Today I highjacked a plane
I wrote your name across the sky,
Miss Clare Danes.
But they were waiting on the ground
To take me straight to jail
The trouble started, as trouble always did, with a visit from Emmett.
It was 10.45am on a bitterly cold day in October and I was on early shift at work. Three hours of my shift had passed and my soul was on the way to destruction. As I broke cups, messed up orders and spilt coffee grounds all over my jeans, it was obvious that my morning was going the same way as all of my days had for the last three months.
I was unfairly busy for a Thursday and Laurent – the bastard – my 'boss' had disappeared into the backroom for a 'stock check'. Which I would have believed, had I not seen his latest stupid-as-shit girlfriend sneaking back there to join him twenty minutes before. Meanwhile I'd been left alone to tackle the ancient rusty coffee machine and the constant stream of caffeine hungry metal heads.
Welcome to The Press, Seattle's premier destination for independently produced coffee, music and those looking for something a little bit different.
...or at least, that's what we'd printed on the flyers. In reality, it was a grimy hole on 8th avenue where Laurent played nothing but his preferred atonal brand of heavy metal and the clientele generally carried more hardware on their faces than a whole home depot store.
I'd started working there a couple of months ago, when bankruptcy had developed from being a vague, gnawing worry to a looming, black reality. My bank balance had become slightly healthier was a result, but my will to live was gradually diminishing with every cappuccino and White Zombie album.
I was in the process of pulling my fourth shot of the morning – the complimentary coffee being one of my job's few saving graces – when I heard the door go. The sound of Ozzy Osbourne screaming pierced through the store; Laurent had put it in instead of a bell, claiming it was cool...
Did I mention I hated my job?
I looked up from my coffee to see Emmett's beaming face. He was wearing his characteristic grin – the one which symbolised happiness and sunshine and the sheer perfection of my brother's life. I sometimes wondered if his dimples would collapse on themselves from the strain of being so plump all the time.
Not that I was bitter, or anything.
"Emmett," I put on my best attempt at a grin and reached across the bar to give him a brotherly handslap. "How are you man? How was Italy?"
Another reason I had to hate my brother: while I was in Seattle trying to live through the fallout of my decisions, he was jet setting off to Italy with his beautiful fiancée.
"Oh, you know. Pretty chill. Ate some pasta, took photos of some old shit, checked out a bit of Italian ass." He grinned and we both knew it was all talk. Emmett was a total history buff – he'd all but begged Rosalie to choose Rome as the destination of their end-of-summer vacation. As for the Italian girls, he didn't fool me for a second. He and Rose couldn't have been happier.
We chatted about Italy for a couple of minutes – or, rather, I listened and tried to look interested as Emmett waxed lyrical about the Collosseum, the Pantheon, St Paul's Basilisca. Just as my eyes had started to really glaze over he moved on to detailing how hot Rosalie looked on a Vespa. Finding a gap in the history talk I pounced.
"How is Rose, anyway?" My brother's fiancée had been a constant feature in my life since we'd all been at high school. In the last decade, I doubted that she had missed a single birthday, football game or family barbeque. Her constant presence gave Rosalie a unique position somewhere between an annoyance who had my big brother whipped and a pseudo sister. She managed to be at once one of the few people I really appreciated and a huge pain in my ass.
"She's good. She wants to talk to you, actually."
I raised my eyebrow. "I am honoured. What have I done?"
"You didn't ask?"
Emmett shrugged. "Nope. The taxi ride to her work is only ten minutes long; I'd rather not waste it talking."
I faked a gag. I didn't need a visual of Rosalie and my brother in the back of a taxi; as teenagers Emmett and I had shared a bedroom wall. I wondered what Rosalie could want to talk to me about. Usually she only called for one of two reasons; because she wanted something or wanted to tell me off. I decided I wouldn't phone her.
In an effort to avoid the subject, I handed Emmett the cup of coffee that I'd started for myself. He took it – 'thanks' – but set it on the counter without bothering to drink any. I knew that the way I'd dodged the Rosalie-shaped bullet had not gone unnoticed. I was busy not feeling guilty when Emmett spoke.
"So, how's it going with you?" His voice was too casual.
I must have looked defeated, because Emmett's attitude immediately became sympathetic. "That bad, huh?"
"You could say that," I murmured. In reality, it was an understatement.
'Bad' was breaking up with your girlfriend of two and a half years. 'Bad' was pulling out of medical school at the very last minute. 'Bad' was having no life plan at the age of 22.
I had 'bad' covered. My situation has gone to 'worse'.
Worse was when everyone you knew had believed that your dumped girlfriend was the one you were going to marry. Worse was when all your parents had ever wanted for you was to become a doctor. Worse was when the only career you wanted to do was be in a band. And your band sucked.
Add in a dead-end job steaming milk and a rent I couldn't pay, and you had a situation that was quickly reaching disastrous.
The saga had been running since early August when I'd finally found the balls to announce to my parents that, contrary to their belief, I would not be starting at med school come September. Almost three months later and I was still dealing with the consequences, some of them considerably worse than others. Even my awful hours at the Press were bearable in comparison to the nightly answerphone messages from my father.
All of which Emmett knew damn well. He wasn't stupid; he knew that my problems were far too tangled to be sorted in a week. He was watching me though, as if waiting for me to elaborate.
And I was having none of it. I refused to meet his eyes and pretended to clean cups, knowing that I would not be the first one to crack.
Three beats. Four. And then, sure enough:
"So, I spoke to Mom and Dad the other day..."
I sighed. My brother feigned innocence like Bon Jovi played guitar: badly.
"You know what. It's great to see you, Em, but this morning has been shit enough without you giving me a speech."
"Edward, they're worried about you."
"Disappointed more like." I thought of the answerphone messages.
"Well, yeah, but that's mainly because you won't talk to them. They want you to explain, make them understand what's going on in your head."
I shook my head, frustrated. "There's nothing to explain. Whatever I say will lead to the same thing; Mom will cry and Dad will sigh lots and ask me again if I was sure I'd made the right choice."
Almost every conversation we'd had since August had gone that way, a variant on the same tune. I'd had enough of it – enough of making them sad, enough of being guilt-tripped, enough of doubting myself – just enough all together.
I glanced at Emmett. He was watching me with his best Law Graduate face; the one which made me feel like he was able to analyse me within an inch of my life and understand exactly what I was. He, at least, knew me well enough to accept what I'd done. It was just that, as my older, far more successful brother, it was his duty to act as go-between for our parents.
"I don't want to be a doctor, Em."
And he did. Ever since I was tiny, all I'd ever wanted to do was music. I'd written my first song aged three, for Christ's sake. I'd tried any instrument I could get my hands on, from accordions to bassoons to cellos, yet always found myself coming back to the piano as my favourite. I'd been continuously in a band since junior school and forwent girls for guitars until well past puberty.
My parents had been supportive to a point. They'd paid for my piano lessons; they'd come to my concerts and dutifully sat through every one of my solos. They'd listened to my music, just not to me, their son, the one who had been avidly Not-Wanting-to-Be-a-Doctor all through high school.
At college, I'd taken just the right amount of science and maths courses to let my parents overlook the minor in music tech. It was okay to have a hobby, they said – healthy, even, to be interested in something outside of medicine.
It just wasn't okay to turn down a place at Dartmouth Medical School in order to pursue dreams of being signed to a record label.
"Do you want to know what I think?" Emmett said, suddenly.
"I'd be delighted."
"I think that Mom and Dad would have been able to hack you dropping out of Dartmouth, if only it hadn't been for Tanya."
"Gee, thanks, Emmett."
"What? It's true! Mom doesn't care if you're a medic or a rock star; she just wanted to see you settle down. You know she'd practically picked out the dress."
"Tanya and I could not be more wrong for each other."
"It took you long enough to work it out."
This, unfortunately, was true. "Yeah, well, I got there in the end. I can promise you that it's not something I'm going to reconsider."
Emmett looked at me thoughtfully. I knew he suspected that there was more to the Tanya story than I was letting on, but I had no desire to confirm his theory. Just as I was done justifying my decision to quit med school, I was tired of vindicating my break-up.
Finally, when it became clear that I wasn't going to budge on the matter, Emmett glanced at his watch. His coffee break was up.
"All I'm saying is that you should stop ignoring Mom and Dads' calls. You can't freeze them out forever," he said, shrugging his laptop bag back over his shoulder.
"I'm not trying to freeze them out."
"Whatever you say." Emmett held his hands up in mock surrender. "Look, I have to go; I've got a case in thirty minutes. Just think about what I said, okay?" I didn't answer, watching him go in silence. One foot on the threshold, he turned and shouted: "Oh, and call Rose!"
And then he was gone and I was left with nothing but Ozzy's strangled scream.
It the end, it was Rosalie who called me. It was early evening and I was in my apartment. I'd taken a break from the piano to play around absent-mindedly with my Fender, experimenting with different combinations of chords and scribbling down the ones which worked best. I was just managing to find some kind of progression, when my phone went off.
"Hi Edward, it's Rose."
I stifled a groan. After the conversation with Emmett the last thing I wanted to do was get another lecture from his fiancée.
"Will you play for me tomorrow night?"
"Play for you?"
"That's what I said – is ignoring everyone causing you to go deaf?"
I was suddenly reminded just how irritating Rosalie could be. I kicked off my shoes more violently than necessary and threw myself onto the couch.
"My hearing is fine, thank you. Why do you need me to play? What's wrong with Eric?"
"He's got swine flu."
"Swine flu? How very 2009 of him."
"It's not funny! I'm in total professional meltdown over here; most of the band have been forced into quarantine and this morning I had a doctor on the line telling me Yorkie might be off sick for a couple of months."
"So ask someone else."
"I can't! I've been ringing around all morning and all of our regular musicians are unavailable for a fortnight. I need somebody to fill the evening slot for the rest of this week at least."
Rosalie worked for The Willow, Seattle's premier restaurant and bar to the elite. Her job was Director of Entertainment and Animation. In other words she was a booker.
And it appeared that I was her latest prey.
"What about Heidi?"
"Grounded by a hurricane in Cuba."
"Jane and Alec?"
"They've been poached by Solar," Rosalie almost growled the words and I felt very glad that I was safely on the other side of town. Solar was the The Willow's rival restaurant. "Look, Edward, I wouldn't ask but this is an emergency. Please say you'll do it."
Rosalie was practically begging, which should have been enough to persuade me, rare as it was to hear her with any kind of humility. However, I still felt reluctant.
It wasn't the music aspect that I had a problem with. I'd been playing the piano since the age of four and I was, by anybody's standards, pretty damn good. I'd been entering competitions all throughout high school – from district to county to state and then finally at national level. I'd come third in the last one, to tell the truth, but I was still perfectly competent. I was certainly as good as any pianist at Rose's place. There was just one problem.
"Rose, I hate The Willow. The only people who eat there are obnoxious assholes." It was true. They were that unpleasant brand of arrogant, pretentious wealthy people that flocked to the astronomical prices restaurants like The Willow invariably charged. I'd eaten there once, at the request of Tanya, and promised myself afterwards that I'd never go back. I could practically hear Rosalie roll her eyes at the other end of the phone.
"As charming as your evaluation of my workplace undoubtedly is, Edward, I don't have time for it. Quit being difficult and say you'll play for me. I wouldn't ask you but I've got no other options left. Please."
I sighed and reminded me that I wasn't in a position to be choosy. "What are the details?"
"Two and a half hours per night for the next three days. You'll get food and drink and we'll provide you with all the sheet music you need. The directors have even said that you'll be paid the same as our house pianist to make up for the short notice. That's easily more than you make in a month at that hole you work in."
Rosalie told me. I let out a low whistle. Actually, it was more than I made in two months. For three nights' work.
"Even if you didn't need the money – which, judging by the state of your sneakers, you do – you'd be a fool to pass up on the free meal. Garrett has two Michelin stars, Edward!"
I looked at the pot of pasta now congealing on my stove. I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten real food.
My resolve was wavering, but I didn't want to give in too easily.
"I'll do it one on condition."
"A condition? Excuse me? I said we'd pay you!"
"I know, but I want something else."
At the other end I heard Rosalie call me some choice names under her breath, before asking, in as sweet a voice as she could muster:
"What do you want?"
"Get Emmett to back off on the Mom and Dad front."
There was a silence down Rosalie's end. It lasted the length of a couple of crochets, then:
"It was a pleasure doing business with you, Miss Hale."
"You should count yourself lucky that I'm so desperate. You start tomorrow night. Be there, suitably dressed, at seven thirty sharp."
"Don't make me regret it this."
"Mmhmm," I grunted in agreement. My mind was already wandering back to my guitar.
"Oh, and Edward?" Rosalie's voice was distant at the end of the phone.
"Watch out for the special guest."
My mind saturated with chord progressions, it took a couple of seconds to register what Rose had said. "Watch out for the what?" I asked, confused.
I got no reply; she had already hung up.
Shaking my head, I chucked my phone on the couch and turned my full attention back to my song. I decided that whatever Rosalie had meant, it can't have been important.
As it turns out, that was my first big mistake.
A/N: Three years are an awful long time to be out of the loop. After being 'too busy' to write for too long, I've suddenly found myself with a lot more time on my hands. Here's something fun to ease me back in. Hope you enjoy :)