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Authors: Tara Kelly

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

Amplified (7 page)

BOOK: Amplified
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Her eyes did that squinty thing again. I crumpled the napkin in my palm.

“You aren’t his type either. Or anyone’s in the band. I pointed that out to them.”

A sinking feeling settled inside, which annoyed me. I didn’t want to be one of those girls who needed validation to feel worthy.

“Get that look off your face. That’s good news.”

“I don’t have a
look
.”

“I know this is awkward,” she said. “But we gotta deal with any potential elephants in the room now. We don’t have time to make the wrong decision.”

People exaggerated on their résumés all the time. This wasn’t any different. I had the skills and, most certainly, the motivation. They’d never have to know.

Unless I lost it onstage.

“Okay, here’s the good news,” she continued. “We’ve narrowed it down to you and Dave. Hope you don’t have any plans tonight.”

“Why?”

“Because you two are going to battle it out after work. Winner gets to move in tonight.”

My throat tightened. “Battle…how?”

“We’re giving you guys boxing gloves and locking you in the studio.”

“Uh…”

“A guitar face-off, doofus. We’re going to have Zoe tape it and everything. I can’t wait.”

“T-tape it?”

She grabbed the last fourth of my burrito. “Uh-hmm. So we can review it and see who brought it the most. It’s hard to watch you while we’re playing.”

My palms went clammy. “Great. Who’s going to play Tyra?”

“Probably Felix. He watches that show religiously.” She licked her fingers, her eyes widening. “You guys should do a catwalk with your guitars.”

“Whose idea was this?”

“Mine. And you’re welcome.” She stood up, pulling her purse over her shoulder. “Time to get back to work.”

I gaped at her, but she turned around and walked out the door, the sun igniting her hair like a red bulb.

Cameras hated me, especially video cameras. But that was the least of my problems. What if I looked at the strings too much? Or didn’t move around enough? I hope they didn’t expect me to dance. Jason told me I danced like a cat with Scotch tape on its paws.

Chapter 7
 

The band told
Dave and me to wait outside while they set up. They either wanted to make us sweat or kill each other. Probably both.

Dave sported glitter around black-lined eyes and meticulously spiked hair. Chiseled abs and biceps showed through his mesh shirt and he kept his chin high, telling the world he was an alpha male, sparkles and all.

I folded my arms and avoided eye contact. My official buzz-off pose.

“Nervous?” he asked.

“Do you care?”

“If you choke up like you did yesterday, I’ve got this.”

“And if you—” The door squeaked open, interrupting my comeback.

Bryn poked his head out, his dreads hanging in his face. “We’re ready.”

I waved Dave past me. “Ladies first.”

He paused, scanning my body. “I’d probably look better in a skirt.”

“Too bad your legs won’t get you the gig.”

Dave grabbed his gear and walked inside. I took a deep breath as I followed. If his plan was to psych me out, he certainly knew the right place to start. There was a reason Jason and I hid out in his garage. At least there we could focus on what really mattered: the music.

“Dave, you can set up over there by Sean,” Veta said. “You’re on my side, Jasmine.”

I let out a soft sigh of relief. The farther away I was from Dave and Sean, the better.

The band had already taken their positions, each member fiddling with his or her instrument. Zoe circled the room, sticking a mini DV camera in their faces. She wasn’t having much luck with Sean.

“Quit it!” she yelled at him. “Your skeevy palm is going to ruin the lens.”

“That’s the point.”

At least we agreed on something.

I plugged my guitar into their combo amp, gazing enviously at Dave. He had his own equipment here, which gave him a huge advantage.

“Smile!” Zoe thrust her camera at me.

I waved. “Don’t shove that thing in my face while I’m playing, okay?”

“You can film me.” Dave grinned at her. “I won’t yell at you.”

Oh, please. Could this guy get any more phony? Zoe didn’t seem particularly interested in him, though. She moved on to capture Felix muttering profanities at his laptop. He looked especially cute today with his blue hair in pigtails.

“Everyone ready? I got a friend coming over at nine,” Bryn said.

“Which
friend
?” Sean asked, pushing his hair out of his face. “The blonde who crashed Daddy’s Mercedes or the one who thought Hemingway was a designer?”

Bryn’s lips spread into a wide smile. “The one whose friend wants your number.”

Sean rolled his eyes, like he wasn’t even flattered. “Give her Teddy’s.”

I bet a lot of girls wanted his number. Until he opened his mouth.

“I’ve seen a couple of your shows,” Dave said, nodding at Bryn. “The chicks love you.”

“Is that why you’re here, Dave?” Veta asked. “Hoping to get a little action?”

Dave tuned his pointy guitar, narrowing his eyes at her. “I have a girlfriend.”

“Okay, enough dicking around. Here’s the deal,” Bryn said, using his drumstick as a gavel. “We’re going to play the song three times. You’ll just listen the first time. Then we’ll give you each a go at it. Whoever kills it more gets to stay. Clear enough?” When we both nodded, he continued, keeping his gaze on me. “And don’t just stand there. Pretend you’re onstage doing a show with us.”

I scanned the room, hugging my guitar closer to my body.
Don’t just stand there.
Great. Any movement more than a couple of feet in any direction and I’d be bumping into someone or something. What did they expect me to do—twirl in place? Do a headstand?

Dave announced that he’d go first, which was fine with me. More time to prepare.

The song began with a kick drum loop. Felix added in a bouncy synth after a couple of measures, but the intro needed more punch. I could hear a fast, almost James Bond–like riff cutting in, or maybe even starting from the beginning.

The loop Felix was playing stuttered, and Veta busted in with a steely combo of power chords. Sean backed her up with a simple but effective bass line. They made me want to mosh, and I hated mosh pits.

The song was solid; it reminded me of Rob Zombie—only with sultry female vocals instead of his growl. This wasn’t a bad thing—I dug Zombie. But C-Side’s music needed that extra nudge, something to really set them apart.

The band went right from the end of the song to the beginning again. Dave simply bobbed his head to the intro, missing a huge opportunity. Once the song gained momentum, he dove in with a fast and dirty lick, relying on pinch harmonics to dress it up. Making a guitar squeal for added emphasis sounded cool, but some guitarists didn’t understand the concept of moderation. Still, it was a difficult technique to master. And Dave kicked my ass in the shredding department. He’d probably spent as much time practicing scales as he had jacking off.

Zoe followed Dave’s movements with the camera. He jutted his hips out and tapped the heel of his boot like some rock star in a bad ’80s flick. Hooded eyes, pursed lips. He looked proud of himself.

Veta switched from the sultry vocals of the verse to the balls-out chorus. “Back-seat love affair. Give me that leather stare. Hardened ecstasy. You’ll never come down.” Even with hair in her face and tank top straps falling down her shoulders, the girl defined stage presence. She kept her eyes forward, glaring at some invisible force, while keeping a tight and unbreakable rhythm.

I spread my feet farther apart, mimicking her stance, and moved my shoulders to Bryn’s beat. Maybe I’d capture a little of the magic. Then I caught Sean’s eye, and that plan went to hell. He’d been watching me observe his sister, a smile playing at his lips.

I quickly focused on Felix. A grin lit up his face as the sound of his chirping pad filled the room. What must it be like to feel that at ease?

Bryn was a machine of sweat and muscle, every motion controlled as he drove the rest of the band forward. He seemed incapable of error.

But he was only human. All of them were—I needed to remember that.

Dave saved his slickest moves for last. He’d come close to stealing the song while Veta was singing, but he really let loose during the vocal break. His fingers flew up and down the guitar’s neck as he rocked back and forth. Bryn intensified the beat, nodding his head in approval. Was he deaf?

Dave hit every note, but he had nothing to say. No passion. A solo without a story was like a singer with perfect pitch but a dead voice. Technique got a musician only so far.

I peeked over at Sean, but he appeared to be in another universe. Eyes shut, fingers steady, and not much else. That gave me hope.

The song came to a steamy end, and Dave gobbled up the last drops of time with a blast of feedback. He flashed me a shit-eating grin.

To my surprise, Bryn kept the beat going and called out, “You ready, Jasmine?”

Hell no. “Uh…” I shifted my guitar strap higher on my shoulder and fumbled my hands into position. “I guess.”

“If you aren’t, don’t waste our time,” Sean said.

The doubt in his eyes made me burn inside. He’d love to be right about me. Someone needed to give him the memo about not judging a book by its cover.

“Go ahead,” I said.

A string of thoughts clashed in my head, most of them highlighting the many ways I could mess this up again. Dad always said if I really wanted something, giving myself permission to screw up wasn’t an option. Neither was falling down and crying. According to him, if my grandmother had emigrated from Hungary with that attitude, she would’ve starved to death.

I closed my eyes, replaying the song in my head and using Bryn’s beat as momentum. That James Bond–like riff came back to me, and I let my fingers do the talking. Felix’s synth joined in, matching my rhythm perfectly. It gave a taste of what was ahead, a massive explosion of sound.

When Veta’s riff kicked in, my focus shifted to her vocal melody. Songs always put images in my head, kind of like watching a music video. Something to care about and be inspired by—if only for a few moments.

The chorus made me feel reckless, like I was kissing some guy I barely knew. Back of his car. 2 a.m. Cold leather seat against my skin. The kind of scene that called for a glass slide. Although a beer bottle would’ve been cooler.

I put the slide over my pinkie and went from one note to the next, keeping the lick sparse and mindful of Veta’s vocals. It added a nice bluesy edge and gave the song more personality.

Then I remembered that I was supposed to be moving around. Crap. I swayed gently to the beat and opened my eyes, meeting the lens of Zoe’s camera. She watched me through the mini screen, looking bored out of her mind. That couldn’t be good.

Veta leaned closer to her mic and delivered the next verse in a harsh whisper. I backed her up with a dreamy arpeggio, coloring in a flange effect. The notes sounded like they were drowning in a mythical ocean, the kind with mermaids and cerulean waves. It fit Veta, her softer side at least.

I’d done a great job of avoiding Dave until the end of the second chorus, just before the bridge. Movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention. Huge mistake.

Dave rocked from side to side and pretended to play along, his entire body stiff. He shut his eyes and furrowed his brow for added effect. God, he looked like he was doing the potty dance. He
wished
that was an accurate imitation.

I turned away, my fingers digging into the strings. My hands began to sweat and an itch probed the back of my neck.
Just get through this bridge. It’s almost over.

I let the first note of my solo ring out after Veta finished her last vocal line. At least, I
thought
she’d finished. She shot me a confused look and kept singing. My face felt like an oven.

Veta backed away from the mic, giving me an encouraging smile.

Last chance, Jasmine. Keep going.

My fingers swept the fret board, leaving my mind in the dust. Bryn’s beat pushed me forward and Veta’s riff encouraged me to be relentless, unforgiving. I bent the hell out of certain notes, letting them really sing, and barely let others breathe. A pause here, a little vibrato there. Growing in complexity by the second. The melody told them the story I couldn’t. My story—in all its raw and unrehearsed glory.

I just hoped they bought it.

Dave and I were relegated to the living room of the main house. He got comfy in a black leather recliner and channel-surfed their plasma TV. I paced back and forth, hands clenched at my sides.

C-Side had been in the studio for twenty minutes now. Watching Zoe’s video. Debating. Possibly laughing at my lack of dance moves.

“So I’m curious,” Dave began.

“Good for you.”

“Why do you want to play for C-Side?”

I stopped pacing and folded my arms. “Why not?”

He raised his pale eyebrows. “Are you even into their music?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”

“I think you’re in the wrong place.”

“Why—because I forgot my tanker boots and eye glitter?”

“Because you come off like a band geek doing her first talent show.” He motioned toward the studio. “Their words, not mine.”

I moved in front of the TV, blocking his view. “You mean Sean’s words?”

“That’s the bassist, right? He wasn’t the one who said it.”

My back stiffened. “I know what you’re trying to do, and it’s not working.”

“Have you ever played a live show? Honestly?”

My heart pounded a little harder. Was my lack of stage experience that obvious?

A smile tugged at his lips when I didn’t answer. “Because I’ve played at Slim’s and the DNA Lounge in San Francisco. The Catalyst here. They need someone who knows how to work an audience.”

Movement caught the corner of my eye, and I turned to see Sean standing in the kitchen entranceway. “Dave,” he said. “They want to talk to you in the studio.”

Dave turned the TV off and hopped out of the recliner. “You get to do the dirty work, huh?”

Sean shrugged, his expression unreadable. “Guess you’ll find out.”

Dave rolled his eyes and made his way out of the room. I waited for the door to shut behind him before meeting Sean’s gaze. Couldn’t Veta have broken the bad news to me? Sending her brother was messed up.

Sean plopped onto their mustard-yellow couch and motioned to the space next to him. “You want to sit?”

“I’m fine where I am, thanks.”

He sat forward, studying my face. “I’m not going to bite.”

“Just say what you came here to say.” I closed my eyes. “Please.”


Have
you played live before?”

I looked down at the turquoise carpet. “Eavesdropping is creepy.”

He exhaled a soft laugh. “I was standing there in plain view.”

“Look, I don’t have a lot of time, so I need to know…”

“Right.” He checked his watch. “The dinner rush is almost over. Prime time for Dumpster diving.”

I ran my hands through my unwashed hair, wondering if it looked as bad as it felt.

“You were like a deer in headlights in the video,” he continued. “That’s not going to fly at a show.”

“Video cameras weird me out.”

“As opposed to hundreds of people watching you?”

My mind grasped for an answer. Any answer. “I can handle it.”

“Let’s hope so. Because Veta and Felix think you can pull it off. And, lucky for you, Dave’s a tool. So you’re in.”

I sucked in my breath. “
In the band
in?”

He squinted at me like I was the biggest dope. “Uh, yeah.”

Happy chills swept across my skin. I wanted to jump up and down and scream like some fan girl. But I managed to contain myself, sort of. “Thank you! I mean, not you—
them
. I know this wasn’t your choice—”

“You can save the acceptance speech.” He stood up, shoving his hands into the pockets of his cargo pants. “Look, you played well tonight. You’ve got a distinctive style—I can see why my sister is all amped up over you.”

BOOK: Amplified
7.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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