Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Ivy tried to make sense of where she was. The taxi had gone down endless streets, which all had the unfortunate habit of looking exactly the same. Skyscraper after skyscraper towered above the ant-like Sims rushing around on the pavements, all with their phones attached to their ears or typing out an email as they walked. Ivy cowered, peeping through the window with a swarm of butterflies fighing to get out of her stomach.
There were a hell of a lot of people in this city. She hadn’t quite realised just how tranquil Sunset Valley was until she saw this hive. Gulping, she tried to focus on the task at hand – finding Ethan’s building in this enormous labyrinth.
‘Where’d you say you were going, love?’ The taxi driver looked at Ivy in the rear-view mirror, a little wearily as his long shift was due to end soon. ‘Veranda Villas?’
‘Um…’ Ivy scrambled in her bag for the piece of paper she’d scribbled Ethan’s details down on. She found it, and wished for the eighteenth time that day that she’d written it down neater. Her phone had run out of battery before she’d even boarded the plane, so she couldn’t even call to confirm anything. ‘I… I think that’s what it says here…’
‘Well, that’s here. I’ll drop you off, if it’s not the right spot then you can at least use the phone in there. Can’t let you use mine I’m afraid, company policy. Good luck, love!’
Ivy waved as the taxi pulled away, thankful that despite Bridgeport’s overwhelming business, she was at least anonymous here. No more awkward questions from overbearing taxi drivers! Nervously, she headed into the building and hesitantly pushed the button on the intercom for the penthouse.
Ivy’s heart leapt. ‘Ethan?!’
‘Ivy! I’ll be right down!’ Ethan exclaimed eagerly, rushing away from the intercom and out to the lift. Oh come on you stupid thing, I’ve got a girlfriend waiting for me downstairs! He thought impatiently, tapping his foot, and practically flying into it when it finally arrived.
As it gradually reached the ground floor (it didn’t usually descend that slowly, surely!), he ran out and up to the waiting Ivy, immediately pulling her to him and entwining his fingers in her hair.
‘You have no idea how good it is to see you,’ he murmured, drinking in the sight of her. He’d thought about her every single day they’d been apart, as sappy as he knew that made him; he’d kept that little nugget of information from his bandmates, knowing the ridicule he’d receive were he to make it public, the ridicule usually reserved for Andy about the way he would go on about his girlfriend. He’d rather keep out the firing line!
‘If it’s anything like how good it is to see you, then I may well do!’ Ivy joked, trying to choke down the tears that were welling up. She suddenly felt safe, secure. No-one was staring at her, no nasty comments were being muttered behind her back, no ‘best friends’ were letting her down. It was just Ethan and her.
Ethan grinned. ‘Come on. Let me show you to my apartment.’ He picked up Ivy’s bags and pressed the lift button with his elbow, suddenly a little worried that she wouldn’t like it. It was a bit of a garish bachelor pad…
‘Wow!’ Ivy said as she stepped over the threshold, a little awestruck. ‘You live here?!’
She gazed around at the room she’d just walked into, split down the centre with the kitchen and dining table on one side and the living room on the other; a winding staircase leading up to the second floor to the right of the door. The decor clashed in a stylish way, the living room’s deep reds and creams oddly complimenting the bright blue of the kitchen area, with black joining the two together. The furniture was so modern she suspected it had all been delivered that morning, and the windowed back wall displayed a gorgeous view of the Bridgeport skyline.
The city didn’t look so scary from up here.
‘Well?’ Ethan panted, struggling a little with Ivy’s heavy suitcase. He dumped it behind the staircase and flopped down on the sofa, trying to regain a little composure and his breath. ‘Do you like it?’
Ivy nodded, heading over to join him. ‘I do! Your kitchen matches my dress, good call,’ she teased as he slipped a comforting arm around her shoulders, pulling her to him.
‘I am glad! You know, when I got the place redecorated two years ago that was exactly my intention,’ he laughed, before growing a little more serious. ‘So, do you want to tell me what’s happened?’
Ivy’s smile faded and she withdrew a little into herself. ‘Um. There was an article in the magazine back home… About you and me…’
Ethan listened intently as she told him everything, from the initial article’s content, to the abuse in the streets, to Maria’s over the top reaction. His heart sank a little. ‘Ivy, I am so, so sorry about this,’ he said earnestly. ‘It’s all my fault. Those vultures would never have bothered you if you hadn’t been with me.’
‘Don’t worry about it.’ Ivy gently squeezed the hand that was rested on his shoulder. ‘I just… I didn’t expect that reaction, that’s all. I mean, to me you’re just another guy. Don’t look at me like that, Ethan! You know what I mean,’ she admonished as Ethan gave her a look of faux-hurt.
‘No, no, it’s alright. Better to get these things out in the open nice and early. I’m just some guy. That’s fine. I opened my home to you, my heart, but I’m just some guy to you. Nice to know how little you care.’ Ethan creased up, unable to keep his charade going any longer as Ivy cracked up.
‘Oh, be quiet! Fine! You’re not some guy. You’re pretty brilliant. And I quite like you, very much. Happy now?!’ Ivy was a little shocked at her outburst; usually her natural reticence meant that she kept her feelings to herself for fear of being judged. I must really like him…
Ethan laughed gently as he snuggled closer to her, gazing into her brown eyes. ‘Well, that’s good to know. Thanks for telling me,’ he said, leaning his head on hers for a second. ‘I think you’re pretty great too, for the record. Just so you know.’
Ivy couldn’t help the smile spreading across her face. ‘You know, I think you might have mentioned that once before…’
A matching smile was plastered on Ethan’s face. ‘You know, I think I might have. I seem to remember I got a kiss on the cheek last time I mentioned it.’ Lifting his head up, he flashed her cheeky grin.
‘Oh, come here you!’ Ivy leant in and kissed him. She’d practically forgotten Sunset Valley even existed.
* * *
It sounded like a thousand elephants were stampeding through the room. Bashing, clashing, completely rhythmless and entirely hilarious. Ethan was so glad he’d had the band’s practise room soundproofed!
‘Well? What do you think!’ Ivy shouted over the racket, slamming the drumsticks down as hard as she could on the kit.
‘I think you might need a bit more practise!’ he yelled, barely able to hear himself. His sides were hurting so much yet he couldn’t stop laughing, the sight of his usually shy girlfriend sat at the drumkit and ‘playing’ so wildly, shrieking with laughter herself, was almost too much for him to handle.
‘I’ll be able to join the band then, yeah!’ Ivy beat down on the drums even harder, fully aware of just how awful she sounded, but loving the reaction she was getting from her deafened boyfriend. Ethan was about to reply when the door opened; Ivy immediately dropped the sticks as Leon Stansell, the lead singer of El Tigre, strutted into the room, a questioning look on his face.
‘What’s going on here, then? Is Andy getting replaced?’ he joked quizzically, looking up at Ivy on the platform. She felt her cheeks burn.
‘Leon, my man! Long time no see,’ Ethan exclaimed, pulling his friend into a hug.
‘I know! It’s been at least three days!’ Leon replied sarcastically. ‘I’ve almost forgotten how to sing!’
‘Well, Andy’ll be along in five so you’ve got until then to regain your talent,’ Ethan joked, pushing him playfully. ‘Anyway, enough of that. Leon, meet Ivy, my girlfriend.’
‘Ah, so you’re Ivy,’ Leon said, looking at Ivy curiously as she nervously shook his hand. ‘I’ve heard about you! How long are you here for?’
‘Um… I’m not sure yet,’ Ivy whimpered, cursing herself. Get a grip! This is Ethan’s best friend! she scolded herself.
‘Well, I hope it’s for a while yet. We all need to get to know you a bit better! This one’s keeping pretty quiet. No doubt he’s scared Andy and I’ll mock him senseless if he starts gushing about you! Not that Andy can talk, mind,’ Leon said rolling his eyes as Ethan stroked Ivy’s arm, aware of how on edge she was feeling.
‘What can’t Andy talk about, exactly?’ asked Andy Ryan as he wandered into the practise room, waving cheerily.
‘Fashion sense,’ Leon replied dryly. ‘Red jeans? Really?’
‘You can’t talk, at least mine are in one piece! Anyway, Amelia likes them. So there!’ Andy beamed as Leon and Ethan shared a mock-exasperated look before the three of them cracked up. Ivy was suddenly very aware that she was alone in a room with the hottest band around, watching them banter and joke around as if she were one of them. So surreal.
‘Enough about clothes! Andy, Ivy; Ivy, Andy. Now let’s get working on this new number!’ Ethan exclaimed, picking up his guitar and checking the tuning on it. Andy grinned and nodded a greeting at Ivy as he headed for the drumkit, and Leon stepped onto the platform and tapped the microphone.
‘Testing, testing! El Tigre would like to dedicate this song to Ivy Rivers,’ he said, smiling slowly at Ivy’s reddening cheeks as she sank down into the sofa to watch. ‘This is Bright Lights.’
It was one of their slower numbers, a change from their past five singles that had had a rockier, more upbeat edge to them. Ivy sat back and let the lyrics wash over her, Leon’s sultry vocals sending the customary tingles down her spine; the song was about finding someone who guided you to a happier place in your life, the bright light of the title being that someone.
‘Lost in an ebony maze,
I found you, you found me,
You brought me home, you gave me life,
With you is where I need to be…’
Ivy sat up a little and looked straight at Ethan, who was staring very steadfastly at his guitar strings. She could’ve sworn his cheeks were tinged pink, just a little. That was a turn up for the books, usually it was she who was blushing away! It didn’t take a genius to work out who’d written this number. Or, and it was Ivy’s turn to blush as this thought dawned on her, who the ‘bright light’ was referring to…
As the song came to an end Ivy clapped enthusiastically, catching herself before she went too far and into ‘crazed fan’ mode. The three men looked pleased with themselves.
‘Looks like we’re onto a winner with this one, boys! Glad you liked it, Ivy,’ Leon smiled as he unhooked his microphone. ‘C’mon. Let’s go upstairs to Ethan’s and play on that new console you bought last week!’
Ethan and Leon practically ran from the room before Ivy knew what was going on, having some light-hearted argument about who was going to play as which character. Andy laughed as he watched them go, hanging back as he carefully put his drumsticks away on the bookshelf in the corner.
‘Gotta be careful with these! They were a present from my girlfriend Amelia when we first got signed, been using them for three years now,’ he said, stroking the corner of the box fondly. ‘Kinda think of them as my lucky sticks!’
Ivy smiled shyly, feeling a little awkward. While she might feel at ease around Ethan now, Leon and Andy were still strangers. Rock star strangers. ‘I guess they’ve been working!’ She ventured.
Andy’s face lit up. ‘Exactly! So I really should take care of them. Gnomes knows what’d happen if they broke! So,’ he said, looking at Ivy inquisitively. ‘You’re the bright light who’s brought Ethan home?’
‘Uh…’ Ivy had no idea how to respond to that remark. She could feel the redness sweeping over her face as Andy realised he was making her feel uncomfortable.
‘Sorry, didn’t mean to put you on the spot! Just, I can really tell that you’re making my best friend really happy. Thank you,’ he said smiling warmly at her. ‘He deserves someone like you. Now come on, let’s get up there! Those two’ll have started without us!’