Track 1 TRACK 1
There’s nothing like a high-energy concert to get the blood flowing. The bass is vibrating through my chest. The lights move back and forth from the stage to the crowd, blinding me on the two and the four. When the beat drops, my body instinctively finds the rhythm, my head nodding to the sound of the heavy 808 drum machine. Tau Anderson runs to the front of the stage yelling “Hands up” and the crowd obeys, under his spell.
The piercing screams of thousands of devoted female fans bounce off the arena walls and into my overly stimulated ears. There’s a good chance I might be flashed as women clad in fashionably risqué outfits jump around. It’s not like I don’t get it. I get it. Tau has it all, he’s talented, rich, and undeniably attractive. It’s hard to pinpoint his best feature. His smile is nice, he has the impeccable magazine-cover body and smoldering eyes that can turn any no into a yes, but the whole far outweighs the parts in his case. From what I’d heard, he was a hot mess, like any other young guy coming up on fame and fortune.
I follow closely behind my boss, Dawn, as the usher lights our path to our seats at the Barclays Center. Looking up toward the cheap seats the people all look like colorful dots. The rows of black chairs infinite. Flanked by the largest screens I’d ever seen, the stage commands the massive space. I shouldn’t be surprised when we make our way down the stairs to the floor; being with Dawn always meant access. There’s a small area for VIPs right before the pit, the liveliest area in any venue, where fans crowd close together at center stage. Standing room only. It seems all of Brooklyn is in attendance. We make it as the show is in full swing. Tau starts his new single “Pop That.”
We’re so close, I scan the stage and recognize Malik. We played some sets together a few years ago before I was confident enough to get onstage by myself and try out some of the songs I’d written. I attempt a slight wave though I’m certain his vision is impaired by the stage lights. I’m happy for him. He has it made as a guitar player in Tau’s band. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if, and when, I’ll ever get my own moment in the sun.
The drummer hits a tight fill and Tau runs back out from the side of the stage with explosive energy in his fitted destroyed denim and high-top Balenciagas. His hair is a sea of generous dark waves against his tawny brown complexion and the diamonds in his chains lay and sparkle against his shirt like the signs along the Las Vegas Strip. Being front and center at a concert has its perks. He’s a vision of young money, a mix of Black excellence and street prowess. Tau wipes his face with a gray face cloth. I can’t help but roll my eyes as he makes a big dramatic show of throwing his sweat rag into the crowd. Predictably, the women bump and pull and grab, wrestling around until one triumphant warrior emerges from the melee. He winks and pulls up his shirt revealing abs that aren’t made but crafted. The winner jumps up and down waving the cloth fanatically in surrender of all her common sense.
After the high energy of “Pop That,” he looks over the crowd and announces he’s slowing it down. As he looks out into the audience, he’s the picture of sex appeal. I twirl my nameplate chain as he stands at the center of the stage placing the mic on the stand to sing. The lights come down all around the arena and a sea of cell phone flashlights illuminate the space.
His soft falsetto is angelic as he goes into “Think About Me,” his breakout single from the Black Light album. Hearing it again now takes me back, six years ago, when I was still interning at a small studio called Matrax during college. The first time I heard the single I made everyone shut up, grabbed my guitar, and charted it out so I could sing it myself. The writing, his voice, the arrangement, it had to have been one of those moments in the studio when everyone knew they had something, something special.
The stage goes dark as the crowd erupts. Just as the applause settles down a low rumble of chants begins. Like an avalanche picking up more snow as it tumbles down a mountain, more and more people join in demanding an encore. Dawn and I make our way out of our row and walk toward the left side of the elevated stage to meet a production assistant who’ll take us to meet him. A blonde with a tight ponytail dressed all in black with an earpiece and a walkie attached to her hip waves us over. We follow her through the doorway where players would normally come out for a game. The hallway is lined with people, including press and an array of photographers. I recognize a few celebs, Swizz Beatz, Busta Rhymes, Bryson Tiller, and the actor Rome Flynn. I give them the slight nod to let them know I see you, but I’m not pressed, as we continue past other doors with names posted on them. When we finally arrive at Tau’s, we run into Frankie K sitting outside atop one of the equipment cases. He’s the nephew of Zippy Bell, a huge R&B artist from back in the day. He recognizes my boss, and she remembers no one. I whisper “That’s Frankie K” as we approach him.
“Frankie!” She smiles with her arms open wide, pulling him into an embrace by the shoulders before she offers air kisses on both sides of his face. “Great to see you!”
“You too, Ms. Garter!”
“Oh, please don’t make me feel old. I’m already competing with all these beautiful young women dressed to the nines to see Tau. It’s Dawn,” she laughs, placing her hand on her chest. Whenever she did that, I was reminded of Regine from Living Single when she would make the same gesture while reciting her famous line “I’m amused and I have these!”
She introduces me to Frankie, who looks me up and down as if I’m the next object he intends to conquer. He has a reputation for pushing his limits with women eager to get into the business. It takes everything in me not to roll my eyes.
“Hel-low,” he slithers. I shake his hand and quickly move to Dawn’s side.
“Well, I have some business to get to. Good to see you, Frankie. Tell your uncle I said hello, will you?”
Right before we head inside, Dawn launches into her routine speech about not staying backstage for too long.
“It’s nice that they invite you backstage and all, but we don’t want to somehow be confused with the members of their orgy. We get in, seal the deal, and make a swift exit.”
“I’m pretty sure they go to hotels for that type of thing, Dawn.”
“If you say so,” she says with a shrug. “I’m sure you’ve heard about this one’s reputation.”
“We’ll be fine.”
The blonde pulls open the door to Tau’s dressing room; inside there’s at least fifteen people standing around in the large common area. A few of them are members of the band. I spot another charting R&B artist, Chad White, and of course, the girls. I call them “MAC Makeup Girls.” The ones who wear impossible high heels, never with a hair out of place, and have minimum income requirements for dates. I imagine there is a member of the crew who rounds up a few of them from the crowd after each show. A tall man with dark skin and the shoulders of a linebacker gives one of the cronies in the room the “business first” eye. He ushers the girls out a side door along with Chad White.
Blondie informs us Tau will be out in a second then disappears back out the door, talking into her earpiece. I look around, eventually spotting Malik in the sea of faces. He walks up to me as soon as he catches my eye.
“Carli, it’s been a minute.” A warm smile creeps onto his lips.
I can’t help but smile back at him. “I know, Malik. You sounded amazing up there!”
“Aw man, listen. I’m just out here tryna get it. You still writin’?”
There it was, the question that never failed to stab me in the chest. As if I’d give up. I wasn’t charting on Billboard yet, but I hadn’t hung it up and decided to be, well, a quitter. Juggling my dream of writing music and paying my New York City rent was indeed a balancing act.
“Of course!” I muster with enthusiasm to hide my annoyance.
“Dope. You know what, Drew did tell me that! I subbed on a gig for Chad White the other day and he asked about you.”
Drew was a name I hadn’t heard in some time. But then again the small circle of musicians I came up with are all connected in some way. Well, the good ones. Smiling, and half listening to Malik, it’s not lost on me that Drew seemed to still know what I was up to.
The energy shifts suddenly. It takes a few seconds for me to realize Tau has walked in from whatever bat cave is behind the double doors. Everyone stands up straighter, the volume of the scattered conversations dips, eyes shift in his direction. He’s changed quickly into joggers, a pair of Penny Hardaway sneakers, and a fresh V-neck. Floating through the space, he exchanges handshakes and hugs with his crew as if to say Job well done. Frankie, who slithered his way in, takes it upon himself to let Tau know we’re in the room. As if being a creep wasn’t enough, Frankie also has the annoying habit of rubbing his hands together Birdman-style as he speaks. And then it clicks—Frankie must be on Tau’s team.
“Hi, Tau, I’m—”
“Dawn Garter,” he finishes for her, elongating the a in his slight southern drawl. “I know who you are. One of the most powerful women who can help lil’ ole artists like me get these partnerships that pay us for a lifetime. Gotta know the moneymen. I mean, women. Respectfully.” The small lines near his eyes deepen as he smiles.
“Well, hey, I am not mad at that. And I wouldn’t say ‘little old artist’ at all. That crowd was pretty impressive.” She nods and touches his shoulder gently with a freshly manicured hand.
Tau is one of Dawn’s newest clients at her creative agency Garter Media and one of the biggest R&B stars out right now. And Dawn is, well, perfect. She always knows the right things to say, a trait that makes people fall in love with her. Not only was she incredibly intelligent, not to mention quick, she dressed better than the stars she represented. Everyone at Garter worked hard for her approval. There was nothing more terrifying than failing to meet Dawn’s expectations. Sometimes I thought working for her might be easier if I actually disliked her, but it was impossible not to admire Dawn after rubbing shoulders with her daily.
“And this is Carlisa Henton! She is my right hand and will be working alongside us for these next few months. I wanted you two to meet. She’ll be corresponding with you as well.”
“Carli.” I reach for a handshake but he pulls me in for a hug. He smells surprisingly fresh for a man that danced around a stage for forty-five minutes. I think of my best friend, Talia, who would say “Some men look like their balls don’t stink,” and I can’t help but smirk. In his embrace, he gives me the quickest forehead kiss. I recoil, inwardly appalled by his overfamiliarity. Tau Anderson is clearly beyond the stratosphere of normalcy and suspended in the alternate universe that is fame.
He’s also a lot taller than I’d imagined. If I had to guess, he was about five eleven or six foot. Which is nice because you could wear heels and still not be taller than him. I banish the intrusive thought from my mind, tuning out as he and Dawn do some more flirting and business talk. But I can’t help but notice his eyes never seem to leave my direction for long. The thumping from Usher’s set gives the floor a subtle vibration that reminds me I’m kind of sad to be missing him. This was his GOAT tour and he definitely checks that box in my book.
Dawn starts chatting with Frankie, who has expertly slipped next to her and Tau. I slide away to the other side of the room. He introduces Dawn to a few of the randoms who are maybe more important than they look. I can tell Tau’s attention is waning. I’m not surprised when he gives Dawn a final hug and moves away from their circle. He turns and heads in my direction even though the exit is a straight shot from where he was standing. I look away, suddenly nervous as Tau moves closer to my corner. He seems to go out of his way to brush past me, and before he completely steps out of my path he whispers, “You’re gorgeous,” low enough for only me to hear.
Watching Tau slip out the door we came in through breaks my daze. It’s clear no one saw what just happened. I spot Dawn moving around to work the room.
To kill some time, I scroll through my phone and check a few emails and texts.
Are you making the studio tonight? A text from Dylan.
Can’t. Got pulled out to a work thing.
It doesn’t take long before my phone buzzes again. Damn, hit me when you get in.
Which reminds me—Usher’s show is still happening. I venture out, hoping to get a good view. Dawn wasn’t going to wrap up anytime soon and I have been in love with Usher for at least half my life.
Making my way back down the nondescript corridor, I position myself in the darkness of the corner near the stage. The spotlight illuminates Usher’s body as he embodies the greats like James Brown and Michael Jackson. Although now in his late thirties, he is considered an elder statesman of R&B. But he hasn’t lost a step. He looks just as great as Tau out there, who is roughly ten years his junior. Twirling my curls and lost in “Confessions,” I feel another hand in my hair.
“Carli, right?” The soft male voice is coming from behind me. I whip my head around. “I like your hair.” It was Tau.
“Oh thanks,” I stammer, completely taken aback. My hair is an untamed mane with thick, tight ringlets. It’s taken some time, but I’ve grown to love my carefree fro. In normal circumstances I would flip shit about someone touching my hair uninvited but I’m technically at work, and he is Tau Anderson. However, this is the second boundary he crossed in less than thirty minutes of meeting him. It’s dawning on me that Tau might just be an entitled jerk.
Before he can say anything else, a short guy with a face full of worry walks over and motions to him. A few seconds later Dawn appears from the shadows of backstage and I gather myself to head out. I guess the business meeting in the dressing room was adjourned. Before I move to follow her, I feel a hand on my arm.
“Hey,” Tau says discreetly. “So what y’all bout to do after this?”
It takes me a second too long to find words. “Oh, uhm, heading home. The boss is heading out, so I’m heading out.” I point awkwardly to the exit.
“That’s unfortunate.” He cocks his head to the side, showing off his gorgeous dimples.
I manage to utter a hurried “It was great meeting you,” as I walk toward the backstage exit. The mid-August air was sticky outside those doors. Dawn is still in my view, but she’s way ahead of me and I don’t want to be too far behind her. It wasn’t listed in my job description, but Dawn expected me to be as close as her shadow.
“How can I call you?” I hear Tau yell behind me.
“I’m sure we’ll be in touch.” Shaking my head, I start a little jog to catch up with Dawn. Did he really ask about calling me?
Dawn drives me to my apartment in her Mercedes E-Class. We ride in silence. We’ve been together all day, which isn’t far from the norm, and we’re all talked out. Anita Baker’s sultry voice emanates smoothly from the Burmester sound system. The jazzy chords of her voice remind me of those of a horn player. I nestle into the peanut butter leather seat and attempt not to drift off. This car could be one of my love languages and one day I was going to buy one for myself.
Like most of the young ladies in the crowd tonight, I enjoyed a good beat and didn’t mind looking at Tau Anderson, but what actually piqued my interest was toiling in my apartment in hopes of writing a song twenty thousand people would sing word for word. Lately, I had been pulling all-nighters with Dawn way past normal work hours. The busy summer season was coming to a close. I hated that I was missing the session with Dylan and our producer, Red, tonight, but when I’m on official Garter business, songwriting takes a back seat.
We pull up slowly to the walk-up Talia and I share in Crown Heights as my neighbors mill about in the darkness of the night. It’s easily past midnight. I exit the car as Dawn double parks. I hop up the stairs and she waits for me to open my front door. I flick the front light, so she knows that I’m good.
When I enter our third-floor apartment, Talia is curled up in the fetal position on the couch with the TV on mute, her laptop open, and her phone playing Elevation Worship music on the arm of the chair.
“Talia!” She jolts upright with the dazed look of a toddler.
“I’m up, I’m up.” Her sandy-brown hair is all over her head and the pillow made an imprint on her skin. “How’d it go?”
“It was dope. You know Dawn, she’s such a bawse. And the show was lit, the biddies were all out.”
“Ugh, I wish I could have been there instead of drooling on myself.” She reaches for her phone from the arm of our thrifted couch to catch up on missed text messages and pause her praise.
“And I’m not sure if Tau Anderson asked for my number or not.”
I flop on the couch next to her.
“What? You were supposed to lead with thaaaat!” she yells as she reaches out to hit me. Her eyes are the size of marbles.
“Girl, I have no time to entertain that. I’m not even sure if it was real. I mean, there were all those girls there with the good push-up bras.” I pull my nameplate chain to my mouth and watch as Talia gets up and folds the quilt that her mom had handsewn. We will never be short on quilts. Her mom made us a new one every holiday season.
“But you got his attention. Get out of here with that holier-than-thou BS. You know he’s fine.”
I roll my eyes before making my way to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, I hope something good will appear and settle on the Green Machine smoothie I never got to earlier. It was officially the weekend, thankfully. I didn’t need to think about Tau Anderson anymore. Tonight’s concert would probably be the last time I saw him in person. If there was one thing my dad drilled into my head, it was to never fall for a musician. He would know.