Authors note: This story is going to take some unexpected twists, turns and bumps. Please bear with it. It will all work out in the end. <g>
Hey now, youre a rock star, Get the show on, get paid
"You." The bands self-appointed manager pointed at Laurel. "What is your full name?"
"Laurel Ann Kendrick. Why?" The bassists suspicion alert began to beep. She was already irritated. It had not been an easy flight. To top it all off, they had been picked up by a limousine, taken directly to the agents office and made to sign the papers without getting a chance to read them. Laurel was already fighting sleep deprivation, and the mans tone was grating on her last nerve.
"Laurel is too provincial. Go by your middle name." The man wiped his hands like the deal was already completed.
"Pardon me?" He looked up and stared at her. He was obviously not accustomed to negative responses.
"Granted I hate both my first and my middle name, Im not changing it. I was named for my grandmother and its too late to call me anything different." Laurel was seriously regretting this whole idea. He had already droned at them for an hour. She was still pissed that she had been made to sign a contract giving a year of her life away. She did not know how that was accomplished, but it was. She was now contracted to record the CD and tour with the band. She was not happy with the situation and pledged to find away out of it.
"I dont like the names either. Who ever heard of a rock star called Laurel?"
"Listen, Harold." She made the name an insult. "No one gives a shit who the bassist is unless they play the bass. It does not matter what my name is, no one will know it anyway."
"Just call her Lakky." Jenna smoothly stepped between the bassist and the manager. "We all do anyway."
"I guess that will work." He sat back down behind his enormous desk. "Now, here are the four songs that will not be recorded for the CD." He handed them a short list.
"Why wont this one make it?" BJ pointed to the song he helped Laurel and Sam write so long ago.
"Kids are not in to blues or jazz. We need to keep our target audience in mind. Thats where the money is." He seemed satisfied with his reasoning.
"Thats because they havent been exposed to it. People like you keep pandering bubble gum pop to them." Laurel was already hot from the argument about her name, and now he was attacking the only other song she really liked. She felt ready to explode.
"Thats my job." He stood. "And according to this contract, thats your job as well. Now, you can record what I tell you to, or you can leave."
"Well do it." Once again Jenna jumped in the middle of the argument. "Lets get back to the hotel."
"Good idea. You have a recording session in the morning. Ill send someone to pick you up." He waved them from his office. "I expect everyone to be on time and ready to perform."
"What a sanctimonious asshole." BJ swore as the six band members left the office.
"Ill second that." Laurel was still not happy with the situation. "Tell me, why are we doing this again?"
"For fame and fortune." BJs voice was full of sarcasm.
"Oh, yeah right. Almost forgot I blew the best thing in my life for this."
"Me too." The drummer lost his sarcastic tone. "What do you say we go out and get trashed?" Sam had slipped his break up letter in his carry on luggage. He discovered it on the flight to Atlanta. He was not in a good mood either.
"Cant. We have a recording session in the morning, and Im supposed to meet Jessie before dinner." Laurel was sorely tempted but let the weight of their responsibilities overwhelm her.
"Going to try to see what Nicole is up to?" He asked. The rest of the band had already gathered by the elevator. He had been briefed on the situation the evening prior after the rest of the band had left. Only Sam stayed and the four of them ate ice cream, chocolate cake and talked about their fears and past relationships. Apparently Samantha had wanted one last night with BJ.
"Yeah." She did not want to say too much in front of the others. "Ill let you know what she says." It was a last ditch effort to understand why Nicole had felt it necessary to destroy their relationship.
"Then I most definitely will wait up for you." He promised as they got into the metal box and watched as Steve pressed the button for the first floor. "We need to set up some time to go spit off the Empire State building while were here."
"Well be here for a while, youll get your chance to live out a redneck fantasy." Jenna commented from the back of the elevator. "I suggest we all go back to the hotel and get some sleep so well be fresh for tomorrow."
"Nope." Charles said. "Im going to go play tourist for a few. BJ? Beth? Steve?"
"Sounds good to me." BJ grinned.
"Just dont go to the Empire State Building without me." Laurel warned him. "Ill meet you back at the hotel after I talk to Jessie." She had set up the impromptu date during the layover in Atlanta.
"We can do that." The drummer promised. "You know, I like the cars they provide." He commented as they climbed back into the limousine.
"Oh yeah, I plan on getting very used to this." Jenna stretched like a cat.
Laurel rolled her eyes. She hated cats. She was glad when they reached the hotel. She took her key and then immediately asked for a taxi. She was impatient to talk to Jessie.
"Nicole, can I talk to you a minute?" Jeff seemed a bit tense. Nicole did not think it was a good sign.
"Sure, boss. Whats up?" She acted nonchalant as she entered his office. She was almost succeeding the battle over her heartache at work.
"Sit down." He waved at a chair in front of his desk. "Something recently came to my attention, and I need to talk to you about it."
"Ok." The photographer went on guard. Under the company discrimination policy, her job was not necessarily protected.
"I hear youre friends with Laurel Kendrick?"
"Yes I am, well I was." The alarms were ringing in her head. "Why?"
"Well, I thought maybe we could do a piece on her for the paper. Youre a decent reporter unlike most photographers. I thought maybe you could use your relationship with Laurel to do some research." He played with a paperclip on his desk. He never met her eyes.
"Research what exactly?" Nicole did not like what she was hearing. Her insides were starting to shake.
"Her past. You know, the drug stuff, the real truth about her accident, whether or not she ever violated parole, how she managed to graduate with honors, and it would seem start a rather successful rock band." The paperclip was now completely straight. He picked up another.
"Why do you want to run this now? Shes not even here; shes with the band. "Whats the big deal?"
"Look, its still of interest. No one here can easily forget what Jon Kendrick meant to our basketball team. You realize he was going to be drafted after graduation dont you?"
"Yeah and?" She still did not get it. "Whats that got to do with her? Jon was her brother. He was the story and hes dead. No more news from him."
"Youre missing the point. All that trouble she got into after his death was big news around here. She was just as talented in sports as he was, until that accident ended her chances." He finally looked at her. "Nicole, I can understand your reticence to do a story on a friend, but Laurel Kendrick still makes a good story. You could even take the angle of the redemptive spirit. Write about all the bad stuff and how she overcame that to triumph."
"Shes trying to put all that behind her, why bring it all back up?"
"Because someone lodged a request with a certain Senator to have her record expunged. Sounds like someone doesnt want the truth to come out."
"Ok. One: How did you know that? Two: Isnt it too late for that anyway?"
"I have my sources. It pays to keep up with some of those geeks you knew in high school, especially when they chose the life of a public servant." He grinned. "As for the second, no it is not too late. The problem is that it would require proof that it wasnt her fault. We know that is not true. Dont we?"
"No, we dont know that for sure." Nicole knew better than to answer that question. It could be used against her and the bassist.
"Are you going to do the story?"
"No I am not. I do not see the point in it. It is not current events, Sheryl will write a review of the CD when it comes out. It is an entertainment piece, not news."
"You really dont have a choice. This is your job, you know."
"No sir, it is not. My job is to take pictures of news and maybe write a story when I have to. My job does not include digging up news that is four years old or more and trying to make it current." She could not do that to Laurel. She could not do it to herself either. It compromised every ethic she possessed.
"Your job is to do whatever I tell you to do." He leaned back into his chair. "You will either do this story or you will lose your job."
"Fine." Nicole stood. "I quit. This idea of yours is wrong, and you know it. We can take it to the publisher if you want."
"My dear, it was his idea." Jeff smiled at her. "Still want to take it to him?"
"Then I quit. Im due a vacation anyway. Thats my two week notice, take it or I will see how far I can take this idea of yours." She did not believe that the idea belonged to the publisher. He was new to the area, and infinitely proud of his award-winning photographer. She knew he would take her side. She made a quick decision. "Is that acceptable? Two weeks with pay as I look for another job?" She could not stay in Hattiesburg anyway. She kept waiting for knock on her door that never came.
"I must tell you that I am extremely disappointed in you. When I hired you, I swore you had that killer instinct in you. It was buried, but it was there. I guess I was wrong. Take your two weeks. Turn in your badge, press pass and everything else."
"Itll be on my desk. It was so nice working for you." She barely recognized her own voice. The sarcasm made it deeper and almost dangerous. "Later."
He did not say a word as she walked out of his office. The newsroom was almost deserted. Sheryl was out on assignment, so Nicole grabbed her stuff from her desk and emptied her pockets and camera bag of anything that belonged to the paper. She left it all in a pile near the phone on her desk. She did not feel as bad about her decision as she would have imagined. In fact, she felt a little lighter. Now all she had to do was find a new job.
"Hey, Laurel, you got some explaining to do." Jessies voice rang through the courtyard.
"What?" Laurel handed the taxi driver a bill and waved away the change before turning to see her friend.
"Well, I heard tell you and my cousin called it quits. Whats up with that?" Jessie linked her arm through the bassists and began steering her onto the walkway. "Lets go up to my room and you can tell me all about it."
"Im not sure what there is to tell, but Ill try." Laurel attempted to look around her, but Jessie set a quick pace. Apparently the slightly younger woman wanted to hear the news and hear it quickly. Without a word, the younger woman steered them to a picnic table beneath a tree.
"Wait here, Ill be right back." Jessie made sure Laurel was seated before running off in the opposite direction.
Puzzled, Laurel leaned back against the concrete table and lit a cigarette. She was sure it was violating some law, since it was getting harder and harder to even afford cigarettes, much less smoke them, but she really did not care. She felt the most they could do was kick her off campus and make her pay a fine. She had just received her first check as a retainer to ensure a quality recording, and it was more than she had ever made before. A little fine was nothing she was concerned about.
"Ok, I have beverage and snack food." Jessie handed the bassist a can of soda. "Now, we should have no interruptions." She began digging into her backpack. Laurel watched amazed as the younger woman produced potato chips, candy bars, two bottles of water, a pack of cigarettes and a few prepackaged snack cakes from her backpack.
"Did you rob a convenience store?"
"Nope, I just havent eaten yet, and I wanna hear the full story at once instead of in parts. So, speak." Jessie opened her can of soft drink.
"Cute, I mean tell me all about the break up and what was my cousin smoking?"
"As far as I know, she was just smoking government regulated and taxed tobacco." Laurel snubbed out her cigarette and took a moment to organize her thoughts. "Well, it really started a week ago, I think. Mandy threw a party when I graduated. Jenna chose that time to announce to everyone there that we had been offered a contract. We had actually been discussing it for almost a month before I graduated, but I kept telling them that I wanted no part of it. The only two people that wanted to be rock stars were Jenna and Charles."
"And true to form, you didnt tell Nicole about the offer did you?"
"No." Laurel sighed. "I should have. She got upset that I didnt tell her about it. I cant blame her really. I should have talked about it with her. Anyway, that night she didnt say a thing about it and we spent the night happily memorizing every part of one another. I reassured her that I did not want to come up here and record a CD, but I dont know what happened. I cant tell if she let me go because she felt I should try it, or if she let me go because she was scared about the new direction we were heading in or both."
"Let me tell you a little story that might clear things up a bit." Jessie put down the honey bun she had been eating and took a long sip of her soda. After lighting a cigarette, she looked ready to continue. "Danny has a cousin named Brian. Danny is a year older than both Sheryl and Nicole, but Brian is the same age. Nicole was in band and thats how she met Danny in junior high. Anyway, she had known Brian since elementary school, but they had never hung out together. Finally though, when Nicole was a junior, Brian asked her out on a date."
"Hows Danny tie into this?"
"Im getting there. Anyway, Danny came out when he was sixteen, and Brian and the rest of Dannys moms side of the family disowned him. Danny warned Nicole about his cousin, but she would not listen. She was confused I think and he seemed charming. Hell, Grandmother liked him and she never liked anyone but Danny that Nicole hung out with. To make a long story short, the charming man became a beast. However, Nicole hung in and made it through high school as his girlfriend. They broke up when she went home for Thanksgiving during her first year in college."
"Wow." Laurel had a million and one questions, but none of them could work their way out of the jam they created in her mind. "What? Why? Argh."
"Too many thoughts?" Jessie laughed. "I had that problem in one of my classes last semester. As to whether or not they had sex, I dont know. I do know that she didnt do it before college, so what happened when they saw one another over breaks I couldnt say. She never told me. But, the point of this story is that Nicole is scared of change. Brian dumped her during her first year, and Annie dumped her right after Nicole graduated college."
"Did he ever hit her?"
"Nope. He was just an emotional bully. That is why I think Nicole has self esteem problems. Well, Annie helped with that too."
"Bitch and bastard. But what does this have to do with me? Im not like that."
"Maybe shes scared that you would turn out that way."
"So she dumped me before I could dump her. Nice. Gee, that makes me feel so much better." Laurel had a bitter taste in her mouth. To combat it, she lit another cigarette. She did not feel like eating anything.
"Im not saying that is what happened. I just thought it was an interesting theory and you might want to take it into consideration." Jessie looked at her watch. "Shit, Im going to be late. I have a meeting with my professor to go over my paper and then theres a huge party tonight. Wanna go?"
"I cant. We have to be in the studio at the butt crack of dawn in the morning."
"Nine oclock on the dot. Anyway, if I walk off campus can I catch a taxi from that road?" Laurel stood and put her pack of cigarettes back in her pocket.
"Yeah, you should be able to. Why dont you call tomorrow after the session and Ill come get you and show you around?" Jessie stood and reloaded her backpack.
"That sounds great. See ya then."
"Oh, Im always careful." Laurel waved one last time before she headed toward the main entrance to the college. She had a lot to think about and a phone call to make before her mind would let her rest.
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