6: Hyperventilate

They set the competition to start on a Friday afternoon. In the meantime, Ginny did her best to pretend she wasn’t nervous as hell about the whole thing. Not that she thought it wasn’t a good idea. It was, and she made sure to tell Phillip so. Several times. The whole supportive boss thing. Supportive friend, even. Maybe.

In truth, she worried as much about Phillip as about the details of the competition itself. She was, after all, no dummy. Before she’d hired Phillip Hines, she’d checked his references. Nobody said anything outright damning about Phillip, of course, but she’d read between the lines. On the positive side, he seemed to have whatever drinking problem had plagued him in the past under control now. She never smelled any on his breath, never witnessed him touching a drop, and if he wasn’t 100 percent sober at all times then he was good at faking it.

Not that the two of them spent any great deal of free time together–when the working day was done, he generally vanished to the upstairs office designated as his “apartment.” Giving Ginny space, she assumed. Which was pretty polite of him, really.

Not that she’d have minded if Phillip hung out more often. You know, with her. But if he was respecting her space, then she figured she should respect his.

They did seem to work well together, at least.

Work. Just work.

At any rate, Ginny had also done some background checking into the applicants who’d made the final cut to become contestants. Not all of them were party animals, but they were rock and roll musicians, after all. Alcohol was not on the list of competition activities, but Ginny worried anyhow about possible bad influences on Phillip. He’d done really well, working for her. He didn’t need a setback.

But Ginny couldn’t say that out loud to him, of course. Because she was his boss, and because she wasn’t supposed to know he’d had issues. And because the past was the past, and as long as it didn’t affect her studio then it was none of her business.

At the last second, she almost broke her silence anyhow.

“You know, this was a really terrific idea.” She put her best peppy spin into her words.

Phillip favored her with one of his lazy grins. The kind with just a hint of dimples. “You’ve mentioned that, yeah. Glad you approve.”

“But…” And here Ginny hesitated, like she always did.

“But?” Still with the dimples. And that certain little tilt of one eyebrow.

Ginny was trying to decide how to phrase her concerns into something diplomatic: Are you feeling up to this? You have my full support, so if you ever need to talk… You’re not going to relapse and crash and burn in a drunken mess that’ll be all my fault, are you?

But then the studio door opened, and the first of the contestants walked in.

Ginny sort of lost her train of thought. Marcus Greer–who was undoubtedly accustomed to causing memory loss in women–flashed a smile from across the room and made a flattering beeline for Ginny.

Because I’m in charge. And even if that wasn’t the case, fraternizing with the contestants would be a bad idea. A really bad idea. And as previously mentioned, Ginny was no dummy. She was familiar with self-styled rock god types like Marcus Greer.

Bad. Idea.

Ginny made her most polite introduction and then breezed away to meet the rest of the contestants.

All of them knew the rules already. Ginny had carefully laid out those in the mandatory legal paperwork they’d each had to sign. Air mattresses had been set up in the third of the empty rooms upstairs. The warehouse sported two bathrooms equipped with showers. Ginny had stocked the fridge. Over the course of the next few weeks, they would all live under the same roof–eat and sleep and rehearse.

But not drink. No drinking.

All along the way, she and Phillip would assess the skills of their potential clients–mostly Phillip, since he was the expert, although he was always kind enough to tell Ginny she had a good ear. At predetermined points along the way, the entire group would gather and discuss the viability of each competitor. Then the competitors themselves would vote out the person they deemed least qualified to make the cut. When the pool had been cut to three remaining contestants, the competition would be over. A new band would be born, with the grand prize a continuing rent-free stay at Dolman Music and free studio time with Phillip to record their first album. In return, Dolman Music got lots of free publicity, sample tracks featuring Phillip’s expertise with which to lure additional paying clients, and the ability to claim at least one band on its client list.

Which hopefully equaled up to the ability to pay a few bills and maybe get the city planning commission off Ginny’s back.

Ginny plastered a smile on her face and worked the room, making sure she spent equal time getting to know each of the candidates.

When she looked around for Hunter Estrada, however, she discovered that Hunter was busy making nice with Phillip. They actually looked quite chummy. Ginny’s stomach did a disheartening little flip-flop.

Well, sure. He’ll be recording her. It’s in her best interest to make nice with him.

Ginny wasn’t sure she’d ever witnessed exactly how charming Phillip could be when he made an effort. She guessed maybe he’d never made an effort in front of her before.

That was fine, though. Hunter was someone who seemed to have her head on straight. There were worse people Phillip could be hanging out with. In the meantime, Ginny could just stand here and make equally nice with Marcus Greer. That was cool, too.

Right?

So yeah. Let the competition begin.

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5: The Contestants

Rima Boulos

Rima Boulos spent most of her life in the custody of her jet-setting mother. London, Paris, Tel Aviv… Early on, Rima acquired a taste for the same lifestyle that broke her parents’ marriage to begin with. As soon as she was old enough to sneak off behind her mother’s back, Rima started hitting the nightclubs, where she acquired an additional taste for the rock and roll lifestyle. In truth, she’s not half bad with a guitar and even better as a vocalist. What Rima lacks is patience and anything resembling a work ethic.

What she doesn’t lack is a knack for choosing recreational activities that land her on the wrong side of the law. When Rima’s latest brush with legal authorities turned out to be the one too many her mother’s been harping about for ages, Rima abruptly finds herself in Oasis Springs with her long-estranged father, with too much time and not enough employable skills on her hands.

Dullsville. Time to look for a new party.


Del Sykes

Once upon a time, Del Sykes was on the right track. He had the voice, he had the band, he had the girl. The gigs were rolling in, the money was rolling in, and the good times were rolling in. Then his girl got pregnant, so he called it all off so he could go all in as a family man.

Except as it turned out, his girl loved the lifestyle he gave up for her more than she loved him. Now instead of chasing fame, he’s chasing the weekly paycheck so he can make child support payments.

This competition might be the chance to get his own life back on the right track.


Marcus Greer

Marcus Greer has spent his adult life thus far drifting from dead end job to dead end job and/or leeching off his too-understanding grandparents. His grandparents enable Marcus’s inability to commit to a career by assuring him that they understand how his terribly creative soul is so sensitive to the demands of everyday living.

Musical talent? Marcus has it in spades. And he loves making music, he really does.

He also loves using his talent as a magnet for his other favorite past-time: women.


Lani Dickenson

Lani Dickenson is no stranger to hardship. Her parents died when she was young, and her sister Arianna raised her. Arianna has made sure Lani never lacked for material things. Lani is smart enough to realize that the other things she’s never lacked are love, support, and encouragement. Arianna recognized her sister’s vocal talent early and shelled out for voice and instrument lessons without hesitation.

For all her musical talent, Lani struggled mightily with academics. Possibly her distaste for school stemmed in part from the opposite of love and support she received from most of her classmates. Children can be cruel. Teens can be crueler yet. Lani never viewed her weight “problem” as a problem, but not everyone is as enlightened. Rather than let them get her down, though, Lani decided to let living well be her best revenge.

This competition is a chance to let them all see her shine.


Patrice Hutchison

Don’t let the freckles or the cheery demeanor fool you–Patrice Hutchison means business. She grew up on the beach, but the stage is where she really wants to be. From violin and piano lessons as a child, she progressed through every instrument she could lay her hands on. Sometimes she took lessons, but often as not she simply threw herself whole-heartedly into learning all she could as quickly as she could.

What Patrice has in heart, she lacks in direction. She’s passionate about so many different kinds of music that she’s never been able to narrow down exactly what it is she wants to do.

Maybe this competition will help her figure that out.


Jeremy Drake

Jeremy Drake was always a good kid. Quiet, he mostly kept to himself–until you put a guitar in his hands, then he transformed. But he obeyed all the rules, worked conscientiously, and did well in school. He’s this close to graduating college, but every job offer that rolls in leaves him cold. Bored. In dread of the expanse of gray corporate life stretching out in front of him.

It’s his aunt, the penultimate rebel herself, who puts that guitar in Jeremy’s hands and shoves him out the door. “One last blast,” she suggests.

There’s a tiny part of Jeremy that hopes it’s a first and not a last.


Hunter Estrada

“It’s complicated,” is Hunter Estrada’s response to questions about her personal life. The flat way she says it suggests it’s not so much complicated as just not something she wants to talk about. She’ll talk about pretty much anything else, though. If there’s one thing Hunter has plenty of, it’s opinions. And attitude.

She’s not shy on talent, either. The only child of a single working-class mom, Hunter has to pitch in her share of time on helping the household get by. But she’ll choose making music over sleeping, anytime, and she’s good at it.

Just ask her. She’ll tell you.


Dustin Powell

Dustin Powell isn’t big in the brain department–although he did manage to squeak through high school. Eventually. But he’s a big man in a lot of other ways–big biceps, big musical talent, big dreams. No amount of parental prodding has convinced him that his big break isn’t coming, “any day now.” He’s not really lazy, he insists. He just needs to keep his schedule open “just in case.”

Honestly, his parents just want him out of their house. They gave him the competition flyer and told him to go enter. “Please.”

They would be thrilled if Dustin wins and becomes someone else’s problem.


Eight people, and the only thing they have in common is a love of music.

What could possibly go wrong?

4: Phillip

So… Ginny Dolman. Little bit of a nutter. I mean, who walks away from a sure thing like Dolman Industries? She talked a lot about some pie-in-the-sky dream of building not just a studio but a “center for encouraging musical growth.” Whatever that means. She doesn’t know squat about music production, either. As evidenced by the minuscule budget she allotted for equipment.

01-27-18_6-11-19 PM“You know people, though, right?” was what she said to me. “You can find us some deals?”

OK, yeah. I could. Lesser men probably would’ve backed down from the tiny budget she had to work with. I took it as a challenge. Maybe I’m not as much of a lesser man as my every former employer would probably say.

Besides, speaking of former employment… I kinda spent through the earnings from my last steady gig, and I didn’t exactly leave that big, we-shall-leave-it-nameless-to-protect-my-ass-from-a-libel-suit studio with any kind of glowing recommendations for my resume.

Which is to say, I need this job. Budget, challenge, and all.

And, if we’re being frank here, if Dolman had a bigger budget, she wouldn’t be hiring me. I should count myself as lucky.

I managed to wrangle the new boss’s OK to haul a bed up to one of the old offices in the loft. Made it sound like a reluctantly-accepted benefit that would pad out her otherwise-paltry wage offer. It’ll be cool to not have to sleep on a park bench when the landlord finally kicks my ass out from not paying rent for the last three months. So I’ve got that going for me now, too.

I furnished my new digs with a cooler, too. Yeah, there’s the fridge downstairs, but I’m not sure how cool it would be to fill the workplace fridge with beer. The cooler seems like a good compromise. I mean, it’s not like I’m drinking on the job. I never take a drop of it downstairs with me. And if I have a drink over lunch break, I keep it light and make sure it’s not on my breath when I go back to work. Not making that mistake again.

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The first few weeks are mostly about tracking down old contacts, talking the talk, and cutting some deals. And then hauling in the gear.

Dolman? She busies herself with some cheap-ass decorating “improvements.”

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Deeply ingrained habitual sarcasm aside, I have to admit, I like it.

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When she’s not exercising her questionable artistic skills, boss lady pours the rest of her free time into getting the word out.

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I finish the studio.

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Dolman seems to approve. Hell, I approve. Given the resources I had to work with, I did good.

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We actually make a decent team. Maybe.

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OK, confession time: Ginny–whom I never call “Ginny” to her face, because she’s my boss–has turned out to be smarter than I gave her credit for, at first. She’s curious. She picks up things. Fast. Also, it turns out she has amazing taste in music. If she wasn’t the boss lady, and I wasn’t such a spectacular screw-up, I might ask her out. As it is, I’m thinking we might just make this studio work.

So that’s pretty much where we are. Things are coming together.

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Except that maybe they’re not. Because that scheduling calendar Ginny bought stays empty. And the stack of bills coming in gets bigger. And hey, just for fun, the city planning commission jumps on the dog pile and starts sending warnings–clean up that building’s eyesore exterior or else kind of bullshit.

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She needs clients.

We need clients. Because let’s face it, with my current liquid lunch break habits, I’m not landing any other job.

So the competition? That’s my brain child.

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3: Starting Out

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For better or worse, I am now the proud owner of a massive pile of graffiti-adorned brick and weed-choked concrete.

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And by the time I’m done paying off lawyers and real estate agents and Grandfather’s startlingly large medical bills, that’s about all I own. I hire a couple of neighborhood teens to help me bring in the essentials.

01-27-18_4-17-46 PMA futon in one of the upper rooms.

01-27-18_4-23-19 PMA fridge and a microwave. A second-hand table and an assortment of garage-sale chairs.

I won’t lie. I kinda like the look. So many ideas and future plans buzz in my head that I can barely sleep at night. I lie on my futon and stare up at the yellowed ceiling and listen to the sounds of the nearby city.

And to my music. Whenever I want to. However loudly I please. Without headphones.

I think the office space downstairs might be the perfect size for a recording studio. However excited I am about this venture, however, I’m also no dummy. This might be music, but it’s also business. I’ve done what I can on my own. Time to hire an expert.

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1: Ginny

When I was little, I wanted to be a musician. Like, a lot. I even took violin lessons. Voluntarily.

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I wasn’t very good. Maybe I’d have gotten better, I don’t know. I never got the chance to find out. Life got in the way. Or rather, death did. I was eight when my parents died.

After their deaths, I went to live with my grandfather.

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Edgar Dolman, III wasn’t a bad man–not mean or wicked or anything like that. He just had certain ideas about how things ought to be done. That “III” weighed pretty heavily on him, I think. Even more so after my dad–his only son–died. There was no one left but me to carry the burden of his legacy, and I was just a girl.

Not that girls didn’t have their share of familial responsibilities, too. Maybe I couldn’t carry down the family name, but I could learn to think and behave like a Dolman. Dolman Industries and this big old house would belong to me someday. I had to learn how to run them.

So I grew up, there under my grandfather’s watchful gaze. Aside from that, nothing ever really changed.

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Including my interest in music. I didn’t care what genre it was–classical, country, rock. I loved them all. I’d have given anything to trade in my stack of schoolbooks for a guitar. A piano. A drum kit. Anything. Everything.

Music had no place in my grandfather’s grand scheme of things, however.

When I was a teenager, I discovered punk rock. It got under my skin and provoked thoughts of staging a rebellion against my grandfather’s ideas of propriety and responsibility. I’d run away, join a band, and never look back.

Except, of course, I had no idea how to play. Anything.

The closest I ever came to running away was when I moved up to the garret room, slapped a few posters of bands my grandfather despised onto the walls, and cranked up the music as loud as I could stand it. Which was pretty loud. I’d let the music pump through my veins and dream. If I couldn’t be in a band, maybe I could be a manager. A promoter. A studio exec.

Anything.

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I wore headphones when Grandfather was home, though. And I made sure I never gave him cause to set foot into my room and in doing so discover my hidden rebellion. Good grades and immaculate school behavior record, that was me. The only rebelling I got around to doing was inside my head.

Grandfather wasn’t a bad man, after all. And we were all we had left.

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I went to college. I dutifully majored in business. (Although I took as many music electives as I could. I even sneaked out to some concerts.) Then I graduated and returned home to Dolman Manor.

Just in time to find out my grandfather was in the final stages of an illness which he’d kept hidden from me up until then. My every waking hour since then has been spent helping to take care of him, however I can.

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As of 3:53 AM on a Wednesday morning two weeks ago, he no longer needs me to take care of him. Edgar Dolman, III has moved on.

Now, it’s just me. Me and this big old house, and all the oppressive weight of that unclaimed “III” weighing in the air. I miss my grandfather. And I feel bad that his dreams of passing down his legacy didn’t quite come true. But running Dolman Industries is still the last thing I want to do.

So maybe I won’t.

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