Chapter One: Mary Phillips
The voice was comforting, reassuring, and strong, all the things she had known it would be. It had taken a lot of courage for her to find the strength to write to her brother and tell him the truth, but now, as she met his gaze from across the garden she was glad she had taken the risk. He did not look angry…merely worried.
Mary Phillips was twenty years old, young, innocent and naïve to the world at large. It had been a culture shock for her when her older brother Craig, who was now twenty four had been forced to leave the United States for Europe in order to forward his musical career. Since their mother’s death three years earlier Craig had been everything to his sister and consequently she had been lost without him. It was something of a relief to have him home.
“Craig!” She exclaimed, hurrying to greet him. “Oh, Craig…you don’t know how much I’ve missed you!”
“I’ve missed you too, Mary.” Craig hugged her tightly and then held her at arm’s length, running his gaze over her pretty features and noting the tears that longed to fall from her pale blue eyes. He hugged her again. “It’s gonna be all right now. You made the right choice, you know.”
“Did I?” Mary allowed herself to be comforted. “Did I? If I did, why do I still feel so wretched?”
“He messed you about, but it’s over now.” Craig told her gently, leading her over to the swing seat and sitting down, pulling her down with him. “He wasn’t worth your time or energy, Mary. Let him go – there’ll be others.”
“Maybe.” Mary sighed. Idly she reached down to pick a blossom or two from the nearby plant, toying with them in her fingers. “I thought…I thought he loved me, Craig.”
“We all make mistakes.” Craig told her firmly. “The best thing you could have done was to call it off when you did. You’d have been twice as miserable if you’d married the creep, that’s for sure.”
“I dunno.” Mary admitted. “He…he seemed so sweet at first.” She bit her lip, remembering. She had first met Ryan Wells not long after Craig’s initial departure for London and, feeling unsure and afraid in the world on her own he had quickly sucked her in. Mary was young still in many ways, naïve and trusting, and the crafty Ryan had taken full advantage of that fact, feeding her any number of lines till she was convinced she was in love with him. Then, in a flash, he had proposed to her and she had accepted. It was only when she had found him out with another girl that she had realised how gullible she had been and in a fit of grief had called off the wedding, locking herself in her room with her tissues till she had found the courage to write to the one person she truly felt she could trust – her big brother.
Mary had always been shy and slow to make acquaintances. In school she had always been the smart kid with very little to say, the one kids never picked on but then never approached to form a friendship with. She had often spent lunchtimes and dinnertimes alone and it had left her very uncertain as to how to deal with people. She possessed the sweetest of natures combined with the stubbornest of tempers, something her brother too was blighted with, which often meant she would not listen to reason when people she had developed an affection for were being defamed. Ryan had been one of those instances. Craig had only met him once, on a visit back to see his sister, and the encounter had almost ended in fisticuffs. He had tried to warn her then that her chosen beau was bad news, but Mary had not been keen to listen.
Now she wished she had, but she knew in her heart that Craig would never say ‘I told you so’.
Despite her naivety, Mary was by no means stupid. One of the brightest girls in her class at school, part of her social fear had been created when in sixth grade she had been skipped up into a class with kids a year her senior. Already socially behind, she had floundered and only her good grades had kept her afloat with her new peers.
She had never gone to college, too afraid to make that step and throw herself into a whole new scenario. Craig had been upset when she had told him she had no intention of applying, but he had not forced her. He knew when not to push things.
Mary’s real gift, like Craig’s, was music, and always had been. From an early age she had tooted out basic melodies on her recorder and from the age of five had learnt to play piano. She had been a natural, but her fascination for the fiercer rhythms and beats had come from years of listening to her brother on his drumkit. She had written many songs since then, but they all lay in a dusty box in the attic. Only her mother and her brother had ever heard them – she had not the confidence in her own work to take them further. She had developed a keen interest in the music produced by Craig and his first ever band, and as a result, when she had turned sixteen, her mother had bought her a synthesiser, a yellow instrument with a gold strap, shining white keys and all the latest functions. She had been both overjoyed and overawed at once, but it had facilitated her composition and for a happy year she had produced many melodies, most of them with upbeat and yet gentle rhythms. Then, at the age of seventeen, Mary had lost her mother forever, and the synthesiser and its songs had lost their thrall. Put away in a box, Mary had shut away all of her musical leanings with that instrument and had turned her focus on other things. The synthesiser meant ‘Mom’ to Mary…and even after three years the youngest Phillips child was not ready to let go of her memories for the sake of her gift.
“He was a creep and that’s all there is to say about it.” Craig said now, taking one of the flowers from her and tucking it gently into her curly hair. “Don’t think about him, Mary. He isn’t worth your time. Hey, how about you pull out that old synth of yours and you and I jam like old times? That should take your mind off it.”
“I…I don’t want to.” Mary shook her head, turning away.
“It still reminds you too much of her?” Craig looked surprised. Mary nodded.
“Mom was everything to us.” She murmured softly. “I still…can’t accept losing her.”
“Mom wouldn’t want you to throw in the towel just because she can’t be here with us now.” Craig said gently. “Come on, Mary. You’ll feel better when you’ve played a bit.”
“If I can still remember how.” Mary sighed, standing up. “All right, Craig, you win. I’ll give it a go. But it’s going to take more than a few notes to cheer me up.”
“Perhaps you can get a song out of it?” Craig suggested. Mary snorted.
“And who am I going to play it to?” she asked.
“Me?” Craig grinned, and despite herself a half-smile touched his sister’s face.
“Silly…you play right along with me!” she scolded. “It’s not the same, playing without an audience.”
“We could get an audience.” Craig suggested.
“No way.” Mary folded her arms. “You know I don’t play for anyone who isn’t one of the family. That’s how it’s always been, Craig.”
“Maybe it’s time you had a change, then.” Craig grinned at her. “Come on. Let’s see what we can put together.”
“What do you have in mind?” Mary looked anxious.
“Just an innocent jam session.” Craig assured her. “At least for now, anyway.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
“What are we doing here?”
It was several hours later and the sky had darkened into night by the time the two Phillips’ emerged from the attic of the old family house. Once she had touched the keys of her synthesiser, just as Craig had predicted, Mary had found all of her old passion coming back to her, and for a while she had just sat playing scales, enjoying the sound it made. Yes, it still touched her heart with pictures of her mother, but there was something else too – her music helped to fill the void Ryan had left inside of her, and Craig had been glad to see her smile.
He had taken her to a club that evening. Mary wasn’t used to the loud noises or bustling people of a club, and she shrank back from the bright lights inside but Craig merely linked his arm in hers, leading her into the building and over to a table.
“I thought you needed to relax a bit.” He told her with a grin. “Moping inside at home isn’t going to do you any good, anyhow.”
“Relax? Here?” Mary glanced around her warily. “Craig, are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Certain.” Craig winked at her. “What do you want to drink?”
“Okay, I’ll order for you.” Craig smiled. “Make yourself comfortable, sis…the band’s about to play.”
“Band?” Mary’s startled gaze turned towards the stage, where a group of motley people were setting up their instruments. Her fear momentarily replaced by fascination, she realised that there was a synth player in the group, and a slight smile crossed her face. Maybe she’d learn something about how to play.
The band were good, but not the best she’d ever heard, yet on that evening they were almost magical. She found herself tapping her toe to the beat, immersing herself in the song in a way that only a true musician can. When the melody ended she began clapping along with the rest of the clients, and Craig, who had pushed her drink across to her and taken his own seat marvelled at how easily his sister’s imagination was caught.
“I wonder what she’d make of my band these days.” He mused with a wry smile. “Maybe I should take her back to London with me for a while, and find out. She could probably do with the change of scene.”
“Well, hello there.”
Involuntarily Mary let out a gasp, jerking out of her mesmerised daze and registering the presence of the band’s lead singer. He was a tall man in his late twenties, with a shock of dark hair over his shoulder and despite herself Mary was intrigued by him. Then she got a grip on her self. Oh no, not this time. No more broken hearts for her.
Still, she offered him a smile, for it was not in her nature to be unpleasant.
“Hi.” She murmured, wondering absently where her voice had gone to. The man smiled further.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” he asked her.
“She’s not your sweetheart.” Craig turned his gaze on the man, warning him off her. The man shrugged.
“Cool out, dude.” He said. “I was just being friendly.”
“You sing great.” Mary felt that she had to diffuse the situation somehow, so the comment blurted itself out of her mouth and into the conversation before she realised what she was doing. She blushed violently, but the man seemed touched.
“Why, thank you.” He said gently. “Are you a musician, my dear? Because you can certainly keep a rhythm.”
“I…I dabble.” Mary lowered her gaze. “But I’m not…not very good.”
“I’m sure you’re great.” He smiled that mesmerising smile once more. “How about you head up on stage with me and show me what you can do?” He glanced at Craig. “If your friend here doesn’t object, of course.”
Craig ignored the jibe, and Mary’s pleading look to interfere. He shrugged.
“I think that maybe you should show them how it’s done.” He told his sister. “Go on, Mary. It’s just a bit of fun.”
“But I…I couldn’t!” Mary’s expression became one of horror as she found herself pulled to her feet and towards the stage. “No, please, I…I can’t!”
“What’s your instrument, my dear?” The lead singer of the band did not pay attention to her feeble protests. “Drum?”
“S…synthesiser.” Mary murmured. “But…”
“Jonny, can we borrow your synth for a moment? The little lady here is going to show us how it’s done.” The singer raised his voice and the long haired synth player nodded, lifting his instrument from his shoulder and handing it over to his band-mate, who in turn held it out to Mary.
“Well? Mary, isn’t it? Why not give it a whirl?”
“I…” Mary turned, looking at Craig but he just gave her the thumbs up. Then, across the club she saw Ryan with one of his girlfriends and her gaze narrowed. Well, so that was what he did with all his other flunkies! Well, not this one. Without a word she took the synthesiser, stepping up onto the stage to a smattering of interested applause. The singer of the band took the microphone.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, it seems we’re going to get a lesson at our own game. This is Mary, and she’s got a little song she’d like to play for us.”
“I’ll give him a little song.” Mary thought to herself, meeting Ryan’s gaze and enjoying the startled discomfort she saw there. She had been writing down pages and pages of vicious rhyme all week, now, as she stood there, suddenly the melody for those words jumped out and hit her. She checked the settings on the synthesiser, set a beat going and began to play.
At the start of her song few people paid her much attention. By the end of it every eye in the room was on the lone musician who had taken centre stage. But in her mind Mary wasn’t in the club – she was back home, performing for her mother and her family, as she had always done in the past. The words came out but they were no longer as bitter and vengeful as she had written them, merely forceful, driving and strong. When she played the last chord there was a round of applause and in her surprise Mary did not even see Ryan slipping away into the night.
“Well, kid, you ain’t bad, I gotta admit it.” The vocalist grinned as she handed back the instrument to its owner. “One day maybe you’ll make something of yourself.”
“It…it’s nice of you to say so, but I’m really not that good.” Mary stammered, suddenly shy once more. She clambered down off the stage, hurrying over to her brother’s table.
“Can we go now?” she asked him. Craig looked surprised.
“Already? But you brought the house down, Mary, you were terrific! You want to end your night of glory now?”
“I don’t belong here…it feels wrong.” Mary responded quietly. “And I wasn’t that good – I shouldn’t have played. People were just being nice to me, that’s all.”
“I never knew you could produce such an aggressive sound.” Craig grinned, getting to his feet. “All right, Mary. You win, we’ll go. But aren’t you glad you came?”
“No, not really.” Mary admitted. “I’m not good enough to be performing for people, Craig. I’m out of practice, for a start, and…”
“When will you learn to believe in what you can do?” Craig asked softly. “Come on. Let’s go home, and you can think things over. It’s been a busy day.”
In the far corner of the club, un-noticed by Mary or her brother, a man in a dark suit was making a note in his notepad.
“Mary.” He muttered. “Fat lot of good that is. Who was that girl! Where did she come from? She’s not been here any of the other nights! Oh, this is hopeless. Finally I get my hands on that music company and the first talent I spot in days disappears from sight without a trace! I have to know who she is…I think she might be very useful to me. She’s just the kind of kid I need in my band. One who’ll take orders and can perform, as well.”
He stood, moving over to the bar and ordering a drink.
“We’ve had some interesting music tonight.” He observed.
“Still scouting, Eric?” The man behind the bar sneered at him. “Don’t you ever take time off?”
“I’m a busy man. Time is money.” Eric shrugged his shoulders. His career was his life, and always had been – a means to the end of accumulating money. “Hey, Sid, tell me, who was that girl?”
“The one who just performed? Ah, some kid…she lives round this area.”
“I meant her name, you dolt. What’s her name?”
“What’s it worth to you?” Sid asked.
“Oh, honestly.” Eric rolled his eyes, pulling his wallet from his pocket and extracting a few dollar bills. “There. How’s that? Now, what’s her name?”
Sid’s eyes glinted at the sight of the money and he gathered it up in his fat fists before Eric could withdraw his offer.
“She’s Mary Phillips. Lives alone at number seventy three, fifth avenue – just a kid of twenty. The guy she was with, that’s her brother, but he’ll be gone back to Europe soon – he never stays long round these parts.”
“Oh, really?” Eric looked thoughtful. He had not caught a glimpse of the girl’s brother, but he did not fancy taking on any irate male relatives that might interfere in his plans. “Say, she seems kinda…persuadable.”
“Don’t know much, Eric. Don’t see her here ever. Only know what the wife tells me.” Sid responded with a shrug, picking up a glass and beginning to clean it. Eric sighed, extracting more money from his purse.
“There. Now, tell me.”
“Well, the story goes that she’s not got much faith in her own abilities. Tends to hide herself away from the world.” Sid scooped up the money, pocketing it. “Reckon there’s good money in her, though, if she plays like she did tonight all the time.”
“Well, I’ll be the judge of that.” Eric smiled a conniving grin. “Once her brother’s out of the picture, maybe I’ll pay a visit to miss Mary Phillips.”
Chapter Two: Enter Roxy
Chapter Three: Developments
Chapter Four: Birth Of A Star
Chapter Five: Eric Raymond
Chapter Six: Outta My Way!
Chapter Seven: London
Chapter Eight: Shawn Harrison
Chapter Nine: The Tinkerbillys
Chapter Ten: Jerrica
Chapter Eleven: Only The Beginning