Jive Studios, New York City, a week later
“We want you to cross over.”
A seemingly bored Gray rolled her eyes. “I understand that. Cross over to what, exactly.”
She sighed. “Mr. Greene, I told you I don’t want to be…”
“Classified, blah blah blah. Yes, I understand, Miss Whittaker.”
“Gray.” She interrupted.
Michael Greene, Jive CEO, was not enjoying this. He had been elected to tell Gray that the fans wanted to see her go pop. They wanted her to be more romantic. Not be so pessimistic. And at Jive, what the fans want, the fans get. Everybody knew that the fans filled their bank accounts.
Gray was by far the most talented woman he had ever met, and easily the most beautifully intimidating. But she was stubborn as hell, and set in her old fashioned ways. She insisted, very admirably, he thought, that she was all about the music, and that she didn’t care either way if her album was flop or if it was a phenomenal success.
He rolled his eyes. She was the most naïve person to ever sit in his office. “Gray,” he corrected himself. “I understand, Gray, that your ethics and ideals are in the right place. BUT, the fans want you to go pop. They want to hear love songs. And here at Jive, the fans get what they want. They run the show. They are the reason you have that new house….”
That I never live in.
“The reason that you have two new sports cars in your garage….”
That I never drive.
“... and the reason you are sitting here today.”
She smirked. “So you’re telling me the reason I was put on this earth was because of little teenyboppers?”
Michael Greene turned red. “No, Gracellen, that is not what I meant.”
Gracellen. That name sounded so foreign to her now. No one called her that anymore.
“But Gray,” he continued. “If you want to continue your career and keep doing what you love, you will make this switch.”
Gray’s face showed no expression. “And what does Thomas Roberts say about this.”
Michael Greene shrugged. Thomas Roberts was just like Gray Whittaker. The same ideals of what music should be, the same hatred of the industry. Instead of looking for the good lookers, Thomas looked for talent. Talent could be faked, but good looks could not. And good looks were what sold the albums.
“I’m CEO of this company. Of course Thomas had an input, as he is a top executive. But he was overruled, of course.”
“Of course. And my manager?” Gray asked. Her manager’s name was Lucille Calvert, but Gray wasn’t that close to her. She contacted her through phone, only inform her of some new obligation. A party here. An appearance there.
“Lucille was all for it. She’s already scheduling concerts and appearances, and maybe a new tour.” Michael beamed.
She nodded. “I’ll do it.” Her voice was toneless.
He couldn’t believe she’d agreed so easily. “You’ll what?”
She stood up. “I said I’ll do it.” She was heading out the door, when his voice stopped her.
“One more thing. Your first role as Gray, pop singer, is to do a duet with the hottest boy band out there.”
Gray rolled her eyes. “I’m doing a duet with New Kids on the Block?”
“Funny,” he retorted. “You’re doing a duet with fellow Jive artist Nsync. You move to Orlando for 6 months, maybe more, in two days.”
1 day later
Mouse had never seen Gray angry, exuberantly happy, or extremely sad. That was just the way Gray worked, emotionless and removed. But right now, she was as close to mad as he had ever seen her. Her violet eyes were blazing cold fire, her full lips were set in a thin line, her arms were crossed, and she was glaring at the black suitcase that sat in the middle of her bed.
“Gray…” he said tentatively.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Gray’s tone and words filled him with relief, as strange at it may seem. She was Gray again, in control and detached. He would have been worried if she volunteered any information to shed light on her mood. She never did that.
She snapped her suitcases after throwing a few more articles of clothing, and reached for a duffel bag. She dumped all her cosmetics and toiletries into it, and zipped it up. She put both of them by the door, and straightened up. She smiled at Mouse, but her smile seemed forced.
“So, where are we going for my last night in New York City?”
Mouse looked at her. It was a nice try, but she wasn’t fooling him. He saw straight through the bullshit smile.
“We’re meeting Brandon and Jake at The Club, of course.”
A real smile blossomed on her face. The Club. She hadn’t been there for a while. Almost a year, in fact. And it suddenly occurred to her that she missed Annie.
Mouse impulsively hugged her. She had looked so vulnerable for a second, making her seem like a lost little girl instead of the woman of 22 she was. But the look disappeared as soon as it came, and Mouse wondered if he had not imagined it.
Elizabeth, New Jersey Starlight (The Club)
The club hadn’t really changed. It was bigger, Annie had had to build on to it when it was revealed that Gray Whittaker was discovered there. It was busier, more hopping, but the familiar worn wood of the bar was a welcome sight from the high tech clubs of New York. The DJ booth had been slightly altered, because the first thing Gray did when she received her first paycheck was go out and buy Annie the best sound system and spin table she could find. The stage was now a permanent picture. The worn out piano was still there, are so was old drum set. The ancient microphone still stood on its stand, as if she had never left it.
Gray made her way though the people, occasionally acknowledging people as they recognized her and called out her name. She spotted Annie, leaning against the bar, and dodged a few more customers and plunked down beside her. Annie was up in a flash.
“Grace! I didn’t expect to see you here tonight!” Annie exclaimed, snatching Gray into tight hug.
The corner of Gray’s mouth twisted. “I didn’t either,” she admitted.
Annie looked at her sharply. “Grace…”
“Its nothing, Annie, I’m just going to Florida tomorrow. For six months.”
Annie didn’t flinch. She was used to Gray’s blunt was of explaining things, which usually made everything even more complicated.
“Why is that, Grace?”
“Annie, I’m 22 years old. Can’t I go to Florida if I felt like it?”
“No. Not when you’re you and your manager is such a money-grubbing bitch.” Annie disliked Lucille. Intensely.
This elicited a smile from Gray, and Annie knew she was going to tell.
“Okay, so the company wants me to go to Florida. Orlando, to be more exact.” Gray said.
“Uh huh,” Annie responded. “What you doing in Orlando?”
“Uhh, apparently, going pop.” “Pop?” Annie asked dubiously.
“Let me guess whose idea this was,” Annie grumbled.
Gray laughed. “Nah, it wasn’t Lucille. It was Michael Greene, Jive CEO.”
“You have fun,” Annie said.
“What, you’re not going to tell me this is a bad idea?”
“You don’t need me to tell you that, Grace.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I guess.” Then, “Annie?”
“How am I supposed to write love songs if I’ve never really been in love?”
Annie almost laughed, and the name of one man from long ago was on the tip of her tongue, when she realized Gray was serious. “I don’t know, baby. Use your imagination.”
Gray rolled her eyes. “Thanks, mom.” Annie laughed and motioned for the bartender.
Gray nodded. “Is there ever anything else?”