Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or any of it's characters.
"Can I get you anything, Miss Swan?"
Aro Cort's gorgeous, auburn haired, 30-something secretary, Heidi, was asking me as she walked me towards Aro's office. I swear I will never get used to such impossibly glamorous people paying this kind of attention to me. I still half-expected to be invisible to women like Heidi.
"No thanks, I'm good. And please call me Bella," I told her, shifting from foot to foot.
"Well, you're a little early, and Aro's not back from his lunch meeting just yet. And Mr. McCarty and Mr. and Miss Hale aren't here yet either. Why don't I just show you into Aro's office and you can wait there? You'll be more comfortable there." Heidi was smooth in her explanation, but she sounded anxious just the same, like I was going to throw a fit about having to wait. Geez, I was the one who was early. What was the big deal? Maybe in her world she was used to people throwing snit fits over things she had no control over. I guess that's what famous people did.
"It's really no problem," I shrugged.
Heidi opened the door to Aro's spacious airy corner office. The two walls were entirely glass, overlooking downtown LA. She motioned to the comfy leather couch along one wall. Over the couch the wall was covered with framed photographs of Aro and all his clients, the faces of rock royalty. We weren't there yet, but I hoped we would be soon.
"Are you sure I can't get you anything while you wait? Some tea? I could send an intern out to Starbucks? Are you hungry?"
"I'm fine. Really."
"Well, please, don't hesitate to let me know…"
"I won't. I promise."
She finally withdrew and I curled up on Aro's couch with my feet underneath me.
I could see there was a small stack of gossip and entertainment magazines on Aro's desk. We were somewhere on the cover of all of them. I would never get used to that, either. My band, our faces, everywhere I looked. Me, my cousin Emmett, Emmett's best friend, Jasper and Jasper's twin sister Rosalie. Eclipse. How on earth did we end up here?
It was all Emmett's doing. He was the one who sent that audition tape into the reality show, America's Next Great Band. He saw the ad, saying they were looking for bands to be on the show, to compete for the top spot and a recording contract. He didn't tell us until after he'd done it, and I told him he was crazy. We were just a little band from the tiny town of Forks, Washington, via Seattle. There's no way we'd make it onto that show, I insisted. I was wrong. We got the call and then our lives exploded.
Off we went to LA and it felt like we fell through the looking glass. Three months of non-stop rehearsals, tapings and interviews. It seemed like every band there was more experienced and more polished than us. They came from New York, Chicago, LA. They had recorded self-released cd's, they had done tours, they dressed cool. I felt like we were the joke, the cannon fodder destined to be humiliated and eliminated right off the bat. There to be the comic relief.
But somehow, impossibly, we became The Little Band That Could. Every week, I was sure we were done for and every week we somehow survived. All the way down to the end, when it was us and that poser hard rock trio from New York. I'll never forget their lead singer, Damian's, ever-present sneer vanishing into disbelief when they announced that Eclipse had won the whole damned thing. It was pretty freaking sweet.
For the three months while we were on the show we had lived in this little bubble. We were working so hard and never getting out in the real world. So when we won and started making the media rounds, it astounded us all that we had become instantly famous while we weren't paying attention. America was apparently crazy for us. And as the lead singer, I was more recognizable than anyone else.
So here we were, six months out since we came from Seattle and it was time to stop being the winner of America's Next Great Band and start being Eclipse. So far all our time had been taken up capitalizing on having won the show, and now we were in the studio working on our first album and getting ready for the big release. Our brand new publicist, Aro, had some big plans for us beyond the show and that's why we were here today. Yes, we have a publicist. He costs a lot of money. No, I don't know exactly what he does for a living.
I was snapped out of my reverie by the door opening and Aro entering with Jasper in his wake.
"Bella!" he exclaimed on seeing me. "Look who I found in the elevator!"
Jasper smiled from behind him and came over to fling himself on the couch next to me. He leaned over far enough to bump his shoulder to mine before slouching back into the cushions. I was glad he was here. Aro intimidated me a little and I was happy I didn't have to make small talk with him by myself until everyone showed up.
"Hey, Bells. How's the new house?" Jasper asked, pushing his wavy blonde hair out of his eyes with one hand. He needed a haircut. There wasn't a time I could remember when I didn't know Jasper Hale and his sister. Maybe they weren't related to me by blood like Emmett was, but they might as well be. We had all gone through elementary, middle, and high school together in Forks, and when Emmett and Jasper formed the band, pulling Rosalie and then me in right after, then the three of them became my whole world, my best friends. If we weren't together in school (and the school was so tiny that you saw everyone all the time) then we were together practicing, or just goofing around. There had been a moment when we were 15 when Jasper and I looked at each other and wondered if we should be together. After all, Emmett and Rosalie had been joined at the hip since we were 13, so it made a certain amount of sense. But it was too weird for both of us. We'd known each other too long, too intimately to ever be anything other than what we were…unofficial siblings. We never even tried to kiss. Thank God. That's one memory I certainly didn't want to constantly be repressing!
"The house is good," I answered him. "It's so cute. And it came furnished, so there's not much for me to do. And it's not like there was anything from our old house in Seattle that I wanted! It's nice to have a kitchen again, and the backyard is really pretty." We had all finally moved out of the LA hotel and into more permanent living arrangements. I had a little rental house in the Hollywood Hills, the first time I'd ever lived alone. I grew up in Charlie's house in Forks, always with various band mates hanging out and crashing there. And then, a couple of years after high school we all moved to Seattle together, because Rose and I wanted to take some classes at UW and there were more opportunities for the band there. We rented a ramshackle old house in a crummy section of town and furnished it with curbside rescues and thrift store finds. My little house here in LA was the first place that was ever all mine. It was alternately thrilling and terrifying, like everything else these days.
"And your condo?" I asked.
"Awesome. You should see the flat screen I just got. Emmett came over yesterday to watch the Mariners game with me. And you should see how Halo looks on it. Freaking amazing."
I rolled my eyes. Well, at least some things were the same as they ever were. My boys still sitting around on a Sunday afternoon watching baseball and drinking beers. It just wasn't at my house with Charlie, anymore.
We were interrupted by Heidi showing in Emmett and Rosalie, hand in hand.
"Ah!" Aro exclaimed, standing and spreading his arms open to welcome them. "You're all here! Come in, come in. Rosalie, you look exquisite as always."
Rosalie gave him a tiny Mona Lisa smile and inclined her head at him. Emmett leaned over to fist bump Jasper in greeting.
"Seriously?" I said, "You guys are twenty three and you still say hello the same way you did when we were thirteen?"
"Keepin' it real, Bells." Emmett said, "Just keepin' it real with my homeboy, Jazz."
"Christ" Rosalie muttered, "For the last time, Em, you are white. From Washington."
"Hey, woman. I got nothin' but love for you. But respect the fist bump."
Rosalie shot me a look and we rolled our eyes in unison and I laughed. Homeboy Emmett cracks me up every time.
Aro circled back around behind his desk and sat, spreading his stack of gossip magazines around to examine them for a moment. I guessed Aro's age as late 30's, but he had that glossy well-maintained LA look that made pinning an age on him extremely difficult. He might have been 50 for all I could tell. He had sandy blonde hair that he slicked back into a ponytail and impossibly smooth tanned skin. His suit was dark charcoal with wide pinstripes with a bright pink striped shirt underneath. He went by Aro Cort now, but I knew from Heidi that his real name was Aaron Cortowski. He was truly self-invented in that unique LA way. He even talked different, formal and sort of stylized, like he was from another time. No one in Forks was anything like Aro. He was like a whole different species.
"So, my friends," he began, looking up at us each in turn, "I think it's time we make a plan for what lies ahead for you. I've been studying the band and your performances on the show. I've had some consultants in to provide insight. We did a little market research…"
"Market research?" Jasper asked.
"Focus groups," Aro explained patiently.
"What? You focus grouped the band?" I asked, perplexed.
"Bella, what happened on the show was like catching lightning in a bottle. You were the young, unpolished, untried upstarts who took the show by storm and captured America's hearts. It's our job now to find out exactly how that happened, so we can keep catching lightning in a bottle. Why did the viewers take to you so completely? What do they see when they look at you? What do they hear when they listen to your music? What do they think when they think about Eclipse?"
I nodded and tried to look like I understood what the hell he was talking about. If there was one lesson I had learned in my six short months in the music business in LA, it was that it is about way more than the music. That might be the only part the four of us were focused on, but if we wanted to be successful, it apparently required a whole army of people whose job it was to think about all the other stuff. It was all pretty much a pain in the ass, but when you've worked for something as long as we've worked for this; you're willing to put up with a lot of bullshit to achieve your final goal. So if the band needed to be focus grouped and we all needed user-friendly labels, then we'd suck it up and do it.
"So? Let's hear it," Emmett said, "Lay it on us, dude."
"We have discovered a few things about you," Aro continued, "You performed brilliantly on the show, which goes without saying. But the audience had a visceral connection to you all that went beyond that. It had to do with your personalities, or at least the personalities you projected, and how you interact and contrast with each other. And that's what we're hoping to clarify and expound on. I don't want you to feel like I'm reducing everything about you to a single sentence, but it's sometimes helpful to develop a shorthand for each of you."
"I'll go first, then. Tell me who I am," Emmett said, chin up, smiling, challenging.
Aro looked at him a moment and decided to charge ahead, "Emmett, the gregarious, jovial fool, everybody's favorite teddy bear."
Emmett looked like he was trying to decide if that description pleased or insulted him.
He continued before Emmett could formulate a reply, "Jasper, the intelligent, handsome, soulful brain of the band."
Jasper started to smirk, but I smacked him across the back of the head. No way I was going to let that notion get too firmly rooted in there.
"Settle down, smartass!"
He punched my arm.
"Rosalie is the enigmatic, mysterious, sex goddess guitar genius."
Rosalie showed no reaction to Aro's description, as if none of that was any kind of surprise to her.
"And Bella is the face of the band. The beautiful girl-next-door lead singer."
Emmett snorted. Rose elbowed him in the ribs.
"The face of the band?" I asked with a start, "Why am I the face? We're all equals here. And if somebody is going to be the face, shouldn't it be Rose? She's so much hotter than me."
"Bella…" Rose cut in, shooting me a disapproving scowl.
"Rose, it's just true," I protested.
Aro held up a hand to interrupt us. "Yes, in many ways, Rose is perhaps…flashier. But we think the two of you are equally appealing to fans in very different ways. Rosalie, while you are stunning, and the guitar angle adds a whole new level of every-man's-fantasy to the mix, when we play you off of Isabella, it's like you're an exotic wild animal, beautiful but also otherworldly and out of reach. Bella is our real girl, approachable and touchable. Either one alone in the band wouldn't work the same way. It's the two of you together, playing off of each other, that works so well. And Rosalie's exotic beauty works better when she's distant, not too open. So Bella is the girl in front doing all the talking. You're the lead singer anyway, dear. It makes sense for you to be in front."
I could see what he was talking about, but it still didn't feel exactly right to me. And I seriously didn't like the idea of always being in front speaking for us. I looked up and locked eyes with Rosalie. She smiled and gave me a tiny nod. I've known Rose since we were five years old. It made sense to her, I could tell. And she was eager to play her role.
Well, if she was game to be a remote untouchable sex goddess, I suppose I could be the warm and cuddly girl next door. That was pretty much just me anyway, attractive, but not stunning. Certainly nothing as flashy as Rose. And aside from when I was onstage, when I slipped into my performance persona, I was clumsy, not graceful and sexy like Rose. I didn't know how to dress and Rose looked like a supermodel all the time.
It would be easy to hate Rose for her perfection, but I didn't. I'd known her too long. I understood what it was like for her to be hit on by 30 year old men when she was 13. I also understood what it was like for her to have absolutely no female friends outside of me, and what it was like for her to have to mistrust the intentions of nearly every man she met. And I knew Rose's heart, how much she loved my boneheaded cousin, Emmett. How loyal she was to all of us. Yes, sometimes I felt a little invisible next to her, but I loved her fiercely just the same.
Aro cleared his throat and continued; "Now you're in the studio working on the album, which is very exciting. It's going well, I understand?"
"Yeah," Jasper sat up, finally wanting to contribute something now that we were talking about the music again. "We have a ton of our original stuff from our bar gigs back in Washington. We've been playing it for the producers and there's a bunch of songs they want us to record, to see what comes of it. We're also writing some new stuff."
"You're writing some new stuff,' I corrected. Jasper was our musical soul, we all knew it.
"You're helping me out on the lyrics, Bells, you know that."
"We have songwriters now. Real ones. You don't need me for that."
"It's always better when it's us. The four of us," he said quietly. I shrugged.
"Well, I leave that to you and the geniuses at the label," Aro said. "There will be some touring to support the album of course. The label has thoughts; we'll talk more about that as we get closer. And I'll be looking for other placement opportunities as well."
"What are placement opportunities?" Emmett asked, saving us all from having to ask the dumb question instead.
"Mostly the usual. Performing your first single on TV shows, the Superbowl, any other appropriate venues that turn up. I'll be working all angles." He paused here, looking down at his desk again before he went on. "On that note, we should talk about branding. I've explained your personal dynamic, as we see it. We'll be looking for publicity opportunities to showcase you, to cement your public personas in the American consciousness. Public appearances, awards shows, presenting, that sort of thing. We also feel that Bella may have some crossover potential."
"What's crossover potential?" I asked.
"We feel you might have possibilities in TV and film."
I laughed out loud at that. "But I'm not an actor, Aro. I just sing."
He waved a hand dismissively. "Just because you haven't doesn't mean you can't. Nobody is an actor and yet everybody in this town winds up in a movie. I'm not saying you have to, I'm just suggesting we expose you in such a way that it's a natural fit should you decide you want to pursue it."
"And how would we do that?"
"Sending you to the Academy Awards, for instance. Having you mingle in the movie world, so you seem a part of it already. Then making the move won't seem like such a stretch."
"And why would I want to do that? We're a band. We make music. That stuff seems like it would just be a distraction." Plus it sounded so lame and boring, but I didn't say that part out loud.
"Anything that draws attention to you, Miss Frontwoman, draws attention to the band. What makes Bella famous makes you all famous. That's how it works. The higher your profile, the better the band will do."
I was silent for a moment, and then looked around at my band mates and friends. My family in every way that mattered. They looked interested; no one looked unhappy or uncomfortable. Jasper, as always seemed to sense what I was feeling.
"Look, Bells, no one wants you to do anything you don't want to do, but if showing up on a few red carpets and shit helps the band, that's no big deal, right?"
I shrugged. It didn't sound like the end of the world when he put it that way and if the rest of the band wanted me to play this game, then I would.
"What do I have to do?" I asked Aro.
"Actually, first up is something for all of you, tonight. There's a record release party for Taylor Swift at Geisha tonight. I think you should all go, be seen and photographed. Have some fun. These things can be fun, you know." He said that last part at me, seeing the face I must have been making.
"Tonight?" I sounded as freaked out as I felt, I could hear it.
"Don't worry, Bella, I'll come over and help you get dressed. We'll go together. It will be fun." Rose said soothingly, instinctively knowing what I was worried about. That made me feel better. It would be fun, getting ready together.
"Well, then, my little ducklings," Aro said, standing and clapping his hands together. "I'll let you all go. It will be a late night, you should rest. I'll be in touch soon when I have more plans to discuss with you."
With that, we were done and we all stood, saying goodbye to Aro and making plans for meeting up tonight, getting the details from Heidi.
This part was such a freaking drag. I really had no interest in the promotional aspect of what we did. And to focus on it so deliberately frankly made me feel a little sleazy. But we'd worked so hard to get here, all our lives really. And if this is what it took for us to stay here, and to have our music actually heard by someone, then I suppose we'd just have to stand back and let Aro work his publicist voodoo and make us famous. I would have to step up and take the lead in this part, apparently.
Sure, I would do it, for us, for the band. I would do anything for the band. But it didn't mean I had to like it.