Mya’s heels clicked on the concrete as she stepped out of the recording studio, saying goodbye to her recording crew with a stunning smile. A young man whose reputation she knew well passed her in the hallway.
“Good morning, Mya,” he said with a smile.
“Good morning, Alex.” Her expression lost all warmth. Alex Reid was her rival in this singing competition. Each contestant was to record one hundred songs and send them in to the record label, and the winner was to be chosen this evening. There were fifty contestants, but none of them were so good or as close to home as Alex. The others all lived across the country, and Alex lived across town.
He’d asked a couple of times if he’d done something wrong when she greeted him like she did, but after she gave a terse “no” the first couple of times he’d stopped asking. So he simply moved on this time and she left the building as he entered the studio she’d just left.
She got into her car, a Mercedes her dad had gotten her when she joined the competition – an early prize, he said, so sure his daughter would win – and drove off toward her apartment, a gift she’d gotten herself after winning a different competition. She couldn’t stand living with her father who practically thought she could do no wrong. It was something of a blessing, but mostly a curse as he always expected the best from her.
Tossing the keys onto the sideboard upon her arrival, she headed into her room to listen to some music and get her mind off of Alex. Tucking the earbuds into place, she set her MP3 player on shuffle and started listening. She skipped over a couple of songs, which she refused to even look at the titles of. There were only two artists she skipped most of the time, and one of those was her father.
He’d been a piano performer – still was, in fact – and out of a sense of obligation she bought every album he put out, but she hated listening to them. It wasn’t because he was bad, but in fact quite the opposite. He was one of the best artists she’d heard, and she knew she could never live up to his standard. Hence the apartment, to try to get him to stop hounding her to be perfect. It hadn’t worked as well as she might have liked, but it made it at least a little bit more manageable.
She listened for several hours, doing her nails, makeup, and hair with her MP3 player in her pocket, before her alarm went off at six and she headed to the park for the concert where the winner of the contest would be announced. She smiled at those she passed, making her way to the front row of seats. The label executives were milling around on stage consulting with each other and getting things set up.
Alex took a seat next to her and she slid to the opposite side of her chair to put more space between them. She sat with her arms crossed in tense impatience before finally the head executive of the label stepped up to the mic.
“Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. I am Grant Golde, owner of Golde Records. If I could just get everyone to take a seat, I’ll announce the winner of the Hundred Songs Challenge.” People took their seats behind and around Mya, but her eyes remained riveted on Grant, waiting for the announcement that she had won. “Thank you. Now, ladies and gentlemen, this was a tough competition. All of the contestants are incredibly talented performers, and lowering them down was incredibly difficult.”
Get on with it, Mya growled into her mind.
“In fact, the competition was so tight that we couldn’t choose only one contestant and had to choose two.”
Mya’s eyes widened. Two winners? That was entirely unfair. This was a competition to choose the one greatest singer of the bunch. She would not share her victory with someone else.
“Those two winners are Mya Johnston and Alex Reid.”
Mya’s jaw dropped. Not Alex. They had to be joking. Surely this was all some great prank. She couldn’t have shared her victory with Alex Reid. That was impossible.
“Would Alex and Mya please come up here?”
Alex glanced at Mya as they rose, but she ignored him, forcing her mouth closed and mounting the stairs. As she shook hands with Grant, she whispered to him. “This is a joke, right?”
Grant shook his head. “No. We chose you.” He grinned. “Congratulations, Mya! You’re incredible!”
If I were incredible, she thought, Alex wouldn’t be up here with me. Instead of voicing her thoughts, she gave a wry smile and stood next to the executive.
“Congratulations to you both!” Grant said. “Now, let’s have our performance for tonight, shall we? Welcome onto the stage Isaiah Johnston!”
Cheers abounded from the crowds as Mya and Alex headed back to their seats and Mya’s father mounted the stage. He wore the same dazzling smile she used so often, and he used both hands to wave at the crowd as he crossed the stage to the piano. As he started playing, Mya gritted her teeth. If she hadn’t been in the first row she would have gotten up and walked away, but as it was her father would have seen her and been disappointed. She hated listening to his music. It was too smooth. Too perfect. It was almost slimy, like an eel.
She cringed her way through the concert and was the first one out of her chair when it finished, heading to the parking lot. Alex stopped her first, tapping her on the shoulder. When she turned, he held out a hand.
“Congratulations,” he said.
She ignored his offer of a handshake and gave him what was almost a glare. “Thanks.” There was no warmth in her voice, and she immediately turned back to her track.
Her father stopped her next, grabbing her arm. “Where do you think you’re going so fast, Mya?”
She turned and looked at him, pasting on her best smile, hoping it looked genuine. “I was just heading home.”
“So soon? I thought you’d mingle with some of the other artists. It pays to have friends in high places, you know.”
With you, who else could I need? she thought, sarcasm rolling off of the answer in waves, but she just smiled again. “I’ll have plenty of time to mingle now that I’ve won the competition.”
Isaiah’s almost triumphant expression faded. “About that. I’m disappointed in you.”
You always are.
“You’re my daughter. You’re more than capable of winning that competition without any tie. Didn’t you give them your best work?”
“Of course I did! You think I’d slack off for something like this? Of course I gave them the best I could! I don’t know why they would have chosen Alex, too.” She scowled down at the pavement, crossing her arms.
“Well then you need to step up your game, it seems. You’re a Johnston. You should be the greatest.”
“I’m well aware!” Her gaze snapped up to seize his in a glare. “I am well aware of how big a failure I am! I don’t need you to remind me!” She turned on her heel and stormed off toward her car.
She ignored Isaiah’s shouts and slammed her car door closed behind her, speeding off.
The phone was ringing when Mya arrived home, and she yanked it off the cradle, slamming the answer button. “Hello?” She knew she was snapping at whoever was at the other end – she hadn’t paid attention to the ID – but she didn’t bother to fix it.
“Miss Mya Johnston? This is Golde Records. We’re calling about your winning the competition.” If you tell me you got things wrong and I lost… “You left before we could speak to you. We’d like you and Alex Reid to meet us at Golde to go over your performing with the label.”
Mya took a deep breath. “Thank you, sir. When would you like me to come?”
“Will tomorrow morning at ten be suitable?”
“I’ll be there. Thank you.”
“Of course. See you there, Miss Johnston.”
She gritted her teeth as she clicked the off button. She hated being addressed only by her last name. It associated her far too much with her father. She headed to her room and slammed the door. Maybe she could clear things up in the morning.
Mya was uncomfortable, but not surprised, to be sitting next to Alex in the meeting room with the Golde Records executives. Grant Golde, of course, headed up the meeting.
“We’d like you to perform together two weeks from today, at Tyron Park.”
“Absolutely not,” Mya said.
“Is there a problem?” Grant asked, turning his gaze to her.
“I refuse to perform with him.”
“And why is that?”
Alex was looking at her, brow furrowed in confusion, and she ignored him, keeping her gaze unwavering on Grant. “I should have won that competition, and I refuse to share my stage.” She choked on her next words, almost unable to believe she was saying them. “Johnstons perform alone and always have.”
“Then I suppose you’ll have the privilege of breaking the mold,” Grant said. The word ‘privilege’ was drawn out as a reprimand.
Mya crossed her arms. “I won’t perform with him.”
“You’ll comply with our orders or you’ll lose your contract.”
Mya tightened her jaw. Now that was something that would make her father furious. She couldn’t lose the contract. “Fine.”
“Thank you. We’d like you to perform six songs. We’d like you to do Finding My Tomorrow and He Thinks He’s Charming, and the others are up to you.”
He Thinks He’s Charming was one of Mya’s hundred songs – written in annoyance about Alex, actually – and she didn’t recognized the other. She guessed it was probably one of Alex’s one hundred.
“Yes sir,” Alex said.
“The concert will be at six, as usual, and you’ll be expected there at four to get ready and practice and so forth.” Grant glanced at the other executives. “Is that it?” The others nodded, so he turned back to the singers. “Preparations of the songs are up to you. We’ll see you for a test recording in a week and then at the concert, unless we hear something that needs work next week. You’re excused.”
Mya got up almost simultaneously with Alex and immediately sped up her pace. He kept up, walking abreast with her. “Why do you object to me so much?”
“Johnstons work alone.”
“So it’s just pride and vanity. You’ll be a joy working with, then.”
So he could lose his charming cover after all. “I suppose we’ll enjoy this equally, then. Goodbye, Alex.” She shoved past the door and loaded into the car, heading for home.
Mya got deja vú as she stepped into the apartment to the phone ringing. She picked it up, a bit more civilly this time. “Hello?”
“Hello. It’s Alex. Don’t hang up yet. We have to practice, or we’re both going to make fools of ourselves at the concert.”
Though she didn’t want to, Mya conceded that point. “Fine.”
“Should we meet at your place or mine?”
“You are not coming into my apartment.”
“My place, then. Can you meet in half an hour?”
“If I have to.”
“15 Braddock Lane. I’ll see you then.” The connection clicked and Mya rolled her eyes. This was going to be a lovely partnership indeed.
In half an hour Mya sat on Alex’s basement couch. He still lived with his family – unsurprising, seeing as he was only seventeen, like Mya – and he’d made the basement his home studio. There was a guitar against one wall, several microphones on a shelf, not to mention the numerous speakers hooked up to a stereo by the couch.
“So,” Alex began, “We’re settled on Finding My Tomorrow – my hundredth song – and He Thinks He’s Charming… I assume that’s one of yours?”
Mya nodded, still unhappy and uncomfortable. “My fifth.”
“What would you like to sing for the other four?”
“I don’t care.”
“Then how about A Song for the World, Grace for Everything, and then two of yours. You can pick, since I don’t know them.”
“I’m not singing any more of your music than I have to.”
“That’s not fair.”
“I can’t stand listening to your music.”
Alex winced. His voice was quiet. “Ouch.” Mya didn’t apologize. “Look, we’re not going to get anywhere if you continue being stubborn, and if we can’t do this performance then we’ll both lose our contract. I know you don’t want that, and I know your father wouldn’t.”
Mya wheeled on him, fire in her glare. “Don’t ever bring up my father again!”
Alex backed up. “Sorry! Please, Mya, can we get done with this?”
Mya turned her scowl to the coffee table. “Fine. Whispers of My Imagination and Stolen Choices. Are we done?”
“It would help if we knew what songs the other is talking about.” Alex hit play on the stereo and skipped a couple songs before letting one play.
Mya gritted her teeth as Alex’s smooth voice started across her ears. It wasn’t nearly as smooth as her father’s, but it still grated on her nerves, and for the same reason. He was good. He was very good, and she knew he was better than her. Mya was in the business because she was a Johnston. Alex was in the business because he had a passion for music and was willing to work for it. Her scowl deepened. She’d never be as good as him.
The chorus started and Mya failed to tune it out.
“This is a song for the world that is falling fast.
This is a song for the world that may not last.
This is a song for the world that we wish to save.
A song for the world of the brave.”
“What does that even mean?” Mya asked.
“Our world is kind of falling apart right now. I thought I’d write a song giving hope that we can save it if we’re brave enough to work for it.”
Mya shook her head. “People don’t like songs like that.”
“Maybe not. But if it fails to sell it fails to sell. I still want people to hear it.”
The song changed after another verse, and Alex skipped quite a few more before letting it play again.
“Some do. And even if they didn’t, I’d still sing it.”
Mya shook her head again. “You’re crazy.”
“Maybe. I just know that I sing what I believe, and I sing what I’m passionate about.”
She glared at him yet again. “I know the industry. I’m not wrong.”
Alex shrugged as the song ended. “Do you have an MP3 or a CD with your songs on it?”
Mya pulled out a CD case from her purse and handed it to him. “Be careful with that. It’s number five on disc one, and one-hundred on disc ten.”
Alex nodded and switched out the discs.
“In my imagination there are whispers of your name.
In my imagination there is a burning flame.
And in my imagination we are quite the same.
“And that’s what your imagination came up with?” Alex asked.
“What’s wrong with it? It’s the mindless stuff that people like listening to. It’s not supposed to be deep. It’s music, not a philosophy book.”
“Are you kidding? Music is possibly the most powerful media out there! It should be used to be powerful and moving, not just entertaining and frivolous. I’d rather my music sound like a philosophy book than a cheap movie.”
Mya stood and switched out the discs, putting in disc ten and skipping to song one-hundred, the tenth on the disc. She sat back down with a huff, crossing her arms. “Well in that case, maybe you’ll like this one better.” Her heart was pounding. She didn’t want to share this one, and least of all with him, but if it was what he wanted…
Mya bit her lip as the song finished. It was about her father, of course. Her heart still pounded.
Alex reached over and stopped the stereo before it repeated the disc. They were both silent for a long moment. “That was a life story, wasn’t it?”
Mya nodded slowly.
“I don’t know.” Her voice was small.
Another lengthy silence followed.
“Are you sure you want to perform those?” Alex asked.
Mya shrugged. “I guess.”
Alex almost rested a hand on her shoulder, but he stopped himself and placed his hand back in his lap, picking at his fingernails. “I guess we’re done for the day?”
Mya nodded. “I’ll see you later.”
Mya opened the door and Alex stepped inside. “Hello,” she said. She drew her sweater around herself. It was constantly cold in her apartment. The AC had broken a while ago and she hadn’t gotten it fixed yet. “Sorry about the cold.”
“It’s all right.” Alex set his guitar against the couch.
They practiced for hours, arranging parts and deciding on future practice times. As Alex got up to leave, he turned to Mya. “Messenger Sparks is playing at the park tomorrow night and I have an extra ticket. My best friend’s manager changed the schedule on him last minute. You’re probably not interested in going with me, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask…”
Mya nodded a bit. “Sure. What time?” She rubbed her arms through her sweater.
Alex nodded. “Cool. I’ll… see you then, I guess.”
Mya nodded and Alex hesitated a minute before heading out. Mya stood there silent for a moment before her eyes widened. Had she just agreed to go to a concert with Alex Reid?
Alex was punctual, arriving at 5:59, and Mya grabbed her cardigan as she answered the door. She gave a bit of a smile. “Hi, Alex.”
“Hi. Ready to go?”
Mya nodded, and in minutes they were driving to the park. Mya played with her floral skirt as they drove, butterflies having a ball in her stomach.
When they arrived, Alex guided her to a seat near the middle of the crowd, a place she was unused to sitting. She always sat in the front, a habit given to her by her father and the concerts they used to attend. She shooed the thought away.
They enjoyed the concert, but Mya was glad to get home if only to still the butterfly ball within her. What was up with that?
“Thank you for the ride,” she said.
“No problem,” Alex replied. “I hope you enjoyed the concert.”
Mya nodded, biting her lip. “I did.”
Alex nodded back. “Well… It’s pretty late. I should probably be getting home.”
Mya nodded again. “Yeah. Goodnight, Alex.”
Alex headed down the hall and Mya closed the door with a sigh. What is wrong with me?
The two weeks passed, and Mya finally became more comfortable with Alex. She was sitting backstage in her dressing room, one of the attendants Golde had sent her applying the finishing touches to her makeup. She rose when the attendant – Lacy – finished, smoothing out her skirt.
She headed into the wings to find Alex already there, his navy blue button-down and dark jeans accenting her silver dress. “Hey,” she said.