The faint sound of chattering could be heard from open dressing rooms, the doors slightly ajar out of habit. The cold corridor was empty, and I could hear the squeaking of my leather jacket over my sharp footsteps. I took a deep breath and steadied my still palpitating chest.
"Hey, Steve Wonder!" called a melodic voice from behind me. Everyone knew that voice, everyone and their grandmother. I stopped walking and held my elbow out, cocking my head to the side to wait for Antonia to come into my line of sight.
"And where do you think you're going?" Antonia demanded as she linked her arm into mine and pulled me along, never missing a step. Her glorious waves of hair were a deep, dark orange and made her face a little brighter.
"Midnight Radio Fridays," I shrugged. Then, I realized that this bright face was no longer wearing make up. "And where do you think _you're_ going?"
"Home," she clucked. She batted her eyelashes at me, looking absolutely irresistible. "I own 20 percent of this company, I'm allowed to go home when I want."
I also realized that I was walking at a faster pace than when we started. This was Antonia, always full of boundless energy and rushing to her next thing. Jamie, who was Antonia's biggest fan, had early on identified that if Boy Next Door was going to be the Next Big Thing, we had to adopt Antonia's ambition and work ethic to pair with our collective talents. Jamie was always the smartest among us.
I imitated her cluck and said, "That's true. Oh teach me, almighty goddess, how to be you and own 20 percent of the company."
Instead of laughing like I expected her to, she looked at me pointedly and asked, "Is Barney still giving you a hard time with the next album?"
I pasted on my most charming smile and said, "What do you mean? Mr. Barnes is the easiest person to talk to in the whole wide world."
She poked my ribs and I jolted from the sensation, and immediately poked her back. She yelped and jumped away and started to slap my shoulder. I grabbed her wrist to make her stop and pulled her towards me in half an embrace. She looked up at me with that magical smile that enraptured the nation, breathless from her giggling. She was seven years older than me, but she was ageless.
"Still ticklish, hmm," I snorted.
"I hate that you know that," she snorted back.
"Sure you do," I gently let her go. "Can you recommend me to your dermatologist? Or plastic surgeon, whichever the case may be."
She gave me one last resounding slap and resumed her brisk walking pace. I gamely trotted to catch up with her. "It's the blood of fifty virgins. A good soak every Thursday before bed."
"Ah, is that why you're rushing home?"
"ANTONIAAAAA!!!!" Screams came from across the street.
We were finally in the parking lot of our building. Only Antonia's fans were outside the fence, everyone else was still inside, watching Popvaganza till the end, even GND, our fan club. So apparently, Antonia always leaves early at these things, if her fans knew to meet her here.
"I'll go ahead," I said to Antonia's back as she walked up to her adoring horde. She didn't look back at me, just lifted her hand and wiggled her fingers as a goodbye. Before the fans could see me and, more importantly, recognize me, I sprinted across the lot to my car. This is why I love leaving these things early, I have this rare few minutes in my day where I feel almost normal.
Without issue, I drove to the radio station, listening to Mark's rap track for Song 6.