10: Hunter

OK. I think maybe I could get used to this.

Yeah, I know. But you’re working your asses off!

Well. Some of us are working our asses off. I’m not the only person to notice Marcus Greer slacking off, even if no one else is willing to say it out loud when I point it out to them.

And it’s a competition, sure. But everyone is so nice, and there’s so much creative energy crackling in the air, that it’s easy to forget about the competition angle.

I do forget, for the first couple of days. On the morning of the first elimination day, I start to get a little nervous. I mean, as much as I love music, and as good as I am at making it, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short life… It’s that there’s always someone willing to pull the rug out from under you.

I’m not too nervous, though. Because like I said, I am good. And Marcus? He’s a shitty team player. Cocky little prick barely bothered to show up for the group “rehearsals”–by which Ginny Dolman really means “tryouts,” because you know she and Phillip Hines are both paying real close attention to each of us in their little competition.

Phillip. Man. That guy. But even if he didn’t turn out to be quite as interested as I thought that first night, I think he likes me. Enough to make me even less nervous. I say so to Patrice and to Del. They don’t say it in so many words, but I can tell they agree with me.

Then we’re there in the studio, and it’s time for Ginny and Phillip to announce the elimination round’s immunities–the four of us that they’ve judged most proficient in the categories of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums. Those four deemed immune can’t be voted out in the current round.

I’ve been chatting with Lani Dickenson–who, despite my initial reservations, might actually be as genuinely nice as she seems. How many people do you know like that? Yeah, me neither. Maybe it has to do with her weight problem. She’s probably grateful when anyone does talk to her. Anyhow, Lani and I are enthusing over the upcoming tour of Wiley Niley, a band we’ve discovered we both like.

Then Ginny grabs the mic and clears her throat. And the elimination round begins.

Rima’s immunity shocks no one. Neither does her smug expression. I resist the urge to roll my eyes. When they announce my immunity, I don’t want to look like her. Like, you know, a bitch.

They call Lani’s immunity next. Lani gives this little half-gasp, half-squeal and grabs my hands, grinning like an idiot. I start to think maybe she’s more a fake than I thought. I mean, really. Little girl squealing? That’s always a put-on. No one does that for real.

Patrice and Dustin are the other immunities. Seriously–Dustin? Put that dork in a dark room, and it’d take him both hands to find his own ass. I shoot a disgusted look at Phillip Hines. So much for my support from that corner.

Of course, Phillip doesn’t notice. Because he’s busy trying to pretend he’s not looking at Ginny Dolman. Puh-lease.

Ginny then solemnly reminds us all of the guidelines we’re to follow when considering which person the rest of us will vote out of the competition. God, she’s such a priss sometimes. Talent, dedication, team player, yada yada. I already know my vote. Guarantee everyone else does, too, even if Marcus is too fricking vain to look even the slightest bit worried.

Spoiled brat.

Ginny takes our votes in alphabetical order, so Rima goes first. She’s perfectly cool as she levels her bad-girl look at Marcus and intones his name.

I knew it. I so knew it. It’s all I can do not to little-girl squeal, myself.

Then it’s Lani’s turn to vote. I smile, forgiving her for her overly-enthusiastic response to being voted immune. I mean, no one’s perfect, right?

Lani doesn’t smile back. She hesitates for a second, aims her big puppy-dog eyes at me, and says, “I’m sorry. Hunter.”

Is she serious? I mean, I know I’m no singing diva like Rima. And maybe my playing was a little off this week. But really? My mouth is still hanging open when Ginny moves on to the rest of the votes. That back-stabbing bitch.

Jeremy down-votes Marcus. Smart kid. My voice is brittle as I add my vote to his. That’s three down-votes for Marcus. Across the room, his I’m-too-sexy-for-my-shirt smile has dimmed. He’s even ruining his pretty face with a little furrow across his brow.

Marcus, of course, down-votes me. OK, fine. Two votes for me–one back-stabber and one revenge vote.

Then Patrice votes for me, too. And Dustin. And Del.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

“I’m so sorry, Hunter.” Ginny’s coming at me, with this sappy stupid smile plastered across her face. Behind her, Phillip won’t even look at me. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy to narrow down the field, and you’ve proven us right.”

She lays a hand on my arm. My face is frozen. I can’t tell what expression I’m making. Or what expression I want to make.

“You have so much talent!” Ginny’s smile widens. “I hope you won’t give up. And that you’ll consider coming back to Dolman Music when you’re ready to start making music of your own.”

I want to scream at her to fuck off. I want to yank my hand away from her touch and maybe use it to slap her. It’s what my mother would do.

It’s what my mother would do. Lose her temper, throw caution to the wind, inflict maximum immediate damage.

Me, I know how to play the long game. So I don’t scream at Ginny Dolman. Or at Phillip Hines. I don’t spew the secrets I’d figured out over the last couple of days, about how the two of them are hot for each other. That might embarrass them in the moment, but it would also probably lead to good things for them. I also hold onto my knowledge that Phillip has a whole bar’s worth of booze stashed in his room. The man might be a high-functioning alcoholic, but he is still an alcoholic.

I figure I can use that to my advantage someday, too. Revenge is a dish best served cold, yadda yadda.

“I’m disappointed,” I manage to say with a straight face. “But I’m so honored to have been included.”

Then I let them show me the door. But I know what they don’t yet suspect.

This is not over.

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