You made The Last Chord history when you snuck onstage during a live performance for a season finale. How did you manage to pull that off?
Devi sighed as she steamed yet another skinny latte. She hadn’t run away from home at seventeen to schlep overpriced coffee to people with more plastic body parts than the average Barbie doll. Destiny Victoria Madrigal was a girl with a guitar and a dream, yet here she stood, schlepping overpriced coffee to the botox crowd. She didn’t know when she ran that girls with a guitar and a dream were as common as boob jobs in this town. It didn’t matter that, when her boss let her play in the shop after a shift, her powerhouse voice, country rock style, and mad guitar skills pulled in more tips than the other indie acts he booked. In this town, connections mattered.
And she didn’t have any.
“Maybe I should have gone to Nashville,” she sighed for the thousandth time. If she had any cash, she’d have told her boss to kiss it, walked out, and hit the first highway headed east. She didn’t have the cash. She had nothing but her guitar and her fading dreams.
Devi handed the latest in a line of endless lattes over to a guy in ripped jeans and a faded black concert tee. Long red hair spiraled to his shoulders. Freckled, muscular arms accepted the cup from her, and he offered a smile that didn’t quite reach his green eyes. “Thanks,” he said.
She watched him go, trying to figure out if he were a regular or if she’d seen him somewhere else. He looked so familiar. She started the next order, watching him from the corner of her eye as he returned to the bar looking out the front window of the shop. He joined another guy who looked exactly like him, his long curls pulled up into a haphazard man bun, and two other generic looking rockers. The brunette guys were hot, but not underwear model hot — perfect eye candy for background players in a band, good-looking with dark hair. They looked like they belonged playing behind the spotlights onstage.
With a jolt, she recognized the twin redheads as Jess and James Boudreaux, lead guitars and background vocals for a band appearing on The Last Chord. Her brow furrowed. Shouldn’t they be at sound check and final rehearsal for the live finale? She glanced at the clock ticking behind her on the wall, over the swinging green door which led to the dishwashing area and kitchen. The broadcast would go live in just over four hours. Why would they be getting coffee without their lead singer hours before a live show?
When she finished the drink, she turned the cup in her hand to see which name she had to call out. She grinned. “Bueller? Bueller?” she deadpanned in a flat voice. “Anyone? Anyone?”
The guy returned her smile as he walked through the maze of pushed back and scattered chairs littering the dining area. Before he could get there, she grabbed the sharpie and scrawled something on it before she handed it over.
He looked at it and laughed. “Save Ferris?” He pointed to what she’d written under the word Bueller. “That’s great. Thanks for the laugh. I needed it today.”
Devi bit her lip, debating whether she should say anything. He turned to go, but she called out, “Hey, are you Mark from Streakers? Don’t you have a live gig tonight before millions of fans or something?”
He nodded, the smile vanishing from his stubbled face. “Yeah, I’m Mark, but I’m not so sure I’m playing tonight.”
“Does it have anything to do with the fact that Raina isn’t with you guys right now?”
Mark closed his eyes. “Pretty much.”
“Good luck, man. I’ll be watching. You guys have the best band this season.” She raised a fist in solidarity, their trademark move after each song they’d played during the season. “Save Streakers.”
“Thanks. I hope you see us tonight.”
The door behind her banged open. “Devi!”
She jumped and turned with a scowl. “Y’all can just open the door and say my name politely, you know.”
Her manager glared at her from his open office door. “Are you socializing?”
“Only in a company-approved manner in response to a customer inquiry, sir,” she replied. “My interactions with our patrons are generally stellar. Tell corporate to use me in their next training video.” She turned and reached for the next cup to fill, but nothing was there. She leaned against the stainless steel counter and folded her arms, watching him expectantly. “How may I serve you next, boss man?”
“You know I hate it when you talk like that. You sure lunch rush's over?”
Devi spun with a fake smile and did her best game show hostess pose as she presented him the mostly empty dining area.
“Sweep the floor and wipe all the tables down, and then clock out. You’re killing my productivity numbers right now.”
“I live to serve you.”
“Knock it off.”
“Sir, yes sir.”
Grabbing a broom and long-handled dust pan from the janitorial closet next to the office door, she started in the far corners and worked the dirt and trash to the middle of the dining area. She swept as quietly as possible, trying to catch snatches of the band’s conversation. Curiosity just might kill her. What was going on? Why wouldn’t they perform when they’d struggled so hard against stiff competition for months to make it into the finale?
“...I don’t understand why she’d pull this. She’s the one who insisted this was the way to get where we all wanted to go.”
“I warned you guys. Nobody listens to me.”
“Dude. I never saw it coming. She was like a sister.”
“Maybe in Arkansas, man slut. You know you wanted that action.”
“The bratty kid sister who’ll stab you in the back for first crack at what’s in the cookie jar.”
“I knew when she started spending more time in wardrobe than rehearsal that she’d pull something like this. Nobody listens to me.”
As Devi slowly worked her pile toward the front window, she looked up, trying to place who said what.
“Her vocals have been faltering lately,” Mark said thoughtfully, rubbing a tired hand over his five o’clock shadow. “She was always pretty inconsistent. Honest opinion here is I didn’t think we could nail the finale with her on lead anyway. I think we would have been voted off last time if Thunder Snow’s lead vocalist hadn’t sucked so spectacularly.”
“Bad choice song for him,” the drummer agreed. His shaved head reflected the late afternoon sun shining through the front window. Devi struggled to recall his name. Was it Mason? “They were trying a little too hard to step outside the box on that one. I mean, a rock band trying a bluegrass cover? Know your strengths, man.”
“Major suckage,” the man bun agreed. That must be Jess.
“Total agreement, Jess,” the other twin James replied, “but none of this solves our problem. We still don’t have a lead singer or a plan for what happens if we try to perform without one.”
Devi shuddered in surprise as she finally swept the pile into the dust pan. Their lead singer bailed on them the night of a live finale? She’d watched Raina Sky front Streakers all season, completely unimpressed with her vocals. The band was killer and had carried her that far. Hopefully it was a personal emergency calling her away last minute, but from what she’d seen of the diva personality over the course of the season, she didn’t think so.
“I think we should just go to the producers and ask if we can do one of our old covers,” Mark suggested, taking a long draw from his coffee cup. “They either let us or they don’t. At this point we have nothing to lose.”
“With no practice? What’s wrong with you?” Jess backhanded him in the chest. “We’ve been working on Already Gone all week. All our lighting cues and blocking work in time to that music, and in case you didn’t notice, call is in less than two hours. We don’t have time to change anything.”
“You have any other ideas, then?” James demanded. “We were a garage band before she showed up and dragged us into this stupid competition. No matter what happens tonight, we lose. At least if we do one of our best covers, we go out on our own terms.”
“I hate coming this far and having to give up because Raina used us,” Mason sighed. He kept picking up and dropping his empty cup, creating a staccato beat that joined with the song now swirling in Devi’s head. She loved Already Gone. It was her jam, the song she used to show off her vocal range whenever she booked a gig. Sure, she had plenty of her own music, but it was always a crowd pleaser.
Jess slapped the cup from Mason’s hand as Devi went to dump her dustpan. “Stop it with the cup. We have to come up with something. The producers keep texting to ask why Raina’s phone is off and why we aren’t there yet.”
Devi returned with a bleach-scented cloth and mop to finish cleaning underneath the table where a screaming, juice-dropping toddler ate lunch earlier in in her shift. The words to the song in her head begged for sweet release. She hummed, wiping the table in time to the music in her mind. The band kept arguing, but their words no longer filtered through. Once she got a song stuck in her head, it tormented her until she sang it. Humming would have to do until the dining room was clean. After she finished wiping, she headed to the back room through the kitchen. Tossing the cloth into a dump bucket in the corner, she finally belted out the refrain. Singing was better than any narcotic.
Devi unbraided her long black hair as she finished the chorus, twisting her hair into a messy topknot. She kicked off her industrial grade work shoes with matching black socks and slipped on some ratty flip flops after removing her apron. She hung it on the hook on the wall, grabbed her purse, and shoved open the kitchen’s swinging door.
She shrieked in surprise when four men stood just outside the door’s reach, waiting for her. “Holy—”
“You can sing.”
Devi looked the speaker in the eye when her heart slowed down enough that she could rein in the urge to punch them for scaring her. “Uh ... thanks, Mark. If you guys still need help, I’m clocking out now. Shara over there will be more than happy to get you whatever you need.” She pointed out the bored girl behind the register, swiping at the screen on her smart phone as she leaned against the counter waiting for a new customer.
“No, like, you can really sing.”
“Thanks.” Devi stared at them expectantly. They didn’t move. “Can I please go now?”
“You have serious lungs.” Jess eyed her with wonder, as if the barista shouldn’t be legally allowed to have a great voice or something.
“I said thanks. What more do you want?” Devi’s brow furrowed as she tried to step around them.
“We want you,” James replied.
Her head snapped back in surprise. “Look, guys, I know anything goes in this town, but I’m not that kind of girl. I’m sure dozens of groupies can help you with whatever you have in mind.”
“No, don’t go,” Mason protested when she lost her patience and shoved past them. He grabbed at her. Devi yanked her arm out of his grasp and slammed one foot on his toes. She took a step back and shifted her weight to give him a hard kick in the one spot a guy would rather not have kicked. He doubled over, groaning in pain.
“No, not like that!” Jess cried desperately. “We want your voice.”
The office door popped open. Devi’s manager shoved his bald head out, the rest of his tubby form following in his rolling chair. “What’s going on out here?” He eyed the guy still doubled over, clutching the family jewels, and back at her with concern. “Are you okay, Devi? Should I call the cops?”
Devi looked over the band mates, her interest piqued as she shook her head. “No, I’m good. Just a little misunderstanding. I’m handling it.”
“Good. I hate paperwork.” The manager slid back into the office and slammed the door behind him.
“My boss isn’t all bad. Just mostly,” she told the guys, watching them relax a little.
“Can we talk about your voice?” Jess asked. “We heard you just now, singing Already Gone, and we had a wild idea.”
“You were eavesdropping earlier so you have a pretty good idea what’s going down, right?” Jess asked.
She tried not to look too guilty. “Maybe a little. I can’t help what I hear in the line of duty.”
Jess grinned. “How much did you hear?” he pressed.
“Enough to know your lead singer bailed on you right before the finale. I hope someone died, because otherwise that’s just not cool.” She glanced at Mason. He slowly stood up as she spoke, his face still mottled red with one protective hand parked over the man zone. “Sorry about that. A girl has to know how to defend herself.”
“You’re good at it, that’s for sure.” He limped toward a table to sit. “It’s all good. I always wanted to sing soprano.”
Devi pulled out a chair beside Mason and sat, wiping off a couple of stray crumbs she missed when she did the wipe down. She brushed them on the floor, not really caring. She was off the clock. And she never wanted to be a great barista anyway. She wanted to be a music legend. “So,” she said, “what happened to Raina?”
Jess angrily sat down next to her. “She was a mistake from the get-go. Nobody listens to me.”
“Yeah, I got that from your convo earlier.”
James joined them, his chair screeching as he dragged it across the tile floor and flipped it around to sit on it backwards. He leaned his chin on his muscular arms that he draped along the back rest. “We were a cover band, and we were totally fine with that, playing local gigs and building our YouTube following until she convinced us otherwise. We’ve been playing together since high school, man. In the back of your head you always have the dream to make it big, but we were all cool until she came along.”
“She rolled us into auditioning for The Last Chord,” Jess continued as Mark joined them, sitting across from James and mirroring his stance. “She got us out here, and then she started flaking. She started missing rehearsals, and she wouldn’t take the voice lessons they offered her. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t boot us out a long time ago.”
Devi shook her head. “Your band is solid. She was always the question mark. You guys are good enough to win on your own, but I don’t think she has the pipes to sing Already Gone well enough to earn the grand prize. And I think she knew it, too. The more she threw attitude on the show, the worse her vocals were that week. You’re better off without her.”
Jess carried on as if she hadn’t said anything. His anger grew with every word. “I’ve been saying all season that she was only using us until a better offer came along.”
“And we thought he was paranoid, because that is what Jess does best: paranoia.” James tipped his head at his twin with a shrug.
“The man never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like,” Mark teased.
“Shut up! I was right and you know it,” Jess burst out, standing with enough force to knock his chair backwards.
“He was,” Mason conceded, closing his eyes with a sad shake of the head. “She sent us a text this morning to let us know she found a producer who wants to get her solo career started, and she couldn’t make it to the finale tonight.”
“That’s some weak tea, y’all.” Devi pinched her lips. “I just don’t get why you think I can help you. My voice won’t do you any good at this point.”
“We think you’re wrong.” Mark beamed at her. “What if we get you onstage and you sing with us?”
She burst out laughing. “I see one huge problem here -- I look nothing like Raina Skye.”
“We can work around that,” James insisted.
“I don’t know what color sharpie you’ve been sniffing, but y’all won’t fool anyone. She’s five foot nothin’ and maybe a hundred pounds dripping wet with blonde hair. She’s as all-American white girl as it gets. People might buy that she got her hair dyed black, but one look at my quads and the eight inches I have on her, and no one is buying what you’re trying to sell.”
“I have an idea,” Mason said quietly, looking her right in the eye. His brown eyes pierced hers. “Do you trust me?”
Devi paused, meeting his gaze and matching its intensity as long as she could, trying not to melt. With a chiseled jaw and a sculpted upper body and a tee shirt clinging to him in all the right places, it was easy for a girl to lose her ability to think around him. She had to look away, a pink blush creeping into her tanned cheeks. “I just nailed you in the nards. I guess I owe you that much. What are you thinking?”
“No time to discuss it here.”
The Streakers stood as one and grabbed her by the hand. Holding onto her purse, she let the guys drag her out the front door.