If ever there had been a chance of stopping this thing there was none now...
"Tonight on stage, Ray Sandler was all those old fantasies come back to life. Emily Rivers soaked up his every move and she felt alive again for the first time in what felt like years. She never thought he would actually notice her, though."Emily is a successful woman in the tail end of a failing marriage. Ray is the reformed wild boy of rock, back on stage again for the first time in years. As a teenager Emily had Ray's posters all over her bedroom wall so when she gets backstage tickets it's as if her dreams have come true. Actually meeting him is an unexpected highlight of the evening, but that's as far as it could ever go. They come from such different worlds: what could an international star ever see in a grounded, curvy woman like Emily?
Tonight on stage, Ray Sandler was all those teenage fantasies come back to life. Sure, those missing ten years had added some silver to his temples, and he was carrying a few extra pounds, but he was looking good. Emily Rivers soaked up his every move and she felt alive again, for the first time in what felt like years.
She never thought he would actually notice her, though.
How many times as a teenager had she stared up at those posters on her bedroom wall, gazing into his eyes and imagining that, even just once, he would glance in her direction? Their eyes would lock, he would falter in the middle of a line and then pick up again, always the professional. Even if that look was all she ever shared with him Emily's life would never be the same again.
The Roxette was a small venue. Standing room for maybe two or three hundred, and then a balcony level for a few dozen more by the bar. This was the kind of place where you'd see a band before they made it big and years later you'd tell the story of how you had been one of the select few who had seen them, back in their early days at the Roxette.
Emily stood to the left of the stage, with only one row of bodies between her and Ray. So close she could almost reach out and touch him!
He had a backing band, but they were very much in the shadows as he stood there at the mike, that battered old Gibson semi-acoustic slung low, legs spread and knees bent a little as if he was forever poised to dive off the stage. Black jeans, black shirt open a couple of buttons; hair cropped close and blue-black under the stage lights, apart from where the silver showed through at the sides.
He opened with 'Poison Berries', an obscure track off the first Angry Cans album, from before they made it big. It was one for the true fans and the perfect track for the venue, somehow wistful and demanding at the same time. A young man's song played by someone who now had the skill and depth to make it something else entirely.
Oblivious to the bass, electric piano and drums somewhere towards the back of the stage, Emily watched Ray's hands on that guitar. Some great musicians look like they're working hard and you really appreciate all the effort they've put in. Others appear to have lazy hands. Hands that drift over a keyboard, hands that stroke the neck of a guitar.
Ray was definitely in the latter category, working that guitar almost effortlessly.
And when he sang, he just leaned into the mike as if someone had moved it almost beyond his reach, and his tone was like honey with a smoker's rasp. He'd never had that extra depth to his voice before. Maybe it was just hearing him live that brought it out, or maybe it was the years and hard living he'd been through to get here.
"Why does it taste so sweet?" he sang. "When all that you give me is poison?"
There was anger in his delivery; that old fiery magic, but with a new passion that sent chills racing through her body.
She'd expected to feel more self-conscious, here on her own like this because her old friend Marcia had pulled out at the last minute. Instead, she felt just a little bit dirty. Deliciously dirty: standing there with the perfect view of Ray, drinking it all in and feeling like a teenage girl again. You'd never have got this kind of view of him back in the day. Side on, she could follow the line of his leg, revel in that swivel of the hips. He really hadn't put on too many pounds in his time away, and he'd clearly been staying fit.
Just then, the opening song came to a close. Ray tossed his head back and – briefly – held the pose, and it was exactly how she remembered him from one of those posters.
Was it wrong for a woman in her late twenties to want to squee like a kid?
The next track was something new. That's why they were here, after all: an intimate, unpublicized gig so he could try out new material, after years away from the limelight. It started with a single, sustained note on the guitar, crystal clear, a little flat and then bending the string until it was perfect and you didn't even realize that he was holding the same note with his voice, too, as the tones merged. Then the band kicked in and it was back to his trademark choppy guitar style. Something about first times... peeling back the layers until everything's like new. A comeback song if ever there was one. The melody glided above that choppy, bluesy backing. This was going to be a real grower, Emily thought, and then he was looking right at her and...
He didn't falter for a moment. It was nothing like that teen fantasy she'd played over and over in her bedroom back when the Angry Cans were just making it big.
His eyes were on her, connecting, and then almost immediately moving on.
She tossed her head back and laughed. She'd had her moment. She'd made eye contact with Ray Sandler! She could die a happy woman.
Then when she looked again, his eyes found her once more.
"Peel me back," he sang directly to Emily.
She faltered, lost track of what she'd been thinking.
"Make me raw."
Her legs were like jelly. Who'd have thought she'd be such a girl tonight?
"Find my heart, and make me soar."
A brief raising of the eyebrows – a reinforcement of that fleeting connection – and then he swung away, and those effortless hands danced up the neck of his guitar as he broke into a solo, full of string-bending and long, mellow sustain.
Her heart pounded in her chest like an animal desperate to escape.
If only her teen self could see her now!
As she watched him, he latched onto someone else in the crowd and sang to her, the bitch. Expert stage technique: sing to a select few and everyone feels as if you're singing directly to them.
Before she knew it, the track came to a close and she started to whoop and holler.
Ray had lost none of the magic, and tonight was proving to be the perfect antidote to the way Emily had been feeling recently. She really needed to get herself out more, have some fun.
She closed her eyes, and in her head she was back in that moment when his eyes had met hers and he really was singing to her, alone. It had been a nice little fantasy while it lasted, and one she would treasure. And whatever she did, she was most certainly not going to stand here through the rest of the show just waiting for him to make eye contact again...
//end of extract//