"What is this, an intervention?" I look back and forth between their faces, the four of them lined up on the opposite side of the conference table like jury members about to render their verdict. I'm kidding about the intervention part, but the joke falls flat and for a brief second, I think it might actually be true. But it can't be. I rarely drink, and I've never even tried drugs – I mean, sure, a couple of drags on a joint years ago, but that hardly counts -- so there's no way this can be an actual intervention, right? "I don't understand."
My mother looks at me through narrowed eyes, her palm on my stepfather's arm. "There's a morality clause in your contract, Addison," she says, her jaw clenched and her voice tight.
The morality clause. Of course. I hadn't forgotten about that – how could I? Everything in my life is about public perception, after all. That's how things work when you're America's country music sweetheart. "So you're ambushing me?"
A man in a suit clears his throat before sliding a sheaf of paper across the table at me. He's obviously someone from the record label, but I don't recognize him, which doesn't make me feel any better about this meeting. He was clearly sent to do the dirty work of making sure I fall in line with what the label wants. "I'm afraid you're bound by the terms of your contract," he says. "And that includes your public behavior. We signed a wholesome country singer, a role model for young girls. One who represents family values. Not someone who twerks in a club at two in the morning."
"But I haven't been twerking – "
"Drinking and partying," he says. "Do those behaviors ring any bells?"
"Those are hardly illegal." I leave out the glaring fact that I wasn't actually drinking or doing drugs or anything scandalous at all. I was with people in a club who were doing those things and that's apparently all that matters. God forbid I have a little bit of fun at the ripe old age of twenty-two.
"Legal behavior is one thing, illegal drugs are another thing entirely," my mother says. "You should know better. Once any of your so-called friends is high, you're guilty by association."
"And then there's this." My stepfather slides a copy of the newspaper across the table, giving me a look that positively reeks of disapproval. My stepfather is the most buttoned-down person I've ever met, the kind of man who can convey more with a raised eyebrow than most parents can communicate in an entire lecture. He's a retired Army Colonel who runs a private security firm for celebrities, and I'm one of his clients. My mother met him seven years ago on one of my tours -- and the rest, as they say, was history.
I glance down at the page, expecting the headline to have something to do with my boyfriend – my ex-boyfriend, after last night's debacle – and his friends' antics in the club last night. But it doesn't. Instead, it reads Music Star Caught In Compromising Position With Older Married Man: Relationship with Boyfriend on the Rocks!
At least they got the relationship with the boyfriend part right. That's definitely on the rocks; hell, it's already shipwrecked. This headline concerns a completely different scandal. Of course, it doesn't tell you the rest of the story, which is that I had to shove the guy away from me at the party three nights ago. The article really should read Hollywood Mogul Photographed While Attempting to Grope Music Star. Cameras didn't capture that part of the evening.
I don't even try to explain, because my parents would never believe me. My mother thinks I'm a brat, spoiled by money and fame. I may be a bit of a brat, but I'm not spoiled by this life. It's exactly the opposite, actually. I'm exhausted by it. I should be on-top-of-the-world happy, with three platinum records and a Grammy award under my belt. But at twenty-two, I shouldn't feel this damn old -- this damn tired. I should have some fire in my belly.
So I guess fatigue is the reason I don't say anything. Instead, I sit there glaring at them, waiting for their verdict. I tick off the options in my head. Rehab? A trip somewhere? I'll issue a mea culpa for my terrible behavior and promise the record label they won't have to worry about their lily-white singer being tarnished by her no-good friends.
My stepfather finally breaks the silence. "The label has agreed to a solution we think will be amenable to everyone," he says. "With all that's happened, we believe you need someone to look out for your interests." He says it like we're talking about hiring someone to manage my stock portfolio. But what they're really suggesting – what they're really ordering – is someone to manage me.
"A new manager," I say flatly, looking at my existing manager – my mother.
"Don't be ridiculous," she sputters, shaking her head.
"What then?" I ask. "Designer treatment center? Press statement saying I've collapsed of exhaustion?" The words come out more bitter than I intend them to sound, but I'm frustrated by the ambush.
Of course, a break might be exactly what I need. In my head, I imagine standing up right now and walking out of the room, packing everything I own and just heading back to Savannah, me and my guitar. Hell, I could play on a sidewalk, no backup singers and dancers and costume changes and a different city every night until I'm so turned around I can't see straight.