Somehow, standing in front of the door leading into the Fairfield apartment seemed far more frightening than even the prospect of facing Nicodemus Craven again.
“Hey Aeris.” Calvin said, as honest as he could sound.
“If your brothers decide to off me tonight, will you make sure Kim doesn’t speak at my funeral? I’d hate to go out on a bad note.”
The blond giggled. “Oh shut up and just knock already.”
Calvin gave her a big smile, before turning back towards the door.
Slowly, the blond Music Master rapped with his fist against it. He waited for no more than three seconds before finally hearing a response on the other site.
“Ah, our guests!”
A grumble followed such an ecstatic voice. “Good. Don’t make them wait.”
The door into the Fairfield home then swung open, revealing the sight of David Fairfield and his homely smile behind it. He didn’t even hesitate, opening his arms up and grabbing Calvin in a warm embrace.
“Oh, is it so nice to finally meet you! Gosh, we’ve heard so much about you.”
For someone who looked relatively harmless, his grip could rival Kim’s. Calvin laughed awkwardly as he returned the hug and detached himself at the next possible moment.
As Aeris and Calvin entered the apartment, the other members of the Fairfield progeny made themselves known. On the couch, leather jacket-wearing Cory blew bubblegum and gave a lazy wave. Spencer scratched his beard, on a phone call that he quickly put on hold the moment he saw his sister arrive. Isaac was the only one besides David who seemed patient and waiting for their arrival, his face lighting up as he warmly embraced his little sister as if he hadn’t seen her in forever.
In truth of course, it had been quite some time since they’d been together like this.
Aeris was quick to make introductions, reaching each of her brothers in turn. From what Calvin could tell, they seemed to all be sizing him up in a different way. Only Cory, the youngest, didn’t seem to care too much whether Calvin was here or not.
“So.” Spencer said, hand on his belt as he cut to the chase. “You’re my little sister’s boyfriend, are you?”
There was almost a deadly gleam in his eyes. It was enough to make Calvin reconsider exactly what he should say next. Thankfully, Aeris beat him to it.
“Hey! Calvin’s a friend.” she pointed out. “And what the heck? What if we were dating?”
Spencer put his hands up, backing off. “No issue. I just want to know if that’s how it is.”
Isaac fixed his glasses and cleared his throat. “Don’t mind him, Calvin. We’re all a little out of it after everything that’s happened.”
A bubble popped on the couch nearby. Cory’s chewing was loud and rude. “Yeah, maybe you three are. Get over it.”
Calvin just ignored the younger brother, however, taking this in particular as a perfect opportunity to cut in and add to the fiction.
“Yeah, I heard. Being kidnapped by that weird extremist and all. You ever get anything more about it from the police?”
David shook his head, disappointed. “Nothing at all. If it wasn’t for that wonderful Mr. Kay who found us, who knows what might have happened.”
He grinned, focused on Aeris now. “You don’t happen to have his number…do you?”
Aeris laughed, raising a knowing eyebrow. “What, so you can thank him?”
Spencer shook his head. “Yes. That’s exactly what he wants to do.”
Isaac interrupted again, clearly ready to reign everyone in. “David. Why don’t you go and get that pie you spent so much time on out of the oven? I’m sure Calvin and everyone else here would be happy to eat it.”
The sandy-haired Fairfield perked up, jolted out of a momentary fantasy. “Oh, yes, of course!”
He shuffled off to the kitchen, as Calvin and Aeris took a seat on the couch. Spencer went back to his phone call, as Cory just sat on the other side of them and only shot back a glance every so often.
Isaac leaned forward, speaking directly to Calvin now.
“So how are things, Calvin? How are you feeling?”
The blond-haired Music Masters smiled. It was a question he had asked Aeris on the beach just a little over a full week ago.
Even the memory of his broken arm wasn’t enough to deter his answer.
“Me?” he chuckled. “Pretty wonderful.”
Aeris put a hand on his, now not all trying to hide her affection in the slightest. “Make that two.”
Michael dodged to one side, just barely missing the swipe of a long, coffee colored couch that was identical the one Rob once had. Two burly workmen shuffled along with it, waiting for Rob’s instruction before placing it down at the designated spot.
“Sorry about all this, Rob.” Michael apologized, even though Kim shook her head beside him. She knew exactly how his uncle felt even as the older man spoke.
“Mike, really?” his uncle asked in disbelief. “How many times do I have to say it? It wasn’t you, it was the Pop 5. Relax, it’s all being taken care of.”
Just as Rob pointed out, workmen were more than busy furnishing his apartment. They put in new carpet, brought in replacement furniture, and four of them had spent days fixing the door frame itself after what Ollie’s Gold Digger had done to it.
Officially, it was a minor bomb scare, which meant that the city was paying for all of it to avoid further trouble.
A lie, of course, but it was better than involving Music Masters and creating more complication than needed. Rob’s contacts took care of the rest.
“Besides,” Rob continued to his nephew, smiling under his cap. “This all gives me the opportunity to remodel a little. Place was getting kind of stale.”
Kim looked around, hands in her pockets as she watched workers come back and forth. “I don’t know. I liked it.”
Michael grinned. “Yeah man, it’s groovy the way it is. Why change a good thing?”
Rob pulled his cap down, laughing as he ruffled his nephew’s big afro. “Do me a favor. You never change. Knowing you guys are safe is more important than this measly apartment ten times over.”
Kim shrugged. “Was there ever any doubt? We’re the Audio Knights, remember.”
Rob nodded in a agreement. “That you are. You’ve certainly proved it to everyone that matters.”
“Oh snap.” Michael said, checking his phone which had just buzzed loudly. “Aeris and Calvin are on their way. They asked if we should meet them at the place?”
“Yeah. That sounds good.” Rob replied, watching as they placed a large black dresser in the far corner. Two more men were busy putting the tower windows opening out to the city back together.
“Let me finish up here, Mike.” Rob added. “You and Kim go on ahead. I’ll be there soon.”
Michael nodded, putting his fist out which Rob bumped right back. “Okay. Don’t be too long, alright?”
“See you, Rob.” Kim told him with a small wave, before she and Michael shimmied past the workmen and out of the front door of the apartment.
When both of them were gone, Rob took his cap off, breathing deeply as his thoughts worked to finally relax.
They really were Audio Knights now, he thought. And far better at it than he, Lex or Talulah ever were.
It made him wonder if there was even any more room in this city of Music Masters for an old standby like himself anymore.
Rob smiled with satisfaction. In the end, it was all for the best.
Better for Rob Prototype to become a retro memory, than for Michael’s light to be snuffed out long before it could reach that disco shine.
“I have to say Grandfather, I’m a bit confused.”
Sirenia put a hand to her forehead. Framing her face were new, black glasses, replacements to the pair that Michael Kay has so graciously broken over a week ago. She stared back at Iberius Altberg with clear contempt, not all wanting to accept what he was telling her.
“Then I’ll make it more clear.” the older Altberg said, leaning forward in his chair.
“I met with Rob Prototype. We’ve come to an arrangement. Considering everything that’s happened with Craven and Zero Beat, I’ve elected to have Calvin stay with him for the time being. He has the space, be it mundane.”
Sirenia pushed the papers in front of her forward with her fingers, now beyond agitated.
“You elected? Grandfather, I fail to see if that’s the best course of act-”
But she was quickly interrupted, as the older man put his hand up to silence her. For more than five seconds, all anyone could hear was the meticulous ticking of the grandfather clock nearby.
“Calvin is safe. That is all that matters.”
Sirenia narrowed her eyes as she raised her voice. “But the PureBeats! Are you blind to the issue? We will have no leadership!”
But her grandfather’s stone cold glare seemed to gaze right back into her soul. It was almost as if he knew everything she’d ever done to him this entire time.
“Last I checked, I am still the retainer of the Ensemble. Calvin will have his place, but in times like this, patience is key.”
He looked to one side, now suddenly unsure of himself. Iberius took a deep breath as his next statement flowed out.
“There’s something else. DanceDown is making a resurgence.”
Sirenia almost laughed, sitting up in her chair. “DanceDown? Grandfather, what nonsense are speaking of? These are baseless rumours, I’m sure.”
But Iberius was nothing but completely serious. “No rumours, I assure you. Reign leads them as we speak. What he plans, I cannot say, but the last thing I want is for Calvin to be caught in the potential crossfire.”
That name weighed down the air with grim density. Sirenia’s previous contempt all but vanished now.
“Reign. You can’t mean…?”
Iberius nodded. “The very same.”
“The man who killed my daughter and son-in-law. There are dark times ahead, Sirenia, for us, and for Zero Beat I’m sure. I can only pray that my grandson is spared from them.”
“You have your music player?”
“Good. I’ve already set up the overseas account. Make sure you check it once you land in New York. Money shouldn’t be a problem, but I will say this again, please Nami, don’t waste it on trivial things.”
“Yes, yes, you’ve said that like five times now. Nii-san, please, you’re worrying way too much.”
Next to Arashi, Deji formed a pleasant smile. “He’s your brother. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”
Nami looked down, smirking through her gap. That much was certainly true.
All around them, people hustled throughout Haneda International Airport, ignorant of the presence of three Music Masters in one place. With a travel bag over her shoulder and her small suitcase already checked, Nami Nagataki prepared herself for yet another journey overseas.
Only this time, she was going alone, and there was no telling when she would return.
“Be safe, Nami.” Arashi said, before uncharacteristically going in to hug his sister. She accepted it wholeheartedly, of course. It was not every day that her stone cold brother got emotional.
“It’ll be fine, Nii-san. These DanceDown people seem pretty legit. They’re paying for most of this anyway, remember?”
“I have no doubt you’ll exceed their expectations.” Arashi stated, fixing his glasses lest he show the smallest hint of worry behind them. “I just wish I could come with you.”
“Maybe it’ll be good for her. I have a friend who lived in America for a year. Said it was a great learning experience.” Deji added, hands in his pockets as he looked around. He’d forgotten how busy the airport was, Japan or not. That, and he was trying his best not to look too crushed that Nami was leaving.
“You sure you won’t miss me?” Nami asked him, making a gap-toothed grin and suddenly moving close. Deji’s face warmed up in an instant, as Arashi watched in silence.
“I mean…yes. Of course, I will.” he admitted, as Nami just laughed and kissed him on the cheek before giving him a sweet hug.
“I’ll miss you too.”
Her expression shifted to become more menacing as she then whispered in his ear. “I better not find out about any other girl while I’m gone.
“Don’t worry.” Arashi said, tipping his sunglasses. “I’ll make sure that’s not the case.”
Deji had to stop himself from gulping audibly. Being watched by Arashi in that fashion was certainly not the happiest thought.
But Nami soon twirled around as she let Deji go, her tone rising in an effort to reassure the both of them
“Just kidding! Have fun without me! I’ll be back before you two know it.”
She turned around, staring up at the flight board for departures as a gleam came into her eyes.
Her dancing had finally caught someone’s attention; namely that of a Ensemble long since thought disbanded. This so-called DanceDown and their array of associated Music Masters sounded interesting, to say the least.
But while their invitation and offer of housing in America was certainly nice, there was a far larger goal present in her mind.
She giggled through her teeth as she spoke lightly to herself under her breath.
“Afro-kun, here I come!”
Both Helia and Renaldo had said very little to one another, as they watched white trench coat wearing men and women pass by them in the Symphon. They rarely made eye contact, far more focused on the bureaucracy at hand.
It had been like this for the last three days, since word had spread of Nicodemus Craven’s demise at the hands of the supposed Audio Knights.
Between betrayal within the Pop 5, and the unearthing of more horrid things Craven had done as well as his blatant irresponsibility as a Fourth Beat, a veritable nest of hornets had been let loose. It was only natural that Zero Beat would surface to clean it all up.
“Maybe.” Renaldo said, as he said to his chain-smoking superior on a pristine white waiting room chair. “Maybe this isn’t all so bad. Things could change for the better, for all we know.”
Helia took a deep puff from her cigarette. “Yeah, I’m not buying that BS. We might not have to deal with Craven anymore, but we might just end up with someone worse.”
Renaldo looked to one side, fixing his glasses in the process.
He’d been with Helia for quite some time now, and amazingly, he’d grown less and less afraid of her the more time they’d spent together.
It was crazy to think, perhaps, but it was almost as if she was beginning to grow on him.
“Worse than Craven?” Renaldo laughed. “I doubt it.”
Helia kept staring forward. For now, none of the new arrivals from Zero Beat internal had yet to question either of them, but she knew that wouldn’t last for long.
“I’ll see it when I believe it. You hear the rumours?” she asked him, keeping her voice low.
Helia spoke from the corner of her mouth. “About DanceDown. They’re kicking again, apparently. Somebody’s leading them.”
Renaldo looked down at the mere thought, taking a deep breath. “Oh. That sounds heavy. More trouble is the last thing we need right now.”
Helia turned to him, serious as ever, cigarette sticking right out of the corner of her purple lips.
“Well, keep your ears open. Because for all we know, this bunch sitting us down and boring us with questions might just be the least of our worries.”
Aeris hurried along on the sidewalk, clearly impatient as Calvin followed in her stead as they both made their way to the restaurant Rob had specifically chosen for tonight’s special occasion.
After a whirlwind of a week, between Rob smoothing things over with his contacts and making sure Aeris’s brothers were given an appropriate cover story, the four Audio Knights had almost no time to truly sit down and relax.
And while they might have spoken about all the things she went through on a more personal level, there was still an aching question in Calvin Altberg’s mind as he practically ran over the crosswalk in an effort to keep up with Aeris.
“Come on.” she said playfully. “Your broken arm can’t still be slowing you down.”
Calvin smiled, rotating said arm without any trouble. “Hey, it still kind of aches. But you fixed it good.”
She turned around, hands behind her back as she skipped in front of him. “Yup. I sure did.”
Calvin gulped. This was the moment he’d been waiting for.
“Hey Aeris.” he said, catching up to her now.
She spun on her heel, smiling brightly back to him. “Yes?”
Calvin worked his absolute hardest to keep his composure. “I, uh, wanted to ask you something.”
Aeris said nothing, narrowing her eyes knowingly as he continued.
“I know a guy. He got me two tickets to see Daft Punk a month from now. Front row seats. I was originally going to ask Michael, but…”
Aeris just responded with a sweet laugh.
Then she moved in close, putting a hand on his cheek as the two of them stood by the edge of the sidewalk in a moment of self-contained warmth. “You could have asked me around my brothers, you know. They wouldn’t have bitten your head off. I wasn’t gonna let them.”
Calvin smiled through his teeth. “I believe you. Just trying to be respectful and all, I guess. So you want to go?”
Aeris raised an eyebrow as she moved even closer, their noses just about touching. “What do you think?”
She then leaned in, and for the briefest of moments, they kissed.
It was short and sweet, but still perfection. Every nerve in Calvin’s body just about exploded, as a wonderful peace came over him that persisted even as Aeris let go.
He blinked, and grinned the same stupid way Michael often would.
“I guess I’ll take that as a yes.”
Michael couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a more satisfying time with his friends.
He and Kim had met up with Aeris and Calvin at the restaurant a little less than a half-hour ago, and it seemed there was nothing to share but laughs and smiles between them. When Rob showed up at the for their dinner just five minutes ago, even a quiet Kim couldn’t completely stonewall the rest of them.
Michael took a sip of soda, savoring the taste like he’d savor a good disco beat.
All things considered, they’d made it out of everything pretty well. Craven was gone for good, it seemed, and with him, any remaining orders Zero Beat had to hunt down and kill Michael.
Essentially, he was a free man. Rob couldn’t have put it any more simply.
Across the table, Calvin had barely touched his food. He was practically glowing with happiness for reasons Michael could only guess. He offered the boy a quick wave when their gazes met.
Then, after saying something to Aeris, Calvin stood up from his chair and raised his drink in tandem.
“Hey everybody. I propose a toast.”
He grinned down at Michael, eyes shining. “To my disco-loving friend, and the coolest cat I know.”
Kim, Aeris and Rob all raised their glasses without question.
Michael smiled back, raising his as he offered a few words. “Hey, I’m nothing without you guys.”
He pushed his glass forward, tapping it against others as he raised his voice with not a care in the world.
“To the Audio Knights!”
Amazingly, Kim had managed to go through the motions tonight without causing too much suspicion.
Most of it was for Michael’s sake, and she was otherwise quiet and agreeable when she needed to be.
Unfortunately, every time she looked across the table, and saw Aeris and Calvin in their own little world, she couldn’t toss away that feeling of anger and hurt that welled up in her stomach.
Eventually, it got so bad that she found herself having to run to the bathroom even as a distraction. Hands in her pockets, she passed by Rob in the hall by the door outside.
He had his phone in his hand, dialing a call before stepping outside so as to not clearly be disturbed.
Kim focused back on the bathroom. His business was his alone. She trusted Rob completely in that regard.
She couldn’t say the same for Aeris, unfortunately.
What Kim needed now was alone time. Just a moment to calm her mind. Even if she just sat on the toilet and did nothing for five minutes, it would certainly be better than nothing.
But as Kim passed by the mirror inside, she could hear the door opening behind her, signifying that she’d been followed. Turning around, she saw none other than Aeris, with that perfect look on her face that was practically mpossible to ignore.
“Hi Kim.” she said quietly. Kim stopped in place, relaxing her tense shoulders in the process.
“You need the bathroom?” she asked the blond girl, who shook her head in response.
“I wanted to maybe talk a little. We haven’t really gotten to sit down and chat since everything.”
“There’s nothing to discuss.” Kim said, but clearly Aeris wasn’t going down that easy.
“Kim, please. I know you you’re angry at me, but I already apologiz-”
Kim put her hand up. Her patience had finally worn thin.
“You think that’s enough?”
Aeris looked hurt. “What do you mean?”
“You just apologizing like that. Do you understand what you did?”
Aeris looked down. Her chest rose as if restrained by a heavy weight. “Yes, Kim. I do.”
“Good. Then you also understand that’s not something I forgive easily.”
She moved closer to Aeris, until their faces were but inches apart. “What makes it worse, is that you saw Calvin do the same, and you still did it. I’ll play friendly for Michael, maybe even for your new boyfriend, but I’m telling you the truth straight out.”
Kim narrowed her eyes, twisting her lips in disappointment. “Consider your friendship rights with me revoked until further notice.”
Aeris sighed. She turned back to the door, knowing anything she might say further wouldn’t help in the slightest.
But true to her nature, as she held the door to the women’s bathroom slightly ajar, she spoke anyway.
“I understand. I’m sorry I hurt you, Kim. It was the last thing I wanted to do.”
Aeris left, and the door flipped back and forth to mark her departure.
Kim Ramone was simply left alone, a conflicted expression on her face as she seemed to question her anger for a moment.
Then her expression shifted. Her own words to Michael and Calvin echoed loudly in her mind.
They always had a choice.
No matter what.
Ollie’s hand tightened on the phone. He felt it buckle under the strain, but he didn’t care in the slightest. If he was using Stronger, it would have soon shattered by now. His infamous anger was coming out again in full force.
“What do you mean we can’t go back to 5 Records?”
The voice on the other line, calm and focused, answered back.
“Exactly what I mean; you can’t go back. Did you listen at all to what I was saying? My friend who works at Hi-Fi Records should be able to keep you busy for a few weeks until the changeover finishes. By then, things might be situated enough for you to return as the Pop 5 with no issue.”
Ollie looked back at the others. The four of them were sitting in Turnabout Cafe, with Paul, Lily and Nathan listening intently to the speaker who had planned to contact Ollie about their current situation this very night.
“That means Craven’s gone for good, isn’t he?” Lily asked, though she sounded far from sad.
“I have no official confirmation, but Zero Beat is treating it as such. You five sit tight, and wait to hear from me. They’ll take good care of you for now. My only terms is that you drop your beef with Michael and his friends. If that’s still standing, then we have no problems.”
All of the Pop 5 present looked at each other. Though Nathan was uneasy, only Ollie showed true hesitation when it came to what the speaker was asking.
“He embarrassed me. He embarrassed all of us.”
“And I saved your life.” Rob Prototype said to them, stern in his tone now. “I could have left you there, and I definitely didn’t have to do you any favors.”
“Then why are you?” Paul asked, genuinely curious.
Rob paused, but only for a moment.
“You can thank your friend Denny for that one. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would the rest of you.”
All of the Pop 5 backed up at the realization of what Rob was telling them. In hindsight, those words couldn’t be more true.
“Anyway, I need to get back. You know what’s up. I’ll be in touch.”
He said nothing further, ending the call and leaving Ollie and the others with only his words to dwell on.
“Saved our life.” Nathan chortled with annoyance. “Yeah right! Denny’s not even here. That airhead freakin’ ditched us.”
Ollie stood up from his sitting position. The expression on his face said it all. He didn’t want to accept any of this, but this was the reality before them.
Things were about to change, but whether they were for the better or for the worse, Ollie couldn’t say.
“Shut up, Nathan.” Lily chimed in, tired of his antics before he could begin. “Let her be. I’d rather have her over you any day.”
Paul laughed, a rare occurrence for him. “I’d take her advice. She wasn’t the one crying like a little baby, from what I remember.”
Lily snorted once she figured out Paul’s inflection, suddenly bursting into loud laughter as Nathan narrowed his eyes in annoyance.
Paul just chuckled with her, both of them clearly having too much fun at his expense.
Nathan did nothing but glower, of course.
And though none of them could see it, out of the corner of their eye, as he looked out of the window and wondered at his future and that of the Pop 5, even Ollie cracked the smallest of smiles.
On his way out of the restaurant, Michael almost bowled Rob over moments after he’d finished his phone call with the Pop 5.
“Oh snap, sorry, Rob! Kind of in a bit of a rush.”
He gave his uncle an apologetic smile as he hurried along. “I’ll say hi to Colleen for you, okay? Tell everybody I’m sorry for leaving so early!”
Being in a rush was more of an understatement, because Michael was up and around the corner before Rob could say much of anything in response.
The space cowboy fixed his cap, a satisfied look in his eyes as he mentally dismantled where his nephew might be off to in such a great hurry.
He doubted seeing his niece was truly that important.
Lex always did go on about how the right girl could make someone do the craziest of things.
Billy and her kind soul entered the bass player’s mind. Truthfully, he might have some idea what that felt like.
Rob shook his head, heading back inside to meet with the others. Michael deserved those small moments of happiness, if any.
Considering how long Rob had been out of his life, they were long overdue.
“Hey, hey, what’s the rush, Michael?” his sister asked him, even as he shuffled past her as he desperately searched for the object of his desire.
By now, he’d ripped apart his room and closet in an effort to find it, only to find solace in a stack of old records that seemed to have been relegated beneath the coffee table in the living room.
“Man, you moved my stuff?!” he complained, only for his sister to put her hands on her hips in response.
“These were lying in a corner, for heaven’s sake. They would have been stomped on knowing you.” Colleen insisted, even as Michael shuffled through the albums until he finally found the special one he was looking for.
Perfectly satisfied, Michael Kay grinned, picking it up in his hands before making his way towards the mirror. He was quick as he checked the state of his afro, the tie dye shirt he was wearing, his blue jeans, and the his favorite hot rod red sneakers.
Behind him, Colleen sneaked up with a knowing smile on her face. “You look great. I still remember how she wouldn’t leave you alone at the New Year’s party. That girl is probably dying to see you.”
Michael turned around, smiling nervously at his older sister. “What? What do you mean?”
Colleen laughed, crossing her arms. “Oh come on, little brother. I’m not that stupid. You’re going to see that Denny girl, right? The one from the Pop 5?”
Michael scratched the back of his head. Clearly his business was hard to admit. “Uh…yeah…”
Colleen moved towards her purse, ruffling through it until she found a a twenty and two fives. Without even asking, she pushed it into Michael’s palm as she gave him a warm smile.
“You can pay me back later. You have fun, alright?”
Michael nodded with happiness. Before Colleen could say even another word, he moved in to hug her. His hair was a soft cushion against her head as she returned the gesture.
“Thanks, Colleen. You’re the best.”
“I know.” she said with a chuckle.
Michael moved away, waving as he left through the front door of the apartment.
He smiled to himself as he pocketed the money. The record still in his hands, he only now realized that he’d been quite broke this whole time.
Colleen was just psychic like that, it seemed.
For the first time in her life, Denny found herself listening to and enjoying a song that wasn’t sung by Michael Jackson.
She waited patiently by the corner of the 57th Street Theater, aptly named the Big House. Five minutes before, Michael had texted her that he was on his way, and the mere thought made her body bubble with the purest warmth.
Somehow, she was still in one piece. The Pop 5 had let her go off on her business with little trouble, in fact, preferring to wait for Rob Prototype’s call back at the Turnabout Cafe.
With Craven gone, things were about to change. That included their place in Zero Beat, and their position as members of the Pop 5. To the nature of those things, there was little to think over.
But right now, she was still here, and Michael was still here. Truly, those were the only two constants Denny needed for things to be their very best.
The song continued to twinkle in her ears, as she spotted Michael coming up the street with something large and square in his hands. Her face glowed as he waved excitedly right before crossing the street towards the theater.
“I didn’t keep waiting too long, did I?” Michael asked, as Denny shook her head energetically.
“Nope! What’s up, Michael?”
Michael smiled. “Oh, you know, the usual. I was at dinner with Rob and the others. I would have come sooner, bu-”
She was quick to put a finger to his lips, silencing him in a heartbeat. “It’s okay. I completely understand.”
Michael then remembered the thing in his hands. He lifted it up, showing it off in all of its original splendor.
“I got something for you. I wanted to thank you for everything you did. If it wasn’t for you, I would probably be six feet under.”
Denny’s eyes widened, and she took his gift into her hands. It was a smooth vinyl case, and on it was the face of her eternal idol, as young as he was in 1979 with mocha skin and a full head of curly black hair. He smiled through white teeth against the backdrop of a red brick wall.
The song played in her head almost instantly. It was the very same one they had sang karaoke together on Christmas some weeks before.
“Rock with You…?” she asked, as if unable to believe it. “This is for me?”
Michael nodded. “It’s the original single. I got it a long time ago. I love it, but I think you’d love it more.”
Denny wrapped her arms around him before he could say another word. She just about wept, holding him tightly, the album clasped between her hands.
“Thank you, Michael. This is the best thing anyone’s ever given me. I’ll keep it safe.”
“I’m glad.” Michael replied, only for his eyes to perk up as he heard an unexpected sound coming from her ears.
It was nothing like the high voice of the King of Pop he assumed she’d be listening to. He focused his hearing, but even as a Music Master, it didn’t yet ring a bell.
So, his question came out naturally.
“Huh, what are you listening to there?”
Denny moved back, realizing his question and taking one headphone out of her ear out of habit. “Oh, this? It’s that song from when we were at the arcade. You remember the one…”
Michael’s memory finally hit him a second later. “This Is My Happiness.”
He turned his head, raising an eyebrow. “Wait a second. I thought you said you didn’t like anything if it wasn’t by Michael Jackson.”
Denny seemed almost floored by the question. “Oh, uh, I guess I don’t. But I like this song. It reminds me of you.”
Michael smiled, quite surprised. “Seriously? It does?”
Denny nodded quickly. Honking cars and passing pedestrians were practically non-existent to her. “Yeah. I can’t get that one line out of my head.”
“…you should know, to be with you girl, oh this is my happiness…” she said, singing along to it with a pleasant look in her eyes and glowing warmth on her cheeks.
Denny was no singer, of course, but for that brief moment, she couldn’t have sounded prettier in Michael’s ears.
“Of course, you’re not a girl, but you get what I mean?” she asked him, shaking him out of his momentary distraction in the process.
Michael perked right back at up. “Yeah, totally!”
Michael put his hand on the back of his head. He took a deep breath as he prepared his next words.
“You know, I just want you to know…I’m happy to have you, Denny.” he admitted, as her heart practically melted in the process.
She no longer cared about what he or anyone else watching thought, moving quickly as her fingers wrapped around his and she enjoyed their closeness if only for a brief moment.
“Really?” she said, looking up at him with that perfect look on contentment.
Michael grinned, and Denny’s vision no longer saw just a younger imitation of her idol before her.
She saw the fluffy afro, the tie dye colors of his shirt, that golden heart beneath, and a glittering smile that could shine across a galaxy.
It made his words all the more perfect. “For sure, Denny.”
Denny had to hold back her tears as she mouthed those wonderful words back.
“I’m happy to have you too.”
Michael’s hand stayed with hers, until he soon realized the time in his mind, moving towards the theater door with her in tow.
“Oh snap, movie’s gonna start soon. I haven’t seen This Is It in forever. Don’t want to be late, do we? You ready?
Denny nodded. Her expression of pure happiness could barely be contained.
“Yes! Lead the way, Michael.”
He nodded back happily.
With that, Michael pulled her along, that implacable grin just about stuck on his face
As they went inside, leaving the city night to its devices in the process, those lyrics from the song played again again in Michael Kay’s mind.
He was still a Music Master, just as he’d been when he started this white knuckle ride.
But through it all, he made friends, reunited with a space cowboy, and formed something special with the girl who remained enamored with the King of Pop.
It was something he still didn’t fully understand, and wasn’t even sure if he wanted to.
The threat of Zero Beat was but a far flung memory now, and Craven’s evil something to forget.
There was no doubt about it. This was it for Michael Kay. He understood now exactly what Denny meant when she’d whispered those wonderful lyrics.
Now and forever, this was his happiness.
MUSIC MASTERS: CD ONE