The Last Emperors.
Chapter 24: F.A.M.E
By Jolie Adam
As the next few weeks ensued, the nation was overcome with TLE mania. There wasn’t a place in Tokyo or any other big city in Japan you could retreat to without somehow seeing or hearing them. Pictures, adverts and memorabilia were amassed from building to building and stockpiled in every convenience store. Billboards, commercials, honorary events, television shows – there was no escaping the obvious media influence of the dynamic trio. Once their secret was out, Ty Shori being the savvy business man he is, served them up on a platter and the public gobbled it up. The Japanese division of MTV kept offering them larger and larger sums of money to appear in their own reality show which the girls continuously turned down. They had learned to bargain with Mr Shori when they found the resolution for the majority of their problems. And this is exactly how it came about,
“He keeps praising the importance of publicity. I think if we agree to take the MTV deal, we can get him to shut down TokyoGirl’s blog or at least find out who it is,” Julia said and we all paused, welcoming the light bulb moment her idea provided.
“That’s an amazing idea,” Lorra nodded in agreement along with Dawn who added, “Yeah, but that means we’ll have a camera following us around every second of the day.”
“It’s no different than what’s going on now,” Lorra retorted. Although the fame went hand in hand with the success, public outings as of late felt daunting and overwhelming. A camera was bound to be thrust in our faces within the first 15 seconds of exiting the building. That was fine when the girls were dressed to the nines on their way to some formidable, sponsored event. Which was usually the occasion only one out of five times. That meant the remainder of the time, it was just the group going to practice or to a shoot, completely undone, with imperfect hair and puffy eyes. Japanese gossip was not kind to those paparazzi pictures of it and provided plenty of bashing, comical fodder for TokyoGirl to print.
Lorra frowned, reluctant to release the very last bit of her privacy for the whole nation to see. Something about reality TV rubbed her the wrong way, made her feel like a puppet whose strings were manipulated solely for others’ enjoyment and entertainment. But she hadn’t worked that hard to get to the top just to pass up the opportunities success entailed.
“We don’t even know if he’ll agree. I think it’s worth a shot, just to see if he can do it.” Julia stated.
“I’m in,” Dawn added.
Lorra sighed and said, “I’m in too.”
And thus began the girls’ attempt to annihilate the vicious, anonymous social blogger, TokyoGirl.
Larry watched the remnant clouds of smoke waft through the air like sensual ghost figures. He’d stayed in the library after their meeting with Ty Shori. Their 6 months’ contract was over and much to their surprise, wasn’t getting extened. Of course, he and Laurent were given generous bonuses and amazing references simply for being represented by the company in the first place. He should’ve been ecstatic – Japan was getting severely dull for the twins ever since Lau opened his big mouth and revealed the newest industry money makers. Since then, it was constant repetition of TLE this and battle TLE that to match any of the duo’s accomplishments which was becoming a nightmare for the once reigning duo of dance. He didn’t want to stay in Tokyo as much as he’d just expected he would and once that expectation came tumbling down half an hour ago, he’d been crushed. There was no reason for him to be as there was a pool of opportunities just waiting for them to dive into and choose but the sting of rejection and denial was a painful injection.
The Last Emperors were getting a delicious sweet taste of fame with a toxic aftertaste. The great aspects were indeed glorious and phenomenal. With each passing day, they understood that celebrity status wasn’t for the faint hearted, with its ‘normal’ eccentricities, ethical avarice, an open tomb of fictitious lies and scary truths. Julia, Lorra and Dawn had everything they wanted in the palm of their hands and at the drop of a hat and sadly most of it wasn’t as gratifying as it seemed. With multiple agents now representing them and working around the clock to build the TLE brand, with nearly non-existent personal input or opinions from the girls, gone were the days when they were hounded by Jacques’ incessant calls. These days even Jacques had an assistant to help him keep TLE’s name relevant in France – as if people could possibly forget considering the constant news revolving around them from coast to coast. The girls had publicists, counselors, make-up assistants and back-up for their make-up stylists – and it had taken all of their might and plausible negotiations to drill into the eager, meandering hands of their new unscrupulous manager Fayme, pronounced like fame, that they could do and HAD done very well without personal assistants. The media already robbed them of every ounce of public privacy they could possibly muster without crossing that barrier of personal invasion, Tokyo Girl was being rein back after they’d agreed to do the reality show, so the last thing they needed was to have little minions running around, gathering intel on them. If Tokyo had taught them anything, it was to lay all cards on the table because it was only a matter of time until someone else announced it for you. The Last Emperors’ team had everything in the last two months to pit them against Les Twins. Both groups rose in unison, constantly surpassing one another before the other retaliated with a larger success. Between the two groups’ reoccurring TV spots, ads and appearances, there were few national channels that hadn’t featured one or the other.
Recently, TLE had been announced as the new mentors in a popular dance show that commands skyrocketing TV ratings. Coincidentally, it was right around the time Larry and Lau were cast as a singular, ordinary dancer who transformed into his alter ego and had a completely different ability to dance. Both styles were excellent but as different as the moon and sun. Lorra, Dawn and Julia were secretly tired of the constant comparison and the now-tepid, over prolonged rivalry but they played along because as Fayme stated around the clock, “boring news NE-VER make the news.”
Lorra stared at the cylinders blocks of towers as the private car led her down the concrete arena. She was on her way for yet another meeting, this time alone, with Fayme. Kyoto was hosting a huge inaugural movie festival this year, having recently acquired the media rights for another company that usually held the festivities. Shori Media was sparing no expense to ensure everything went smoothly in the hopes that the event could produce more tourism in the upcoming years once it was established and eventually viewed in the same regards as prestigious awards such as the annual Cannes Film Festival. Despite the fact that she’d been there for over four months now, Lorra still admired the complexity of the city, how webbed the streets were onto one another, leading you into starkly different quarters depending on the way you chose. A street busker she’d always appreciated in passing was playing a Michael Jackson hit as the car slowed down to a red light. She tapped her feet silently, smiling at the fact that MJ tunes never failed to make her want to dance. The artist swayed his head to the beat of his own instrument, lost in a melodic sea, his body language apathetic to the bustling scene around him. His dreads began to shake loosely around his pale face as he hit the chorus and she smiled in admiration at his natural concentration and passionate intensity. People swept past like blowing leaves on a tree, quickly and inanimately, barely taking the time to appreciate the man’s devoted artistry. Lorra almost wanted to jump out of her seat and rush out of the car, and dance around him. She understood him, what it was like to get lost in the moment, to be seduced by a beat, a song, perhaps even an entrancing lyric that keeps repeating itself in your mind, shortly or long after you’d heard it. It was such a wonderful illusion, when music became visual and for her, it was simply magic once it became physical.
Before she could act out on her silent, little wish, the engine slowly drifted through the green light continuing her internal abyss of the power of musical imagination. She arrived at the private Shori headquarters where she found Fayme’s cheerful assistant Neomie, buying a fruitsicle. She waved gayly to grab her attention,
“Hey bitch!” Neomie offered as a greeting, flipping her fluorescent pink and green bob around.
“Gay-me,” which Neomie often called Fayme behind his back, “has me out here in this heat buying him frozen sugar water. What else is new? I’m just the muppet of the year.”
Lorra laughed at Neomie’s theatrical facial expression. The flamboyant personality was a breath of fresh air in a field of corporate rigids. She always looked forward to her interactions with Neomie and the spunky assistant had tagged along with the girls to a couple of events and outings. Neomie loved Lorra for that. When Lorra requested for Neomie’s presence or assistance, there was very little Fayme could do to refuse. This had caused some minor hostility between the two as Lorra shot down his initial idea of her getting her own assistant only for Lorra to tell him she didn’t need one yet personally request or send for Neomie. Most of the time, she would just send a car for the lively assistant that would take her to a shopping centre where she could charge to her mighty heart’s desire before being brought to Lorra’s pad where they would get dressed together and meet Dawn and Julia. She viewed Neomie as a good friend – although there was plenty that was still kept just between her and the girls. But even Dawn and Julia had to admit that Neomie brought a certain fun energy and they’d always had a blast when the four of them were together. Dawn held a little bit of jealousy towards the lighthearted infiltrator but kept her mouth shut since she was in no position to label Lorra as a negligent friend considering how distant she’d been for the first two months they’d been in Tokyo.
“Just keep thinking about Kyoto in a week!! I made sure they got us the Spirit Suite which is like a temple in a room. Room service, watching Japanese movies for four days, stargazing at night as we walk through the city, sleeping late, waking up whenever and doing whatever we want. It’s going to be a blast!”
Those were the right words as Neomie lit up like an overly adorned Christmas tree, suddenly so giddy that she jumped up and dropped the fruitsicle. This garnered another belly laugh from Lorra as the girl rolled her eyes and made her way back to the ice cream and confection truck.
“What mood is he in today?” Lorra asked pertaining to Fayme’s infamous tempestuous moods. He always made a mockery of it himself, claiming that being black and gay made his mood swing left and right, at a moment’s notice.
“Really, really happy,” Neomie replied, pointing to the fruitsicle she was ordained to go retrieve.
Lorra smiled, “Well, that’s good. Maybe this meeting will be painless.”
“No – like abnormally happy. He practically skipped into work today AND he brought his own coffee. I can’t remember the last time getting him his morning coffee wasn’t my number one job task.”
“Whatever, nothing he can say can bring me down. Girl, I’m Kyoto’d out.” Lorra grinned.
Lorra and Neomie took the elevator together, still laughing about one of the many inside jokes they had about Fayme. No sooner had they stepped out of the elevator onto the swanky Rosa Aurora marble tiles on the 21st floor did Fayme jump out at Lorra, slipping his smooth forearm into the pit of her elbow as if they were childhood friends. Lorra tried not to act surprised. Life, ever since Fayme became a part of hers, was nothing short of a soap opera plot.
“Hey Lo-rra,” he dragged the rr’s in her name eloquently but to her, it might as well have been a train screeching harshly onto a platform. “I love that red top on you. Very asian fusion, spicy bombshell,” he said of the tunic she was wearing that accentuated her recent tan from a girls’ weekend getaway to Onjuku beach.
“Thanks Fayme. You look, uhm…nice too,” she tried with as much conviction she could humanly gather.
“I know,” He seemed to believe her lukewarm compliment, “my no-sugar, no-carb, no-gluten, no-anything-fucking-delicious is finally working and I feel great so I know I must look phenomenal.”
Neomie picked that precise moment to point out his lie by presenting him the fruitsicle he’d sent her out to get. He scowled at her before grabbing it and taking a timid bite. Lorra smiled at Neomie’s timing.
“So, why did you ask to see just me?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing, you know — just business stuff.” He seemed uncomfortable which worried Lorra a little.
She looked at him hoping to obtain a more direct answer, “Well, what is it about?”
“Why don’t we go into the conference room so that I can explain?”
With that, he steered her towards the large conference room that held way more seats than the two of them would need to occupy.
Lorra exchanged a peeved look with Neomie who shrugged as she genuinely had no idea what he needed to talk to her about. Being his assistant, Neomie usually had the 411 before anyone else, so she would just text the girls beforehand. Usually Lorra came in prepared, ready with her agreements or retaliations, to butt head with Fayme. But today was slightly different. Even her being here by herself left her feeling armor-less.
He closed the door behind her and ushered her to a seat. Lorra ignored his direction and took the first seat she saw, facing him in anticipation. He squirmed around his gold trimmed vest, bringing his palms together as he began,
“I got good news for you.”
Lorra blinked blankly, waiting for him to continue.
“You’ve probably noticed that TokyoGirl’s backed off with her TLE bashing spree ever since that agreement was passed for the reality show. Well, I was able to get that off the table as well. The group doesn’t have to do the reality show. It took me a lot of negotiating but I pulled it off.” He stopped, waiting to see her acknowledge the great news. However, in typical Fame fashion, Lorra knew that if he ‘managed’ to pull that off, there was a much heftier price to pay which is most likely why she was here alone. She offered him a taunt courtesy smile and he began once more,
“As you know, the Kyoto festival is soon approaching and we are working endlessly, around the clock to ensure it goes off without a hitch,” Without his knowledge, he’d dived right back into his formal manners which is how she knew he was about to drop some hefty obligation on her. She took a breath, annoyed at the unsettling effect he had on her.
“I’ve been working with the management team to make sure you girls are the biggest, hottest thing on that red carpet. I want you to sizzle so much that they forget you’re not even actors. By the end of this event, everyone and their cousins will be talking, breathing and living TLE. If not, then my name is not Fayme.” She nodded, out of habitual duty and politeness. “Now, there is something we have been going back and forth about. It’s a little crazy but it’s 100% pure publicity gold.”
He paused, which is when Lorra realized she hadn’t exhaled that breath yet. What did this have to do with her? She just wanted to go and have a good time with her girls. What the heck did he want from her?
“We are all aware that there has been some unfriendly friction between The Last Emperors and Les Twins ever since the reveal,” She froze, her heart dropping into her stomach. “And since you and Laurent, have some history, the management team and I have decided to arrange a reunion for press sake just in time for the festival.”
Lorra surged out of her seat so fast that the chair took a second to rise up. She tried to hold back the magnitude of her fury despite it eating her from the inside the minute she heard Laurent’s name. “Fay-me, you know I have put through a lot of SHIT, quite frankly, ever since you became our so-called manager. We have done almost everything you’ve asked of us, albeit often questionably. But this is below me. And sadly, I really thought this would be below you too.”
“Lorra, Lorra – I know all about it,” He said quietly and sincerely, as if they were having a heart to heart, “I know he broke your heart and your trust,” She ogled him, baffled at this comment. “But you have to do this. I expected the publicist to say no and she gave me the green light. I even brought it to Mr. Shori, thinking that maybe he would say that’s going too far but he’s pushing this festival so hard that you having to go with your ex and arch enemy as a date is the least of his concerns right now. I know I get brazen sometimes with my requests of you girls but once it’s passed the accordance from Mr Shori, there isn’t much I – or you, can do.”
“But why would you do this?”
“Because I work for the news and I know how the news work. Honey, this is show business.”
“Is it? Because last I checked, I was a dancer. I started this as a dancer. All of this is just over the top bullshit that we have to deal with but at the end of the day, we’re dancers. And we’re people. You can’t just toy with my emotions and decide who to place me with or next to.” She felt bile rising in her throat, unsure whether it was due to the confrontation or the fear of being forced to see Laurent again.
“I would say think about it but unless you want to be dropped, you don’t have much of a choice. It’s just for appearance sake. They will be there anyways. Now, you’ll be going with one half of the duo. Everyone gets their fill of the press pie, fans are happy, media will go crazy. Think of it as a formality.”
“What about me? What about how I feel?”
He hesitated before replying, “Of course. Now think about how you’d feel if you didn’t have the choice to get paid to do what you love. Is it worth losing that for something so small in comparison? It’s really not my place to say but I’ve been told that Les Twins’ contract is not being renewed. This will be their last appearance under Shori representation and we want to make sure we leave the impression that it’s just friendly competition at the end of the day.” With that, he exited the large conference room, leaving Lorra there with her echoing thoughts to keep her company. She stood in disbelief, stunned at the information that had just been relayed to her.
As the hours passed and she found herself at home, in the comfort of her space, cornered by the fury of her own thoughts. Was success really supposed to make you feel so powerless about your own life? How could they twist such a plot around to lay the outcome of their contract solely based on her decision when the group clearly involved two other people? Sick of allowing her thoughts to steer her into early insanity, she picked up the phone and dialed Julia’s number. Dawn was great at listening but at this stage, it was past the cooperative, supportive, listening point. She needed the honest opinion of her blunt friend who had no benefit or care to hold back the truth.
“So how’d your meeting go with the media vampire?” Julia answered, picking up on the second ring.
“Worse than I expected and my expectations were pretty low,” Lorra replied.
“Preach. So are you going to tell me now or do we need liquor for this?”
Lorra thought about it for a moment. Alcohol was the last thing she needed right now but what the heck – seemed like there was now an entire team determining what, or rather who, she needed.
“Hell yeah. Be there in 20!”
“Already drinking,” Julia joked, before hanging up.
“OhshitohshitOHSHIT. Exclamation mark. No bullshit!” Julia gawked once Lorra took a second sip of the rose wine they’d just corked half an hour ago.
“Right? See how messed up that is? Actually, no that’s typical – what’s messed up is HE doesn’t really see anything wrong with it.” Lorra gulped the remainder of the wine glass’ content.
After the initial surprise, Julia looked at her friend, with a pensive face.
“What?” Lorra asked, wondering if some wine was dripping from her lips.
“Well…I mean it is fucked up…but it’s really not that big of the deal.”
Lorra stared back, astounded, “Come again? Are we sipping different things? Because your wine must be potent.”
“Yeah, I know there’s some tension between us but really, I mean, come on – it’s been like two months. We’re over it. If anything, they have a lot more to feel bad about. All you’re doing is going with him, getting out of the limo, taking some pictures together. Shit, you don’t even have to smile. Pull a Victoria Beckham on their ass. I can see it now. Headlines saying ‘Concrete lips’ with a picture of you like this,” Julia plucked her lips firmly together. Lorra had to laugh at that. Her friend made it sound easy and when it came down to the reality of it, she wasn’t that mad anymore. Her biggest concern was just being in such close proximity to someone she’d once been so vulnerable and open with.
Finding the only rebuke she could with the fairly straightforward plan, Lorra claimed, “They might put us in the same room though. I might be over it but four nights with him…that I can’t do.”
Julia eyeballed her amusingly, “Have you forgotten that we’ve witnessed the sexual chemistry between you two? Stop fronting like that would absolutely be the worst possible thing in the world. Worst case scenario, you hit it a couple of nights. What’s love got to do with it?” She said the last part dramatically, like a parody of the classic Tina Turner hit.
Surprisingly, that vivid remembrance of steamy scenes in her mind sobered Lorra up. Her breath caught in her throat and she realized she really didn’t want to share a room with Laurent. She could do all the other stuff, the planned and plotted parts of it. But the real things, she didn’t think she could stomach. Her heart wouldn’t survive it this time.
“Hit too close to home?” Julia stopped singing.
“Yeah,” Lorra said mournfully.
“Well, shit. That’s why we got wine.” With that, Julia poured another glass and the two friends toasted.
Lorra hesitated before repeating, “To Kyoto.”
Once tipsy and home, Lorra called her new least favorite person in the world. She’d gone over every possible scenario with Julia, and her friend’s answer to them all was topping up her glass and chanting, “You’ll live.” After indulging in two bottles of wine, she was starting to believe that even if it was horrible, she would live. Worst had happened. And regardless of what could happen, she had her girls there along with Neomie. I’ll live.
Fayme picked up on the third ring, sounding fairly inebriated himself. Without any greeting, Lorra said, “One request.”
“I’m listening,” he shouted back through the earpiece, trying to speak louder than the music in the background.
“I’ll do anything you say if you guarantee me separate rooms.”
“I can’t promise anything but I will do my best. The media has a funny way of getting their hands on private information so they might try to check if you’re staying in the same room. But I will work my magic and do my best. I owe you one. But after the press and coverage you get from this…you might owe ME one.”
He couldn’t see her rolling her eyes but he knew Lorra well enough to know it was exactly what she was doing. They both hung up, feeling confident about their individual approach.