Drop Our Guard
She's independent and beautiful; wish I could be like her. She's got the girls and the boys so wrapped around her finger. Rumor is she's some kind of dream. Nobody knows she cries herself to sleep.
He's on the top of the social scene, he's stylish cool and clever. He's got a cool attitude that screams he's got it all together. You'd think he's addicted to himself, but he wishes he could be someone else.
We are not that different from each other. We just want somebody to discover, who we really are when we drop our guard.
"We" – Joy Williams.
Gabriella Ducot was breathing heavily and covered in a sheen of sweat when she finally stumbled backstage. Her long, light blonde hair was hanging in damp clumps around her face and shoulders, and the halter top and hipster three quarter tights that she was wearing felt tight and restrictive; a second skin that was a size too small. Her feet were killing her, and the stilettos weren't helping. Massaging her toes, she took a seat and closed her eyes for a moment as the beat of the music pulsed through her head amidst the cheers of the crowd.
Neonfire was in full swing that night, with the dance club packed to capacity. The bouncers were turning people away, and when Gabriella had been on stage all she could see was a seething wave of people. Thankfully, she had some time to herself before she had to go back out there, and swinging around in her seat, she scooped up her laptop.
"Gabby! Oh my god, you were great out there tonight!" another one of the dancers – Stephanie – gushed, flicking her dyed blonde ponytail back over her shoulder. Stephanie was like every other dancer at Neonfire – young, slender, model-worthy attractive, and as bubbly as could be. She was happy with her lot in life, as were most of the dancers. They got paid more than they would in any other city job that they would be qualified for, and all of the prerequisites were things that they had been born with – beauty, and the ability to dance. Very little thinking was required, and that suited the dancers just fine.
"Thanks Steph. Good luck out there! The crowd's pretty wild tonight," Gabriella replied with a beaming smile. Yet once the other girl had bounced away to the wings to await her queue, the smile fell as Gabriella's hazel eyes focused on her laptop screen.
Opening up a browser window, Gabriella took advantage of the Internet hot spot that the club had and typed in a My Space address. Settling back, she gave the screen her undivided attention as the sounds of the club melted away.
"Jake, is this wild or not? I told ya you'd love this place!" Ryan Larkin yelled into his mate's ear, and Jacob Preston nodded his head in response. Wild was definitely one word for the crowds at Neonfire that night. Good luck getting to the front of the stage; they were crammed up eight deep down there. The two girls that were going through their teasing routine – one with a blonde ponytail that looked dyed, and the other a vibrant red-head – were every bit the perfect entertainment. They were gorgeous, and Jacob allowed his green eyes to wander over their slender figures, taking in every detail.
Seated at a table in the balcony area, Jacob lifted the lid of his laptop and opened a browser window. His mate noticed what he was doing and scowled.
"I drag you to the hottest place in town, and what do you do? You surf the web," Ryan said with a shake of his head. "Wait until Gabby comes back out. We missed her first two numbers, but she's due back on for a third soon enough. Its worth it just to see her, trust me," he said, and Jacob actually raised an eyebrow at him.
"What's she got that the other's haven't? It had better be something good, seeing as I had to pull several strings just to get us in here so late," he complained, and Ryan laughed.
"Just wait and see. What are you looking at anyway?" he wanted to know, scooting his chair over so that he could see the laptop screen. "You're reading a Live Journal? Here of all places?" he asked incredulously.
"It's a music journal," Jacob replied distractedly. "You know that band that I've got playing in the car at the moment?" he asked, and Ryan nodded. "She put me on to them," he finished, pointing at the laptop screen.
"Ella … is that pronounced duck-et?" Ryan asked, reading the name at the top of the journal. Jacob frowned.
"I think it's pronounced doo-co," he said, and Ryan just shrugged his shoulders.
"Whatever. The point is that you should be paying attention to the girls, not the laptop," he said, reaching over and closing the machine. With a sigh, Jacob turned his attention back towards the stage.
"Gabby, baby, you ready to go back on again?" Jackson Allen asked as he appeared in front of the young woman, forcing her eyes up and away from her laptop. "The crowd loves ya, and so do I," the portly proprietor added with a cheesy grin, and Gabriella suppressed a shudder.
"I'm good to go, but actually I wanted to have a quick word with you. See, I know this band that I think would work really well here, and I was wondering if you could give them a go? They're not signed or anything, but they could do with the exposure. I've got their My Space loaded if you wanted to take a quick look?" she said, gesturing to the laptop, yet Jackson waved it away.
"Gabby, I don't need you worrying your pretty little head about the music. That's what our audio guys are for. All I need you to do is get out there and give the customers what they want," he said, steering her towards the stage wings.
"Okay, so maybe you could pass the message on to the guys in audio then?"
"I'll think about it, sweetie. Now get out there," he replied, and as she stepped onto the stage, Gabriella knew that there was no way that Jackson Allen would pass the idea on.
"Dude, there she is. That's Gabby," Ryan said, and Jacob looked up from his drink and beheld a woman who should have been on a runway in Paris, not a dance club in Sydney. Where as the other girls had been gorgeous, Gabby had a certain air about her that put her in a league of her own. The way that she moved, and the way that she carried herself; she knew exactly what to do to make the crowd go wild. Unlike the other girls, her eyes seemed to not just sparkle, but to flash with a depth of intelligence that the others seemed to lack. She was a wild cat, luring her prey in with her cute charms before she pounced.
"She's amazing," Jacob managed to whisper, and Ryan laughed.
"That's Gabby," was all he said in response. The two young men fell silent as they watched Gabby's dance, and not even once did Jacob's eyes drift back towards his laptop.
Down below, the crowd was working itself into a frenzy that escalated until a young man had climbed up onto the stage with the dancer. Gabby didn't seem phased in the slightest, and treated the lucky man to a personal dance before the security guards dragged him off of the stage. The cheering and whistles were so loud that it was hard to hear the music, and when the routine finally ended it was to a chorus of "encore!"
"Let's go. Gabby's the best dancer here, so there's really no point in staying now that she's done her bit," Ryan said as he rose to his feet. Jacob took a moment to collect his laptop before following his best mate out of the club and onto the street.
"Are you going home, or are you crashing at mine?" Jacob asked as he pulled out his car keys and hit the beeper. The lights on a brand new black Porsche flashed for a moment as the two young men approached.
Ryan frowned. "I left my dad's Benz at your place, so I'd better stop in and get it," he replied as he opened the passenger side door and slipped inside. Jacob gave a nod as he slipped into the driver's side, before starting the car and pulling out into the street, disappearing into the night.
Gabriella dropped her keys onto the hallstand before collapsing onto her couch. She couldn't even be bothered getting up to turn on the lights, she was that drained. What was worse, the night had ended badly for the young dancer.
"Look, can you please just ask the audio guys to play one or two tracks?"
"Gabby, I'm not paying you to pick music. I'm paying you to dance."
"I know that, but I think their music could really fit with the club."
"Did you know that I have a whole cabinet filled with applications from young girls who are dying to get a place here?"
"Then don't cross me."
The conversation that had taken place at the end of the night haunted her, and Gabriella could feel the tears building in her eyes. Any moment now they were going to tumble down her cheeks, she just knew it.
It hadn't always been like this for the young woman. Two years ago she had lived in a small town far from the city, and she had had dreams of becoming a music journalist. Her best friend fronted a band that was slowly creeping into high popularity on My Space, and Gabriella had always been there to help support them.
Moving to the city, she had had no luck in getting any work writing, no matter where she tried. Everyone had turned her down, and so she had turned to her other talent – dancing. Landing the job at Neonfire had been a mixed blessing. The money that she was earning allowed her to stay in the city and continue to look for that elusive writing career, yet the position didn't seem to cater for someone with even a shred of intellect. Gabriella was a smart girl with lots of ideas, and Jackson hated that. He probably would have let her go by now if it wasn't for the fact that so many customers came just to see her.
With a sniffle, Gabriella rolled off of her couch and dragged over her laptop. Sitting on the ragged carpet of her tiny lounge room, she opened up her Live Journal and began a new entry.
Jacob Preston had it all – wealth, prestige, and even enough celebrity that people knew his name. His father – Maxwell Preston – was a hotel millionaire, and Jacob was set to inherit the entire empire one day. Yet what he didn't have right at that moment was an Internet connection.
"I would sell my Porsche for a hot spot," he grumbled as he waited for his father to come out of a press conference. He was doing his best to look inconspicuous at a small café, yet the wait staff keep glancing his way and giggling. It was annoying.
Cacophony Of Noise was supposed to be releasing a new track onto their My Space page that day, and Jacob had wanted to get online and try to beat the masses before the server jammed. No such luck. He had been forced to accompany his father to the press conference for 'publicity reasons', which basically meant that he just had to be there for the cameras, not for his actual opinion. He would have rather stayed at home and downloaded the new song.
"Here is a sample of their latest lyrics," he read, pulling up the Live Journal page that he had loaded before leaving home that morning.
"You can't see the truth inside the lies
And you're a victim of your own disguise
This is the start of your demise
And now you're finally beginning to realise."
"The band's latest song, Breaking You, goes online at midday, Australian Eastern Standard Time on the 10th of March, so don't miss it! It is without a doubt a must-have track from the up and coming My Space band."
Jacob glanced at his watch. It was half past two, and the conference was supposed to be over by now. As usual, it had run over time, and his father was once again interrupting his life.
"Never gives a damn about what I want to do," he grumbled, closing his laptop and deciding to take a walk across the street to the park. Might as well get away from the staring waitresses. Crossing the road, Jacob bounded up the gutter and nearly smacked into a young woman who had just come down a flight of stairs from the raised park.
"Sorry," she mumbled, balancing a cardboard cup of coffee, as well as an Apple laptop.
"No, it's my fault. I should have been paying more attention," Jacob replied, before his green eyes properly took in the girl that stood before him. "Hey, aren't you that girl from Neonfire? Gabby, right?" he said, and the girl's hazel eyes widened.
"Oh, yeah. Um, I have to go," she mumbled, pushing past him and disappearing into the crowd before Jacob could go after her.
Corey Taylor was sitting at a table outside of Starbucks when Gabriella finally arrived. Corey was a young man around the same age as Gabriella, and the pair had known each other since pre-school. With his dark brown hair that brushed the top of his shoulders in wavy clumps, dark chocolate eyes and clothes that seemed to be held together by chains and safety pins, he looked every bit the front man of an up and coming rock band. He and two other mates – brothers, Chris and Jordan Phelps – made up the My Space band known as Cacophony Of Noise, of which Gabriella also played an important role. She had co-written their first song with Corey, as well as several more of their tracks, and the publicity that she gave the band on her Live Journal page also helped to reel avid music listeners in.
"Ella, you made it!" Corey called out with a smile, standing up to embrace his childhood friend.
"Yeah sorry, I got stuck at work, going over some of the routines with the girls. I swear, it's in one ear and out the other with them," she grumbled, flopping down into a chair and setting her laptop onto the table. Corey frowned at her.
"I don't know how you put up with that place," he said, and Gabriella sighed.
"It's the only source of income that I have at the moment. Besides, it's not all that bad."
"You get paid to shake your arse at drunk men," he pointed out, and Gabriella had to concede his point. Lifting the lid on her laptop, she joined the nearest hot spot and opened a browser window.
"Wow, 827 downloads, and it's only been online for three hours," she said, and Corey gave a mock bow, smiling like the cat that ate the canary.
"What can I say? When you've got it, you've got it," he said, and Gabriella snorted.
"Who wrote most of that song?" she said, and Corey laughed.
"Yeah, but who put your fabulous writing to awesome music?" he shot back, and Gabriella waved his comment away as she loaded a local news page.
"Hey, I know that guy," she said, staring at the image that was on the screen. It was showing a photo of an older man and his son, and Gabriella's hazel eyes were fixed firmly onto the young, golden brown haired man. He was wearing a suit that was probably Italian – it looked that expensive, anyway – and was being ushered through a crowd of people when the photo had been taken.
"Are you kidding? That's Jacob Preston," Corey said as he leant over to get a look at the picture. Seeing Gabriella's puzzled look, he elaborated. "He's the son of Maxwell Preston, the guy who owns the Preston hotels. Basically, he's a smaller version of the Hilton Empire."
"I ran into him on my way over here, fancy suit and all," Gabriella said with a look of disbelief. Corey laughed.
"You ran into Jacob Preston? Yeah right," he said with a chuckle, and Gabriella glared at him.
"I know who I saw, and that's him," she shot back, pointing at the picture.
"Whatever," Corey said, trying to smother his laughter. "But seriously, when are you going to ditch the club scene? Your mum keeps asking me to ask you to come home," he said, and Gabriella groaned, all thoughts of Jacob Preston forgotten for the moment.
"I keep telling her to stop pestering you," she apologised. "But I don't know when I'm gonna come home. I'm not ready to give up just yet. And hey, I could say the same thing about you – when are you and the boys gonna land that big record deal? You promised me royalties, remember?" she shot back, and Corey chuckled.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. We'll see. Who knows? Maybe our big break is just around the corner."
"Yeah, hiding behind an oncoming bus," Gabriella countered, smiling affectionately at her best friend, and enjoying the rare opportunity to spend some quality time with him.
His guitar was out of tune, and Jacob was busy fixing the strings when his mother walked into his room. She saw him frowning as he bent over his acoustic guitar, making tiny adjustments to the tension in the strings, and hated having to pull him away.
"Jacob, your father wants to see you in his office," she finally said, causing her son's head to snap up and look in her direction. She hadn't exactly been stealthy, yet the young man had failed to notice her arrival.
"Right now?" he asked, still leaning over his guitar. His mother nodded, causing Jacob to sigh. "He always knows how to pick the best times, doesn't he?" he grumbled, laying his guitar down on his bed, before following his mother out of his room.
The Preston estate – like any other wealthy estate – was huge, and it took several minutes for the pair to navigate the hallways that led to Maxwell Preston's home office. Opening the door, Jacob walked inside and stood before his father.
"I hope this won't take long. I have a guitar that badly needs tuning," he said only half in jest, and his father gave a sigh as he motioned for his son to take a seat.
"I'd like you to be serious for a moment, if you could," he started, and Jacob nodded.
"I always am."
"Well then, I hope that you will seriously consider this offer. I've arranged a place for you in the country's leading university, enrolled in business finance and management. It's about time that you furthered your studies, and I think that this is the perfect opportunity for you to do so," Maxwell explained, and for a moment Jacob didn't know what to say.
"You want to send me away to university?" he finally managed to ask, and his father gave a firm nod.
"I want you to have the best possible start when it comes to managing this company, and this is the best way to achieve that."
"Right," Jacob said with a nod, looking as if he were seriously considering the proposal. In reality, his mind was still upstairs with his guitar. "Let me think it over, and I'll get back to you," he added diplomatically as he stood up and made to leave the room.
"Jacob?" his father called, and the young man paused for a moment, casting a glance back over his shoulder. "This is your future that we're talking about here, remember that."
'You're wrong,' he thought as he left the room. 'It's the future that you want me to have, not the one that I actually want.'
Neonfire was winding down for the night, and as Gabriella sat backstage, she watched the last dancer – an Asian beauty named Mei – stumble down the small flight of stairs that led down from the stage to the backstage area.
"I am so glad that's over," she said with a relieved giggle, and Gabriella gave her a warm smile as she shut her laptop down. She didn't mind Mei. The girl actually had some common sense inside of her pretty little head.
"You and me both," Gabriella replied as she slipped her laptop into its bag and stood up. "I'll catch you later, Mei."
"Yeah, see ya Gabby," Mei replied with a yawn as the blonde star dancer slipped out of the back door.
Even before the door had slammed shut behind her, Gabriella knew that she wasn't alone in the side street behind the club. Someone had been waiting behind the door, and for a moment her heart leapt into her throat as she envisioned some drunken man hoping to get lucky with one of the dancers. However, when she looked properly, her eyes recognised the messy light brown hair and cute baby face of Jacob Preston. Gabriella regarded him for a moment, before making to walk past him.
"Aren't you even gonna say hello?" Jacob asked, causing Gabriella to pause for a moment.
"I don't want to get involved in whatever it is you're doing here, Jacob Preston," she replied, letting him know that she knew exactly who he was.
"And what do you think I'm doing here, Gabriella Ducot?" he asked in a playful tone of voice, and the young woman rounded on him.
"I don't know what you're doing here, but leave me out of it," she snapped, turning on her heels and storming away from him.
"That ain't music, it's a cacophony of noise," Jacob said in an offhand manner, yet it stopped the young dancer in her tracks. Turning around, her irritation melted into a look of confusion.
"How do you-?"
"It's the first article of yours that I ever read, Ella," he replied, putting an emphasis on her nickname. "It was also the article that linked me to this awesome My Space band that you always seem to rave so much about," he added as he pushed away from the wall and started towards Gabriella.
"You listen to Cacophony Of Noise?" she asked in disbelief, and Jacob gave a small laugh.
"Is that so hard to believe?" he asked, and Gabriella fidgeted slightly under his piercing green eyes. "I've got every single song that they've released to date, from That Ain't Music to their newest one, Breaking You," he added, and Gabriella shook her head in wonderment.
"Wow," she said, lost for anything else to say. "So … why are you here?" she finally managed to ask, and Jacob shrugged.
"I did some poking around, and I found a picture of you with the band. I recognised you from the club, so I figured I'd stop by."
"But why?" Gabriella wanted to know, and Jacob took a step closer.
"Because you interest me," he replied, stepping so close that she could have reached out and touched him. But then he stepped past her, heading towards the main street.
"I don't understand," she said as she whirled around. "What's so interesting about me?" she demanded to know, hardly believing that she had managed to catch the attention of someone like Jacob Preston.
Jacob seemed to consider his answer for a moment. "The first time that I saw you here at the club, you reminded me of a cat," he started, and Gabriella snorted.
"Oh great," she said sarcastically, and Jacob smiled at her, giving his face an oddly cheeky attitude.
"The other dancers reminded me of kittens. They're cute, playful, and designed to make you love them without having to think too much about it. They're adorable because they don't know any better. But you on the other hand, are a cat. Probably something like a leopard, actually. You know you're gorgeous, and you know just how to lure people in. You make them follow you, give you their undivided attention, and then you pounce and rip them to shreds," he finished, and then he laughed. "Actually, that was my second impression of you. My first was that you should be on a runway in Paris, not a seedy dance club in Sydney, but you get the point. You caught my interest, and when I found out that you were Ella Ducot, I knew that I just had to come and meet you face to face."
"You got all of that just from watching me on stage?" Gabriella asked, a little overwhelmed.
"Yeah, but seeing you earlier today also helped. It's not every day that you see dancers toting expensive Apple laptops," he pointed out, and Gabriella had to laugh as she adjusted the weight of her shoulder bag that carried the very machine that he'd seen her with.
"I sort of never leave home without it," she admitted, and Jacob gave a knowing nod as they stepped out onto the main street. It was late, and the city was strangely quiet, meaning that Gabriella easily spotted the black car that Jacob was heading towards.
"Can I give you a lift home?" he offered with a grin as Gabriella stood with her mouth open slightly.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me. You own a Porsche," she breathed, letting her hazel eyes trace the smooth contours of the super car.
"Yup. A 911 Carrera GT, actually," he replied, opening the passenger door for her. "Cacophony is in the CD player, by the way," he added with a grin as Gabriella peered inside of the car.
"No kidding," she breathed, poking the leather seats, and marveling at just how meticulously clean the interior was. Her own car back home had never looked this clean, even when it was new. It was usually covered in dirt, and full of sand and gravel.
"So, do you want a ride? I promise that I'm not going to kidnap you or anything," he said with a laugh, and after only a moment's consideration, Gabriella slipped into the soft leather seat and pulled the door shut.
"Only because it's a Porsche, and you've got good taste in music," she said as Jacob slipped into the driver's seat, shooting her an enquiring look.
"Whatever you say, Ella," he said as he started the car. A moment later the CD player came to life, and Gabriella recognised the tune of Average Venom coming from the speakers, before she was forced back into her seat as the Porsche roared to life, leaving her inwardly squealing with delight.
Author's Note – So there's chapter one done. I'm trying something different with this, and going for a 'no fantasy' approach. It's interesting to do, let me tell you that! Anyway, please review and let me know what you think! More will be coming soon, I promise!