Read Amplified Online

Authors: Tara Kelly

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #Performing Arts, #Music

Amplified (6 page)

BOOK: Amplified
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“Mom had blue hair at our age. Must be genetic,” Veta said, reaching for my arm. “Come on, you can borrow some clothes off the racks.”

“Not so fast.” Tina kept her eyes on mine. “She hasn’t accepted the offer yet.”

“I’d love to work here.” I looked down at my hands. “But I can’t start right now.”

“We’re heading into the busy season. We really need someone now.”

It would be dumb to pass up this opportunity. It wasn’t like employers were dying to hire a seventeen-year-old runaway who walked out on her last job. “I need a couple of days to find a room to rent. Hotels get expensive, you know?”

“You’ve already found a great room,” Veta said. “Unless you’re not interested anymore?”

A phone rang from the second floor, and Tina excused herself. I waited until her heels finished clacking up the stairs.

“What if you guys don’t pick me? I need a backup plan.”

Her eyebrows inched closer together. “How about waiting for us to decide first? Me and the guys are meeting up at lunch, and I’d planned on fighting for you.”

“And I appreciate that. But—”

“I won’t bother if you don’t want me to.” She leaned back against the couch, watching a man push a cart outside.

“Wait, I don’t—”

“I’m not going to bat for some chick who’s already given up.”

“I haven’t! I just don’t have much time.” If only telling her the truth didn’t mean killing any chance I had to get into this band.

Veta met my gaze with a sneer. “The world doesn’t revolve around your schedule, Woodside.”

I stood up. “Enough with the Woodside crap already.”

“Look, I’m sorry.” She rested her elbows on her knees, eyes downcast. “But I really need to know—are you actually interested in joining C-Side, or are you just looking for a nice room?”

“You’re the psychic. You tell me.”

She studied me, letting a few seconds pass before answering. “I know you think what me and my mom do is a joke. But we don’t read people without their permission.”

“I—I don’t think it’s a joke. It’s just not something I’m used to. But you
try to read people—you’ve been doing it to me ever since we met. And your mom said my chuk-uh was all out of whack.”

She snorted a laugh. “
. And it was obvious to her. She’d have to dig to tell you why, though.”

“Do you believe in what you do here?”

“Yes—even though a lot of people I care about don’t, including my little brother and sister.”

The frustration in her voice caused a familiar, tight sensation in my stomach. I looked down at my scuffed-up Docs. “I know the feeling.”

“What’s it gonna be? Are you sticking around or not?”

I shifted my weight, part of me wanting to stay and the other itching to run. My fingertips still buzzed from the tryout, craving another song. Another chance. Veta’s fierce lyrics and vocals lingered in my mind. She inspired me. But the thought of being onstage, playing for an actual audience, made me want to duck and cover. Which would be effective only if there were an earthquake.

Chapter 6

The first customer
who walked into Seaside Psychic didn’t give me comfort in my decision to stay. A woman wearing tennis shoes under a green dress looked anxiously around the shop. Between her pale cheeks and blazing eyes, she looked to be a couple of gasps away from a heart attack.

“Where’s your mother?” she asked, her blue eyes narrowing at Veta.

Veta slouched forward, resting her elbows on the countertop. “She’s doing a phone session right now.”

The woman made a huffing noise, letting her pink beach bag slip from her shoulder. “This is an emergency. He wants to meet me for coffee at three o’clock,

The corners of Veta’s mouth twitched upward, as if she was trying to smother a laugh. “I can give you a fifteen.”

Crazy Lady nodded at me. “Who’s she?”

Veta placed a hand on my shoulder. “This is Jasmine, our new cashier. Is it cool if she sits in with us?”

“Fine. Let’s just hurry.”

As Veta led us away from the register, she introduced the woman as Regina Price and mouthed “pain in the ass” when Regina’s back was turned. We walked behind one of the dividers, where there was a cheap black folding table and matching chairs. I expected something a little more elegant.

“Simple and cost effective,” Veta whispered to me as we sat around the table. Two white candles and a digital recorder made the centerpiece. “Didn’t you and Tina do a telephone session yesterday?” she asked Regina.

“We did, but that was about the man I’m meeting tomorrow. This other fellow e-mailed me ten minutes ago.”

“She’s trying the online dating thing,” Veta said to me.

I nodded and gave Regina a quick smile. Decent guys were hard to come by—online or anywhere—and her neurotic appearance probably didn’t do her any favors.

“His name is Richard,” Regina said. “I’ve been writing to him since last week. But you know I prefer to write for at least a month before I—”

“Did you print out a picture?” Veta interrupted. As Regina dug through her massive pink bag, Veta leaned toward my ear. “It really helps me to have a picture of the person or an item they own—takes less energy to pick up on things.”

“I’ve got it. Right here.” Regina tapped her finger against a crumpled piece of paper.

Veta sighed and picked up the picture. A man with slicked-back hair and very white teeth sat with a golden retriever. Neon grass melted into a crisp blue sky behind them. He belonged on the front page of a dating Web site. The kind of friendly, airbrushed face people paid $19.95 to meet—but never did.

“This is fake.” She shoved the paper back to Regina. “Consider this a freebie unless you have any other questions.”

I bit my tongue to hold in the laughter building in my chest.

Regina ran her hands through her salt-and-pepper hair. “How can you tell?”

“Easy! How old did he say he was?”


“Then you’re dealing with a real Photoshop pro here. Because this guy doesn’t look a day over thirty-five.” Veta pointed at the hand petting the dog. “Looks like he forgot to stamp out his wedding ring.”

Regina squinted at the picture. “S-some people look younger. It’s possible.”

Veta shook her head and grinned. “Hey, look at those pecs. I don’t blame you for hoping.”

Pink washed over Regina’s cheeks. “Don’t be ridiculous. He wrote me very nice things.”

“I’m sure he’s a regular Cyrano,” Veta said.

The bell on the door jingled, and hissing voices mixed with giggles echoed around the shop.

“Sounds like tourists.” Veta nudged me. “Go out there and tell them we do fifteen-minute readings for twenty bucks. They usually aren’t interested in more than that.”

I nodded and made my way to the front door, almost bummed to miss the rest of the conversation. Two girls and two guys stood just inside, gazing around the shop.

“Are you sure they give readings here?” one of the guys whispered.

“Hi, can I help you?” I asked.

“Do you guys do palm readings or whatever?” the brunette girl asked. She sported an orange bikini top a size too small.

“Were you looking for palm reading specifically?”

The four of them looked at each other and giggled. “It doesn’t matter,” the other girl said. “How much does it cost?” She wore a denim skirt that barely covered her crotch.

“We, I mean,
can do a fifteen-minute reading for twenty dollars.”

They huddled together, daring one another to be the first to go and eyeing me with amusement. I kept smiling because my old boss always told me never to let the customer see me frown. Any lapse meant I was letting them get to me, and many people tried to get free coffee out of that.

“Where’s your turban?” the girl in the orange bikini asked.

The blond girl in the denim skirt shoved her. “You’re so mean,” she whispered with a grin.

“It’s not rocket science, kids.” Tina came up behind me. “You either want a reading or you don’t.”

I figured they’d turn around and leave, but their eyes widened at her, like she’d turn them into toads if they didn’t comply. How such a tiny and demure-looking woman could be so intimidating was beyond me.

Tina took them behind one of the dividers just as a middle-aged couple wandered in. He wore golf shorts and a gold watch. She had a soccer-mom haircut and several bags from boutique shops. Maybe they were looking for directions to Starbucks.

The guy caught my eye and walked toward me. His wife stayed behind, looking constipated with her elbows pressed into her sides.

“Hi, how are you?” His mouth quirked up in almost a shy grin.

I responded with the autopilot niceties I’d used at the café. “Are you here for a reading?”

“Actually, no.” He lowered his voice, putting his hand on my forearm. “Do you sell nipple clamps?”

I backed away. “I’m sorry, what?”

“We don’t.” Veta appeared next to me. “But there’s a great sex shop on Pacific. Ask for Kat. She’ll hook you up.”

“Great, thanks!” He waved at us. His wife rolled her eyes and mumbled something to him on their way out.

“Some think psychic equals kinky,” Veta said.

“That guy could’ve been one of my dad’s friends,” I blurted, my mouth hanging open.

Veta punched my arm. “You’ll get used to it, Goldilocks.”

Would I?

By noon, my stomach was aching for a sandwich, crackers, or maybe some human fingers. Really, anything crunchy sounded good. Tina wasn’t kidding about it being busy. Sometimes there was up to an hour’s wait for readings. Veta and Tina answered everything from whether a lover was cheating to
Should I talk to the fairies in my backyard?
And of course the ever popular,
When will I die?
They didn’t even attempt to answer that one.

Luckily, learning the cash register was the easiest part of the job. Making custom massage oils and lotions? Not so simple. Too many brown bottles with weird names. Veta made me a chart I had to memorize, detailing the purpose of each essential oil.

“Let’s say a customer comes in with a headache,” she explained. “I’d suggest lavender or chamomile. Rub a little on the temples.”

“Aspirin usually works for me.”

“It can also eat your stomach lining.”

“Only if you take it, like, excessively.”

“That’s true,” a young voice said. It came from a blond girl reading on the couch. Her book was at least a thousand pages long—like one of those mammoth fantasy titles. She’d been there for the last hour but gave me a rather snotty “no” every time I asked if she needed help.

Veta threw her head back. “It’s so time for lunch. Lock up, Wikipedia.”

The girl put her book down with a dramatic sigh. She couldn’t have been more than twelve. Definitely too young to work here. At least, I hoped.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“My little sister, Zoe. She’s got the whole apartment to herself, but she insists on reading down here.” Veta lowered her voice. “I think she secretly likes us.”

“It’s hot up there.” Zoe plopped back on the couch and resumed reading. She was petite like her mom, but round faced and pale. Like a doll.

“You don’t look alike.”

“She’s got a different dad from me and Sean. Pete—you might’ve met him at the garage.”

I remembered his warm smile. “Very briefly. He seemed nice.”

Veta leaned against the counter, folding her arms. “Pete’s awesome. He’s like a dad to me and Sean too.”

“What about your biological dad?” I shook my head when she frowned. “Sorry, that’s none of my business.” I hated it when people asked about my mom. It was easier to pretend I never knew her than to tell them the truth.

“All Mom’s told us is, he’s tall, rich, and Irish. Oh, and Sean looks like him. But it took years to get that out of her. She used to just call him the
.” Veta grinned.

“Hence your issue with rich people.”

She twirled the end of her braid around her finger. “Like you?”

I motioned to my old jeans and the white Seaside Psychic T-shirt I’d borrowed. “Uh, look at me.”

“There’s a difference between being poor and having no fashion sense. Your refusal of the sundress points to the latter.”

“I don’t wear dresses. Ever.”

“Me neither,” Zoe said without taking her eyes off the page. “But I don’t have boobs yet. What’s your excuse?”

Veta covered her mouth, laughing.

I folded my arms across my chest. “Boobs are overrated.”

“Okay, I gotta go meet the boys.” Veta slipped her velvet purse over her shoulder. “Wish yourself luck.”

Forty-five minutes later, I was sitting in Raul’s Café, staring at my laptop and making a small dent in my bean-and-cheese burrito. Veta said the café next door had the best burritos in town. And maybe they did. I’d have to try one when my stomach wasn’t in my throat.

There were two new listings for rooms in my price range. One down the street—the
part of town. Then again, I’d spent last night in my car.

I called the other place, another room in some family’s house. Taken.

“Please tell me a nasty stomach virus is preventing you from eating that.” Veta stood over me, her thin eyebrows raised.

“Oh, hi.” I pressed my laptop shut. “It’s great. I got distracted.”

She slid in across from me and tore off the back end of my burrito.

“Didn’t you just eat?” I asked.

“Yeah, but these things are like crack.”

“So what’s the verdict?”

“Can I have another bite?”

I glared.

A wide, feline smile took over her face. “Well, there’s good news and bad news.” She drummed her fingertips against the plastic table. “I bet you’re the type who wants the bad news first.”

I exhaled, stuffing my hands in my lap. “Just tell me.”

“The bad news is, Bryn thinks you’ve got talent, but he’s not sold on your confidence and stage presence. And Sean…” She shook her head. “What the hell happened between you two?”

“Nothing! I mean, his first words to me were, ‘Your car is in front of an auto shop, genius.’ He treats me like I’m the biggest ditz on the planet.” Not that it was entirely undeserved.

“He thinks you’re full of shit.”

He must’ve told them about finding me in my car. “I was getting my toothbrush. It wasn’t what he thought.”

Veta wrinkled her nose. “Huh?”

“This morning in my car…” I trailed off when her confused expression didn’t change.

“I’m dying to hear the rest of this.” She tore off another chunk of my burrito and relaxed back in the chair.

I gave her the same story I told Sean. “Then he started interrogating me. Like he didn’t buy it.”

“Usually hotels have those little—”

“I know, but mine’s electric. I’m attached.”

Veta’s smile faded, her eyes narrowing at me. She knew. I squeezed my hands into fists and prepared for her to call me out.

“Sean’s always been a skeptic,” she said. “Or a judgmental prick, depending on who you ask.”

I let a smile slip despite myself.

“But this thing with his ex and Teddy…” She paused as if wondering how much to tell me. “Teddy was his best friend. And Amy
one of mine. We grew up together.” She looked out the window, still drumming her fingers against the table. “First loves can fuck you up.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“There’s a shocker.”

I tried not to read too much into her words, but they still stung. Like the time Dad told me being average looking was a blessing. It would be easier to succeed without boys chasing me.

“Sean knows he has to get over it,” Veta continued. “He hasn’t liked anyone who’s tried out. And we need a new guitarist, like, yesterday. But it’s a small scene and a lot of people are pissed at us right now.”

“What do you mean?”

She scrunched her nose. “Let’s just say Teddy is a well-liked guy around here. He always gives a lively performance—crowd surfing in a raft, wearing nothing but a Speedo and tiara. You name it, he’s probably done it.” She laughed. “Don’t look so freaked, babe. We don’t expect you to do that stuff. But I won’t lie—you’d have some big shoes to fill.”


“Anyway, certain people—mostly Teddy’s friends—don’t think it’s fair that he got booted over some chick. But Sean couldn’t work with him and, quite frankly, neither could I.”

“Makes sense.”

“Which brings me to this,” she said. “Bryn brought up the fact that you’re a higher risk for dramarama.”

“Why—because I’m a girl? Give me a break.”

Veta leaned forward, the hint of a smirk on her lips. “Jailbait girl living with three guys. Two of them over eighteen. Get the picture, Goldilocks?”

A blush crept up my neck. “Well, it’s not like I would, I mean, Sean’s cute, but—”

“You think my brother’s cute?” Her playful tone made me cringe. Why did Sean’s name have to come flying out of my mouth?

“Um, sure.” I folded my napkin into minuscule squares. “But he’s not my type at all. That’s what I was trying to say…”

“Good—as long as the attraction stays superficial.”

“There’s no attraction!” I exhaled a laugh. “God.”

BOOK: Amplified
5.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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