We entered the VIP section.
I scanned the spot. There were three exits. The one we came in. A red door behind the band. And a black one with a fire exit glowing above it. There must’ve been fifty people in here, not including Trigger and his entourage of six on the stage.
I eyed security. Two guys manned each exit. They had guns in holsters and looked prepared to use them.
On the stage, there were two bulky guys that must’ve been Trigger’s bodyguards. They sure acted that way, looking all big and bad as they glared at people snapping pictures. But they were chumps. Probably two of Trigger’s biggest friends he’d grown up with. To him, they were bad and strong. I was sure they had tons of stories. To me, they were baby lotion soft.
Dimmed lighting came from low hanging chandeliers, garnished in silver and twinkling gems. Trigger sat in the center on a gold throne. A red velvet rope surrounded his massive area. Black and red sheer curtains hung low from the ceiling and dipped down to the floor. Nude girls swayed and danced around. His entourage was a decent size—six idiots nodding their heads and happy to get a free ride on his back.
I scanned the rest of the place. Onlookers outside the rope stared as if in a daze, normal people who had been given the opportunity to stand on the other side and watch. Many had their phones out. The whole time I watched them, I wondered if they felt foolish. Sure, they were getting an inside look, but was it worth it to just stare at someone they loved through their phone? I would’ve rather been downstairs dancing.
Nude waitresses carried over massive trays with drinks. Everyone smoked Natural Health cigarettes. A few of Trigger’s buddies even slung the packs out to the onlooking fans. People hooted and screamed as they caught them.
It all reminded me of my mom and my old church. The congregation adored the pastor. Many of the women slept with him. Even as a kid, I was sure his wife knew. We’d had two statues in the front of the church—one of Jesus and the other of him. And the congregation stared at the pastor in a daze just as these onlookers drooled at Trigger, needing to idolize, yearning to be a part of something they thought they couldn’t reach themselves, hoping to touch the hem of gods.
Sometimes I didn’t know what was worse—organized religion or the illusions of fame.
I glanced at Zola.
She wore that mask I’d seen earlier—neutral and calm.
What is she thinking about? This isn’t her. Or has she changed that much? No, not my Zuzu.
Trigger spotted Zola and me. His gaze went to me and then he frowned. For some reason, that made me smile. Irritating him with just my mere presence had been the only upside of the evening. I didn’t know why he was annoyed. Perhaps those paparazzi on the outside and even York had a point—Trigger was brokenhearted over Zola. I’d gathered as much. Or, was it just the media being messy? One never knew in this time of likes and shares. These days, people were willing to sell their souls for viral fame.
I hit Trigger with a deadly stare.
Are you the one stalking Zola?
The rapper was smart enough to look away. In the past year, I’d heard some of his top songs just from walking across the street or sitting in a bar. He wasn’t my go-to musician, but everyone knew him. He marketed soda and headphones, sneakers and jewelry.
I’d had no idea Zola was dating him.
We paused at the velvet rope as his men separated the onlookers. Most directed their cameras to Zola and me, hoping to get some cool reaction, to be the first to tweet and post.
I leaned into Zola. “How long did you two date?”
She stirred a little on my side. “This is an awkward answer.”
“We didn’t really date. It was set up by his record label. He’s in a 360 deal.”
“In short, it’s an exclusive recording contract between a record label and artist. The company puts a shitload of money into them and then they have a percentage of all the artist’s income.”
“I don’t know much about the music industry, but isn’t that typical?” I asked.
“No. Before, the company was only paid from the music, maybe concerts. With the 360, they get income from everything—touring, live performances, merchandise, endorsements, movies, TV. Everything.”
“So, who’s really winning this evening? Trigger or the record label?”
“The record label, which is Cut Them Loose Entertainment.”
I nodded. “And Cut Them Loose thought it would help Trigger, if he publicly dated you?”
“York signed you into a dating contract?” I growled, ready to choke him.
York knew better. Zola was more than the social media bullshit illusion. If she was going to date, it would be with someone she loved.