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       Spin, p.1

           Catherine McKenzie
 
Spin


  Spin

  Catherine McKenzie

  Dedication

  For my grandparents,

  Roy and Dorothy McKenzie

  and

  For my friends—

  Best. Friends. Ever.

  Contents

  Dedication

  Chapter 1: Must Love Music

  Chapter 2: Redemption Song

  Chapter 3: Houston, We Have a Problem

  Chapter 4: Hi, Katie!

  Chapter 5: No Rest for the Wicked

  Chapter 6: One Step, Two Step, Three Step, Four

  Chapter 7: God Knows

  Chapter 8: You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello

  Chapter 9: The Monkey on My Back

  Chapter 10: Sing Along If You Know the Words

  Chapter 11: Apple Peels and Other Fairy Tales

  Chapter 12: Messages Sent and Received

  Chapter 13: Trust Me

  Chapter 14: Visiting Rights

  Chapter 15: This Means War

  Chapter 16: Technical Difficulties

  Chapter 17: It’s Going to Be a Bumpy Ride

  Chapter 18: In a Family Way

  Chapter 19: The Last Thing I Have to Do

  Chapter 20: Pavlovian Response to Bullshit

  Chapter 21: Detritus

  Chapter 22: The Boys Are Back in Town

  Chapter 23: Fade to Black

  Chapter 24: Hold On Until You Can Let Go

  Chapter 25: The Prisoner’s Dilemma

  Chapter 26: Apologies

  Chapter 27: Running to Stand Still

  Katie’s Playlist

  Acknowledgments

  Arranged Bonus Chapter

  About the Author

  Praise

  Credits

  Copyright

  Back Ad

  About the Publisher

  Chapter 1

  Must Love Music

  This is how I lose my dream job.

  It’s the day before my thirtieth birthday when I get the call from The Line, only the most prestigious music magazine in the world, maybe the universe. OK, maybe Rolling Stone is number one, but The Line is definitely second.

  I’ve wanted to write for The Line for as long as I can remember. It still blows me away that people get paid to work there since I’d pay good money just to be allowed to sit in on a story meeting. Hell, I’d sit in on a recycling committee meeting if it’d get me in the front door.

  So, it’s no surprise that I almost fall off my chair when I see their ad in the Help Wanted section one lazy Sunday morning. I sprint to my computer and wait impatiently for my dial-up to connect. (Yes, I still have dial-up. It’s all this struggling writer can afford.) When the scratchy whine silences, I call up their webpage and click on the “Work for Us!” tab, as I have too many unsuccessful times before, and there it is. A job, a real job!

  The Line seeks self-motivated writer for staff position. Must love music more than money because this job pays jack, brother! Send your CV and music lover credentials to [email protected]

  I spend the next twenty-four hours agonizing over the “music lover credentials” portion of my application. How am I supposed to narrow down my musical influences to the three lines provided? Then again, how am I going to get a job writing about music if I can’t even list my favorite bands?

  In the end I let iTunes pick for me. If I’ve listened to a song 946 times (which, incidentally, is the number of times I’ve apparently played KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”), I must really like it, right? Not a perfect system, but better than the over-thought-out lists sitting balled up in my wastepaper basket.

  And it works. A few days later I receive an email with a written interview attached. I have forty-eight hours to complete the questionnaire and submit it. If I pass, I’ll get a real, in-person interview on The Line’s premises! Just the thought of it has me doing a happy dance all over my living room.

  Thankfully, the questionnaire is a breeze. Pick five Dylan songs and explain why they’re great. Pick five Oasis songs and explain why they suck. What do you think the defining sounds of this decade will be? Go see a band you’ve never seen before and write five hundred words about it. Buy a CD from the country section and listen to it five times. Write five hundred words on how it made you feel.

  I stay up all night chain-smoking cigarettes and working my way through two of my roommate Joanne’s bottles of red wine. She’s always buying wine (as an “investment,” she says), but she never drinks any of it. What a waste!

  When the sun comes up, I read through what I’ve written, and if I do say so myself, it’s a thing of beauty. There isn’t a question I stutter over, an opinion I don’t have. I’ve even written it in The Line’s signature style.

  I’ve been waiting for this opportunity forever, and I’m not going to fuck it up.

  At least, not yet.

  The next two weeks are agony. My brain is spinning with negative thoughts. Maybe I don’t really know anything about music? Maybe they don’t want someone who can merely parrot their signature style? Maybe they’re looking for some new style, and I’m not it? Maybe they should call me before I lose my goddamn mind!

  When the spinning becomes overwhelming, I try to distract myself. I clean our tiny apartment. I invent three new ramen noodle soup recipes. I see a few bands and write reviews for the local papers I freelance for. I clean out my closet, sort all my mail, and return phone calls I’ve been putting off for months. I even write a thank-you letter to my ninety-year-old grandmother for the birthday check she sent me on my sister’s birthday.

  I spend the rest of the time alternating between obsessively reading The Line’s website (including six years of back issues I’ve read countless times before) and watching a young star’s life explode all over the tabloids.

  Amber Sheppard, better known as “The Girl Next Door” (or “TGND” for short), after the character she played from ages fourteen to eighteen on the situation comedy called—wait for it—The Girl Next Door, is Hollywood’s latest It Girl. When her show was canceled, she starred in two successful teen horror flicks, followed by a serious, Oscar-nominated performance for her turn as Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. She’s been working nonstop since, and has four movies scheduled to premier in the next five months.

  When she wrapped the fourth film just after her twenty-third birthday, she announced she was taking a well-deserved, undisclosed period of time off to relax and regroup.

  And that’s when the shit hit the fan.

  Anyone really seeking relaxation would rent a cabin in the woods and drop out of sight. But not TGND. She partied all night, slept all day, and dropped twenty pounds from one photograph to the next. There were rumors appearing on such reliable sources as people.com, TMZ, and Perez Hilton that she’s into some serious drugs. There were other rumors, of the Enquiring kind, that her family had staged an intervention and packed her off to rehab. It seems like there’s a new story, a new outrageous photograph, a new website devoted to her every move every day, and I read them all.

  Such is the fuel that keeps my idling brain from going crazy as I wait and wait.

  The call from The Line finally comes the day before my birthday at 8:55 in the morning.

  Mornings are never good for me, and this morning my fatigue is compounded by the combination of another bottle of Joanne’s investment wine, and the riveting all-night television generated by TGND’s escape from rehab (turns out The Enquirer was right). She lasted two days before peeling off in her white Ford hybrid SUV, and the paparazzi who follow her every move captured it from a hundred angles. It was O.J. all over again (sans, you know, the whole murdering your ex-wife thing), and the footage played in an endless loop on CNN, etc., for hours. I’d finally tired of it around three. The phone shatters my REM
sleep what feels like seconds later.

  “Mmmph?”

  “Is this Kate Sandford?”

  “Mmm.”

  “This is Elizabeth from The Line calling? We wanted to set up an interview?” Her voice rises at the end of each sentence, turning it into a question.

  I sit bolt upright, my heart in my throat. “You do?”

  “Are you available at nine tomorrow?”

  Tomorrow. My birthday. Damn straight I’m available.

  “Yes. Yes, I’m available.”

  “Great. So, come to our offices at nine and ask for me? Elizabeth?”

  “That’s great. Perfect. I’ll see you then.”

  I throw back the covers, spring from bed, and break into my happy dance.

  This is the best birthday present ever! I’m going to nail this! After years and years of writing for whoever would have me, I’m going to finally get to write for a real magazine! For the magazine. Yes, yes, yes!

  “Katie, what the hell are you doing?” Joanne is standing in the doorway looking pissed. Her curly orange hair forms a halo around her pale face. She looks like Little Orphan Annie, all grown up. Her robe is even that red-trimmed-with-white combination that Annie always wears.

  “Celebrating?”

  “Do you know what time it is?”

  I check the clock by my bedside. “Nine?”

  “That’s right. And what time do I start work today?”

  I know this is a trick question.

  “You don’t?”

  “That’s right, it’s my day off. So why, pray tell, are you dancing around and whooping like you’re at a jamboree?”

  Despite the inquisition, my heart gives a happy beat. “Because I just got the most fabulous job interview in the world.”

  Joanne isn’t diverted by my obvious happiness. “I think the answer you were looking for is, ‘Because I’m an inconsiderate roommate who doesn’t care about anyone but herself.’ ”

  “Joanne . . .”

  “Just keep it down.” She turns on her heel and storms away.

  As I watch her leave, I wonder for the hundredth time why I’m still living with her. (I answered her in-search-of-a-roommate ad on craigslist three years ago, and we’ve had a love-hate relationship ever since.) Of course, she’s clean, pays her share of the rent on time, and never wakes me up when I’m trying to sleep in because she’s yelping with joy.

  Then again, I’ve never seen Joanne yelp with joy . . .

  Ohmygod! I have an interview at The Line!

  I resume my whooping dance with the sound off.

  I spend the rest of the day vacillating between extreme nervousness and supreme confidence. In between emotional fluctuations, I agonize over what I should wear to the interview. I lay the options out on my bed:

  1) Black standard business suit that my mother gave me for my university graduation. She thought I’d have all kinds of job interviews to wear it to. Sorry, Mom.

  2) Skinny jeans, kick-ass boots, T-shirt from an edgy, obscure nineties band, black corduroy blazer.

  3) Black clingy skirt and gray faux-cashmere sweater with funky jewelry.

  I settle on option three, hoping it strikes the right balance between professional and what I think the atmosphere at The Line will be: hip, serious, but not too serious.

  In the late afternoon, I receive a text from my second-best friend, Greer.

  U free 2nite?

  No. Very important blah, blah am.

  Must celebrate bday.

  Bday 2morrow.

  Aware. Exam in 2 days. Party 2nite.

  No.

  Insisting.

  Must sleep. Need beauty for blah, blah.

  Never be pretty enough to rely on looks for blah, blah. Still insisting.

  LOL. Need new friend. Still can’t.

  Expecting u @ F. @ 8. Won’t take no for answer.

  No.

  LOL. 1 drink.

  It never ends with 1.

  Will 2nite, promise.

  Can’t.

  I’m $$.

  Well . . . maybe just 1.

  Excellent. CU @ 8.

  I throw down the phone with a smile, and try to decide whether any of my outfits will do for a night out with my university-aged friends.

  I’m a nearly thirty-year-old with university-aged friends because the only way I’ve been able to survive since I graduated (and the bank stopped loaning me money) is to keep living like I did when I was a student, right down to scamming as much free food and alcohol as possible on the university wine-and-cheese circuit. I met Greer this way two groups of friends ago. She’s the only one who stuck post-graduation. She thinks I’m a fellow graduate student who writes music articles on the side to pay for my education and that tomorrow’s my twenty-fifth birthday.

  My own-age friends have all moved to nicer parts of the city. They work in law firms and investment banks, have dark circles under their eyes and pale skin. Their annual salaries are twice what it cost me to educate myself, and the only wine and cheeses they go to are the cocktail parties given by their firms to woo new clients.

  They mostly don’t approve of the way I live—the part they know about anyway—but I mostly don’t care. Because I’m doing it. I’m living my childhood dream of being a music writer. It’s not a well-paying life, but it’s the life I’ve chosen. On most days, I’m happy.

  If I get this job at The Line, I’ll be over the freaking moon.

  Shortly after eight, I meet Greer at our favorite pub in my number two outfit: skinny jeans tucked into burgundy boots, obscure-band T-shirt, and black corduroy blazer to keep the spring night at bay.

  The pub has an Irish-bar-out-of-a-box feel to it (hunter green wallpaper, dark oak bar, mirrored Guinness signs behind it, a whiff of stale lager), but we like its laid-back atmosphere, cheap pints, and occasional Irish rugby team.

  Greer is sitting on her usual stool flirting with the bartender. The Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling” is playing on the sound system. She orders me a beer and a whiskey shot as I sit down next to her.

  “Hey, you promised one drink.”

  “A shot’s not a drink. It’s just a wee introduction to drinking.”

  Greer is from Scotland. She has long auburn hair, green eyes, porcelain skin, and an accent that drives men wild. Sometimes I hate her.

  Tonight she’s wearing a soft sweater the color of new grass that exactly matches her eyes and a broken-in pair of jeans that fits her tall, slim frame perfectly. I’m glad I took the time to blow out my chestnut-colored hair and put on the one shade of mascara that makes my eyes look sky blue. Nobody wants to be outshone at their almost-thirtieth-birthday party.

  She clinks her shot against mine. “Happy birthday, lass. Drink up.”

  I really shouldn’t, but . . . what the hell? Tomorrow is my birthday.

  I drink the shot, and take a few long gulps of my beer to chase it down.

  “Thanks, Greer.”

  “Welcome. So, tell me about this very important interview. Is it for a post-doc position?”

  A post-doc position? Oh, right, that bad job you get after your Ph.D. Biggest downside to the fake-student personality? Keeping track of my two lives.

  “Nope . . . Actually, I’m thinking of going in another direction. It’s a job writing for a music magazine.”

  “Well, well, the bairn’s growing up.”

  Greer is always tossing out colloquial Scottish expressions like “bairn” (meaning child), “steamin’ ” (meaning drunk), and her ultimate insult, “don’t be a scrounger” (meaning buy me a drink, you miserly bastard). Depending on the number of drinks she’s consumed, it’s sometimes impossible to understand her without translation.

  “Had to happen sometime.”

  The bartender, Steve, brings us two more shots that Greer pays for with a smile. He only charges her for about a quarter of what she drinks, but since I’m often the beneficiary of his generosity, who’s complaining?

  She pushes one of the shot
s toward me.

  “No, I can’t.”

  “A wee dram won’t hurt you.”

  “There’s no way anyone actually says ‘wee dram’ anymore. That’s just for the tourists, right?”

  “I canna’ break the code of honor of my country. Now drink up, lass, before I drink it for you.”

  I upend the shot and nearly choke on it when Scott claps me hard on the back. He’s a history major I met about a year ago at, you guessed it, a wine and cheese. We bonded while arguing over who had deeper knowledge of U2 and the Counting Crows (me, and me). His athletic body, sandy hair, and frank face are easy on the eyes, and given our mutual single status, I’m not quite sure why we’ve never hooked up. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s twenty-two, which puts him on the outside edge of my half-plus-seven rule. (30 ÷ 2 + 7 = 22. A good rule to live by to avoid age-inappropriate romantic entanglements.)

  Scott orders another round. When it comes, he slides shot number three my way. I protest, but he flashes his blue eyes and wide smile, and talks me into it. Into that, and the next one. When Rob and Toni arrive a little while later, they buy the next two. And when those are gone, the room gets fuzzy and I lose count of the drinks that come next.

  The rest of the night passes in a flash of images: Rob and Scott singing lewd rugby songs. Toni telling me she had a pregnancy scare the week before. Me blabbing on about how I’m going to nail my interview tomorrow, just nail it! Greer Coyote Ugly-ing it on the bar as Steve plies her with more shots. Someone dropping me off at my door, ringing the doorbell, and running away giggling. Joanne looking disappointed and resigned, then putting a blanket over me.

  I lie on our living room couch with the room spinning around me, happy I have so many good friends, and an awesome job waiting for me to take it.

  Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. I bring my watch to my face so I can see the glow-in-the-dark numbers. 3:40 a.m. I guess it’s today. Hey, it’s my birthday. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to me.

  “Katie!”

  Someone is shaking me violently.

  “Katie! Get up!”

 
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