Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
“Likewise,” she smiled tentatively at him. He came across as a warmer, more approachable version of his brother.
“And this guy on the drums is John Raymond.” Marcus smirked. “We call him the Evil Stepchild.”
“Just call me JR. All of my friends do.” The drummer looked like a California surfer, tall and slim with the requisite long blond hair and tanned skin. He smiled, flashing brilliant white teeth, and extended his hand to her.
“Who’s ready to rock?” Dwight asked in a falsetto voice, sashaying his hips and spinning around in circle, hand behind his ear.
Marcus chimed in right away, in a similar high pitched voice, “Oh Dwight, you are soo hot. Can you strum your bass for me, please?” The two brothers burst into laughter, obviously highly amused by each other’s antics.
JR rolled his eyes. “You guys are such dweebs. Couldn’t you spare poor Avery here?”
Having lived in an apartment with two guys, Avery was used to this kind of slapstick humor. It usually devolved into potty jokes or body parts in short order. She smiled as the brothers continued their two man comedy act with batting eyes and fake kissing.
“Someone please, just shoot me now,” JR groaned.
Still chuckling, Marcus told Avery, “Seriously, we’ve been here a while and have already warmed up. Take whatever time you need to get ready.”
She nodded and turned to unpack her black Ibanez, plugging it into the Marshall amps. She was slower than usual because her gaze was repeatedly drawn to the brothers as they continued interacting playfully.
Marcus noticed Avery watching him and Dwight. The young guitarist’s expression seemed almost wistful. He kept twisting around a black band he wore around his wrist. Marcus would bet money that it had belonged to his twin brother. Now that Marcus knew the story, he understood Avery’s emotions better. It was tough to see the kid looking so lost and alone.
“Do you think…”
“Just a second.” Marcus raised a hand, cutting Dwight off.
With a sidelong glance from underneath her long bangs, Avery saw Marcus coming towards her. She immediately tensed.
“Hey.” He bumped her shoulder and gave her a gentle smile.
“Hey,” she replied carefully.
“Stephen told me about your brother,” he informed her softly. “I don’t know what to say, man. But I just wanted you to know that I know, and I feel really sorry for your loss. If something like that happened to Dwight, I’d be wrecked… what I mean is. I’m sorry. I wish…”
“Thanks,” Avery interrupted, rescuing him from his floundering attempt to comfort her. His concern deeply touched her, though, and she rewarded him with a tremulous smile. She was starting to wonder if this guy was something different than the media made him out to be. Looking down, she made some final adjustments to her tuning and gave him a nod to let him know she was ready.
Sympathetic blue eyes met hers. “No pressure, Avery. We already know you can play. We just want to run through a couple of tunes, see how we all sound together.” Marcus turned to his drummer. “JR, take us through ‘Streets of Fire’.”
JR nodded and counted off, “One. Two. Three.” Tapping his sticks together to give the beat, he cued Marcus and Avery.
The two began the raucous heavy metal song singing together with Avery’s riffs punctuating the lyrics like musical exclamation points. During the chorus, she echoed the last words of each line that Marcus sang.
When they finished, Dwight nodded at Avery. “Hey kid, you’re pretty good. You did your homework.”
They played a couple more tunes after that, and to Avery it sounded so good and felt so natural it seemed like they’d all been playing together for years, no one missing a single beat. She even threw in an improvised frenzied solo, her fingers a blur as she tested the limits of her instrument. When she was done, JR gaped at her.
Dwight threw his brother a look. “Marcus, you way undersold this guy’s talent, bro.” Turning to Avery, Dwight said, “Rockin’!” and gave her a celebratory high five.
“Yeah, way cool,” JR concurred, reaching over to do the same.
“Ok, ok.” Marcus’ lips quirked into a smile. “The kid’s a prodigy. But I don’t want him to get a swelled head. Let’s see what he can do with ‘Moon Rising’.”
After jamming for a couple of hours more, no one had any remaining doubts about Marcus’ choice for their new lead guitarist. Each additional song they played had only further solidified the decision in everyone’s mind.
Finally, Dwight shook his head. “Enough. I’m worn out. Avery. Dude. You are a total ace.” JR and Marcus echoed that sentiment as Trevor and Stephen wandered in. Stephen made eye contact with Marcus and gave him a thumbs up. Apparently, there were no dissenters.
“Trevor, you have a talented guitar player here,” Marcus said, clapping Avery on the back and reaching out to shake Trevor’s hand. “Why don’t we all go out to dinner? Talk terms. Avery, welcome to the group.”
Avery solemnly shook Marcus'
extended hand. Then, in an undignified, but characteristic response for her, she whooped and jumped into the air. Her unbridled enthusiasm elicited chuckles from the others. Dwight and JR came over one after the other to congratulate her.
Trevor gave her the ‘man hug’ and whispered in her ear, “Way to go…guy!”
“Who’s up for Mexican?” Stephen asked. “Margaritas are on me!” Noticing Marcus’ wince, he retracted, “Sorry cousin, none for you of course.”
“Me either,” Avery announced. “I don’t drink, but I warn you, I can pack away my body weight in enchiladas!”
“Yeah, like that’s very much,” JR needled. “What do you weigh like 125 pounds?”
Raising a brow, Avery said, “Yeah, actually that’s pretty close. You should get a job at a carnival.”
“Uh, uh, I’m pretty sure they have plenty of freaks already,” quipped Marcus.
“We shall see, Avery, we shall see,” Dwight offered up. “I put the Anthony brothers against your enchilada eating prowess any time.”
Marcus’ lips curved into a smile, and he pulled out his cell. “Hey Ray, we’re all going to Cubre. Can you pick me up? Thanks.” He then asked Stephen to come with him so they could go over the terms he wanted to present to Avery.
Trevor told everyone else to meet him out front. He pulled around in his rented Volvo. JR took shotgun, while Dwight and Avery settled into the back seat. “So, is Ray Marcus’ driver?” she asked Dwight.
“Yeah,” he explained. “He’s also his bodyguard. Marcus can’t go anywhere anymore without being recognized. The rest of us keep a relatively low profile, but not him. The press hounds him constantly. I think they’re hoping he’ll slip up again.”
When they arrived at the restaurant, Stephen escorted them to a back room where Marcus was already waiting at the end of a long table. Avery sat down across from him, ordering a Coke from the waiter. Stephen and Trevor went over to the far corner of the room to discuss Avery’s contract.
“Ok, those guys are exempt from the directive, but as for the rest of us,” Dwight cautioned, looking sternly at his brother, “no talking business. Let’s just have some fun.”
Marcus’ lip curled. “Whatever you say, Blondie.”
“How many times do I have to say it, bro? I am not a blond. My hair is red with blond highlights.”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that bro’sef. But sounds to me like you’re in denial.”
Dwight snorted. “And you’re delusional.”
By the time dinner arrived, Trevor and Stephen had taken seats at the table with the others.
Things must have gone well
, thought Avery, noting Trevor’s self-satisfied grin. As the meal progressed, she observed the two brothers. Dwight had the rest of them in stitches with his animated accounts of the band members’ various foibles and misdeeds. Marcus mainly stared into space with his piercing blue eyes. The only evidence that he was paying attention to what was going on at the table was the occasional wry comment that he interjected.
Dwight was reminiscing about how he had been the one who always got the girls. “That is, until Marcus started singing lead vocals. The bassist never gets any respect,” he complained.
As the others were letting Dwight know just how full of it they thought he was, Marcus leaned forward and asked Avery softly, “Why do you do that?”
“Do what?” she scrunched her forehead in confusion.
Marcus motioned toward Avery’s dessert plate, which had a small amount of flan left on it. “Leave one bite on your plate. You did the same thing with dinner, too.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize I did that. Thanks for noticing.” She lifted her eyebrows at him. “It’s my sad way of trying to control calories. I was overweight as a kid. I guess it’s just left over neurosis from then…” She trailed off. If he wanted to point out her idiosyncrasies, turnabout was fair play. She had this irresistible urge to tease him. “I noticed how you separate everything out on your plate before you eat it. So nothing is touching. What’s up with that?” she fired back.
“No I don’t.” Marcus shook his head in denial.
“Oh, yes you do.” Dwight chimed in. “Always have. It’s creepy actually.”
“Yeah,” Avery agreed. “It all mixes up in your stomach anyway. What’s the point?”
“Touché,” Marcus conceded.
“You’re going to be alright, Avery.” Dwight nodded his head approvingly. “Just don’t let my brother run roughshod over you.”
By the end of the evening, Avery reluctantly admitted defeat in the enchilada eating contest. Dwight won, having completely gorged himself, with Marcus coming in a close second. As the party began to break up, Marcus offered to drop Avery at the hotel.
“No, I’ll take him home,” Trevor interjected. “We have a lot we need to discuss.”
Marcus was disappointed. But for the first time in a long while he found himself actually eager to get back in the studio.
Marcus called out to Avery as the guitarist was walking toward the door, “Hey, I’d like to get started right away on the songwriting.” Motioning toward the middle aged, well-built man leaning inconspicuously against the doorframe, he asked, “Can I send Ray to pick you up tomorrow around ten thirty? We could get together and work at the studio in my apartment.”
“No way! You have a home studio?”
Marcus nodded with a cocky grin.
Dwight added drily, “My brother is a man obsessed.”
“Ok, tomorrow is fine. I’m staying at Sutton Place.”
Avery was just as eager to get started as Marcus seemed to be. She wondered if they could possibly transfer the chemistry they had in the studio to songwriting. But even more than that, just to herself, she admitted that she was looked forward to spending time with him…alone.
THE NEXT MORNING, Avery was inundated with stacks and stacks of paperwork to sign. Marcus had been very generous. She would have more than enough money to pay back Campanella with three hundred and fifty thousand up front and a percentage of sales from every song she helped co-write on the first album.
“Holy crap!” she exclaimed, sitting down while Trevor explained the rest of the terms. Her brain finally came back on line when he started talking about a clause that gave Brutal Strength veto power over any solo work, should she decide to do any in the next two years.
“It’s not uncommon,” Trevor assured her. “And it just goes to show you how serious Marcus is about trying to control every detail that might possibly affect the public image of his band.”
And of course, Black Cat required her to pee in a cup. Drug testing was standard when so much money was involved. Pending the lab results and the finalization of the paperwork, she realized with chagrin that it would be at least a week before any money actually changed hands.
Shortly thereafter, a red headed, freckle faced fellow not much older than Avery arrived. He informed them that he was going to give them a tour of the recording studios and home offices of Black Cat. First he led them upstairs to a huge corner office to meet the CEO, Mary Timmons. A petite framed, beautiful woman with her short dark hair styled in a shoulder length bob, she wore a smart but severely cut black business suit. Everything about her screamed no- nonsense. She firmly shook Avery’s hand, telling her pointedly that she expected big things from her. Avery wasn’t positive, but she could have sworn she heard Mary add in a mumble, “because Marcus thinks guys are so much better.”
Out in the corridor, Trevor whispered to Avery, “She can be bossy and intimidating, but other than that Mary’s ok.”
Down the hall they entered a significantly smaller office. Inside awaited Beth Tate. The Vice President of Public Relations was an attractive lady with beautiful grey-green eyes and a friendly smile.
“You’ll be seeing a lot of me,” she informed Avery. “With your good looks, we’re already making plans to get you introduced to the public right away.” She turned to Trevor, mimicking a phone receiver with her hand. “Call me, Trevor. I’ll give you the details.”
Next the aide took her to a supply room to check out a cell phone. He wiggled his red eyebrows at her. “Mary insists that she be able to get a hold of you at all times.”
“I’ve never had one before. I couldn’t afford it.” Avery looked at it apprehensively.
“Don’t worry. It’s easy to use. I’ll give you some quick instructions,” Trevor told her.