RECKLESS SERENADE

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1. First Impressions

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My eyes strain against the sudden flood of light, unwilling to open.

Oh, god. I don't want to wake up.

In spite of my body telling me otherwise, I force myself awake, if not to get out of bed then at the very least, to check the time. Perhaps there would be time to squeeze in a few extra minutes of sleep.

The digital clock, with its flashing neon characters against a black background, was practically screaming 'Late, late, late!' right at me. I hurriedly scrambled up from bed even though my entire body was protesting, mentally berating myself for staying up so late last night. Then again, I really had to finish that article before the deadline of four.

Who the fuck sets a deadline at four in the morning? Crazy single magazine editors, that's who.

I scramble to the bathroom, hoping that my outfit, however haphazardly put together, is somewhat decent. We're having a staff meeting this morning, in lieu of some band or another having an exclusive interview with us this afternoon. I can't for the life of me remember their name, but apparently they are very popular across the pond, and Stereo Magazine is about to propel them to fame on this side of the Atlantic as well.

Before heading out, I take a quick look at myself in the mirror: black jeans, a decent blouse, minimal makeup and hair hastily tied back in a bun. I sigh to myself. Well, I don't have much time left to fix my mess of a bird's nest anyway.

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As I head out of the subway and brisk walk toward the office – really, in New York, you can't do anything besides brisk walking – I make a quick pit stop to my favourite café, a quaint little store called Have A Cuppa.

"Morning," I smile, already reaching into my bag for some money. "I'd like a black coffee to-go and a multi-grain bagel, please."

"Would you like the bagel heated up?"

"Nope, it's fine."

I'm in a rush anyway, I mentally add, though making sure not to let my irritation show. It's a skill that in journalism, you learn to control; having thick skin and a completely neutral face is an asset in an industry where one wrong move can get you killed, sometimes quite literally.

I grab my bagel and coffee, thanking the cashier once again, and head up to the offices.

Stereo Magazine has its headquarters right smack in the heart of New York, in a decent-sized office space on the second level of some building or another. It started out as a small indie magazine ten years ago, and eventually built up a loyal fan-base due to its well-written articles and analysis of the music industry, not just in America, but around the world as well. Since then, it has expanded to various parts of the globe, and I'm lucky enough to be able to intern at the New York office straight out of university.

As I climb up the steps, I take a quick look at my watch – it's almost nine, which is when our so-called 'urgent meeting' is taking place. I hurriedly place my half-eaten bagel on my desk – a tiny little thing in a corner of the office – and head to the meeting room, armed with caffeine.

I enter as surreptitiously as I can. It isn't hard, seeing as everyone is either still sleepy or preoccupied with watching our editor have a mental breakdown. Leonard's a good boss – a wonderful one, in fact – but he is prone to overreacting, much like many other people. Then again, no one's perfect.

"What's wrong with Leo?" I ask Henry, a graphic design intern, as I slip into the chair beside him and sip on my coffee.

He shrugs, causing the horn-rimmed glasses to slide down a bit. "No idea, he's been like that since I got here."

Leonard continues pacing up and down, small hands tangled in his curly brown hair, as if pulling at the roots. Then, he just stops. He looks up, eyes twinkling.

"You," he says, pointing a stubby finger at me. I swallow a bit.

Am I in trouble?

"You can replace her!" He clasps his hands together in glee and actually pats himself on the back.

"Wait, what's going on?" I ask, thoroughly confused. It's still early, and the caffeine hasn't quite kicked in yet.

He walks toward me, a predatory gleam in his eyes.

"Cheryl called in sick today, so she can't do the interview. But you can. You helped her prepare those questions, didn't you?" He laughs to himself. "Perfect! Perfect!"

Cheryl is my mentor-slash-supervisor, but really, we were more friends than anything else. She's five years older than me, twenty years more mature and never calls in sick, which makes this situation all the more odd.

Then it hits me. He wants me to do the interview.

But I don't even remember their name.

"Hold up, Leo," I interject, putting a hand up for emphasis. "I don't even remember what band it is!"

He gives me a look akin to that of disgust and sighs. "Just ask them the questions in the file, at least you have that, right? I'll be giving everyone a briefing on Verona now."

He returns to the front of the room and to address everyone.

"Good morning, kids. I hope you're all awake, because this is important."

At this, a few heads pop up. Evidently, I'm not the one suffering from sleep deprivation.

"For the past few weeks, Cheryl and I have been working on the plans for a major feature on the band, Verona. It will span across six issues, covering everything from their lives before fame to future plans for the band. Some of you might ask, who the fuck is Verona?

"They're a band based in London; yes, all of them are Brits. Four boys, all twenty-three: Cain McKellen, drummer; Astro White Junior, bassist; Michael Greed, guitarist; and Elliot Tate, guitarist-cum-lead singer. Their first album, Turn Off The Lights Before You Leave, was released last January and did very well on the charts. Their second album, Fork In The Road, was just released two weeks ago and they're starting their second world tour tomorrow night, right here in New York. Even though they're incredibly popular in the UK, Americans barely about them. And we are going to change that. They are going to be the next big thing.

"Cheryl will be following the band on their world tour, writing journals and gathering information about their music, their lives – whatever she can find, really. Everything will be separated across those six issues I mentioned before; it'll give both Stereo and Verona great publicity. And it starts with an interview this afternoon."

At this, he looks at me pointedly, brown eyes sharp and slightly threatening.

"Seeing as she's not here, Andy will be conducting the interview, and the rest of you have the rest of the day to conduct research on the band for Cheryl to use when she joins them on tour."

There are some muffled sounds of protest at this. Why should a lowly intern like me be given the job of interviewing a potential up-and-coming band?

"I don't want any arguments. Andy and Cheryl worked on the interview questions and profiling criteria. Since Cheryl is not here, Andy will do the job. Period." His voice is firm and sure, nothing like the frantically pacing Leonard of ten minutes ago.

When everyone is dismissed, he pulls me aside.

"At the very least, go listen to some of their music before you interview them. I hand-picked you from NYU, I don't want to regret that decision."

"I'll do my best," I smile. It's heartening to know that at least some people believe in you.

I'm about to head to my desk when he pulls me back.

"One last thing," he says, voice stern. "Don't screw this up."

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I head into Mario's, a small family-run diner down the street from the office. It's a hidden gem that we bring our clients and visitors to whenever they pop by. Although it's not large, it's homely, furnished with heavy wood and brick-lined walls.

The smell of Italian food immediately wafts into my nose as I enter.

"Andy! Welcome back!" Mario greets me in a thick accent. A stout, rotund man in his fifties, Mario is the head chef who has well-known soft spot for us Stereo Magazine employees. "What would you like to order today, bella? Today's special is gnocchi with pomodoro sauce, spring chicken with tomato relish and proscuttio pizza."

I smile at his unwavering enthusiasm for food. "It's okay, Mario. I'm waiting for some people. Can I have a table for five?"

"Sure, sure!"

As I sit down, I try to remember what I searched up on the band. There wasn't much about them on the Internet, even though they're considered a huge breakthrough in terms of the indie and alternative rock scene. Most of their songs were pretty good though. I'm personally a fan of mellow tunes and slower songs, but in spite of that, I found myself bobbing my head to the catchy guitar riffs and energetic percussion. Even better was the fact that they layered their vocals amazingly well, and the lyrics were more than decent.

I'm just about to leave for the bathroom when I hear Mario's usual loud greeting.

"Welcome to Mario's!"

His voice is boisterous, even from this small corner of the restaurant.

The four band members make their way over, and I immediately plaster on the smile that I reserve for guests and far-flung relatives during Christmas.

I get up from my seat. "Hi guys, I'm Andy Fulham from Stereo Magazine. It's really nice to meet you guys."

The shortest guy – he's about my height, which isn't short at all – flashes me a large grin. "I'm Mike. This here is Astro, Cain and Elliot."

I quickly glance over the four band members; they're taller than I expected.

Mike, the one who just spoke up, has hair an enviable shade of strawberry blond, pulled back in a ponytail like one of those surfer dudes from California, and it seems the grin on his face is a permanent one. He has long, slim fingers, though callused at the tips – guitarist fingers. The tallest, Cain, is long and lanky, built like a beanpole, a single drumstick spinning in his right hand. Although he has a round, clean-shaven baby face and bright blue eyes, the shaved head and tattoos sneaking up both his forearms make him look a little dangerous. Astro, the bassist, sports a mini-mohawk. He is stockier than the rest, built like a wrestler and with a poker face to match. Finally, my eyes land on the lead singer cum guitarist, Elliot. He's undeniably the most attractive out of the lot. Like Mike, his fingers are long and callused from hours of pressing on metal strings, but he is taller. He is leanly muscled, shoulders broad and limbs long, dark hair just a little too messy and light brown eyes oddly unreadable, with all the looks of a frontman. On his face is a slight smirk – somewhere between the realm of nonchalance and smugness – directed at me.

Altogether, they are far from the quintessential boy band. Indeed, dressed in plain t-shirts (though Mike's proudly proclaims 'Who The Fuck Are The Arctic Monkeys?'on it) and worn-out jeans, they look more the part of a bunch of struggling artists, hoping to catch a big break.

After a short pause, where it seemed like everyone was sizing each other up, the rest mumbled some greeting or another. I motion for them to take a seat.

Lucy, Mario's daughter and part-time waitress, approaches us, menu in hand. She's a pretty thing, fresh out of high school and earning her keep while waiting for college to start, all thick hair and voluptuous curves.

Her eyes brighten up as she spots the four admittedly attractive men seated at the table and she winks at me, to which I raise my brows. At this, she laughs and thankfully, begins her usual spiel.

"Hey Andy and company, what would you guys like to have? Today's specials are homemade sweet potato gnocchi with vegetables in freshly made pomodoro sauce, a whole spring chicken roasted to perfection served with crispy wedges and tomato relish, and wood-fired thin-crust pizza with imported proscuttio ham, topped with pine nuts and arugula."

Lucy's always had a penchant for describing food in such a way that it makes your mouth water. I've been trying to convince her to pursue a career in food writing, but she refuses to budge, clinging on desperately to the law school dream.

The guys are perusing through the menu, which whilst limited in variety, more than made up for it in its quality. I wait for them to make the decision first – after all, as the unofficial 'host', it's never polite to order something that costs more than what your guests are having.

Surprisingly, Moody Astro orders first.

"I'll have a prawn aglio olio, extra spicy."

Mike's next. "Margherita pizza, please."

"I'd like the daily special, please. The sweet potato gnocchi," Cain pipes up.

"Aren't you going to order?" Elliot asks. It's the first time he's spoken, and the accent rolls off his tongue attractively.

He looks at me pointedly, as if issuing a challenge. I stare right back.

"No, you go ahead first."

There's a slight furrow in his brow, but he does so anyway. "I'll have the spring chicken special, thanks."

"And I'll have the usual."

I smile at Lucy, passing her the menus.

"Alright, your orders will be coming right up. I'll serve you guys some ice water shortly."

When she heads off, Mike asks, "What's your usual?"

"Pesto prawn salad, balsamic vinegar on the side." I smile to myself, already immersed in the thoughts of food. I hadn't eaten since that measly bagel from this morning. "I love vinegar."

From my periphery, I can tell that Elliot is trying to stifle a chuckle. It gets on my nerves, but I brush it off.

"Anyway, thanks so much for agreeing to do this," I begin, making sure to inject true gratitude into my words.

"Nah, it's our pleasure," Mike answers.

"Yeah, we've always wanted to come to New York," Cain adds. Their northern English accents are strong, not quite similar to the refined southern English accents I hear on BBC.

"I'm sure you guys will love it here. It's a bit bustling, but a brilliant city nevertheless." I take out my notepad, fingers poised to jot down notes. "Firstly, could you guys introduce yourselves?"

Elliot straightens up, as if it was his cue as the frontman of the band to answer this question.

"We're Verona, based in London. Made up of Cain on the drums, Astro on bass, Mike on guitar and me, Elliot, on guitar and vocals. We met at university in Warwick, then decided to start a band after we realised we were all pretty decent at playing instruments. We don't really have a specific genre and we don't want to either."

He sounds like he's rehearsed this speech thousands of times. I bite my tongue to keep from launching a sarcastic remark.

"Yes, that's very nice. But what about individual introductions?"

He glares at me, eyes flashing.

Mike looks at the two of us, aware of the slight tension in the air. He clears his throat and I'm grateful for the interruption.

"I'm Mike. I'm originally from Windermere, and I was studying Environmental Engineering before joining Verona. Most of the times I'm the diplomat for the group, 'cause nobody else wanted the job." He flashes a small smile at that. "Anyway, I play guitar and do backing vocals sometimes. I've got a mean falsetto."

Cain's next. "I was from Sheffield, and I spent most of my time at Warwick skipping lectures and tutorials anyway. But I was enrolled in Sociology. I picked up drums when I was eight, I think. My dad gave me a set as a gift, one of those mini ones."

When Astro speaks, I finally notice that his accent was slightly different from the rest. It was a little rougher, akin to Geordie. "I's from Newcastle, up north. I took Biochemistry down in Warwick and was on the wrestlin' team. Only started bass when we decided to form the band, couldn't play nothin' for nuts before that."

"I took Literature in uni, and was originally from Sheffield, like Cain, though we never knew each other before university. I've only been playing guitar since I was sixteen though." His voice is a rich baritone, as smooth as the vocals in their songs.

"That's great," I reply, making sure to smile at all of them even though Elliot's gaze was making me uncomfortable. "Alright, how'd you guys form the band?"

"We were bored, broke university students. The student lounge was giving away free instruments, so we thought, heck, why not," Cain answers with a shrug.

"All of us were good friends, stayed in the same college. And a couple of us could already play instruments, so it was a good way to keep occupied," Mike adds.

I nod, making sure to note that down. "Your style has been compared to many bands, ranging from The Strokes to Arctic Monkeys to The Pixies. Who would you cite as your musical influences?"

"Definitely the Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, The Smiths, Oasis, Radiohead…" Elliot replies, though he seems distracted by something or another, not engaged in the conversation. "There's more, but I can't really name them all. I'm pretty sure we're also influenced by some rap music and classic rock."

"Yeah, like Queen or Hendrix," Astro adds.

"Queen's great," I agree.

"Most of our music's about life in Britain, really. We all came from up north and I guess lots of people could relate to our lyrics, about getting shit-faced at pubs and whatnot," Elliot grins.

"But your new record's got some different material, hasn't it? More love songs, ballads and the like," I point out.

At this, Elliot stiffens a bit, but he answers anyway. "Yeah, we just draw whatever we can from our experiences. The past year's a bit of a struggle, really, all the newfound fame and all that."

"How'd you guys get your big break?"

Mike's the one who answers this time. "We started off playing gigs at the uni, giving out free demos and all that. Then people started passing them around and during the gigs, everyone started singing along to our songs, like they knew the lyrics. It was pretty damn cool."

"Yeah, there was even a page that we didn't know about," Cain laughs. "Fun times."

Mike nods, agreeing. "After that we just got called up by Stateland Records and got signed. Then we recorded our first album and went on a tour and made a second album."

"Honestly, that's pretty crazy. You guys are still pretty young," I admit. "How do you handle all the fame?"

"Our friends and family have been truly supportive. We're very blessed, I think," Elliot says. "When we go home and all, people still make sure not to treat us like we're super famous or summat."

"We all try to keep our heads grounded, and it's working alright so far, I think," Mike adds.

"Don't worry, you guys are far from industry snobs. Trust me," I reassure them. It's true – some musicians can be total dickheads. "Anyway, could you tell us more about your new album? How is it a departure from your first?"

"Well, Turn The Lights Off Before You Leave was more of an autobiography of our lives before the whole band thing started. Like, normal lives, you know? Coming home late, getting pissed, all that stuff," Mike says. "Fork in the Road is more experimental, I think. It's a collection of our reflections of new experiences, like being in the music industry and whatnot."

"It was all pretty crazy, and music helped us all handle it better," Elliot says. His tone is infuriatingly nonchalant.

I'm a bit pissed off at this point; at times, Elliot is perfectly pleasant and seems even reflective about his music, then he makes a comment like this, which reflects his utter smugness through the sheer tone of his voice.

I turn to Elliot, locking eyes with him. He doesn't flinch. "Elliot, is it liberating to have a nonchalant and smug attitude finally be socially acceptable?"

The words take a few seconds to sink in. And when they do, he's affronted. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

His voice, the rich baritone, replaying in my laptop for the past two hours, is now lined with threat and insult.

"I'm a journalist, Tate. I tell it like it is."

"If anyone's got a bad attitude here, it's you, Miss Fulham," he answers.

He is positively livid now, shoulders tense and hands gripping the edge of the table. Mike places a hand on his shoulder, and Elliot relaxes a little, but he's still as stiff as a board.

"I highly doubt that," I scoff. I turn to the rest of the table. "Anyway, let's get on with the rest of the interview."

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From then on, the conversation is punctuated with an awkward tension, one that I almost feel guilty about. Elliot is silent, though I can feel his glares burning holes into the side of my head. Cain seems amused, chuckles lining his words whenever he spoke up. Astro is completely quiet, as usual, leaving Mike as the only one who was contributing any useful conversation.

When our food arrives, I'm thankful for the distraction. Everyone else is, too, judging by the way they dig into their meals heartily.

We don't order dessert.

"Thank you so much for the interview," I say, as Lucy clears our plates. "Cheryl, my supervisor, will be joining you guys on your tour. She's very nice; I'm sure all of you will get along very well."

"Better than with you," Elliot mutters. He's standing beside me, and his voice is just low enough such that only I can hear it.

I turn my head to the side, ready to glare at him for the umpteenth time this afternoon, but my face is met with his neck. We're far too close.

I step back, clearing my throat. "Anyway, she'll be contacting you guys soon."

"It was our pleasure," Mike smiles, and I immediately feel at ease. He really is the diplomat of the group. The rest of the guys give their thanks as well – except for Elliot, predictably. Childish twit.

I shake hands with each of the guys, and when I reach Elliot, the simple handshake suddenly turns into some sort of power struggle. His grip isn't so tight as to crush my bones, but I can definitely feel that he's grasping it firmer than usual, and it doesn't help that his face is still painted with a scowl. My grip is just as strong, just as firm, even if I'm smaller than him. I refuse to back down.

Only when Mike clears his throat do we let go. My hand falls to my side, and I know that it's slightly red even without glancing at it. From the corner of my eye, I can see Cain's smirk and even Astro looks a little amused.

To be honest, I'm a little thankful when the band finally leaves. I trudge back up to the office, already feeling the post-lunch food coma settling in.

"How was the interview?" Henry asks, his mouth full of ramen noodles. "You're so lucky, Verona are amazing."

"It went okay," I reply. And truly, it did. There's just that irritable lead singer that I had to deal with.

Then again, I won't be seeing him any time soon. Hopefully.


A/N: Say what you may, but I assure you guys I'm not dead.

I've been working on editing the five chapters of The Telepath that are currently up, and also doing a chapter-by-chapter outline of the rest of the story. Look forward to: better grammar, better structure/flow, and more detail! I swear, each chapter is a substantial bit longer. And this way, with a proper story outline, you guys won't have to wait so long for future chapters. :) I'll post the update on The Telepath... soon. I've also got ideas relating to characters in The Telepath - four different ones, actually. Can't wait to develop those either.

In the meantime, enjoy this longer-than-usual chapter. It's a story that's been brewing around in my head ever since I started listening to Arctic Monkeys again (for, what, the thirtieth time?) and as you can tell, the title 'Reckless Serenade' is from one of their songs. The Monkeys are amazing. Go give them a listen if you haven't already.

I've got an exam coming up on Wednesday but after that I'll be pretty free until the end of June, though I'll be studying for my common tests at the same time. I'll use the time to work on The Telepath and Reckless Serenade, don't worry. ;) It's like my way of de-stressing at this point. School's hectic as fuck.

Anyway, thanks for all the reviews/follows/feedback so far! I really appreciate all of it. Feel free to drop me a PM or two either if you just want to talk. Character models for RS are also up on my profile page. I'll work on making a proper cover page for this story soon-ish. :')

- Lin