Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
Gradual process in which something changes into a different
and usually more complex or better form.
AVERY TUCKED HER well-worn pocket journal back into the front pocket of her low slung skinny jeans. Words that usually flowed so freely from heart to page had failed to come. Nothing was how it should be anymore not without him.
She stared out with unseeing eyes, images of Justin drifting across her mind like a movie reel. She began to tremble, not from the chill autumn breeze, but from the strain of keeping it all together. Loneliness roared at her from across the void like a ravenous beast.
Inevitably, the waiting tide of tears began to stream down her pale lightly freckled cheeks, past her full lips, falling silently onto the front of her plain grey t-shirt. Her long copper streaked hair swirled around her shoulder like gossamer tendrils.
She reluctantly extended her hand and opened her fingers, allowing the fistful of dirt she’d been holding to trickle through, falling on the wooden coffin below like a macabre rain.
She wondered, not for the first time, what she would do without him.
Her other half.
When the shadows in the cemetery met the darkness in her mind, she turned, a solitary apparition, and left behind the gravesite of her twin brother.
JUSTIN’S DEATH HAD devastated her. She’d lost the person she loved most in the world along with her hopes for the future. Everything had revolved around him and their music. She really had no other marketable skills. She didn’t even have a high school diploma. She and Justin had left home before either could graduate. Without her twin there was no band, and no way forward that she could see.
Since the funeral, Avery had been down the same worn path in her head too many times to count. She couldn’t make money appear out of thin air, no matter how much she wished. All but a meager portion of her savings had been used up on memorial expenses for her brother. She had no regrets, though. She’d wanted that one last thing for him and needed the closure the small private service had provided.
She would never forget the fateful day she’d received the horrible news. She had been at Club Indigo warming up. Justin had been late which wasn’t like him. He was a lot of things but he was always on time to rehearsal. It had her worried.
“Avery Jones?” a rough voice addressed her.
She looked up, recognizing the source as one of Campanella’s guys, and her stomach sank. “Yes,” she answered. “What’s going on?” Nervous, she twisted the machine heads on her Ibanez even though it was already perfectly tuned. She’d seen him once or twice before and he’d always given her the creeps. The brim of his ball cap shadowed his face and an oversized black trench coat concealed who knew what.
The man glanced around the room as if scanning for exits or witnesses before turning back to her. “Mr. Campanella sent me to let you know your brother’s dead.”
“What?” Avery gasped taking a step back feeling as though someone had just sucker punched her in the abdomen. “That can’t be possible.” Her head swam, and she swayed on her feet. “I just saw him this morning. You’re lying. I don’t believe you.”
He shrugged. “What did he think was going to happen when he started fooling around with the boss’ girl?”
“Show me!” She demanded. “Prove it then! Take me to him!”
He shrugged his shoulders. “What do I look like, I’m stupid or something? Where he is, no one’s going to find him. Not you. Not anybody. The best thing you can do is forget about him.”
“No.” Avery shook her head in denial. No.”
“By the way,” he continued, dispassionately dismantling her world with each additional word he spoke. “Mr. Campanella expects you to make good on your brother’s debt to him. He expects to have his money in three weeks. Don’t try anything funny. We’re watching you, and we’ll be in touch.”
Avery sank to her knees as he exited the club, her body wracked with sobs. She didn’t want to believe it, but she knew in her heart every word he had spoken had been true. She was rocking back and forth on the floor, practically incoherent when Frank, the owner of the club had found her.
He’d immediately called Jeff, her roommate, who’d come and taken her home.
As the days passed and the grim reality of Justin’s death set in, Avery sank deeper and deeper into a quagmire of despair. It was a hopeless situation really without any remedy.
Campanella’s thug had been right. They would probably never find Justin’s body, and she would never know the exact details of his murder. The police didn’t care about missing drug addicts, and everyone in Little Italy knew Campanella’s influence extended all the way to the NYPD, so Avery couldn’t go to them to press charges.
Jeff eventually convinced her to go with a suicide cover story. “Avery,” he’d cautioned, “you can’t go around telling people your brother got knocked off by the mob. It’s just too dangerous.”
The memories made her head pound like a bass drum, the way it always did when she dwelled too long on the difficult spot she was in. She careened into an emotional tailspin. Mind swerving, unable to focus, she pulled out her guitar, taking another musical time out from the harsh reality her life had become.
AS HE CLIMBED the last flight of stairs to the twins’ fourth floor walk-up apartment, Trevor Barnes brushed aside the unruly lock of hair that had fallen into his eyes. With his wire rimmed glasses, he knew he looked more like an absent minded middle-aged college professor than a music agent and manager.
He’d been in the middle of negotiations with Seattle’s RDA Records on the twins’ behalf when he’d received the tragic news of Justin’s death. Just like that, quicker than he could snap his fingers, the deal memo had been withdrawn.
Such wasted potential
, he’d thought before working nonstop to curtail his long list of West Coast appointments so he could head back to New York ahead of schedule.
Trevor knocked on the apartment door. Avery’s roommate, the tall skinny one opened the door to let him in. “How is she?” Trevor asked.
“Better than she has been, I think,” Jeff answered. “She was a total basket case at first. Now she’ll at least come out and eat something when I bug her. But she still spends almost every hour of every day back in her room. All I hear is the wailing of her guitar or the slapping of her jump rope against the floor. It’s starting to freak me out.”
Trevor shook his head, brow furrowing with worry. “I’ll try to talk to her.” Clapping Jeff on the shoulder, he headed down the short narrow hall to the bedroom Avery and Justin had once shared. He couldn’t even see her at first because the light inside was so dim. He switched on the overhead and entered the small windowless room. “Hey kid, how are you?”
Avery sat cross legged on her unmade bed, blinking her eyes to adjust to the brightness. Grief had taken its toll on her. She looked nothing at all like the Avery he knew. She’d haphazardly pulled back her hair with one of those scrunchy things girls use, and he’d wager she hadn’t washed the long locks in days. Her pale face was blotchy from crying, and she had dark circles under her expressive emerald eyes.
Those eyes reminded Trevor of Avery’s twin brother. Their facial features were very similar, too. Only with her, the overall lines were softer and more feminine. Together they had been a dynamic musical team. Justin’s deep and melodic voice had been a perfect foil to Avery’s sweet and sultry one, and his steady acoustic rhythm work had provided a perfect contrast to his twin’s more chaotic electric guitar riffs.
Trevor deeply regretted being absent when Avery had needed him most. He had gone on his business trip thinking everything was lining up so well for them. Sure, he had been worried about Justin’s drug use, but it wasn’t something he hadn’t seen before. In retrospect, he kicked himself for minimizing the habit and wished he’d insisted on Justin’s getting help instead.
Even though he successfully represented plenty of other groups, the two of them had always been the ones closest to his heart. He loved the way Justin had protected and looked out for his sister. Avery’s air of vulnerability brought out that kind of protective instinct in everyone who knew her, including Trevor. He planned to use every resource of his management company as well as his extensive contacts in the industry to help her. But first he had to get her out of this room.
Trevor carefully moved aside all the photographs of Justin that were scattered on the bed. Sitting beside her, he put his arm around her and drew her to his side. He wanted to reassure her with his presence, as well as with his words. She felt so fragile and defenseless. “Come on, Avery. You need to get some fresh air. Justin wouldn’t have wanted you to fall apart like this. We’re going to get you something to eat. Then we’re going to start making plans for you. Plans that would have made your brother proud.”
LATER THAT WEEK, after an exhaustive search, Trevor finally had a lead for Avery with Stephen Adams, a friend from his Sony days. Stephen currently managed Brutal Strength, a mega rock group with multiple hit singles and several platinum records already under their belt. They were going through a rebuilding phase following the recent rehab of their lead singer, Marcus Anthony, and the subsequent departure of their longtime guitarist, Keith Smith. Word was they were having a difficult time replacing Keith because he’d told everyone Marcus was impossible to work with. Trevor hoped to pull some strings to get Avery a tryout with them.
“Stephen, hey, yeah, it’s Trevor Barnes. Long time, I know. How are things in Vancouver? …Great. Glad to hear it. We need to get together and catch up…Yeah, I heard about that. That’s why I was calling. I think we might be able to help each other out. I have a client who I think might be a real good fit for your group. She…What?... Hey, I can’t hear you very well, you're breaking up. Where are you? …Lion’s Gate Bridge, oh, well, that figures. The kid’s name is Avery. She... shit!... You’re breaking up again. I said Avery Jones... huh? Nineteen, I know that’s a little younger than you’re looking for. But it could be a good fit for the band. Expand their appeal to a younger fan base…I can’t hear you again. Sorry. It might be my cell phone. I hate the reception on this thing. OK, I’ll send over a demo… Yes, that’s perfect. I’ll see you Wednesday at Black Cat Records.”