No Strings AttachedbyMsCherylTerra©
No Strings Attached is the second collaboration by MsCherylTerra and Bebop3. We hope you enjoy the story!
Bebop3's stories can be found here.
I stood at the doorway watching her. I don't like kids. I don't dislike them either, they simply don't exist in my day-to-day life so I don't really think about them much. But, something about the little girl that was compelling. She was talking to a woman who was clearly her mother. They could have been twins, separated by 20 years and a few hundred dollars' worth of tattoos. The woman was shaking her head "no" and the little girl was looking up at the acoustic guitar.
Walking over, I took it off the wall. "Hey, I'm Alex. Did you wanna see the guitar?"
The woman smiled but shook her head again. "Oh, no, thank you. She's just... Well, her uncle plays and she wants to. She, uh, gets excited."
"Honestly? It's more of a prop than anything else. She's welcome to fool around with it. Worst-case scenario, we'll re-string it."
"That's really kind, she'll be careful."
The girl was careful as she took it gently from my hands. Speaking over her shoulder, she addressed her mother. "Mom, I can talk for myself." She looked up at me. "Thanks! My uncle has electric guitars, but he said he'd teach me how to play one like this."
"That's great. Have you started yet?"
"No, he's sort of busy."
I smiled down at her. "I'm sure he'll find the time." I looked around and they were still setting up so we had some time. "Wanna try something real quick?"
She nodded her head. C Major was probably too difficult for her small hands, so I wracked my brain for something that would be workable for her. Maybe some simple open chords to shift up and down? We could just use three strings instead of all six and she'd at least get a feel for playing.
I smiled. "Sorry. I was lost there for a second just thinking. You know 'Happy Birthday', right? Why don't we give that a try? Three chords should be doable and people have birthdays all the time, right?"
We worked through it as people around us set up the studio to help look like a precise, arranged photo was actually impromptu. They worked and left us alone and I enjoyed the joy in her eyes when she mastered something. Her mother looked both happy and concerned.
"Are we in their way? I don't want to get anyone in trouble."
Her mouth twitched a bit, her worried tone kind of endearing.
"Nah, it's fine."
"You work with these people?"
"Sort of." I looked down at the little girl. "So, you know 'Shake it Off'? The Taylor Swift song? Wanna try that?"
We again only used the thinner three strings and she was soaking everything up like a sponge. Her smile was contagious and some of the studio employees and photographers' assistants would smile along or pat her on the head, which was sort of obnoxious. She was a kid, not a pet.
We got through the whole song once and was trying it a second time when the star of the show arrived. He was the rockstar of the moment and came in with the requisite rockstar attitude. He was ignoring some people while berating others and had a bottle of Jack in his hand with the 80's throwback leather jacket with no shirt.
The only thing that gave him any redemptive value is that he dropped everything when he saw the little girl.
"Hey, there's my munchkin. You doing okay?"
"Yeah, Alex was showing me how to play guitar!"
"Was he?" He turned to me. "You Alex?"
I smiled up at him from the stool I was sitting on. "Yup."
"Well, Alex, you know who I am?" He didn't give me a chance to answer and just kept talking. "I'm Jimmy Reilly. Maybe you heard of me? Cover of Guitar Player? Three top 20's in the past 12 months? Why don't you go back to pushing pencils or a broom or whatever you do and I'll teach my niece about the guitar."
"You deaf, Alex? I don't have time for a conversation. Want an autograph, see me as we're leaving. Pick up your little acoustic, get out and hope that you didn't get her started on any bad habits."
I looked at him for a minute before he continued.
"Should I be using sign language? Get the fuck out."
Shaking my head, I left. Sitting down in my office, I turned on my laptop. The studio was live and I could hear everything going on through my speakers. Big Mike was talking.
"Reilly, get in the control room."
"Get in the control room or get the fuck out."
"Who the hell are you?"
"Co-owner of the studio. Leave or come talk to me in the control room."
A few seconds passed and I could hear them again, this time without the ambient noise.
"I didn't want to call you out in front of anyone and I'm gonna let you finish up, but you're not coming back. You're banned."
"You can't be serious. You're banning me? You think the label's going to let that happen?"
"Yeah, I do. You know why you're here? 'Cause we're famous. Fucking legendary. Everyone wants to record here and all the best have. You really think the label is going to back your play and have some sort of boycott or something? Get real."
"What, cause of some dick who shouldn't have been in there anyway? Whadda ya want? I'll give him an autograph, smooth it out. Not a problem."
"An autograph? You have any idea who that guy is? You're the flavor of the month. Six months from now there'll be another you. Two years from now no one'll remember your name. That guy you were going off on is Alex Franzetti. Fingers Franzetti. He's been one of the greatest guitarists in the world for three decades. Fuck, you're not even talented enough to know how good he actually is. He's also my business partner. You're done. Enjoy the day, cause you're not coming back."
Jimmy started cursing and I heard a door slam. Picking up my phone, I called Big Mike.
He answered and immediately started speaking. "Hey, it's handled."
"Yeah, I heard. Do me a favor. Give the girl the acoustic. Not her fault her uncle's a douche."
"You got it."
I saw the girl and her mother in the parking lot through my office window shortly after. They got in their car and were leaving when the car stopped abruptly near the building. She must have seen me through the window and made her mother stop, as she bolted from the car, guitar in hand and ran over the grass and through some thigh-high bushes and banged on the window.
She mouthed "Thank you!" and hugged the guitar to her chest.
Smiling, I mouthed back "Welcome."
Her mother waved as the girl was more cautious in pushing past the bushes and headed back to the car. She was a beautiful woman. Jimmy was an ass, but he seemed to care about his niece and his sister was hot, if way too young. Yeah, her youth and my age didn't stop me from noticing that she wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
Sitting back in my chair, I started typing up my article for Guitar Player. I wrote for them under the name Curt Llama, reviewing new albums, talking about the state of the industry or pretty much writing anything that caught my interest. I decided to write about supposed prodigies who cared more about showmanship than craft. Pulling out examples of flash-in-the-pans who were supposed to be the next wunderkinds, it was pretty clear that I was referring to Jimmy.
As I wrote I could hear him getting progressively louder. I guessed that Big Mike's not kissing his ass hadn't gone over well. I left the link on and listened in. He was going off on everyone that might listen and his people were trying to placate him without doing or saying anything that would irritate my partner. The simple truth is that we were bigger than Jimmy was.
Being located in Pueblo, we were out of the limelight of LA or NY. For bands or artists that wanted to remove themselves from distractions and temptations, we were exactly what they needed. As they came here when they wanted to produce their best, we garnered a reputation as the 'go-to' studio if you wanted to create your masterpiece.
Jimmy wasn't interested in producing a masterpiece, or maybe he was stupid enough to believe that he had. Living in Pueblo, his photoshoot was the result of happenstance and convenience. Legendary studio and up-and-coming artist and he could roll out of bed and be here in half an hour.
So, there I was typing while he was ranting and the poor photographer and his staff tried to get some useable shots. Eventually, Jimmy must have found a guitar. He told everyone he was going to just riff and play whatever popped into his head 'cause he's incredibly creative. He'd barely begun playing when I realized it was "Caprici di Diablo" by Yngwie Malmsteen. Not the easiest song to play, but not insanely difficult either. I was pretty sure he was directing the music my way, throwing down the gauntlet however he could.
Laughing, I just continued to write. When he was done, he started yelling again. Big Mike had finally hit his limit and I could hear him throwing everyone out. Picking up the phone, I called our security guys and had them help clear out Jimmy and his sycophants. Big Mike is a tough crotchety son of a bitch, but he's in his early sixties.
Jimmy was stumbling towards his limo, no longer clutching the bottle of Jack, when he saw me through the window. He flipped me the double bird and walked off. His niece was much nicer.
When I was done with the article, I plugged my guitar into the audio interface, played "Caprici di Diablo" and then got his personal email from someone at his label. I sent him the recording with the following message:
Is that what you were going for? Keep practicing.
"...that bitch ass motherfucker—"
"Watch your fucking mouth," I spat.
Jimmy rolled his eyes at me, still glaring down at his phone. I took two steps across the small kitchen, snatched the phone from his hands, and turned off the ridiculously-fast twanging of some metal song before it made my nerves snap. Pepper whined from beneath the table, his tail thumping against the chair leg.
"I don't want to hear this crap right now."
"This crap is how I make my fucking living, Em."
"It won't be for long if you keep acting like you did today."
"—bullshit, it was absolute fucking bullshit." I peered down the hallway, where a mostly off-key rendition of The Birthday Song was being played from Leia's bedroom, and lowered my voice to a hiss. "You embarrassed the shit out of me."
"I embarrassed you? You were supposed to be directing my goddamn photo shoot and you took off!"
"You threw a tantrum! An actual tantrum, Jimmy! In front of Leia!"
"That old dude—"
"—was teaching Leia how to play the guitar, because all she's talked about for the past six months is how Uncle Jimmy says he's gonna teach her to play the guitar and Uncle Jimmy's going to come this weekend and show her how to play the guitar and Uncle Jimmy promised that next weekend—"
"I've been a bit busy, if you hadn't noticed," he said icily.
"Maybe if you put down the booze once in a damn while—"
"Who the hell are you to talk? You were just as—"
"Don't even go there with me." I turned towards him, and whatever look was across my face made him shut up. "Yeah, I did stupid shit when I was 20, too. But I didn't have the kind of money you do, and that severely limited the stupid shit I could do. And hey, it worked out for me, because I got Leia out of it and you damn well know I wouldn't trade her for anything in the entire universe, but you know what she didn't get out of it?"
"A father. I fucking know, you've told me—"
"Then why do I have to tell you again?"
He folded his arms across his chest, looking far more like a pouty, emo pre-teen than a man of twenty with a music career. I took a breath and ran a hand through my hair.
"Jimmy, I get growing up wasn't easy—"
"Oh, and here we go with the traumatic childhood bullshit—"
"Fuck off, are you serious?"
He fell silent as I glared at him.
"I'm sorry I left you at home when I took off. You were ten. I was eighteen. I clearly couldn't even take care of myself, let alone my kid brother, as proven by the fact that I got fucking knocked up like, two years later."
He put his hand on his hip in an exaggerated effeminate pose. "'And I could have let you just live on the streets when you got kicked out, Jimmy, but out of the goodness of my heart I took you in and for the past five years I've done nothing but love you and support you.'"
His high-pitched mocking of my voice hurt me more than it irritated me, though it was incredibly irritating. Taking another deep, shaky breath, I swallowed the hurt and put my hand on the counter.
"I will be taking Leia to get guitar lessons from someone else."
"I can do it for free. Someone else is gonna cost you—"
"I don't care. I don't want you teaching her right now."
Jimmy fell silent, pain and confusion furrowed into his brow. His mouth opened but for once, he didn't speak.
"We've had this conversation a million times. You're drinking too much. You're partying too much. You want to live the rockstar lifestyle, fine. But you will not be exposing my daughter to that kind of toxicity while you do."
"It's not up for discussion." I folded my arms and leaned against the counter as Jimmy stared at me. "You are drunk. Like, literally right now. You're drunk, and you have been for hours. I'm sorry I wasn't the perfect role model for you, I'm sorry we had shit parents, but you can't keep throwing that in my face. I'm trying to do better for her. And right now, you aren't better."
"You can't." The words were slurred, but beneath the layers of bourbon-scented breath was a pleading desperation. "She's my niece, you can't stop me from seeing her."
"I can, actually, but I won't. That would hurt her more than it would hurt you. But you're not going to be teaching her to play guitar, and as long as you keep acting like you did today or showing up drunk or high or whatever, you're not going to be allowed around her."
Jimmy wasn't used to being told "no" anymore. Part of it was the amount of ass-kissing thrust upon him by his manager and fans, but a larger part of it was the intense anger he could muster up in a single stare. His magazine covers all featured that seething scowl, a trademark of his that he had been using to intimidate people for years.
It didn't intimidate me, however. Not only had its effect on me worn off after years of seeing it, but it was also hard to feel intimidated by someone whose dirty diapers I had changed and who I'd had to mother in place of our actual mother.
Still, I felt myself breathe a sigh of relief when Jimmy stood up and stumbled from my kitchen to the front door. I watched as he got in the back of an expensive black car that looked completely out of place in my neighborhood.
I knew its departure also meant my doorbell would be ringing in approximately five minutes. When it did, I had already opened two beers and had a bag of popcorn in the microwave.
"It's open!" I called over the sound of Pepper barking.
The pattering of two children running—one from her bedroom to the front door, the other from the front door to the bedroom—was immediate.
"Baylee, be polite! Say hi to Em."
"Hi, Em!" called a young voice.
"Baylee I got a guitar!" shrieked Leia.
With that, the girls were off, and Kelsie was wandering into my kitchen.
"So what's the latest?"
Kelsie was my best friend. We stuck together like flies on paper. Baylee and Leia had been in the same class since kindergarten and had thankfully been practically inseparable since. As far as I knew, Kelsie and I were the only two single moms in the girls' class, and that was reason enough to ostracize us. It didn't help that both of us looked... well, a little less clean-cut than most of the moms.
I had taken most of my piercings out after having Leia, but Kelsie kept all of hers: eyebrow, lip, nose, and tongue were the visible ones. She had a few tattoos, but not many; I would need to wear a floor-length turtleneck poncho with mittens to cover all of mine. She dyed her hair multiple colors; mine was naturally dark.
Together, we were clearly those moms. Other moms joked about drinking coffee until it was socially acceptable to drink wine. Kelsie and I had definitely shared a flask more than once during a soccer game.
I told her the story of the day as we sat at the kitchen table, drinking beer and eating popcorn, throwing the occasional piece to the dog begging at our feet.
"So this guy, Alex, is showing Leia how to play guitar when Jimmy walks in and just tears him a new one. And like, he's clearly someone with the studio, because he just... gave Leia a guitar. Like, had one of his people give it to her. And I'd already started taking off because I was humiliated by Jimmy's tantrum, so I didn't even get to thank him."
"Hmm. Was he cute?"
I had to think about it for a moment. The short answer was yes, really. There had been something enticing about Alex, something almost familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on it. It was like being reminded of someone, but not being able to pinpoint who.
"I mean, he was... I don't know. Sure. In that khakis-and-golf-shirt kind of way."
"No!" I laughed, shaking my head. "Just like, not my type. You know. Probably too clean-cut. He had some great tattoos though."
"We both know you love your tattoos."
"I do. He was also like, way older than me."
"Hmm. Too bad."
I took another sip of beer. "Anyway. Now I have to figure out how I'm going to pay for guitar lessons."
"Jimmy should be paying for them."
"I'm not asking Jimmy for money."
"If you would just get over your pride—"
"That's not it. I just... it's weird. He already spoils Leia. He paid off the house."
"He could have bought you a better house."
"I like this house." I shook my head before she could speak again. "It doesn't matter. I'm not asking Jimmy for money."
"Why don't you go back to the studio tomorrow? Ask this Alex for suggestions and thank him for the guitar?"
"Not a bad idea, actually." Finishing my beer, I grinned. "And hey, two birds, one stone. Leia still has to sell an entire case of Girl Scout cookies. Maybe she can charm some of the staff while she's there."
Big Mike and I each had our own office and then we had a common office where we met with clients. We had no need to be in the center of the city and space was cheap, so we built for comfort. I'd dragged a decent chair into his office and we were going over monthly bookings. He sat on a metal folding chair behind his desk as we worked. It was a weird point of pride with him and he'd look at my ergonomic chair with disdain whenever he saw it.
For people outside the industry, musicians and singers were legends. In the industry, people like Mike were the legends. His basic uniform had been the same since the '80s; shorts to his knees, black socks, sneakers, and a Hawaiian shirt. A large man, he'd been terrifying in the day. He'd managed some of the biggest bands in history and was as professional as you could hope for unless he felt you were messing with what he termed "my people".
If he felt you'd ripped off a band somehow, start running. And don't try to hide in hell, 'cause I was pretty sure that Satan was terrified of Big Mike and would give you up in a minute. Have a deal with a site manager and he didn't live up to his obligated percentage of concession sales during a concert? Mike paid him a visit and the situation was rectified immediately. The label playing games? He'd hire the biggest, scariest lawyers you'd ever seen and forensic accountants that would find Jimmy Hoffa just to rifle through his wallet.