Kris was mostly trying to stay out of the way - and calm, as much as he could manage it - as he stood backstage, waiting for somebody to tell him to take his mark. There was a small monitor mounted on a wall beside him and he watched the show out of the corner of his eye. A teenage pop starlet with pink hair and matching dress was reading the nominees for an R&B award; there’d be a commercial afterward, and then his introduction.
The rest of his attention was on his phone, where he was tapping out a message.
Few minutes. Did u see the red carpet?
He hit send, then looked up to the monitor to watch the winner make her speech; she was struggling, tears running down her face. The swelling music forced her off anyway, and a moment later she was walking past him, shaking her head and dabbing her eyes, laughing and crying as her entourage grappled for their turn to congratulate her. Kris was watching them go, smiling, when his phone started buzzing in his hand.
His smile grew wider when he looked down at the screen and saw the picture that meant Adam was calling - it was him with his hair brushed down over his eyes, making a dramatic, scrunched-up rock face, his mouth an exaggerated sneer in sparkling blue lipstick. It was hot and silly at the same time, and Kris’s favorite picture ever. He put the phone to his ear.
“How’s New York?” he said, turning toward a wall.
“Thousands of miles too far away,” Adam said, then sighed. “Glad I could catch you. You OK? Ready?”
“I think so,” Kris said, still smiling, which felt wrong since in reality he was about as nervous as he’d ever been. It was like while he was here, backstage, he could pretend it wasn’t real. Once they put him on his X and the lights were on him, would he still be able to play it off?
“You’re going to be great. I can’t wait to watch.”
“Thanks. So, did you see the red carpet?”
“No, sorry,” Adam said. “I just got back to the hotel.”
“Aw, dammit!” Kris huffed. “I winked at you!”
“Sorry!” Adam laughed. “I’ll be watching closely from now on, OK? Promise. Pinkie.”
“You’d better,” Kris said, then felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see a woman with a headset waving both hands at him. “Time to go. Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need it!” Adam said. “I love you. Enjoy!”
“Love you,” Kris said, then hung up and quickly slipped his phone into his jacket pocket. Somebody handed him a guitar and he walked across a wide, dark floor to the mic stand in the center. He pulled the guitar strap over his head and settled it on his shoulder, running his fingers
along the strings. He cleared his throat twice, and waited for his cue.
Kris began alone, strumming the first few notes of his hit single, his mouth moving into a one-sided grin as the applause that had only just died down swelled again in recognition of the melody. He closed his eyes, remembering the night he had written the song, sitting on the floor of the living room while Adam slept on the couch.
Kris had been living there about a year and had just finished recording his EP. They’d celebrated all night, just the two of them, making easy work of several bottles of wine and laughing so much Kris thought he might hurt himself. They’d also made such creative and varied use of the chocolates in the gift basket Adam had bought in congratulations that Kris thought it had been less a gift and more a part of the plan for the evening. At some early hour of the morning Kris had wobbled off to the bathroom to clean himself up a bit, and returned to find Adam curled under a throw, snoring. Kris had chuckled, then stood there for a moment.
The idea came to him all at once, and he detoured to the kitchen to find his notepad, then returned to take a seat on the rug, leaning against the couch, Adam’s sleeping body behind him. Kris could hear his breathing - easy and peaceful - and he’d known that was how he wanted the song to feel, too.
He let the guitar drop out and opened his mouth, singing the first note - “oooooh,” - and then opened his eyes just in time to be blinded by the lights coming up on the band behind him. He was with the song now, though, and couldn’t be distracted from it - as the drums and bass kicked in, Kris let his hand fall, his guitar joining them in unison. It was mid-tempo, bright, relaxed; Kris swayed his hips as he started to sing.
He drew the word out, dancing with it.
In the comfort of your skin
He gave a little hop, smiling wider as the beat picked up, ramping toward the chorus.
Not in the grandest house
Or the fastest hot car
Baby, we’ve got all we need
Just the way we are
He was bouncing now, the lights pulsating behind him, the crowd doing the same in front. He swore he saw Jennifer Lopez pumping her fist as he began the chorus and stifled a chuckle, adding this surreal moment to his ever-growing list and closing his eyes again.
You in my mornings
You in my nights
You here beside me
You in my life
You, baby, you--
He drew it out, his mouth wide and tense with the note, as he listened to the crowd singing along.
Are chocolate and wine.
He broke away, hunched over his guitar as he played, feeling his band backing him up. As he wandered back toward the mic his mind was telling him to prepare for the second verse, but he knew it was wrong this time - the Grammy stage was the place for surprising performances, wasn’t it?
You, baby, you
He sang, and the band gradually quieted and dropped out behind him, the lights doing the same until there was only a spotlight on Kris, strumming his guitar alone.
Chocolate and wine
His voice turned to a quiet croon, and then he was joined by strings. First only one high, vibrating violin note, and then more, and then an entire string section swelled, a panel in the back of the stage rising to reveal the orchestra.
Kris lay his hand flat on the guitar to still his strings as he sang along with the huge and somehow delicate wave of sound moving out from behind him. No words now, just vocalization, as though he were a part of that symphony himself. But then the wave ebbed, falling away to support him, and he began to sing a new song. He could already picture Adam’s confused face, his eyebrow cocked and mouth agape as he watched in his hotel room, and it made Kris want to grin; he kept a straight face, though, because he wanted to get this exactly right.
Did you ever look for something
You knew you’d never find?
This was a quieter song, his voice low and earnest.
I dreamed impossible
And then impossible was mine
He reached up to his throat and grabbed his tie at the knot, yanking on it until it hung loose around his neck. As he sang, he began working the button at his throat, moving downward to open the top three. The crowd howled, but he ignored them, focusing on the song.
I don’t know if it was meant to be
Not sure I believe in destiny
But it’s hard to believe, babe
When you walked in that room
You weren’t looking for me
As his voice lingered over the last note he pulled at the collar of his shirt to reveal his chest, where a flowing, glittering blue A was painted. Kris closed his eyes again, his heart pounding behind the letter; the crescendo inside him was accompanied by a quieting of the music behind him to a low, vibrating note.
You walked into the room
And all the future came along
You walked in
And we were singing one song
The music swelled again, rising along with the lights, and as Kris sang - one song, one song - his band joined in, the drums giving the melody a sudden urgency. He let his shirt fall into a loose V and put his hands back on his guitar. Playing almost felt more emotional than singing; the overwhelming sound of the orchestra made him feel like he was being swept along, riding the music rather than creating it.
It seemed perfect, in a way. He could see the lights flashing through his closed eyes and wondered what Adam was seeing, what he was thinking.
He stepped back to the mic.
You walked into the room
You walked into my life
My mornings, my nights
You walked into my life
The music fell away, and the lights darkened - first the orchestra, and then the band disappeared. Kris stood in the spotlight, his only accompaniment now his guitar.
Baby, you walked in
You brought me chocolate
Chocolate and wine
Kris’s phone was already vibrating in his pocket before he had finished the last note, and he laughed when he felt it, the sound reverberating through the hall as the stage went dark and the applause erupted.