The only light in my room comes from my alarm clock as I lift the shirt I placed over it before going to bed. I cover the red numbers almost instantly, but not before I start to see red dots each time I blink. As I lay in bed, the faint sound of the house phone continues to ring off into the distance. My eyes try to focus on what would be my ceiling or my wall, but it’s pitch black in here and anything in front of me in purely my imagination.
It’s three a.m., and some jackass is calling my house phone. I sigh and think about how I need to change my phone number again and wonder what’s the point of having an unlisted number if people can still obtain the sacred digits. The only reason I still have a landline is that cell service is questionable on my ranch. Besides, I like the feel of a phone. I like that I have to sit down to talk to someone, giving the person calling my undivided attention.
The blackout curtains were purchased and hung by my personal assistant and publicist, Barbara, in an attempt to have my mind shut off at night. This was after she received an email from my record label informing her that my late night actions were causing the executives to have minor heart attacks when photos of me, drinking in a bar, were made public.
Her answer was to make sure I had a peaceful place to rest, that and tea. Barbara treats everything with tea. If you have a cold, she gives you tea. If you stab yourself accidentally with a rusty nail, instead of taking you to the hospital for a Tetanus shot, she asks if you want tea. I love her dearly, but tea can’t fix everything.
Ever since, I’ve been trying to play by their rules and sticking close to home. Drinking alone though isn’t as fun as when you have a crowd surrounding you, encouraging you to drink more until you’re stumbling into the bar and finding random rides back to your home by complete strangers. Who would’ve thought that they’d sell the story to the newspapers?
One mistake and I’m being labeled an alcoholic. One incident and it’s being suggested that I spend some time relaxing which is industry speak for rehabilitation. I thought about getting away, going to spend some time where no one knows who I am just to escape the scrutiny.
But doing so would mean not speaking to my daughters every day. Stormy and Willow are my life, my reason for living, and I hate that I can’t see them every day.
The phone rings again. I count each ring until they stop, only for them to start up again. I sit up and bring my pillow to my face while I tap the base of my bedside table. Slowly, I let my eyes adjust to the light before making my way toward the living room.
My house is quiet. It’s always quiet, except for the faint sounds of the wildlife that can be heard. It’s often that I can sit in the oversized chair and watch a herd of deer traipse through my yard or hear a pack of coyotes howling in the middle of the night. It was one of the selling points, that and being away from the busy city.
Sitting on twenty plus acres of land, my view over Nashville is one of the most sought after locations around. Investors want me to sell off my land for development, and each time I tell them no, they come back with a higher offer.
This is my little slice of heaven. It’s where I can come and be me without having to be the Levi Austin that fans expect every time they see me out and about. This is where my private life begins, and my public one is put on hold. Behind closed doors, I can write my music, play my guitar as loud as I want and stare at the assortment of trophies I’ve won over the years. My favorite came last year when I won Country Music’s Album of the Year. Man, to beat out the stellar artists in that category was an amazing feat and one I am so proud of.
On my ranch, I can walk around my house in my underwear while drinking beer and not have to worry about the paparazzo with their high-powered lenses trying to capture my picture, although it’s rare that the paparazzi bother me much in Nashville. It’s when I have to go to Los Angeles that they’re all over me.
But here, on my ranch, I can ride my horses, shoot my guns and go muddin’ if that is what I want to do. I can have my band over for bar-be-que and not worry about my neighbors calling the police on us for being rowdy. This is where I can relax, be free and live my life. Besides, I’m saving my land for my girls. That is something those big city developers don’t understand.
The ringing starts again, but this time I’m there to answer it quickly. “Hello?” I say, my voice somewhat hoarse from sleeping.
“Mr. Austin?” the voice on the other end says.
“Who’s calling?” I’m almost afraid to ask. Knowing my luck, it’s some sales person or a fan turned creepy stalker.
“Sir, my name is Detective Pete O’Brien. I’m with the LAPD.”
Hearing those words is enough to send chills down your spine. They cause you to tense up, shake, and maybe sweat a little, but mostly, they scare the shit out of you.
“Okay,” I say after he pauses.
“Do you know Iris Austin?”
The sound of my ex-wife’s name has me relaxing a bit. I’m not surprised that she’s been arrested or picked up for something stupid. When we got divorced, she was adamant that she be allowed some freedom since I had that every time I went on tour, and she was home raising the girls. I agreed. I was happy that the girls were going to live with me while their mother “found” herself in Los Angeles.
That was until Iris started talking to Stormy about all the amazing dance companies in L.A. and how she should move out there to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer. Stormy’s dream, of course, is to perform for hip-hop artists when they tour. As much as it pained me to let her go, I did but also didn’t like the fact that Willow would be left without a sister so both my girls went to live with their mama. It’s not what I wanted, but I didn’t want to short-change Stormy on her dream and didn’t want Willow growing up without her sister.
Iris is an amazing mother when she wants to be. But she also loves the nightlife in Hollywood, and that sometimes gets in the way of her parenting. I suppose when you’re pregnant by seventeen and married at eighteen, you start to miss your twenties and need to relive them in your thirties.
“I do,” I tell the officer with an exaggerated sigh as I wait for him to tell me how much her bail money is.
“This is never easy to say. Iris Austin was killed in a car accident earlier this evening on the interstate.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” There is no way I heard him correctly.
He clears his throat and repeats his words verbatim as if he’s reading from a script. I let them sink in, only to realize he hasn’t said anything about my girls.
“My daughters? Were they with her?”