live through this and you won't look back (buffyx) wrote,
live through this and you won't look back
buffyx

fic: You've Got Music (American Idol; Kris/Adam; PG-13) (2/3)

Title: You've Got Music
Fandom/Pairing: American Idol; Kris/Adam
Rating: PG-13
Summary: This is a Kradam AU of You've Got Mail. 22k. Um, forgive the awful title. And the lack of sexytimes.




**


From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: re: Hello

I randomly tried eggplant the other day. I’ve never had it before. I’m sorry to say that I just don’t see the appeal. Still, I’m glad I went out on a limb.

I was thinking about your email a lot. I think it’s good to take risks and try new things. I know it’s a cliché, but life is short. I don’t think it’s worth it to stay inside your comfort zone all the time. The things worth doing always have a risk—but at least you can say you really lived.


--

The line outside of Baby Jupiter’s stretches half a block by the time Kris and Andrew arrive. A pretty decent-sized crowd, considering it’s an hour until the show starts and the temperature’s already dropped to a chilly thirty degrees. Kris looks down the line at all of the twenty-somethings and stamps his feet against the cold.

“Katy’s meeting us here?” Andrew asks.

“Yup. She texted me a minute ago, she’s on her way.” Kris rubs his hands together. “Man, it’s freezing tonight.”

Cale snorts. “It’s not that cold.”

“Says the guy with the Brawny beard. That thing would keep you warm in the Antarctic,” Matt says. He pokes Kris in the shoulder. “Dude, look at all the chicks. I’m totally getting laid tonight.”

“Uh-huh,” Kris says, distracted. Cold weather sends his ADD into overdrive. But seeing Cassidy Haley live is worth the wait.

He looks around to see if Katy’s here yet, and suddenly notices two people walking past. It’s the two guys from the store, the brothers.

“Hey,” he says as they approach.

The brother—not Adam—stops and smiles at him. “Hey, I know you. From The Red Guitar, right?”

“That’d be me,” Kris says. He turns his head to look at Adam. He looks good—the impeccable hair, the smoky eyeliner bringing out his clear blue-gray eyes. He’s pretty striking. “You guys here to see the show?”

“Yup.” The brother holds up a laminated pass. “Bypassing the line. Beauty of the press pass.”

Andrew quirks an eyebrow. “Press?”

“I work for Rave Magazine,” he says.

“No fucking shit!” Matt crows. In his excitement, he smacks Kris on the shoulder. “I love Rave!”

As Kris rubs the spot where Matt hit him, Cale, Matt, Andrew and Adam’s brother all start yammering on about Rave. He notices that Adam is silent, darting glances around like he’s looking to escape the conversation as fast as possible.

“It’s Adam, isn’t it?” he ventures.

Adam stops fidgeting and looks at him. “And you’re Kris,” he says.

“You remembered.”

“Of course I did.”

Kris isn’t sure why, exactly, that fact pleases him so much. He shoves his hands in his coat pockets and asks, “What’d you think of the record?” Off of Adam’s look, he adds, “House of Cards?”

“Oh, right. I liked it,” he says. “That song you and Neil told me about—Rundown. I get what you mean, about the opening chords. They really hook their claws in you.”

Kris nods. “They do. And Cassidy’s voice is really impressive. Distinct. It’s got that, like, scratchy raw quality to it?” Adam’s smiling at him, but he can’t tell if it’s just out of amusement or what. He can’t stop rambling on and on like an idiot. “Anyway,” he says, clearing his throat. “I, uh, I like your plugs.”

Adam touches his ears, breaking into a grin. “Thanks. I’m thinking of going to a higher gauge.”

“I kind of want to get an eyebrow piercing,” Kris says. He runs a thumb over his left eyebrow. “I don’t know, though. It’d probably look stupid.”

“I have a hard time believing anything could look stupid on that face,” Adam tells him. The comment has a flirty edge to it, especially when Kris sees the look in Adam’s eyes, the way his smirk pulls on the corners of his mouth.

He can’t really think of a proper response to that, but before he can even try, Neil reappears, grabbing Adam’s arm.

“We should get inside,” he says. He nods a little at Kris. “See you around.”

Kris stares after them as they walk up the line, flashing their passes to security and disappearing inside the venue.

“I cannot believe you!”

He snaps his head around to see Katy barreling toward him, blonde hair flying out behind her. She’s still dressed in work clothes, a conservative skirt and heels and a blue and white plaid pea coat.

“Um,” Kris says, racking his brain for what he could’ve possibly done to piss her off lately. He’s got nothing.

“You do know you’re fraternizing with the enemy, don’t you?” she says. She shoots a glare up the line.

Kris blinks at her. “I… don’t follow.”

“Do you not realize you were just talking to Adam Lambert?”

Lambert. Lambert. Why is that name familiar?

“Holy shit,” Cale breathes next to him. “That was Adam Lambert? As in, Lambert of Starlight Records?”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Kris shakes his head. “You can’t be telling me—I mean, there’s no way—” He stops, the realization settling over him like a cold, wet blanket. “It can’t be.”

“But it is,” Katy says. She makes a disgusted sound in the back of her throat. “The nerve of him—”

Dude,” Matt says, shaking head sadly. “You were totally played.”

“Rat bastard,” Andrew chimes in.

Kris is inclined to agree with Andrew on this one.

--

Kris is fuming.

It’s a weird feeling; Kris never fumes. He can’t remember the last time he was truly angry. Annoyed? Irritated? Yeah, sure, but he’s good at letting things roll off his back. He never, ever yells, but right now, looking at Adam standing calmly at the bar, nursing a vodka cranberry, he feels like yelling.

Even now, though, the most Kris can manage is a frustrated, accusatory, “Your last name is Lambert.”

Adam turns around, eyes widening a little with surprise, but then his face smoothes over into a cool expression, the epitome of detached disinterest.

“Four for you, Glen Coco,” he says. “You go, Glen Coco.”

Kris has absolutely no idea what Adam is talking about. He may as well be speaking a foreign language.

Adam rolls his eyes at Kris’s blank look. “It’s a Mean Girls reference,” he says, exasperated.

“What were you doing at my store?” Kris presses. “Were you, like, spying on me?”

“Why would I spy on you?”

“Because! We’re your competition.”

“Competition?” Adam laughs—like, really laughs, as if Kris just cracked a hilarious joke. “Do you really think your little store is a threat? Oh my god, that’s adorable.”

“Then why were you there?” Kris demands.

“I only stopped in because I happened to walk by, and I was curious,” Adam tells him. “It’s a cute little place. Really. Very… cozy. But my visit just made it clear that I have absolutely nothing to worry about. You, on the other hand…” He trails off with a smirk.

Kris stares at him, speechless. He can’t believe he’s standing here and listening to someone trash his store. His uncle’s store.

He can’t believe he’s completely and utterly tongue-tied. He has no idea what to say to this.

Adam sips his drink and levels Kris an amused look. “What?” he says, eyebrows raised.

Kris is still gaping at him like a floundering fish when Katy shows up, smoothing out her hair with one hand.

“Adam Lambert, is it?” she says with narrowed eyes.

Adam offers her a tight smile. “It is.” He tilts his head to the side. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“Katy O’Connell, Channel Nine News,” she bites back evenly. She lifts her chin to look him in the eye. “So you’re the infamous Adam Lambert. Destroyer of Mason Music, enemy of the independent music retailer, spreading your cloned super centers like a venereal disease, unraveling the fabric of this country’s moral fiber one chain store at a time. Tell me something—how do you sleep at night?”

“Well, to be fair, my father is responsible for most of that,” Adam says modestly. “But it’s sweet of you to credit me with so much. I mean, wow, really, who knew one company could single-handedly destroy America by providing consumers with affordable music and a relaxing, clean, comfortable atmosphere to enjoy it in? Please. If I could sell music at the same price as, say, a box of tissues— I’d do it. That doesn’t make me the devil.” He stirs his drink with a patronizing chuckle. “But now that I’ve been thoroughly chastised by the model of righteous virtue, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m going to go enjoy the show.”

And then he saunters off, just like that, leaving Kris to fume some more.

Kris fumes all through the concert, so much that he can barely pay attention to it, and on the train ride home, barely able to listen to Katy babbling away about her day at work, and even when they get home, he’s still fuming. Silently, of course. Since that’s the only way he knows how to do it.

“That man is insufferable,” Katy says as she scrubs off her face with a wash cloth. “You know the type—hopelessly driven by money and power. I feel sorry for him, I really do. It’s a sad life.”

Yeah, pity isn’t high on the list of emotions Kris is feeling right now. Why feel sorry for Adam Lambert? He gets to comfort himself with his piles of money. His family is insanely rich. Kris imagines Adam probably has a room devoted to gold coins and jewels he can swim in, like that Disney character, Scrooge McDuck.

Kris doesn’t answer, just brushes his teeth with more aggression than necessary, glaring at his reflection in the mirror. He hates himself for how he acted tonight, like some spineless idiot. But he is a spineless idiot. He never knows how to say what he’s feeling. Not when it actually matters.

He spits, rinses out his mouth, and then starts to walk out of the bedroom.

Katy calls after him. “You’re not coming to bed?”

“I’m not tired,” he calls back, without turning around. It’s true—he’s too riled up for sleep right now.

--

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: The right moment

Do you ever have moments where you wish you could say something perfectly scathing, and cutting, but your brain short-circuits and you’re left completely speechless? And it isn’t until later, after you’ve mulled it over for way too many hours to possibly be healthy, that you come up with the exact response that would have put the person who provoked you into place.

This happens to me all of the time, and I hate it. My mind goes blank when I’m under attack. I never know what to say until the moment’s already gone. I wish just once I could have the exact right comeback at the exact right time.


--

Kris clicks send, and then goes to the kitchen to get a glass of water. He feels a little better for having let that off of his chest.

When he comes back to his laptop to shut it down, he’s surprised to see a new message sitting in his inbox.

--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: The right moment

Actually, I’m the opposite. I always have the feeling that whatever I do, like whether I go totally apeshit or go Mother Teresa, I’m going to end up the one being an asshole. And then I’m like, why step on the brakes when I’m going to end up looking like a douche bag anyway?

Which means I’m always saying the worst, most hurtful things—they slip out so easily that it scares me sometimes. I can never just take the high road and bite my tongue, and then afterward I’m left to wonder what it says about me as a person. That I can be so carelessly cruel. The worst parts of me—the parts that are spiteful and ugly and just mean-- bubble up to the surface so effortlessly.

So you may think you are cursed, but trust me, it’s a blessing. Because whatever satisfaction you may get from having the perfect cutting remark, I assure you, you will always be hit with a wave of crushing remorse when you realize what you’ve said. Unless you are a sociopath… which I am not.

I don’t think you need to worry about that, though. You’re clearly a better person than I.

Do you think we should meet?


--

Meet?

“Meet?” Kris whispers, out loud, because the idea is just that absurd.

Part of him wants to, actually. Meet LA21. See what the guy behind all of the poignant, funny, engrossing emails is really like.

But he knows, deep down, that it isn’t a good idea.

--

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: re: re: The right moment

I think it’s best if we don’t meet. I don’t know about you, but with everything going on in my day-to-day life, I really value having someone to spill to in such an uncomplicated way. And I feel like meeting you would inevitably complicate things. Let’s not ruin a good thing, okay?



**

Opening day goes more amazingly than Adam had ever dared to dream. Everything has pulled together. The store itself is beautiful—a gleaning staircase, a café for people to order coffee and little pastries from, plush armchairs to sit, a bank of cashiers, a maroon velvet rope for the checkout line, and seven cash registers with seven cashiers.

And, of course, music, music, music, as far as the eye can see.

But what makes it truly beautiful is the amount of customers flooding the store. The place has been jam-packed ever since the doors opened early this morning.

“They love us,” Adam says, looking around, somewhat in awe of the spectacle.

“Well, no one’s raised any pitchforks,” Anoop says, and then, after a considerable pause, “Yet.”

Adam shakes his head. “They’re not going to,” he insists. “They’ve been wanting this. We’re providing the neighborhood with a much-needed service. They’re like a thirsty man in the desert, and we—”

“—are carrying highly discounted bottled water?” Anoop says.

Adam nods. “Exactly.” He ambles slowly through the main floor, taking everything in. “How are all the sections doing?”

“Pop seems to be thriving the most,” Anoop says. “Not that that’s a big surprise. R&B and Latin look like they’re up there, too.”

“What about Jazz? Indie?”

He’d gone out of his way to make sure the store was stocked with sizeable indie and jazz sections, doing the research and calling up suppliers himself to order some lesser-known albums.

“Well, it’s still too early to tell. And there is that store down the street—”

“The Red Guitar.”

“Yes,” Anoop says. “They do have a foothold in that department… however tenuous it may be.”

That’s the last time Adam thinks about Kris Allen and The Red Guitar, until one morning a week later he sees Kris ahead of him in line at the newsstand. Adam stands back out of sight, watching as Kris picks up a copy of the Village Voice and leans down to pet the little yappy dog tied to the vendor’s stand.

And then he sees him again, a few days after that, inside of the nearby Starbucks. He’s standing at the counter, iPod plugged in, humming and tapping his foot as he dumps sugar packets into his coffee. Adam actually ends up positioning himself behind a potted tree in order to stay out of sight.

It makes him feel ridiculous, but he’d rather feel like an idiot for two minutes than have to come face-to-face with Kris Allen again.


**

Thursdays have become Kris’s most dreaded day of the week. Thursdays are when Ryland comes.

The sense of dread has nothing to do with Ryland himself. Kris likes Ryland a lot—like every other employee, he was a hire Uncle Fisher had made back in the day. He used to be three days a week part-time, but a year ago he’d told Kris point-blank that Kris needed to cut his overhead. And then he said he had another, slightly more lucrative job offer for a CPA firm, but still agreed to come in once a week to help out Kris. Kris doesn’t know what he would do without Ryland.

Ryland isn’t the problem; the problem is that Ryland is the only one who can make sense of the numbers, and the numbers these days aren’t looking so good.

“You’re nine hundred shorter than the same week from last year.”

Kris looks up from his guitar, where he’s been strumming random chords while Ryland sorts through the sea of receipts and punches numbers into his calculator.

“That can’t be right,” Kris blurts out.

The look Ryland gives him behind his black-framed glasses tells him that it is, in fact, right. Of course it is. Ryland doesn’t screw up when it comes to numbers.

“Maybe it’s just a fluke,” Kris says, scrambling for something to explain the difference. “I mean, the economy’s tanked, everyone knows that, and Starlight is still new. They’ve only been there for a month. It’s, like, a novelty. But it’ll wear off. People will get over it. They’ll realize it’s not…” He lets himself trail off. It’s too much energy to try to spin this into something he knows it’s not.

Matt bounces a rubber ball against the floor. “What if we have to fold? Dude. Dude. I cannot go back to waiting tables.”

“We’re not going to fold,” Kris says tiredly. He puts down his guitar and stands up. He doesn’t want to think about this anymore. “I’m going to go rearrange the front display.”


--


The whole situation sinks in a little more when Cassidy Haley calls him.

Kris hasn’t talked to Cassidy on the phone in over three years—back when Cassidy used to play tiny little shows at The Red Guitar to an audience of ten. That was before he got signed to an indie label and put out an album full of wandering songs comprised of downtrodden poetry.

The first thing Cassidy says is, “Are you surviving?”

“Huh?” It takes a second for Kris to realize he means the store. Not, like, his general state of health. “Um. Yeah. We’re… you know. Chugging along.”

“I’ve been freaking out,” Cassidy says. “I keep hearing shit about fucking Starlight Records—”

“We’re doing fine,” Kris tells him. Of course it’s a lie, but what else is he going to say?

“Good. Just tell me if you need anything. I can do a show there sometime after Christmas, if you’re still open. And I can try rounding up people for picket lines, rallies, whatever support you need. I know someone who works for Rave, I can get him to write a spotlight on you guys. And maybe you can try for some local news coverage.”

Kris doesn’t want to think that far ahead. Maybe things will turn around. Maybe it won’t have to come to that.

--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: Never say goodbye

After I broke up with my ex and was moving out of his apartment, I made myself a mix CD of some songs from the records that I couldn't fit in moving, and My Bloody Valentine's song “Never Say Goodbye” was the last track on the mix. While I was packing all my things, boxing everything up and totally heartbroken and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I kept replaying that song over and over and eventually just set it on repeat after I’d flipped it back ten times.

The song just came up on my iPod shuffle playlist when I was on the train tonight, and I almost teared up right there. It’s crazy, isn’t it? How a song can take you back to an exact moment and place in your life. Nothing else can really do that. Not the way music can.


--

The day before Thanksgiving, Kris makes a run to the corner market for some last-minute meal preparations. This year he was supposed to go to Seattle with Katy to her family’s, but he felt uneasy about leaving the store unmanned for so long when things were like this. Katy had understood.

“Your parents are going to hate me, aren’t they?” he’d said as she stuffed a bag with the things of hers that had accumulated in his apartment.

She just shrugged and tossed in some shoes—her third pair he’d counted so far. “Who cares what they think?”

“Well, I don’t want them hating the guy you’re practically living with. I haven’t even gotten to meet them and—”

“And what? Woo them with your irresistible charm?” she teased. She came over and pecked him on the mouth. “Don’t worry. You need to be here. I get it.”

Matt was spending the weekend with his parents in Queens, but Cale and Andrew were planning to come over for dinner. It isn’t exactly going to be a giant feast—Kris’s culinary skills are too limited for that—but he figured he could at least throw together some potatoes, buy a roasted chicken, a few cans of corn and string beans. Cale had promised to bring a key lime pie, and Andrew said he’d be in charge of beer and haul along some of his favorite jazz records on vinyl.

He’s filled his cart with everything he needs and is heading to the registers when he sees Adam waiting in line with a bottle of vodka and some cheese. Kris’s heart picks up speed in his chest. He hasn’t seen Adam since the concert, when he made Kris feel about two inches tall with just a few words, and Kris had been too chicken shit to say anything back to him. He really doesn’t need a repeat performance tonight. Or ever.

Kris veers his cart into the next lane, hunching down and hoping Adam won’t look over in his direction and see him there. The line moves agonizingly slow—apparently he’s not the only one making a last-minute Thanksgiving purchase—but eventually the female cashier rings up all his orders.

When he digs out his credit card and passes it over, the woman regards him with a scowl.

“This is a Cash Only lane,” she tells him.

He stops and stares at her. “What?”

“Cash. Only,” she repeats, and points to the sign over her head for emphasis.

“Oh,” he says dumbly. “Um. I’m sorry, I missed that. All I have is a credit card. Is that okay?”

The gray-haired man behind him in line scoffs. “There’s a fucking sign! It’s cash only! Are you stupid? Of course it’s not okay!”

Kris closes his eyes, feeling his face flush red with embarrassment as the line behind him buzzes with irritated and impatient murmurs. Couldn’t the universe cut him a break already? Just this once?

“Having trouble?”

Apparently not, because Kris is pretty sure that voice belongs to—oh, yes, he turns around, and there is Adam Lambert. This is like a nightmare he’s had, except he’s not naked and there aren’t any purple cheetahs roaming around.

“No,” Kris says automatically, even though obviously he is. He looks to the cashier pleadingly. “Please, all I have is the credit card. Can you just run it?”

“Get on another line,” she says flatly, unmoved by his plight. Damn.

Adam intercedes, leaning past Kris to look at the cashier’s nametag. “Hi. Valencia? Lovely name,” he says smoothly, flashing a bright smile. “Valencia, I’m Adam. This is Kris. I know you must have an unfavorable impression of him for making such a stupid mistake—” Kris glares, but Adam ignores him and continues, “—but really, it’s Thanksgiving, and I know one thing I’m thankful for are credit card machines. Like this one here.” He raps his knuckles lightly against it. “So could you please do me a favor and zip this card through so we can all go on our merry way?”

Valencia hesitates. “Well…”

“Please?” Adam puts on a puppy face, batting his eyelashes. “Do it for me, V?”

She rolls her eyes a little, but it’s clear she’s barely suppressing a smile. “All right,” she sighs, taking the card.

She slides it through, and Kris quickly punches in the pin number and signs off on the charge slip.

“I’m so sorry, that’s never happened to me before. I promise, I’ll never do that again,” he blurts out, but Valencia just glares. He makes a mental note to avoid her lane at all costs in the future.

“Thank you for that,” Adam says to her, and then winks. Winks! Kris is kind of appalled. Adam turns to him and says, “So you’re good?”

“Fantastic,” Kris snaps, snagging his plastic grocery bags with both hands.

He storms off, but not before Adam shouts out a cheerful “Happy Thanksgiving!”, like they’re old friends or something. What a jerk.


**

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: Holidays

Christmastime this year is really weird for me… I won’t go into detail, but someone in my family who I cared a lot about died not too long ago, and ever since then the holiday season just makes me depressed. I think it’s worse this year because I’m not planning to go home for the holidays like usual. And because I need some advice, but the only person I need to hear it from isn’t here anymore.


--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

I think Christmas makes everyone in the world depressed. I’m Jewish and even I get depressed by it.

But I’m sorry about your family member… and sorry that you won’t be able to go home. My family all lives here in the city. Sometimes I wish they lived a few hundred miles away, but most of the time I think it makes me lucky.

So what kind of advice do you need? Maybe I can help.


--

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

I don’t think you can help.


--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

Come on, I’m great at advice. What’s it about? Family? Love? Sex? Money?


--

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

My business is in trouble. I think we may go under.


--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

It’s your lucky day. I am an amazing businessman. Now, what’s your business?


--

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

I can’t tell you. No specifics, remember?


--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

Well, that does make it somewhat more difficult… my best advice to you is that you need to be like Cady Heron when she infiltrated the Plastics.


--

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

...???????????????


--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

It’s from Mean Girls. It means you go to war on your enemy’s ass.

You need to fight dirty, with everything you’ve got.


--

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

What is it with people quoting Mean Girls all the time????


--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: Holidays

Mean Girls is always applicable. Especially to business. Because business is like high school social politics. Only the truly ruthless prosper.

You’ve told me before that you don’t think you can be brave… but you can. This is your chance.

Fight. Fight. Fight until your hands bleed.



**


Something is wrong. Adam can tell by the look on Anoop’s face.

Not that Anoop is a normally smiley kind of guy, but there’s definitely something going on.

“What?” he says warily, slowing down his treadmill and pulling out his headphones. This better be important if it’s interrupting his morning workout. He was listening to Gaga, and when he’s in the zone, he doesn’t stop for just anyone.

Anoop just silently passes him a magazine. It’s the latest issue of Rave, turned open to Neil’s column. Of course, the byline is credited to Neil’s pseudonym, Paul Harrison, because if anyone knew his true identity, his indie cred would be shot to hell.

Adam holds it up so he can read. “‘The Red Guitar is a symbol of how music should be distributed: with a discerning ear, an eclectic taste not limited to mind-numbing garbage churned out onto Top 40 radio, and by people with a comprehensive knowledge and passion for music itself. If this precious resource is killed by the cold, corporate cash cow of Starlight Records, it will not only be the end of Western civilization as we know it, but the end of something even dearer: our neighborhood as we know it. Save The Red Guitar and you will save your own soul.’

Jesus Christ.

Adam throws the magazine on the ground. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

“Afraid not,” Anoop says. He steps onto the treadmill next to Adam’s, changing the settings, and points up at the television fixed in front of them. “Hey, look at this.”

On the monitor is an Asian Channel Nine News reporter stationed outside of The Red Guitar. She holds a microphone up to her face and says, “We’re here in front of The Red Guitar, the famous East Village independent music shop now on the verge of having to close its doors because the Goliath of music retailers, Starlight Records, has opened only a few hundred feet away, wooing customers with its steep discounts and designer coffee.”

The footage cuts to a shot of Kris Allen, looking a little nervous but nonetheless determined. “They have to have discounts and lattes,” he says, “because, uh, most of the people who work there know more about coffee than they do music.”

Adam scowls, wiping his sweaty face off with a towel. “He’s not as nice as he seems on television.”

“Is he as pretty?” asks Anoop.

“Oh, he’s very pretty,” Adam concedes. “But snippy.”

“And his snippy mood has nothing to do with you?” Anoop says. “I mean, you’re only destroying his livelihood… endangering the jobs of his other employees… obliterating a neighborhood legacy…”

“First off— ‘neighborhood legacy’? The place has been around for thirty-seven years, not a century,” Adam points out. “Secondly?” He shrugs. “It’s not personal. It’s business.”

He turns back to the television, taking a swig of his water bottle. This time his own face is on it, his name and title underneath.

“I sell cheap music,” his face on the monitor says. “So sue me.”

It immediately cuts back to the newscaster. Adam chokes on his water. What the fuck?

“What the fuck?” Anoop says, voice rising. “That’s what you said?!”

Adam growls. “No, that is not what I said! I mean, okay, that’s part of what I said. A tiny little part. A sliver! We did a whole walkthrough of the store. I talked up our amazing inventory! I showed her the whole section we have dedicated to local artists from the neighborhood! I said how great the store is, how people can easily find whatever they’re looking for, and have delicious coffee and snacks, and sit and listen to music and relax! I was fucking eloquent, goddammit!” He slams his hand against the treadmill handle. “Those fucking assholes!”

Kris’s face shows up on the television again. As pissed as he is at the moment, Adam has to admit, the camera loves that guy. Even with his brown hair all windblown and his puppy dog eyes squinting against the sunlight, he is ridiculously good-looking. And there’s something a little vulnerable about him, too, that makes you automatically want to root for him.

“I just want to say, I’ve met Adam Lambert, who, you know, runs Starlight Records,” Kris says. His throat bobs up and down as he swallows hard. “And he… he actually compared music to a box of tissues. I guess he doesn’t have a lot of respect for it if he thinks it’s all disposable like that.”

Okay. Maybe not so vulnerable.

Things get worse when later that afternoon at the store, Anoop draws his attention to the small rally not twenty feet away from Starlight’s main entrance. An anti-Starlight rally. Completely with crowd chants, picket signs, and whistles. Oh, yeah, and Kris fucking Allen standing on top of an upturned crate with a megaphone to his mouth.

“What is this?” Adam cries incredulously, staring out the window. “Do they think this is the fucking Republican National Convention? Am I suddenly a war criminal?”

“Worse,” Anoop says. “They think you’re Goliath.” He taps a finger against the glass, pointing to Kris, who is urging the small crowd on. “And your David is all revved up and ready to go.”


**

The publicity—the newspaper article, the television coverage, the rally—does nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Kris’s whole body slumps involuntarily at the news. “You’re sure?” he asks, even though he of course knows what Ryland’s answer will be.

“I’m sorry,” Ryland says, uncharacteristically gentle instead of his usual matter-of-fact self. “I double-checked everything. There’s no difference.”

“Oh, God,” Kris groans, burying his face in his arms. “How is that possible? What am I going to do?”

“Kris, the thing is… even if you discounted… or if you laid someone off—”

“I’m not firing anyone.” The very idea of it is like a punch to the stomach.

“Even if you did, it wouldn’t fix the budget. You’d still have losses.”

Kris rubs his hands through his hair and looks back up. “Ryland. You knew my uncle… What do you think he would do, if he were here?”

Ryland falls silent for a long time. “I don’t know,” he says finally. “But I do know he’d be proud of you for fighting this hard. No matter what happens.”


**

From: guitarguy@gmail.com
To: LA21@gmail.com
Subject: Help

I need help. Do you still want to meet me?


--

From: LA21@gmail.com
To: guitarguy@gmail.com
Subject: re: Help

Where? When?


--

“This is a bad idea,” Anoop says.

Clearly Adam does not keep him on payroll for the morale boost.

“Just shut up and come with me,” Adam says, giving him a push down the sidewalk.

“How are you even going to know it’s him?”

“He said he’s going to have a copy of that Beatles record, Revolver, with him.”

“Why Revolver?”

“I don’t know, it’s his favorite, I guess. He said it’s the album countless kids listen to and realize music is their calling.”

“He sounds like a douche,” comments Anoop. He glances at Adam sideways and adds, “No offense.”

They walk along in silence for a few steps.

“What if he’s ugly?” Anoop asks.

“He’s not ugly. He could very well be the love of my life.”

“Yeah, but he could still be ugly.”

“Whatever,” Adam says. “I’m only staying for ten minutes. Quick hellos, a cup of coffee, and I’m gone.”

While they walk, Adam can’t stop thinking. What if this guy is ugly? God, it’s not that he’s so shallow-- okay, maybe he’s a little shallow. He’s just freaking out because he’s built this up way too much in his head. He doesn’t want the illusion to come crashing down.

By the time they reach the café, Adam’s a total wreck. His hands won’t stop shaking. He shoves Anoop toward the front window.

“Please,” he begs. “Just look for me. Tell me if you see him.”

Anoop rolls his eyes. “You’re pathetic,” he says, but he steps up to the glass plate anyway.

He cups his hands over his eyes, peering in.

Adam bounces up and down on his toes anxiously. “Do you see him?”

“Hmm,” Anoop says. “Okay, I see a CD sitting on the table… that’s gotta be the guy. Hang on, there’s a waiter blocking… okay, waiter’s gone—” He stops, tilting his head. “Huh.”

“Huh?” Adam echoes. “Is that a good ‘huh’ or a bad ‘huh’?”

“It’s…” Anoop pauses again. “I can tell you that he’s… definitely good-looking.”

“I knew it!”

“He reminds me of Kris Allen. From the indie store.”

“Kris Allen?” Adam furrows his brow. “Really?”

“I thought you said Kris Allen was attractive.”

“So what? Who cares about Kris Allen?”

“Well, I can tell you right now if you don’t like Kris Allen, you’re not going to like this guy,” Anoop tells him.

Adam frowns. “Why not?”

“Because it is Kris Allen.”

Adam actually reels back a step, shocked. Guitarguy… is Kris Allen? No. No, there’s no way… how is that fucking possible?

He elbows Anoop aside, pushing his face to the glass to get a look for himself. And Jesus fucking Christ, it is. Kris Allen is sitting at a table, glancing around nervously, one hand sliding a Revolver CD back and forth across the tablecloth.

Of all the people in the world…

“Oh my god.” Adam grabs the sides of his head with both hands. This cannot be real. “Oh my fucking god.”

“I didn’t know Kris Allen was gay,” Anoop says. “Didn’t you say he has a girlfriend?”

“He’s bi,” Adam corrects, and when Anoop shoots him a look, he throws his hands up in the air. “He talked about it, in some of his letters.” He rubs his face again. “Oh my god.”

“What are you going to do?” asks Anoop.

“Nothing,” Adam says hastily. “I mean, I can’t… obviously I can’t do anything.”

Anoop stares at him incredulously. “You’re just going to let him sit there and wait?”

“Yes.” He nods, resolute. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

“But he—”

“No. We will never speak of this again. Never. As far as you’re concerned, this never happened.” Adam turns and starts walking away briskly, taking a shaky breath of frigid night air. “Goodnight, Anoop.”



part three
Tags: fic: american idol
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