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Our Time


Chapter 2: MNM

MNM sighed while sitting on a chair backstage. This was already his fourth concert. First, he had it in Illinois, then in Beijing, then in Paris, and now, here in Brunei. After this concert, he will be holding another concert here next week. Then, he'll be going to a Japan Super Tour right after. He's supposed to be happy about his fame and success, but surprisingly, he's actually not. He is just fourteen after all and he's already having all this stress. People think that being a star must feel so good, but that's not always the case. You won't really know it for yourself unless you are one. Sometimes, he wished that he had never been discovered, never got famous and never experienced the fun yet deceitful limelight that the harsh world of demanding showbiz threw at him. Everyday, when he wakes up in the morning, he sighs and wonders… whether he made the right choice. Should he have declined the offer of his manager, Mr. Carlson, the man from Hollywood who discovered him in Youtube? Was it wrong? Even if his parents were giving him all the encouragement in the world, he still had his own say on things… but he just got dragged by the adults. It was his life, but he wasn't in control of it now. If only everything came to a stop… if only time would slow down. If only he could bring back the hands of time, but he knew that the thought itself was not even possible.

MNM wanted to experience being a normal kid again like how he used to be a year ago when he was thirteen. Oh, how he missed it so much… so very much. He remembered, on weekends, he used to go out of the house, feel the cool breeze and the warm sunshine outdoors, run around aimlessly and just… relax. He used to frequently play basketball with his school friends in the school gym or the public courtyard or simply play chess with his dad, a Caucasian, at home in Manhattan, New York City, where they used to live. Now, he's so busy with his singing career that he lives in different high-class hotels and mansions, most especially when he's on tour. He doesn't even get to see his parents or friends anymore. His manager prohibited him from mingling or contacting his friends, because, he says that his old school friends are part of the 'public' and now, his status is so high that he won't fit it in the so-called 'public'. He's a star and he can't be seen in public with normal people. What the heck? That sucked so badly.

He missed his parents… his friends… his school, his simple and private life and everything else he used to enjoy. There are times when he doesn't even sleep anymore because of late-night shootings and concerts… just like today. He was very tired of this kind of life. A life full of expectations, gossips, sleepless nights, annoying paparazzi, the deafening sound of screaming fans, bad issues, stress and most of all, he doesn't even have privacy anymore. Really, he hated it; it wasn't as fun as he thought it would. He was grateful though; he knew that everything was a blessing from above, but sometimes, he just can't handle it anymore. He preferred his old life.

Looking back at his past, he realized that he did have a great life, although not perfect, but still, a nice and serene life nonetheless. No one's life is perfect, anyway. There's no such thing as perfection in this world; perfection can only be found in heaven. He loved to think of the times he spent baking cakes with his mom for their mini pastry shop. They also made and sold Chinese delicacies since MNM's mother is a half-Chinese, half-Caucasian. Since he was an only child, at times, he would feel lonesome and really bored in his silent house, but then, his parents would always know what he was feeling even if he didn't say a word. They would spend loads of quality time with him. He would go to his cousins' house for a visit and treated them like his own siblings.

He and his parents would have a mini-picnic under a tree in Central Park, his favorite place, then, they would go to the Central Park Zoo and look at the animals. His favorite place was the polar bear pool where he can see cute little white bears being breastfed by their mamas. There are days in mid-December wherein he and his friends would go ice-skating in the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park which turns into a gigantic swimming pool where he swims during the summer. He loves the aerial view of Central Park which was simply breathtaking. There was no other view like it. He also loved walking in the passage under the Bethesda terrace. He adores the splendid and creative art found in Central Park. He liked looking at King Jagiello bronze monument on the east end of Turtle Pond, the victory leading Sherman statue, the Cleopatra's Needle, which is one of the only three existing ones in the world, and a lot more. Every summer, he and his parents, cousins and friends used to go to the Decalorte Theater where they would watch high-quality performances on Shakespeare. In a school field trip once, when he was eleven years old, he even took a picture with his Korean classmate who was also his crush, Madeleine Kim or better known simply as Maddie, in the large and beautiful Bethesda Fountain. But most of all, his most favorite place in Central Park is the Central Park Carousel which is one of the largest merry-go-rounds in the world. He loved it when he and his friends would ride and spin round and round without a care in the world.

He missed his school. Back in those days, he used to complain about waking up early in the morning for school, cramming for exams and projects, and being bombarded by loads of homework. He used to hate school. But, looking back, he realized that he missed his old friends, his teachers, and the numerous class activities they had. He longed for the times when he would sleep in class and get laughed at by his classmates while being scolded by the strictest teacher. Or the time when a classmate of his would crack up a really funny joke and the whole class, even the stiff teacher, would burst in laughter. He missed the times when a ball would hit him in gym class. He missed the times when everyone complained of the food in the cafeteria. He missed everything about school, even his classmates who tease him. He missed his school a whole lot, and he never thought he would. He wants to go back. But now, since he is a superstar, he can no longer go to a normal school like that. He was given a professional private tutor- home schooled. It wasn't nice at all. Attending all your classes in school and learning things together with your peers is much more fun than being stuck with an old tutor the whole day at home. He felt that it wasn't quite normal.

He used to watch Broadway shows with his family and friends pretty often, too. And he always used his New York Pass when touring. When he was eight years old, he stood at the observatory tower of the Empire State Building and he saw one of the most wonderful views. He had a fairly happy childhood and his parents never neglected him. He used to watch late-night movies with his mom at home. He used to visit his friends' houses and play video games. He used to write greeting cards a lot, whether it is his mom's birthday, happy fathers' day, his friend's birthday, his parents' anniversary, he always wrote one. He used colorful pens and drew creatively with a smile on his face. He is really a nice, thoughtful and sweet kid. He used to play his guitar while singing some mellow songs in his tranquil room and composed his own songs. Sadly, until now, none of his songs have been recognized by the media. His manager gives him the songs that he would sing and he himself didn't enjoy those that much. The songs he sang were stereotypical upbeat pop music with repetitious lyrics that don't even make sense. The songs he wrote were soft and soothing with meaningful lyrics about his daily experiences. His manager thinks that his songs won't click with the current generation of teenagers who enjoyed wild music more. This saddened him. He used to write stories in his laptop, too, and he used to draw a lot of random squiggles and doodles.

Used to. Those happy memories he was currently reminiscing "used to" make him happy as a person. They were all part of the past, his past. Now, he was an international teen pop star and he could never turn back. His manager would lose his job, the media companies he was affiliated with would lose a huge sum of money, he had a contract with them, his fans would be devastated, and everyone would criticize and condemn him, his co-stars and co-singers who work with him would lose their popularity and many more strings of terrible events would happen if he decides to back-out and quit showbiz. Many would hate him. Many people would be badly affected, TV station ratings would go down, investments for concerts would drop, and other artists who act alongside him would be dragged down as well due to his selfish desire of getting back his old quiet life. So, he simply couldn't. Will he be a superstar forever? Maybe, one day, other younger artists would overshadow him and he would be an old forgotten 'used to be' teen sensation. Maybe he'd like that. Maybe, his life could go back to normal. But when will that happen? Years from now, he thought.

"Nathan!" A voice, which interrupted his deep musings of the past, suddenly called out. MNM got back to reality and spun around to see the face of the person's familiar voice. When he's not on stage, he's called 'Nathan' by everyone, his parents, his relatives and his friends. But, he uses the name Michael in school and some people who aren't so close to him call him that. "Oh, hey Sam, you're still here? I thought you went home already… it's already two thirty in the morning. Today was sure tiring, wasn't it?" "Isn't it always?" Samuel Hartwell replied with a grin.

Samuel Hartwell is MNM's best friend in showbiz. He is one person who he can fully trust and who can understand him deeply. He is somebody who isn't plastic, doesn't lie, doesn't have a façade, but rather, he is down-to-earth and really honest about himself. He doesn't like to pretend being someone who he isn't. Since his name rhymes with his surname, he prefers being called simply as 'Sam'. MNM met Sam even before they both entered showbiz. They were actually living in the same compound and one day two years ago, a year before he became a star, when Nathan was being bullied by older kids, Sam defended and protected him from them. Eventually, the bullies felt the guilt and shame after Sam insulted them and cowardly left them alone. Ever since, they became best friends. Sam is also fourteen, and he's got a talent in acting and singing. He was discovered in a mini- talent show that his mom encouraged him to join when he was thirteen. Unlike MNM, the songs that Sam himself composed are being made into albums with his name. His stage name was also just 'Sam'. He is a pure Caucasian with light brunette hair with green eyes. Sam also performed alongside MNM in some part of the concert a while ago.

"You okay, pal?" He asked while tapping MNM's shoulder caringly. "You look wiped out." "Yeah… I guess. But, you know what…" MNM started to say, but then, he was interjected by Samuel. "I wish I'd never become a superstar…. You were about to say that, correct?" Shocked, MNM inquired. "How'd you know what I was thinking?" "I feel the same way." "Really, Sam, is that how you really feel?" "Yeah… why would I say something that I don't mean?" Sam replied while now grabbing a chair and sitting right beside him. "Sometimes, it's just nice to be a normal kid… living a normal life. Being this famous isn't really fun. It is at first, but, boy, do I hate those false gossips about us! The media is just fabricating their fake little story about us to make a scoop. It's so that people would be interested to buy their magazines, so that the ratings of talk shows would increase, but those really hurt us. Sometimes, you would think it's just their money-making scheme and that they can do something so low as to ruin someone's reputation like that."

"True. Besides, here in showbiz, young people like us get really bad influence, don't we?" MNM nodded in agreement while standing up. "Anyway, we'll be affecting the lives of a lot of people if we back out now. I feel like we are martyrs or something. You know, sacrificing our childhood for those adults who want to earn from us…" MNM said again, making a clear point while chuckling a bit. "Yeah… anyway, I'm starting to get sad with all these sappy talk. I really wished I never joined that talent show, I mean, my life was already good. People out there think that artists like us are very arrogant and all… trying to act cool, but actually, we're just like birds that are helplessly trapped in a tiny cage wherein we can't escape our fate. But it is true…" Sam replied while standing up, too. "Anyways, let's go home; we need a lot of rest tonight."

"It's already past midnight, it's already morning. My head's throbbing like nuts." MNM reminded. "Oh yea… me too, I'm drained, my body aches…danced too much." Sam chuckled as both of them walked away from the backstage. Before they walked down from the stage, something caught MNM's attention. "Hey, Sam, look! There's something on stage!" MNM said while motioning his friend to follow where he was headed. They both crouched down and MNM took the object with his hands. "It's a bracelet!" Sam said with a grin. "It's pretty!" MNM said while rubbing the sides with his hands. "It's made of metal and it's really shiny."

"Looks like an antique or something…" Sam commented. "Hey, wait a minute…" MNM said while thinking, his fingers rubbing his chin. "I think… if I'm not mistaken, this must belong to one of my screaming female fans." He said with a grin. "Isn't that just a presumption? How'd that get here, then? She purposely came here on stage, left that thing to profess her love for you, and is that it?" Sam asked while laughing hysterically. "No silly! Remember, a while ago, while I was singing, I knelt down a bit to get a hold of everyone's hands. I mean, they were jumping while waving their hands, and then they screamed louder when I got to hold their hands. I think one of those girls must've been wearing this bracelet which was most probably worn loose and it fell off when I let go of her hand. I must've pulled it or something." "Oh… I see. So, how do on earth do we find this mystery girl? There were at least ten thousand screaming fans a while ago and most of them were girls." "Oh well… I'll just keep it. What can we do? Who knows? I might meet her someday? If we're meant to meet, that is." MNM put the bracelet inside his pocket.

"Ok then… if you say so." Sam said while shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly while putting his hands inside his pockets. "It's rather chilly, isn't it?" "Yeah…" While they were walking to their limousine which was parked outside the concert hall, MNM broke the silence and said. "Hey, Sam… there's something bothering me lately." "I told you to tell me anything that's bothering you, didn't I? I told ya', we're just like brothers." "That is precisely why I'm telling you." MNM replied. "So, what is it?" Sam asked with concern. "It's Ashley Muston." MNM replied sadly. "Oh right! Yea… she's a real pain. She kept forcing you to be her boyfriend, didn't she? And what's worse, your managers are trying to pair the both of you… make you a couple, and most probably do a movie of you guys." "Ewww… that's just disturbing." MNM said with a disgusted tone in his voice. "I already told her several times that I just see her as a friend, nothing more. Can't she get over with it?" "Uh… so, what's the real problem here?" Sam asked. "She's threatening me." MNM said worriedly while looking down at his feet.

Ashley Muston is another one of MNM's co-stars. She's also fourteen years old and she's also a teen pop sensation. She's a Spanish-Italian blooded American who came from a really rich and ostentatious family. She's a child star. She's been in showbiz since she was three years old when she starred as the toddler in a family TV series. She is wild and has a terrible personality. Many people don't like Ashley Muston, but because of her amazing acting and singing skills, her fame was still unstoppable.

"What?" Sam was so shocked when he heard this, then he asked. "How so?" "It's either I like her or she'll ruin my reputation or something like that. She's trying to sabotage my already-tiring life." "Oh my… that's really terrible. I wish I could do something to help… She always has something evil up in her sleeves." Sam said anxiously. Then suddenly, as if speaking of the devil, MNM's phone suddenly rang. He fished the phone from his pocket and looked at the caller ID. "Who is it?" Sam asked curiously. With an irritated tone, he replied. "Ashley Muston." "Ugh…" Sam groaned with annoyance. "Should I answer this?" MNM asked nervously. "Your choice, bro. But I'll tell ya', nothing, and I mean nothing good comes out of her mouth, ever. She never has anything good to say anyway." Sam warned. "Sheesh, what choice do I even have? If I don't answer this call, I'll be meeting her in a press conference sooner or later and she'll ask me why I didn't answer her calls, and I'll have to make up a lousy excuse, which, she won't even believe. So I guess I'm taking this call then."

"Hello?" MNM answered while trying to suppress his irritated tone. "Nathan, baby, finally, you answered!" The sugar-coated voice of Ashley echoed through the phone. MNM and Samuel, who also heard what she said since it was on loudspeaker, made disgusted frowns as if they were going to puke. "What is it? It's already almost three o' clock A.M. And aren't you supposed to be asleep?" Nathan asked. "Don't be silly, dear. I know you just ended your concert and you must still be leaving from the coliseum, right?" She asked with a sweet tone which was so sweet that it was a tad bit scary. "I know that. I was asking why you aren't asleep yet." "Oh… you're concerned of me, honey?" She asked seductively. "Uh, actually… no... What do you need anyway?" MNM answered bluntly. "You know, baby, I'm here in the US, not in Brunei, so it's technically afternoon here, silly baby." Ashley explained. "Oh yeah…right, I forgot that." MNM said without interest at all. You could almost feel Ashley's rage in the other side of the line through her quick breathings. But then, her mood change again and she said. "Nathan… I asked you before if you wanted us to be a couple, right." "Ugh, I told you, I don't like you that way. Please, stop forcing me to like you! Just please… It's pressuring." Nathan said helplessly, as if he was about to cry. Nathan was actually kind and innocent and he didn't like it when these topics aroused.

"Okay… let me tell you this. I'm beautiful, I'm tall, I'm popular, and most of all, I'm rich. What don't you find attractive in me?" "Your attitude…" MNM thought in his head. "Okay… you're perfect alright! But it's not always a gage of liking someone." MNM told her with an exasperated tone. "You should know that." With a hurt tone in her voice, Ashley cautioned him. "After today, you'll regret what you said to me." Then, she hung up. With fearful expression in his face, he looked at Sam, who also looked scared, and asked. "What will Ashley do now?" "Let's just hope and pray that it's nothing serious. Don't worry, you'll pull through." Sam said consolingly.

He didn't know that the next day would be a storm.

MNM was sleeping deeply inside his hotel room. He tossed and turned since he was having a nightmare about how his life could get ruined because of Ashley's meddling. Then, at about 6am, his sleep was cut when his bodyguards marched into his suite room and opened the curtains of the windows which caused him to wake up with the blinding sunshine, since he was facing the window while sleeping.

"What…? Why are you guys here?" MNM asked sleepily while his eyes were trying to open, but failed as soon as he closed them again. "You need to wake up, young master. You'll be having a press-conference at 8am." One of his bodyguards informed him dutifully. "What? That's not on my schedule… I'm supposed to be free this week before the next concert and all I have to do is answer some of the Bruneian reporters in a short interview. What's this press conference all about?" He asked with annoyance as he turned upside down and buried his face under the soft pillow. "I slept 4am last night, for goodness sake! And it's like… what…" He looked up and peeked at his personal alarm clock. "It's 6am for crying out loud! I haven't had a wink of sleep and last night's concert was really tiring! Let me sleep, please!"

Then, suddenly, Sam and his manager, Mr. Carlson, barged in his room, too. "Sam? Mr. Carlson? What's this all about? Why are you guys all here in my room?" MNM asked when he saw the worried expression plastered on their faces. Sam walked towards MNM and raised him up to a sitting position. He embraced him gently and let go afterwards. "Nathan, something terrible happened." "What? What is it?" MNM asked worriedly now while rubbing his eyes groggily. "What we feared happened. Ashley Muston spread false rumors about you barging in her house, going inside her room and harassing her… or something like that." Sam said ever so sadly. "What? What kind of twisted and sick lie is that? I don't even know where she lives! I can't believe that she would go to this extent… Did she spread those rumors in two hours? She's fast!" MNM groaned in disbelief. "I can't believe that this is happening to me…" "Actually, I think, last night… er, I mean, earlier this morning, when she called you up, she already spread that horrible and nasty rumor about you. She's one step ahead of us… and she is devious. She's really crazy!" Sam said angrily.

"So that is the reason why she called! She asked me again if I liked her, maybe if I responded with a sweet 'yes', she would stop doing it! But since I declined her…" MNM said in realization with frustration in his voice while pressing his palm hard on his forehead, as though he was getting a mild fever. "So… that is why she said that I was going to regret! UGH!" MNM hit his fist on the wall angrily. "Calm down, Nathan. We'll solve this problem as soon as we can. This rumor badly affected the sales for your next concert. It has already dropped by 15%. Do you have any idea how much money we'd lose if that happened? We paid a lot for this concert and we're expecting to earn double from it! In fact, there's lots of 'hate mail' in your mailbox and it's all over the newspapers and tabloids, too. This is very bad. Fans of you all over the world are now mad at you. Do you know what this means? I might lose my job! You know that a lot of people in the media would lose their fame without you, right? You're our stronghold, Nathan! My life was extravagant ever since I discovered you, a boy full of talent. But why must you be so hardheaded? You keep us living with our wonderful job to serve you as a pop star… and now…" Mr. Carlson said madly.

MNM couldn't take this pressure anymore. Slowly, warm tears welled up in his eyes. His lip was trembling. Sam rubbed his back consolingly and darted a bad look at Mr. Carlson. "Don't be so insensitive! It's his life that's ruined; it's his reputation! You should be helping him out of goodwill instead of selfishly thinking of yourselves! Do you even know what he's going through? He treated you like a father, Mr. Carlson, but you… you don't even care about him! All you think about is money, business and investments! You have no genuine concern for Nathan!" Sam screamed loudly, defending his best friend again. "Sam… thanks… you're always defending me like this. Thanks." Nathan mumbled while embracing his best friend tightly as he let the tears fall.

"Well, I don't care what you boys think of me. But, we have to fix this problem whether you like it or not. I have a job to keep. Now, be a good boy and go call Ashley now. Tell her you're sorry and that you'll be her boyfriend. Later on, at the press conference, you will declare that it is indeed true that you barged into Ashley's room, and say that you did that because you were madly in love with her. Then, say that Ashley forgave you and you are now a couple! Then, we'll make a movie starring the both of you!" Mr. Carlson stated the last sentence excitedly while thinking about the big sum of cash he would earn when that becomes a blockbuster hit movie. "No…" Nathan whispered with a shivering tone. "What did you say?" Mr. Carlson asked angrily.

"I won't do it! It's not even true! I never even went to her house, plus, I don't even like her at all, not one bit, I tell you!" He cried out while his profuse tears burst out. "Let me tell you this, Nathan, in case you didn't know, showbiz is all about lying." Lying… Lying… Lying… It rang in MNM's mind repeatedly that it made him go nuts. "He doesn't have to say that! Why can't you tell the truth that Ashley Muston's the real liar?" Sam yelled while patting MNM's back. "Of course we can't do that! We have to protect Ashley's reputation, too, or else, ratings will go down and…" Mr. Carlson explained, then, MNM suddenly whispered something. "I'm sorry… I can't lie…" MNM whispered at Sam's ear. "I'm sorry, Sam… I can't… take it… anymore." He said in between sniffs. Then, he without warning, he pushed Sam hard on the chest, ran past Mr. Carlson, roughly pushed all the bodyguards blocking his way and ran out of the room while crying. He ran through the long and empty halls of the grandiose and flamboyant hotel to escape from the life he loathed so much.

"Get him!" Mr. Carlson ordered the bodyguards angrily. The dozen bodyguards in black suits and black shades ran out of the room and quickly searched high and low for MNM. Mr. Carlson yelled. "Samuel Hartwell! This is your entirefault! You instigated Nathan to defy me! You supported him, damn it!" Sam simply shrugged his shoulders indifferently while whistling innocently. "Damn! I was even so considerate enough to arrange a press conference for that boy!" Mr. Carlson ran out of the room, slammed the door, and frantically search for MNM. Mr. Carlson's job relies solely in MNM's career. As soon as Mr. Carlson was out of sight, Sam smiled widely while chuckling. He whispered. "Go for it, Nathan. I know that you're strong; you can escape… and don't worry about me. Good luck, bro. I'm proud of you… This time, you will learn how to stand on your own feet and you won't need me for protection anymore. You can take care of yourself." Then, a tear fell from his eyes as he bowed his head. With a sigh, Sam whispered. "Although, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss you. I will, pal. I will, so darn much."

MNM quickly ran towards the nearest elevator. The bodyguards and Mr. Carlson were nearing him. With an extreme adrenaline rush, he hid under a mahogany table and waited for the elevator to close in front of him. Mr. Carlson and the bodyguards were deceived by the very smart MNM. They all thought that he rode the elevator. All of them used the other elevator to chase him. MNM snickered naughtily while wiping his tears. He was feeling afraid, lost and confused. However, that didn't stop him from doing what he wanted to. He forgot everything rational and just listened to his heart's desire. He wanted to escape so badly. He was a coward, yes, he admitted that. But he knew that this wasn't what would make him happy. He had to make a decision, a life changing one.

He carefully got out under the chair and tiptoed his way out of the place so as to not get caught. Suddenly, he felt a hand tap his shoulder and his blood ran cold. He swallowed hard and squeezed his fist. "I'm caught…" He thought grimly with a loud exhale.