Authors: Naima DaCosta
The Right Note
Hayley Parker was walking down main street. The once thriving area around her was now a dingy commercial district dotted with ethnic grocery stores, a sports bar and a few struggling specialty shops. A shiny new Starbucks glared out from one corner, a harbinger of the encroaching gentrification which would surely accelerate in earnest, once the condo developers had bought out enough of the surrounding properties to consolidate their inevitable takeover. She shivered from the early January chill. there hadn't been too much snow yet this year but the freezing rain had been nearly incessant since the holidays, leaving an icy dampness lingering in the air. She was on a mission today. She had come straight from the last of her afternoon's piano lessons so she could be on time for the most important appointment of her young life.
Not being familiar with the neighborhood she stopped to check a street sign on the corner. After confirming she hadn't missed her turn she found her self looking at her reflection in the window of a nearby parked sedan. The first thing people saw was the dark milk chocolate tone of her skin and the tall shock of naturally kinky yet soft, tight black curls that rose out of her head. her soft brown eyes were framed by medium thick, black designer frames. which she preferred to contacts. They made her feel smarter, and the overly gallant young men of her color which she encountered while on the subway or walking downtown tended to not bother her as much when she wore them. The delicate, rather European contours of her high cheekbones, Her flat little nose, and her less than full lips made her look like she was biracial. In fact both of her parents were black, having been born in Trinidad they had emigrated here with Hayley's grandparents as children.
Her face, taken as a whole, was one that could almost be beautiful but was neither girlishly pretty nor obviously sensual. Her tight fitting maroon peacoat was stylish without making her look too trendy, which was as she preferred, not really wanting to be viewed as a hipster per se. focusing now on how her body looked In the car window's reflection, It seemed underwhelming to her. She was five foot four, possessing the kind of figure one would typically associate with long distance running, which she had, in fact, competed at in high school. With slender shoulders, arms and hips she was somewhat catlike, but through her tight slacks, her muscular calves and her firm, high, round buttocks showed her to be more athletic than her trim contours at first suggested. Her coat and loose blouse hid more than ample breasts, which she seldom showed off to her advantage, finding the attention they attracted to be more an an annoyance than anything.
An astute observer would peg her as a socially assimilated young black woman in her early 20's from a lower middle class background with upwardly mobile aspirations, who worked in a creative field and they would be accurate. She was an aspiring pop songwriter. It was an extremely difficult field to break into with the majority of the top 40 billboard pop hits being written by a mere handful of big names based out of L.A. . She had always wanted to make music professionally. having had her first piano lessons from her mother when she was 4, she had started writing her own songs from the age of 12. After high school She had gone to college briefly, a 1 year composition/ entertainment business program. She had spent the last few years since graduating teaching music and writing a few jingles here and there. In addition to this less than steady work she had a part time gig as a coat check girl in a popular local music venue known as the the Ballroom. it was a job she had picked mostly for the industry connections she had hoped it might bring to her. Seeing promoters fighting with venue owners, and managers fighting with everyone else while artists smiled obliviously every night had helped her to realize how little she actually wanted any part of the business of live music. Besides that, there was the terrible stage fright she had never gotten over.
She never had a problem playing to small groups of people, but for some reason whenever she was on an actual stage with a large crowd of people in the audience, she was so sick with anxiety she was barely was able to finish her set. She never felt she had played anywhere near her best under those conditions She made friends easily wherever she found herself. partly because of her friendly enthusiasm and partly due to her easy humor.
When not joking around she kept an easygoing, unassuming demeanor. The only time she came fully alive was in social situations where music was being discussed or played. On those occasions she simply couldn't help herself from becoming the center of attention, talking animatedly about her favorite artists and giving little demonstrations of her latest work that invariably impressed the hell out of anyone who heard her. Her male friends liked her because they could nerd out together about music. Other women liked her because she didn't really try to compete with them for men. In fact she had dated very little.
A boyfriend or two in high school and a few flings in college had taught her that she wasn't all that well suited for romantic relationships. she was always too absorbed in her music to understand why she was supposed to pay such close attention to these guys who all seemed to want to put her on a pedestal. She enjoyed sex though, those odd times when it was actually good. She liked remembering those times when she was bored, waiting in line, or sitting on the subway. The feeling of rough hands on her shoulders, the sounds of heavy masculine breathing, the sight of a man's chest and abdomen flexing as he moved his body in a hard steady rhythm while pushing inside her. The delicious sensation of having her small dark nipples teased and sucked on.
These things were all well and good but having a guy texting her all the time telling her how much he loved her was more annoying than anything else. Hayley heard someone clear their throat pointedly behind her. Startled out of her narcissistic reverie, she turned to see a comically short Punjabi man, most likely one of the local merchants, glaring at her. Apparently he was convinced that she had some sinister interest in the vehicle she had spent the last two minutes using as her personal mirror. She tried to smile a friendly smile at him and indicate she was moving on now, but he seemed determined to be as unforgiving as possible. she shook her head and turned away to continue walking. I probably should have seen that coming, she thought, reflecting on the fact of her being the only black person visible on the whole street.
The neighborhood was mostly made up of Italians and Greeks with a few Mexicans and assorted middle easterners, who were mostly concentrated farther south. She turned the corner off of main onto a side street heading into what appeared to be a light industrial area She began to run over in her mind everything she knew about the man she was going to meet in a few minutes. His name was Jack Davis. He was one of the most respected and consistently successful pop songwriters working today. He had written songs for artists in every genre and several of his songs had been hits more than once with different versions. this was something usually only happened with songs of the very highest caliber.
After all, Most pop songs tended to fade away altogether almost as fast as they fell from the charts. He was known, not just for writing, but also arranging his hits.
His work was hard to classify. As soon as a couple of his singles in a row could be said to have a signature sound, he invariably came up with something completely different for his next success, as if he enjoyed baffling everyone in the industry. As a man he was said to be cold. he was known to be very tough about money. he had consistently refused to lease or sell the rights to any of his publishing. She admired the principle in that, but in reality almost nobody else could get away without that. He didn't do interviews and he didn't show up at awards ceremonies. As far as anyone knew he didn't post on the internet.
There weren't even any recent photographs of him. She had found an old one on the internet from his younger days when he'd been a promising singer-songwriter, the next Springsteen one reviewer had called him. she pulled out her phone and brought the image to the screen to look at it again. The figure in the photo was dark haired and rather handsome although hardly glamorous being rather gaunt. his slightly nervous smile showed crooked teeth. he looked so young and boyish when she considered that He must have been in at least his mid twenties when it was taken. She put her phone away and continued walking down the narrow sidewalk.
Rumor had it that he'd suffered some kind of nervous breakdown, perhaps drug related, which had ended his career. Nothing was heard of him again for about for a long time after that. Then, years later he slowly began to resurface, first as an arranger on a couple of unimportant albums and then a few of his songs scraped their way into the very bottom of the charts. For the next couple of years His rise was pretty unimpressive.
Things suddenly changed 4 years ago. One of his songs which had previously bombed became a number 1 with the release of a new record of it, this time the record had been arranged by him. since then he'd worked at a breakneck pace, slowing his output down only enough to keep people guessing what his next hit might possibly sound like. That was about all there was to know about him that was public knowledge. He was known to have friends but they were almost all people outside of the music business. She couldn't believe it when she had found out that he lived here, of all places, In the same city as her! There was almost no music industry of any kind here. A few recording studios were still managing to stay in business but that was all.
That had been the very reason Hayley had been trying so hard to save enough to move to LA since college, but her student loan and her inability to keep a full roster of piano students had slowly but surely pushed that goal farther and farther back. Even worse, she had loaned her parents $3000 of her savings last year and she worried they would ask her to help them with their mortgage at some point again soon. She felt guilty for how much she secretly hated feeling obligated to help them.
Her dad had had a bypass operation a couple of years ago which they were still trying to recover from, having been financially insolvent from the medical bills and the time her Dad had missed work while in recovery. They were wonderful, loving, supportive parents but she felt their troubles like a chain around her neck which prevented her from escaping her dismal future.
A man who had been supervising the installation of a new sound system at the venue where she worked overheard her complaining to her coworker about how impossible it was to have a career in this city as a professional songwriter. He had interrupted her, saying loudly in an dramatic tone "Are you kidding? Don't you know who lives and works right here in town?.. only the best songwriter in the business.. Jack Davis." She couldn't believe it at first, of course. He laughed at her dumbstruck expression and introduced himself as Michael, apologizing for his rudeness.
He was stocky with grey, shaggy hair. His face was friendly and his eyes mischievous..He had a slight English accent and a devil-may-care attitude that had probably made him extremely attractive to women when he was a few years younger and a few pounds lighter.
Hayley wasn't working tonight ,she had only been there to pick up her cheque, she turned to see Michael already walking away, out through the service doors so she ran to catch up with him. As he reached the sidewalk looking like he was about to hail a cab she called out from behind him incoherently.
"How did you know that?..I mean do you know him?..or do you know where?.."
He turned to see her before him. Eyes shining, breathless and beautiful at that moment. Hayley stood under the glow of the streetlight while the light rain drifted aimlessly around them in a cool silky mist He laughed and rolled his words out with an easy charm.
"I guess I can't see why I shouldn't tell you: I used to be his sound man on all his tours, I could tell you stories about him...and me," he grinned wolfishly.
"We had some fun in those days".
Hayley couldn't contain herself.
She blurted, "is there any way I could ever meet him?"
Michael laughed again at her contagious excitement, then his brow furrowed.
"Well now, I can't promise you anything, but as a matter of fact I am going to installing a new set of speakers I built for him on commission next week.."
Hayley had completely tossed all her dignity out the window.
"Would you please take me and introduce us?"
Michael stopped smiling and looked serious.
"No. I can't do that."
She opened her mouth but Michael gently cut her off.
"No I will not tell you where he is."
"He's jealous of his privacy and I'm one of the very few he trusts."
Her face remained resolutely intent. Knowing where this magical creature was, but being kept away was like torture. The thought of not being able to act on it.. there had to be some way!
"You'll never find it just by hunting around, it's nowhere anyone would think to look" Michael said, reading her thoughts.
Hayley's big brown eyes, so tactless, so guileless, warmed Michael's insides. Those eyes were still unnaturally shiny, her cheeks now getting all wet with misty rain. She looked so sincere, so on the verge of being completely heartbroken, that he made a snap decision in a single moment that would change her life forever.
"Give me your number, and I'll try to get you an appointment."
She beamed at him.
“But remember, this isn't a promise,” Michael said.