Samson takes a big risk, while Ash tries to come to terms with a future without Marcus.
The meeting with Melanie Roy was supposed to be quick and simple - at least that was what Samson had been expecting. He thought all he would have to do was show up, name his price and leave it to Hank to sort out all the details later. Instead, both of them were blindsided when the CEO of Argent Media dropped a bombshell, demanding that Samson does not perform new music until the festival.
Where did she even get off asking them something like that, the singer wondered, baffled and insulted. He looked at Melanie, but the smug, confident look on her face was extremely irritating. It was very obvious that she was used to getting what she wanted all the time. There was probably no one who dared to say no to her. Well, there’s a first time for everything, Samson thought as he steeled himself.
“I’m very sorry, but I can’t accept that,” he replied just a moment later, without much hesitation. For him, there was nothing to discuss. Melanie Roy was being completely unreasonable and he would not indulge her crazy wishes. He could hardly believe she had the nerve to ask him something so outrageous - to rework his entire tour at just a three weeks’ notice for the sake of her festival.
“Um, what Samson meant to say was - I’m sure if we talk about this some more, we can come to a compromise. There must be a solution that’s good for both sides,” Hank was quick to interject, hoping to soften Samson’s words. Melanie was a powerful woman and making her their enemy was the last thing they wanted.
“I don’t think I have to compromise, Mr. Silverton. I’ve already made my proposal,” the woman replied nonchalantly.
“Yes, and unfortunately, we have to refuse,” Samson reiterated his statement.
“Mr. Flynn, why don’t I give you and Mr. Silverton some time to think it over, alright? I’m sure you realize what a big opportunity I’m offering you here, and your ‘sacrifice’, if we can even call it that, would be quite small in comparison. Argent Media is very generous to those who support it, and I’m sure you know our radio stations play a vital role in the music industry. A lack of such support could be quite detrimental to one’s career, don’t you think? It would be such a shame if it had to come to that,” Mrs Roy said all in one breath, her eyes never leaving Samson’s, like a fierce eagle having its eyes fixed on a small, helpless rabbit.
“Was that a threat?” the singer snapped, aware that the gloves were now off.
“No, just a statement on what WILL happen if you reject my offer. If I wanted to, I could blacklist you from every major radio station in the country by this evening.”
“In other words, a threat. At least have the decency to call it like it is. Look, Mrs. Roy-”
“It’s Miss Roy,” she corrected him, her voice now as cold as ice.
“You look too old to be a Miss,” Samson pursed his lips. If she was going to be a bitch, he would be an even bigger one. He would not allow anyone to threaten him. Besides, he was a star on the rise, with a hit single and a hit album, and he was only just getting started. People like Melanie, no matter how powerful they thought they were, could not touch him. “I don’t know if you’ve looked at the charts recently, but I’m doing more than fine with or without your so-called support. And I WILL be doing my SOLD OUT world tour as intended. As for your festival, good luck booking another headliner, because after this, none of the artists I know will sing for you.”
With a screech, Samson pushed his chair out and got up from the conference table, Hank nervously following suit.
“I’m warning you, Mr. Flynn. If a single word of this gets out, you’ll be serving fries at McDonald’s before you know it. I’ll give you another day to think about my offer. I expect to hear from you by this time tomorrow,” Melanie raised her voice menacingly, getting up from her chair as they walked toward the door. “And yes, that was a threat, and I always make good on them.”
“Oh, good thing you cleared that up,” Samson stopped for a moment, one hand on the doorknob. “I can never tell if you’re making a joke or not from all that cheap Botox in your face. You won’t be hearing from me. Goodbye.”
Before the woman could reply, he and Hank were already out, slamming the door behind them.
It wasn’t until a few minutes later, when they were back in Hank’s car, that Samson fully realized what he had done. Melanie had provoked him, tried to blackmail and threaten him, which made his inner beast come out. He could not control his anger. Now that he was away from her, sitting in the passenger seat of his manager’s car, his adrenaline slowly started to subside. He replayed their conversation in his head, her chilling voice in his ears, and her annoying face flashing before him.
“Well, that could’ve gone better,” he shook his head, running fingers through his hair. “What a bitch.”
“Yeah, Melanie is…”
“...a bitch,” Samson repeated himself. “I can’t believe her. I don’t even know why I’m surprised, after everything I’ve seen in this business. You know that better than anyone.”
“I do, and yet, I was surprised as much as you,” Hank said, shrugging. “We can only hope this doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass.”
“You think she’ll actually try to pull something shady?” Samson asked calmly, but his eyes darting all over the place betrayed the nervousness he felt.
“I hope not, but… I don’t think she’ll let this go, Sam. If what I heard about her is true, I think we better be prepared for anything at this point.”
They drove in silence for a while, both men preoccupied with their thoughts. At one point, while waiting for the traffic light to turn green, Hank turned to Samson.
“You know, you’re one of the bravest people I’ve ever met.”
“Why do you say that?” Samson asked.
“Because I mean it. When you became a singer, you weren’t afraid to come out and be yourself, even though in this business that’s often a death sentence. You said ‘fuck you’ to the norms and homophobia and even though you’ve had many roadblocks on your way, you never let them stop you. And now you did the same with Melanie. I don’t think many people would’ve stood up to her the way you did.”
“I’m not sure if that makes me brave or just dumb,” the singer lamented. Maybe he should really swallow his pride, call Melanie to apologize, and then bust his ass off to change the tour as she demanded. Would that even be possible in three weeks? He doubted it. One way or another, he was screwed.
“Don’t sell yourself short, man. You’re a fighter and we’ll get through this. What Roy asked was impossible anyway. I’m sure anyone would’ve said no to that.”
“Yeah? We’ll see how that works out for me in the end,” the singer let out a sigh, not entirely convinced by his manager’s words. “But thanks anyway, you’re sweet for saying that. I just hope I don’t regret it.”
“Samson, I know you. And I know you would have regretted it a hundred times more if you’d kept quiet and let her walk all over you. That’s not who you are.”
The singer stopped biting one of his manicured fingernails as the words sank in. Hank was right and he knew it, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t afraid of what he’d done. Melanie Roy was a powerful woman to have as an enemy, but there was nothing he could do about it anymore. All he could do now was wait and see if he made the right move.
Whenever Ash would get overwhelmed with life, he would do one of two things - work out at the gym or throw himself completely into his work. Sometimes, working up a sweat on the treadmill or lifting weights was the perfect way for the singer to forget about his frustrations. Other times, he would prefer doing something creative, like writing songs or having a dance practice with his team. On this particular day, he chose the latter.
Even though his tour wouldn’t start for a few more months, Ash trained relentlessly as if he only had a week to prepare. Besides wanting everything to be perfect, he needed to do something to forget about his problems, especially the latest disastrous meeting with Cliff Sanders.
Songs from his new album blared in the dance hall as the Korean singer and his backup dancers practiced their moves. A new dancer, a young French guy named Gabriel, was hired as a replacement for Marcus, so the dance group was once again complete. It was one less problem for Ash to have to stress over.
“Yesss, we got it down!” Nadia, one of the dancers who has been working with Ash for two years, screamed happily when they finished an especially energetic dance.
“That was sick,” Ash agreed, high-fiving and hugging all the dancers. “Gabriel, great job. It’s insane how quickly you picked up the choreo.”
“Thanks,” the new dancer replied. “I guess I just really connected with it.”
“You definitely did,” the singer nodded, grabbing a bottle of water. “Ok, let’s take a quick break and then we’ll move on to the next song, alright?”
Everyone murmured in agreement before dispersing in different directions, going to get something to drink or to the bathroom to freshen up. Ash sat in one of the chairs lined up against one of the walls of the hall. To pass the time, he decided to check his phone while he sipped on ice cold water. Scrolling through social media was not exactly his idea of fun, but even he resorted to it when he was especially bored and had nothing else to do. As he opened his Instagram and started going through the feed, he quickly regretted his decision. A photo of Marcus sitting next to a girl, laughing and having fun, appeared on his screen.
A sharp pang of pain stabbed Ash in the chest as he looked at the photo of his ex. How did he forget to unfollow him? He thought about doing it, but couldn’t bring himself to press that button. He stared at the photo and realized he recognized the girl - it was Mikaela, a professional dancer. They had met a few times, and she even auditioned once for one of Ash’s early music videos. She was one of Samson’s dancers now, so what was Marcus doing with her? Did Samson hire him for his own tour?
Before he could stop himself, Ash opened the phonebook and dialled. His curiosity had gotten the better of him.
“Hello?” Samson answered, his voice as light and musical as ever.
“Hey, Samson... It’s me, Ash. How you doin’, man?”
“Oh hey, darling. Now this is a surprise,” the younger singer replied. “I’m alright, just rearranging my wardrobe, trying to keep myself distracted.”
“Yeah… It’s showbiz, there’s always problems,” Samson kept it vague. He had had enough of Melanie ‘The Bitch’ Roy for a lifetime and did not feel like talking about her again.
“Don’t I know it,” Ash replied, letting out a dry chuckle.
“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I’m here with my dancers, practicing for the tour, and they mentioned Marcus - one of my dancers. I’m not sure if you know, but he quit a few weeks ago. Anyway, one of the guys here said he saw him with one of your dancers, so we thought maybe he’s joined your tour?”
“Oh…” Samson paused. “No, he hasn’t. One of my girls, Mikaela, is besties with him. Maybe that’s who they meant?”
“So, how come he quit?”
“Uh, I don’t really know the details. My manager deals with that kind of stuff,” Ash lied. Whether or not Samson knew about him, he wasn’t ready to come out - especially not over the phone and in a place like the dance studio, where anyone could overhear him.
As if sensing his hesitance, Samson decided not to press the issue any further. They would talk about it if and when Ash was ready. Besides, he had plenty of his own problems and definitely didn’t need to add Ash’s love life on the list.
After everyone returned from their little break, fresh and re-energized, the dance practice continued well into the afternoon. Once they were finished for the day, Paul was waiting to pick Ash up, just as agreed. The two men drove to one of Ash’s favorite places, a seafood restaurant near Paul’s apartment.
“How was the practice?” the manager asked as they dug into their meals.
“Really good. Gabriel’s fitting in well, he’ll have all the choreo down in no time,” the singer replied, chowing down on his seafood platter. “So good we were able to pick him up on such short notice.”
“That’s good to hear. I’ve been meaning to say, I’m sorry about what happened with Marcus,” Paul lowered his tone. Even though they were in a secluded booth in the back, he didn’t want to risk being overheard. Both he and Lauren were well aware of the nature of Ash’s relationship with the dancer, but they rarely talked about it. Ash never let it affect his job, so there was no need to ever discuss it.
“It is what it is,” the singer shrugged, hoping that would be a sign he did not want to talk about it.
“If you need someone to talk to…”
“Nah, I’m good. Thanks, though,” Ash nodded at the older man. “Any word from Sanders?” he asked, eager to change the subject.
Paul looked him in the eyes before speaking. “Yeah… As we thought, it’s nothing good. He’s cut your budget completely.”
“Fucking asshole,” Ash was angry. If only he’d known what Sanders was like three years ago, he never would have signed a contract with his label. “Now what? We scale down the tour?”
“No, fortunately everything to do with the tour has already been finalized weeks ago, so he can’t ruin that. But when it comes to any new singles and videos from the album, we’re on our own. We’re going to have to try and find sponsors, or we’ll have to fund everything from your own money.”
“I see…” the singer frowned, the wheels in his head turning as he stared into the wine glass on the table.
“We’ll work something out, ok? I’ll...”
“Paul, I want out,” Ash interrupted him.
“What do you mean?”
“I want out of that fucking contract. Find me a way to break it. Once we’re done with the tour, I want out. I don’t want to have anything to do with Sanders anymore.”
“Ash…” Paul sighed, looking at the singer like a concerned father would look at his troubled son. “I want that too, believe me. It would make both our lives so much easier, but you’ve read it yourself. You’ve signed on for three albums, and this is only your second. I’ll talk to the lawyers again and see what they can do, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Until you get that third album out of the way…”
“...Sanders owns me,” Ash finished his sentence. With a grim look on his face, he continued picking at his food until his plate was clean.
At least the tour would start in a few months, and then he’d be away from Cliff Sanders. Every night in a different country, playing for a different crowd. Constantly on the road, he’d be far away from New York and everyone he knows there. Away from Marcus...
He couldn’t help but wonder - maybe that was just what he needed.