Status: Updates weekly-ish.

S/he Screams in Silence

Small Fry

She didn’t remember how she’d gotten there, but fifth grader Emily found herself in the school hallway without her classmates. It was a winter day, but inside the building she was warm, and she hated long-sleeved shirts anyway, so she rolled up the green sleeves of her camouflage shirt. It might have been a cool shirt, except for two words written in red glitter across the front.

Her mom still picked her clothes out, for the most part.

Emily was about to sidle back into the classroom when Jessee, her grade’s resident tomboy, whizzed past her like a gust of typhoon, long blonde hair blown about in tumbleweed fashion along for the ride. She shot into the bathroom.

Maybe she would wait for Jessee and they could go back to class together. She really couldn’t recall her excuse for being out, anyway, so it might be good to have some sort of alibi.

Holy Batman (actually she liked Spiderman better), Jessee peed fast! Emily moved toward the middle of the hallway to intercept her, not wanting to be bypassed again. Jessee stopped in front of her, expression neutral until her eyes snagged on Emily’s shirt.

Her lips curled in a snarl as she pointed. “No they don’t,” she growled, and Emily wondered not for the first time if Jessee really wasn’t some wild animal.

Emily’s cheeks reddened to match the shimmering betrayal of her shirt: “Girls Rule.”

No, they didn’t. Emily knew that better than anyone. But she had started listening in on the adult conversations floating above her, the ones that expressed tomboyishness as a cute phase to be left behind upon entering a girl’s teenage years. Surely then she’d stop putting makeup on her little brother and start applying it to her own face. Surely then her figure would learn to fill out the clothes designed for it. Surely then she would grow up.

And she had started to believe it, even as she still dragged her mother to the boys section of the department store for jeans; she believed that a future disappointingly the same as all the other girls awaited her, and that the burden of fight she had borne since birth would shrug itself off her shoulders one day without much fuss.

But here it was, pushing back angrily like a blaze rekindled from dying embers, or maybe just like Jessee in a spitting rage over somebody else’s shirt. But would she let herself get burned?

Emily’s eyes opened wide to the ceiling again and he sighed. These dreams were persistent. It had been ages since he’d seen Jessee, or thought about her. To be honest, he was becoming frustrated by the plethora of memories related to his gender that seemed to have surfaced lately. He scrutinized his own mind, wondering if he was merely looking to the past for validation of the present, or whether there really was some kind of proof buried there. One thing was for certain—he was growing out of being a tomboy, in his own way.

The Green Day boys sauntered into La Rosa approximately five minutes late for their meeting, as they had agreed beforehand. Mike had grumbled at first, but after hearing Tré’s logic, he couldn’t help but see that the drummer was right. So they wore their usual garb, T-shirts, shorts, and Mike had slapped on a backwards baseball cap decorated with dried mud for good measure. Half-assing it wasn’t his style.

La Rosa was your typical dimly lit “upscale” restaurant in a town that had few economic resources. In short, it had become a requisite date spot. If you didn’t bring your date to La Rosa within the first three months, no matter how enthusiastically the both of you sneered at the price tag attached to such mediocre fare, it was over. Mike had made that mistake in 10th grade with a girl named Mary Hopkins. He’d thought he’d lucked out and found a girl who could see through the bullshit, but it turned out her unspoken adherence to the rule had created just another web of bullshit to tear down.

Mike shook his head to rid himself of unbidden memories. Nothing was going to ruin this opportunity unless they decided to reject it on their own terms.

Billie Joe asked the hostess where the rep from Columbia Records was seated and she led them to a table in the corner. A woman dressed in a smart blazer and a taut skirt offered her hand to each of them in turn. Her smile only lifted up one corner of her mouth, Mike noticed, and etched on the other side of her face was a deep laugh line. Something told Mike it hadn’t been carved by laughter, however. He thought she looked more like a crafty politician than someone who loved music so much she’d made it her job. He, Billie Joe, and Tré sat down nervously.

“I’m Sonia Raymond, and, as you know, I work A&R for Columbia. It’s nice to finally put faces to the sound.” She picked up her menu, and the guys followed her example after glancing discretely at each other for confirmation. “I was thinking we could start discussing the deal we at Columbia have lined out for you after we order.”

Mike scanned the menu that he should have known so well, only to find it as foreign as a subway map of Tokyo written in Japanese. His head swam as he tried to focus on food instead of his overwhelming urge to vomit and run away from the whole meeting. He brushed some sweat from his hairline, praying the move went unobserved. Mike knew if he showed visible signs of panicking, Billie Joe would outpace him in a second; he had to remain cool and pretend to know what he was talking about.

Looking to his left, Mike saw that Billie Joe seemed to be having similar problems concentrating on the menu’s offerings—his eyes had remained fixated on the same spot for far too long. To his right, Tré exuded his usual boyish confidence, but Mike picked up on an almost manic note hidden within his hum of concentration. All three of them weren’t quite themselves, although Ms. Raymond gave off the impression that she was very capable of ignoring other people, instead glued to her menu.

Billie Joe sighed audibly when a waiter appeared to ask for their order. The entire band welcomed this respite from the awkward silence, and suddenly Mike knew that he wanted the chicken parmesan. After the waiter left, Tré jumped in before there could be another lapse into silence by complimenting the exec’s blazer.

“Thank you…” She paused, clearly unable to remember his name. When nobody supplied her with one she asked, “Which one are you again?”

Mike didn’t particularly care for her phrasing. To be honest, he hadn’t expected the very start of the meeting to be so dehumanizing; they hadn’t even broken open the details yet. He cringed.

“It’s Tré.”

“Well thank you, Tré,” Ms. Raymond said again. She then picked up a folder that had been sitting on the table since before they’d gotten there. “Shall we start by discussing Columbia’s vision for you while we wait?”

Green Day nodded in unison.

Pushing a sheet of paper towards them, she began. “Columbia is prepared to invest $80,000 into your band, and as you can see if you look at this chart,” she pointed at a simple pie chart, “about $20,000 will go into recording your album. That includes production costs, studio time, mixing and mastering. Another $20,000 will pay your manager.”

“What’s the remaining $40,000? It says here…marketing?” Mike hadn’t been particularly bad at math in school, and he couldn’t help but wonder why only 25% of the money went towards making them sound the best they could when twice that amount was dedicated to what he assumed would be their image.

Ms. Raymond nodded. “Yes. That’s how we’ll ensure that Columbia makes a return on its investment, and how we’ll keep you guys from defaulting on the original loan.”

“Wait!” Tré interjected. “You mean we have to pay the 80 grand back?” He stared at her incredulously. Mike gaped, and Billie Joe swallowed, fiddling with his hands in his lap.

“Well yes,” she chuckled, amazed at their naivety, “you don’t think we’d just hand you that amount of money, do you? The music business involves a lot of risk. Who can say what’s going to be popular tomorrow? That’s why we have this sum for marketing.”

Billie Joe pulled the paper with all the money information closer to him and studied it, eyes narrowed. “This line graph here, what is it?”

“Oh, that? That shows your likely monetary returns over the next two years, as long as your record does well and you have a successful tour.”

“Why the fuck does it start off in the negatives, then? ‘Scuse my language.”

Mike smirked, nerves obliterated by the dark hilarity of the situation. Even Billie Joe’s sense of injustice had trumped the anxiety he’d brought with him to the table. Tré, on the other hand, was starting to look around behind him, anticipating his food much more now that he knew the meeting was likely to be a crapshoot.

Ms. Raymond folded her hands calmly. “You have to make over the initial $80,000 to make a personal profit. Columbia expects its seed money back.”

“Yeah, and what about after that’s paid back? How much money does Columbia continue to make off of us?” Billie Joe’s brows furrowed as he tapped the line graph, which really didn’t convey very much information. Mike was reminded of the Two Dollar Bill he knew in high school, the boy whose negotiations with his supplier had allowed him to sell joints for the price that earned him his nickname.

For once, the A&R woman seemed visibly flustered, unable to come up with a reply as quickly as she had been doing. She licked her lips. “The starting rate is 85%.”

Mike choked, although there was still no food to choke on. “Eighty-five percent for us, or for Columbia?” he clarified.

“You’ll be able to re-negotiate the terms once you have a successful sophomore release.”

“…So, Columbia.” Billie Joe relaxed backwards into his chair, signaling to Mike and Tré that they should kick back and enjoy the meal, because that was all they were going to get out of this.

Fittingly, the food arrived some 20 seconds later.
♠ ♠ ♠
Tough luck for the boys, eh?