My plans of grocery shopping this afternoon have been thwarted.
I don’t mind it one bit, even if I’m presently on the verge of pulling my hair out with this particular song that I’ve heard one too many times. I’d rather be here in my modest basement-turned-studio, with my sophisticated equipment, trying to figure out what isn’t working in the song, than venturing outside in the cold April rains.
I’d just as soon have everything delivered to my door, but why should I when I can go and get things by myself? I never wanted to become a hermit before but I’m not exactly the most social person, so grocery runs and getting a gym membership to use a couple of times a week is good enough.
The song comes to an end yet again and I add another note on my pad, regarding the lead guitar. Something’s not feeling right, and damn if I can’t put my finger on it.
I’ve always had a good ear to make a good song even better, but this one has such a different style from all the others before that I’m having a hard time with it. It could be just because it’s not the final cut, but I don’t think it’s just that.
No... It’s definitely something else. And the new, slower rhythm is messing with my head.
Before pressing play again, I look at the other pads on the desk, reading the notes sheet. They’re already on the computer program, so I play around a bit with the guitar solo part on the software. I think I might be onto something when the intercom on the wall signals that someone’s at my door.
I stand from my seat to reach it and turn on the camera, and seeing it’s my cousin Chase, I press a few keys to unlock the door for him. By the time he gets to the basement, I’m again staring intently at one of the screens, gnawing a nail.
“Something’s not right with this one,” I say without preamble, frowning at the mishmash of musical notes.
“I thought so, too,” he answers and takes a seat next to me on the only other chair. “But I can’t figure out what.”
I wrinkle my nose without looking at him. “It’s definitely on your end, though. The rhythm and lyrics make sense for the most part,” I reason, but more to myself.
“It’s killing you that you didn’t write a single word of these, isn’t it?”
I turn my head slowly to see he’s giving me a shit-eating grin, his vivid blue eyes, so much like mine, shining with amusement. I don’t like it, but I’m not about to admit it. “It’s definitely unusual.”
Normally, Chase looks through my writing pads and tells me which sets of finished lyrics he wants to show to the guys. They usually take them as they are, rarely rearranging the verses to their taste.
Chase shakes his head. “Makes me wonder what he was thinking about when he came up with this.”
“Spare me, please.” I don’t need to know this person’s writing mechanisms. Rather, I don’t want to. “Just get to work. Go play your part so we can figure this out.”
“Aye, aye, captain,” he mutters, giving me a mock salute before he leaves the control room.
It takes a while, but after a few tries, the song is much better than before. The problem really was with Chase’s part.
“This isn’t normal for you, Chase. It was a newbie mistake,” I tell him after saving the new version of the song, making several copies of it, including one in a pen for Chase to take back with him.
He’s the one scowling now, pushing his jet-black hair off his eyes and forehead. “It wasn’t my fault,” he reiterates, as he’s been doing for the past five minutes. “I just followed the new engineer’s advice and quickened the tempo.”
“You’ve been doing this for years and you’re awesome all by yourself. That’s no excuse.”
“I am awesome, aren’t I?” Chase smirks at me.
“I’m surprised your head fit through the door on your way in.”
He loses all smugness and turns serious. “Have you given it any thought yet?”
I grimace. “I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?”
“None at all. You already said yes,” he answers.
The ‘it’ he’s talking about is the shooting of the music video for his band’s new single.
I was already used to the rumors circulating on the fan-made blog about the band using lyrics written by themselves or only one lyricist, but things have escalated since the audio of their newest song was released online two months ago. The fans went overboard.
All because I sang the back vocals.
I don’t really sing any words. My voice is rather different than my normal tone, so I know no one could recognize me. And if that wasn’t enough to soothe my nerves, I knew of something else that did. The only people who had listened to me sing were Chase, my best friend Brianna, and Toxic Climax’s manager.
The fact that only they knew I was the one behind his band’s lyrics was a major contributor to my relaxed state about it all. No one in the band knew who Ms. Silver—my pseudonym, for all intents and purposes—was, and Chase and I tried to be careful when we met. In the past, one or another band member tried to follow him when we were supposed to meet, but Chase always shook them off somehow.
It helps that no one has family in this street anymore. After the band reached superstar status, they got most of their relatives out of here to better places.
“Matt and I talked to Nate, the director of the music video,” Chase says, pulling me away from my reveries. “You’re gonna’ be totally covered: cape, long gloves, mask, the works.”
This doesn’t thrill me. “You know I still have eyes, right? What if someone looks at me and finds out just by seeing my eyes?”
Yes, I’m paranoid like that. I have reason for it, too. Sue me.
“Not with the mask he came up with,” he assures me. “All you have to do is be there earlier than we are. He’ll be the only one to see you, aside from me.”
I don’t like this one bit, but I knew something like this would eventually happen when I signed the contract with the label years ago. “Fine. Now go away. Call me if there are still any issues.”
“You got it,” he says and kisses me on the cheek before leaving.
Alone, I keep thinking about the music video, or rather, second-guessing it. Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to it.
It just might be the worst thing for me.
Three days later on Monday morning, I made my way to the other side of Buffalo in a dread. All kinds of scenarios played out in my mind like a reel. Someone could recognize me from the get go. Maybe I’d forget and speak—that would be a sure way for the rest of the band to know who was behind the costume I’d be wearing.
While I was driving there, I kept praying that a cop pulled me over, giving me the perfect excuse that I’d be late, and then I could say something like, ‘oh well, we’ll give it a try tomorrow, yeah?’.
No such luck. Traffic was light with little to no red lights whenever I came across a stoplight, and whatever cops I’d seen seemed to be in a relatively good enough mood to keep things running smoothly.
I’ve been hiding away in a tiny back room waiting for the band to show up, the sounds of people moving sound and lighting equipment barely heard behind the remarkably thick walls. A glance at my phone tells me I’ve been here for the past hour and a half.
They’re late, but that’s not surprising, considering the shoot was scheduled to start early this morning. Besides, it’s my own fault for getting here earlier than needed, just to be sure no one but the director saw me.
As it is, I got here right before eight o’clock and was received by Nate, the award-winning music video director. At nearly fifty years old, he’s built quite the reputation in this industry for knowing just what would visually work best for a song. It doesn’t matter if he’s hired by a rock band or a pop princess; he has the Midas touch when it comes to the making of excellent and unforgettable music videos.
And he doesn’t look like anything I would’ve imagined. I’d heard about him, sure, but in my mind he’d been a man with crazy, bugging eyes with too many outrageous ideas until he’d settle for something else. I couldn’t be more mistaken.
I was pleasantly shocked to see he could’ve been just a regular middle-aged man, rocking a flannel shirt and jeans. The few minutes we spent talking gave me such a down-to earth impression of him, that in my mind he could’ve been just another dad watching over his kid in a park.
My phone rings from my purse and I’m grateful for the distraction, even more so when I see it’s Brianna. Accepting the call, I maneuver around the hood of my long cape in time to hear her say, “Good morning, sunshine!”
“Good morning,” I sigh, a mix of tiredness and relief in my voice.
“Have you started shooting yet?”
“No, I’m still waiting. And do you have any idea how hot this costume is?” I ask, not waiting for her answer. “If it wasn’t for the AC, I’d be melting long before now.”
She snickers in my ear. “Maybe I’ll wear something like that for Halloween,” she says, mocking me. “Are you nervous?”
“Scared shitless,” I answer truthfully. Brianna knows all about what’s going on and my history with the band. Aside from Chase, she’s the only other person I trust with my secrets. “But I’m confident the costume will cover me well.”
Brianna snorts. “You’d only be more covered if you were wearing a T-Rex costume.”
“Hardy har har,” I mutter as I look myself up and down on the full-length mirror. “All fun aside, the director did good. He says all my scenes will be shot today, so I won’t be required to come back tomorrow with them.”
“That’s good,” she says, and I can imagine her slow nod of agreement. “So what time do you think you’ll be free?”
I take the phone from my ear to check the time. “One, maybe sooner. I’ll call you. What did you have in mind?”
Before she can answer, a knock sounds on the locked door. “Ms. Silver,” Nate says in an amused voice. “We’re ready for you.”
A swarm of butterflies takes flight in my stomach. Fuck.
“Chinese, later tonight. I have a feeling you’ll want to unload everything you see there.”
She knows me well. “It’s a date, babe. I’ve gotta’ go,” I whisper to her. “Wish me luck. I’ll text you later.” I hang up the call, not waiting for her answer and dumping my phone inside my purse.
Taking a few deep breaths, I look at myself again in the mirror, making sure my face is entirely covered. The all-dark costume might be out of necessity, but it really is beautiful in its simplicity. If it weren’t for what I’m about to do, I’d feel like a princess.
The mask is covered in silver glitter and has black lace on top of that, which makes it hard to see my facial features through it. It goes farther than my forehead, just in case the hoodie slips and shows my mane of hair, and it’s tied at the back of my head. There’s also fabric extending from the chin and jaw line stuck in my turtleneck, so it won’t show an inch of my pale neck.
The cape itself is actually over a long-sleeved dress, both in satin that fades from pearly white at the bottom up into shiny onyx, the hems gently swaying whenever I move.
And lastly, the long silken gloves have threads of fake diamonds dripping from each finger. This is more about the concept than the anonymity; apparently, since I’m sort of revealing myself as Toxic Climax’s lyricist, Nate thought it would be a terrific idea to make me out to be a master, with the guys being the puppets.
I would’ve chosen something like this for Halloween if I had such an imagination.
I step out into the hall, where Nate is leaning against the opposite wall waiting for me with a smile in place. Although he doesn’t know the full extent of my story with the band, the little he does know is amusing to him. In his own words, he’s dealt with a lot of crazy shit over the years, but never with a situation as delicate as this one.
Or, again in his words, as ridiculously hilarious.
I lock the door and hand the key to him. “I’m trusting you with my identity,” I tell him on a whisper.
Nate takes the key and sticks it in his shirt pocket. “Ready?”
I shake my head. “Not in the least,” I breathe, and he huffs a short laugh.
Nate leads me through the long straight hall with a hand on my shoulder until we reach the main area, dimly lit on account of the red-ish and white lights mostly directed at where we’ll be filming today’s scenes, bustling with more activity than when I got here. Assistants of all sorts, people manning the several cameras, and others handling the snacks and drinks tables are present. I don’t have to look around much to find where the band is. Make-up and wardrobe personnel are fussing over them, although there may be some not-so-innocent groping of biceps.
But they’re not paying them attention. They’re all looking at me.
I take a deep breath, trying to make my heart not beat out of my chest. “You’re sure they won’t be able to see me?”
Nate gives me a reassuring smile. “Positive. The lace is thicker around your eyes and lips. You’re completely covered.”
I don’t have time to answer him back, because the band doesn’t take long to reach us, leaving the fussing staff behind. Although I haven’t seen three out of four of the four members once in the past few years, these guys still look the same to me.
Well, not exactly the same, I mentally amend. Of course they’ve changed.
They’ve matured. It’s in the way they hold themselves, how sharper, slightly jaded, their gazes are. As if they’ve seen it all, experienced it all, and nothing unsettles them.
Plain and simple, they’re not the boys I grew up with anymore, that scared the ones I gave a second look to, or took me everywhere with them. They’re men now.
I feel my heart breaking a little with homesickness. I wish I could go back in time and change how things happened, if only so I could watch them evolve and know them as they are today.
“Guys, this is Ms. Silver,” Chase says, introducing us, as if I don’t know them. “Ms. Silver, this is Sarge, Rudy and Duncan.”
I bow my head slightly, greeting them, but don’t say a word as I examine them.
“Nice to meet you,” Sarge says and extends his hand to me.
He’s definitely different without the assortment of pimples from his younger days, and with the added bulk of muscle, especially in his arms. The only thing that doesn’t seem to have changed is his stupidly big height and the dark blond wavy hair, which is shinier but the same length, still reaching his shoulders.
I shake his hand, then shake Rudy’s as well, and almost give myself away.
It’s right on the tip of my tongue to ask him what happened, for him not to keep his promise to never grow a beard. That, paired with his hair completely gone—what the hell, he used to have this gorgeous long dark hair—, certainly gives him an edge. And for the first time since ever, he’s gained maybe five inches on me.
I smile when I see he still wears the same gold ring on his right middle finger. The story goes that it belonged to his grandfather, who taught him how to the play the bass.
And then there’s Duncan. I’d shake his hand, too, if he’d offered. Judging by his still bring-me-to-my-knees, gorgeous yet stony face, that’s not going to happen.
“So you’re also a mute, huh?” He asks, curling his lip in a sneer. “Should’ve guessed Ms. Prissy wouldn’t even talk to the band who pays her.”
Even if I could retort something back at him, I just... It’s impossible.
It’s a double-edged sword. It pains me to look at him, but I can’t not do it. The urge is too strong, the memories still too vivid.
There is so much unresolved shit between us...
Since I last saw him face to face, he’s put more of a bulk on his already well-built body, something I always thought to be impossible back in the day.
In fact, the only changes I can spot are the tattoo designs I can barely peep under the long sleeves of his Henley, and that he’s grown his hair into one of those trendy styles most guys like these days, short on the sides and back and a couple inches long at the top.
In my place, Chase says, “You know Ms. Silver doesn’t want to be known. Save your jackass ways for later, yeah?” He then turns to Nate. “Is everything ready to start shooting?”
Duncan regards me with his light-green eyes, daring me to rebuff his insult, his expression conveying the purest form of disdain. It’s exactly because of this look that he’s the one I’m most apprehensive of. He’s got a short fuse. That same short fuse is steadily burning with him not knowing who I am, but if he knew...
I shiver just thinking about it, and not in a fuzzy way.
“Yes,” Nate says from beside me. “We’ll start by shooting the scenes where Ms. Silver is alone and then...”
I completely tune out Nate and his instructions. I’m still stuck looking at Duncan, and he’s still looking at me, now narrowing his eyes.
Hell. Has he figured out it’s me? I’m done for, if he has.
Duncan breaks the staring contest and turns his back on me, walking away, but not before I hear him say, “Let’s get this shit done with.”
I sigh, exasperated with his attitude, already wishing I hadn’t said yes to all of this.
Almost four hours later, I’m a sweaty mess with spaghetti for arms. The never-ending patience I usually have in spades is running on empty.
From his position off to my right behind one of the many cameras, Nate calls out, “Cut! That’s all for today!”
My shoulders slump and my arms fall at my sides in point two seconds flat. I’m tense all over and I swear my legs are numb from standing still from the waist down, up on the platform I was put on.
Thank heavens I chose flat-heeled boots instead of high-heels this morning.
“See, now, I think we need another take. I think the ladies would like seeing us bare-chested and all oily—”
“Fuck’s sake, Duncan, shut the fuck up,” Sarge yells in front of me, standing from his cushy seat and cracking his neck from side to side. “We could’ve been done earlier if you weren’t in prick mode.”
Duncan turns and zeroes his scowl on him. “What’s your problem, man?”
"Our problem,” Chase says, approaching the platform I’m still dumbly standing on and watching it all unfold, “is that everyone knows what you’re doing. Stop bullying her, asshole. She gave you more hits than you can count on all your fingers.”
I preen a little on the inside. I know how successful the songs have all been, but having it said out loud in front of me is an ego booster.
“Whatever,” Duncan sniffs.
While everyone else sees this as him being arrogant and pissed off at being schooled, I can see through him. He is pissed off about it, yes, but under that, his pride is wounded and he feels a little humiliated, as if he’s not good enough.
Sigh. No matter what history there is between us, I wish I could make him see that none of this would’ve been possible without him. He’s the driving force that got them noticed to begin with, and I know that even if they didn’t use my lyrics, they’d still be one of the greatest rock bands worldwide.
Chase reaches me and puts an arm around my waist, pulling me to his side. “Need help getting down?”
I give a small nod and whisper, “My legs are numb. I don’t think I can walk just yet.”
He takes most of my weight as he leads us down the five steps. I don’t need to look up to know we’re under the curious and watchful eyes of the band and staff. I’m pretty sure everyone’s thinking I’m some kind of freak that doesn’t talk and now can’t walk properly.
Nate comes up to us and takes my left arm in his grip, slipping the key subtly to Chase and helping him supporting my light frame as we navigate through the halls, all the way back to the room I was in this morning.
“Shh,” he interrupts me, taking a look behind his shoulder. “They’re following us. I’m gonna’ leave you there, and I’ll call you later, okay? Wait maybe, like, twenty minutes or so before leaving.”
I nod and don’t say another word until I’m locked away in the room, hearing the beginning of another commotion right outside the door.
“Why the fuck can’t we see her?” Duncan says, the annoyance in his voice unmistakable.
I wince as I untie the mask behind my head, ears perking up at the argument that ensues.
“We’ve discussed this,” Chase says calmly. “She doesn’t want to be known. She has a life outside of us.”
I snort. I really don’t. My English degree would get me any kind of job I’d enjoy having, but I know I’ve accommodated myself. I don’t know how it works for other people who write lyrics, but I doubt it pays them as well as it does me.
“If she doesn’t want to be known, we need to respect that,” Chase finishes.
Duncan scoffs. “I can’t respect someone I don’t know the first thing about.”
“If you paid attention to what you’re singing, you’d probably know a little thing or two.”
I freeze hearing Rudy’s words. From the pregnant pause that follows, it seems they freeze, too.
“What do you mean, Rudy?” Chase asks quietly.
“Nothing,” he’s quick to say. “I’m just saying, if our fans have a whole FBI-style profile of her life and who she is by her lyrics alone, then we’re all dumbasses who don’t have a clue who we’re dealing with.”
The profile thing couldn’t be more wrong, but his explanation doesn’t calm me in the slightest.
The words among them volley back and forth, but I don’t pay them any mind.
Rudy is one of those people that’s so observant, he picks up things no else does. It wouldn’t surprise me if he suspected for even a second that it had been me all this time.
My only saving grace when it comes to Rudy and the possibility of him knowing it’s me is him keeping his opinions to himself. He’s the most reserved one in our former circle of friends.
I’m pretty sure my days of anonymity are on a fast countdown to ending.
Empty Chinese food containers litter Brianna’s coffee table while we each nurse a third glass of red wine. Her TV is muted on a show that I can’t be bothered to know the name, while I’ve been telling her all about the world of shooting a music video. Or rather, what I saw about it.
I have the feeling no other music video has been shot within the same hostile environment as this one.
“Who would’ve thought it was so hard to move a finger while the others had to stay still?” Brianna says with a straight face.
It’s almost disgusting how she has one of those gorgeous resting-bitch-faces.
We couldn’t be any more different, both in looks and personality.
Brianna’s long honey and rich-brown waves fall softly on her back and around her shoulders, the tresses shiny and soft. Her flawless skin is almost always made-up to cover up the tiny freckles that pepper the bridge of her small, straight nose and part of her cheeks. Her full lips draw every guy to her, something she deems as nauseous, because with one hard look from her icy blue eyes, they scamper out of sight, scared of a woman that doesn’t put up with bullshit from anyone.
If that doesn’t get their attention, usually her tattooed arms, small septum ring and Medusa piercing would.
She’s the type of beauty that’s popular on social media, and according to her, she’s the product of genetics from two shallow enough people that decided to get married and procreate for nothing other than an agreement, rather than out of love.
I glower at her. “Go on, laugh it up. You know what they say about karma.”
She bursts out laughing. “I’m sorry, but even you can’t deny that’s pretty ridiculous.”
I feel the corners of my mouth tip into a small smile. “A bit.”
My phone pings from the coffee table with a new text and I pick it up.
Chase: You’re singing with us on Friday. Don’t freak out. It’s for the best.
I blink at the screen and re-read the message, but the black words against the white background still don’t seem to click.
Until they do.
“What the fuck!”
The explosion is big enough that Brianna jerks back, the wine almost sloshing over the rim of her glass. “What? What is it?”
I thrust the phone at her. “He’s shitting me, right? Right?”
Her lips purse and her eyes lose all humor, making me wince on the inside. I know better than to show her anything related to Chase. I often wonder how we’re best friends, given the amount of time I spend with him.
But then again, that’s only one of the reasons that brought us together, in a way.
“Are you gonna’ do it?”
“No! Of course not. I can’t, I-I can’t,” I stutter, a little annoyed that she even has to ask.
The phone starts ringing in my hand and I nearly drop it in my haste to connect the call. “Chase, if you even—”
“Honey, you need to stop right there,” a familiar voice interrupts me.
I deflate against the couch. “Don’t make me do this, Matt. Pleeeease.”
Matt Parker, manager of Toxic Climax, chuckles at me. “You know pleading with me won’t get you anywhere, Silver. But don’t worry. You’ll only—”
“I could write you a song?” I cut him off mid-sentence. I really don’t want to waste his time arguing his case when there’s no way in hell I’m doing whatever it is he wants me to do. “Oh, I know! Sign me up to write stuff for other artists. Didn’t I hear that other singers and bands want my badass words?”
“Badass words?” Brianna scoffs from my side, earning herself a glare.
“There’s literally nothing you can do at this point to help yourself, Silver,” Matt starts again, but his voice is devoid of all amusement. “Think of this as your coming out party but with another meaning. Because either you do this on your own terms—”
“My terms would be to not do it all,” I grumble.
“—Or come Monday morning, your real name will be out there for all the world to see.”
I’m struck speechless for a moment as my stomach sinks. “What?”
Matt makes a low rumbling noise, obviously displeased at something. “I got a call earlier today from an editor at a famous rock blog. Someone contacted him and gave him your identity. They’re running the story next Monday. But if you do something about it before...”
“I’d be taking the decision back into my hands.” Shit. “But who would do this? Do you know?”
“I don’t. Whoever it was, they didn’t want to identify themselves, but they know your real name.”
“H-how?” This is all so eerie. “I’ve been doing this for years, Matt. Why now?”
“I don’t know, Kiana,” he sighs, using my real name this time. That’s how I know he doesn’t like this at all, either. “I talked to Chase first and then the guys about the show. Chase was worried about it. Everyone else just found it weird that you’ll be showing yourself all of a sudden, you know, after the lengths we went to, to keep you hidden from the band.”
I doubt that they only thought it ‘weird’. In fact, I’m pretty sure Duncan expressed his opinions on the matter quite vocally, Sarge told him to shut the fuck up, and Rudy just kept to himself as he’s always done, his mind running wild with the possible outcomes.
“Kiana?” Matt says, pulling at my attention. “Everything will work out. You’ll see.”
I’m not convinced at all, but I nod to myself and mumble, “Sure, text me the details,” before I hang up.
Brianna ends the moment of silence I take to mourn my happy, hidden job. “So... The curtain is about to be lifted, huh?”
My vision blurs with tears as I take in her concerned expression. “This is so fucked up, Brianna. What am I gonna’ do?”
She takes our glasses and places them on the coffee table, along with my phone, and pulls me to her side. “We have to keep faith that everything will be fine, babe.”
I sniff and the first salty drops fall down my cheeks. I scold myself on the inside for crying, but at the same time, that’s all I feel like doing. That, and hiding out at home for at least a month or two.
I shake my head against her shoulder. “They’re going to hate me, B. I know what to expect from Chase, but Duncan, Rudy and Sarge?” I inhale roughly.
“What a hell of a situation,” she mutters.
This isn’t going to end well.