Tipping Point - Nano 2013 (Chapter Two)
The morning of my flight, Mom woke me at five a.m. and told me to hurry downstairs so we could all have one last family breakfast together. She was planning on meeting me in LA after a couple of weeks, but Dad needed to stay because of his job at the hospital. Being a doctor didn’t allow for very much time off.
I slumped down the stairs, barely coherent, and forced a couple bites of raspberry waffle down my throat. It didn’t taste nearly as good as it should have.
“Don’t talk to any people you don’t know,” Dad said after a sip of his coffee.
I rubbed my eyes. “I won’t know anyone. That’s pretty much pointless.”
“And don’t give out your phone number. Don’t trust any of these hollywood people.”
“They’re not hollywood, Dad. This is the music industry.”
“They’re a bunch of snakes, from what I’ve read.”
“Gosh, Jim, be quiet,” Mom scolded, helping herself to a piece of bacon. “Ina can handle herself.”
“I’m not so keen to send our only daughter to LA. She’s never even been!”
“Hon, we’ll still be in the same state.”
“I know, but what happens after she goes to the next state? Out of the country?”
“I’ll try to meet up with her sometimes!”
“I just don’t like it.” He chugged the last of his coffee.
Mom put her hand over his. “Just think of it as an early going-away to college. She’ll be back in a few months, if all goes according to plan.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means if she doesn’t decide she doesn’t like it, or something, then she’ll come home.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll love it.”
I cleared my throat to get their attention. “Mom. Dad. I’m sitting right here. In case you forgot.”
“We didn’t forget. We’re just voicing our concerns to each other.” Dad poured a third cup of coffee. “And I happen to have several.”
“No need. I can worry about myself.”
“See!” Mom clapped her hands. “I told you!”
“But do you understand everything I’ve said?” Dad asked, patronizing.
I sighed. “Yes. You basically want me to be a hermit and not talk to anyone, even if I have to.”
“Exactly.” He set the cup down with a clink, satisfied. “Now I better go.”
I stood up to give him a hug and he wrapped his arms tight around me. “Good job, Ina. I’m very proud of you.”
“Call me every night, okay? If I don’t pick up, leave me a message.”
“And if you need anything, call me.”
“I can try to get away from the hospital if I need to.”
“It’s okay. I’ll have Mom.”
“But sometimes you need your Dad, too, right?”
“Absolutely,” I assured him. “Love you.”
“You too. Be good.” He patted my back, kissed mom, and was gone. Obviously, he didn’t understand the magnitude of this. To him, I was just going away for a little while—going to see a whole bunch of places, meet a whole bunch of people, then come back and continue my life as it was before.
Not that there was anything wrong with it. I could play open mic nights with Jess and be happy for the rest of my life. Whatever it took to avoid college.
“We better hurry up then,” Mom said, rousing from whatever stupor she was in. I barely glanced at her, partially endowed to one myself. She squeezed my shoulder. “Ina, did you hear me?”
The nerves had suddenly decided to swoop in and wreck havoc on my stomach. I nodded and bit down hard on my tongue, praying I wouldn’t throw up.
“Is everything all right? You look worried.” She smoothed my hair back from my face.
“I’m...fine,” I replied, barely above a whisper.
She tilted her head at me. “Don’t be nervous, sweetheart.”
“Yes you are. That’s your nervous face.”
Actually, it was my I’m-Trying-Really-Hard-Not-To-Vomit face, but they were practically the same thing, so I didn’t correct her—just lowered my head and tried to think soothing thoughts.
“They will love you, Ina. No need to worry. And if they don’t, it’s their loss!”
“Yes, great, Mom. Now can you please move?”
“Why?” Even as she said it, she stepped aside. And thank God.
I barely had enough time to make it to the trashcan.
- - -
The plane ride over was awful, filled with more bouts of sickness. I went up and down the aisle to the restroom so many times I got vertigo. That led to me spending a good fifteen minutes with my closed eyes and the complimentary headphones shoved as deep into my ears as they could go without rupturing any eardrums.
Mom’s goodbye had been tearful at best. She hugged me a hundred million times, crying into my shoulder and talking about how quickly I’d grown up, and how’d I’d dominate the world and take reign over the music industry. I told her that yes, time had flown by and the day that happened would be the one I’d convince Dad to quit his job at the hospital. So basically never. Then I walked through the boarding gate, and she was gone. For two whole weeks—the longest I’d ever been without her—until she joined me in LA.
Being free from your parents was not as sweet as every teenager made it out to be.
I was more than relieved when a clear, cool voice came over the loudspeaker. She probably had practiced her flight-attendant spiel in the mirror. “We hope you’ve had a most wonderful flight with American Airlines. I will now ask you to please secure your seat belts as we’ll be landing in ten minutes. Thank you for flying with us, and please do come back.”
The worst part, I realized as I stepped off the plane a few minutes later, was that I’d have to do this again. Several times over, actually.
Dear God. This was already off to an awful start.
Laura Albright—the woman on the phone who had arranged all of this with me and my mom over a series of phone calls—said there’d be a driver waiting for me with a sign. I scanned the crowd, searching for him, while my stomach continued to roll and do a bunch of flops.
My heart, which had taken its fair share of a beating from all the vomiting, picked up the pace. I turned around and came face to face with a young guy. He was long and lean, with big ears and an even bigger smile. A piece of posterboard dangled from his hand.
“Are you Ina Galet?” His grin was slightly dopey. And he pronounced my name “gal-it”. It was always either the first or the last that people got wrong.
Where was the professional, polished guy wearing a suit that I had imagined? Or maybe I’d seen too many movies.
“Yeah,” I said, but didn’t take his hand when he stuck it out. “Sorry, I’ve been...sick. I don’t want to get my germs on you. Ha-ha.”
He recoiled subtly and nodded. What a way for me to make a first impression.
“Whenever you’re ready, we can go,” He said. “I’ll go get your bags.”
I described them to him and then sat down on a bench to wait. He came back a few minutes later, awkwardly juggly my two big luggage totes and tinier computer bag. I took the latter from him.
“Do you know what helps nausea, by chance?” I asked as he started toward the exit.
He stopped. “Um…” Some guy bumped into him from behind and he stumbled forward, dropping one of the bags. I tried not to cringe.
“Um...ginseng?” He said at last, stooping over to pick it up. His hair was thinning on top, even though he was no more than twenty-one, twenty-two. “Or, no! Some other g-word. Ground pepper? No! Wait...I’ve almost got it!”
“It’s fine,” I said, as his volume was rising with every word.
“GINGER!” He shouted at last, and about oh, I don’t know, fifty people turned to gawk at him. And me.
It wasn’t until then that I finally noticed what people were wearing. Woman practically trotted by in three-inch heels and skinny jeans, wearing blazers and nice tank tops, weighted down with expensive loads of jewelry. Their hair tumbled over their shoulder in glossy blonde waves, or curled just right against their temples. I’d apparently come to the land of the Beautiful People. And right now—in my old jeans and button-down—I was not one of them.
“I’m going to go get a tea,” I said, edging away from him. “Be right back.”
“Okey-doke!” He lifted the bags back up. “We’re in the black Escalade.”
I coughed. “Sorry. What?”
“The Escalade. Laura said to tell you sorry—they wanted to send something nicer to welcome you, but the other cars are either being rented out or in the shop.”
“Right,” I said, dazed. “Something nicer.”
“See you in a second!” He chirped, completely missing my awe.
I walked down a line of cafes before I found a place that looked relatively cheap. My small ginger tea was nine dollars. The large was fourteen.
I sipped it as I walked toward the exit, trying to move with the crowd. People kept jostling me, in too much of a hurry to pay attention to the lame girl with the size small ginger tea and really bad hair. Ugh.
The guy was waiting for me outside as promised, behind the wheel of a brand-spankin’-new Cadillac. I climbed into the middle seats, hoping he wouldn’t try to make small talk. The second my seat belt was buckled, he launched into traffic descriptions, complaining about how long everything took.
“So we’ll probably be, like, a half hour before we get to the studio,” He said. “That’s where the guys are today, recording a new single.”
“Have you met them?” I asked, folding my hands in my lap.
“Me? Yes. Tons of times. Nicest dudes ever.”
“Oh, really?” I couldn’t help how snide I sounded.
“What?” He turned around.
He slammed on the brakes and then turned around. “What do you mean by that?”
“Nothing. I’ve just...heard some things about them.” No way was I about to tell him my story. You honestly couldn’t get anymore pathetic than that.
He faced back around and waited until the light was green to speak again.
“Well...Hector’s kind of an asshole. But that’s okay. Wesley’s really nice and Laughlin is quiet.”
“Hm.” So what excused him from being an ‘asshole’? The fact that he was famous?
“You’ll like Wesley.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I will.”
“Are you being sarcastic?”
He took a deep breath. “If you say so.”
Thankfully, after that he shut up, leaving me to my thoughts. I pulled out my cell phone and texted Mom to let her know I was here and doing better. The ginger tea really did help.
He flicked on the radio and what else came on but Glory Days? I could see his smirk in the rearview mirror. Huh. I had no idea he had it in him.
Their voices were good, I had to admit. Wesley’s was deep, Hector’s was smooth, and Laughlin’s was some melodic blend of the two. When they joined together, it was magical.
I remembered sticking their EP in my CD player, turning it up as loud as it would go. I’d thrash along to the rock songs, sway to the perfect slow-dance tunes, and be transfixed by the ones that were as delicate as poetry. There were only about seven songs on it, but I fell in love with each one.
After I quit them, the CD was the last thing I threw away. I held onto it for a long time, hesitant to let go. I really did love that music, but my conscience won out. What kind of girl was I to adore a band’s music if the people behind it were awful?
I finally tossed it in the trash and deleted every song from my iPod. For a while after that, my life felt strangely empty. That’s when I got into writing songs of my own. I’d already had three years of piano lessons, so I began translating that to my own creations.
What I didn’t expect was the reaction I got. Mom was astounded and sent all my videos to her friends, who in turn sent them to their friends—so on and so forth. Everybody told me how incredible it was for a fifteen-year-old to be writing those songs. That was around the time I met Jess, and we took them to open mic, which was successful.
After I turned sixteen, I started recording my EP. It was a long process—one that was still going on. After I did this Tipping Point thing, I was going to finish it. And perhaps it would even be successful, thanks to the exposure I was about to get.
If the rabid teenage girls didn’t hate me.
“We’re almost there,” the driver-guy announced at last. I didn’t even know his name.
I waited until we pulled up outside a dull, white building to ask him.
“Um, it’s James,” He said, turning around to nod at me. “This is where you get off. I’m going to go ahead and take your bags to the hotel and then come back for you.”
“Okay,” I said, opening my door. I clambered to the ground. “Thanks.”
“Sure,” He said, mock-saluting me. Then he tore off down the street, not even waiting to make sure I got inside okay. As I stood there at the curb, coughing from the exhaust he’d left behind, I wrapped my arms around myself.
What if he’d dropped me off at the wrong place? What if this was all some horrible, practical joke? Or what if the executives in charge hated me the moment they saw my round face and too-long hair?
I stepped up to the front door and pulled. It was locked.
- - -
“You can come on in and follow me.”
Laura Albright was a friendly, perky woman with honey-blonde hair and a face so wrinkle-free she must have had at least a gazillion botox injections. I figured that was a fair enough estimate.
“Sorry we locked the door on you!” She apologized again in an unfailingly pert voice. “We didn’t used to have to but we do now as a precaution. After the boys got so popular, girls starting walking right on in like they owned the place!” She laughed giddily. “But actually, they don’t.”
As if I needed to be told that. “Yeah, that’s funny.”
She waved to a guy sitting behind a front desk. He was sifting through a pile of CDs and typing things into a huge computer. He nodded back, completely absorbed in his work.
“That’s Reagan,” She said, pointing to him right as we left the room. “He’s kind of our receptionist. He takes demos and sorts through them to figure out which ones to give to corporate, who then give it to Zach.”
She stopped dead in her tracks and frowned deeply. “Don’t you know?”
“Um.” I probably should have, but it was too late to lie. “No. Sorry.”
“Oh, honey.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me to the side of the narrow hall, standing too close for comfort. “Zach Upton is the one behind Tipping Point. He’s in charge of the record label. He’s your boss!”
“You should know these things. Surely you’ve heard of the company?”
“Upton Records. Right?”
“Yes! Oh, thank God you know that much, at least.” She laughed a distinctly fake laugh. “But take tonight and read up on Zach. Okay? He’s a really nice guy, it’s just not good business to not know who he is.”
“Good. Glad we clarified that.” She patted my back a little too roughly. “So this is where the guys do the majority of their recording. Right here in good old LA! We’re going to have you do a couple of songs as well, once we work out your setlist.”
“Yes. But that’ll be later. Much later.” She started down the hall again, and I blindly followed.
As we went, she pointed into various rooms. “Vending machines. Kitchen. There’s a coffee pot in there you’re welcome to use. Bathroom. Sitting room. Dressing room—sometimes they have to change here and go straight to do a show. You’ll probably do that, too.”
Finally, she came to a door at the end of a hall. “All right, Ina. Here we are! Time to introduce you to the guys!” Her eyes flitted briefly to my head. “Do you want to borrow anything? Hairbrush? Makeup?”
If it weren’t for her completely innocent, overly-helpful smile, I’d be hurling back an insult at her right about now. And also, well, she probably had the power to fire me. Or at least tell Zach Upton to. In her nicest voice, of course.
“I’m fine,” I said, breathing through my nose. The stomach butterflies were back, full force. What if they remembered me? How awful would that be?
“Okay.” She knocked and opened the door. We stepped inside.
We were in some sort of control room. An unshaven guy sat at the mixer, poking at various buttons. My eyes went to him, then another guy in the corner, slurping down one of those huge 44 oz sodas. He was fiddling with some speakers. My stomach plummeted when I saw them. Hector, Wesley and Laughlin.
They were singing into microphones behind a glass partition that separated the sound booth from the rest of us. Hector had his arms crossed over his chest. He barely glanced at me. Wesley smiled at Laura and looked at me curiously. Laughlin had his eyes closed, hands folded tight against his chest.
The unshaven guy pressed a button and spoke into his own microphone. “Guy’s, somebody’s here to meet you. Come on out.” He hit some more things and went to open the door for them. Laughlin opened his eyes and smiled when he saw me, waving politely.
I waited as they filtered out, holding my breath. Laura pushed me forward to greet them.
“Guys, this is Ina. Ina, this is Hector Dubois, Wesley Allender and Laughlin Hart.”
“Hi,” Laughlin said, stepping forward to give me a hug. I stiffened under his arms. He pulled back. “How’re you doing?”
“Good to meet you,” Wesley said, pecking my cheek. I recoiled slightly.
Hector grimaced. Probably his version of a smile. “Nice to meet you.”
Laughlin leaned back, sticking his hands in the pockets of his jeans. He was wearing an old Pearl Jam t-shirt. “Nice to meet you, Ina. You coming to the concert tonight?”
“Oh, guys.” Laura laughed. “She’s not a fan.”
Laughlin’s smile wavered. “What do you mean?”
“Well, not in the traditional sense. I’m sure she is. Aren’t you Ina?”
I opened my mouth to speak but it was too dry.
“She sure as hell acts like one,” Hector muttered.
I bit my lip, too shocked and scared and, okay, nervous to defend myself.
“You okay, Ina? Do you need some water?” Laura laughed, looking at the boys as if to say Isn’t she the cutest? Can’t even compose herself enough to speak!
“I’m fine,” I managed at last.
“She speaks!” Wesley crowed. “Who knew?”
Laughlin was still staring at me. “Then who is she?”
“Your opening act,” She announced, with a bit too much grandeur. She was probably trying to compensate for my lack of social grace. “She was picked out of five thousand girls for the spot.”
“Oh, yeah. That.” Laughlin turned away, dropping his smile completely. “Fine. Welcome to the club.” He headed back toward the sound booth, picking up a piece of paper laying on a stand in front of him.
Hector hesitated a moment and then followed him, not bothering to offer up a single word. Wesley, however, seemed to recover from this news and pitched forward to give me a one-armed hug.
“Glad to have you, Ina! Congrats. It’s really awesome you got picked.” He glanced toward Laughlin and his just-as-evil counterpart. “Sorry about the guys. They’re tired. And annoyed—we’ve been at this for, like, three hours.”
“And you need to get back at it!” The one with the facial hair said in a surprisingly high voice.
“Right. Thanks, Ina. Nice to meet you. See you around, Laura.” He hurried back toward the booth, shutting the door behind him. Some buttons were pressed, the guy said a few things over the loudspeaker, and then they were singing again. Not that I could hear them—just see their mouths moving.
“All right, hon, come on,” Laura said with a resigned sigh. “We should get you to your hotel. James should be back by now. Sorry about the car—we wanted to send you something nicer.”
As we left the room, I couldn’t help but ask, “Are they always like that?”
“Like what?” She ducked into the bathroom to quickly reapply her lipstick, leaving the door open.
“So rude,” I said, wondering if I’d get fired for this. I couldn’t say I cared one way or another.
“Oh, well…” She capped the lipstick and deftly tucked it back down the front of her shirt. Yikes. I hadn’t been noticed her take it out of there. “Wesley’s a doll, as you probably noticed.”
“Um, yeah. He seemed nice.”
“And Hector...he’s difficult. A brat, really.” It sounded so strange to hear the words come out of her beaming mouth.
I trailed after her. “What about Laughlin?”
“Oh, him? Don’t mind him. He’s a gem with fans, just not people.”
“Yes, he’s a bit of a…” Her lips formed a word and then she thought better of it, shaking her head. “Nevermind. Zach’s asked for my understanding. He knows the boys better than anyone.”
We’d reached the front door. The Escalade was waiting.
“Oh, I hate that car.” She wrinkled her nose. “Thanks for coming, Ina. It was lovely to meet you. We’ll see you tomorrow. And enjoy your evening.”
With that she unlocked the door, pushed it open, ushered me out, and closed it behind me.
I stood there for a moment as my feet caught up with my brain. Then I moved.
“How’d it go?” James asked as soon as I had the door open.
I ignored him, sinking against the leather seats. I pulled my cell phone out. Still nothing from Mom. She probably wasn’t even worried. I doubt Jess was, either. She’d die to be doing something like this.
I wished she could take my place. Before this might have been bearable, if Tipping Point weren’t so awful.
But I was right about them. Everything I thought was true, plus more.