Emmi and Corey - Part IV (Finale)
“You were our second client,” Emmi told him, seated beside him in the backseat of a fully loaded luxury SUV. “I regret not being there to produce for you.”
“How long did you charge by the minute after suckering me into it?” Corey replied, his elbow on the door’s armrest and his fingers in his hair.
“A little while, not long. And to be honest, we were by invitation only, with contracts in place within a few months anyway. No one wanted to deal with downtown Philly traffic, the road construction or the studio musicians’ hounding at our competitions’ studios. Between us and bands passing through, Spire’s still booked solid.”
He wanted to smoke, to light up only to distract himself from the awkward sensations tickling at his belly. She was beside him now after years of circling, of delaying, of excuses on his part. She’d been nothing but kind, even in the face of his narcissism and avoidance, but now she was less than two feet away in all her business-professional glory.
And yes, she was attractive in a bombshell kind of way, the kind that made sense in music videos and on daytime talk shows. And her bandmates were equally so in their own ways.
His wife was the love of his life, long-fought-for and back home waiting for his touring through Europe to finally be over. Temptation was easy to muscle back.
England was the last leg. The night before, he’d played to a sold-out crowd at a ballroom and it seemed a fitting end to close out his trip with a long overdue apology to someone who’d saved his ass years earlier.
Fortunately, she wasn’t overly chatty this morning. His throat ached, the cumulative effect of weeks of performances taking their toll.
His gaze moved to the landscape outside the passenger’s side window. In the front seat, the dark-haired driver in a trim sapphire polo guided them silently down narrow, pasture-spotted roads while a massive bodyguard in a three-piece suit and high-dollar sunglasses kept his head on a swivel for unforeseen threats.
“You surprised me last night,” he admitted, turning his head to see Emmi looking back at him. “Who’d you schmooze to get backstage?”
She smirked sweetly. “Concert promoter owed me a favor. I just hoped you’d have a second for me this time around.”
“I,” he began, his fingers in his hair again. “All I can say is I’m sorry. All I’ve got’s excuses. I’ve changed but I’m still sealing the cracks. Sucks having so much to answer for.”
Emmi expression shifted into a sympathetic smile. “You don’t owe me anything. I owe you everything.”
His face twisted in confusion as the car paused outside a giant wrought iron gate. Before he could find an intelligent retort, the driver handed him a small clipboard, a document on it with Emmi’s name on the letterhead and Second’s logo in the top-right corner.
“It’s a standard agreement,” Emmi chimed in from beside him. “Just like at Spire, no one’s allowed inside without signing first.”
“NDA? Really?” He chuckled and snorted at the same time, stealing the pen from the driver’s hand and putting it to paper. “I can’t say I’m surprised. Isn’t this a bit much, though?”
“I’m careful,” she argued, signing below his name on the lower line. “Dante, if you’d notarize this, we can be done with the paperwork for today.”
“As you wish,” the giant in the suit replied, taking the clipboard and fishing in his coat pocket for a giant silver seal. He applied it to paper as the driver leaned his head out, the security camera to his right scanning his eye.
“Holy shit, Emmi,” Corey uttered in astonishment. “Is this a manor house or a missile silo?”
She could only smile as the SUV passed through the gates and onto the property.
The pair occupied the lounge’s squat settees dyed a deep burgundy. He couldn’t keep his eyes on his host, though, constantly scanning the first floor and hiding his gawping at every miniscule and meticulous detail. The tile gleamed, the wood trim shined, and the fountain’s gurgling echoed up into the atrium’s marble arch. The quiet opulence made him feel underdressed and undeserving.
“This is a castle,” he muttered, sitting forward with elbows on his knees. “Is that a tap cabinet?”
She eyed the handmade masterpiece. “My favorite cider, Rai’s favorite import and Henry’s favorite lager on tap right now. I assume you’re not interested, but I can offer something for your voice. I’m surprised you have one at all today after screaming over the crowd last night.”
He smiled proudly, sitting back and extending one arm across the backrest of the adjacent seat. “It was a great way to end a three-month stint away. Like I said before, I was shocked to see you there. I’ve read up on you. You’re the private type, weirdly so considering how you make money.”
She murmured in agreement as Henry, their butler and driver in the dark blue polo, set down two glasses of golden liquid on coasters on the table between them. Lime wedges hung from the rims. He bowed his head slightly and disappeared over Corey’s shoulder again.
“And the well-taken-care-of type, too,” he added, eyeing the drink suspiciously. “I thought butlers and drivers wore suits. Wouldn’t know firsthand, though.”
“When they’re married to my sister, they don’t have to.”
“Sister? No mention of that in the media.”
“My Second sister. Henry’s Marilyn’s husband.”
“Oh,” he replied with a smile. “She really saved me at Spire, producing those tracks so well. I only wish I’d been more grateful at the time.”
“Can’t change the past. And you’re so much happier now. I’m glad to see it.”
“What’s this?” he asked, lifting the frosted glass set out for him.
She reached for her own. “It’s a custom blend, a homebrew recipe for vocal recovery. Cheers, Mr. Taylor. Congrats on a successful tour and thanks for the memories.”
He leaned forward enough to accept her toast. “Cheers, Ms. Vendetta. Quite a life you’ve built for yourself.”
They both sipped and set the glasses back down, hers with a smile and his with a grimace. “Ugh, sour grass clippings.”
She couldn’t hold back the chortle. “It grows on you.”
“Like grass?” He argued. “Ugh. Anyway, you said something in the car before the legal shit got brought out. What did you mean?”
She sat back and crossed her right leg over left smoothly. “About me owing you?”
“Yeah. What could you possibly owe me? You’ve been nothing but considerate, welcoming, kind. You sent flowers when I was in recovery. I never thanked you for that, either. Fuck.”
She chortled again. “No need to. I was selfishly hoping one single thing I did would garner your attention for a second. I can only take so much rejection before taking it personally, though. When I saw you were in town, I had to go get you myself.”
He sat forward, his elbows on his knees again and his fingers tugging into his hair again.
“That’s your tell,” she murmured. “Just talk to me.”
He could only laugh at her analysis. “I know you got your PhD. You a therapist, too?”
“No, just an observer,” she answered sweetly. “I know it’s no use, but don’t feel bad. We all lose the plot sometimes. It’s easy to. Temptations and tortures of the rock and roll lifestyle, right?”
“You dodged it all right,” he argued, sitting back with a sigh. “No shit stories about you in the papers, no embarrassing breakdowns haunting you. Must be nice.”
She exhaled, her sense of patience well-practiced. “Social media managers are godsends. And just because I avoided addiction doesn’t mean my sisters did. I have my own scandals to deal with. I guess you didn’t see anything on that Disney mess I was stuck in last year.”
He thought back. Once again, fog settled over the vast expanses where memories should’ve been. “Don’t think so. Did you talk shit on the mouse?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” she replied. “But I also wouldn’t lend my voice to a character without drawing up the contracts myself. They weren’t having it. The stalemate turned into lost opportunity and a ton of rumors I had to sic Beth on.”
“Damn,” he gawped. “Emmi Vendetta voicing a Disney princess? Imagine the metal crowd’s reaction to that.”
“It would’ve been a shaky step forward for us, though.” Emmi took another long sip of her tea. “We’re already sellouts in a lot of peoples’ minds. We have all this, after all.”
“Nah, you’re the real deal,” he countered. “You opened the Grammys and stole a few from the pop/rap bullshit masquerading as rock. The industry sees our music as a legitimate money-maker again. It makes it easier for us all to tour, to sell out shows. Rock means something again after years of it being confused with Top 40 garbage. And you’re raising the next gen of musicians too. So, tell me why you owe me anything, let alone everything.”
She released a slow breath, a serene expression sweeping over her face as she rose slowly. “Corey, let me show you something. Maybe that’ll help.”
His brows nearly touched, but he stood and followed behind as she led him to a nearby door. Crafted of metal and broad oak panels, he imagined it to be soundproof. She swung it open and flipped on a light inside, revealing descending steps into blackness.
“Torture dungeon? You should know I charge by the minute.”
She winked. “One of us should.”
At the base of the steps, she flipped on another switch and stole his breath.
The studio, trimmed in immaculate glass, was three-times as large as Spire’s and state-of-the-art. Glittering trophies, plaques with their album sales and shelves of mementos covered the walls. Autographed guitars, microphones and cymbals hung on hooks above black leather armchairs and plush caramel carpeting. Within the glass walls were twin drum kits in red and blue, onyx microphone stands, stainless steel stools and a violin in an open mahogany case. The extensive recording equipment, pristinely dusted, stretched alongside a plush office chair.
“What do you think?” Emmi asked from over his shoulder as he took in his surroundings.
“It’s… incredible.” He managed. He couldn’t help wandering to the nearest shelf, eyeing the gramophone trophy. “Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. Your name on it.”
She lifted her chin, smiling as demurely as she could. “Somehow, yes. But that’s Dave’s award and he knows it.”
“Again, not sure how any of this is my doing,” Corey declared, turning around. “This is all Second’s work.”
“This,” she murmured, taking his forearm, and leading him to a shadowbox on a nearby shelf. “This is all you. You were my first.”
She grabbed for the twelve-inch square box as he winced, thinking she meant it literally. Those memories were as foggy as the stage ones. She only handed him the box patiently.
Inside, he identified a torn-up, washed-out looking concert ticket, a faded sticker with a very old yet familiar logo on it and a crumpled piece of paper no larger than an index card.
More memories swept by, clouds blowing across an empty sky, out of reach but tempting. He stared hard at what ink remained on the ticket stub. “Thank the Lord. Your first concert. This is old, like decades old. Does that say Camden?”
She stood near his elbow, taking in his relieved expression. “Not my first concert, but my first real rock show. Stone Sour, Camden, New Jersey. 1995 with Rai. I was a punk rock kid before that, still am, but you never forget your first.”
He let out a touched snicker as he analyzed the logo. Stone Sour’s earliest mockup, alongside a stub that she’d clearly carried around for years before enshrining it. “What’s the index card?”
“I guess you didn’t write set lists back then,” she assumed, opening the box and removing the paper with careful fingers. “I learned every word of these tracks the next day. It was the closest I could get to you back then. I know how that sounds, but it’s true.”
He traded the shadowbox for the slip of paper, unfurling it to reveal eleven songs written in faded scrawl. Joel’s handwriting, not his own. He’d probably been too fucked up to think that far ahead.
“Man,” he mused after a slow exhale. “I lost too much time, Emmi. Too many years, and too many memories. They’re just shadows now. I…” he trailed off, handing back the note so he could pace a few steps. “Fuck, so many fans carried around our tickets for years, but I can’t remember a damn minute of those shows anymore.”
“We remember well enough for both of us. That concert led us to this,” Emmi gestured to the studio around them. “It made me realize the power a front man has, the power to move an entire audience, to command the crowd, to see them practically bow to you. It was life-changing for me. I coveted it. I wanted it more than anything. And no punk front man commands that kind of attention. You made me want it this bad. And I learned from you.”
He turned to her as she put the shadowbox back, fortunate that she continued in the wake of his silence. “Corey, you gave me something I’d never had, a mission. I was a sheltered kid. I hid my cassette singles at my bandmates’ houses so I could enjoy them. Rai’s parents took us to concerts, we practiced at Destiny’s place, covered every song we loved. Whatever we could do to make music happen, we did it. And we still do. Haven, this place, it’s all about music and making it sound the best it can, for us and for those we’re mentoring. Music is everything to us. That doesn’t just happen. It’s bred and it’s created and it’s all-encompassing. You gave me that gift.”
Her violet eyes turned up at the edges, a sweet smile tugging at her lips as she stepped to him, taking his forearm again. “You don’t remember anything about that show at all?”
He turned dour in an instant. “It’s a blur of whiskey, fighting, hangovers, hookups.” She giggled, a tinkling sound that brought a vivid memory with it. A parking lot, a half-burnt cigarette, the beep of a car’s lock system. A conversation with a guitarist he now knew as Rai. The studio, Spire’s studio. Marilyn, Second’s keyboardist and producer, Henry’s wife, playing host. Her gracious welcome. Her impeccable work. And after that, the flowers that Emmi sent brightened up his beige rehab room. They were yellow explosions of joy in a life devoid of sunshine.
By the time his mind caught up, she was analyzing his expression with kind eyes. “Some of those memories are still in there. They’ll come back. But mine? It’s flawless. It was right before you played ‘Surgery,’ and the mosh pit was insane. Like, flailing, screaming, insanity. I was right up front, right up against the fence, when this frat boy got a fistful of my hair. By the time I could see straight again, you were looking right at me, kind of hovering over me. I… I just lost it.”
He smiled, his head tipped shamefully. “I was probably scoping you out. And I love being on stage. That way my short ass is at least as tall as everyone else.”
In her heels, she was several inches taller. She couldn’t help but snicker. “In that moment, I didn’t care about anything else. I didn’t care about the pain. I didn’t care about the punishment waiting for me when I got home. I didn’t care about whatever life I’d wanted before walking into that show. It all just vanished. I just screamed it all out. And Emmi Vendetta was born that night in that pit.”
He watched with crossed arms as she stepped toward the Grammys on display. “I never meant to get between you and yours. I’ve just wanted to tell you that. Before you went to rehab,” she paused, her head dipping. “I thought that was it. I thought I’d missed my chance. And when you pulled through,” she turned back around with a grin. “I knew I couldn’t give up. I was going to show you how much impact you’ve had on the industry, and on musicians like us, hell, on fangirls like me. I wasn’t going to let you believe you didn’t matter back then, that those years were mistakes. They meant so much to us. We’re so glad to have you here and doing better, making us all fight to keep up.”
He scowled, his eyes on his toes. “Damn. You really know how to bullshit, don’t you?”
The false bravado made her laugh. “Sure. Comes with being a lawyer.”
“If you owe me,” he rushed on. “What’s my payment? Do I get royalties on all those hit songs you guys churn out?”
She lifted a brow. “Not a chance, but can I interest you in a collaboration?”
“Let me guess, only as long as you draw up the contract.”
She snickered shamelessly and led him back upstairs to his waiting glass of grass.
~ JMS <3 Aug 2021
*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.