“Where are they, Jay?”
Keeping my phone pressed against my ear I start picking up pace as I head through Duty Free, toward the boarding gates, aware that I’m late. Not ridiculously so, just a few minutes, but I hate being late, even when it’s beyond my control.
“I thought they were meeting me here, at the airport? I waited as long as I could but I had to make a move, you know how long it can take to get through security sometimes. And today was a total bitch!”
“Yeah, sorry, Nina, I was just about to call you.”
I stop in my tracks and switch the phone to my other ear. “What’s happened?”
“What’s with the suspicious tone?”
“You tell me.”
“Look, Elliot had to pull out at the last minute. Some kind of family emergency, I won’t go into details, it’s not important…”
“It’s important to me. I’m only the photographer, Jay, I need a reporter here, too.”
“And you’ll have one. I’m organizing Elliot’s replacement as we speak. They’ll be joining you in Ibiza tomorrow.”
“You can guarantee that, can you? We have a job to do here, and I can’t cover this shit all by myself.”
“Well, you could, you’re more than capable…”
“Oh no. No. Don’t you dare…”
“Someone will be with you tomorrow, Nina, quit panicking.”
“I’m not panicking, Jay. I don’t panic. I just want to make sure that what I agreed to…”
“Someone will be with you tomorrow. I promise.”
“Any idea who?” I ask, glancing around as streams of people saunter past me dragging suitcases, or kids, behind them, all of them on their way to somewhere.
“Not yet. Still got a couple of calls to make, but as soon as it’s all sorted I’ll be in touch.”
I lean back against the wall and close my eyes, breathing in deep. “OK. Then I guess there’s not much more I can do.”
“It’s all in hand, don’t worry. And I’ve already contacted Yves’ people, so they know just to expect you today, alright?”
I let out a sigh, but what can I do? I’ve got no choice but to run with this. “You know I’m only doing this as a favor to you, Jay, don’t you?”
“I know. And I’m grateful, Nina, really I am. I owe you one.”
“You owe me several. Anyway, I’d better go. I’m already late. I’ll talk to you soon.”
I end the call and shove my phone back in my pocket, wheeling my carry-on case behind me as I make my way to the departure gates, glancing quickly at my watch. Crap! I really am running later than I would’ve liked, but I think I’m finally heading in the right direction now. I think. Because, as my eyes dart from side to side, checking the doorways that line this wide, seemingly never-ending corridor, I can’t find the VIP lounge I’m looking for anywhere. Great! Like I don’t have enough shit going on as it is…
“You must be Nina.”
I almost skid to a standstill as a woman in a truly stunning white asymmetric dress that just about covers her ass appears from a doorway I hadn’t even noticed.
“Yes… Yes, I’m Nina.”
The woman’s eyes – which are a ridiculous shade of blue, I’m convinced she’s wearing contacts – start looking me up and down, and then she smiles, and my assumption that she could quite possibly be a complete bitch quickly evaporates. That smile actually reaches those way-too-blue eyes. And then she cocks her head and smiles an even wider smile.
“I’m Norah. We spoke on the phone?”
“Norah, yes, hi. It’s good to finally meet you.”
We’ve shared about half a dozen calls over the past fortnight, Norah and me. Ever since I agreed to take on this job for Jay, and only because he’s one of my best and closest friends. One of the few, actually, I don’t have that many.
“You too. Come on, come through to the lounge. Jay called me, to let me know you’d be coming alone and that a replacement reporter will be joining us tomorrow.”
“And you’re OK with that?” I ask as we head inside the rather cleverly concealed VIP lounge. Which is pretty impressive, I have to say. Light, bright and airy, with a semi-circular bar at one end of the room and a wall of glass at the other, giving us a view of the waiting planes outside. There are also various tables full of both hot and cold food, and there’s music playing in the background, giving the place an almost party-like feel. But then, I am about to join the entourage of one of the world’s biggest DJs. And it isn’t that crowded in here, either, so I’m guessing that this particular entourage have commandeered this lounge just for themselves. Suits me. It’s been a long day, I’m not really in the mood to be meeting too many new people, not right now.
Norah throws me another wide smile, waves a dismissive hand in the air and shakes her head, which causes her mass of dark curls to dance lightly over her bare shoulders. And I can’t help noticing how toned those shoulders are, this one works out. A lot. And now I’m seriously regretting that cheeseburger I had an hour ago. And the beer…
“It’s not a problem.”
I’m glad she thinks so.
“We’re all pretty laid back here.”
I’m sure they are. I don’t think I’ve been laid back for the best part of a decade, chilling out just isn’t my thing.
“Would you like a drink?”
Would I? Hell, yes!
“Please. A beer would be great.”
“Sure. Any preference? German? Belgian? French…?”
“As long as it’s alcoholic I don’t really care where it comes from.”
She flashes me another smile before issuing instructions to a young man in ripped jeans and a black T-shirt.
“Are you hungry?” Norah continues as we walk further into the room.
“I’ve not long eaten, thanks.”
We make our way across the room to a cluster of huge, cream-colored leather sofas positioned around smoked glass coffee tables, most of them facing that huge expanse of glass. And as we sit down, I catch sight of the small private plane we’re traveling to Ibiza on. It’s hard to miss it, considering it has his name emblazoned on the side of it – Yves Vandale. Belgian DJ, producer, and one of the biggest names on the electronic dance music scene. A scene he walked away from a couple of years ago, and now he’s making his comeback. And that’s the reason I’m here. But I haven’t met him yet, I haven’t even spoken to the man. My only contact, so far, has been with Norah.
“Do you know much about Yves?” Norah asks me, crossing her long, tanned legs, made to look even more elongated thanks to the staggeringly high heels she’s wearing. Is she seriously traveling in that get-up? I can’t even remember the last time I wore heels.
“Not a great deal, no.”
I look up as our beers arrive, taking mine and smiling my thanks to the young man in the ripped jeans, he seems more than happy to be hanging out here.
I take a swig of beer and lean forward, my eyes back on Yves’ plane, which is currently having a ton of luggage loaded onto it; huge metal boxes that I’m guessing contain his equipment – whatever the hell it is he needs to do his job.
“Just what you’ve told me, really. To be honest, Norah, this scene – this music – it isn’t my thing. I’m predominantly a rock band photographer, that’s what I’m familiar with, so this – this is a whole new challenge for me.”
She smiles slightly, draping an elegant arm along the back of the sofa. “You come highly recommended. Jay couldn’t sing your praises enough.”
“He’s a very good friend. He told me you needed someone who was experienced…” I drag a hand back through my hair and look her straight in the eyes. “Look, Norah, you know as well as I do that I’m doing this as a favor to Jay. He runs one of the most respected, most popular dance music magazines out there, and he can call on any number of photographers, he has an army of them on speed dial, and yet, none of them were available, not for the entire summer. That’s the only reason he called me.”
She raises a perfectly manicured eyebrow, and the more I look at her, the more her modeling background – because I am almost certain that’s the world she’s come from – becomes screamingly obvious, to me, anyway. The way she holds herself, her poise; the fact she’s got a killer body. “You didn’t really want to do this?”
“I didn’t say that. I wanted the job, don’t get me wrong. But let’s not pretend that I was first choice. I’m sure Yves himself had preferences as to who he’d rather have following him around Europe all summer.”
“Yves leaves all that kind of thing up to me, Nina. So, no, he had no preferences. He just wanted someone who knows what they’re doing. Someone who can take a decent photograph.”
She smiles again. So do I.
“Well, I think I can just about manage that.”
She laughs quietly, and then glances behind her, beckoning over a tall, blond-haired man dressed in jeans and a dark shirt who comes over and sits himself down on the sofa to my left.
“Dax, this is Nina Freeman. Nina, this is Dax Peeters. Yves’ manager.”
Dax smiles and holds out his hand, which I take, and shake. “Good to meet you, Nina. I gather your colleague won’t be joining us until tomorrow?”
“Yeah. A bit of a last-minute change of plan, I’m afraid, I’m sorry about that. I’ve only just found out myself.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem…”
“It won’t be a problem,” Norah interjects, throwing Dax a look, which he throws right back at her. And then he shrugs.
“It’s a big day for Yves tomorrow, that’s all. We need everything to run smoothly.”
“It’s running smoothly,” Norah continues. “Where is he, anyway? Shouldn’t he be here by now?”
“On his way.” Dax checks his watch, and I can see a flicker of panic cross his face, I’m guessing this one has the same trouble switching off and kicking back as I do. “Of course, he’d already be here by now if he’d let me send a car for him, but you know what he’s like.”
“I know exactly what he’s like,” Norah sighs, sitting back and re-crossing her ridiculously long legs.
“Anyway…” Dax gets up and rakes a hand through his mop of short, messed-up hair. “I’d better go see where he’s at. The plane’s almost ready to go.”
I watch him leave, and I can’t help smiling.
“He takes the world’s problems on his shoulders, that one,” Norah says, winding a long, perfectly-set curl around her index finger. “But he just wants this comeback to work out, that’s all. That’s something we all want.”
I frown slightly, because I have no idea why Yves Vandale felt he needed to take a break, but whatever the reason, this summer is obviously very important to him. To everyone. I’m getting that much.
“Was it his idea? The magazine article, I mean.”
Norah’s eyes lock on mine. “Yves got in touch with Jay, had a chat about, maybe, being featured in Transient in some way to mark his comeback, seeing as the magazine has always been a great support to him. But I think it was Jay who actually suggested the whole interactive summer idea, but it was something Yves was on board with as soon as it was put to him, apparently. The rest of us, however, we had no idea it was happening until it was almost all sorted and signed off, so you can only imagine how Dax felt about that.”
I can’t help laughing, my eyes once more moving to the plane outside on the tarmac. It’s still being loaded, although it looks like our luggage going on now.
“You didn’t even Google him?”
Norah’s voice causes me to turn my attention back to her. “Hmm? Sorry?”
“You didn’t Google Yves?”
“I didn’t need to. I may not move in his circles, or the electronic music scene as a whole, but I still know who he is.”
“But you don’t know why he took a step back? Why he took this two-year break?”
I look at her, narrowing my eyes slightly. “I don’t think it’s any of my business. I’m here to take photographs of his comeback summer, that’s all.”
She smiles another wide smile, and I’m guessing that was the right answer. I’m also guessing that the real reason Yves walked away from a world he, apparently, loves isn’t exactly public knowledge, but like I said, that’s none of my business.
“Would you like another drink?” Norah asks, and I admire her swift change of subject. Was she testing me there? I don’t know. Maybe. It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve photographed some pretty big names in my time, and been privy to things they’d prefer were kept secret, so I know how to be discreet.
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
“I’d better go see what’s happening. You gonna be OK for a minute?”
I nod and smile and take another sip of beer as I sit back and watch the last of the luggage being loaded onto Yves’ plane.
This is going to be one very different summer for me. But, hey, I’m more than OK with that.
Wheeling my carry-on case behind me, I navigate my way through the crowds toward the departure gates just as Dax materializes in front of me, his phone pressed to his ear, which he lowers the second he sees me.
“You’re here! Finally! The plane’s ready and waiting, we just need to get you…”
I hold a hand up to stop him from talking. Dax is a great manager, he’s one of the best, and he’s also one of my closest friends, but sometimes I wish he’d chill out a bit more. “Take a breath, Dax. OK?”
He looks at me, and then he lets out that breath, clutching the pile of papers he’s holding to his chest. “And why didn’t you want me to send a car for you?”
“Because I’m quite capable of taking a taxi, on my own.”
“You don’t need to do that, you know that, right?”
I shrug. “So, what?”
“Why take a taxi when you can have a car sent?”
“Dax, please, just take a second, alright? I’m here now, you can stop worrying.”
“It’s my job to worry.”
“You worry too much.”
“I’m just trying to make sure we don’t forget anything.”
“Have we ever forgotten anything?”
“Yeah. You, once, remember?”
“That wasn’t my fault, and it’s never happened again.”
“No, because I’ve made sure it can’t… Oh, by the way, Nina’s here.”
“Who?” I frown, rummaging round in my pocket for my phone, for Christ’s sake don’t say I’ve left it back at the hotel. That piece of news would probably send Dax over the edge.
“Nina Freeman? The photographer? From Transient?”
“Huh…?” Phone found, I look at Dax, and I’m still frowning. “Oh! Jesus, yes, sorry… They’re here already?”
“Well, she’s here, the reporter isn’t joining us ’til tomorrow, which isn’t ideal, but Norah doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem.”
“Because it isn’t.”
Dax shoots me a look, which I ignore.
“Anyway, let’s go. I’m kind of itching to get out there now.”
Dax falls into step beside me as I stride through the airport, those papers – whatever the hell they are, sometimes I think he just walks around with them to make it look like he’s got important shit to be dealing with – still crushed against his chest.
“Are you sure you’re ready for all of this, Yves?”
I stop, causing Dax to almost trip over himself.
“All of what? This is what I do, Dax, I’m just going back to work.”
“Really? You’re just going back to work? You’ve got a residency in Ibiza, club nights all over the island, you’re booked to do Christ knows how many festivals over the summer, and that’s before we even begin to think about your winter tour. It’s a lot, Yves.”
“I don’t need this, Dax. OK? This is happening, all of it, it’s happening.”
“I’m just concerned that you’re still – I don’t know. A little distracted.”
“Seriously? You’re really going there?”
“You don’t think we’re all just a little bit worried about you? You’ve been away from all of this for almost two years, and people want to know where you’ve been.”
“It’s no one else’s business.”
“Yeah, we know that. But you’ve heard the rumors that have been circulating since the night you played your last set. Rumors that haven’t exactly gone away.”
“All anyone needs to know is that I’m back. Better than ever, that’s all you need to tell people. But, you know, you don’t really need to tell them anything. They’re going to see it for themselves.”
Dax lets a beat or two pass. “And you’re absolutely sure you’re ready?”
OK. Now I’m starting to get a little agitated. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. Look, Dax, it’s over, alright? Done. It’s time to move on.”
“You sure? Because what happened in…”
“It’s over, Dax.”
I’m shutting this down, now, and he gets that. Dax knows when to end a conversation, and that one there, that one needs to be left well alone.
“Right. I’d better start rounding everyone up,” Dax sighs as we finally reach the VIP lounge. “Don’t get too comfortable, we’re leaving soon.” Dax nudges the door open with his shoulder and I follow him inside. “I’ve got a couple more calls to make, so, try and relax for a few minutes, OK?”
He could do well to heed his own advice if you ask me, but it sounds like a plan. So I grab a beer and lean back against the bar, scanning the room, but it’s just a sea of familiar faces; my tour manager Andre, representatives from my record label and management company, Norah, and someone I’ve never seen before, so I’m assuming that’s the photographer… what was her name again? Man, I can’t remember…
I take a swig of beer and glance back over at Norah and… Nina. That’s it, that’s her name! The two of them are chatting away like they’re old friends, but as I watch them interact with each other, the stark difference between the two women is quite startling. Norah is elegant, always dressed like she’s about to hit the runway, because she spent a good part of her life doing just that, whereas Nina, she’s wearing black skinny jeans and a white sleeveless T-shirt that exposes a sleeve tattoo that completely covers her left arm and shoulder. Her blonde hair sits just above her shoulders in a messed-up bob, her face animated as she relays whatever story she’s telling Norah. And the way she expresses herself using her hands, her arms flailing above her head at one point, it’s actually quite mesmerizing. She isn’t what I expected, if I’m honest, but then, what was I expecting, exactly? She’s here to do a job. To follow me from show to show; festival to festival, because I had this crazy idea about chronicling my comeback summer in some way. I just didn’t know how. So when Jay suggested Transient doing a running a piece on me over the entire summer on their social media platforms – and mine – culminating in a two-issue spread in the magazine itself toward the end of the summer, it seemed like a great idea… It is a great idea. I want to share something very special with the world. I want to look back at this time in my life and know that what I did – I made mistakes, yeah, but I’m moving on. This is my fightback. I’m coming home.
“Yves! You’re here!”
Norah spots me from across the other side of the room and throws me a beaming smile, which I throw right back at her. I don’t know how I would’ve coped without Norah, she’s been invaluable in making sure the two years I’ve been away – she’s made sure I was never forgotten, that my name was still right up there. She handled the shit and deflected the crap, she made sure this comeback could happen. I might have been falling apart but there was no way I was letting that happen to my career.
“Yeah. I’m here.”
As I make my way over, I catch Nina’s eye, the perfect time to turn my smile on her. She smiles a slow one back, but it seems slightly guarded to me. Just a little, but I’m sensing something.
“Yves, this is Nina Freeman. Nina, Yves Vandale…”
“I think she already knows my name, Norah.” I look at Nina, cocking my head slightly, the corner of my mouth twisting up into an amused half-smile. “You do know my name, right?”
“I think you already know the answer to that one.”
Woah! She’s got an attitude that matches her incredible ink because now I’m right here in front of her, I can see just how intricate that sleeve tattoo is. And her right arm isn’t free of ink, either, it’s just not as heavily decorated.
“It’s good to meet you, Nina.”
I think she’s trying to read me, I can tell by the way her eyes narrow slightly, which is fine. She can do that, because I’m trying to do the same – read her, I mean.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know you,” I say, my eyes still locked on hers. “We’re going to be working very closely together over the next couple of months so, I think we need to do that, don’t you?”
Her eyes narrow even further. Gray eyes with a hint of blue, just a glimmer, but it’s there.
“It might be an idea.” She keeps her eyes locked on mine, but there’s no hint of a smile now. Not even a guarded one.
“Anyway, I should go find Dax, but, we’ll talk later. OK?”
I make to go, but then I turn back around, my eyes once more locking on hers. “Welcome to the team, Nina. I hope you’re ready for one hell of a summer.”
Copyright © Michelle Betham 2019
Before Today is out now and available to download HERE!
It's also available in paperback, or you can read it for FREE with Kindle Unlimited!
It's also available in paperback, or you can read it for FREE with Kindle Unlimited!