Struck by the asteroid of uncertainty, Michael Kay was at a loss for words.
It had been one week since the incident in Astroland, and things had finally calmed down. He and the rest of the Audio Knights had taken a break from their weekly sessions; a fitting postscript to the onslaught that they had all so recently endured.
Michael intended to visit Audio Empire today, as a gift to himself for everything he’d done to help Kim.
It was only by chance that he had spotted such a rare print of Off The Wall from across the aisle.
Clearly though, it had caught more than just his gaze.
Michael was quick to absorb this girl’s appearance. Her ponytail was extraordinarily long, and she was all dressed up like she was on her way to a Thriller flash mob.
But that wasn’t what bothered him. What bothered him, was that somehow, she knew his name.
For the life of him, Michael had no idea who Denny was. He often forgot a great many things, but rarely would he forget someone who stood out as much as her.
Still, Michael knew being polite wasn’t about to kill him just yet.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Denny. Have we…met before?” he asked, clearly curious now.
It took Denny a good two seconds, before she caught herself as she realized she was staring.
“I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
Michael laughed, trying to ease the air in the process. “You knew my name. You psychic, or just a really good guesser?”
A spike of fear snapped through Denny’s very being. Realizing her sudden mistake, she stumbled through her recovery.
“Your name? Oh my gosh, that’s your name? Wow, talk about weird!”
Denny laughed nervously as she continued.
“I’m like, totally obsessed with MJ. So…I was kind of spacing out for a second, and he’s the first thing I thought of.”
Her eyes drifted back down towards the album now in her hands, scanning it and once again remembering its value.
“I’ve been looking for this forever. You have no idea.”
She smiled, and her fingers tightened as she hoped Michael bought her lie.
Thankfully, that was enough to clear any of his suspicions. Michael grinned, now far more comfortable.
Of course it must have been some weird coincidence, he thought to himself. He was just being paranoid.
“Well,” Michael said. “Consider it yours now. You sound like a pretty big fan.”
He laughed loudly, and Denny’s heart just thumped faster in response. She could hear a familiar voice permeating through the air, and it hit her with such force that she feared she might faint from pure excitement.
“Um, I mean…I don’t really need it that badly.” she admitted, handing the album forward as an offering. Michael raised an eyebrow, putting his hands up as he gave her a reassuring smile.
“Thanks, but I’m good. I feel bad enough as it is that I almost got to it before you did. That one’s signed, right?”
Denny nodded with glee. “Yeah. And it’s gonna be one thousand dollars well spent.”
Michael’s smile shifted to a much more aghast look. “Oh wow, that much? Well, like I said, all yours.
He shuddered at the thought of burning that literal hole in his meager savings.
For a moment, Denny’s eyes checked around her. From where they were in the O aisle, it seemed only a few people shared the basement space with them right now.
With that knowledge, previous feelings of apprehension began to melt away, and even with the album in hand, Denny no longer wanted to run out so quickly.
“So what’s your favorite? From Off The Wall, I mean.” she asked quite directly.
Michael thought about it for a few seconds. If it was a disco classic, it was in his music player, and presumably, in the back of his mind.
“Rock With You. Definitely Rock With You.” he stated, without a hint of hesitation.
Denny said nothing at first, but then a moment later, her face widened into a big smile.
“Really? Me too! That’s like one of the best songs ever made!” she gushed, much to Michael’s amusement.
Having been around all of Kim’s bad moods, Calvin’s various wisecracks, and Aeris’s total politeness, it was refreshing to finally meet someone so perky and animated.
After all, he didn’t really have any other friends besides his fellow Audio Knights.
Perhaps this is what he needed right now.
The small talk continued as Michael found himself more and more comfortable with her by the second.
“So you live in the neighborhood? I feel like I totally would have seen you around by now.” Michael asked.
“I actually just moved here a little while ago.” Denny replied. “I live in Midtown. Me and my roommates share an apartment.”
Michael’s eyes widened at just how casual she’d made that sound. “Apartment? Seriously!? I thought you were like my age.”
Denny giggled. “Relax. I only just turned seventeen like a week ago.”
Michael remained impressed nevertheless.
“Man, that’s pretty sweet. Your roomies must have thrown some birthday bash for you.”
Denny’s thoughts circled back to the previous week. She’d sat alone in her room for the duration of her entire birthday, with only Michael Jackson’s angelic voice to keep her company.
Not even Paul had bothered to knock and wish her well.
“Yeah.” Denny said, not showing even a hint of sadness. “Talk about a crazy party.”
“I got a key to my uncle’s place, but that’s his pad. I’m still stuck with my sister. I’m so freaking jealous right now.” Michael said, of course blissfully unaware.
“It’s on a high rise too. The view is literally amazing.” Denny added, now descending into nervousness with her next words.
“I…I can show you it sometime. We don’t really have guests much.”
Michael blinked. That was a clear invitation, but its true intention unfortunately still eluded him.
“Yeah, sure. I’d be game.” he said, much to Denny’s sudden excitement.
She was giddy beyond measure, and all thoughts of taking Michael Kay in like she was supposed to had completely vanished by now.
Instead, those thoughts were replaced by an emotion that Denny had not felt for two years.
Her skin tingled, her face remained flushed, and she found herself not wanting to leave Michael for as long as she possibly could.
But she knew more than anything that’d she have to exercise some minute amount of patience, lest she drive him way.
“Are you free tomorrow? I have the place to myself all day.” she pointed out, as obvious as could be.
Michael seemed to mull it over for only a moment, before nodding dutifully.
“Sure. I got nothing on the agenda.”
Denny beamed with utter happiness. “Awesome! Give me your number, and I’ll text you the address. Take my number too. I’m always checking my phone.”
The two teenagers quickly traded digits, and Denny in particular could barely hold back then pink glow on her face.
Meanwhile, Michael was happy enough to have found a new friend, especially one who might actually share some of his music taste.
“Cool, cool. I love MJ, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the Jackson 5-era stuff that really gets me. I grew up on that stuff. It’s how I learned to dance.” Michael confessed.
Denny just lit up brighter in response. “You can dance?
She narrowed her eyes more seriously now.
“That’s pretty hot.”
Michael blinked in response to her declaration, wondering at first if he had heard her right.
But not one to allow an awkward silence for too long, he right joked back.
“Yeah, you could say I got…Canned Heat in my heels!”
His poor pun left him stuck bearing the usual big grin.
Of course, Denny just smiled back in response, not only missing the joke but in wonder that Michael could miss such a direct line.
Nevertheless, she wasn’t one to give up so easily. With his number safely in her phone, her expression changed, descending into hinting seduction.
“Wait till you see me dance. Pretty sure it’ll blow your mind.” she hinted, noticeably swaying her hips as she turned away from Michael.
Even he wasn’t so in his own head to not completely avert his eyes, and Denny smiled in satisfaction as she made her leave.
“Catch you tomorrow, Michael.”
With that, she was up the basement stairs and gone.
Finally alone again, Michael Kay looked down on his phone, noting her name and wondering over the chances of all these events occuring at once.
She seemed so eager to spend time with him, after only just meeting him.
He could only assume she was just that excited about sharing her favorite music with him. It was a kind of excitement he also shared when it came to his prized disco tunes.
Whether he’d heard the tracks already or not, Michael would oblige her. After all, Kim had obliged him by agreeing to originally train him all those weeks ago. It was only natural that he pay that forward.
As these various thoughts swam through Michael Kay’s mind, he completely missed the poster present on the wall some feet behind him.
On it, the images of five teenagers stood on a blue geometric plane, standing in the shadowed backdrop of a huge letter P and an equally enormous number 5.
And in the middle, standing with her bandmates above the title, Live to Five, was none other than Denny, long honey blonde ponytail and all.
The world flew completely past Denny Girelli in course of the next hour.
Her face remained aglow all throughout the commute back to 5 Records.
She could have easily called their chauffeur, but she was in far too good of a mood to simply sit still in the backseat. Instead, Denny took the subway, laughing and smiling to herself all the way on the A train back from Washington Heights to Midtown Manhattan.
So enamored with the thought of meeting Michael again, Denny had headphones plugged the whole way back to 5 Records. All attempts for photo ops from any eagle-eyed fans were, for once, ignored.
Finally, Denny arrived at the front of 5 Records.
People passed her along the city sidewalk, and she stopped for a moment as she looked at the splendor of the skyscraper she now called home.
Sheathed in chrome metal, the building reached over seventy five stories up into the sky, having stood the test of time in New York City for the last thirty years. Within it, one of the largest and most influential music companies in the world, the aptly named 5 Records, operated and produced music for the modern era.
To most people, it was place where only the biggest stars were allowed to step foot within. In the mind of the public, it was where musical magic happened.
That was true in two respects. Beneath everything, in a deep underbelly hundreds of feet down below the ground, the central Symphon of Zero Beat’s New York Measure was hidden. It was there that Denny first proved herself to the Pop 5, and it was there they met with the Fourth Beat on particular matters of high importance.
The hunt for Michael Kay happened to be one of those very matters.
But Denny just whistled to herself as she passed by the security guards in the lobby, who recognized her on sight. She continued as she entered the main elevator, waiting for long minutes as she approached her home on the seventy-fifth floor.
Tomorrow would be the best day, she thought.
Ollie, Nathan, Lily and Paul would all be out, called away to deal with a situation involving the aftermath of some conflict over in Coney Island.
Meanwhile, their Fourth Beat had given Denny herself explicit orders to stay put.
Denny could barely hold in her giddiness as she fished for her key into the penthouse. She and Michael would have the entire place to themselves.
At the mere thought, her mind began to wander to not so innocent places, and so naturally she was a bit distracted as she entered to find Lily and Paul seemingly waiting for her arrival.
“Oh, look who finally decided to show her face. Still struggling with that obsession complex?” Lily said, sneering through pink lips and long eyelashes.
She was busy painting her toenails, taking up half the couch in the process and relegating Paul to a small loveseat nearby.
“Hello Denny.” Paul said in a low voice. He touched his goatee nervously. Among the three of them, he was relieved to have Lily as the necessary evil tonight.
“Hey guys.” Denny said, not trying for a second to hide the excitement in her voice. “Anything new?”
Lily couldn’t resist the opportunity. “Oh, nothing really. Just too bad you won’t be joining us for the big day tomorrow. Must really suck to be part of the Pop 5, and never actually go on any missions.”
Denny held back the urge to show how little that now mattered to her, instead feigning annoyance.
“I…I know, right? It’s so unfair.” she faked.
Despite that, Denny could see from the corner of her eye that of the two of them, Paul certainly wasn’t buying it.
Thankfully though, true to his nature, he kept quiet.
“Look on the bright side,” Lily told her, voice brimming with fake assurance. “At least you’ll always be second place compared to me. That’s deserving of a gold star.”
As expected, Paul said nothing in Denny’s defense, clearly wanting to stay out of it.
Take advantage of Lily’s famous ego, Denny allowed sadness to draw up on her face in her best attempt to now fool them both.
“Yeah. It really bites. Well, I guess I’ll go cry myself to sleep now.”
With her most exaggerated, depressed zombie walk, Denny clambered towards her room.
Lily just went back to her nails, her voice mocking as always.
A few seconds later, and Denny’s door closed shut.
Paul wanted to sink away his chair from embarrassment.
Two months into being part of the Pop 5, and he still remained a coward. It was no wonder Denny barely noticed his presence.
He could only imagine what kind of aching pain and sadness she was going through right now.
Paul couldn’t have been more off the mark.
Behind her door, in the privacy of her room, Denny jumped for joy at the notion of the upcoming day.
Her room was incredibly sound-proof, giving her a great degree of breadth whether it be with her loud dancing or louder music.
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” she exclaimed, laughing in utter joy.
Eventually, exasperated from all her excitement, she slid down to the floor, leaning on her door as she checked her phone.
She scrolled through numbers, stopping at Michael’s and smiling wide. She blinked, then her fingers moved quickly as she typed in their full address. Then with a push of her finger, the message was sent.
A few seconds later, she held the phone close her chest, moaning loudly with glee as the seconds ticked by and she imagined the thought of Michael in this very room with her.
She was convinced he was some sort of reincarnation of pre-Thriller era King of Pop.
Of course, the dates of their birth and death were completely off, but that didn’t matter.
He’d captured her heart, and there was no way in heaven she was giving him up to Zero Beat now.
Lyrics slipped from her mouth, and Denny’s heart skipped to the music of love.
“…I’ll be there to comfort you, build my world of dreams around you, I’m so glad that I found you…”
Tomorrow couldn’t come any faster.
For certain, for Michael, she would be there.