Author's Note: This story contains mild language, implied violence, and intense/possibly scary situations.
"Though one may be overpowered... a cord of three strands is not quickly broken." - Ecclesiastes 4:12
Mitchie Torres couldn't believe her ears. "What did you say?"
Her father flipped another hamburger on the grill, a proud smile spread across his face. "She said you're going to Camp Rock."
"Well actually, we're going," her mother quickly corrected. "Connie's Catering is going camping. Business is slow in the summer. This is a steady job and you get to go to camp at a discounted rate."
Mitchie let out a gasped scream of excitement, still in disbelief that her parents were actually telling her this news. It had never occurred to her until now that her mom's catering business could get her a ticket to what, if only to her, was the dream summer destination. A whole summer of music; what could be better?
"But you have to help out in the kitchen," her mom added.
Mitchie quickly nodded. Helping out in the kitchen seemed the least she could do right now. She nearly bounced into her mother's arms to give her a hug. "Thank you! Thank you, like, a million times!"
Her mom let out a laugh. "Alright, settle and go change. Dinner's almost ready."
Oh right, she was still wearing her Barney's Burgers uniform. Hard to believe only a few moments before she was dragging her feet and in no way looking forward to dinner as now she was full of renewed energy. Giving her mom another tight hug and attempting not to squeal again, Mitchie bounced her way to the sliding back door and into the kitchen. Inside she found her older sister standing at the fridge.
"Jake; guess what? You won't believe what just happened! Oh, do you need some help with that?" Her words came out in rapid fire almost within one breath.
Jake shifted the condiments and package of hamburger buns stacked in her hands as she pushed closed the refrigerator door with her elbow. "Nope, I got it. And let me guess; your 'liter the house with Camp Rock pamphlets' campaign actually worked?"
Mitchie paused only a moment before nodding and letting out another muffled squeal. She then stepped in front of her sister to hold open the screen door.
"Well, congratulations. Oh, thanks." Jake took a step onto the back patio. "I really didn't think it would happen."
"I know! Isn't it great?"
Jake let out a chuckle.
Making sure her sister was safely outside, Mitchie slid the screen door back into place then ran towards her room.
Jake carried her load over to the patio table and set it down. Beginning to arrange them in some sort of order, she said, "I think you just made her decade."
Her father chuckled. "Better enjoy that while it lasts, Connie."
"Steve," his wife shot back. She turned to her daughter and gave her a swift kiss on the cheek. "He is right though; once it sinks in that we're going to be there too, she'll settle again."
Jake's eyebrows rose. "We?"
"Yep, you and me." Connie put a spoon into the potato salad. "And don't give me that look. I'm going to need all the help I can get this summer."
"What about Dad?"
"Don't you worry about me, honey. I'll be here taking care of the important things." Steve answered. Taking the plate his wife had handed him a few moments before, he began placing the cooked burgers onto it. "Like earning bread money, water the flowers, that sort of thing."
"Lenore will be as well to help," Connie offered as if knowing her work assistant was accompanying them would raise her daughter's mood. Thinking quickly, she added, "Plus, you'll get paid for your services, of course."
Jake let out a small sigh, yet flashed a forced smile to her mom. It would do no good arguing or being upset over it. The idea of spending the summer working with her mom wasn't what bothered her; she did, after all, work at Connie's Catering regularly. It was the idea of spending her summer working among a bunch of teenaged rock star wannabes.
That was when she noticed the rather large stain on her shirt. How had that gotten there? Letting out a louder sigh, Jake grabbed a napkin and began dabbing at it.
"Oh, honey, no, that won't work," her mother advised. "You need to wash that out."
Jake threw her head back. Goodbye, favorite white tee. "I'll be back."
Heading inside, Jake went upstairs to the room she shared with Mitchie. She found the door closed and, to her dismay, locked. Knocking she called, "Mitchie?"
Her voice was drowned out by a male's from inside, which was singing. Jake knocked again. "Mitchie, come on! Open the door!"
This time her sister heard her. The door came open, and there she was, the smile still on her face. "Oh, sorry Jake; I didn't hear you. What happened to your shirt?"
Jake made her way to the dresser and began rummaging for a new shirt, not answering.
"Want to borrow one of mine?" Mitchie offered. She walked over to the television and turned down the volume, then reached into her own dresser drawer. "Here, you can have my pink one."
Jake couldn't help but be surprised at her sister's offer. Being less than two years apart in age they were close, yet sharing clothes wasn't exactly a common occurrence. "You're in a good mood."
"A good mood? Try a great one." Mitchie pulled out the shirt and tossed the pink shirt towards Jake. "Just wait, this is gonna be the best summer ever!"
"You, my dear, have been watching too much Disney Channel." Jake joked at her sister's choice of words. Mitchie rolled her eyes and headed to the hallway. Jake sighed; she had left the television running. Walking over, Jake reached the screen in time to find a reporter standing next to two young men, both with straight dark hair. One of the pair still had a bit of baby fat around his cheeks. Jake recognized them almost immediately.
"Hey Mitchie, it's your favorite boy band wannabes!" she called with a smirk.
"What are you-?" Mitchie began, poking her head back around the doorway. Her eyes fell on the two young men on the screen with the reporter, which caused her to step into the room and sit on her bed to watch. Was she seeing who she thought she was seeing right now?
"… members of Connect 3, Jason and Shane." The interviewer was saying, confirming it.
"Who are not boy-band-wannabes," Mitchie quickly hissed towards her older sister. Jake rolled her eyes, yet Mitchie didn't notice.
"First let me ask you guys; where's your other band mate?" the interviewer continued.
Jake quirked an eyebrow, curious as to what would be the reply. According to Mitchie, the question was nothing new for Connect 3. They were a very recent hit, their success somewhat of an enigma in the entertainment world. It astounded her how a band could gain such a fan base by just releasing one album - well, now two. There had been no tours, no concerts, and not as much as a public appearance outside of the handful of interviews they'd given over the last year or so. Even then, only two members had appeared to represent the group; the third was never seen.
Course, Jake pondered; maybe the enigma surrounding them was why the group was doing so well. It sure had her sister interested.
"Well, to tell you the truth, he-" began the baby-faced one, before the other sent a quick jab to his ribs.
"He has the flu. Very bad. Could barely go to the bathroom." The first member began to protest but received what appeared to be a quick slap which quieted him. "Very, very sick. Right Jason?"
"I, um… yeah. Very sick." Jason stuttered.
The interviewer looked between the two, clearly confused. "Alright, well, tell him that we all hope he gets well soon," she said kindly. "Now, about the cover of your new album, set to be released in a few weeks; another shadowy image, guys. If I may ask, why is that?"
"Well, that's us for you, dark and mysterious." Shane replied, shoving his hands into his pockets before shrugging. The screen filled with the image of the album. Just as the interviewer stated, the image was a blurry shot of three young men from behind.
"I'm not like that. I'd like to see more…" Jason trailed as he caught another look from his companion.
"I see." The interviewer continued. She turned to look at Shane. "You know, sooner or later, people are going to start thinking that this brother of yours doesn't-"
"Look," Shane cut across, clearly losing his temper. "If we're done with the stuff about the album, we'd like to leave." Jason looked about ready to protest, yet Shane shot him a searing look. "Now."
With that, he left the camera's view. The interviewer cleared her throat, looking awkward.
"Sorry, it's not you. He does that to everyone," Jason stated to the interviewer. Another slight moment passed in silence."See ya!" he said cheerfully, then left after his younger sibling.
"That was just weird," Jake observed as she finally turned off the television. "Are their interviews always that… short?"
Mitchie nodded, her face turned to a thoughtful frown.
Jake shook her head and returned her focus back to her destroyed shirt. "You think Spray-n-Wash will get this out?"
The white two story house certainly didn't give off the feel of being owned by anyone special. It was what the Gray brothers had banked on when they first bought the place a few years before. Although fairly secluded and protected by a black iron fence, it was almost perfectly sized for just the three of them, maybe a few guests… and a small recording studio in the basement.
In the comfort of his room upstairs, a nearly-seventeen year old brunette sat playing a keyboard. Considering no one else was in the house, save the family golden retriever who was currently perched on the nearby bed, he very well didn't need the headphones over his ears. Yet wearing them while he played was natural for Nate Gray. A notebook sat balanced on his knee; occasionally he would scribble something he found worth noting, only to go back to playing again. There was a song in him somewhere, and he was determined to bring it out.
Humming to himself, Nate removed the headphones and began writing again. A flash of light invaded his bedroom window as the sound of gravel being crushed by wheels came up the driveway. Nate looked towards it but didn't move. He calmly put away the sheets of music and turned off the keyboard he had been using. The door to the garage was opened and soon after, people talking in the lower portion of the house became audible.
"Nate! We're home!" The voice of his older brother echoed in the otherwise quiet house. The dog ran out of the room at the sound, barking as he went. Nate hesitated just a moment, giving himself time to put away his headphones. He could hear the television being turned on in the den so made his way there.
"Jason," Shane was saying to the other young man sitting on the opposite couch that was holding the remote and also petting the dog's head. "Turn it off."
"Aw, come on, man. My show's about to start." Jason returned his attention back to his fury companion and scratched behind his ear. "And how's my best buddy, huh Elvis? Being a good boy for Nate I hope."
"Tivo it like any other normal human being." Shane was gritting his teeth now. Suddenly a familiar tune filled the room, causing him to sit up again. "Why in the world are you watching Phineas and Ferb?"
"What are you, five?"
"It's funny," Jason repeated, clearly not phased. "And I like picking up on all the jokes."
Shane groaned and lay back down, his eyes staring blankly at the white ceiling above him. Great, Nate thought. He should have known Shane would still be in a mood. He made his way into the room and took a seat next to his oldest brother.
"Hey, fro bro," Jason called, ruffling Nate's dark curls. "Feeling better?"
Nate responded to his brother's teasing with a smile of his own. He waited a few moments before saying anything. "Saw the interview."
"Oh?" Jason responded. "How'd we look?"
Nate hesitated, shooting a quick glance in Shane's direction. "The same as always."
Jason seemed satisfied by that answer. Shane just rubbed his eyes.
"Thanks for covering for me," Nate continued.
"Again," He heard Shane mutter from under his breath. Nate brought his hands together and bit his lip.
"Yeah…" Nate said quietly. "You know, I really appreciate it-"
"We know little brother." Shane interrupted. His eyes returned to the ceiling as he again put an arm over his face. "We've had this same conversation, like, a hundred times. I'm worried about you, man."
Nate didn't answer at first, but instead returned his gaze to the floor. They all knew where this conversation would go; as Shane had pointed out, they had participated in it many times. "Don't be."
That was all it took for Shane to sit up again. Staring at his younger brother directly, he said. "What do you mean, 'Don't be?' You're my brother. You can't keep living like this."
Nate didn't talk, but his posture changed. Shane had hit a nerve. "I can't help it, alright?"
"Course you can. Don't give me that-"
"Shane, lay off." Now it was Jason talking.
"Shut up, Jason!" Shane replied. He focused his attention back to Nate. "You can't keep expecting us to cover for you all the time. You heard that reporter; people are getting suspicious. There's more than one rumor going around now. And we've given them nothing in the way of proof one way or another. A few shadowy pictures will only keep them happy for so long."
Shane could see his brother tensing up as he spoke, yet this was important. "It's gone on long enough. Time to face-"
"No!" Nate stopped biting his lip long enough to retort.
"Stop being such a baby!"
"Shane…" Jason started again. This time Shane listened, albeit hesitantly. "Now, let's all watch some tv and get some grub or something. I'm starved."
Nate got up, grateful for his oldest brother having provided some distraction. "I'll go see what's in the fridge."
Shane simply scoffed. Rising from the sofa, he headed outside, muttering to himself and slamming the door behind him. Nate shifted uncomfortably a moment, his eyes wandering over to the television. On screen a green platypus was pulling on a fedora and opening a passageway to his secret agent lair. "Guess I'll go get it started."
Sensing one of his owners was headed towards the kitchen, Elvis followed at Nate's heels. As he left, Nate heard the sound of the Indiana Jones theme song playing from the direction of the kitchen. Sure enough, he found his brother's cell phone sitting on the counter ringing. "Jason; phone!"
In less than a minute, Jason was there to answer the ringing box. "Hello? Oh, hey Big Man."
Nate paused midway from pulling open the freezer door. Robert Feggans, known as "Big Man" to just about everyone in the music business, was the brothers' agent. He listened for a minute as Jason exchanged pleasantries then moved into what seemed to be the meat of the conversation.
"Yeah… Oh, you did…. What'd you think?... Oh…Uh huh…"
From next to Nate's leg, Elvis let out a pitiful whine. Nate snapped back to attention.
"Sorry, boy." He made his way over to where the dog food was stored and poured some into Elvis's bowl. He no sooner did then Elvis was greedily eating it. "Hey, slow down. I don't want to clean up another mess today."
Elvis simply snorted and continued munching. Nate sighed and returned his attention to making dinner. Jason had made his way out to the back patio, still on the phone. Nate opened the freezer again and examined the contents. There wasn't much left; Nate made a mental note that he would need to start a grocery list as he dug around the shelves of frozen food. Finding a box of corn dogs and a bag of fries, he pulled them out and set the oven.
From outside came loud words full of anger. Nate paused from his work to look towards it. By the sound he could tell Shane had gone from merely annoyed to one of his moods. 'His moods', Nate thought bitterly. Shane wasn't just in a mood. If anything, the angry, bitter side was Shane's normal face anymore, while happiness was his 'in the mood' moments.
"Well, that was the Big Man," Jason announced as he returned from outside.
"Heard that part." Nate pulled a couple of cookie sheets from the cupboard and got to work readying the food.
"Oh cool; corn dogs." Jason's face became serious. "Morningstar, right?"
Nate nodded and lifted the green box as proof.
"So what'd he want?"
"Big Man. On the phone."
"Oh right." Jason watched Nate dump the fries onto the other cookie sheet. "I can't tell you."
"I'm serious. Big Man wanted to talk to Shane, not me. He just figured I'd be more likely to answer my phone."
"Oh." Nate stole a quick glance towards the patio. "He's pissed again."
Jason shrugged. Outside Shane was still angrily yelling raising Nate's thankfulness that they lived in enough seclusion that no one else could hear his rant. He placed both cookie sheets into the oven and set the timer. Shane huffed into the kitchen, a rather dejected look across his face. Forcefully he set down the cell phone from his hand.
"Well, what is it?" Nate asked, fighting the urge to add a 'this time' to the end of the question.
Shane looked up at his brothers. His face softened just a bit, which would have given Nate relief if he hadn't seen the look in his eyes before. An idea had just come into his head, and based on the way he eyed his brothers, it didn't look good.
"Boys," he announced. "We're going to camp."