding.

There is no one else but Ryan. No one else. Not for her.

 

 

 

 

Spencer had not known what to expect, but when she is not booked for the Valentino 2010 Spring/Summer show, well, she is both surprised and unsurprised. On one level it makes perfect sense. Alessandra Facchinetti needs to establish herself. Spencer is too closely tied to the old regime. Not only has she walked every runway since being taken in by Giancarlo and been booked for more than one campaign, Spencer has become, for better or for worse, a part of Valentino’s entourage.

So she works New York, London, and Milan. When she gets to Paris, she intends to work that too. Giancarlo catches her as she’s leaving the airport, his voice joyous over the phone. Running on adrenalin, Spencer presses the phone to her ear and tries to listen to him while keeping an eye out for her luggage on the baggage carousel. With her attention split, it takes her a second to realise she’s missed something.

“We will see you there,” Giancarlo says. “Valentino is very excited.”

“See me where?” Spencer questions, giving up spotting her case for the time being.

“At the Valentino show. Of course.”

Spencer blinks. “I don’t have a ticket.”

“Ticket?”

Spencer does not understand either, and at the moment she doesn’t really care because she is almost one hundred percent certain that the case that has just been spat onto the carousel is hers. Switching her mobile from one ear, to the other, Spencer steps up to the plate and prepares herself to make a lunge for it.

“Spencer? I don’t understand.”

“I wasn’t booked this year,” she tells him, eyes tracking her case as it draws closer and closer to where she is standing poised at the ready. “I thought you knew.”

There is a pause. Spencer notes it absently. But only absently: with one swift movement she lunges out and grabs hold of the handles of her case. Just catching it, she pulls it to safety.

“I was not aware of that,” Giancarlo answers, finally. “I’m afraid I have to cut my call short. If you will excuse me, I have to make some calls.”

He ends the calls.

She – it’s a big season for Spencer. She might not be doing the Valentino show but she’s made sure she’s doing a fuck load of other ones to make up for it. Her first is show is Carchel. After years of designers coming and going and relying upon the history of the House rather than adding to it, things have changed. Spencer would go as far as saying under the direction of Cédric Charlier, the label has been revitalised. It’s a fitting first show – and she walks it only hours after checking in to her hotel room she, Abby Lee and Iekeliene are sharing.

She walks other too within that day.

After three weeks of non-stop shows in the other fashion capitals, sleep is an abstract concept. It’s the same every season, and in a way, maybe she’s used to it but nevertheless it still leaves her worn with brittle edges, and caught off guard when she returns to her hotel room. Her last show of that day finished, she intends to quickly eat and change before darting off to the reopening of Armani’s recently remodelled French flagship store. It’s important she attends. Other than promising Mathias and Alice that she’d be there, it’s at events like that where all the groundwork for job offers are done. Although her days of going to the meat market are thankfully over, she can’t be lazy.

Her dress was couriered over the day before and all Spencer has to do is grab it, and get some room service and she’d be good to go, but instead finds Ryan sitting on her bed.

Hands clenched, he looks up at her as if he is startled by her presence.

“Your friend let me in,” he says before she can speak, as if it explains everything.

Key card in hand, her scarf half undone around neck, Spencer is frozen.

“I can see your underwear in that.” Ryan notes when she does not speak; eyeing her chiffon blouse, and it’s fucking – it’s fucking surreal.

She’s wearing off the runaway Fendi, with an oversized blazer – leaving only the smallest strip of skin visible. Even if she wasn’t, Ryan look’s like he’s just came from stealing her Grandfather’s shrunken washing off the line.

“I can see your dick in those pants.”

Ryan is unimpressed.

“Your shoes are ridiculous,” he retorts.

Spencer looks at him squarely. “Your everything is ridiculous.”

His mouth tightens.

He is silent.

Spencer – she just can’t be.

“Did you come all the way to Paris to critique my sartorial choices?”

Ryan unclenches his hands. “No.”

“I’m flying back to New York next week. It couldn’t wait until then?”

Twisting the bed sheets in his hands, he looks rattled. “No. It couldn’t.”

Spencer doesn’t know where to go from here.

“It all happened so quickly. Too quickly,” he says, all of a sudden. “We were kids.”

The words sound as if they had been written in advance. His voice sounds practiced.

“I wish I could go back,” he tells her, desperate and broken.

“Ryan–”

He interrupts her. “I’m sorry.”

He says the two words so quickly they could have been one. He repeats them.

“It wasn’t fair, what we did to you – what I did to you.” Ryan adds, his eyes pleading with her.

Spencer – an hour again she was on Kenzo’s ready to wear runway, an hour before that Celine, and there were others. There are others yet to come. The week isn’t over yet. With her key card still in her hand and her Proenza Schouler PS1 handbag cradled uncomfortably in the crock of her arm, she isn’t ready for this. She imagined it so many times. But she isn’t ready for it. Not now. Not yet.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, trying again to stick to his pre-written script. But his voice is barely a whisper and it shakes. So do his hands.

She takes a step back.

Her half undone scarf slips from her neck. Silently, it flutters to the ground.

“If I wanted fairness I would have worked in the civil service,” she paraphrases Karl, because she is unoriginal and grasping at straws.

He flinches.

She looks away and silently counts to ten.

She thinks that’s what people expected of her. She thinks that’s where they expected her to migrate. Boring, controlling Spencer, counting her pennies or other peoples’. She hates that those were their expectations. That they didn’t understand how everything, everything, she did was narrated by the beat of a silent drum.

She hears it still.

Hears it when she steps out onto the runways or just down onto the street. She hears it at night too. When everything in the world is silent, the rhythm of her heart pounds and pounds and fills the air. She thinks it will always be like that. Maybe she might not drum again. Maybe she’ll never go near the drums again. But the beat will still be there.

He says her name.

Her Blackberry rings. It’s probably her driver calling to let her know his waiting outside.

She should go. She should tell him that she needs to go. But she doesn’t. The words are on the tip of her tongue, but she does not utter a single one of them.

She promised to attend the reopening. If she doesn’t go she’ll be letting down so many people. She recognises this. She’s tired and she’s running on fumes and she can’t remember if she managed to have lunch or not. She hasn’t stopped moving in almost a month. She shouldn’t stop now.

Except she doesn’t want to hate him anymore.

He came all the way to Paris and she doesn’t want to hate him anymore.

He was meant to understand. Out of everybody, he was meant to understand. He is here though. Sitting with his head bowed and hands clenched.

For so long she had been holding onto to what she feels. Tightly keeping it contained and out of sight. Refusing to let it give it oxygen or light – keeping it hers and hers alone. Something she refused to acknowledge as a teenager, and something that leaves her raw and feeling as though she is made of tissue paper and poor intentions now.

There are no lines left in the sand.

Not anymore.

Stripped down to the quick, Spencer feels her throat close over. She doesn’t want to hate him anymore. She doesn’t. Fuck. She can’t. She never could. Not really. Not when it came to Ryan. Spencer – for a second Spencer thinks her heart has stopped beating and she's completely outside her body – she can’t come back from this. She just can’t. This is it.

It does not occur to her once, that Ryan may take the first step.

No, it was always going to be here. So she does, because - because she wants too.

Their teeth clip when she leans over and catches Ryan’s mouth with her own. The angles all wrong. Even barefoot she’s taller than him. But with him seated and her in six inch Lanvin Ombre Python Ankle Strap Pumps, she casts a shadow over him. He doesn’t stand though. Tilting his head back, he opens his mouth against hers and lets himself be kissed; touching his tongue against hers and gasping when she drops her bag to the floor and straddles his lap.

“Spence,” he whispers when they breaks away from each other to catch their breath.

His eyes are so dark. With her temple resting against his, they are all she sees.

Bringing a hand up, he curls his fingers around the back of her neck; his thumb pressed lightly on her windpipe, his index finger on her pulse. Spencer takes a deep breath and then releases it slowly. She can feel his fingertips flex and press into her skin. Not enough to stop her from pulling back; just holding her. But she’s not going anywhere.

“I’m here,” she tells him.

It isn’t what she meant to say but he understands what she meant.

He beams. “Me too.”

Cradling his jaw in her hands, she tilts her head and kisses him again until her lips are swollen and his are red and bruised. He tastes of gin and cigarettes and whatever he had for dinner on the plane. And when she presses her hands against his bony shoulders, he lets himself be pressed back into the wrinkled sheets and tangled covers.

After so long of being made up, manhandled into poses and dressed into and out of clothes and being touched carelessly, as if her body were not her own but something to display a designer’s latest piece, Spencer is desensitised to touch.

But it’s Ryan.

It’s always been Ryan.

Nerves system in knots, she pulls at his jacket and at his tie and vest. Her hands fumble as she shrugs off her own blazer and blindly tries to unbutton her blouse. Tugging at the hem, Ryan slides his hands under the gossamer thin fabric to touch skin to bracket her rib cage and stroke the delicate skin just underneath her bra.

Against his mouth, she moans.

Heat pools inside her and her fingers get caught up in his belt buckle. He groans though, when gets her fingers underneath it and wraps them tightly around his hardening cock. His breathing goes shallow and hot against skin as she moves her hand and when she flicks her thumb over the head on an upward stroke, his body goes taunt against hers.

Against her lips, he swears before dislodging her hand and rolling her underneath him. Kicking off his pants, he crawls between her legs and uses his lips and teeth to suck dark blue and purple bruises across her collar bones. His mouth is hot and wet against her skin.

Spencer feels her blood rush.

He touches her everywhere – running his fingertips up and down her arms, charting lines across her shoulder blades, following the curve of her waist and the line of her ribcage - a though he is memorising her. No. Relearning her.

Her heels get caught in the sheets.

Forgotten until that very moment, blindly she reaches and fiddles with the ankle straps, fighting to undo them and kick them off. With his hands bracketed around her hips, Ryan misinterprets the actions and rocks his hips down against hers. The drag of the fabric of his pants against the bare skin makes her tremble and her heart race.

Catching her wrists, he pins them above her head.

There is a whole world outside her room. If she were to merely turn her head to the side look out the window she is certain she would see it. But as he touches her – mouth between her thighs, his hands sliding over her skin – it falls away. He makes her comes, once, then twice.

With her hands knotted in his hair, she tugs him back up to her, squirming as he scattered kisses upon her stomach and the valley between her breasts. There is desperation in him when he presses his mouth against hers. She meets it, scrapping her teeth along his chest and lays kisses upon the edge of his shoulders when he reaches for his wallet.

It’s been so long since she’s done anything like this. Drunken fumbling at Lily’s last party don’t count. Her heart is beating so god damn fast. He must hear it. He must. Stretching his body back over hers, he kisses her eyelids and cheeks and the hollow of her throat.

Pushing inside her, he drops his head into the crock of her neck.

“Come on,” she tells him, when another moment passes and he still does nothing.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” he retorts, but his voice is wrecked and she feels his hand tremor as he touches her knee.

He doesn’t move until she swears.

The first thrust of his hips leaves her breathless. Him too.

They rhythm starts slow and a little unsteady. But it builds. Hooking a leg around his waist, she arches up to meet him. Digging her fingers into the small of his back, she whimpered as his thrust became faster and the snap of his hips harder. Reaching between them, he presses his fingers against her.

His voice shakes when he says her name.

And that’s all it takes.

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, like the children they no longer are, they curl together. Legs tangled and bodies intertwined. In the dark they talk quietly. Their voiced quiet and their eyes starting to close. She forces herself to tell him everything and to listen when he does the same.

In retrospect, they were too young when Pete signed them, and in the end the truth is it came down to how Brendon couldn’t lose Panic and how Ryan wouldn’t. They never meant to hurt each other. It just happened. Blinkered by the heady chaotic mess of adolescent, they had felt too much and reacted too harshly and with the stakes so high, the hurt they inflicted was magnified tenfold. Maybe if Pete had waited a few more years, or even just one, things might have been different. Maybe she might have been old enough be able to let go rather than hold on.

Worn out and stripped bare, she falls asleep with Ryan’s head tucked under her chin and his arms looped around her waist. She wakes the next morning in the exact same position and if she could that would be where she would stay all day.

But the week isn’t over.

She still has one more day of shows booked.

Perhaps it should, but the day doesn’t drag. It races past Spencer.

“We missed you last night,” Alice tells Spencer while they are made up for the Thimister haute couture show.

Slyly, she eyes the bruises that the make-up artists working on Spencer are desperately covering up. A smirk lightly touches her lips. Spencer rolls her eyes. Then she goes out and she kills the show and each and every other one she is booked to do that day.

She gets back late – as the closing model for Comme des Garçons, she had been expected to stay for the after party.

He’s still there. Right where she left him.

Her heart does something stupid.

Kicking off her heels and stripping off her narrow navy funnel Celine coat and shift dress, she crawls into bed next to him. Sleep soft beautiful and hers, he blinks at her as he slowly wakes.

“You’re back,” he says, tangling his hands in her hair.

“Yeah,” she replies quietly.

Yeah.

He smiles softly. His eyes slowly start to close. An exhaled breath becomes a kiss. Sweet and fleeting, it reverberates through her.

She falls asleep tangled up around him, her heart beating in time with his.

The combine sound of Abby Lee switching on the suites coffee maker and the alarm on her mobile blaring wake Spencer the next morning. Unconsciously, Ryan’s fingers flex and his grip tightens. She does not move, and wrapped up together is how they stay until it becomes impossible for them to say in bed a moment longer.

“Come home with me,” she says when she knows he’s awake.

Ryan leaning across her body and kisses her shoulder. His eyes are soft.

“Yes.”

The breath she did not know she was holing rushes out of her.

Bringing him closer, she kisses him.

Other than the slick sound of their mouths moving, the room is silent.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the week, Abby Lee and Iekeliene check out early. All three of them have different destinations printed on their tickets. None of them know when they’ll run into each other again. While Ryan showers, the three of them privately say their goodbyes. Abby Lee lets Iekeliene hugs her and Spencer first.

“Don’t be a stranger,” she says, when it’s their turn.

“Never.”

Abby Lee steps back and points a finger at Iekeliene.

“That goes for you too.”

Iekeliene says something in Dutch. Though Spencer can’t claim to speak the language, it sounds less than flattering.

 

 

 

 

Time passes.

After so long, things stop hurting like they once did. As she is fitted for another dress – not one of the last she’ll model, but getting there – parts of her ache. Scars itch too some open up again occasionally.

When MCR announces Bob’s departure from the back, Spencer goes to see him. Or, more accurately, she goes to Brian’s place where Bob is crashing. It is during one of the weeks Lily’s staying there too, so for the first half of the morning Spencer and Bob put up with Lily hungrily eyeing Brian as he makes them something to eat.

“You know, when I was kicked out of Panic, Matt sent me an email,” Spencer tells him, pausing only to take a sip of her drink. “I still have no idea how he got my email address.”

Bob snorts.

“Hot girl,” he says, as if that explains it.

Spencer can only laugh.

Ironically, a few days later news breaks that Matteo Marzotto and Gianni Castiglioni have bought the Vionnet brand. Spencer does not know if it can be revived. She thinks Matteo is a clever man. She always has. But she is glad he is attempting to work his magic on Vionnet rather than Valentino. Just like she is glad when Alessandra Facchinetti is replaced by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, both long time Valentino employees. The manner in which the change is made strikes Spencer as deeply distasteful, but she understands and can justify the end, if not the means chosen to achieve it.

Spencer opens their first show.

“This September I’ll turn twenty three,” she tells Lily afterwards.

“No shit,” Lily replies.

She pauses though. Brian must be beside her.

“Want me to throw you a party?” she offers.

Spencer thinks.

“No. Not really.”

 

 

 

 

Spencer should be used to Valentino by now. But there are times when he turns to her and the sparkle in his eyes makes her falter a little. There is nothing but kindness in him. For the most part. She knows this. He has never been anything but a gentleman towards her. But sometimes he looks at her and all she can do is stop and wait.

They are in his Parisian villa when it happens again. She has been invited to stay there with him and his party for a week or so. At the last minute she is forced to cancel due to a shoot being rescheduled. By the time she flies to Berlin, and flies out, the most she can manage is a breakfast.

“When Giancarlo first told me about you,” Valentino starts. “I thought if only he had found you earlier. If only he had found you a decade earlier, or if not that, a few years earlier. I could have done so much more for you earlier.”

His eyes are soft, and when he takes one of her hands in his, his touch stills her.

“Now?” he paused. “Now I know he found you at exactly the right time. Exactly.”