Chapter Fourteen
His Prelude
Her Prelude
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen

Yes, it's true that I believe
I'm weaker than I used to be
I wear my heart out on my sleeve
And I forget the rest of me
Yes, it's true; I've been afraid
And there's no harm in that, I pray
`Cause I'm more frightened every day
Someone will take the hope I have away
But you've gotta give it up
To get off sometimes

"And in the studio with us this morning, ladies and gentlemen...Mr. Nick Carter!"

Nick nervously sipped the mug of coffee that had been handed to him and bit his lip to keep from reacting to the canned applause. There were numerous screaming teenage girls just outside the booth, but the microphones in the studio couldn't pick up the live soundtrack quite as well as his ears could.

He swallowed another sip of coffee and cast a polite smile towards the DJ. "Hey, man, what's up?"

"Not much, not much! So tell me, Nick...you're solo, you're single, you're a rock star...how does it feel?"

He laughed, drawing strength from the eager faces of the fans outside. One look at their outstretched Now or Never albums, and he knew that he was among friends. These were the people who didn't care how eloquent he was or how impressive his insights could be. If he tripped over a serious explanation of his song lyrics, the fans would find it "cute." They'd post it all over the internet once they got home, yeah, but they found him more endearing than fallible.

He slid the headphones on and leaned into the microphone, flashing a coy smile at the morning man's female counterpart. Show time. "It's amazing, man. I can't even begin to describe it to you. I knew I was blessed, but seeing all these lovely ladies in the studio here..." He trailed off at exactly the right moment and winked at the row of teenage girls against the window, and they erupted into shrieks that threatened to shatter the glass.

"You guys can't hear, but Nick caused quite a riot this morning when he showed up," the DJ laughed. "I think he brought half the female population with him. Psycho Sandy here was having some trouble keeping her screams to herself."

"Can't help it, Dynamo Dave!" the female DJ hollered. "I mean, look at him! He looks frickin' hot!" She turned a bright-eyed, teasing gaze on the suave blonde across the table. "Nick, man, I've got to tell ya...you look amazing. I heard rumors that you'd lost a lot of weight, but man...you look good enough to eat!"

Nick chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck modestly. Yeah, but is my single good enough to listen to? "Thanks. Thanks."

"Man, you earned it. What did you do? How'd you slim down like that? Give me some tips, man!"

He knew he was blushing, but he could only hope that it would come across as "cute" and not "embarrassed as hell." Truth to tell, he knew exactly how much bullshit was about to spew forth, and he was desperately hoping that no one would catch him on it. "I just started eating right, I guess. I mean, with the Boys," he paused to wait out the screams at the mention of the Boys, "on tour, we just ate a bunch of junk. I'd go home and I wasn't much different. When I started recording this album, I was all about feeling more comfortable in my own skin, and I just started taking care of myself, you know?" Lies. All lies.

"Absolutely. God, I need that kind of willpower," she joked.

"Sandy needs to stay away from the Twinkies," Dave teased, and Nick bit his lip to keep from mouthing off to the guy.

"Yeah, I love my Twinkies," she agreed. "That'd be the start of my makeover. No more Twinkies." She turned to Nick with a grin. "What was the start for you, Nick? No more Backstreet Boys?"

His eyes were huge. He knew it. Suddenly, he could feel the cool, calm, and collected persona sliding out through his pores. Fuck. "No way, girl. It ain't like that with the fellas and I. We're straight." That's right, Nick. Resort to ghetto fabulous jargon. Aren't you white?

"So they have no problems with you getting your rock star on?"

Nick laughed to ease some of the tension that was building in his back muscles. "Nah, no problems. I was on the phone with Howie yesterday, actually. The five of us...we're tight, man. We've got ten years behind us. Nothing can touch that."

Dave nodded thoughtfully. "So then what made you leave? You're the baby, right? You feel like a little kid moving out of the house?"

He chuckled, glad for a question that came straight from the PR script. "Kinda. I felt rebellious at first, but the truth is that this is something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I started with the Backstreet Boys when I was twelve, and we've been doing the same kind of music ever since. I'm twenty-three now, you know? I wanted to do something different, test the limits. I wanted to see how far I could push the envelope."

"Well, you seem to be pushing it in the right direction," Sandy laughed. "I've got the review from last night's show right here..."

Nick groaned, rubbing a modest hand over his face for show. The groan, however, was the result of pure frustration. Since the beginning of the tour, he'd made a point not to read the reviews. His career with the Backstreet Boys had been punctuated with lots of critical backlash, and he wasn't sure that his fragile ego could handle the criticism that was sure to come his way now that he was the only guy standing in the spotlight.

"Aw, man...do I wanna know?"

Outside the windows, he could hear laughter, and he knew that his big show of modesty would make the message boards later that afternoon. Good. Let them talk about this instead of how much weight I've lost. Fuck, what does that have to do with the music?

"Let's see," Sandy laughed, "It says here that 'I admit, when I heard that the baby of the Backstreet Boys had come to rock, we had our doubts. I mean, how much rock can you expect to hear from a band who made its biggest hit by rhyming `fire'
with 'desire'?'"

Nick rolled his eyes discreetly. He'd heard that crack before. He and the guys had had a blast making fun of the jab, once upon a time.

Suddenly, he really, really missed the fellas.

"Of course, when the lights went down and the first heartthrob of the now-extinct boy bands took the stage with a guitar, a pair of baggy jeans, and a loud lady-nabbing anthem entitled 'Girls in the USA,' I was admittedly impressed. Gone are the days when this Backstreet Babe was content to sit on his stool and croon into an audience of pre-teen adolescents. The Nick Carter that emerged from the wings last night was a man who'd sooner crowd surf and jump around on the drum box than do a pre-choreographed dance number to a catchy pop tune."

Behind his embarrassed hands, Nick's eyebrows rose. What the hell? The reporter is actually giving me credit?

"He and his nitty, gritty bar band pounded out a number of hard-hitting rock songs reminiscent of the anthems that made the 80s before breaking out three stools and matching acoustic guitars for a stripped-down salute to Carter's Backstreet days. He sang a trio of the group's sappiest hits in a raspy tenor, occasionally introducing a falsetto that proves he has as much range as he does charisma. However, the impressive acoustic set paying homage to Carter's heartthrob heritage was short-lived. He immediately returned to the original thrashing guitars and banging drums that remind us what we love about rock music; the volume. Surprisingly enough, Carter's solo effort marked the first of his endeavors in which his music could be heard above the screams of a decidedly female crowd."

Nick's hands slowly slid away from his face, and he sat open-mouthed, staring in disbelief as Psycho Sandy continued to read the unthinkable.

"His musical makeover permeated all aspects of the show. The encore, instead of another nod of Backstreet recognition, was a heart-wrenching rendition of Bryan Adams' 'I Do It For You.' Even the opening act, a young lady by the name of Adia Chamberlain, sang nothing of the soulless sound that fed the pop era by which Carter became famous. The young songstress fell somewhere between Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette with her poignantly angry offerings. The raw honesty of her music combined with the sheer volume of her voice suggests what Carter was able to affirm with his 90-minute set: he might not be the best, but he knows and delivers good music."

Nick knew his eyes were as wide as saucers. He knew that every bit of PR-induced resolve was slipping away. He was so surprised, in fact, that he couldn't contain the expletive that came to mind.

"Holy shit."

Both DJs burst into raucous laughter. "Someone hasn't seen the reviews yet, huh?"

Nick shook his head, completely speechless. He knew he had to say something, but he was also painfully aware of the likelihood that whatever he said would come out a stumbling mess.

"I don't look. I can't...I make sure that no one shows me. It just...the guys and I...so much negative energy, you know? I don't need that."

"You certainly don't seem to be getting any," Dynamo Dave remarked with a wry smile. "Congratulations, kid."

Nick nodded politely and ran a hand through his hair in shock. "Thanks." Wow. His joy, however, was short-lived.

"So tell me more about this Adia Chamberlain that's opening for you..."

He hissed out a breath slowly, discreetly, and quietly so that his annoyance wouldn't be apparent to the vultures sitting in front of him. Of course. He knew it. Even if the critics had given him their consent to continue to produce music of his making, he was still fighting an uphill battle. In the opening ten minutes of the interview, the DJs had touched on a number of topics: fans, appearance, Backstreet, and Adia. They'd mentioned the review, yes--my God, the guy LIKED me--and he'd been flattered beyond belief by the positive take on his stage show. He'd been happier, though, for what had seemed like an excuse to launch a discussion about the music.

He'd forgotten that the DJs had already made their plans. Like everything else, the review's reading was nothing but a set-up to discuss the last of the dreaded topics of fame: his love life.

I fuckin' HATE morning radio.

For neither the first time, nor the last time, Nick Carter decided to play dumb.

"Adia? She's a very talented musician. We're lucky to have her on board."

He tried to ignore the number of sexual jokes that the DJs could possibly crack at his assessment of Adia. On board? Shit, Nick, why don't you just bend over for them and make things easy on yourself?

"Yeah, I saw her last night," Dynamo Dave grinned. "She's a pretty little thing, I must say."

Nick bristled.

"Now, you're both single, right? Do you see a little tour romance in the near future?"

Nick smiled politely and stupidly. It was a look that he had mastered during his years with Backstreet. "Excuse me?"

"Aw, come on, man, give us the dirt! You can't tell me you don't think she's gorgeous."

"She's got a beautifully old soul," Nick answered diplomatically. "I think it shows in her songs."

"Yeah, but don't front, man. You've got a rep, you know? You have to let us live vicariously. Are you gonna try and tap that or what?"

Nick forced the corners of his mouth into another smile. This guy is NEVER going to get laid. He tucked his chin into his palm and rattled off the most politically correct, scripted answer that came to mind. Subconsciously, he knew they were continuing to harass him, so he laughed it off. Laughing it off would get him "cute" points, and he knew that his compliments in regards to Adia would be considered "sweet." As long as he stayed in chick flick territory, he'd be okay.

Man, I REALLY fucking hate morning radio.

He began to draw tiny circles on the tabletop with his index finger. Silently, he wondered if Adia was undergoing the same kind of scrutiny with Ani, wherever they were.

He doubted it.

*      *      *      *      *

Jason twirled the drumsticks one last time before giving the snare a decisive bang, ending the song effectively. Adia grinned at him over her shoulder and slid the guitar off of her shoulders.

"I think that works better."

Shane nodded his agreement from her right. "Yeah, I think the song calls for a more definitive ending. Before, the ending was too melodic to truly embody the mood of the words."

Keelia rolled her eyes at the in-depth analysis and tucked a lock of bright purple hair behind her ear. "Great. Perfect. Are we done here, or do we need to go over anything else?"

"We might want to go over the cover," Jason began with a grin. Adia rolled her eyes.

"We might want to pick a cover first."

Keelia glanced up hopefully. "Shouldn't we do some Ani in honor of her arrival tonight?"

Adia nodded in agreement. "Sure, that'd be fun."

Shane grinned in amusement and arched an eyebrow pointedly in Keelia's direction. "Keels, we're not doing 'Untouchable Face'."

Keelia groaned loudly enough that the entire club echoed. "Man, why not? Like the teenyboppers haven't ever heard the f-word before? They probably use it on a daily basis."

Adia rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Somehow, I don't think so."

"We definitely don't want to give the Carter kid's management a reason to use it," Shane pointed out. "Come on, there's got to be another song that we can do."

"How about 'Worthy?'" Jason suggested with a grin. Adia immediately cast a dangerous glare in his direction.


"I think it's perfect," he said pointedly, arching his eyebrows in a way that dared her to contradict him.

"Yeah, but perfect for what?" Adia fired back expectantly. Jason shrugged.

"Perfect for our relationship with the audience right now. We don't feel like we deserve to be up here, but Shane and Keelia don't feel like these crowds are worthy of such elevated musical ideas. The song represents that same dichotomy," he responded innocently. When Adia heaved a sigh, the corners of his mouth rose slightly in amusement. "I mean, you don't have to agree to it, Dia, but I think it'd be fitting."

"I like the song," Adia began. "I have no problem with the song. I just thought you wanted to do it for a different reason."

"What reason would that be?" he prodded, his mischievous grin quickly surfacing. Adia groaned.

"Don't be cute, Jason. You know exactly what I'm talking about."

"I don't think I do..." He trailed off teasingly.

"I most certainly don't," came another voice from the back of the club, "but I definitely think it'd make a perfect cover song tonight."

The entire band looked up in excitement at the sound, forgetting for a moment the argument at hand.


Sure enough, the petite brunette was making her way up the aisles, flanked by Elena Powers. Her strides were calm and confident, and the smirk on her face was enough to put Adia at immediate ease. At five feet even, Ani Difranco looked like a midget in a rock-and-roll playground, but her attitude meant nothing but business. From Ani's quick, even strides, Adia had learned her first lesson in music business--never let them see you sweat.

"Hey, gang." She slid easily onto the stage, crossing her legs daintily as she dangled her feet over the edge of the platform. The others quickly moved to join her downstage. "Are we still dreaming up ways to override the rules of the big, bad record company?"

Ani carried a cool, calm façade, but inside, she held none of the sugarcoated bullshit that filled the halls and offices of Jive Records. For that, Adia was more than grateful.

"Nah, just trying to come up with a kiddie-friendly tribute to you and your genius," Jason grinned. "We're having a bit of difficulty satisfying Dia, though."

Ani turned to Adia with a mischievous glint in her eye. "Do you have issues with 'Worthy,' Adia?"

Adia blanched. "No! Not at all! I just...knowing Jason, I figured he was choosing the song to tease me."

Ani's eyebrows rose in curiosity. "Why would he use that to tease you?"

Adia bit her lower lip in apprehension, but her eager drummer jumped in without a moment's pause. "Adia had a date with the Carter kid last night," he grinned.

Ani's gaze drifted slowly to Adia. "You went on a date with Nick Carter?"

Adia rolled her eyes in annoyance at being goaded in front of her idol. "It wasn't a date. He was bored and I was still awake, so we met in the concierge lounge to play cards."

Ani's lips pursed in concentration. "Be careful with him, Adia," she advised lowly. "He may seem like a sweet guy, but there's nothing Jive would like to see more than a romantic connection between you two."

Shane frowned, dropping down next to the indie queen with his guitar in hand. "Why?" He cast a nervous glance towards Adia. "No offense, Dia, but you guys aren't exactly perfectly suited for a fairy tale romance."

"None taken," Adia replied with a small smile. "I agree completely."

"Yeah, but Jive won't," Ani cautioned. "A romance on tour equals a media scandal, and if there's anything I've learned about this label, it's that they will stop at nothing to get their artists on the front page. Before you know it, they'll have you slated as the Yoko Ono of the Backstreet Boys, and you don't want that kind of

Adia wrinkled her nose in disgust. Keelia rolled her eyes in annoyance.

"Fucking boy bands," she grunted. "Why did we decide to work with this guy again?"

"Because he's good," Ani answered pointedly. "I was skeptical of Adia's decision at first, but..." She trailed off and focused on her protégé. "I've got to admit, girl, I'm impressed. As a businesswoman, you couldn't have made a better decision. This is far more exposure than a tour with Wilco would've brought you, and the commercial education is priceless for both you and I."

Shane furrowed his brow in curiosity. "Commercial education?"

"That's why I'm here," Ani admitted with a small smile. "One of the executives at Jive rang me yesterday and wanted to know how we felt about going commercial."

"As a label or with Dia's album?"

"Adia's album," Ani answered. "Right now, they're just looking to get a single on the radio, but I can only assume that, once we put out one single, we'd have to choose the standard four singles for release."

"And why is Jive concerned with the commercialization of Adia's album?" Jason asked, brow furrowed.

"It's the missing link in this lovely little chain to the top that they've created for Nick Carter," Adia explained. "Due in part to Adia's strong stage presence, the reviews for Nick's solo tour have been good thus far, and critical acclaim isn't exactly something for which Jive artists are well known. He's getting attention for his rebellious streak, and all he needs now is a little bit of airplay and a lot of publicity before Jive makes a profit off of the tour."

Shane frowned. "You mean they aren't already making a profit?"

"They are, but only to an extent," Ani sighed. "Nick's records aren't exactly flying off the shelves. He still needs to broaden his audience, and his play on top 40 stations isn't allowing him to acquire the broader demographic necessary for phenomenal record sales. These days, it takes more than an army of teenagers to go platinum, and Nick is struggling to gain the attention of the college and adult market."

"He's also struggling for the attention of the alternative crowd, right?" Jason asked. "I mean, that seems to be where they're trying to go with all of this emphasis on rock music."

Ani sighed. "I don't think they know to which audience they're looking to appeal, exactly. They just want to see bigger numbers, and they think that putting Adia's single on the radio will bring her a larger fan base."

"A larger fan base?" Adia laughed. "Don't you mean that it might allow me to acquire one to begin with?"

Ani turned seriously to her young artist. "Honey, you already have a fan base. You're opening for a former Backstreet Boy, remember? Thousands of girls come to his show every night, and your set has caught a lot of attention."

Adia's eyebrows jumped into her hairline. "Seriously?!"

Ani had to laugh at the younger woman's surprise. "Yeah. Hell, there's already a site that's posted recordings of all of the covers you've done thus far."

To say Adia and the band were surprised would be an understatement. They were floored.

"We have a fan base?" Jason repeated incredulously. Shane was one step ahead of him, though.

"They already have bootlegs of the covers?"

Keelia glanced to Adia in surprise, and the two girls shared wild grins. "You mean they actually care enough to keep track of live covers?"

Ani merely nodded, eliciting a squeal from the two girls of the group. Even the ever-professional Elena had to smile at their excitement.

"You guys are striking a chord with Nick's audiences," Ani asserted with a grin. "Pun intended, of course." Jason and Shane shared a look of disbelief before Jason let out a loud, victorious whoop.

"Holy shit!" He reached over to hug Adia, who let out a disbelieving giggle. To the side, Shane slapped hands with an excited Keelia.

Ani smiled brightly at their enthusiasm. This was why she loved working with newer, younger artists. God, I hope this never gets old for them. She waited a moment for the excitement to die down before steering them back to the original course of conversation.

"So yes, you have a fan base. It's a small one, but it's substantial enough to prove that there's a market out there for your music."

At the mention of business, the four excited band members quickly sobered.

"And by market, you mean a broader demographic than previously expected," Shane prompted, furrowing his brow in concentration. He'd attended NYU solely for a degree in music business, so he had the greatest grasp on the concepts that Ani was introducing.

"Certainly a more mainstream demographic," Ani agreed. "We didn't expect Jive to tell us that Adia's single was ready for radio."

"Are they really in the right position to be giving us management advice, though?" Shane asked. "I mean, they're representing an entirely different image."

"Sure," Ani nodded, "but they know enough about the business to spot a commercial success when they see one. They know that Adia's music has the potential to inspire more fans than Nick's 80s rock anthems, and they're looking to capitalize off of her appeal. Like I said, radio would give Adia a broader fan base."

"One which will inevitably differ from Nick's because she's actually got substance as an artist," Keelia grumbled. Jason heaved a tired sigh.

"Great. So, basically, they're counting on Adia's talent to make them money where Nick's talent falls short of doing so."

"Naturally," Ani agreed. "They wouldn't have offered her the opening slot otherwise. I just didn't expect them to be so insistent upon the commercialization of her music. I figured the indie music cult would provide enough of a fan base to broaden
Nick's appeal."

Shane chortled. "Are you kidding? Asking the indie cult to attend a Backstreet Boy's concert is like asking Courtney Love to live in a convent for a couple of years."

Adia watched the conversation unfolding in front of her in the same way that a five-year-old would watch a tennis match. She knew that some kind of game was commencing, but she wasn't entirely sure what was going on. At the end of the day, she was just a little girl who liked to play the guitar and sing a little. She left the business aspect of the industry to Ani and her band members. Righteous Babe wasn't much for the business side of things anyway, and she was pleased to be housed at a label that cared more about the music than the business.

Now, she was beginning to wonder how much of that stance was going to change. I really hope I'm not in over my head.

She cleared her throat awkwardly and decided to attempt a contribution to the debate. "So we're going to put 'Secret Life' on the radio? Is that it?"

"No," Adia answered honestly. "First and foremost, Righteous Babe is an independent label. We pride ourselves not only on our placement of the music before all else, but on the control we allow our artists. Ultimately, guys, your careers are yours." She cast a meaningful look in Adia's direction. "Whether or not you decide to air your single is your choice."

Adia blanched with the realization of the weight that now rested on her shoulders. She swallowed forcefully and wrapped her arms around her waist, retreating into the familiar shell of shyness. "What would airing the single entail?"

"Well," Ani began, leaning back on her hands, "nothing is set in stone right now, and I've never had a single sent to radio, but I've done a little research and I know enough from the other advisors at the label to know that we'd need to start working on publicity for you. Elena would probably start calling into the stations before we hit their city so that she can get you on one of their morning or afternoon slots. Something to up exposure, you know?" She paused as the other members of the band nodded their understanding. Adia was too overwhelmed by the prospect of press to comprehend it all.

"In addition, you'd probably do some press with Nick. To promote the single, it'd be best to book you on some kind of night show like Conan O'Brien." She sucked in a breath apprehensively. "If we wanted to go insanely commercial, we could even pitch the song to a teen drama series like Dawson's Creek to maximize your exposure."

Keelia wrinkled her nose at the thought of Adia's passionate music on a teen drama soundtrack. "Do you really think it'd be smart to sacrifice indie cred for exposure with the teen audience?"

Ani shrugged. "I wouldn't do it. I mean, it would undoubtedly make the record company more money, but I'd like to retain some of your raw, honest, independent artist feel."

Adia frowned. The television/commercial routine sounded familiar to her. "Didn't Moby make all of his money selling his songs to movies and television?"

"Yeah," Shane muttered, "but you're not Moby. We're not Moby. There's no electronica in our stuff. That's not the type of vibe we're going for."

"Speaking of," Ani plowed on, "we're going to need to construct a sort of identity if we really are going to aurally market you guys."

Jason's head jerked upwards. "Identity construct? Are you talking about image consulting?"

"Something along those lines, yeah." Ani looked apologetic. "I'm not saying that I'm going to give you guys a mold to fit, but I do need to know whether you want to break onto the scene as a band or as a solo act with live musicians."

Shane rolled his eyes. "Aren't we on tour as a solo act?"

"That doesn't matter," Ani shrugged. "Technically, you haven't broken onto the scene yet. You can still arrive on the radio either way."

"But if we came out as a band, we'd have to do press with Adia, right?" Keelia asked cautiously. "Like, the radio spots in the morning would have to be all four of us instead of just her? And the interviews on the night shows?"

Ani nodded. "Yeah, they'd want all of you."

Shane was already shaking his head. "Fuck, no. I'm not doing regular press." He turned a softer look to Adia. "No offense, Dia, but I came here to play guitar because your music kicks ass. I love playing with you, and I love writing with you, but I really don't want a bunch of cameras breathing down my neck just because we share a stage."

"No, I agree," Adia responded firmly. "This whole thing was my idea, and I did it because I don't mind shouldering the burden of media attention. I don't want it, and I certainly wasn't expecting this much of it, but...if that's the price I have to pay to bring my music to people..." She trailed off and shared a knowing look with Ani. "I can do it. I don't mind doing press alone. I'm not the most outspoken person, but I can be articulate when the occasion necessitates it." That said, she locked gazes with her idol, and her expression darkened with resolve. "This image thing, though...I'm not going to become some pre-packaged pop act. I'm not losing twenty pounds so that I can fit into some ridiculous looking slip dress, and I'm not performing in a miniskirt and heels every night."

Ani smiled. "Good. If you agreed to do any of that, I'd have to kick you off the label."

"Thank God," Jason muttered. "I knew there was a reason we signed with Righteous Babe."

The group shared a laugh that eased some of the tension in the room. When the giggles died down, Adia glanced up and caught sight of their manager for the first time since Ani had sat down.

"Elena, what do you think?"

Elena Powers shook her head full of dreds and shrugged. "It's up to you, kiddo. I mean, ultimately, I think it could be a good business move because it would make the label more money. The album release would garner a greater amount of sales, and that'd create more revenue with which to tour. Ani hasn't handled too many commercialized artists before, but I have, and I think that we could market you without losing your artistic integrity."

Jason frowned curiously. "What's this about image consulting, then?"

Ani sighed. "Honestly? When I broke out into the business, I didn't do the radio thing, but I toured enough that people started to pick up my music. As a result, I started getting press in guitar magazines and such. I didn't have any kind of voluntary publicity, though, so I was at the mercy of the press where my introduction to the public was concerned. Unfortunately, I had a bald head and an attitude, so they immediately pegged me as the punk rocker lesbian to watch. I was relegated to the category of angry chick music, and I'm still trying to get out of that pigeonhole." She paused to take a breath and dipped her chin meaningfully at the group of up-and-comers in front of her. "If we give them some sort of introduction package, some sort of immediate image pitch that lets everyone out there know what you stand for and why you do what you do, you're less likely to endure that kind of media scrutiny."

Adia nodded thoughtfully. "So it's more like a public introduction than a firmly-set image."

"To some extent, yes," Elena agreed. "I mean, we're going to have to do some sort of categorization, but we're not going to force you into a one-dimensional image that doesn't allow you to breathe as an artist."

"To be honest," Ani admitted, "I was going to leave it to you and the band to come up with something basic that conveys the gist of what you stand for."

Shane's shoulders immediately relaxed. "So this isn't a label transformation that puts the artist at commercial mercy?"

Both Elena and Ani scoffed at the idea. "Hell no! This would be more of an 'Adia at a glance' outline."

Elena glanced thoughtfully at her charge. "I was thinking we could introduce you as a shy, articulate thing; the rocker version of Norah Jones, if you will."

Adia nodded her agreement and heaved a sigh. "I could deal with that. I just..." She sucked in a breath, recalling all of the press Norah Jones endured in regards to her family situation. She didn't know a whole lot about the music industry, but she knew more than her share about the fate of its more popular artists. "I want my personal life out of it. My parents, my brother...I don't want this to be some 'orphan does Hollywood' Cinderella story. I'm not Jewel."

Ani's smirk returned full force when she recognized the comfortable resolve in her younger artist. The shy, uncertain girl who had initially asked questions worried her, but this sharp-minded woman was the musician she remembered hiring. "No, you're not, and getting press for your personal life is bullshit. You do music well enough that you don't need the extra attention. Not to mention that Righteous Babe isn't looking to host that kind of a career. We'd plug you as someone with artistic integrity."

"It wouldn't be a difficult pitch," Shane murmured with a smile. "Despite her growing love of pop music, our Adia really is a musical genius."

Adia rolled her eyes modestly. "I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I'd like to think that I have a little more talent than Britney Spears and the like."

"Modest to a fault," Keelia groaned. "Okay, so we're being pitched as a solo act with back-up band that has artistic integrity and an articulate spokeswoman. Anything else?"

Elena sighed. "Whether you guys want to or not, you're going to have to do some press with Adia. Because you'd be pitched as a solo act, you wouldn't have to do all of her press, but you'd definitely have to do some of it."

The band groaned in unison, but Adia was biting back a smile.

"Come on, guys, it'll be fun. We can do photo shoots together and stuff." She paused for a moment and her gaze strayed to Elena. "That's what they're called, right? Photo shoots?"

Elena laughed out loud at the innocence of her protégé. "Yes, Adia. Photo shoots." She laughed again when she saw how pleased Adia was with herself for using the right terminology.


Ani sighed heavily and scanned the apprehensive faces that were watching her with guarded eyes. "Keep in mind that this isn't a mandatory career change, okay? I told Jive that it would be awhile before we made a decision, so there's no pressure to go one way or the other."

Adia heaved a sigh and exchanged apprehensive looks with the rest of her band before clearing her throat. "I appreciate the in-depth explanation, ladies, but it sounds a bit too good to be true. I think we'd better sleep on it." Elena nodded.

"I agree completely. It's a lot to consider."

Jason's hand landed on Adia's shoulder, and she reached up a hand to give him a squeeze. Above them, Shane wrapped his arm around Keelia, who reached over and playfully tugged on one of Adia's twin braids.

Ani breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing them come together in such a simple way. She knew she'd dealt them quite an unexpected card that evening, but she had the feeling that they'd be able to handle it. Hell, they've got each other. They'll be fine.

"Listen, guys, I know this is overwhelming, but..."

Shane held up a hand to stop her. "It's cool, Ani, really. We just need to sit down and discuss it amongst ourselves. Ultimately, it's Adia's decision, but we want to make sure that this is going to be the best thing for all of us."

Adia nodded her agreement. "Yeah, I need to mull this over. I mean, I'm new to the business, so I'm still not entirely clear on the kind of effects that this would have."

"We don't need to think about it anymore tonight, though," Jason pointed out. "We've got a show in a couple of hours, and we still don't have a cover song."

Keelia heaved a relieved sigh upon hearing that business was done for the afternoon. She didn't much like discussing money and marketing, but she was more than willing to argue about the set list. "I thought we settled on 'Worthy'?"

"We never agreed on 'Worthy,'" Adia muttered. "Besides, I've got a better idea." The other three members of the band looked at her in surprise.

"What do you propose we do instead?" Shane asked expectantly, eyebrow arched. Adia smiled warmly up at him. She had no idea what to do with the radio, but she could definitely pick a fitting cover song. After years of paying close attention to the industry, she was well-versed in mood music--especially Ani's.

"Here For Now."
The band was silent for a moment before the smiles began to spread. Keelia, surprisingly, was the first to approve.

"You're right," she nodded, grinning broadly. "It's perfect."

As they began to chatter about instrumental arrangements and the substitution of guitar lines for the brass interjections, Ani slid off the edge of the stage and joined Elena with a chuckle. "They really are musicians first, huh?"

"Absolutely," Elena agreed with a smile. "And, between you and me, I hope they stay that way."

lyrics and music by matchbox twenty