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Wild Heart (A Jack Antonoff Story)

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The newsroom at the Aquarian had a generally laid back atmosphere. The office was located in the suburban sprawl that was Little Falls, sandwiched between Montclair and Clifton, it was the lesser known middle child of North Jersey. The newsroom was an open floor with a labyrinth of cubicles with offices towards the back. It was abuzz with overlapping telephone interviews and conversations. I spotted my boss watching me from across the room. He wasn't much older than I was and has been the editor-at-large at the Aquarian since before I started writing there. His upper lip twitched when we made eye contact, the ends of his thick mustache, moving up slightly.

"Giorgio," a clerk called from her desk, "we have a staff meeting in five." He waved to indicate that he would follow later.

"Giorgio," I said flatly.
"My favorite deputy editor!"
I moved back when he approached me.
"What?" I asked.
He held his arms wide for a hug. I inched my way into his embrace, shortly tapping his shoulder to indicate that I wanted to hug to end.
"You're moving me up?" I asked in a daze, "why?"
"Well, not yet."
I glared at him.
"I mean," he continued, "I'm leaving to be an editor for the Alternative Press. My replacement wants you to move up."
"Giorgio, you can't leave!"
"Shh," he replied, covering my mouth with his hand, "I haven't told anyone yet."
The newsroom was nearly empty, save for the marketing interns in the kitchen eating snacks. His eyes darted around the newsroom before he continued.

"You better watch out, though," he cautioned.
"Why?"
"I saw that photo of you leaving Antonoff's place. You don't have to tell me your business but I can feel that it'll go badly if new management finds out."
"New management?"
"Everyone's leaving. They're dropping like flies. Myself included."
"What's it matter to them anyway?"
"Look," he said rolling his eyes, "have you ever seen a musician date a music journalist?"
"No," I muttered.
"Buzzfeed just published an article about why journalists should never date celebrities not too long ago."
"Come on, Giorgio. It's Buzzfeed, not the most reliable source of information, don't you agree?"
He shrugged.
"I'm not sure how they'd react but you better think of something before they think you can't handle yourself."
"Fine," I huffed. I turned to leave when Giorgio caught my arm. I glared at him again, taken aback.
"You'll be great, kid. Congrats on the new job!"
I gave him a crooked smile. My eyes softened.
"Same to you."
"And if it means anything, I hope it works out." Doubt flickered in his dark eyes but the sincerity in them didn't falter. I nodded vaguely before leaving. I spotted the staff writers through the glass walls of the large conference room. A couple of writers were fighting over the marker to the pitching board. Others laughed or rolled their eyes. I shook my head and let out a deep sigh, dragging my feet as I walked out to my car. I checked my phone a saw a missed call from Jack. I shoved my phone into my back pocket and tilted my seat back as far as it could go. I opened up the moonroof and stared at the sky. Night had already crept up on the day. The stars hid behind thick purple clouds. I let myself lay back for awhile, staring at the sky. I wanted to flush out of the thoughts that saturated my head. I asked myself a string of what-ifs, pretending that I knew we could work it out. The truth was someone was going to bend and our dreams had no room for that. The tears escaped before I could stop them. I wiped them angrily, leaving a pink streak of irritated skin across my face. The sound of my ringtone made me jump. Jack called again. I ignored it and threw my phone in the back seat where it landed with a soft thud. I looked to the front and saw Patrick, one of the junior writers, with his face pressed against my driver's window. I rolled it down.

"You have to do a story about Jack," he said.
"What?"
"It wasn't my idea, okay?"
"New management?" He nodded, his lanky frame melting into the darkness. I groaned and hit my head against the car horn.
"Shhh!"
"What?" I snapped.
"You can't tell them I told you first. I figured I could buy you time."
"They want me to do a story about Jack?"
"Yeah," he whispered. He leaned in closer. "A tabloid bought us out. I don't know which one yet but that's what everyone's saying."
"What about a story about Jack?"
"They want you to talk about what he's really like or something. He's Jersey's sweetheart and our soon to be boss hates anyone without something to dirty them up. He says anyone who's as clean as Jack has something to hide or is really boring."
I was livid. I wanted to explode.
"I could just quit, you know."
He shrugged, indifferent.
"I could! I'm a deputy editor at the Newark Reporter now. I can't do two editing positions. I'd die."
"We need you here. The Aquarian won't be there same."
I scrunched my face and rubbed his shoulder. He looked down at the pavement.
"We're going to be moving and everything," he said.
"It wouldn't be the same even if I stayed here anyway."
He continued to look down.
"Hey," I said, "you're fresh out of college. I say blow this pop stand before is blows itself up."
He smiled weakly, the same way I smiled when I was unsure about what to say next.
"I'll be in touch. Be good."

Sniffling, I brought my seat back to a driving position and rushed out of the parking lot. The screeching tires echoed through the still night. I shut the roof to the non-existent stars, looking back to see if Patrick waited for me. He was already inside.

-----

I missed dinner by the time I reached Aunt Shira's house. I found the Antonoff's gathered in the dining room, with a whole chicken carved to the bone and almost empty bowls of sides on the table.

"Hi," I said, "I'm so sorry I'm late. I had something to take care of last minute at work."
"It's okay," Uncle Ricky replied, "life of a journalist, huh?"
I laughed awkwardly.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Well, sit down! I saved you a plate. I'll heat it up for you,"Aunt Shira said.
My stomach growled. It felt like it was doing flips.
"Someone's hungry," Jack laughed. I sat next to him and he kissed me.
"Hi," he said. My face turned to the color of beets.
"What is this?!" Aunt Shira asked with my plate in her hands.
I froze.
"Um," I said.
"I didn't know about this. Did you know about this?" She asked, turning to Uncle Ricky.
He shrugged.
"I don't know. Wasn't it obvious it was gonna happen eventually?"
"What?" Jack chimed in.
"Yeah, you kids, when you were younger...I'd walk by your room while you were listening to music to make sure no hanky panky was going on."
Rachel stared at him and stopped her spoonful of ice cream mid-mouthful.
"Come on, what is with our families and calling sex hanky panky?"
Jack gave me an icy look. I shut my mouth.
"Why am I the last to know?"
"Mom," Rachel cut in, "it's fine. Just let it be."
"Well, I'm happy it's you and not some Hollywood whore."
"Mom!" Rachel said.
"What?" she replied, disappearing into the kitchen.
"Oh you know I also liked Alia. I wasn't talking about her."
I stared at my feet.
"Sorry," Jack whispered. He held my hand and I squeezed it tight.
Aunt Shira returned with my food.
"Well, I would welcome you to the family but you were already a part of it." She hugged me while I took a generous bite of chicken. I was too hungry to care that it was a little dry.
"You knew about this too?" Aunt Shira asked Rachel. She took the rest of her ice cream and headed to her old room without responding.
"Make sure you clean up after yourselves," Aunt Shira said, making her way to her room. Uncle Ricky followed.
"Hanky panky, hanky panky, hanky panky!" he exclaimed while exiting.
I pushed my food aside and Jack led me to his room. He placed the yearbook I gave him on his bookshelf with his other memorabilia from high school. We laid on his unkempt bed. He probably hasn't made it since before he left for his first tour. I snuggled up against his arm and we both looked all the band posters he had covering his walls.

"I can tell something's wrong," he said.
I buried my face into his armpit.
"I don't think you want to go in there."
I responded with a muffled sentence.
"What?"
"I love you."
He kissed my forehead.
"I love you. I know that. What happened?"
"I'm quitting the Aquarian."
"What? You can't!"
"I have to, Jack."
"It's not because of me, right?"
I sighed.
"Not really, no."
"Not really?"
"I don't want to think about it right now."
We held each other for a while. He comforted me while stray tears stained my cheeks.
"I'm sorry I ruined your birthday."
He kissed me forehead.
"You always make things better."
The tears were flowing more.
"We'll figure it out together."
"Yeah," I sniffled, "we can do it."
I shut my eyes while he quietly sang "Fall Asleep". I smiled at the sound of his voice. I could feel it reverberating in his chest and on my cheeks. I have never felt so at peace with uncertainty before. I was more than happy for the next step, as long as he was taking it with me.