"I want you to watch this," the Don said. He produced a thin, expensive-looking laptop from the fancy briefcase, typed something and turned it around to face us. But he didn't start the video. "Join us, won't you, Jackson?" It wasn't a suggestion, regardless of what it sounded like. I decided the fifth chair, the one I'd planted myself in, must've been meant for him. I wasn't worthy of having my own chair apparently. The guitarist didn't move from his spot.
"I can see from here. I don't do the whole up close and personal thing." And yet he shared close living quarters with the other four. Would sitting beside them for a few minutes really hurt anything? No…He just had to be difficult. I couldn't help but smile to myself. He was digging his own grave.
"Didn't you know, Pete? He's too good for us," Thorn said contemptuously, shooting his rival a look of absolute loathing.
"Yeah, cuz that's mature," scoffed Jackson. "Not that I really expect much else by now…"
"I'll address personality conflicts after this," the Don answered sternly, making them both fall respectively silent. "I assure you, we've got a lot to discuss. In the mean time, I expect you all to pay attention." He started the video and I immediately recognized it as a mash-up of footage from last night's show.
It focused primarily on me, but it was like watching an absolute stranger. The singer, who I couldn't quite accept as me, was commanding the stage and had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, hanging on every word. Attractively made-up, she came off as sultry, confident, like she had been doing that sort of thing for years, rather than stumbling into it by dumb luck. Her voice was somewhat raw and unpolished, but with proper training, showed enormous potential.
All things considered, I worked well with the band (with the exception of Jackson, who had been demoted for the night and really wasn't worthy of calling himself a member of the band), interacting with them, and I silently admitted to myself that Gwen was right about me having the best chemistry with them.
The video ended and we sat before him, guilty under his scrutinizing stare, except for Jackson, who stood off to the side with his arms folded, looking annoyed by the whole thing. I imagined this would be somewhat like dealing with a strict parent. I didn't have much experience with this sort of thing, but I felt intimidated by the Don's strict gaze. This was a man capable of destroying someone if they crossed him.
"Would anyone like to explain why this young woman was heading the band last night?" he asked the guys. The four original band members avoided looking at one another, possibly out of fear of saying things that didn't match up. In fact, they all seemed to be looking at random pieces of furniture to avoid meeting the Don's eyes. He made it sound as though I was some lost outsider who'd happened to find her way on stage.
"Why don't you ask Storm?" Jackson suggested, his cold, quiet voice magnified in the tense room. He earned himself hateful glares from the rest of the band. While they weren't thrilled with what Storm had done, no one was going to tattle on him. If anything, from what I saw on the bus last night, they were just as bad, but better about choosing girls who didn't have huge, jealous boyfriends accompanying them.
The Don immediately zeroed in on Storm. "Where were you while this was going on?" he demanded, his eyes looking over Storm's bruised throat. They really looked like hickeys—and that made Storm look really bad—like he had bailed on the show to get laid. Never mind the fact that his normally attractive face was cut and bruised.
"They're bruises, Pete. I got in a fight the night before," Storm admitted, ashamed. "It was really dumb now that I think about it. It was over a girl…" I knew I had to jump in, because the truth was just making him look like an idiot.
"After the show in Houston, a girl approached Storm and asked for an autograph. Her boyfriend must've thought he was giving her his number or something, because he got really pissed off and confronted Storm. Poor guy didn't have a chance…this guy was huge and, well, Storm's not exactly a bodybuilder. He hit him in the throat and Storm could barely talk. He was dead set on singing, but we knew it would hurt him—and therefore the band—if he did. So that was where I came in. I work for the band…" Or rather, I did for the time being, until he fired me… "so I kinda know what I'm doing."
Storm did his best to make it look like this wasn't new to him. Beneath the desk, where the Don couldn't see, he briefly put his hand on my knee in what I could only imagine was an act of gratitude.
"Seeing as the show went well, it was very…fortunate…that you were there. I can find it my heart to overlook that technicality. What I can't overlook though is the fact that you seem to think you can do my job better than I can. If I didn't know what I was doing, I assure you that I wouldn't be here right now. Is there any particular reason why you changed the set list—or let Connor play lead guitar when I specifically hired Jackson for that?"
His superior tone reminded me of my high school principal. I hated that man. Not only had he treated me like a delinquent for four years, but he also butted into things that were none of his business. He had tried numerous times to get Child Protection Services to take me away from my dad, whom, he had said, was an "unfit parent" that encouraged my "self-destructive habits".
It had turned into an unspoken war between the two us. He wanted a delinquent, I gave him a delinquent. In retrospect, my acting out probably hurt me and my future more than it did him. I heard from a lower classmen friend of mine that he had retired the year after I graduated, so I considered that a hollow victory.
"With all due respect," I said, not very respectfully at all, "Thorn deserves it. I'm not trying to make a name for myself, I'm trying to help out a friend of mine who you've screwed over. He's been with the band since the beginning. It's not fair to him that you brought Jackson in just because his own band was sick of him. He may be a good guitar player, but he performs like he has a pole shoved up his ass. If you cared about what was best for the band like you say do, you'd reconsider your lineup. You'd get rid of Jackson and give Thorn his rightful position."
I heard myself talk—the same way I would've in Mr. Martin's office, though I was a lot more disrespectful as a teenager—and felt mortified. There was a time and a place for an attitude, and I had just (thoughtlessly) unleashed it on the man who controlled my future. I was so fired it wasn't even funny.
The Don regarded me carefully for the first time. My argument, or sheer lack of ability to not run my mouth, seemed to impress him. Either that or he was toying with me before he fired me. He was paying full attention to me though, whereas before, I had just been the "young woman" who had had her five minutes of fame.
"You're quite the little spitfire," he remarked thoughtfully. "What's your name?"
"You know her," Archer intoned, no doubt thinking he was being helpful. Helpful would've been getting me to shut the hell up a few seconds ago. "We hired her about a year and a half ago. Her name's Cori. She's an instrument tech."
"Thank you, Logan, but I believe I was asking her." His dark eyes remained fixed on me. He might've been handsome once before the stresses of the music industry and middle age painted lines on his face. He made a steeple out of his fingers and peered at me over them. "What's your name?" he repeated.
I resisted the urge to tell him if that he had been listening, he would know my name and instead said in a clipped voice, "Cori."
There were about a million times in my life where people thought I had introduced myself as 'Courtney'. Didn't sound exactly the same, but 'Cori' wasn't an especially common name. My name wasn't always going to be Cori—though I had gotten it under somewhat interesting circumstances.
For about the first five minutes of my life, my mom was going to call me 'Corina'. (Really?) If the poor-quality delivery room video was to be believed, my dad vehemently opposed the name, claiming that it was something that a "commie" would name their child, insisting that there was no way any child of his was going to be a commie—and also that I needed something simple and easy to remember (when future audiences yelled me name), though his excessive pot-smoking had demolished his memory.
My mom asked him in a scathing voice what he wanted to name me then. My dad had then suggested "Tammy" and my mom threw a hissy fit because that was the name of his most recent ex. (I didn't actually see my mom because the lens was trained on the concerned-looking nurse, who was wondering how she got stuck in a birthing suite with these people. I knew it was my "uncle" Carey holding the camera because he loudly announced "I'm Carey!" when the name was brought up as a suggestion. The nurse had politely pointed out that she had already written a "C" on the birth certificate, so it would be awesome if they picked a "C" name).
There was a lot of back and forth between my parents—really my mom's voice stubbornly saying "I want my daughter to be named Corina" and my dad drunkenly throwing out names, many of which didn't even start with a C, to appease her.
By then, the camera shifted clumsily to "Uncle" Carey's shoulder, angled down to look at me. He was holding me, bored with this. The nurse had looked worried when he picked me up, but he seemed like he knew what he was doing.
To me, he crooned, "Hi, there, honey. God, I hope you turn out like your daddy. Otherwise, living with you and your mommy is gonna be a nightmare." "Hey, Doc," he said aloud, "why don't you just compromise? Call her 'Cori'. It's short so Dirk can remember it. It sounds like Corina so the bitch is happy. And it sounds like 'Carey'. I'm her godfather after all. Everyone wins."
I got my name from my moderately-intoxicated "uncle".
"Cori what?" the Don asked.
I hesitated. Did he expect me to add some sort of formality, like "sir", to it—if he did, he would be waiting for a long time. I didn't do formalities. Or did he want my last name, which would be a dead giveaway of who I was and where I came from? Probably that one. Sorry, Pete, I wasn't giving you, of all people, that part of me.
"I'm the only Cori working for the band," I replied more brazenly than I should have. He seemed to like my attitude, so I gave him plenty of it. "I guarantee if you call my name, we'll all know who you're talking about."
"Cori," he said, testing it. It felt so strange hearing my name, something I heard my entire life, coming from him. His dark eyes studied my face to the point of making me slightly uncomfortable. Then understanding flickered in them. "Have you heard of Dirk Shipley by any chance, Cori?" Oh, now I was "Cori"; this guy seriously needed to make up his mind. The question was politely curious, not intrusive, but I felt a lump rise in my throat at the mention of my dad.
"Yes," I managed, defeated, choked up in front of one of the most powerful men in the music industry. I frantically tried to turn my face into a mask. I couldn't get teary in front of the Don.
With my adrenaline-heightened senses, I heard Jackson mutter something along the lines of, "Am I the only person in the band who's not an idiot?"
The Don ignored him, his attention still fixed on me. He regarded me carefully, comparing mental images, and I was sure he had a pretty good idea about my famous father. The guys I directly worked for, with perhaps the exception of Jackson, were about average intelligence or even a little less. The Don wasn't; he wouldn't be where he was if he was stupid. I knew he knew about my dad.
Thorn chimed in, "What are you getting at, Pete? I think he was a little before our time. Unless you think Cori could be related to Dirk Shipley? Hell, maybe she's his long-lost daughter." He studied me. "Yeah, I can see the resemblance." I froze, looking at him like a deer in headlights. I looked ridiculously like my dad—if my mom hadn't carried me for nine months, one would swear she had no involvement whatsoever. Of course, she pretty much did have no involvement, leaving forever shortly after my third birthday.
Thorn laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea. "You really think the daughter of Dirk Shipley would be working as a roadie for us knuckleheads? If anything, she'd be fronting her own band." I remembered to breathe when he said that. It was right in front of his face and he was too dumb to realize it. I wasn't heading my own band; I had headed theirs though. Funny how life worked.
He continued to think aloud. "Hey, we need to sell more tickets," he mused. "I bet people would buy them if they thought we had Dirk Jr. playing in our band. I mean, you kinda look like him, Cori, I'm sure you could play along." He looked proudly at the Don, sure he had solved all of their troubles. I bit my lip uncomfortably. Did anyone think of asking me what I wanted?
"Isn't that false advertising?" Jackson asked, a surprising ally. "I mean if she was his daughter, which is almost a joke that you guys think that someone like her would be the daughter of one of the world's greatest musicians, wouldn't that be her business?"
Any sense of gratitude I felt for his help immediately vanished. Now, I bristled indignantly at his remark. He was trying to tear me down (again), but in the next breath, he was expressing obvious admiration for my father. I wanted to rub it in his face, that, yes, I was descended from greatness. I wanted to see the look on his face when I announced that I, a lowly roadie whom he couldn't stand, was the only child of a man he respected.
"Guess what, smart guy? I am his daughter. I'm the daughter of Dirk Shipley!" I announced, jumping to my feet. Part of me was in disbelief at my outburst (After all this time trying to hide it, I really just blurted that out?), while another part was defiant (Go ahead and try to fire me. I'll go work for my "uncles" regardless of the blacklist), a third part of me was relieved that it was finally out in the open.
"I knew you were," Jackson said coolly, the only one who wasn't surprised by the news. Nothing except physical contact seemed to faze him. His steel blue eyes met mine. "Since the beginning. Blasphemy was my favorite band growing up. I never said anything because I knew his daughter would eventually wind up throwing his name around on her own. Like now."
"Throwing his name around?" I echoed loudly, incredulously. I had always tried to downplay my connections so I could have a normal job and be like everyone else. He must've figured that I'd strategically made the announcement in front of the Don so I could get myself noticed. "He's not a label, he's my dad, asshole!"
"Isn't he dead?" Bowser asked. "I'm pretty sure he's not gonna mind if his name gets used…ouch!"Storm gave him a hard jab in the gut with his elbow. In record time for him, Bowser started connecting the dots and looked absolutely mortified.
"Oh, shit!" he cried. "I'm such an asshole. Dirk Shipley's dead…so that means…your dad's dead. Cori, I'm sorry…" I wasn't even aware I was moving—running—until I knocked hard past Jackson, who was still standing in front of the door.
The impact hurt, but I kept going. I was running away from reality. It was out in the open and I'd just been given a hard reminder that my dad was dead. In a box in the ground. Buried in that box under mounds of dirt. As much as I wanted to believe that there was something—anything—after death, that he was an angel or something, I had my doubts. If he was, that would mean there was also a Higher Being up there—but why would this Higher Being take my dad away from me, when he was the only one I really had?
My dad was gone. I would never see him dominate a stage again, I would never hear the voice I had grown up hearing ever again, things I had always taken for granted growing up. It was like everything he ever was…was gone.
Tears began falling, hot and heavily. I needed to get back to my room. No one was going to see me cry; I wasn't weak, I wasn't vulnerable. But my mask of biting sarcasm and a devil-may-care attitude had crumbled and the tears wouldn't stop. I got to the elevator and jabbed the up button as hard as I could. Footsteps were pounding after me. A voice—Storm's voice—was calling my name. Not him. Anyone but him. He shouldn't see me like this. I didn't want him to see this side of me.
I pummeled the button…I had to get away from him. Why wouldn't the elevator work?
"Cori." Storm's voice was soft and gentle, but his hands were firm when they grabbed my shoulders and spun me around. I was tightly enveloped in his arms, my head buried in his chest, tears soaking his shirt. I didn't know how he knew that I needed a hug right now, but man did I need one.
"You should…be in the office…"I managed. "The Don…" My voice broke and I hugged him hard, needing his comfort, no longer so worried about him seeing me crying, especially since my face was hidden. I was really glad I wasn't a loud crier.
"Shh," he soothed, rubbing my back. "That doesn't matter right now." He held me until I felt like I couldn't cry anymore. Hoping that the makeup I had forgotten to wash off from the night before hadn't run, I slowly raised my head to look at Storm.
"I'm okay," I promised, my voice sounding relatively normal.
"You ready to go back in?" he asked kindly.
"I think so. I'm sure the Don is used to making people cry," I tried to joke, slipping my mask of humor back on.
By the time we reentered the makeshift office, it seemed like Storm had missed quite a bit. Jackson stood in the same spot looking impassively at me, as if he didn't know what that emotion I had just exhibited was. Of course, I wouldn't really expect someone like him to be able to comprehend grief.
I knew I had been upset, but I hadn't realized how upset I was. I probably looked awful. I kept my eyes down as I retook my seat, though I could feel everyone's eyes on me.
"So," Storm said loudly to break the uncomfortable silence, "what'd I miss?"
For once I was grateful for Archer's help when he got the cue (maybe it was just me his was slow around) and loudly filled Storm in on what he missed. "Basically he had Thorn and Jackson go back and forth about their issues since there's "obviously tension" between them. We've gathered that Jackson is a raging dickhead. We're on our way to being one big happy family." He rolled his eyes. "Bowser and I don't really matter, so there's not much point for us being here."
"Now that you mention it, I would like to have a word with Sam and Jackson," the Don said. "Connor, Caleb, Logan, you may go. I'll be in touch." Jackson obligingly took one of the now unoccupied seats and folded his arms as per usual. For being the root of all the band's problems, he was taking this surprisingly well. Storm was sitting with his legs crossed, one of his feet bouncing agitatedly. I could tell he had a lot to say.
"So, tell me," the Don said, leaning forward, "what's going on with you two?" He didn't have to wait long.
Storm burst out, "I think the video you showed us explains everything." I looked at him uncertainly. Back to that? This is supposed to be about making Jackson look bad, Stupid. Not me.
The Don tipped his head thoughtfully to the side, encouraging him to elaborate. Storm took off out of the gate at full speed, his voice getting faster and angrier with every word he spoke. "Did you notice Jackson at all? I mean, I know he was there, but did you notice him? Not only is he impossible to work with, and causing all kinds of conflict, but he's got no passion for this and he's dead on stage. The guys would back me up on that—they've all probably told you. I'm telling you, he's doing it on purpose. He's pissed that his old band couldn't put up with him and he sure as hell doesn't want us to succeed. Pete, he's trying to destroy everything we worked for."
He paused to take a breath.
"I'm not here to make friends," Jackson said in a voice devoid of emotion, but it was clear that he wasn't defending himself to the Don; instead he was talking directly to Storm. In a sense, he was being the bigger person by not resorting to pointing fingers. "I'm here to do a job. Just because I'm not running around the stage like an idiot doesn't mean that I'm out to sabotage the band. I'd prefer people to focus on my guitar playing; I'm talented enough so that I don't need to compensate." He threw the word out with as much disdain as he could manage.
Then again, while he might've been more mature than Storm, he was still a huge dickhead. Thorn was right about that.
Speaking of, Storm took a furtive look down into his lap. "Compensate?" he echoed. "I'm not compensating for anything. I could still get girls just fine if I stood on stage like I had a pole up my ass!"
Jackson gave a frustrated sigh. "I wasn't talking about girls. There's more to this than just girls. If you weren't such a man-whore, you'd probably have realized that a whole lot sooner. Maybe even help your band out in the process. And I was talking about the music," he explained testily when Storm continued to look at him in bewilderment, unable to comprehend the thought that anything could be more important than girls. Jackson had the right idea, I admitted begrudgingly to myself, but he went about it the wrong way.
He had no right to make Storm look like he was the only one at fault. Storm had made a mistake, sure, but he owned up to it and gotten it taken care of. That was pretty mature of him. And he was beginning to realize that Jackson was indirectly turning him into the bad guy, because he turned on the charm, slipping into a roguish grin.
"As you can see, Pete, we have really different work ethics."
"If by 'different work ethics' he means I have one and he doesn't, then yeah, we have different work ethics," Jackson said. "Maybe if he wasn't sleeping with anything that moved…" He cast a not-so-subtle look at me.
"Ignore him," Storm said loudly. "He's just butt hurt because she's a bigger asset to the band than he could ever be. I assure you, Cori's always been very professional."
The Don took this all in quietly. "I see you two are a little divided," he said finally. If by "a little divided", he meant "operating on completely opposite sides of the rock star spectrum", then yeah, they were a little divided. "What we need here is a happy medium. Sam, you've built an excellent repertoire with your fans, but you need to learn moderation. Keep in mind that your actions not only reflect on you and your band mates, but everyone who represents you, myself included."
His voice grew deadly serious as he continued, taking on the expected persona of a mafia Don, "This is a business, not a fraternity party, Sam. The next time you go to take a drink, remember that there is any number of aspiring singers who wouldn't waste this opportunity. You will attend all of your shows from now on and you will be singing in them. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Pete," Storm muttered, slumping in his seat, surly and seething. I could tell that this wasn't how Storm expected the conversation to go. On the other side of the desk, I watched as Storm's hand curled into a fist, an action that was somewhat unsettling because he was normally so easygoing. I gently covered his hand with mine and rubbed it until slowly it relaxed. His expression was unreadable, but I could almost feel the anger radiating off him. If the Don felt it, he didn't acknowledge it.
He continued smoothly, turning to address Jackson. "Jackson, your sense of professionalism is a refreshing change from your band mates'…" He sent a meaningful look at Storm, who dropped his eyes, scowling. "…but if you're wound too tightly, you're going to burn out very quickly. You could have a long, illustrious future in this business." So it seemed that he liked Jackson. Well no wonder: they both had the same anal point of view. This was a business…it's about music and making money and being total tight ass.
This same wave-length thing was just getting disgusting. Now was as good a time as any to start making Jackson look bad, since Storm was doing such a poor job of it. I could provoke the guitarist better than anyone. I carefully removed one of my shoes, worked my way up into his pant leg, and began rubbing the back of his leg with my toes. He looked down momentarily and then crossed his legs so I couldn't get to it.
Undaunted, I dropped my hand onto the innermost portion of his upper thigh and bumped against an shockingly impressive bulge. Well I could rule out tiny penis as a reason for him being so uptight. An unexpected grope would surprise even the most normal guy, but Jackson wasn't normal and he didn't take the contact remotely well. Giving a sharp, almost animalistic yelp, he rocketed out of his seat. Steel blue eyes wide with undisguised horror at his outburst, he clapped his hand over his mouth, but it was too late. The same strange look from when I'd pretended to seduce him was back—almost as though he was staring at something miles away—his hands were trembling and he was breathing much too fast, hyperventilating almost.
"I…it's…I need… air," he managed urgently before dashing from the room, leaving me, Storm, and the Don in confused silence. What just happened? Had I given him a panic attack? I wondered uncomfortably.
We waited for him to come back in agonizing silence, the Don puzzled, Storm fuming, me feeling guilty. Five minutes, ten, twenty passed. It seemed like he might not come back, which was incredibly out of character for him, the most uptight, rule-abiding member of the band. The Don's mouth was set in a thin, foreboding line. "If either of you sees Jackson, have him come back to talk to me. Sam, go look for him?" Storm rose from his chair, knowing he was being dismissed.
"Sure, Pete," he glowered.
When the door closed behind him, the Don turned to me. He continued smoothly, "Now that I have you alone, I have one more order of business to take care of. What the band is in desperate need of is a stage manager." With that cryptic note, he pulled a thick, official-looking stack of papers from the briefcase resting on the desk and passed it across the table to me.
I looked at him—then it—and back to him in confusion. This meeting really wasn't turning out anything like I expected. Storm had been torn a new asshole, Jackson was told that he could have a long, prosperous career in the music world, and I was offered a promotion?
"Are you offering me a contract?" I asked, flabbergasted. The Don wanted to make me stage manager? Ordering the band around promised to me fun, but the position meant that I would have to answer directly to the manager—him. I couldn't quite decide if I liked him or not, but I must've done something to make an impression on him, because, for whatever reason, he seemed to think I was competent. I wasn't though; as I'd proven last night, I couldn't follow rules to save my life. And as for responsibility, I royally sucked. When I looked away for a minute, Storm nearly barbecued himself on an amp last night.
"Now was this before or after you found out about my dad?" I prattled, looking my gift horse in the mouth and probably ruining any chance at the position I might've had. To my surprise, the Don seemed mildly amused by my thoughtless rambling. He might've been the first.
"If you're going to take the position, you need to know that everything I do is premeditated." So no room for spontaneity with this guy. Yeah…most of everything I did was made up on the fly.
"So, uh, tell me again why you think I'm suited for the job?" Oops, that came out of my mouth rather than staying in my head where it belonged. I really hated myself in moments like this; though, if possible, I was normally worse when I was drunk and I didn't hold anything back.
"Since I can't always be around, I need someone who can keep an eye on things for me. You've had a lifetime of experience in this industry. After watching you onstage, I can tell that you have a strong connection with them, and trust is important in this business. I feel like you can bring out the best in the band, but still keep them grounded." He checked his watch.
"I'm afraid I have to cut our meeting short. I have a plane to catch shortly." And seeing as I still had my job, I had a concert to get prepared for, maybe even go on a little bit of a power trip and test the waters of the stage manager thing. I got to my feet.
He passed me a business card from the brief case… this guy was hyper-organized. I still was unable to fully process what the hell had just happened, so I automatically took the card from him. "I want you to think my offer over. Give me a call when you've made a decision," the Don was saying to me. I think he had more to say, but I closed the door behind me, cutting him off midsentence.
He shouldn't see this. Hell, even though I was seeing it, I could scarcely believe it.
Author's Note: Cliffhanger cuz I'm evil like that. :3 So you all got to meet the Don...I hope he didn't scare you guys too badly. ;)
Cori came clean about her dad...because she and Jackson just bring out the 'best' in each other. When I think of Cori's singing voice, I always think of Lzzy Hale from Halestorm. I'm still looking for a male vocalist who I feel fits Storm. Oh, and speaking of Jackson, I felt bad that Cori violated him like that. I'll give a virtual cookie to anyone who can figure out why he responded so negatively.
To my reviewers: First of all, thanks for the positive feedback as usual. I feel quite spoiled.
beverlyamethyst16 and Justsumrandomgirl117: I'm glad you enjoyed the pun and that you added your own! xD
CassHughes: You've got to admit Cori has a real knack for driving Jackson crazy...and after this one, she's gotten even better at it.
Until next time!