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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