"Good afternoon everyone, I'm Casey Donovan and I'll be your hostess with the mostess for the next 30 minutes. I trust you've all had a fantastic day. Now sit back, relax and let me take you on a little musical journey."
It was easy to forget about Campbell for just this short time. I love performing, and music just carries me away and when the crowd gets as involved as this one did, dancing around, getting into the songs, I get swept away in the charade of it all.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you've been amazing. Thank you so much for getting involved, especially to those who got up and had a boogie. It has come to the end of my time up here on stage, and I'd like to leave you with one of my all-time favourite songs. To all the ladies out there I dedicate this song to you, because you are all beautiful. And if your man is here, guys, I want you to hold your beautiful and sexy lady close and let her know that she is a natural woman."
As the music started, I realised what I had just said. Tears welled in my eyes as I sung the first verse and chorus of Aretha Franklin's classic (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. But the lyrics in this song spoke to me that night. I felt every emotion and I believed everything I was singing.
Everything I'd felt about Campbell was hidden in the lyrics of this song. I felt numb. Just as I was about to sing the high note going into the bridge, I choked up. Normally when I sang this song, I imagined me and Campbell, happy together. But today, my emotions got the better of me and tears streamed down my face.
I finished the song and took my bow. "Thank you all so much once again, you have been fantastic. Don't mind me being a big sooky la-la. Maybe I'll be someone's natural woman one day. Have a great rest of the day."
I placed the microphone on its stand and left the stage as swiftly as I could. My manager, Jason, walked over to me; he understood that something wasn't right. After signing some autographs, I walked back to my dressing room, desperate to wipe off my make-up, put on my jeans and T-shirt and get home.
"Casey, what's going on?" I froze.
"Nothing. Everything's fine." He looked at me the way he does when he knows I'm lying – he raises his eyes and frowns at the same time. "It's the boyfriend, isn't it? When are you going to get over him and move on to someone who makes you happy?"
Jason is always so matter-of-fact and to the point, which I love about him. Hanging my head in shame, I didn't even try to raise my face to him.
"It's over. I finished it. It's done. I couldn't do it any more."
I could tell he was rolling his eyes. "Oh well. Time to move on."
Jason and I headed home. I was very tense on the drive. All my energy went into not breaking down, my eyes fixed on the road. I gripped the steering wheel and took a massive breath before I caught myself blurting out the words I never wanted to say out loud.
"I've never seen him."
I caught Jason off-guard. He looked at me, confused, not quite sure what I was talking about. "I've never seen him. Campbell, I mean. I've never met him, have never actually been with him. I've only ever spoken to him on the phone." I put one hand over my mouth, like I was trying to put the words back in. It tasted horrible and gritty, finally admitting it to someone.
Jason put his hand to his forehead. "Wait. What? Are you serious?"
My stomach turned. I felt sick. "Yes, I'm serious." I paused. "Olga is the only one who knows that I've never met him," I say, referring to my best friend. "The only one who knows the truth."
Jason sat there, stunned. "Okay, let me get this straight. You have never met or seen this guy in person?"
In my head, I kept repeating to myself that I had to be honest. "No. No, I haven't."
"So Olga is the only one who has ever met him? Have you tried to see him? Wait a second. You've told me before that you'd met him."
I was confused thinking about it – and I was the one who had lived it. Of course Jason would be confused. I started getting angry. Not at Jason, but at myself for being so stupid. I broke down, sobbing, the kind of sobbing that steals your breath away.
"I've lived this every day for the last six years. I know it sounds crazy. And now I don't know what to do. I'm hanging on by a thread."
I could feel Jason's eyes burning through me. "So if Olga knows him, why hasn't she taken you to his house? Or called him, made him come and see you? Does he call you when she's around? Shit, Casey, this isn't right."
I caught my breath and just started to talk. "She's shown me his house, but we never got out of the car and he never calls when she's around. When I'm with her, he's not contactable. It does my head in. Sometimes I've even thought it could be her, but she's my best friend. She wouldn't do that to me. I tell her everything. I even asked her one night, I asked her if it was her and if he was real. She just laughed it off and told me not to be stupid. I'm like her sister, her best friend. I figured it was just a guy pretending to be something he wasn't."
I stopped talking and rubbed my head. I had a raging headache. How had I fallen into this trap? We were both silent. The only sounds were the hum of the car engine and my heart beating at a thousand miles per hour.
Jason broke the silence. "Really, Case. I'm going to ask and I don't want you to get angry, but have you considered it may be her? She is the only person you know who has met him. You can only contact one of them at a time. It's pretty clear-cut, don't you think?"
I didn't want to believe him, but hearing someone else say it made it sound so obvious. How could someone you trust do that to you?
"I don't know what to do, Jase. I've tried to get myself out of it. I've tried asking her, but she's … persuasive. There's an answer for everything and she makes me doubt even the most obvious of things." I looked at him, desperate for help.
"Right, let's go." "Go where?" I asked.
I didn't feel ready for a confrontation.
"We're getting Chris [Jason's partner] and we're going to Campbell's home. Let's see if he's real."
"Right." Jason had a bee in his bonnet about this and he wanted to get to the bottom of it. It was what I needed – another perspective from someone who was strong enough to make me take action.
I was nervous. Jason told me to trust him. "We need to do this. You need to do this, Casey. And, if he doesn't live there, Olga will seal her fate when you ring her and ask her to point out his house again."
Excellent. I can do this. Sounds easy. After picking up Chris, we pulled up outside the house Olga had previously claimed was Campbell's. There was no way I was going to the door, so we made Chris go. He's such a nice and non-threatening guy. If Campbell was there, Chris wouldn't intimidate him. Jason would probably punch him and I'd probably do the same.
Jason and I sat in the car, watching Chris walk to the front door. While we waited, I said to Jason: "If he doesn't live here, I'll feel like such an idiot. More than once I've dropped Christmas gifts or 'I'm sorry' gifts at the front door, and he'd always call and say thank you. If he doesn't live here, where did they go? Surely Olga didn't drive here just to pick them up."
We looked at Chris at the front door, waiting. Even though I didn't expect it to happen, I was half waiting for a hot bald guy matching Olga's description of Campbell to answer the door.
The house actually turned out to be a group of units. Chris knocked on the door of one and a lady answered. We saw him talk for a minute or two, gesturing to the lady, who looked confused. He tried one or two of the other units, but there was no answer. When Chris came back to the car, he had bad news.
"Sorry Case. No guy called Campbell lives here."
Edited extract from Big, Beautiful & Sexier (New Holland) by Casey Donovan, out now.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale August 19.