The girl known for raunchy hits like “Bitch Slap” and “Candy Man” hadn’t tried to deny it. Instead, she and I exchanged glances. She’d made me swear to tell no one—no one—what she’d told me. It was a matter, she’d said, of life and death. Her baby’s life and her death.
I believed her, now more than ever. In the few minutes Cooper was upstairs in Tania and Jordan’s apartment, leaving me alone in the car with my thoughts and the Cartwrights’ driver, I heard the words “New York College” from the radio the driver was listening to softly in the front seat.
“Can you turn that up, please?” I asked and then regretted it immediately when he did so.
“No word yet from police as to whether the poisoning was accidental,” said the familiar voice of the announcer. It was a twenty-four-hour news radio station, the one Sarah insisted we listen to endlessly in the office for news of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not that I didn’t feel badly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I just preferred listening to music while I worked. “According to a statement issued by Grant Cartwright, president and CEO of Cartwright Rec-ords Television, the producer had been working on a new reality show starring Jordan Cartwright, the lead singer of the now-defunct boy band Easy Street, and his new wife, Tania Trace, whose song ‘So Sue Me’ is the nation’s number-one single. The show is being filmed at Fischer Hall, a New York College dormitory known for having been the site of numerous violent deaths this year, some involving New York College students. It’s currently housing fifty teenage girls, nonstudents, all attending a rock camp hosted by Trace. No word on whether or not the camp—or filming of the reality show—will be suspended in light of the death.”
I dropped my face into my hands, Tania’s words echoing in my head. “I met my husband in high school. We were in choir together. I was a soprano. He was a tenor. But I could sing any part, so sometimes if Mr. Hall needed me to, I’d sing alto. I didn’t care, as long as I was singing. Singing is the only thing that’s ever made me truly happy.”
I’d sat looking at Tania in the glow of the television screen—the only light in the windowless room. She’d seemed so fragile and vulnerable.
“Maybe,” she’d added, glancing down at the barely perceptible bulge of her belly, “having a baby will make me happy. I’ve heard people say they never knew true joy until they looked down into the eyes of their newborn, but I don’t think those people know what it feels like to sing. When I sing . . . it’s like nothing can touch me. You know?”
This statement didn’t surprise me. Given her meteoric rise to fame, it made sense. Successful people are generally happiest when they’re doing what they love.
What did surprise me was the odd statement about why she loved singing so much. That I couldn’t relate to. Like nothing could touch her? What did that even mean? Who—or what—was trying to touch her?
And where had this ex-husband come from? I’d never heard about Tania having an ex-husband, let alone one from as far back as high school. How could Tania Trace have an ex-husband? How had Cartwright Records managed to keep this off her Wikipedia page, let alone “Page Six”? She and Jordan had just had a million-dollar wedding—in St. Patrick’s Cathedral no less! The Catholic Church is generally pretty thorough about checking up on this stuff.
“We were good,” Tania said, rubbing Baby’s ears. “We were the smallest school from the poorest district in our county, but we got invited to State. You know when you’re singing onstage in a group, and all the voices blend together perfectly, and you hear that ringing sound, like a bell, inside your head?”
That’s when I realized she was talking about her choir, not how well she and her high school boyfriend had gotten along as a couple.
“Uh . . . sure, I guess,” I said, lowering my gaze. I didn’t want her to see the tears that formed in my eyes. It sounded silly, but I was familiar with the sound she was talking about. I hadn’t realized until precisely that moment how much I missed it. “So that’s what happened when you performed? You guys got that ringing sound together?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling as if relieved that I understood. “We . . . blended, you know? The whole auditorium would fall silent after one of our performances, sitting there, listening to the last echo of our voices fading away . . . only then would they stand up and start clapping. What’s that called, Heather?” she asked me, with a naïveté that reminded me a little of Jordan.
“A standing ovation?” I asked.
“No, not that. When voices blend together like that?”
Generosity, I wanted to tell her. When no single vocalist tries to outperform any of the others onstage, because they’re all working for the good of the group. It’s called good showmanship and generosity, and it’s extremely rare. It tends to happen only in professional choirs and, I was fairly certain, in whatever choir Tania Trace happened to be in, because everyone else in it sensed what a fantastic talent she had and was hoping some of it might rub off on them.
If one wanted to be cynical about it, one could surmise that maybe they’d hoped that, if they stayed on her good side, Tania would think kindly of them when she was famous one day, as surely they’d known she would be, and treat them kindly in return. That’s what show business was all about.
“I don’t know,” I’d said instead, wanting to steer the conversation back to her boyfriend . . . and now ex-husband, stalker, and would-be killer. “Tania, I don’t think that had anything to do with him or the rest of the choir. I think that was you. Because obviously you’re the one who went on to have such a fantastic career. Did you ever think of that?”
She shook her head so vehemently that the curls went flying everywhere. “No,” she said. “We came in first. First in the whole state. That was because of him, because he was so talented and so driven, and made me believe I could be someone special. He was the one who said we should get married and move to New York City, and that I should try auditioning for Broadway shows.”
Of course he had. There’d been no generosity involved. The guy had wanted to use her as his ticket to fame, the way Mrs. Upton was using Cassidy, the way my mom and Ricardo (and let’s face it, my dad) had used me.