Ashley Grainger goes through a dry spell in her songwriting career, and it could not have happened at a worse time. Her music-writing ability has been hampered by the return of her ex-fiancé Zach. When Zach blows back into town, he has the potential to destroy Ashley's career. Zach is still overwhelmed by his feelings for Ashley, but will his desperate ploy to stop loving her get in the way of helping her further her career? As Ashley and Zach discover, it's hard to rewrite the lyrics to their passionate and complicated love song.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
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Ashley sat curled like a sulking cat at the end of the pale lavender cut-velvet sofa, a clipboard propped on her knee. She stared mournfully at the last two lines of the stanza she'd just finished:
When did heaven become the wrong side of town ...
When did the green of springtime turn so brown?
It must be good, she told herself; otherwise, why would she have such an urge to cry? Of course, to be honest, it had taken very little to make her feel like crying during the past couple of weeks. Sadness had invaded every part of her body like a long, attenuated sigh.
The pencil, barely held by fingers too listless for a firm grip, lay against the board as though it, too, had been exhausted by the effort to inscribe these words -- words that bore no resemblance to what she'd settled down to write. They were the indelible imprint of her rotten mood. The way her emotions automatically arranged themselves into a rhythm, and the rhythm into rhyme, still surprised her, even though the pattern had been formed in early childhood. It was a habit she had honed into a skill, and the skill had brought her to heights that amazed and sometimes dizzied her.
Her eyes rose from the page to roam around the oversized room decorated with furnishings that all but shrieked their newness and expense. Despite determined mental efforts to assert ownership, she still felt like a visitor in this elegant apartment and found herself glancing around guiltily when she curled up on the couch, half expecting someone to jump out and tell her to get her feet off the furniture.
Her melancholy was interrupted by a sharp rap, and she called,"Come in, it's open!" She heard the slam of the door and the heavy tread of determined footsteps crossing the room. Her fingers made a feeble attempt to cover the scrawled evidence of her nonproductive day. Without raising her head she said, "Hi, Matt."
"How the hell do you write in that position? I should think you'd get kinks in your brain." Matthew Robbins loomed over her, his tall form blocking the afternoon sun. Matt was her musical collaborator, the other half of the prize-winning team of Robbins and Grainger, whose first full-scale Broadway musical had run for two years and won the Tony award.
"Sounds like a good idea."
"Oh, no, don't tell me. Gloom still looms." Matt plucked the board from its precarious perch and quickly scanned the contents of the paper it held. "Terrific. I need lyrics for two jump tunes and a humor/patter song, and what do I get?" His voice held dismay as he read: "Why did our love song go out of tune? And spring become winter so soon?"
He cocked his head and stared at her accusingly. "The sixth sad ballad in a week. Ash, shall I call Jerry and tell him that, much to his surprise, both leads of this musical will have to slit their wrists during the finale, or do you anticipate pulling out of this funk?"
"I don't know." Ashley, with considerable effort, sat up straight. "I just can't seem to come up with any cheerful lyrics."
"Uh-huh. I wish I didn't know the reason. That would sure make me happier."
She looked up at the familiar face, which bore an unfamiliar expression of worry. "If you know the reason, perhaps you'd be so kind as to share it with me."
"Come on, babe. You know as well as I do it's a rare but virulent disease called Zachary Jordan." Ashley cringed as the name rippled through her, causing extreme turbulence. "After the case you had of him, I'd think you'd have built up an immunity." Matt tossed the clipboard onto a nearby chair and sat down on the edge of the couch.
Ashley ran her hand over her eyes, amazed at how tired they felt. "Where did you learn to add two and two and come up with five?"
"Same place you learned heart control. The Show Biz School of Irrational Behavior. Wouldn't you know it! In a country where lawyers proliferate like wire coat hangers, our biggest potential investor has to choose Zachary Jordan." His scowl deepened. "I know Joe Sanders lives in Boston, and it figures he'd have a Boston lawyer. But why that one?"
She laced her fingers together tightly. "He's one of the best in New England, and Joe Sanders can afford the best." The best of the best, she thought. Not only in law, but in every category she could think of. Why, after all this time, did he still seem so incomparable?
"Yeah. The thing that boggles my mind is that Jordan didn't talk him out of the idea of investing in a Broadway musical. He probably considers it about as safe as shooting craps in Las Vegas." His hand made a sweep of dismissal. "Anyway, that's out of our hands. Jerry has the backers' audition all set for Wednesday night. I understand there's enough money already on the line, so if Joe Sanders comes in, that may be all we need."
Jerry Jerome was a flamboyant showman and the most successful producer now on Broadway. It seemed miraculous to Ashley that he had approached them about handling their new show. Success was still too new to her to have any feeling of familiarity.
"Now, if we can get your mind off Zachary Jordan long enough to write a few sprightly lyrics, we should be in good shape."
"Matthew, once and for all, my mood has nothing to do with Zachary. I just have a case of writer's block."
"How come the only other case you've had occurred three years ago when said lawyer departed from your life? Just some weird celestial malformation that brings on writer's block and Zachary Jordan at the same time?" His hands flew up in a dramatic gesture.
Matt rarely departed from his usual state of joyous optimism, and he seemed to relish this brief excursion into alarmed concern. There was a theatrical quality to his discourse, as if he were scoring his words as he spoke them. Ashley could practically hear the wail of a clarinet.
"I shudder at the memory of that other slide into funereal pentameter; it lasted six months," he continued. "We don't have six months." His head bobbed up and down in emphatic conviction. "You must avoid him like the plague."
"Your line of logic would baffle Carl Sagan." She frowned at him. "Besides, you're all wrong. I could walk right past Zachary without missing a pulse beat." An inner howl of "liar!" was followed by an overall tingling sensation, as though each inch of her skin held private memories of delicious contact. With determined indignation at the traitorous reaction of both mind and body, she added, "That's over. Three years is enough recovery time for anyone, even me."
He patted her knee in patent disbelief. "You don't have to see him, you know. It's the producer's job to work with investors ... and their lawyers. It's your job to write lyrics. Snappy lyrics, the kind that make people smile. At your present rate, you're going to turn this playful froth of a musical into a Greek tragedy."
"So? That might not be so bad. Sweeney Todd was no bucket of laughs, and it won all kinds of awards."
"Honey, the book and the lyrics should bear some resemblance in mood. This musical is a comedy, as in ha-ha."
"I know already -- I wrote the dialogue."
"You wrote the very funny dialogue. We now need some very funny songs. The star is supposed to have one rather woeful ballad, and his lady friend, two. I timidly venture the opinion that two and one make a total of three." He tapped his finger on the paper. "We now have nine." He squinted emphatically: the impatient adult teaching basic addition to a recalcitrant child. "Would you agree that's ample?"
"Okay, agreed." She stretched her arm to retrieve her clipboard, hastily scanning the verse. "I guess there's no way to turn this into humorous patter."
"Well, it might tickle Dracula's funny bone."
"Ashley." Matt jumped up, unable, as usual, to restrain his restless energy. "Why don't I take you out to dinner? Somewhere outrageously posh, where we might be recognized and fawned over. In fact, I'll call ahead and remind the maître d' who we are, so he'll make a fuss. Wouldn't that cheer you up?"
"You know that's not my thing."
"Phooey. You enjoy a little public recognition as much as any of us. You and I, against heavy odds, have cut our path to success through the Broadway jungle like voracious beavers. We have every right in the world to enjoy it."
Ashley wished she could summon a smidgen of humor in order to fully enjoy Matt's colorful rhetoric. He was in rare form today. She sighed. It was a good thing somebody was.
He pointed his finger at her in stern admonition. "And you were doing just that until that stuffy Bostonian made you think there was something vulgar about having your name in print."
"Matt, that's not true." There was a definite lack of conviction in her tone. She added, somewhat defiantly, "Zachary isn't stuffy at all."
"Humph." Before she could say anything further, he doubled back to the previous subject. "Now, concerning an extravagant dinner in a posh restaurant ... how about it? After all, were we not touted as the hottest new writing team in town by Time magazine? Should that not entitle us to a bit of personal flaunting?"
Ashley shook her head, grinning helplessly at her dear friend. "You certainly know how to muck up a perfectly good deep-purple mood. How do you know you're not turning off a wonderful streak of creativity? When have I written six lyrics of any sort in one week? One of them might become a hit someday!"
"All of them will, babe, but in due time. We happen to have a deadline baring its ugly teeth. We should follow dinner by going to a rock joint. Loosen up, jiggle our spines. Might get you in the mood to turn out something that can be sung in this particular production. We still have one of the two rock numbers to do, you know."
"All right, all right. I get the message. We were probably nuts to make him a rock star. I don't even like most rock music."
"Hey, lyric-wise they're easy: just repeat the same line eight times, throw in a bridge and repeat it four more."
"In that case, we can skip the nightclubbing. But what about Amy? Didn't you tell me you had a date tonight?"
Matt's expression clouded. "Amy and I have had what was, in gentler times, termed a falling out. She is not answering my calls."
"Oh, Matt! Not again!" She scowled accusingly at him. "Did you take that girl out? The one who auditioned the other day?"
His eyebrows rose in an expression of wounded innocence. "What girl is that?"
"The one you said had the greatest set of gams you'd seen in years."
"Oh ... that girl."
"Stop evading. Did you?"
Matthew's eyes slid away from hers. "All right, so I took her over to the pizza place. Poor kid hadn't had a square meal in ages. I was just being kind."
Delighted to have the focus turned away from her. Ashley moved to the attack. "You idiot. One of these days Amy will close the door on you completely, and you'll have lost one of the nicest women in this rotten town."
"How can you call New York a rotten town? This is the hub of the world! This is where it's all happening! This is the source of our riches! This is home!" He resumed his place on the edge of the sofa.
"Stop!" Her hands came up in a defensive posture. "You're giving me a headache. Besides, right now New York seems more like the pit of my funk than the hub of the world. I'm seriously considering buying a nice quiet place somewhere in the country."
"As in the country just outside of Boston?"
Ashley swung her legs out, avoiding Matt's lanky form, set her feet firmly on the floor and stood up. "Listen, once and for all, my state of mind has nothing to do with Zachary Jordan. I barely remember what he looks like." She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to obliterate the picture still vividly etched in her mind. That beautifully sculpted face with dark, dark eyes and thick black hair.
She slapped her hands against her sides in exasperation. "If you want to cheer me up, I shouldn't think you'd call me names. Maybe it would be a good idea to go out tonight. I bought a divine dress yesterday, at that little boutique down the street. It cost a fortune, and I want to start amortizing it."
"You bought another dress? Oh, boy, all the signs are in place. The only time you go shopping is when you're feeling depressed." He stood and crossed to stand beside her. "Ashley, are you still --"
"Then why ..."
"Hearing his name again brought back some painful memories, that's all."
"Babe, you were crazy about the guy. You had a very bad time when you split up. I offer you this advice free. Do not see him. Let dead affairs remain buried." He gave her a peck on the cheek and headed for the door. "I'll pick you up at eight-thirty. Meanwhile, think lovely thoughts. Call the video shop and have them send over an old Laurel and Hardy movie. Eat bonbons. Stand on the balcony in your all-together and flash Seventy-first Street. Lighten up!"
Copyright © 1987 by Mary Curtis
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