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  • Writer's pictureJill Marie Denton

Corey and Emmi - Part III

December, 2013

“I need a damn recording studio, not a lecture,” he scowled into his phone. The car lurched forward inch by inch in traffic toward the waiting venue, doing nothing for his patience.

The voice in his ear made excuse after excuse so he hung up, tossing his phone onto the seat beside with a huff. The recordings he’d squeaked out before leaving LA sounded just as rushed as they’d been. The producer’s work on them was abysmal and he refused to have the culmination of a year’s writing work sound like squeaky, manufactured shit.

Days like today called for a drink, but he was a different man now, a better man, or so he prayed.

Sober for seven years. Seven tempting yet empowering years. And the music industry hadn’t turned its back on him. He thought being a musician meant being under the influence, that they paired like bass and drum, but he’d been terribly mistaken for way too long.

His name meant something and his fans deserved better. This whole tour was a love letter to the diehards, the ones he’d earned over the years, with far better music than the crap he’d just recorded, and the ones that’d stuck up for him through rehab and worse.

The argument remained, though. Fans versus family.

His eleven-year-old son was sick at home, his second wife was sending guilt-laced texts every ten minutes and his pulse pounded in his temples. Touring was getting more complicated by the day.

The phone rang again, a Philly area code on display. The traffic in this damn city was enough to chase him off forever, but he’d committed to this radio interview and the club show that night. There was no turning around on this highway, anyway, stuck in the middle lane.

His driver swerved around a disabled vehicle as he lifted phone to ear. “Yeah?”

“Good morning, Mr. Taylor, this is Rebecca at WROK. We’re calling for your ETA.”

“ETA?” He called out to the front seat.

The driver replied. “Fifteen.”

“Fifteen,” Corey echoed back to the pert caller.

“What can I do to make the morning better for you? Coffee order? Something to eat?”

“Coffee. Make it strong and have it ready.”

“Understandable. Drive safe!”

He hung up first, tucking the phone away as the driver dodged another near collision on the winding expressway.

Emmi signed another autograph, working her way down the line of in-studio attendees at the radio station. The morning show often raffled off tickets to sit and watch the show happen live as fund raisers or group incentives, and these particular audience members had donated generously to a local food bank, garnering a chance to meet Emmi and Rai and listen to their newest single debut over the airwaves. The green room outside the radio studio was buzzing with excitement as they mingled.

Rai posed for a selfie with one of the male attendees, devil horns on full display as Emmi squeezed by to shake the radio host’s hand. Her throat burned from the early-morning vocal strain, but she smiled amiably as the producers swooped in with the iced tea she’d requested. Their commercial break only lasted so long, and these guests needed to go before the advertising ended.

“You guys are amazing,” Clay glowed, clapping a palm on Emmi’s shoulder. “This has meant so much to us and to them.” His attention turned to the attendees. “Guys, big thanks to Second for taking some time out.”

He gestured to the radio station employees and attendees as they cheered and waved their signed CDs and paper-sized posters. Rai returned to Emmi and they bowed politely at the crowd.

“It’s a pleasure,” Emmi replied. “We love you. ROK gave us our first shot. We’re just part of the family around here. You guys are the best.”

At the sound of the final word, the crowd buzzed again. Rai helped the employees usher out the guests, her smile never fading. Emmi and Clay traded good-natured jabs while the radio crew tidied the green room for their next on-air guest.

By the time the producer emerged from the studio to usher Clay back in, Emmi was ready for a reprieve. Rai’s overly indulgent smile faded to her more neutral expression as they were left alone in the green room.

“Where to next, boss?” Rai asked, shrugging her shoulders into her favorite leather jacket.

“Speedrun Records, South Street,” Emmi told her, buttoning her peacoat over the narrow navy suit beneath. “Chuck’s been offering up his space to us for years, time to take advantage.”

“I love this local-record-store promo thing we’re doing for his album. It’s so us, so homegrown. And we’re hitting the shop on Main Street in Newark on the way home, yeah?”

Emmi nodded. “Tina’s got a billion ideas to go over with us.”

“And you know all their names,” Rai nestled her arm in Emmi’s like she’d done for decades.

“It goes a long way in negotiating. You’d do well to learn some names, too.”

Rai snickered at her friend’s quasi-kindness, quasi-cunning, joining Emmi in watching the show continue through the panes of glass between them and the studio.

Rebecca, ROK’s newest production assistant, met Corey’s car outside, a thirty-ounce molten Colombian brew in her hands. “Good morning, Mr. Taylor.”

“Rebecca, I bet,” he replied listlessly. “Mine?”

She nodded once and handed it over. Without hesitation, he ripped off the white lid and gulped down a quarter of it. She winced, imagining every one of his taste buds screaming out as they died.

He was silent in the elevator and the hall beyond, the coffee working its magic in his veins. He knew the lingering stress headache would melt away once the caffeine hit.

His phone had finally stopped buzzing. His wife was mid-massage, his son was medicated, and his manager was on the hunt for a studio. For the briefest of moments, his world was spinning at a reasonable clip.

Rebecca escorted him through a maze of gray cubicles to a broad door. “If you’d wait in the green room, I’ll let the hosts know you’re here. Anything else I can bring you, Mr. Taylor?”

He rubbed a thumb between his brows with a wince. “It’s Corey, and no, I’m good.”

She nodded once and rushed off the way they came.

He pushed open the green room door with a grunt only to take in the sight of two more women, their backs to him. He was about done with chicks today and it was only nine a.m.

The head of black hair peeked over her shoulder while the curvy blonde kept her eyes ahead on the show in progress. He thought he saw her eyes narrow the slightest bit, but the look was gone in a flash. She turned back to the blonde, murmured something and snickered.

He was in no mood for this.

Without a word, he tossed open the green room door again, storming down the hall and praying he remembered the path Rebecca led him through. He made it all the way back to the elevator bank before Rebecca caught up to him, panting with wild eyes.

“Mr. … Corey, is there something you need?”

“Air,” he snapped. “And ten of silence.”

She nodded again, stepping to his side to usher him back into the elevator. While the doors closed, she typed frantically on a cell phone. A quick glance showed the radio show’s host’s name on display.

The coffee was taking its sweet time working. One sip of Jack. One was all he needed. Life was just harder now that he’d decided to avoid it.

But he knew his routine. One sip led to two, which led to twelve.

He was better than that. Life was more important than that. He had the skills now to handle it. He just needed a moment’s peace to remember them.

Rebecca led him to a private outdoor area behind the office building, trimmed with a high fence and bordered by parking spots occupied by expensive sedans and SUVs. Executive smoking area, maybe, or a spot specifically designed for hotheaded musicians like himself. Either way, he wasn’t going to argue the kindness.

“Come get me in ten,” he told the PA. “More coffee when you do, just like the other one.”

She released a breath and dashed back inside without another word. He was left with the sounds of muted conversation and of car doors open and closing, their lock systems’ short horn blasts making him wince. A few city birds circled the trees nearby and the sun was beginning to warm the frozen concrete below his feet. He missed LA on frigid mornings like this one, but not enough to run back to the stress of it just yet.

Two female voices rang out from the door he’d exited a minute before. He turned his back to the sound and lit up a cigarette, camping in the corner by the ash receptacle. Fortunately, the women didn’t have an interest in hanging out, instead entering the lot to his left as their conversation continued. He peeked over his shoulder in time to see the raven-haired woman from upstairs grab the blonde’s arm.

“Makes you feel good, doesn’t it, boss?” She asked the blonde.

“Selfishly, sure. It’s not supposed to, but I always end up loving it.”

“The bank gets the food, the people get the autographs, the radio station gets the accolades. Wins all around. We have time for a stop on the way down?”

Corey peeked over again to see the blonde touch the fob button. Her face was obscured by the fence, but a sense of déjà vu swept over him. A cold fist clutched his throat as he flashed back, trying desperately to place the face in his scattered recollections. He’d seen so many women, so many slightly upturned noses and sets of full lips. He’d forgotten his fair share of them, too. This one, though, was stuck somewhere between dream and memory.

The Audi to her left beeped to life as the dark-haired woman headed to the passenger side door. The blonde unbuttoned her coat at the driver’s side door. “Kara want a ride to Newark?”

“Yep. Mom’s got her on holiday décor unpacking duty.”

“Poor girl. We’ll kidnap her.”

“She owes us for the rescue.”

The blonde laughed, a tinkling tone that rang shrill in his ears. His pathetic, self-indulgent misery was dulling the world around him, making even beautiful women’s laughter nauseatingly saccharine.

A cell phone ringing cut her peal short.

The blonde mused at the display as Corey tamped out what was left of his cigarette, now shamelessly watching the girls’ byplay through the slatted six-foot fence.

“Second, Emmi Vendetta,” she told the flat screen in her palm.

His blood stilled in his veins, the band and her name instantly conjuring foggy images in his mind. Festival concert posters, blog articles, album art. He’d seen this woman in person, though, and had heard her name in more private company.

His mind cleared just enough to see his ex-wife, one of his band tees on her frame as she craned down over him. The memory of her voice was like hollow bells in a squall.

“That was Emmi Vendetta, trying to steal you away from me. That email was so pathetic. Fawning bitch.”

Fog settled back over his mind, thick like smoke, as he tried to figure out the time and place of that memory. So many years ago. No doubt a concert, backstage probably. He’d clearly been too drunk to store the memory in better condition.

But she was different. Or his mind was different. Something was different.

Why hadn’t he recognized her earlier?

He scowled again. Years of memories ransacked by booze and white powder.

“Happy to say we can,” she replied formally. “When’s he need it?”

Corey’s brows furrowed. He answered the siren call and lit up another cigarette, eavesdropping shamelessly. She was attractive in a tempting secretary kind of way. The brunette, smaller and slenderer than her counterpart, was already in the car, hidden out of sight.

“No advance notice? Does he have any instruments? That’s fine, we have them. Sure, noon today is good. Have his driver drop him off at the corner of Spring and Limestone. We’ve got him from there. He’ll be in good hands.”

His brows nearly touched. Why all the cloak-and-dagger?

“When he’s done. Yeah, that’s fine. This all work for you? Great. If plans change, call me back immediately. We charge by the minute, starting as soon as he’s inside our car. Thanks for your call.”

Emmi touched the screen of her phone and climbed inside the Audi, slamming the door, and ending his spying session. He turned his back to the scene, sucking in a slow breath of nicotine and musing to himself.

Charge by the minute? Instruments?

“No, no way,” he realized aloud.

His phone buzzed. On the screen, his manager’s text message appeared.

I found you a studio. Driver will take you to the rendezvous point. Noon today or nothing.

“Fuck,” he muttered, tossing the cigarette at his toes.

< Part IV's Finale Premiers Tomorrow, July 18, 1 pm EST! >

*This is a work of fiction. Any details, characters, situations and circumstances within are works of fiction and are not reflections of true events. Story is copyright protected – use, dissemination or distribution of this work for personal or commercial use is prohibited.

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