In Which It Begins

After a painful seventh period with Elva- my transcendentalist, Thoreau obsessed, call-me-by-my-first-name English teacher, I was not particularly cheerful. I literally threw my copy of Walden into my locker, slammed it shut, and came face to face with Smithfield "Smiths" Caughton, former fellow jazz band member.

"Good Afternoon beautiful." He said, smiling slightly. Smiths and I had a falling out awhile back and hadn't spoken the whole school year.

"What do you want?" I asked, bluntly.

"I like Zoe's style, straight to the point. It's good, right Petey?" Smiths asked and I turned around to see Petey Lakehurst, token hot Australian boy, lounging against the locker next to mine.

"Good enough." He said giving me a quick once over. I blushed and turned back to Smiths.

"So, what do you want?" I asked, hefting my backpack strap over one shoulder and starting my trip out of the school.

"I, that is, we," Smiths pointed to himself and then Petey, "need you to come play with us, well our band."

"Ah. Yes. I don't do bands, sorry."

"Why not? Zoe, We're in desperate need of a good drummer. Rob's girlfriend made him quit the band and we have our first ever real gig tomorrow night."

"So it's not that you need a good drummer, you just need a drummer and fast. I'm sure you should be able to find a mediocre percussionist in the pit. You hardly need me." I pointed out.

"No. We're serious musicians which means we need a serious drummer, not some random sophomore who decided to play drums so he wouldn't have to be in the marching band. And besides, you're the only person I know who actually plays real drums, like a drum set." Smiths' pleading was almost pathetic.

"What is this 'gig' of yours?" I asked.

"The Coffeehouse agreed to let us have a thirty minute set before Radio Beasts go on tomorrow night." Smiths explained. I stared blankly at him. "You know, Radio Beasts, the only band in this town even close to getting a recording contract."

"You should know I don't listen to that kind of music." I countered. "And I don't play it either. Sorry boys but you're looking at the wrong girl." If there was one thing I hated in the world it was being used.

"Come on Smiths. Cole was right about her not doing it. Let's just get out of here." Petey said

"Cole? Cole Fayden is in your band?"

Smiths nodded and Petey simply lifted an eyebrow, mildly amused. Cole and I are exact opposites. Cole is tall, I'm short, Cole has straight blonde hair, I have curly brown hair, Cole is a Republican tree killer and I'm a card-carrying liberal, Cole is confrontational and passionate about everything he does and I'm more reserved. We've been in school together since kindergarten and hated each other since the first day.

"And he said I wouldn't do it?"

Smiths nodded again and Petey lifted his other eyebrow.

"What time do you practice?"

And so I found myself in Smiths' basement, learning and making up drum parts to a few of their band's original songs. Some of them were kind of good, others were not. They were all really easy to play the drums for but whenever I tried improvising or making the drum part a bit tougher, Cole would glare at me. Cole played lead guitar and sang. Smiths played bass guitar and Petey played whatever other instrument the song needed- keyboard, rhythm guitar, and in one song, a harmonica. Smiths wasn't a bad back-up singer and all together, we were much better than I expected.

After three hours of practice on Friday night and four Saturday during the day "Whimsicality" took the stage Saturday night at eight. I twirled my drumstick and we were off. There weren't many people in the crowd at first so it was super awkward to be playing pop rock to no one. After a few more people showed up, our energy was way up and we even got a bit of cheering at the end of our last song.

I packed up my kit and Smiths helped me load it into my minivan.

"We've got another gig next Friday." He said.

"That's nice." I replied.

"Well we sort of thought… you'd like to stick around? Just until we find another drummer that is. We don't want to take up too much your time."

"I'll help next week on one condition- tell Cole to let me play what I want. The rhythm parts are so boring!"

"I'll see what I can do." Smiths went back inside the club for a few minutes and when he came back, Cole and Petey were with him.

"Cole has agreed on his own condition- you write down whatever you come up with for our next drummer."

I rolled my eyes. A true drummer doesn't really write anything down. In jazz band we just improvise most of the time and when we don't, it's very simple stuff.

"I guess. I'll see you next Friday then." I get in my car and close the door.

"Thanks. You're the best Zoe." Smiths said.

"Well-played." Petey agreed.

Cole grunted and kicked at a piece of gravel. I rolled my eyes. Boys.

We practiced twice more the next week and, I hate to brag, we sounded a lot better with more upbeat percussion. Smiths started to pick up off the drums and improvised a little on bass and it was almost like when we were back in jazz band together, making it up as we went along. Petey wasn't quite good enough to riff on guitar but he was a surprisingly good pianist I discovered. Cole was the only one not happy with our improv and every time we started to goof off he'd shift attention back to "the real music" also known as his music. Each practice I left with a headache from grinding my teeth so hard every time he started to annoy me.

Friday night came and went as quickly as the week before. We had a bigger audience, more energy, and more enthusiastic applause. After the performance, some random guy came up to us.

"Do you guys have a demo or anything? I'd love to try it out on the air."

"Oh sure, if you come to our show tomorrow night we can give it to you then." Smiths said, way more eagerly than he'd said anything all week long. The guy nodded and left.

"Do you know who that was?" Smiths asked excitedly when we got outside.

"Santa frickin' Claus?" Petey guessed, lighting up a cigarette, unenthusiastic as always.

"It was Rob Rusty. You know the DJ on the "Hot 99" morning show?"

I stared at Smiths blankly, Cole scratched his head and Petey exhaled a smoke ring.

"I can't believe you guys. It's like the music of today station! Ever teeny bopper in this town listens to it?"

"I don't want a bunch of teeny boppers listening to my music." Cole said.

"This could be our shot!" Smiths argued.

"We don't even have a demo anyways." Petey said.

"You don't even have a drummer." I said.

All three of them looked at me then turned back to their fight.

"We have to take every opportunity that's handed to us." Smiths said.

"I'm not selling out." Cole disagreed.

"Who said anything about selling out? He's just going to play our song once. We don't have to change anything for him. It can't hurt to give it a chance."

Petey shrugged. Cole rolled his eyes. All three boys looked to me.

"Fine."

And just like that I was a member of "Whimsicality".

Early Saturday morning. I awoke to some kind of large beast sitting on my back.

"What the hell." I groaned and tried to push the weight off me.

"Time to rise and shine beautiful. We have a demo to make." Smiths said.

I punched him in the arm and pushed him off of me then rolled over.

"We'll make the demo in four hours when I've had enough sleep." I told him.

"Cole says we start practicing now. The demo has to be ready for tonight's show."

"I didn't even know we had a show tonight." I whined and pulled the comforter around me tighter.

"Petey's older brother runs a bar and so he said we could play for awhile tonight. Now get out of the bed." With that Smiths yanked my comforter and sheets of the bed. I grabbed for them but it was too late. Smiths had a full view of my barely there shorts and freakishly long legs. I'm short, only 5'2'' but my legs are incredibly long and my body is the size of a thimble. Actually, I've been described as a marshmallow on toothpicks. I try to hide my legs, with baggy jeans, longish skirts, long shirts even to make my body look longer, and I avoid shorts at all costs. Girls always say they want long legs but you have no idea how difficult it is to find size 4 jeans with 34 inch inseams. It actually totally sucks to be completely disproportionate.

"Holy shit your legs are like…" Smiths stared.

"I know. Really disgustingly long. Can you please get out of my room?" I asked as my face became flushed.

"Uh… yeah." Smiths stood staring at my legs for at least another ten seconds before I could find a blanket to wrap around myself.

"Out!" I pointed and Smiths finally got the hint. I quickly threw on jeans and a long t-shirt and after brushing my teeth headed downstairs. Smiths was sitting at my kitchen table, chatting with my mother over a cup of coffee.

"Good Morning honey! Smithfield was just telling me about your little band." My mom is clueless. Some mothers say they know about what teenagers do and they just refuse to believe their children do it. My mom actually doesn't have a clue. She thinks that most teenagers just sit at home and it's by freak accidents that a teenage girl gets pregnant or some guy dies of alcohol poisoning. She thinks that I'm the norm, that every teenager eats dinner with her family at seven each evening and makes good grades and goes to bed at ten.

I poured myself a bowl of cereal and scarffed it down for fear that Smiths would say something to my mother that might force her out of her clueless stage. While sometimes I wish she was a little smarter, there are definitely times it pays to have a dumb blonde for a mother.

"Come on Smiths. We have practice. Bye Mom. Love you and all that jazz." I dragged Smiths out right before he started talking about where we were playing that night. I prayed she would think we were at Chuck-E-Cheese or something.

"Your Mom's cute. I forgot."

"You haven't exactly been around much lately." I pointed out. Smiths and I used to be close. Freshman year we were the only two freshmen in jazz band and we just got along. We'd hang out most Friday nights, playing board games or something equally lame. Sophomore year we'd stopped hanging out regularly but we still had dinner after practice or jammed together once in awhile. Sometime during junior year though, Cole had invited him to play in his band and he'd just disappeared. This year he'd actually quit jazz band altogether over "artistic differences" with our director.

"Yeah. I know." Smiths had the decency to look embarrassed.

"Times change. Let's go." I hadn't unpacked my drum set from my van so I followed Smiths to Cole's house. When we arrived, Petey's car was out front and Petey himself was sitting on the hood, puffing away like a chimney.

"You're going to die of lung cancer one day." I predicted. Petey shrugged. I started walking up to the garage when all of the sudden I heard Petey exclaim "You're shitting me." I turned and saw Smiths smiling innocently and Petey smirking.

"Apparently you're hiding a fine pair of pipes." Petey drawled.

"Smiths! I'm going to kill you." I exclaimed, blushing furiously.

"Nothing to be ashamed of." Petey quipped.

"Shut up. Where's Cole?" I asked, desperate to switch topics.

"Right here." Cole said from behind me. "Lets start practicing. My uncle said we can go over to his place and lay down a few tracks later today."

"You have an uncle who just happens to have a recording studio in his house?" I asked.

Cole thought for a moment to see if there was a trap in my question and then nodded in agreement.

"How convenient."

Cole had decided we were going to play two of the songs he'd written- "Fifty Days", a boring ass emo song about some guy's girlfriend dying or something and "Letting Go" a sort of pop-rock anthem about partying.

"That's bull. We shouldn't just play boring shit. No one even likes Fifty Days except you." Petey spoke the words straight out of my mind.

"Well what do you suggest?" Cole asked.

"Why don't we do that cover of 99 red balloons?" I suggested.

"It's too Goldfinger." Cole said

"Then that Queen cover we played last night." Petey said.

"Fuck no. I don't want people comparing me to Freddie Mercury."

"First of all Freddie Mercury is a god among men, second of all, what about Smiths' song?" Petey suggested.

"That piece of first grade drabble?" Cole scoffed.

I looked at Smiths. "Your song?" He blushed. "Actually… um. Remember when we made up that song making fun of Becky Louise…"

"Oh, uh 'Life's too short to be a Vegetarian', you mean?".

"Yeah. Well, I kind of told the guys that I wrote it and… we've practiced it a few times."

"You told them you wrote it?"

"Wait so actually both of you wrote it?" Cole asked.

Smiths nodded.

"Well I like it a lot. It's funny as shit. It's different, it shows we've got edge." Petey argued. "And I'm just not playing freakin' 'Fifty Days'. We're not some mediocre emo wannabe rock band."

"You helped write it?" Cole asked again.

"Actually she wrote MOST of it. But yes." Smith said, grinning sheepishly. I glared at him.

"Fine. We'll do it." Cole consented.

"But I didn't even say we could!" I exclaimed.

"Too bad. Band vote. We win. You're playing it." Cole decided.

We did have something. It sounded fifty times better with Cole singing it instead of me and Smiths and with the added instruments it almost sounded like a real song somebody would put on the radio except for the fact the lyrics were complete nonsense. I was especially proud of the chorus I'd put together when I was just 14 years old "I wanna eat meat/do what I like, don't want to hear you/ tell me what to do. Get off my back, I like to eat the fat, you call yourself a humanitarian but life's too short to be a vegetarian."

Around one Smiths started complaining of hunger pangs and I realized I was starving as well.

"You guys are so unfocused." Cole complained but consented to a TacoBell run for me and Smiths and a 7-11 run for Petey to pick up some more cigarettes. We practiced for another hour and then headed over to Cole's uncle's house to record the tracks. When we listened to it for the first time I had to laugh.

"We sound like a real band or something." I observed, amazed.

"Yeah you do." His uncle told us. "Let me send this to one of my recording friends."

"Sweet!" Smiths exclaimed.

We packed up the instruments and agreed to meet at six for our gig that night.

"Hey Zoe." Petey called, right before I got in my car.

"What?"

"Wear shorts or something."

I flipped him off and got in the car.

Three days later I got a pass from the office in the middle of third period AP Spanish. I packed up and left the classroom and was immediately accosted by Smiths.

"Come on! I thought you'd never come out. Some recording guy called Cole and told him that he wants to meet us!"

"And this as so important it warranted forging a note and making me skip class?"

"Absolutely! The guy wants us to play for him right now! He was in town to listen to Radio Beasts and when he heard our demo he decided he'd listen to us but his flight leaves this afternoon so we have to go now!" While Smiths was talking he had basically been dragging me through the school. We reached the front door where Petey was leaning against his car, smoking of course, apparently waiting for us. We literally sped off towards Cole's uncle's house.

Rick Allen oozed charm and good taste. He waited patiently for us to set up and listened attentively for three and a half songs before standing up.

"You guys are good. I like it a lot. But what I really liked about the demo was the snappy lyrics, the playfulness. Do you guys have any more of that?"

We looked at each other anxiously. Smiths whispered in Coles' ear and then Petey's. They both nodded. Then he came back to stand behind me.

"So uh, Zoe, I know you're going to be pissed but… 'Life's too short' wasn't the only song I pretended I had written alone. So uh… be mad later and for now, play 'Go play in traffic'." I was mad, it hadn't been a collaborative effort- 'go play in traffic' was all me, but I played anyways. Cole and Smiths had worked out a really cool harmony and Cole actually played the most amazing guitar solo in the place where I had never really been able to fill anything in.

"Perfect!" Rick said at the end of the song. "Exactly what I needed to hear. I don't want to make any promises but you guys really have something here. I'll talk to my label about bringing you guys to LA and we'll see how it goes from there. Bring some more of those jokey songs and we really might have something."

"Thanks a lot man." Cole said. We all shook his hand and we sat quietly and calmly in place as he packed up his briefcase and walked out the door. The second his car pulled away though, Smiths and I started screaming like little girls. Even Petey let out a whoop or two. Smiths pulled me into such a big hug I wasn't even mad at him. Cole was the only one who remained quiet.

"What's your problem?" I asked.

"He didn't like our music. He liked your music. We have two songs. Great. That'll get us real far when we have to make a full record."

"Chill out man. We've got time." Smiths said.

I could tell Cole wasn't pissed about the time. He was pissed that his music wasn't the shit.

"Zoe can write some more lyrics and we can play them to your songs." Smiths suggested. Cole rolled his eyes and practically stomped upstairs in a hissy fit.

"What a drama queen." Petey observed.

The next day we got a call from Atlantic Records. The owner of the company and hottest music producer around, B. Higgins, wanted us to come play for him and if he liked it as much as he liked our demo, he wanted us to make an album. They sent us complimentary tickets to LA for that Friday. The issue was, we needed four or five more songs at least.

The doorbell rang Wednesday after school and I was somewhat surprised to see Cole standing there, guitar in hand.

"I'm sorry I'm an asshole sometimes. Would you please help me write some songs, oh exalted lyricist?" I was quite taken aback by his quite frank apology.

"Uh… I guess."

"Good. Because we have a lot to do. Please tell me you have some ideas." I ran upstairs and grabbed a few sheets of music I'd scribbled on at one point or another and then we sat down and figured out three full songs in a few hours. We bickered and fought and snipped at each other but the end results were two upbeat "jokey" songs, one about ending teacher tenure and another about a high school prom, and then one ballad mocking other love songs called "Just Another Cliché". Cole had a great voice so I didn't even try singing anything, just hummed a melody or plucked it out on the piano.

"This was good Zoe. We did a good job." Cole told me when we finished the third song.

"Yeah. I guess we did. I hope it's good enough." There was an awkward silence. "Okay well, I've got to do some Multi-var homework and work on convincing my mom to let me go this weekend…" I started awkwardly.

"Yeah, I'm swamped with work this week. I'll see you tomorrow at practice."

We practiced our hearts out on the new songs on Thursday and wrote one more during practice. The songs didn't completely come together but they were good, definitely better than an average garage band. I packed my stuff on Thursday night and the next morning said goodbye to my mom. She had decided it was "a good opportunity" and with her unending trust in the world had no problem sending me off to LA, one of the most dangerous cities in the country.

If she had been upset I would've gone anyways, after all, I was 18 and this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I hated to admit it to anyone but I was starting to really like being in the band. We had our little jokes and quirks and all four of us together were really fun. Cole would be unnecessarily mean about something I had done wrong, then Smiths would make up for it by complimenting me on something, Petey almost always brought up my legs, and within seconds the two of them would have me laughing so hard I'd forget what Cole had done. Then Cole would feel left out so he'd apologize in a silly way and we'd all be back to normal.

We arrived in LA late on Friday night and headed to our hotel. We all sot of shifted about awkwardly when we realized the recording label had only gotten us one room.

"I'll take the floor." Smiths offered graciously.

"Don't be a retard. My virtue won't be compromised by you sharing the bed."

"Okay. I'll share. But only if you promise to wear those tiny short things again." I hit him over the head and changed in the bathroom into ridiculously baggy pajama pants and a huge t-shirt, just for effect. We were all a little on edge but we managed to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Then next morning, I was shook awake by Cole.

"You've got to get ready!" He exclaimed anxiously. I showered and got dressed in the bathroom. We had all decided to just wear regular clothes, albeit cleaner and less destroyed than normal, so we could be ourselves. I was wearing a pair of guy's jeans and a long tank top, Cole was in his normal jeans, cowboy boots and destroyed flannel shirt, Smiths was wearing converses, jeans and a Dane Cook t-shirt, and Petey was wearing a dark tee, leather jacket and black jeans. We were outside waiting for the ride we were supposed to get from the record label twenty minutes before the scheduled time. I could tell everyone was nervous- even unshakeable Petey had already gone through a whole pack of cigarettes that morning.

A decent sized limo picked us up and we squeezed the guys' guitars in. My drum set had been deemed too cumbersome to travel with and we'd asked if we could use the label's when we arrived. Rick was in the limo with us and explained basically what we'd be doing, playing for B. Higgins and some other consultants, then they'd decide on the spot if they wanted us for the label or not and if they did, we'd have a week or so to figure out the contract. By the time we were at the giant Atlantic Records building, we were all freaking out.

Our set for an audience of ten men and women in suits went fairly well considering we weren't getting a lick of energy from the viewers. They all watched stoic faced and only two people, the youngest woman, really a girl, and a guy with a polka dotted tie, clapped politely at the end. B. Higgins introduced himself and then excused himself to go speak with his consultants. After ten minutes, B. Higgins came out, gave me a hug and the guys one of those "dawg" hand shake/body slam things and congratulated us. A lawyer came out ten minutes later with four contracts.

I was surprised at the complete business atmosphere. There was no joking around or rock t-shirts in sight, only briefcases and suits.

"Do you guys think it's weird what a non-rock atmosphere there is here?" Smiths asked, voicing my thoughts exactly.

"Yeah. Totally." I agreed.

"Mr. Higgins likes to keep his label very decorous. Some of the other recording labels have a more playful atmosphere but also a reputation for artists who show up late or not at all. You'll notice in your contracts that you behaving properly is one of the most mentioned points." Rick explained. "And here come a few people to explain everything to you." Our two applauders entered the room, Ms. Youth and Mr. Polka Dot.

Mr. Polka Dot spoke first. "First, let me say, you guys are awesome. I heard your demo and specifically asked to be assigned to you. You are really funny and I really think we have something original here that could be very marketable. My name is Evan and I will be your manager, should you choose to sign with Atlanta Records. I will be in charge of getting your record produced, promoted, and then getting you on tour. All of your publicity will be filtered through me and basically from the second you sign the contract, I'm your direct boss." Cole grimaced at this and I almost laughed at his sign of disgust for Evan, who I thought was really quite nice. Plus kind of cute. Then Ms. Skirt introduced herself.

"I'm Nancy Riley. I'm an image consultant here and if you don't have any objections, I'll be the band's stylist. Now I know you all went to remain individuals and don't want to conform to societal expectations blah blah blah, and I don't want you to. But the truth of the matter is, if you're going to become famous, you need to look a little better. You there, Cole is it?" He nodded. "You're the lead singer, the lead guitarist, take some pride in it. Don't dress like a hick. And Zoe, you're the only girl, you've got to take the initiative to be fashionable. And stop hiding your legs. You've got 'em, so flaunt 'em."

"That's what I always tell her." Petey remarked. I kicked him under the table.

"Petey, love the leather jacket. But lets step it up a notch, how do you feel about tight jeans?"

We all left the meeting with our contracts and wardrobe suggestions in hand. We ate a lunch with B. Higgins and another artist who had just signed, Star Philips. Then we took the limo back to the hotel. The second we got back to our room, we started partying. Smiths turned on his iPod speakers and Petey pulled a bottle of champagne out from somewhere and we passed it around until it was empty.

"Let's go out tonight!" Smiths exclaimed. The boys started changing right in front of me and I made a hasty exit to the bathroom to change myself. I emerged, two minutes later, wearing the only pair of tight jeans I own and as usual, a tank top, although this one did have sequins on it.

"Holy shit Smiths, you weren't kidding." Petey exclaimed when he saw me.

"Thank God you're taking Nancy's advice. I was starting to think I would never get to see them again." Smiths commented, staring at my legs. I blushed madly but smiled. Cole grunted in his typical complimentary manner. Petey pulled out a flask of God knows what and he and Smiths had their fair share while Cole looked on disapprovingly. When they offered it to me, I politely refused and then we all headed down the steps.

We walked away from our hotel and found a row of clubs. Instead of waiting in line like I normally would've, I took Smith's hand and dragged him in behind me, feeling incredibly confident. The bouncer fell for it and let us in, no wait, no ID check. It was one of those moments where you realize your life is going to change forever.

The club was all heavy bass, flashing lights and grinding. As soon as I had looked all around the club I grabbed Smiths and pulled him into the mass of undulating bodies. Smiths had drunk enough to loosen up and we danced like mad people. Petey danced with us for a bit and then found a cute girl to cozy up too. Cole leaned coolly against a back wall staring disinterestedly at all of us. After a few minutes a couple of girls slithered their ways over to him and started talking to him but as far as I could tell, they didn't get much conversation back.

"I'm so glad you're here Zoe." Smiths yelled in my ear.

"Me too!" I screamed back.

When we got back from LA, everything was a flurry of meetings with lawyers, calls to the label, and calls between parents. My mom, of course, had no problem with anything. The contract said we would take a week off of school to start making the album then during production we would be at school during the week and in the studio on weekends throughout May. Since there was only a month left after that, we would only have to be in LA for a few weekend performances, talk shows, music video tapings, etc. The first single would be released the day after we all graduated from high school. The whole summer would be performances, PR events and releasing the rest of the album. If all went well, we could be going on tour in September. I could always defer my college for one year.

In the end, all four of us, our parents, two lawyers, and Evan sat down to sign the contracts. We were all over 18 so technically our parents were only there for moral support. We flew back to LA the next Friday.

This time our hotel was way swankier and we had a full suite instead of the one room. Nancy was waiting there and she quickly ushered us into individual bedrooms.

"I took the liberty of buying you some clothes. You can wear whatever you want to the recording studio of course but you have a meeting with the label tomorrow after your session and then well, Evan will tell you the rest but tonight you have to go to a party for the label so you're wearing this."

Nancy pulled out a flouncy black miniskirt and a turquoise tank top with polka dots that normally I would've loved if not for the fact I had to wear it with a tiny little skirt that would accentuate the disproportional nature of my legs.

"Um. Is no an option here?"

"Of course not. I'm coming back to do your hair in twenty minutes."

I showered, pulled on the skanky skirt, not too scandalous tank top and some black leggings. Nancy came in, looked disapprovingly at the leggings but said nothing, and within in minutes had my hair blown dry and in a nice upsweep. I thanked her and then practiced sitting on the edge of my bed, making sure I could sit without giving a whole lot of people a view up my skirt.

"Come on Cinderella, time to go to the ball." Cole said, knocking on my door. I pulled on black ballet flats and after taking a deep breath, opened it.

"Calm yourself Prince Charming." I said, picking up my purse and exiting the room. I was pleased to notice that Cole did not have one mean thing to say or even a grunt to offer as I walked past him. I sat in the reception area across from Petey who was wearing tighter jeans than normal but otherwise looked the same. Cole sat down looking nice in his black slacks and white and turquoise button up but the best transformation was easily Smiths who was wearing jeans, a button up white shirt and a black sports coat. Somehow Nancy had parted his hair so he looked just like a Polo model and I couldn't believe my geeky little Smiths had been changed into such a debonair man.

"Stop staring. I can't believe she's making me wear this." He sulked.

"You look awesome Smiths!" I couldn't help myself from exclaiming. He smiled a little, but then went back to pouting "Oh my God. We all match. Did you do that on purpose?"

"Well you guys are in a band. You should look like you belong together."

"Nancy, they get like nice coats and pants and I'm dressed like a tart. Can I have a sweatshirt or something?" I whined.

"God no. Whoever invented sweatshirts was seriously on crack or something. I'll get you a shrug."

I burst out laughing at her sentence and Petey looked a little amused too.

"On crack? Isn't that a little extreme?" I asked.

"No. Anytime a particularly deranged individual comes up with a particularly hideous article of clothing I can only assume the worst." Nancy replied as she handed me a white half length sweater. Nancy sat down next to me and I admired her effortless fashion sense. She was a little bigger than me, both height-wise and widthwise and hid it well. She had on long black pants, pointy-toed orange stiletto heels, and a black and white mod shirt that made her look very hip.

"Hey gang. Just to let you know what's going on. We have a party for the label tonight where we'll be introduced, no performance though. Just mingle, get to know people, be yourselves, but don't make fools of yourselves. In this business, half the work is knowing the right people. The other half is image. Don't touch a drop of alcohol because it will be all over the news tomorrow that Atlanta Records encourages underage drinking and before you're even famous you'll be gone. We'll get there around ten and leave at twelve because you guys want to be known as responsible and you've got a session tomorrow morning. Go to bed on time, tomorrow you have a session from nine to one, a lunch at the building, another session and then dinner with Mr. Higgins. Please be on time everywhere, preferably five minutes early. You guys just barely have your foot in the door, don't screw it up by showing up late or getting busted doing something stupid."

The party, after the less than encouraging pep talk, seemed daunting. We entered in a clump, me holding Smiths hand, Cole with his arm around my shoulders and Petey puffing on a cigarette to the side. Cameras were flashing everywhere before we entered the club that had been selected for the party venue but once we were inside everything seemed more manageable. Evan pointed out some people we had to make sure to meet and then went bustling after some of his own networking buddies. Nancy stuck by us only a second longer.

"Oh, there's my love, I'm off darlings." She glided over to where the current music superstar, Georgey-O, was holding court and managed to sit right beside him.

"Smiths…" I said nervously as he started to go after a girl.

"I'm here, I'm here. But you better not cock block like this all the time."

Petey went off to some dark corner full of smoke and Cole sought out a music producer he admired. I scanned the room for something, anything to do but realized this was really just about networking. Finally my eyes landed on the up and coming rap star Romero and I decided it was time to start work.

"I'm going in Smiths."

"May the force be with you."

I walked, rather strutted, with way more confidence than I felt, past Romero and then leaned against the wall next to him to watch the band that was playing. They were good. Very mellow rock, think Five For Fighting meets Coldplay, but interesting enough. I couldn't help noticing the drummer was a guy, as always. I stood for a few minutes next to Romero before he finally said something first.

"You new here kid?"

"What gave me away? My look of wide eyed wonderment or the fact that I don't have a blackberry attached to my belly button?"

He guffawed. Romero, rapper extraordinaire, actually guffawed.

"You got guff. I like that."

"Thanks then. You got 'tude. I like that." I responded and he smiled again, his grille actually reflecting light into my eyes.

"Does it hurt to have a grille put in?" I asked him.

"What? Girl, you got tons of guff. Sometimes you shouldn't ask questions like that."

"Sorry Mr. Romero, sir I mean."

"Don't worry girly, I'll let you in on a secret, it ain't even real. It's like wearing a cover on your teeth."

"So you didn't lose your teeth in a rumble and have them replaced with gold and diamonds?"

"Ah, hell no. I grew up in Massachusetts. I just play the look 'cause it sells. I like to rap so I gotta look like a rapper."

"So what look would you say I'm 'playin'" I couldn't help asking.

"Girl, I'd say, the newest member of the Pussycat dolls except you can't be older than fifteen."

"Eighteen. But good guess. Dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" I teased, praying I wasn't being crazy.

"My girl is hot but she ain't got legs like yours. Now run off and find some other big man to rob the cradle. I ain't goin' to the slammer over somethin' like that, yo."

I laughed and turned.

"No wait, what'd you say your name was?"

"Zoe. Zoe Pincell."

"I'll remember you Zoe. You and them legs."

I literally skipped away pleased to have made one contact in the industry without completely selling my soul to the devil. I couldn't find Smiths so I walked up to Cole and listened attentively to his conversation with big producer man and nodded at the appropriate parts, way to afraid to make another friend because chances were, second time around it wouldn't work. Around eleven, the band stopped playing and Mr. Higgins went up to the mike.

"I want to thank you all for coming. I just wanted to point out some important people in the crowd. First, the newest big name rapper to join Atlanta records- Mr. Romero!" The crowd all cheered and Romero waved and flashed his grille. "Next, our newest rock sensation who's been playing for you this evening, Blank Page- Phil, Chris, Todd and Sly." the guys of the band stood and took modest little bows in unison. "And our just signed rock comedy pop band, heck I don't know what to call them, Whimsicality! Cole, Smiths, Petey and Zoe." A spotlight singled each one of us out and I gave a little awkward wave. "So make sure you meet them and have a great night." The audience cheered and then a DJ took over for Blank Page. I got water at the bar and then headed to the dance floor.

I danced with the Blank Page boys, some music producer they pointed out to me, and then a little with Smiths. Around midnight, I was spun around by Cole.

"We're leaving soon." He told me.

"Thanks mom. I'm ready whenever." I replied.

"We've got one more song Evan said." Cole was staring at me with a look I hadn't seen on him yet. I'd seen Cole angry, jealous, focused, excited even. This was none of those looks.

"What?" I asked.

"Nothing." He put his hands on my hips and pulled me closer and before I knew it we were dancing. I'm usually pretty quiet so I'm sure it didn't seem weird that I didn't say anything. But a million and one thoughts were rushing through my head, mainly one that was saying how natural it felt to be dancing with Cole. As soon as the song was over, I stepped away and headed to the exit.

All four of us met Evan there in a timely fashion and he seemed immensely pleased.

"Great. The gangs all here. Let's head out kids." We all exchanged glances at his nerdy talk and piled into the limo.

"Where on earth is Nancy?" Evan asked exasperated when he realized she was MIA.

"She was with that Georgey-o guy." Smiths said.

"Oh great. We'll never get her out of there now." Evan started typing numbers in on his blackberry.

"Why, does she worship him or something?" I asked. I mean Georgey-o was cute but… also a celebrity which meant stuck up and self-centered.

"They're kind of dating." Evan told us and put the Blackberry up to his ear.

I was surprised. I mean Nancy was fashionable but not exactly… hot per say. And then Georgey-o was the hottest thing in music right now. It just seemed… unexpected.

"How old is Nancy anyways?" I wondered out loud.

"Twenty three." Petey said. "I asked."

"Real polite. I bet she loved that. She's young."

"We tried to get someone close to your age." Evan said, now off the phone.

"For what?"

"Nancy's going to be with you guys pretty much day and night. She's part of your posse. Basically we needed to add another girl for appearances sake. Three guys and a girl sometimes presents the wrong image. Which is why we're waiting here… she's supposed to be staying with you at the hotel."

"Sorry!" Nancy said, opening the limo door.

Evan tapped on the glass separating us from the driver and the car started.

"You're really dating Georgey-o?" I asked her.

She smiled. "I guess. I mean, there aren't any nasty tabloid stories about us breaking up yet so I guess we're together."

"Tabloid stories?" I asked.

"You're going to be famous soon. You'll have plenty about you in just a few weeks time."