Read Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three) Online
Authors: Katy Atlas
I looked at Sophie, trying to keep my face from showing that I’d overheard their conversation. She was one of my best friends — seeing her in a hopeless situation made me want to do something, anything, to help.
But there was nothing I could do. I was completely and totally helpless.
“Can we maybe get coffee or something before I leave?” I asked.
Her face twisted. “I’d love to,” she said, giving me a sad expression. “But I dunno, it sounds like we’re going to be working really hard for the next couple of days.”
I frowned. “Oh, totally,” I backtracked. “Well, text me if you get a break, okay?” I paused, wondering if I was pushing my luck. But I had to say something. “I’m sure it’ll be great,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. “You guys are going to knock it out of the park.”
“Thanks,” she said, giving me a thin smile. “
If I don’t see you, have a good trip back, okay? Hopefully you’ll make it back to LA soon.”
Jesse and April were already gone by the time I went inside, and Tanner said a quick good-bye to Sophie as she left.
When the door shut behind her, he turned to me, his poker face gone.
Tanner Cole had always been light, glib, sarcastic. Everything washed off him, and nothing was serious.
But as he looked back at me, there was something else in his eyes.
“So,” he said, his voice low and heavy.
He looked at me nervously, as if he wasn’t sure how I’d react. “Now you know.”
I shot him a confused look, and then realized. It was Tanner’s apartment. He knew better than me what you could hear from the balcony.
“Yeah,” I said softly. “Now I know.”
We sat across from each other, neither of us sure what to say next.
“What are you going to do?” I whispered.
He looked at me sadly, and then shrugged. “It’s not really up to me, is it? I mean, April’s right. I’m not Blake Parker. They can find some other guy to play guitar.”
For a second, I felt a jolt of sympathy for Tanner.
I’m not Blake Parker
. It was probably what he’d been thinking about since joining Moving Neutral, every time anyone compared the two of them.
lways seemed so sure of himself — I’d never really thought about whether he might be bothered by people comparing him to Blake. Especially since no one compared them more than I did.
I took a deep breath, and smiled at him shyly. “No, you’re not Blake,” I said slowly, meeting his eyes. “But you’re Tanner Cole,
and that’s not too shabby either.”
Tanner looked back at me, a smile
flickering across his face. “Snow,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Was that… a compliment?”
I grinned. “I guess one
interpret it that way,” I replied, my voice a little more playful. “Tanner, no one expects you to be Blake. You just have to be yourself.”
Tanner leaned back against the couch, ru
nning a hand through his hair.
I pulled my knees up to my chin. “What’s wrong with the songs you’ve gone through so far?”
“Everything,” Tanner said. “Moving Neutral has this sound, and it works really well, but it has to be matched with the right music. April’s voice is… Well, it’s tricky.”
I looked down at my feet. I knew just as well as he did that April’s voice wasn’t nearly as good without all the processing that the studio did after the track was recorded. I’d heard April sing without any tweaking, and her voice was fine, but it wasn’t remotely the same as what it sounded like on the band’s first album.
“Sure, but they can fix that, right?”
“Yeah, definitely,” he nodded. “
The problem is, when we’re not coming into the studio with music, it’s basically an excuse for the label to stop caring about the music. Everything they send us is just… I mean, it’s a spectacle. They want April dancing with a boa constrictor, you know?”
winced. That definitely wasn’t the band I’d fallen in love with.
“I mean, a spectacle isn’
t necessarily bad,” Tanner continued. “It’s not like I mind playing to big crowds — I love it. I don’t have to be some obscure artist for the sake of integrity. I like our music being popular, that’s why I joined the band in the first place. I just don’t want to be the backup guitarist for Lady Gaga, you know?”
I nodded. “That makes sense.”
He smiled a thin smile. “Too bad there’s nothing I can do about it. Sadly, these decisions are way above my pay grade.”
I paused, thinking. “Who wrote the music for your old band?”
“We all did. I played jazz guitar for years, so we’d get together at somebody’s house and just drink beer and play until something sounded right.”
“So?” I said, feeling hopeful for the first time.
“Couldn’t you guys do that?”
Tanner shook his head. “It was totally different before — I’d known those guys since we were kids. We were friends.”
“Then what’s Moving Neutral?”
Tanner looked at me seriously. “
Coworkers. I got hired to do a job, and that job didn’t involve drinking beer and riffing on the guitar at 3 a.m. I got hired to play the songs that the record label wants us to play. I’d love it if the situation was different, but it’s not my call.”
I leaned forward, getting frustrated. “So that’s it? You’re just going to put out some shitty song because you don’t think you can do anything about it?”
“No,” Tanner snapped. “I’m going to put out some shitty song because I
do anything about it. We can’t all be Blake Parker. I want a music career more than I care about this specific single, okay?”
“You’re not even going to try?”
Tanner leaned his head back, exasperated. “I’ve been trying since August. I’m at a dead end here. You heard the conversation—we’re out of time.”
I thought about the song that Blake and I had written together, the way the lyrics had just flowed out of me, like all my heartbreak could just work its way onto the page. I’d written them on the flight from Los Angeles to New York.
They’d taken two hours.
“You’re not out of time,” I murmured. “A lot can happen in two weeks.”
“We’ve been trying to make this happen for months.”
“Well, then you haven’t been trying hard enough.”
Tanner stood up, moving over to the window and looking out at the ocean. “Casey Snow,” he said, the corner of his mouth turning up into a smile. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re incredibly stubborn?”
I smiled back. “Only when I’m right.”
“Which is always?”
He paused, leaning back against the glass door.
“I’ll think about it.
I mean, Sophie and Jesse are never the issue — Sophie’s amazing, she could play the drums in her sleep, and Jesse knows what he’s doing. Bass tracks aren’t exactly rocket science.”
“April. You’ve seen it — we butt heads.”
sighed. Knowing what to do about April had never been my strong suit.
“What if…” The thought in my head either solved all of Tanner’s problems, or created
a whole lot more. “What if you did it without her?”
Tanner let out a short laugh, looking at me with
sparkling eyes. “You just don’t quit, do you?”
“Not when I know I’m right,” I smiled sweetly. “Listen, Tanner. If you wrote a song yourself that fit the band, wouldn’t that be the best solution?”
“Snow,” Tanner looked at me seriously. “The last time I tried to write a song, I rhymed ‘love’ with ‘glove.’ No one’s anxious for me to do it again.”
“But you can write the music, right?”
“I mean,” Tanner sighed. “Yeah, theoretically, I can write the music. But it doesn’t do me any good — I can’t just show up with some music and expect them to do the rest. We’ve spent months looking for the right song and still haven’t made up our minds — there’s no way we can figure it out on our own. We need something packaged up for us, or else we’re just going to keep fighting about it.”
hesitated. “What if you didn’t show up with something half-finished? What if you came to them with a real song?”
“And then unicorns burst in through the windows and we all went to dinner at Hogwarts?”
I resisted the urge to throw a pillow at him. “You could do it, Tanner.”
He gave me a half-smile. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, Snow, but I’m
gonna have to respectfully disagree.”
I paused for a second, thinking through what I was about to say.
“Ok, so maybe you couldn’t do it on your own,” I paused. “But… what if I helped you?”
Tanner snorted. “Have you suddenly become suicidal? If April thinks you’re
involved, butting heads will be the least of my problems.”
I made my face into a mask of innocence.
“Then nobody better tell her.”
Something crossed Tanner’s face for a second,
and when he looked at me, I didn’t see a hint of sarcasm on his face. When he spoke, his voice was soft and serious. “You want to write a song with me?”
I felt a blush creep up my cheeks. “I want to help my friends,” I said quietly, breaking eye contact and looking down at my lap. “It’s worth a try, right?”
Tanner looked at me with an expression I couldn’t read. For a second, he didn’t say anything, and then he got up, crossed the room, and poured himself a drink. “Sure, Snow,” he said, finishing the clear liquid in one gulp. “It’s worth a try.”
My cell phone buzzed, and I glanced down to a text from Lauren.
“Tanner, I’ve got to go do this interview, but I’ll come back after, okay? I think we can do this.”
Disappointment flashed across his face. “
No,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “Shit, we can’t do it tonight.”
“Because I’m scheduled to film. There’s a camera crew coming over here at seven o’clock.”
I paused, checking my watch. Even if I cancelled my interview, we couldn’t write a song in two hours.
“Maybe…” I hesitated, thinking it through. “Maybe we could do it on camera?”
Tanner’s head jerked back, surprised. “Seriously? You hate that stuff.”
“I know. But think about it — if they get footage of us writing it, the producers will be way more interested in the song. It’s the perfect way to end the season. They might even be able to put some pressure on April to go along with it.”
Tanner looked impressed. “You know, that’s actually not a bad idea.”
“Believe it or not, in some circles I’m actually considered pretty smart.” My cell phone buzzed again. “Ok, I’m going, but I’ll be back in two hours. I’ll bring pizza. Explain it to the camera crew when they get here. We won’t go to bed until Moving Neutral has its next hit.”
Tanner gave me a lazy smile, his eyes sparkling. “We won’t go to
till we’ve got a song. If we end up in bed…”
“Don’t push your luck, Tanner Cole.”
“Why not? It’s what I do best.”
“See you in two hours.”
“You better not be one of those girls who gets, like, vegetarian pizza.”
“Acceptable.” He grinned. “It’s a date, then.”
Two hours later, the sun was just starting to set as Lauren dropped me off at Tanner’s doorstep. Balancing the pizza box against the door, I waved to her and rang the buzzer, tucking my hair behind my ear as I waited for Tanner to open the door.
I hadn’t told Lauren about our plan
. I was still hoping to keep it a secret as much as I possibly could… with the small caveat that in about a month or two, it would all be broadcast on national television.
I felt a flutter in my chest as Tanner opened the door, and smiled at him shyly.
“Pizza?” I offered, holding the box out to him.
I’d been living with the guilt of breaking up my favorite band for months, even if it hadn’t really been my fault. But tonight, I had the chance to finally do something good, something that would really help them. Maybe I couldn’t fix what I’d already done, but I could help them pick up the pieces and move forward.
Tanner took the box from me and set it down in his kitchen, pulling two beers out from the fridge and offering one to me. Two cameramen sat on one of his couches, and as I followed Tanner into the kitchen, one of them stood up and handed me a lavalier mic for my shirt.
“So what’s it going to be tonight?”
Tanner said, holding out a beer for me. “Fun Casey?”
I rolled my eyes, and took the bottle out of his hand
. I set it on the counter and clipped the microphone onto the back of my shirt. “Getting me drunk defeats the whole point of this,” I said, smiling. “You do realize that, right?”
“I’m not getting you drunk,” Tanner clinked his bottle against mine. “I’m just loosening you up a little.”
I shook my head, taking a sip. “A
“That’s my girl,” Tanner said, walking over to the couch where his electric guitar was plugged into a small amp. “You’ve got to go a little crazy to make anything worth listening to, you know? Nobody ever wrote great music at ten a.m. on a Tuesday.”
I thought about it. Writing the lyrics to Blake’s songs had come so naturally to me, but I’d been so heartbroken I could hardly think straight. Maybe Tanner had a point.
I sat down on the couch next to him,
pulling out some scratch paper to keep track of any lyrics we liked.
“Are we set?” I asked the cameramen, who’d placed themselves in opposite corners of the room, catching us from different angles.
“You’re good to go,” one of them replied. “Just pretend we’re not here.”
Easier said than done
, I thought to myself, looking down at the paper in my hands and Tanner’s guitar.
“So…” I said nervously. With Blake, he’d played the music for me and I’d written the lyrics by myself.
I had no idea what the first step to writing music was.
, now we get to work,” Tanner said, smiling slyly. “I was thinking we come in with a riff like this, just to set the tone. Just guitar, no bass or drums for the first few chords. Kind of melancholy.”
His fingers danced over the guitar, effortlessly plucking out a succession of chords. After a few seconds, he paused, looking up at me.
“Play it again,” I said, thinking hard.
Tanner didn’t even look
down, expertly picking out the same riff. Melancholy was exactly the right word — listening, I thought of drizzling rain on concrete, reflecting streetlights.
“It’s perfect.” I whispered.
Tanner smiled shyly. “Blake used a ton of minor chords, but the label keeps steering us towards these pop-sounding melodies. I keep trying to tweak them on the guitar, but I figured that if we’re starting from scratch, we can do it right.”
“So it’s a sad song?”
“Not depths of despair stuff, it’s still going on the radio. But more like that feeling where you can’t get someone out of your head. Like being haunted by them.”
“Tanner, this is good stuff. Are you sure you even need me?”
“This is the part I’m good at, Snow. Guitar has never been the problem.”
“Ok, so what next? After the opening, where does it go?”
“So, I was thinking something like this,” Tanner said, his fingers dancing on the guitar. He strummed out a melody a few times, tweaking it after each attempt so that it sounded better and better. “What do you think?”
I thought hard, humming the melody he’d played under my breath. “It doesn’t end right, I think.” I wasn’t sure I knew enough to give any real constructive criticism, but if Tanner wanted my opinion, I figured I’d try my best. “It shouldn’t go
down at the end — it sounds too resolved. Can you make it hang a little more?”
Tanner nodded, playing the same melody again with a different final chord. “Yeah,” he said, nodding his head to the music. “That’s good, Snow.”
We spent twenty minutes playing the intro a few more times, making little adjustments to the tempo and speed. I hummed the melody along to the music, helping Tanner with suggestions as I thought of them.
“So what are we thinking for lyrics?”
He smiled at me. “That’s your expertise, right?”
“So basically, you want a song about Blake Parker?”
This time it was Tanner’s turn to throw a pillow at me. I guess I probably deserved it.
“I don’t want it to be about
anything, exactly. I want it to capture a moment, you know?”
I nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
“Like, here. That feeling… like when you know something’s over but before you move on. Like that moment where you’d do anything to make it work but you realize it’s never going to.”
I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. “Like
there’s nothing you can say, because you know it’s too late.”
“But you’re still trying.”
I paused. “So this time, they’ll stay.”
I leaned over the coffee table, scribbling down notes. “Keep talking,” I said to Tanner, my pen gliding over the paper, scratching out words and replacing them, scribbling notes in the margins.
Streetlights and headlights
cold rain pouring down
in my ear even though
you haven’t made a sound
Let me be a chameleon
with skin of green and gold
Let me turn away tonight,
let me break your hold
One more chance to make it right
One more chance tonight
This time, maybe there’s a way
This time, maybe you’ll stay
A thousand miles away,
but I can’t stop looking back
Your face haunts my dreams
but I can’t change the past
I pick up the phone
but there’s nothing I can say
This time, maybe there’s a way
maybe you’ll stay
I looked up at Tanner, taking a deep breath. “Okay,” I said quietly. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”