Flirt, Strut and Shake What Your Mama Gave you!
I don't know how I ended up with Sport Coat guy's, who I now know to be Marcus Wright, arms on my shoulder and a Channel 4 camera shoved in my face. I look around for any sign of Akiko or Hercules. It's no use--I'm surrounded. Granted it's just photographers and screaming girls, but I still feel the need to throw my hands up and surrender.
"Focus," Marcus says, using my shoulder to steer me back to the camera. "As I was saying," he continues, lowering his mouth to a mic being held out by the reporter. "This is Raymond Harper, he will be practicing with us over the next few days. But let's get back to 10FOUR. Are you aware that they are planning a free concert for their fans?"
The crowd erupts in cheers that drown out the reporter's questions.
"As a gift to their fans," Marcus shouts. "10FOUR is going to be throwing a free concert in the bowl, next Friday. If Ray here does well, it will be his introduction to the world."
Next week! Nobody told me about this.
The crowd presses in, my ability to breathe is restricted by the tensor. I try to take calm breaths and start to hyperventilate. Marcus looks at me and I pretend to cough. The camera gets shoved further into my face. Questions fire at me.
"Ray are you... Does this...Drum before...pink nails...next Friday..."
I struggle to put the words together to form one concrete sentence. I glance up at Marcus, his brow begins to harden, his mouth presses into a thin line. The last thing I want is for him to regret choosing me. I need to calm down.
My hands find my lucky sticks. I twirl them between my fingers, savoring their rough wooden feel. Do I want this? The screaming girls, achy boobs...the pressure? Is my love for drumming enough to push me through the business side of music?
The truth is I don't know. But I won't find out unless I try. So I do the only thing I know--I drum.
I hold the sticks above my head and smack them together, soon one member in the crowd claps along with my beat, then another, and another. I point to my left and teach them a quick three beat rhythm. They follow my lead. Then on my right I walk the crowd through an over melody. A harmony of beats, claps and stomps ripple through the crowd.
The Channel 4 reporter whips the camera around trying to capture the moment. I look to Marcus, his arms are crossed and a grin slides the corner of his mouth up. He nods at me, and begins to clap.
The momentum of rhythm surrounds me like a warm hug and I find my confidence in front of the crowd. I begin to chant "10FOUR, 10FOUR!" They follow my lead, clapping, stomping, shouting.
I take a step forward and the crowd parts, making a path for me to the door. I continue leading them in our song as I make my way through. Some stop screaming 10FOUR and start chanting "Ray Harper."
Even Marcus calls my name as he follows behind me with the reporter. Somehow we make it inside, and behind the closed doors I can't escape the questions.
"So Ray," the reporter begins, not even giving me a chance to catch my breath. "What's with the pink?"
I think of Akiko and a smile crosses my face. "Girls like guys that wear pink."
The reporter laughs. "What do you like in a girl? I'm sure all our viewers would like to know."
He did not just ask me that. If only they knew. I try to maintain my cool, when all I really want to do is double over and vomit or laugh, mostly vomit.
"Uh, tough question," I say buying some time to think of something clever. Something clever? Something clever? What would a guy say? Probably, boobs. Can I say boobs on TV?
I point to my flattened girls, the irony of which doesn't escape me. "Well you know," I say with a wink.
"Well played," the reporter laughs. "So Ray, do you have a girlfriend?"
Is this seriously the questions they are going to ask me?
"I'm not sure what this has to do with drumming," I tease, hoping to change the subject off of my non-existent dating life. "But no, I'm single."
A barrage of ear shattering screams rise from outside.
The reporter smiles. "We're projecting this interview on the building outside. I take it the girls like your answer."
I gulp and force a smile. Behind the reporter is the men's restroom. I contemplate hiding in there for refuge. That's how scary teenage girls are too me. I'd rather be in the post-zombie-apocalyptic stall than in a crowd of girls who think I'm a boy.
A feeling of anger floods me. I spend far too much time doing my hair and make-up and nails and never have I gotten even a fraction of the attention I get dressed as a guy. I always thought I was a pretty girl. Being an even prettier guy sucks.
"Alright," Marcus says, his voice firm. "No more questions. It's time for Ray and the boys to practice for the free fan show next Friday 7:00 in the bowl."
"Any last words?" the reporter asks, shoving his mic in my face.
"Yeah," I say, a smug grin on my face. "Check your heart beat!"
The reporter lowers his mic and camera and shakes both of our hands.
"Off the record," he says, smiling at me. "That was sick what you pulled with the crowd just now. The camera loves you."
"Thanks," I say, feeling my cheeks heat. I lower my hat, carful not to mess up my wig.
Marcus pats the guy on his back. "Here's my card," he says as he hands it to the reporter. "Make sure to send me the footage."
"Will do." The reporter slides it into his front pocket and opens the door. The crowd erupts with screams and cheers, some even attempt to repeat clapping the beats I taught them. I wave once, sending the crowd further into a frenzy. "Check your heart beat!" they scream. Marcus closes the door and shakes his head.
"I was worried about you for a moment there, but I think you'll pick up quickly. As long as you've learned the music this time." His words are full of warning and I know that even though I nailed my first interview I haven't fully won Marcus over. He alone is what's standing in between my dream and me.
"I've practiced all night," I say. And it's true I did, until 3:00am where my dad banged on my door and begged me to shut up.
"Well let's see if it's an improvement from your audition," he says. "You can thank the boys for choosing you. I wanted to go with another. But if I learned anything in this business it's let the musicians pick their members. It makes the I told you so moments so much more satisfying."
I swallow the lump in my throat and follow after him to the stage room. It's nice to know he's counting on me to fail already. For some reason that makes me even more determined to prove him wrong. I don't like Marcus, not one bit. He can take his overly gel-slicked head and shove it where the sun don't shine for all I care. But I have to play the game. He is after all my new manager. Or, will be I guess, If I make it to next Friday.