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Golden Years

Hugh Fritz

The show wasn’t scheduled to start for another three hours but the lobby was already packed. Andre stood underneath the wall clock holding a yellow flag above his head. People with laminated yellow tags hooked to the end of lanyards crowded around him. At four o’clock he waved the flag and led the group throughout the building. He struggled to recall the required reading material and hoped nobody noticed his brief stalling as he told them when the concert hall was built and how many people it could seat. He paused when they reached the end of the indoor stream that collected rainwater and sent it along a twisted path until it ended in a pool surrounded by clay sculptures where some visitors dropped coins or posed for photographs. Andre hoped some of the people in his tour group would do so and give him a chance to collect his thoughts, but was quickly disappointed. 
“What was the purpose of the renovations last year?” asked a man who had shown up with a woman and three children. 
Andre began to sweat and resisted the urge to wipe his forehead with the sleeve of his tuxedo. “That…was mostly to repaint the mural on the ceiling.” At least, that’s all he could remember. There had been no reason for him to be around during the renovations or even notice what was done since it was focused on the lobby instead of the auditorium. “Oh, also, a few rows of seats near the stage were replaced with larger, newer, and much more comfortable models.” 
“What’s the meaning behind the mural on the ceiling, anyway,” said a young woman walking arm-in-arm with a man. 
I’m not that kind of artist,thought Andre. “It was done by Jaques Martis. There are books about him and his work in the gift shop.” The woman sighed, apparently not satisfied with his answer. That didn’t matter. In a few moments he’d blow them all away. 
“Let’s move on,” he said as he waved the flag again and brought the group to a set of large wooden doors with copper handles. Inside was a circular room with five hundred chairs lining the walls and floor with a raised stage and sunken pit in the center. This was the reason Andre had been made a tour guide. He was sub-par when it came to the aesthetics of the building, but he knew every inch of the auditorium by heart. He explained the principles of acoustics and how sound traveled, which he related to the shape of the room and why certain portions of the walls had padding on them. He pointed out a structure suspended above the stage which served as a natural amplifier, and mentioned that even the floor was made of a material designed to reflect sound waves toward the audience rather than absorbing them. He led the group around the curtains to a green room where Catalina Johnson was doing vocal exercises. She feigned surprise when they entered and took the group through a brief, rehearsed introduction about how she became interested in music and highlighted a few of her proudest moments. She was one of the more famous performers and after her speech she signed some of the group member’s programs.
The last stop of the tour was the pit, Andre’s home away from home. At the moment it was empty save for the percussion section, the piano, and closed instrument cases resting next to the seats. Andre explained the layout of the orchestra and why the sections were positioned the way they were. Finally, he guided the group to a seemingly random chair, opened the case underneath it, and removed pieces of the saxophone inside. 
“This is what I’ve devoted twenty-six years of my life to mastering.” As he assembled the instrument he explained why saxophones of various sizes and shapes produced different pitches. He tried to not be too technical, although he wouldn’t mind if someone asked for clarification on fluid dynamics and vibrations. Those were the kinds of questions he could answer without stammering. “Now, since you have a musician as a tour guide, I thought I’d spend our remaining time giving you a taste of what you’re in for. Here’s one of my favorite movements from tonight’s piece.” 
He closed his eyes and pressed a few keys, making thumping noises that echoed throughout the auditorium. He imagined the rest of the orchestra was present and pictured the conductor on the podium. He even visualized the sheet music, seeing it as clearly as if it were right in front of him. He let muscle memory take over and played through the segment, recalling every staccato, crescendo, and pick-up note. When he was done he wasn’t met with a standing ovation from hundreds of admirers, but the small group he performed for smiled and applauded, which was just as good as far as he was concerned. 
After the concert he secured his instrument case inside the container on the back of his bicycle. He had changed after the curtain closed and his tuxedo was now folded and sealed away in his waterproof backpack. It was mid-summer and even at night the temperature was high. It had also been cloudy earlier. His only suit was already damp with sweat. He couldn’t risk getting it soaked with rain as well. 
There was only a weak breeze on his face and he glanced at the windfarm as he rode. He couldn’t see much other than the tops of the blades, but it was enough to notice they were moving slowly, if at all. Even if they were moving, he relied on his rooftop solar panels more than the blades. The city had grown crowded and gradually portions of the windfarm were being removed to make room for housing. 
“Jess, I’m home,” he called as he pushed his bicycle inside and slid the rear tire into the groove of his Electro Spin station.
“I picked up our order on the way home,” his wife called back. “Can you cook it?”
“I just got home,” Andre whined. “Couldn’t you have gotten it started while I was on my way?” 
“I need to practice. We’re going to the finals!” 
“Congratulations,” he shouted. He placed the saxophone on its shelf and went to the storage room where he grabbed a pair of plastic cups; one filled with pellets and another with a catalyst. He brought them to his kitchen where a metal bowl rested on a stand in the center of the room. He dumped the contents of the cups into the bowl and placed a grate over the top. The chemicals reacted and glowed as they provided a smokeless source of heat. 
As the stove warmed he opened the icebox where the pork chops he had ordered from the local slaughterhouse and vegetables from the garden in his back yard rested atop a matrix of plastic pouches designed to stay cold for weeks. Before removing the meat he ran his fingers over the Permafrost Pouches. Most were still stiff but a few gave way at his touch. He grabbed some fresh ones, slapped them to initiate the endothermic reaction, and replaced the bad ones. He would need to remember to send the soft Permafrost Pouches back to the manufacturer to be recycled in the morning. 
“Did you turn off the lights in the storage room?” Jessica called. 
“No, honey,” he called back as he placed the meat above the embers. 
“Well you should, along with anything else you’re not using. Our battery was below half power last I checked.” 
That wasn’t surprising. The solar panels were connected to the battery and usually recharged it to full capacity by evening but the clouds had been persistent all day. He thought about his tuxedo, which had likely become wrinkled after being hastily folded and scrunched into the backpack. “Is there enough juice left to clean and iron my tux?” 
“Maybe,” replied Jessica, “if you’d turn off the lights.” 
“I’m cooking, can’t you take a break for a second?” 
“Ugh, fine!” He listened as she stomped throughout the house and flicked several switches before she entered the kitchen and looked over his shoulder at the sizzling meat. “Smells good. How was the concert?” 
“It sounded like the audience loved it. Catalina was amazing as always, and I didn’t slip up too badly with the tour groups. How was the game?”
“Joe needs to work on his accuracy. He made it to the third level a lot, but kept missing the target.” 
“I’m sure you were great, though,” he said as he flipped the meat. He felt guilty for not being able to see more of her games. He blamed his absence on the concert schedule, but in truth Battle Tops was too aggressive for his tastes and watching Jessica do it frightened him. The obstacles were dangerous enough without members of the other team trying to knock her down so they could make it to the uppermost level and throw their top across a plank and into a hole. In spite of his uneasiness, he didn’t complain. Being a professional saxophonist was not a high paying job. Jessica, on the other hand, had signed a long term contract with the South Carolina Spokes, and they had been getting by on that money for years. 
Andre intended to charge his phone on the Electro Spin station after dinner but just as they finished eating there was a knock at the door. He answered and was greeted by a slender man with short hair. He wore a pressed suit and carried a briefcase in his left hand. 
“Andre Selmer,” said the man as he extended his free hand. “My name’s Stagg Stringer. I’m working on a project and I’d very much like you to be a part of it. May I come in?” 
Andre shook Stagg’s hand but didn’t invite him inside. “What sort of project?” 
Stagg handed him a business card. “I attended one of your tours before last week’s show. Your obsession with music is exactly what I’m looking for.” 
Andre saw the MG17 logo on the card. The company was known for pharmaceutical creams and he was familiar with them since his sister used one of their products to treat her psoriasis. “Why would someone from MG17 be interested in my musical talent?” 
“The short version,” said Stagg, “is I’m putting together a show of my own.” 
Andre led Stagg to his living room. The two sat on opposite sides of a wooden table. Stagg removed a binder from his briefcase. 
Andre opened the binder and flipped through pages of diagrams with measurements and notes in the margins. It was clear that he was looking at a stage, but it was much larger than the one at the Gold Rush. 
“You can read through the beginning on your own time,” said Stagg. “As a musician, all I want you to focus on is the green section.” 
Andre noticed different colored tabs sticking out of the sides of the papers. When he flipped to the green one he glanced at Stagg. The section contained a list of names he had not heard in a long time, and for good reason. Below each name was a bullet pointed list of ridiculous phrases and random words. “What’s this?” 
“Those are the artists I want to cover, along with their songs,” said Stagg. “This is a tribute concert. For Millennial Pop.” 
Andre’s hands left the papers. He stared at Stagg, waiting for him to say it was a joke. The room was silent for several long breaths as the two held each other’s gaze. “You can’t be serious,” said Andre when the laughter never came. 
“Specifically, I want to focus on the years 2000 through 2030.” 
Andre closed the binder. “I get it. You’re coming to me because I’m just a saxophonist. I don’t spend the entire show under the spotlight like Catalina Johnson or Scott Azumi so you think I’ll jump at any opportunity that comes my way. Anything would be better than what I’m doing now, right? No one gives a shit about the guys in the pit.” He leaned forward and pressed his index finger hard on the table. “I’ve got news for you, Stagg Stringer, if that is your real name. I like my job. I’m proud of every performance I’ve ever been a part of and even though I’m never center stage, my work at the Gold Rush Theater matters and my time is much too valuable to waste on garbage like this.” He meant to push the binder back to Stagg, but he used too much force and it fell to the floor. 
Stagg picked it up and placed it back on the table. “You misunderstand. I didn’t come here because I thought you’d be an easy sale. I know you’re a professional. I’ve seen your talent and I respect you for it.” 
“This is how you show respect? By asking me to pay tribute to people who spent more time writing tweets than writing lyrics?” 
Stagg glared at Andre. “They weren’t all like that.” 
“Fair point,” said Andre. “Some of them spent more time trying to get the paparazzi’s attention than rehearsing for their next performance. Some of them spent most of their interviews talking about their love life instead of their albums.” 
“And some of them invested the money they made degrading themselves so their children wouldn’t have to follow in their footsteps.” Stagg took a deep breath and reopened the binder. “Look, I know how this sounds. Believe me, I know. I’ll understand if you don’t want to go through with this, but don’t make a decision until you hear me out. That’s all I’m asking.” He flipped through the list of artists, spun the binder to face Andre, and place his finger near the middle of a page. “Do you recognize that name?” 
Andre leaned forward and scratched his head. “It sounds familiar. Give me a minute.” 
Stagg hummed part of a song. 
“Oh yeah,” said Andre, “that guy.” 
“That guy was my great grandfather. He made a small fortune and while he had his share of wild times, he didn’t blow all of it. Some of it went to my grandfather who had a much quieter life. Over the years my family invested in a lot of different companies and eventually started MG17. The work in pharmaceuticals helps a lot of people and is incredibly profitable but our wealth started in the music industry.” He tapped the paper. “The way I see it, I owe him everything I have and I’m sick of him being considered a joke.” 
“But he was,” shouted Andre. The outburst surprised even him and for a moment he was worried Stagg would lean over the table and punch him in the nose. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that.” 
“Sure you did. But thanks for apologizing. Out of all the people who’ve ever insulted him you’re the first to take it back.” 
“I’m sorry,” Andre repeated. “I really am. I can understand wanting to be proud of your family. But come on, your great grandfather made a living shouting nonsense into a microphone with his shirt off. Wasn’t he known for inviting female audience members on stage and dry humping them?” 
“He didn’t dry hump anybody. It was a form of dance that was widely accepted at the time.” 
“There were a lot of despicable things that were widely accepted at that time,” Andre sighed. He closed the binder and slid it gently back to Stagg. “Embarrassing concept aside, how do you plan on pulling this off? Singers back then relied on spectacle to sell tickets. There’s no way people will be excited to hear any of those songs performed with a classical tone.” 
“Oh, it won’t be done with a classical tone,” said Stagg. There was excitement in his voice again; the hurt from talking about his great grandfather had dispersed. “I plan on renting Times Square in New York and giving it the vibe our ancestors were known for. There’ll be strobe lights, Jumbotrons, glowing costumes, and parts of the stage will move. We’re going to have towers of amplifiers at maximum power. It’ll be televised, too. People nationwide will be able to bring in the New Year with a blast from the past. Don’t get me wrong, there’ll be a place for you and your saxophone, but I’m working on getting my hands on some synthesizers, keyboards, and I even have a line on some old DJ equipment.” He paused and gauged Andre’s expression. “You’re skeptical. I’d be surprised if you weren’t. But I’ve been speaking with a team of engineers who say they can make this possible. This stage is going to be a grand slam. It’ll be hooked up to solar power, wind power, wave, and geothermal. My engineering team has been working on devices which can be installed into each floorboard and harness power from vibrations. The impact of the dancer’s feet, the sound waves from the instruments, and even the cheers from the audience will all help power the equipment. For details, turn to the blue tab.” 
“Don’t slide that binder back to me,” said Andre. He spread his arms wide. “Has any of this, any of it at all, been presented to the Department of Energy?” 
“Even with all the gadgets, we’ll need to draw some power from the grid, but the engineers have promised me that we’ll be compliant with DOE standards. That’s part of the reason I want people like you on board. Having backup from instruments that don’t need to be plugged in will help minimize the power requirements.” Stagg drew a stack of papers from the briefcase. “As for the permit, I’m still petitioning. I’ve been trying to gain public support. Right now I’m still collecting signatures.” 
“I figured you’d be stuck in the public support phase,” said Andre. “You’re never going to collect enough names to get this approved.” 
Stagg handed the papers to Andre. “You sure about that? I’m three-quarters of the way there.” 
“What?” Andre snatched the stack and flipped through it. Hundreds of lines were filled in. 
“Most of them were reluctant at first,” Stagg said smugly, “But let’s face it, everyone has a guilty pleasure. Sure, it’s easy to make fun of the early days of this millennium, but when you get right down to it, the culture doesn’t deserve all the smack talk it’s given. At least as far as music’s concerned.” 
Andre handed the stack of signatures back to Stagg. “Look, I’ll admit there were some memorable moments from that time period and I’ll admit your great grandfather wasn’t terrible. But that’s not enough reason for me to be a part of this. Sorry, but the answer’s no.” 
Stagg placed the signatures in the briefcase but left the binder on the table. “Listen, I have more people to meet, so I’ll be in town a few more days. But I’m going to let you hold onto that. Look through it some more. If you change your mind, call me.” He gestured to the business card as he stood up and made his way toward the door. 
“I’m a great saxophonist,” said Andre, “but I’m not the right man for this job.” 
Stagg turned around and grinned. “Of course you are, because for you it’s all about the music. You haven’t even asked how much I’m willing to pay you.” 
He followed Stagg out and as soon as the door closed he grabbed a beer from the icebox. He placed his tuxedo into the cleaning chamber and modified the settings so the chemical bath was at its lowest possible run time and the ultraviolet cleanse was at its maximum. The spray did its job getting rid of stains and bacteria, but he hated the smell. 
Even with the chemistry programmed to its lowest setting the cleaning chamber would still take an hour to run its course. He went to the practice room where Jessica was in her pajamas wrapping a thin rope around her favorite wooden top. “What was that about?” she asked before taking her shot. Her face scrunched as she took a step forward and threw the top at a half-pipe structure which inclined, banked 180 degrees, and dead-ended. The top skidded up the structure and flew back in her direction. She caught it and wrapped the rope around it again.
“Just a guy selling something I’m not buying,” said Andre as he leaned against the wall.  
Jessica rotated her shoulder. “Do you have anything better to do than watch me?” She threw the top at the ramp as hard as she could. 
He could think of a few things, but he enjoyed watching her practice. “Nothing that wouldn’t drain the battery,” he said as he took a drink. 
The next morning Andre sat in front of an empty music stand. He liked to warm up on his own before rehearsing with the orchestra but at the moment the only song in his mind was the one Stagg hummed last night. He tried to work through simple scales and tongue exercises, but Mr. Stringer’s ancestor would not be silenced. Andre placed the instrument on the chair and went to the living room where the binder was still resting on the table. 
He flipped through it, taking in a detail on each page. Most of the technical information was beyond him, but he was able to understand enough to believe Stagg’s goal was achievable. If that were the case then this was more than just a tribute concert. It was a method of rejuvenating the ways of the early millennium. Stagg had described the genre as a guilty pleasure, which Andre thought was accurate. Nobody listened critically to Millennial Pop, or even some of the fads that came before it like hair metal. The only times Andre heard it was when he was at a party and the host thought it would be funny, which it was. 
There were many components of the Waste Boom that needlessly drained the Earth of resources: the multitude of gas-powered automobiles that constantly filled the roads; the slaughterhouses and farms that sent foodstuffs by the truckload to grocery stores which threw too much of it away upon its expiration date; the hours that the average person spent staring at a television or computer. But there was a reason concerts were one of the first things to go when fossil fuels were in short supply. They were a mindless, humiliating waste of time and energy. The Unplugged Revival made acoustics and wind instruments the norm, which saved the planet a great burden. That was why Millennial Pop needed to stay in the past. 
He’d feel a lot more confident in that argument if he hadn’t’ seen the amount of signatures Stagg had collected, and if he hadn’t seen the amount of work the engineers were putting into the stage. 
He’d also feel a lot more comfortable if he could get this song out of his head. 
He left the binder open and paced the room as he whistled a song from the King and I. The musical was not his favorite but it suited the situation. He snapped his fingers and whistled loudly, trying to drive the competing melody out of his mind. 
Jessica entered the room. “Are you OK?” 
Andre gave up whistling and bellowed the lyrics. “There are times I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know! I often find confusion in conclusions I concluded long ago!” 
“It was a yes or no question. Anyway, it’s Catalina.” She handed Andre his cell phone, which he hadn’t noticed she was holding. 
He checked the battery level before putting it to his ear. “Hi, Catalina. Sorry, but you’ll need to make this quick. I forgot to charge my phone last night.” 
“Then you’d better come over,” said Catalina. “This’ll probably take a while. Bring your phone. You can finish charging it here.” 
Andre rode to Catalina’s house with his tuxedo in his backpack and his saxophone in the rear compartment so he could go straight to the Gold Rush if he needed to. He brought his bicycle to the back yard and locked it to the fence but brought his saxophone with him. The part of town he was in had a low crime rate, but he never left his instrument unattended. When Catalina answered they hugged and she brought him to an exercise room where a man in tight-fitting shorts and an even tighter shirt worked up a sweat on her Electro Spin station. 
Catalina held out her hand. “You brought your phone, right?” Andre handed it to her and she attached it to the cycle. She also turned on her tablet computer which was connected to its own port. “Seventy percent?” she scolded, “what am I paying you for?” 
“Sorry, ma’am,” said the cyclist. He peddled faster. 
“Must be nice,” said Andre as he and Catalina left the room. 
“They’re not that expensive,” said Catalina. “I’ll give you the numbers of a few I hired in the past.” 
“Thanks, but I talked to Jess about it once. She said if I brought it up again I’d be sleeping on the couch.” They chuckled, but Jessica was resolute about not hiring a cyclist. In her opinion, people in that line of work were better suited in places like nursing homes where they could help those who were no longer fit to charge their own appliances. 
“Alright, here’s the thing,” said Catalina when they were in the lounge, “a guy came here last night. He had a proposition that was interesting to say the least.” 
“Don’t tell me his name was Stagg Stringer.” 
Catalina’s eyes widened. “He stopped by your place, too?” 
“Oh yes. I know all about what he’s planning.” 
“Oh, well, good. That’ll save us some time. Are you going to do it?” 
“No,” Andre answered promptly. “You’re not either, are you?”
“Look, I didn’t say yes.” She shifted in her seat. “Yet.” 
“Don’t say yes at all,” said Andre. “It’s a waste of time and a bigger waste of your talent.” 
“It might be worthwhile,” she said with a shrug. “Stagg seems to be getting a lot of support.” 
“He has the support of stupid people who want to spend one stupid night watching a stupid show.” 
She rolled her eyes. “Real mature, Andre.” 
“I’m just saying you have too much going for you to pack your bags and head off to New York. You have a good job at the Gold Rush.” 
“My understudy’s really improved. She can cover for me while I’m gone.” 
Andre threw his arms up. “Sure, that’s a great career move. Give your understudy the spotlight while you cover songs written by amateurs who used computers for instruments and recordings for back-up vocals. Did you and Stagg discuss what you’d be wearing? In case you haven’t been to the museum in a while, there’s a wing with photos of singers from that time. By 2020 it was hard to tell the difference between a concert and a peep show.” 
“We didn’t discuss all the details,” Catalina admitted, “but he took me through the layout. It won’t just be a barrage of songs. Stagg wants to provide an overview of each artist’s life before performing their work, so it’ll be more like a massive biography than a tribute concert. He’s done his research.” 
“Is that supposed to sway me?” 
“It should. I mean, what’s your job, Andre? To memorize sheet music and finger positions?” 
“Come on, that’s not fair.” He knew where she was going. At some point, everyone who worked at the Gold Rush met people who felt being a musician was so easy it could barely be considered a real job. 
“What we do is so much more complicated than playing notes,” said Catalina. “Anyone can learn to play an instrument. Anyone can make noise. We’re paid because we get inside the creator’s mind and connect with their soul. We carry on their legacy and their message.” 
“But Millennial Pop had no message.” 
“Not an obvious one. If you refuse to dig deep and choose not to look for meaning because it’s hard to find, then maybe the problem is you.” 
Andre picked up his case and made his way for the exit but Catalina stepped in front of him. 
“The only reason I didn’t say yes last night is because I don’t want to go on my own,” she said. 
Andre took a step back. “Stagg hasn’t found any other performers?” 
“He has, but I want you and me to do this together. I know you feel this show is an insult to everything you’ve trained for, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, think of it as rediscovering a lost way of life. You’re not wrong for calling these songs senseless. It’s difficult to decipher exactly what the lyrics are meant to convey. That’s why you need to be a part of it. Making this show a masterpiece is going to require attention to detail, and when it comes to music you’re the most astute person I know.” 
They looked at each other for a moment without saying anything. Andre moved around Catalina and made his way out the room. “This is a future performance,” he called over his shoulder. “Ask me about it later. For now let’s focus on the one we’re doing tonight.” 
A few days passed without word from Catalina or Stagg. There were no shows scheduled at the Gold Rush that weekend and when Saturday came Andre had the house to himself. Now that Jessica was going to the finals, she had been training harder than usual and was out with her team for most of the evening. He’d been stingy with his energy usage for the last few nights so he would have sufficient battery power to turn on his radio and play along with any song that came on. Before he started, he checked his phone and noticed its energy was running low. He had only just hopped on his Electro Spin station when there was a knock at the door. “Can’t a guy charge his phone in peace anymore?” 
When he opened the door both Catalina and Stagg were there. “Can we come in?” said Catalina. Andre stepped aside and the three made their way to the wooden table. The binder was still resting near the corner.  
“Sorry to bother you,” said Stagg, “but I’m leaving soon and you never called me back.” 
“That’s because I haven’t changed my mind.” 
“Five grand,” said Stagg. “That’s how much you’ll make up front. You never did get around to asking last time I was here. Plus, you’ll get a portion of the ticket sales. I’ll even cover your travel expenses and book a hotel room for you.” 
“This was never a question of money,” said Andre. 
“I figured you’d say that,” said Catalina. 
Andre glared at her. “Did he ask you to tag along because he thought you’d be able to convince me?” 
She picked up the binder. “In a way. But I’m not asking as a salesman or a producer. I’m a musician, just like you.” She flipped through the list of artists and songs. “I’m sure you know a few of these.” 
“Most of them aren’t difficult to figure out,” said Andre. “Add laziness to the list of reasons to hate Millennial Pop. Take four or five notes, play them over and over again, throw in some auto-tune and pitch bending software and you’ve got what they called music.” 
“Shut up and get your sax out,” said Catalina. 
“What? Why?” said Andre. 
She spun the binder around and pointed to a song. “I’m sure you know this one. Play through it with me and then give Stagg your answer.” 
Andre leaned over the binder. “Oh, come on. Wiggy Doohickey? See, that’s what I’m talking about. What does that even mean?” 
“We can figure that out later,” she said as she stood up. “Get. Your. Sax.”  
Andre left the room and returned a moment later with his instrument fully assembled. He sighed but licked his lips. “Give me a minute.” He mentally went through the riff and experimented with his fingers. It wasn’t long before he was able to provide a decent rendition. 
Catalina snapped to give the tempo. “Ready? One, two, one two three four.” 
Catalina lifted her arms and swayed her hips as she sang. Her performance was such a surprise Andre nearly stopped playing. It had never been a secret that she enjoyed the oldies, but as he watched her he wondered if this was the same woman he thought he knew so well. Her movements were unorthodox. She seemed less concerned than usual about hitting the right notes and shouted more than sang. It wasn’t professional, but it was energetic. 
Andre was so mesmerized at her change in character that he hadn’t been paying attention to his own body. At the start of the second verse he noticed he was tapping his foot. He told himself it was just to help keep time, but as the song continued he became possessed. His shoulders bounced and his foot hit the ground with more enthusiasm. Catalina’s movements were contagious and soon he was swaying his hips as well. “One more time,” Catalina shouted when they completed what should have been the final chorus. Andre complied, happily extending the tune several seconds longer than it needed to be. When the mouthpiece left his lips, he noticed he was smiling.  
“That,” said Stagg as he applauded. “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.” 
“Oh shut up,” said Andre. 
“You seemed like you were enjoying yourself,” said Catalina. 
 “That doesn’t mean it’s good,” said Andre. “It’s just… catchy.” 
“What’s the difference?” said Catalina. “If you can’t listen to it without smiling, doesn’t that make it a good song? Face it, you like this stuff. Deep down, I think you want to do it just as badly as I do.” 
Andre tapped his fingers against the keys. He knew the longer he was silent, the more he was projecting just how much he was being sucked in. 
“Five grand,” said Stagg. “Plus, you’ll have a solo. In fact, Wiggy Doohickey will be our opener. I can see it now. The stage will be dark, except for you standing under a spotlight. You’ll have a few moments to go nuts, play whatever you want, but eventually you’ll lead into the opening riff. That’s when the flood lights come on. The rest of the band joins in, and Catalina makes her entrance. You two go through the song the same way you did just now, but with backup.” 
Andre continued tapping the keys. Five grand and a chance to literally be in the spotlight? This deal was getting difficult to turn down. 
A week later Andre kissed Jessica goodbye, secured the saxophone to his bicycle, and rode to the Gold Rush Theater. He walked to the pit where his friends were warming up. He hugged some of them, high-fived others, and said his goodbyes before getting back on his bicycle and making his way to the Hyperloop Express station. Stagg and Catalina were waiting for him at one of the terminals. The three greeted one another and boarded the train. Stagg went first and Andre leaned close to Catalina’s ear. “I’m still not entirely sure about this.” 
“Don’t worry,” said Catalina. “As long as we’re working together, it can’t be anything but a success.”

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