A Friend of the Bride'sbyreluctant_quill©
The music in my studio headphones faded away and I relaxed a bit, finally satisfied. That take had been just what I'd been aiming for. After fourteen shots at that passage, I'd wondered if I was ever going to be able to sing it exactly the way I had envisioned it in my mind. Some of the takes had been very, very close, but I was a bit of a perfectionist.
My producer's mike opened with a click, and I could hear his applause, just as I knew I would. His ear was as finely tuned as mine and he'd heard that I'd nailed it. It always amazed me how he could be as patient with me as he was.
"Great, Tim. You were really on today. We're going to call that a wrap for the weekend. If you keep this up, your next Grammy is guaranteed."
I pushed the microphone away and slid down off of my padded leather stool.
"Thanks Alan. I guess we'll just have to wait and see."
He was probably right, but I still had trouble believing that my fans still be in sync with my eclectic musical tastes. As always, I was taking some risks with this album. Still, I knew I should put more faith in Alan; he taught me everything I know about the business.
"Oh, by the way," he said, "There's a call holding for you. Some girl who says she's a friend of yours from back home." As far as anyone in Hollywood knew, I had no history before arriving in town five years ago. Alan gave me a curious look through the glass.
Me? I wasn't curious about the call – I was scared to death. I'd been dreading this day for a long time and now it was here. Apprehensively, I picked up the extension.
"Hi, is this Tim Schwartz?"
"No, this is Tim Merrick," I said, trying to conceal the surprise in my voice. Tim Schwartz. I hadn't heard that name in a long time.
"I know, but you used to be Tim Schwartz."
It wasn't a question; it was a statement of conviction. She seemed awfully sure of herself.
"Who is this?"
"Tim, don't you recognize my voice? It's me, Amy Decker."
Oh my God! Amy!
I had known Amy since junior high and she was quite simply the most desirable girl I had ever met. She had been beautiful, outgoing, self-assured and had always seemed to have a crowd around her. Head cheerleader, Prom queen, you name it – she'd been the most popular girl in the school. The problem was that for most of the time she had known me, she would never so much as give me the time of day. It was like I'd been completely invisible to her.
Why Amy treated me that way during those years was no great mystery. During junior high and our first year of high school, I was a short, pudgy nerd – one of the outcast crowd. It didn't help that my self-esteem was poor – the result of a stunningly abusive home life.
I was raised the only child of a drug-addicted teenaged mom and her succession of low-life boyfriends. My grandparents had disowned her (and by extension, me) because of her disgrace. She claimed that all she knew about my father was that she had slept with him at a frat party she'd crashed and she thought he might have been a musician. My mom never tried to hide the fact that she thought getting pregnant with me had wrecked her entire life and how she was sorry that she been too stoned to get an abortion when she could. How I escaped The Clinic, I'll never know. Just lucky I guess.
I had been awkward and painfully shy as a child. The few times during those years when I'd been in situations where Amy was actually forced to speak to me, it felt to me like she was the queen who was being forced to deal with the fishmonger.
Tonight was the first time she had ever initiated a conversation with me.
"Um. Hi Amy." There was no sense in denying who I was. If she'd managed to track me down here, the gig was already up. But how had she found me?
My life had started to change about halfway through my sophomore year. I managed to get a job that forced me to deal with the public and I soon became more confident in talking to people. I also got my long overdue growth spurt. Unfortunately, while I was now tall and relatively handsome, with nearly normal people skills, institutional momentum kept me at the bottom of the high school food chain.
Amy had been so far above me in the social pecking order that it should have been ludicrous for me to have even contemplated asking her out. Nevertheless, all through our last two years of high school she could count on my finding her in the hall each Friday afternoon and asking her for a date.
Why? I was in love with her, pure and simple. Some strange and inexplicable instinct told me that as unlikely as it seemed, Amy was the girl for me and I was the guy for her. I really didn't care about her popularity or even her unparalleled beauty; there was something deeper that attracted me to her. I was somehow completely convinced that we belonged together. Until I could persuade her, though, I just wanted to be near her. If presenting myself weekly for another rejection was what it took to get her to actually speak to me, that's what I'd do.
It's not that I got off on being rejected. Every time she gently sent me packing I vowed I would never ask her again, but somehow by the next Friday I just couldn't help myself. It was like I was helpless around her – a moth drawn to her flame.
I could feel that flame now, even over the phone.
"So you are Tim Schwartz," Amy asked persistently. God, I was still in love with that voice.
"I was, Amy." I tried and mostly succeeded in keeping the rising excitement out of my voice. "But that's all part of a life that's far in the past. I'd prefer to keep it that way. How did you get this number?"
The first few times I had asked Amy out, she had seemed irritated that one of the 'dweeb-squad' would dare to even approach her, but as I kept it up week after week, I thought I saw grudging respect for my persistence in her eyes. Not that she would ever have said yes, but it had to have been flattering to be asked again and again in the face of such long odds.
At least she was never cruel about it. As a matter of fact, I'd have sworn that she actually wanted to say yes, but somehow just couldn't bring herself to do it. Through it all, though, I was always in awe of her and would have jumped off a bridge for her had she deigned to ask it. Alas, she seemed to have no such use for me.
The real problem with my fixation on Amy was that I could never bring myself to go out with the kind of girls that were actually in my social strata. I don't think I actually have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I do tend to be intensively single-minded at times. As a result, I never even had a date during my high school career.
"Tim," she answered, "I saw your face on a CD at the record store a couple of weeks ago. The beard and mustache threw me, you looked totally different than I remembered you, but I'll never forget your eyes. I've seen you on TV a bunch of times, but the CD really showed the detail. That intense, steely blue stare isn't something you see every day."
I knew it! I should have stood my ground. I had managed to keep my face off of my first two album covers, but for the third, the executive producer had insisted on it. I'd finally given in; hoping that the likelihood of a guy like Tim Schwartz becoming a major recording star was so ludicrous no one back home would make the connection. It had almost worked.
"Your label wouldn't give me any information when I called them," Amy continued, "but they did give me your agent's number. After I told him the story about how I knew you in high school, he gave me this number."
I knew very well that the only reason my agent would breach my privacy like that would be if there were good odds of some juicy publicity for his client. I vowed that there would be nothing for the tabloids resulting from this conversation.
How incredibly wrong I would be.
"Tim, what on Earth happened? You disappear for years and now you turn up as one of the biggest acts in the business?"
The afternoon after graduation, I had left for southern California. I knew that my futile obsession with Amy probably wasn't healthy and I needed to put some distance between us. My mom and her latest boyfriend were on another drinking binge that day and hadn't even made it to the ceremony. No big surprise there. I didn't bother to say goodbye when I packed my meager belongings into my beat-up Buick and headed west.
The first thing I did when I arrived on the coast was to seek out contacts in the shady underworld. The kind of crowds my mom hung out with had prepared me to deal with people like that, even if I had sworn I would never be one of those people myself. Using my new contacts, I spent all of the money I had saved to make Tim Schwartz disappear. If my mom didn't want me in her life, fine, I'd make sure we kept it that way. I was going to erase my first eighteen years as if they never happened. You think I'm callous? I have cigarette burn scars from when I was six months old if you want to see callous.
I suppose I could have just kept a low profile or legally changed my name, but I rarely do anything I'm passionate about halfway. Instead, I did the bit where I assumed a complete new identity - new social security number, fake school transcripts, the whole nine yards. In this day of government databases, that's not as easy as it used to be, but it can be done if you find the right people and are willing to spend the money. I did and I was.
I worked road construction on the night shift to pay my way through two years of college, striving for a better future for myself. By the time I started my junior year at UCLA, though, I discovered that just being socially awkward wasn't enough to make me a whiz at computer science. I couldn't get excited about any other major, but I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in construction. I hadn't the first clue what I was going to do with my life.
Add to that, my girlfriend had moved out and rent was two months overdue. My car needed repairs that I didn't have money for and my student loans would come due if I dropped out of the classes that I couldn't afford. Tim Merrick hadn't exactly set the world on fire. Just when things seemed to be at their worst though, I got very lucky.
I was with some of the guys in a bar downtown, half drunk and up on stage to sing karaoke for the first time in my life – the result of losing a sucker's bet with the crew. It came as a huge shock to the guys – and even more to me – to find that my awkward shyness morphed into complete mastery of the song and crowd the second the music started. I had only sung in the shower before and hey, everyone sounds good in the shower. I honestly hadn't had the first clue that I had that kind of raw talent.
It's a ridiculous cliché, having a big-time record exec out in the audience, but that's the way it worked for me. Two weeks later I was in a studio on a provisional contract, learning my craft. I realize that's not the way it's usually done – I hadn't paid any of my musical dues – but the exec had seen something he'd liked and I became his pet project. The exec set me up with Alan as my mentor and assigned him the task of finding what genre I fit best into.
I'd always been a huge fan of such diverse acts as Tracy Chapman, Dave Matthews, and Dire Straits, but my biggest influence had been a lesser-known jazz artist named Bob Merrick. I was a huge fan and had even stolen his last name when I created my new identity. His music moved me in ways that were almost impossible to describe, and when my now familiar fusion of pop, jazz and soul began to take form, Merrick's influence was plain to hear.
When my first album went platinum, Alan became a studio legend and the exec got moved up to the corner office. No one was more surprised than me. I got an agent and did a quick renegotiation of my contract. As my record sales continued to rocket upwards and large concert venues started to fill, I got so busy with my unexpectedly successful career that thoughts of Amy and my old life slowly began to fade.
Those thoughts were back with a vengeance now, though.
So what had happened?
"Amy," I answered, "there was nothing left for me back home. I made a clean break and somehow everything just kind of came together for me."
"Wow. I want to hear all about it!"
As always, there was no way I could say no to her. She was warm and friendly and we got to talking as if we had been great pals who had somehow just lost touch since graduation. I was so surprised by the change in her that I just went along with it and we 'caught up' on all of the things that had gone on in each other's lives.
I wasn't one of those spoiled Hollywood flakes who needed a baby-sitter, so the crew just waved at me through the glass as they left for the weekend, knowing that I'd lock up when I left. Alan gave me a big wink and threw me a kiss as he went out the door. He just wouldn't give up hope that I'd come to bat for the other team. I was sure he'd want to hear all about this call on Monday, but I vowed that he'd be disappointed about that too.
It was completely surreal. As I sat in the eerily quiet studio booth, lit only by the green glow of the exit sign, Amy and I talked for over two hours, but it seemed like minutes. It was wonderful after all these years to finally have a real conversation with her, but the logical side of my mind was waiting for her to get to the part about how she'd taken a blow to the head and woken from a coma realizing that she'd been wrong about me. I wanted to ask her what had caused this radical change, but I was scared that I might break the spell.
"Tim, it's been so great getting to talk to you again, but I have to admit that I had an ulterior motive in calling you."
Oh boy, here it was.
"What is it?" I asked, trying to keep the fear out of my voice.
"Tim, I'm getting married later this summer and I'd like you to come and sing at my wedding."
My heart sank. It sounded like Amy wanted a 'name' singer at her society wedding and I was elected. Damn this wretched business!
So here it was, my big chance to tell her that I had moved on to bigger and better things and no longer worshipped the ground she walked on. I could have honestly told her that I had finally conquered my social awkwardness and had my pick of any number of beautiful, star-struck girls.
So did I get my revenge and tell her where to stick her little wedding? Of course not. I enthusiastically told her yes and cleared that weekend from my recording schedule.
* * * * *
Over the next couple of months, Amy would call me every few days with updates on the planning for the wedding and for my opinions, first on music choices, then later on all kinds of issues. We'd invariably get to talking and run her phone bill way up. I was suspicious at first, but gradually I warmed up to the idea that just maybe she was interested in more than just having a big star show up for her wedding. It seemed like we genuinely connected. I found that despite her popularity in high school, she was actually very down-to-earth. More and more, I came to believe that my instincts had been right – she seemed to be the perfect girl for me. I got to know her far better than I had ever known any woman before and fell in love with her all over again. It never left my mind though, the real reason she had tracked me down.
During our last conversation before the wedding, Amy somehow sounded like she was nervous about something. I asked her if there was something wrong.
"Well, Tim, I'm going to have a big surprise for you before the wedding, but I'm kind of anxious about it."
"A surprise? Can you at least give me a hint as to what it is?"
"No, but I think you'll like it."
* * * * *
I flew back into my old hometown the day before the wedding rehearsal. Amy lived in Boston now, but the wedding was here on the Gulf Coast where the rest of her family lived. The news of my new identity had reportedly spread around town, but the major media hadn't picked it up yet.
I was a bit nervous about my seedy past becoming public, but my mom had passed away from a heroine overdose eight months before, leaving the biggest reason for my identity change moot. The only reason I'd even known she was gone was that the 'return to sender' on the Christmas card I sent her was in someone else's handwriting this time. She had never been much of a mom to me, so I'd been surprised by how much the news had hurt. They had buried her without me.
I would gladly have given up my fame and fortune to have a real family. My mom was the only family I'd ever had and I'd found out early that none of her white trash relatives wanted anything to do with me. I sure wouldn't approach them now – I'd found that having money affects the way people act around you. I wasn't going to buy their love.
I'd had no luck creating a family of my own, either. None of the girls I'd dated before my big musical career got under way were the kind of women that I'd want to settle down with. Since then, half the women I'd been with seemed to want to latch onto me, but the curse of my fame and fortune was that I could never be sure that they weren't just after my money.
That left my father, but I doubted that even my mom had actually known who he was. If she had, the secret had died with her.
As the once-a-day puddle jumper turned onto it's downwind leg before landing, I noted wistfully the beautiful private jet parked at the charter terminal. That was exactly how most of my peers in the industry would have arrived, complete with an entourage, but I just couldn't make myself spend that kind of money.
Sure, I had that kind of money, I had recently finished a world tour supporting my third number-one album and my investment portfolio had done superbly as well. I could have afforded to retire for the rest of my life in that kind of style right then, but I just couldn't see myself as the kind of person who deserved to be pampered like that. I recognized that it was shades of the poor self-esteem that had haunted me all my life, but I was powerless to do anything about it.
Truth to tell, I didn't see myself as a star either. Even with all the crazy fans, the groupies, the fawning record executives and concert promoters, I still saw myself as the same old Tim, the one who longed for a simple middle-class lifestyle. You know the cliché – nine-to-five job, mortgage, loving wife, two point three kids and a dog. Pure heaven. True, it's human nature to always want whatever it is that we don't have, but I had never asked for all this Hollywood high-roller crap.
The cab got me to the hotel just in time to meet up with the guys for the bachelor party. I recognized several of them from high school and I was worried about their reaction to me. Back when we were in school I was the dweeb they all ignored, but now I was this big international sensation. Mercifully, they took the middle road and treated me like one of the gang. It felt great to be able to let my hair down and relax. I had a good time quaffing a half a gallon of Schlitz, doing shots, trading filthy, perverted jokes and sliding dollar bills into g-strings. The guys seemed to take a liking to me and invited me to play nine holes with them after the wedding rehearsal.
During the last of numerous trips to the urinal, one of the drunken groomsmen, Steve, even let slip to me that Amy's fiancé had slept with one of the bridesmaids at a Christmas party last winter, just a couple of weeks before getting engaged to Amy. Knowing what I did about the groom's background, this didn't surprise me at all.
As far as I can remember, everyone seemed to have a great time. The next morning though, I was regretting the party a bit. My head was pounding, my eyes were bleary and I wanted to curse whatever moron had decided to schedule the rehearsal for ten in the morning.