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By NIA STEPHENS
Dafina BooksCopyright © 2007 Parachute Publishing L.L.C.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRight Here, Right Now
Derrick the stage manager had cranked the footlights so high that everything beyond Kiki Kelvin's crash cymbal was a blur of blue and red lights. Every fourth beat during "Satisfy Me?" she slammed the crash, a sound loud enough to shake the old cinder-block walls that had absorbed the music of Nirvana, REM, and Garbage before Kiki and her friends treated them to the sounds of Temporary Insanity. She could feel the beat traveling up through the floorboards and into her bones, even into the long, shiny dreads whipping around her head. She was the beat, her heart slamming in time with her drums.
Kiki didn't have to see him to know that the lead singer, Franklin Pierce, was writhing center-stage, making the girls in the audience scream the chorus along with him. Mark Slaughter was a slim shadow somewhere to her left, leaning into his bass-the way she lunged into the drum kit, sitting a little closer than most drummers would. Of course, most drummers were guys. But that had never bothered Kiki, the other members of Temporary Insanity, or the crowd rocking the Exit/In's foundations.
They always ended the set with "Satisfy Me?," Franklin growling out the lyrics as if he had written them. Franklin had no problem satisfying himself-with their groupies. Kiki was the one who "Just couldn't see/Which one of you is gonna satisfy me."
The girls in the audience thought the song was an invitation. Really, Kiki had written it as a joke about the skinny, pale, dopey-eyed boys who burned CDs for her, with titles like Songs of Faith and Devotion-like she didn't know that was a Depeche Mode album. Kiki needed a boyfriend who got the music but also knew she wasn't just a girl drummer in a rock band, someone who saw more than a heart-shaped face under gleaming dreads, and a lot more than the back of her vintage flares.
Someone like Mark, who was there at Café Momus the night she scribbled the lyrics for "Satisfy Me?" on a napkin and had helped her with the melody line. Mark, who drove her home after band practice in his Karmann Ghia, a funky old car that his dad bought when he was dating Mark's mom. Mark, who held out his hand so that Kiki could feel how tough his calluses had become from hours of practicing on his bass, leathery patches at the tips of long, thin fingers. Mark, who had the bluest eyes Kiki had ever seen, though his hair was even darker than hers, while his skin was the blue-white of skim milk and Kiki's was more like rich hot chocolate.
Kiki and Mark had been friends forever, long before Franklin transferred to the Wentworth Preparatory Academy, Nashville's most elite private school, and convinced them to form a band, back when her teachers still called her Katrina and her mom French-braided her hair every morning. Mark was her best friend, and he acted like nothing had ever changed between them, like she was still the little girl with braids and braces and he still had skinned knees and at least one black eye, and nobody else wanted to play with them because Kiki was black and Mark was a scholarship kid.
"Satisfy Me?" ended on a drum solo, and Kiki laid into the drums as if they had done her wrong, slamming them so hard her wrists would hurt the next morning. The whole audience clapped in tempo, and when she banged out the final beat, the crowd screamed with one voice for an encore before they had a chance to bow.
The three of them waved and dashed into the wings. Franklin's number-one groupie, Lizzie, handed each of them a bottle of water. It had taken them three months to teach Lizzie that even though Kiki was not technically a guy, she was still a part of the band. For some reason, Lizzie was the only one who seemed to notice that Kiki was a girl. Mark and Franklin were always surprised when Lizzie didn't offer Kiki a back rub or a cigarette like she did them, even though Mark didn't smoke. Neither did Kiki, who was just as glad that Lizzie had never offered her a massage, and would be even happier if Lizzie kept her hands off Mark, too.
"Feel up to one more?" Franklin asked them, lighting up. His eyes were the same pale gray as the smoke. With those eyes, platinum blond hair, and skin so clear most girls would kill for it, Kiki could understand why he had his own fan club on MySpace, even though she wouldn't go out with Franklin for anything. He was cute and he was fun, but he knew it all too well. And he thought he was too much fun for any one girl to keep all to herself.
"Sure," Mark said, glancing at Kiki for confirmation. They'd been friends so long they were practically psychic. Sometimes all they had to do was see one another across the hall to burst out laughing.
"My throat's kind of raw," Franklin admitted, taking another drag off his cigarette. "You want to do the new one?"
Mark had his head thrown back, gulping water, so Kiki said, "Let's do it."
As soon as Franklin was able to pry Lizzie's hands from his shoulders they went back on stage. The crowd, which had been stomping out the "We Will Rock You" beat, screamed and cheered as Franklin and Mark switched instruments and Kiki picked up her drumsticks.
"This is a new one for us," Mark purred into the microphone. It always weirded Kiki out, hearing the same voice she heard on the telephone every night amplified to one hundred decibels. "We were saving it for you."
It was an old song, actually, the last track on Depeche Mode's Violator album: "Blue Dress." Pretty and sad, Mark's gentle tenor caressed the lyrics. The one time Franklin sang it in practice, his bass rumble made the request to put on a beloved blue dress sound like an order.
As she tapped out the rhythm, Kiki wondered if she had some dress Mark preferred, something that someday he would beg her to wear. It seemed like everyone else had a favorite Kiki outfit-Derrick, the Exit/In's stage manager, liked the one she had on now: pin-striped short-shorts with pink suspenders, black velvet combat boots, fishnet stockings, and a pink-and-black necktie. But Mark never seemed to notice anything she wore.
Derrick had turned the footlights low and bathed Mark in a spotlight. Now Kiki could see the curve of his shoulders as he cradled the Stratocaster, the blue highlights in his dark hair, and when he glanced over his shoulder at Kiki she saw the shadows under his blazing blue eyes, shadows he got from staying up all night to finish his homework after band practice, or after shows.
She smiled, nodded, and kept the beat. So did the audience, clapping in time. Lost in the groove, Kiki wanted the song to go on and on forever. But she stopped on cue, blew kisses to the audience, and made her way to her dressing room, ignoring Lizzie's offer of a towel. Drumming was sweaty work even without stage lighting, but Kiki liked to pretend that Lizzie didn't exist.
Kiki's friend Jasmine Ash was waiting for her backstage, wearing an outfit that could have come from Kiki's closet, and maybe had. She and Jasmine were tight, even though their personalities could not be more different. Kiki took everything seriously: her music, her friendships, her rare moments of free time. Jasmine couldn't be serious about anything for more than five minutes. She would flirt for half an hour with a guy at a club, make him think she was ready to jump in bed with him, then for the next month she'd give out his phone number to every guy who asked for her number. And unlike Kiki, who was careful to watch her words in case there was a journalist around somewhere, Jasmine always said exactly what she thought-and Jasmine had a very dirty mind.
"So," Kiki asked, herding Jasmine into her tiny dressing room. Green Room B was usually a storage area for spare equipment, with just one swinging light bulb and a cracked mirror hanging over a dusty sink. Green Room A was a lot nicer, but that's where Mark and Franklin were changing. "Where's the party?"
"Oh, right!" Kiki exclaimed, unzipping the backpack she had crammed with post-show clothes. "Tonight's when we finally get to see Thomas."
"Five bucks says he's a troll."
"No deal." Not that Kiki really thought that Sasha would go out with someone completely hideous, but there had to be something wrong with Thomas. Sasha had been strangely secretive about him for weeks. They'd only found out Mystery Boy's name by snagging Sasha's cell phone one night after she fell asleep. They didn't even know how Sasha had met Thomas-he didn't go to Wentworth, and Sasha never went anywhere without Jasmine or Camille. She couldn't; she didn't know how to drive. Neither did Kiki. Wentworth didn't offer driver's ed, so they had to enroll in summer school to take it, but Sasha and Kiki had both been gone the entire summer. Sasha had gone on a tour of Europe with her grandmother, which was a lot less fun than she thought it would be, and Kiki was stuck on the tour bus with Mark, Franklin, their tour manager, Judy, and the bus driver, Bill-who hated musicians in general and teenage musicians in particular. Most of the time Franklin's mother had been around too, and between her yelling at Judy, Judy yelling at Bill, and Mark and Franklin yelling at each other, Kiki spent most of the summer wishing she were standing in line at European museums with Sasha's grandmother. And that was before the bus's toilet broke.
"Sure you don't want to ride with Mark?"
Kiki's fingers froze in the middle of lacing up the front of her lacy black bustier. "Are you joking?"
"But he's your best friend." There was a little edge to Jasmine's voice that told Kiki what this was really about. Whenever Kiki wasn't busy with the band, she and Jasmine shopped together, partied together, and even sometimes did their homework together-but Kiki always called Mark her best friend.
The truth was that Kiki was almost always busy with the band-and Mark was a huge part of that. Ever since they signed with RGB Records, the hipster division of one of the Big Three major labels, Kiki's life had become an endless series of recording sessions, photo shoots, gigs in the city during the school year, and touring all summer. The label had wanted all three band members to drop out of Wentworth and finish high school online so they could tour year-round, but Kiki's and Mark's parents had refused.
At the time, Kiki was ready to kill her parents-Nashville is full of people desperate for a contract, people who would literally do anything to get one. Franklin's parents were convinced that RGB would drop them and find some other teenage band to promote if the other parents kept making difficulties. In the end, though, Kiki was glad her parents had held out. It was Judy's job to keep all three members of Temporary Insanity from having anything like a social life when they were on tour, at least until each of them turned eighteen-Kiki wasn't even allowed to sit on the boys' beds, and vice versa. So her so-called life at Wentworth was all the social life she had.
"Things with Mark and me are a little complicated," Kiki admitted. "When we're together, I'm always wondering what he's really thinking. Does he know how I feel about him? Does he care? Is it even possible that he just doesn't know?" She gave her lacings a yank and tied them in a double knot. Her bustier was the real thing, vintage, all black velvet and white lace. It went with dark jeans and kitten heels perfectly.
Kiki had never understood why some people did all their shopping at the mall, where there were racks and racks full of clothes that looked exactly alike. The real thrill was vintage shopping, where every item was unique, with its own strange history. Kiki loved to prowl through vintage shops when she had a few hours off in a new city, in search of the one random item that felt like it had been made just for her, whether fifteen or fifty years before.
"Things between you and Mark aren't complicated enough," Jasmine countered. "Whatever you might hope is going to happen, and maybe it is going to happen someday, when pink ponies come flying out of my ass, at the moment you two are just friends."
"You've got a point." Kiki peered into the cracked mirror at the back of Green Room B. When she was onstage, she couldn't think of anything better than rocking out every night for years to come. But between shows, when she was dressing for a party where all the boys would be spooked by the fact that she had a half-million-dollar recording contract-except for Franklin and Mark, who considered her off-limits anyway-Kiki sometimes wondered if it was worth it.
"You look fantastic," Jasmine said, smiling over Kiki's shoulder. With her tiny, sharp face surrounded by wild red hair, Jasmine looked almost demonic. There were rumors going around Wentworth that Jasmine was a witch, based mostly on her devilish hair color and her tendency to lob insults that burned like battery acid. Kiki knew that Jasmine was no witch, but her smile was positively wicked. "Let's party."
Sasha Silverman's house was the best kind for parties, at least when the weather was warm: south of the city proper, surrounded by woods. Her parents had gone to New York for the Bennie awards-the Oscars for country music-like half the Wentworth parents, so there would be parties every night for the next few days. Not that Kiki would be able to go to most of them; part of her agreement with her parents for signing the deal was that she would never go out on school nights past 10:30 unless she had a gig, and she was only allowed one weeknight gig a month. Her weekend curfew was 2:00 sharp unless she was spending the night at a friend's house. If she weren't in a band, she'd have a lot more freedom.
"Maybe Thomas is in the mob or something," Jasmine guessed as she pulled up behind Mark's Kharmann Ghia. As usual, the guys had finished loading out the instruments and left the club long before Kiki had finished getting dressed. They were at the end of a long line of cars. Kiki recognized most of them from the Wentworth parking lot.
Sasha's house, set almost half a mile from the road, looked like an alien starship that crashed into a Tennessee meadow, all weirdly curved bits of silver metal and windows in surprising places. Like a lot of music industry types, the Silvermans were originally from LA, and they didn't want anyone to forget it.
"The closest thing we've got to the mob in Nashville is the MuzikMafia, and I don't think Sasha would sleep with anyone who wore a cowboy hat," Kiki said, kicking off her heels, preparing for the long hike across the lawn.
"What about you? Cowboy Troy is pretty hot."
Kiki almost threw a shoe at her. "I don't date anybody who sings country music, black or not."
"He doesn't sing, he raps country," Jasmine explained as they got out of the car. "They call it hick-hop."
"Are you kidding? No, don't answer that." They set out, watching their steps carefully by moonlight. The Silvermans didn't keep horses, but they did have dogs. Big dogs. Despite the danger of stepping in something gross, it was a perfect night for a long walk, barefoot in wet grass. October is still warm in Nashville most years, and this was no exception. Kiki was daydreaming about her Halloween costume while Jasmine went on and on about the night she and Camille met Cowboy Troy at a party Laura Keller's parents threw.
"You could do a lot worse than him," Jasmine decided. "And it's not like you're otherwise involved."
"I'm always 'otherwise involved,'" Kiki pointed out, plucking a late-season daisy to wear over her ear. "Where do you think I was when you were partying with Cowboy Troy?"
"You were working!"
"Playing a show isn't really work." The photo shoots, interviews, rehearsals, meeting with reps, lawyers, and managers-that was work. But actually being onstage making music was different for Kiki. Playing music really was play.
Jasmine rolled her eyes. Her parents were entertainment lawyers, and she shared their belief that music was just something to buy and sell, like soap or legal services. They might like being lawyers, but they wouldn't do it for free. The fact that Kiki would play music for free-would, in fact, pay for the right to play-just seemed crazy to Jasmine's whole family.
"That wasn't my point anyway," Jasmine said.
"You had a point?"
Jasmine snapped the bloom off another daisy and threw it at Kiki. "My point is, when was the last time you went out on a date?"
"Mark and I rented a movie to watch while we did a physics problem set Thursday night."
"If you think that's a date, then it's been too long."
"It felt like a date. Sort of. I mean, we were in his bed." Sprawling across Mark's battered old quilt, so faded it was almost white, doodling on his ankle with a Sharpie while he figured out when two trains, hurtling at each other along the same track, would crash-it felt so right. Just thinking about it made Kiki's chest hurt. How could he not feel it?
Excerpted from boy shopping by NIA STEPHENS Copyright © 2007 by Parachute Publishing L.L.C.. Excerpted by permission.
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