Chapter Eleven — Tragedy Strikes
The earth stands still as tragedy hits the stage. Kennedy has Frankie’s hand in hers, while her dark eyes remain closed. There’s dust and clatter, there are noises and at the same time — a deafening silence. People are screaming in panic while all Frankie can do is stare around in confusion. A loud bang, that’s what shook the arena up. A loud, overruling thunder above their heads, as the dancers finished the last of the rehearsal in their sweat-soaked outfits. Frankie looks up and stares at the ceiling. It’s the place were all the lights and boxes hang from wires and ropes. It’s the place where metal constructions are aligned to orchestrate the concert. Tomorrow the tour will kick off. Tomorrow the entire circus will start again. And now there’s nothing but chaos and anxiety filling up the place.
She snaps out of her infatuation once Kennedy pulls her aside. Her face is covered in smuts of grease and blood — such a weird combination.
“Are you okay?” the girl wonders, while putting both hands on Frankie’s bruised face with concern.
The blonde turns around and nods, suddenly searching for familiar faces. Her body hurts. Something might have hit her. Her eye feels bruised.
“Noor?” she stutters, suddenly overcome with fear.
“Noor’s not here, remember? Are you hurt? Did something hit you? What the hell happened?”
Kennedy looks up to the sky and heaves a panicking sigh. The stage collapsed. Out of nowhere, after all those hours of dancing, the stage collapsed. Like the sky fell down on them. The majority of the dancers are draped across the floor, which is now partly caved in. Kennedy lets go of Frankie’s hand and starts walking around the place, jumping over rolling bars and broken boxes that came falling from the sky. They were dancing, just a second ago — and now there’s tragedy.
“Miguel,” Frankie suddenly remembers as she starts taking her first steps. “Where’s Miguel?”
Kennedy’s pulling people from under the ruins and stops to look at her, but she hasn’t got an answer to give. People are screaming, some are crying. In the corner of the room, Frankie notices Cameron, with a heavy bar pressuring down his upper body. She runs over to him, coughs through the dust and puts her warm hands on his face. He’s tearing up with pain and she’s afraid there’s nothing she can do to help him. This bar looks heavy. She gets up and tries to lift it — but fails. There’s no way in life she’ll be able to lift this thing. That’s when she starts shouting names to ask for help. Some of the dancers that got away with a couple of bruises and scratches quickly arrive. They join to lift the heavy metal from Cameron’s body and once’s he’s free, his real tears kick in. Maybe he’s overwhelmed with fear. Or happiness that he didn’t suffer worse.
“Where’s Miguel?” Frankie asks him, too overcome with concern to focus on his injuries.
Sirens reverberate in the background. The police and the fire department must be on their way. No wonder — the sound that came from the collapse was immense. All around them, there’s hysteria and madness. Frankie has never felt this lost in a crowd — so alone and distanced.
“Where is he?” she pleads, as she turns her head around to find his face between all the others.
He’s not there and Cameron can’t tell her. He hasn’t seen Miguel in a while. She turns to a redhead, Jennifer, but she hasn’t got a clue either. No one does. Suddenly, in between all the drama and hysteria, Kennedy’s voice transcends everything. Frankie looks up to find her standing across the stage, across the large gap and the tons of materials. It seems so far away.
“He’s here!” Kennedy shouts at her pointing at the gap in the floor. “Miguel’s here.”
A silent knock on the door doesn’t make her look up once. When the door opens and Noor enters the cold room like a thief in the night, Frankie doesn’t move a muscle. All she can do is stare at the nothingness in front of her. At the endless sky streaming in through the hospital window. Her mind and body feel numb, though every time she moves a muscle, her entire body hurts. There are bandages wrapped around her head. There’s a bandaid on her upper arm and one near her collar bone. Noor walks over to her, with a stoic face and eyes that reflect a scared animal in front of headlights, and sits down next to her on the bed. She lays her hands carefully on Frankie’s bruised cheeks and heaves the most troubling sigh. The singer’s been worried sick about her. The second she heard about the stage disaster, she jumped in her car and raced straight to the hospital. It was dress rehearsal today. She was supposed to join them later, in an hour or two. The last one before the tour will start tomorrow. But that all didn’t matter after the news reached her ears. Because all Noor could think about was Frankie. Whether she was save. Whether she was hurt. Whether something hit her. She cried in the car. She was hysterical and she didn’t know how to handle her feelings. She drove faster than she ever did and nothing about it felt wrong. Because she would’ve gone even faster if she could. Something stopped her on the way to the reception after the pictures of the stage on some of her employers’ phones left her breathless. And that something was Kennedy. The girl grasped her hand and abruptly ended the hurried pace of her boss.
“Where is she?” Noor demanded to know without once wondering if the girl in front of her was all right. “Where’s Frankie?”
“She’s in room 417,” Kennedy stuttered, exhausted and worn out. “Have you heard?”
Noor turned around all confused and scrunched her eyebrows. She saw all of her friends and colleagues. They were cramped up in this small room — all with bandages and bandaids or crutches to support their hurt bodies. It made her choke up. She had never seen such a scenery.
“Heard what?” she muttered .
Frankie hasn’t said a word since Noor walked in and the singer doesn’t know what to do about it. Her lean fingers stroke the pale, dirty skin of the girl next to her for the third time. They are sitting on a squeaky bed. This place seems worlds apart from the chaos Frankie just escaped from.
“Are you okay?”
It’s the softest voice that ever reverberated, filled with fear and sadness. Frankie finally faces her and leans her face into the caressing of Noor’s fingers for a while. Her eyes are closed, but the singer detects hurt and confusion. How can she help her? What can she do? There must be something.
When she says her name, those shivers return. The same shivers that run up and down her body. It’ll never change.
“Are you okay?”
Frankie then nods. She swallows down her lost tears.
“I’m fine,” she whispers.
But as the words leave her body. She fights back the hurt in her muscles and skin.
“Fine,” she repeats, less convincing.
She closes her eyes for a second and sighs away her frustration. Not a painkiller in the world could fix this right now.
“I’m fine,” she ultimately says as she clears her throat and sniffles.
Noor runs some fingers up and down her face, gently wiping away traces of dirt and grease. She softly touches the redness where Frankie must have bled a few minutes ago. It kills Noor to just think about it.
Her act isn’t fooling anyone. Miguel died. Miguel died on that stage. He’s the only casualty. The only person tragically hit in the head that didn’t survive. Of all people, Frankie’s very best friend.
“That bad, huh, honey?” Noor concludes in a soft voice.
Her favorite girl in the world flashes heartbreaking eyes. Noor just broke her wall.
She bends forward and buries her body in the comforting arms of the woman she loves. The woman she hasn’t talked to in a while, the one she’s treaded badly and acted all distant to. Because it was for the best. It was a way of dealing with her feelings and the fact she’ll never be with her. It was to protect Noor and her career. That’s when she starts to cry uncontrollably. Being in Noor’s embrace has that effect on her. She’s allowed to let it all out — worse: she can’t help it. The dark-haired beauty doesn’t judge or talk. She just holds her tightly and soothes the loud, hiccuping and devastating sounds of the blonde.
“Can we, just, not act all distant right now?” Frankie begs her a minute later, after her first wave of emotions have passed. “Can we just talk and support each other and forget about the fact that I have feelings for you and I’m being this really big bitch about it, just for a second? For one night? Because I really, really need my best friend right now to talk to and it’s like … I’m missing you so hard. I miss you every single second you are not near. And not being able to talk to you is … it’s the worst thing that ever happened to me. And I really need you right now.”
Noor nods. She feels the same way. Frankie tried to live up to her promise. She tried to stay away after their little talk in Frankie’s backyard. It was so hard. So devastatingly hard. But they managed.
“Okay,” Noor says quietly. “I’m here.”
Frankie breaks down in pieces, right in front of her eyes. And Noor doesn’t need to pick them up or glue them back together. She just ignores the brokenness and sees her for the complete person that she is. The singer holds her while she cries her heart out — she holds her tight and doesn’t say a word for hours. It’s the thing you are only able to do with people you entrust your heart to.
Neither of the girls know how much time has passed when Frankie sits back up and leaves Noor’s comforting arms. The superstar wipes the tears away with some fingers and smiles — even if it is to make Frankie seem less sad. It’s not working, though.
“What do you want? Tell, me! Whatever it is, I’ll get it for you and it’ll make you feel better. Just … what do you want?” she wonders.
She’s willing to fly her around the world if that’s what it takes. Or home. She could fly her home to her parents and sisters. They are hours away from here.
Frankie blinks a few times and looks numbed and sedated at once. Her phone’s been buzzing like crazy, but Kennedy took care of most of the panicking calls for her the first hour. After a moment of silence, she stares right at her. She feels it in her bones. She feels it in her heart and head. There’s only one answer. One that will do all her feelings justice. One that shouldn’t be said but is dying to come out.
“I want you.”
It’s so quiet and soft that Noor could’ve easily misheard.
“I want you,” Frankie whispers while the tragedy of her words invade her heart. “I’ve always wanted you.”
Noor closes her eyes briefly and inhales sharp strings of air.
“Wait, Frankie. I thought we settled this — that we were waiting or stopping or — that this was …”
The blonde nods and swallows deeply, which hurts as well. She thought that too. But then again, she thought a lot of things just a few hours ago. And yet, everything has changed. Abruptly, suddenly, without a warning. Life was easy and careless. It revolved around dancing and working. She stepped back from Noor and blurred her mind with other things. Noor kept her careless life, Frankie kept dancing. But then the stage collapsed. Miguel died. The world changed. Perspective changed.
“Well, I thought that too,” Frankie says.
She’s fighting back the tears but keeps her cool at the same time.
“I thought I could get over it. But’s it’s grown to be much more serious to just flirt and play anymore. I am jealous of every second he gets to spend with you. And I’m going crazy just thinking about you sleeping next to him instead of me.”
Noor puts her hand on the rising chest in front of her.
She cannot do this right now. The adrenaline is speaking. Not one single person of their entourage is thinking clearly now. Not even Noor. She might just say yes. She might just give Aiden up in the blink of an eye after today’s events if Frankie keeps talking. That scares her tremendously. The dancer looks at her and holds onto the hand that’s touching the skin close to her heart.
“I have fallen in love with you. Hard. Like, falling from the sky, missing all the branches of the tree to break my fall on my way down, smack to death on a concrete floor instead of a trampoline kind of hard. And I don’t want to play anymore. But I know I should. I have to.”
The confession takes the singer’s breath away. Her heart is racing and her senses are going wild. She has never heard anyone being so honest and brutally confronting. Because everything she just heard, it reflects her own feelings. It’s the exact same spell infecting her body and soul. She’s in love with Frankie too. She might have been from the second she laid eyes on her. It took her a while to figure it out, but there’s no denying it. Not anymore.
“Frankie, I’m …”
Noor’s just stuttering words. They are unordered and spontaneous and confusing. Frankie notices.
“I know. I know, it’s … I have to go.”
Frankie tries to get up, but Noor stops her by getting up herself and pushing the dancer back down. Her face is overcome with expressions of pain. She must have been hit hard.
“No,” Noor gently tells her, while keeping her hand just a little longer on that bruised skin. “You stay. I’ll have someone pick up your family. They’ll be here in a few hours, okay? Just stay in this bed …”
Her voice breaks for the smallest second, so she needs to pick herself up again to continue.
“… and get better and sleep until they arrive. Please, Frankie, do that for me? Promise me.”
Frankie closes her eyes and refrains from bursting into tears. She nods and turns away from Noor to inhale deeply. Noor bends forward and kisses her temple with so much love it might just be the sweetest gesture in the world. It might be her confession of love. She’s dying to, but she can’t tell her. She can’t tell her she feels the same. Because of her career. Because of Aiden. Because of her marriage. Her vows. Frankie’s promise. That talk in the backyard.
“I can’t be your best friend anymore, can I?” she wonders, after softly caressing the face she once kissed so fiercely.
It tasted great. It still tastes great in her memory.
“No,” Frankie mutters, averting from her. “I don’t think you can.”
Noor pulls her hand back and realizes where this has ended up. This thing she has with Frankie, it’s epic. It’s the purest thing she’s ever experienced. And in order to be able to get passed that, she must walk away — don’t treat her as her best friend anymore. It’ll tear her apart, because those feelings are so very strong. It’s the only option. They both realize that. It took a tragedy to accept the truth.
“I don’t think I can either.”
The tour ends before it even starts. Noor cancels the four-month journey across the world. Tickets are returned and refunded. Fans are disappointed, but understanding. The dancers split the entourage as if they were never part of it. Some of them got bad enough injuries to never professionally dance again. Miguel gets buried on a rainy Thursday morning and it’s the saddest damn thing in the world. Frankie cries throughout the entire ceremony, while Noor seems a million miles away from her. Except she’s not. She’s standing two rows behind her, watching her every move, every shake of her shoulders going up and down from crying. It’s breaking her heart and there’s nothing she can do to make it better. Aiden holds his wife’s hand to comfort her, but Noor realizes she’s too worried about Frankie to cry herself.
Frankie resigns as a background dancer and doesn’t even call Noor to inform her. The singer gets over that disappointment rather fast. She understands that Frankie’s grieving. Noor is on a media turmoil of interviews and expressing her sentiment for the family of her deceased dancer. Tabloids post the horrible pictures of the stage. The management sues the arena and the stage builders. They win. Miguel’s relatives receive a large amount of money to ease their pain. But will it ever? Noor ultimately returns to the studio to create her new album. It’ll be paced down and emotional, to honor the tragedy that hit her world tour. Noor doesn’t tell the world press that it’ll be to write off the pain of missing Frankie too. She’s missing her with every heartbeat and every second that passes — and there is absolutely nothing she can do about it.
Months pass and Noor still hasn’t heard from that pretty blonde that shook up her entire life. Her life seems meaningless and directed by others. Aiden is being a perfect husband. David drags her from photoshoots to arenas, but it doesn’t feel real anymore. Singing for all those fans is different now. It’s not as important anymore as seeing Frankie smile. As knowing she’s safe and happy. If only she were happy.
Somehow, she hoped the girl would’ve reached out to her by now. That she’d be missing her as well. Aiden gets to see her on occasions. They attend sports games and meet when he’s in town. It’s like Noor’s being left out on purpose. And nobody even notices.
Her house feels deserted. Frankie no longer spends nights in the spare bedroom anymore. She doesn’t roam the halls of the arenas with her underwear on her head to make others laugh. They don’t sleep in the same bed anymore. Noor can’t sleep at all, at night.
“Are you having fun?”
Aiden turns his head to a numbed Frankie and pokes her shoulder playfully. She looks up and smiles — faintly.
“This is great. Thank you.”
He frowns in a disappointed way: “You don’t really burst from enthusiasm. Want to get out of here?”
“No,” Frankie insists while turning back to the baseball game happening in front of them. “It’s good to be out here.”
Aiden offers her some chips, but she kindly declines. Her mind’s not at this game. Her mind’s with Miguel. It happened six months ago this day. It’s almost an anniversary. They watch the game in silence and as time passes, Frankie downs more and more cups of beer. She’s getting buzzed and likes the feeling of not caring that much anymore. Aiden is worried, but he lets her. He understands that she needs this, especially today. When the game ends, a line of paparazzi welcomes them at the exit. He supports her body with his strong arms as he charmingly waves at the gathered photographers. Nobody notices just how drunk his mate is.
“Don’t you hate that your life is directed by strangers?” she asks.
He just nods.
It’s late at night when he puts her to bed. For a while, he sits at her side, patiently waiting for her to fall asleep. June walks in after work and nearly scares herself to death when she sees him through the open door of Frankie’s bedroom. He just puts his index finger on his lips to shush her. Frankie’s eyes just closed. They are wet from crying. It broke his heart. When he leaves the room and pulls the door silently into its lock, June’s startled expression amuses him.
“Hi, I’m not sure we met appropriately. I’m Aiden Stonewell.”
“I know,” the brunette mutters. “I’m June.”
It makes him smile.
“What happened? Did she get drunk again?”
It sounds demeaning and criticizing. He now understands why Frankie calls their relationship fractured.
“She lost a friend. She went through a terrible thing. A whole stage collapsed on top of her. She’s allowed to act out for a little while.”
But June disagrees: “Frankie’s no saint. She’s always been the dysfunctional one of the family. Never really has a job, always out until sunrise, terrible taste in girlfriends, …”
Aiden walks past her, heading toward the front door. His blood is starting to boil. Frankie does have a job — or at least she had. She was a professional dancer for the biggest star in the music industry. Despite that, she chose to educate children in her free time and help out at her sister’s restaurant whenever she could. She trained every single day to perfect her dancing skills. There’s nobody who works harder than his friend, maybe not even Noor.
“Not everyone is perfect, June,” he tells her, embracing his own mistakes and flaws before holding on to the handle. “Doesn’t mean they stopped trying to make the best of it.”
He shuts the door behind him after wishing her a good night’s rest. June aims her sight at the locked doors surrounding her. Great, now he thinks she’s an ass.
“Morris! Get up!”
It’s late at night when Aiden stands in front of her. She’s positioned on the floor, outside a trendy club in midtown. Her dazzled eyes look up and she recognizes him eventually. He’s not angry or upset, he’s just worried. His arms go searching for hers, so he can get her off the ground. It took her an hour before she realized there was no way she’d be able to get home on her own. All her friends left hours ago, Kennedy didn’t even join. When she grabbed her phone, she automatically went searching for the name she adores. Noor. Her fingers almost pressed the green button. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. Calling Noor now would’ve broken her completely. She felt messed up enough already. God, she misses her. She misses her with every breath she takes, every second that passes. She misses her voice and the way she chuckles whenever Frankie’s acting all goofy. The only thing keeping her close are the pictures in tabloids. Pictures of her at events or concerts. Photoshoots for famous brands and interviews. Pictures with fans. But that’s nothing compared to the memory of touching her skin — of kissing her lips.
Frankie ultimately ended up calling the husband. A for effort. He’s been her buddy for the last couple of months, the one that drags her along with his friends to sports events and great parties. But Aiden’s getting tired. There’s work. Acting is a demanding job. And Noor requires a lot of his time as well, now that he’s behaving so perfectly. They go out to fancy restaurants, take romantic walks in the mountains or strut the red carpets while holding hands. It’s painfully visible for Frankie. Every page she turns is a scrapbook of the relationship she cannot have — the one her best friend has. With her other best friend. There used to be Miguel. He’s gone too. All because of her ridiculous obsession with Noor. Her obsession with dancing and making it in that industry. Her obsession to include him in her dreams. Now he’s dead.
She wrote in her MoodBook this evening, right before she headed out the door and got wasted. ‘You left — and you took everything from me with you.’ She wasn’t really sure who she was talking about.
Aiden pulls her up and guides her to his car. Photographers snap some pictures and he kindly ask them to stop. They don’t listen. After he hits the road, Frankie turns her head to him.
“No problem,” he says.
It remains quiet for a while. Frankie’s trying really hard not to throw up in this million dollar car. Well, maybe it’s not that expensive. Aiden looks at her and sighs. There must be a way to cheer her up — to lighten up the mood. He clears his throat and blinks a few times. He was fast asleep when she called him. Noor jumped up in a panic, wondering whoever dared to call at such an unholy hour. He said it was Frankie, which shut her up immediately. After the call ended, he explained what happened. Frankie was drunk and lost. She didn’t know how to get home. Noor begged him to go get her. When he suggested she should join him, the singer declined. Aiden just nodded and turned his head away from her.
“I met June after I drove you home and put you to bed last week. Must say, she’s quite the character. Are you sure you’re related?” he asks.
Frankie smirks and faces the street lanterns.
“I’ve had my doubts,” she says calmly. “But mom insists it wasn’t the milkman.”
Aiden pats her leg to offer some comfort. She apologizes once more for dragging him out of bed, but he says it’s fine once more.
“Mind if I ask … Why didn’t you call your parents? Or your sisters? Noor once told me you were a close family.”
“We’re close and at the same time, we’re not,” Frankie tells him. “We hang out a lot, spend every Christmas and holiday together. We gather to talk about work and gossip about other relatives. But it’s not like I share my emotions. Maybe with Ellie, but that’s it. The truth is, they make a great family as long as I’m not there.”
“What does that mean?” Aiden wonders as he switches driving lanes and checks his rear-view mirror.
“I’m the special one. But not in a remarkable way,” Frankie explains with a soft voice and small eyes. “I’m the sister that doesn’t fit in because she can’t bring herself to talk about fashion or gossip, and instead, rather talks about culture or parties. We’re miles and miles apart, but this family thing, it keeps us together. It’s a rope that has us enchained and no matter what, our surname, our legacy, our family tradition keeps us tied to it. There’s no way escaping it. I’m the lonely one. The one that peeps from the corner, the one who doesn’t understand what the hell keeps them entertained. And because they are family, I’m never allowed to leave them. So they are kind of my charity event every week. I keep going back to them, even though nothing — not a single, freaking state of mind — keeps me connected to them. And despite all of that: I love them.”
Aiden nods and thinks about his own family. Families are never perfect. Still, you fight for them. Because if you don’t even fight for those related by blood, what’s the point, right?
Frankie’s concentrating really hard to keep her breathing controlled. It’ll keep the nausea away as much as possible. Her friend sees her stoic expression, notices how she keeps her eyes closed. His fingers press a button and her window lowers a little bit.
“Fresh air might help,” he explains.
His mind is wandering. It brings him to places where he never thought to see his friend. She’s messed up right now. She’s seriously hurting. And this isn’t helping. For a while, he thought it was fine. Acting out sometimes help to process things. But after a while, it has to stop. She hasn’t even danced in months. Not a single move, not a little twirl. She backed away from it without any explanation or reasoning. It might remind her too much of her childhood years, where she frantically practiced every day in her room, with the enthusiastic and funny Miguel by her side.
“This is the third time this month I have to come and pick you up in such a state,” he says. “See, Frankie, I don’t care if you want to go out until sunrise and get hammered. I’m not your father. I don’t care if you get lost on your way home and you have to call me in the middle of the night. I don’t care that this is your way of mourning. It’s your right to go crazy and wild over what happened.”
He pushes the gear shift and stares into the darkness of the night. That’s when he lowers his head briefly before opening his mouth again.
“I don’t even care if you’re sleeping with her,” he calmly adds.
Frankie looks up to him with wide eyes. Her heart stops beating instantly. What did he just say?
He swallows disoriented and shakes his head: “Or maybe I do. I don’t know. Noor and I — we’ve come a long way. I screwed up plenty of times. But I love her, okay? I adore her. She’s my wife. I can’t imagine my life without her. I won’t survive. Please don’t take her away from me.”
Frankie’s too ashamed and overcome with surprise to even say a thing. She just stares at him, feeling utterly disgusted by her own actions. Suddenly, the nausea returns. After a couple of seconds, she heaves a troubled sigh. How can she ever say the right thing?
“I’m not sleeping with her,” she says.
Frankie’s not even sure if she’s telling the truth. Apart from that one-time-event at Noor’s birthday, they didn’t actually have sex again. But whatever they were doing might be so much worse.
“I know she loves you,” Aiden resumes with a soft voice, as if it’s the most natural conversation in the world. “She’s crazy about you. I see it when you’re at the house. It took me a while to realize what’s going on. Her eyes light up when she sees you. Her mood changes drastically whenever you enter the room. She cries when she misses you. I get it. You’re one of my best friends. I could fall in love with you in an instant. But you have to realize that, as long as you’re around, Noor can’t love me too. And she needs to love me. We made a vow. I promised to forever stand by her side and I intend on doing that. I sobered up, changed my ways, I haven’t flirted with a girl in months, you know that. It’s not even a big deal, because I have her. So I want you to leave her alone, Frankie. I am asking you very politely to leave my wife alone — to save my marriage. Could you do that?”
She’s sitting in the passenger seat of his black SUV. He just got out of bed at two a.m. to pick her up after a desperate call. He’s driving her all the way home, just because she asked. He’s a good friend to her. He’s a great friend, actually. Never has he ever disappointed her in this relationship — and look at her, betraying him in the worst way possible.
“Okay,” she whispers.
It’s done. They don’t say another word after that anymore. Noor texts her that night to see if she’s okay. Frankie turns off her phone.