As Cosette's feet strike the pavement, they beat a rhythm that says, Fool, fool, fool. She turns up her workout podcast, freshly downloaded from Cafe Musain, and pushes herself faster. See the tree with the strangely twisted branches up ahead. Sprint to it. Jog until the mix transitions to the next song. Pick a new target. Repeat until too exhausted to think.
Despite the burning in her lungs and the gelatinous sensation in her quads, Cosette does start thinking as soon as the workout mix hits a comparative lull. The thoughts begin with an innocent note to herself to download more podcasts by this DJ, because he (or she) has a real gift for remixes, building in swirling layers without overwhelming the original. Not that she recognizes most of the songs; she's still learning to distinguish between trance music and house music, let alone develop real familiarity with the genres. Somewhere in the process of recording her album, she went from the guitar girl who sometimes noodled around with a keyboard to Cosette Fauchelevent: Recording Artist Broadening Her Horizons.
Not that her new appreciation for electronic music, or the year she wasted recording her album, mean much of anything now.
Cosette dashes angry tears from her eyes, pretending to wipe away sweat for the benefit of her fellow pedestrians. Stupid. It was so profoundly stupid to sign her music away on a recording deal that sounded too good to be true. Her shelved album is like a blister on the ankle, rubbed raw with every motion. Justice Records, contender for most ironically named corporation, let her toil away at her album until she sent them the finished version six months ago. They responded by sending one of their people to explain to her in no uncertain terms that her music and her image "aren't commercial enough, dear," a scare tactic that doubtless works on most starving artists.
Cosette fought back. No lawyers, no support at all, just sheer dogged adherence to her artistic vision. Their surprise proves they never knew her at all.
The workout podcast revs up again with an unexpectedly loud burst of percussion. Cosette winces and turns the volume down. She fired off her usual e-mail this morning: I stand by my music. In the first few months, the e-mail was much longer, full of explanations about her choices and links to other artists, including commercially successful ones, as supporting evidence. When Justice Records continued responding with a form e-mail, hers got shorter and shorter. Eventually, it's just going to read, No.
Someone on the sidewalk lifts a hand to her in greeting. Cosette, now with actual sweat running into her eyes, nods a hello without stopping to look. (It's probably David, home from college.) Running reminds her of songwriting, in a way: pick a tempo, then pull out pieces of the world to observe. Her father tells her that she has a gift for seeing into the heart of things, so how could she have been so duped by empty promises couched in legalese? Against the advice of every running coach she's ever had, Cosette clenches her fists.
She hardly notices the change in song until her own voice sounds in her ears.
Cosette stops so abruptly that a biker, on the sidewalk despite the availability of the bike lane, almost plows into her. She taps in the security code on her phone, frantic, and drags the workout mix back thirty seconds or so. Annoyingly, since the podcast is all one track, it bears only the cryptic label "Electric Running #7." Cafe Musain promised a tracklist once the DJ passed it along.
With a few ethereal chimes, the previous song transitions to "6 Underground," a song she started writing next to her apartment's pool, half-finished Hamlet homework at her side. She got an A on the essay she turned in to her English teacher, but she considers that song her definitive musings on Hamlet and mortality. Cosette covers her mouth, but her hand falls after a few moments, her grin too broad to hide. This remix uses the demo she submitted to the label. The sound quality suffers a bit for it, but the DJ takes her song's dreamlike groove and adds a carnivalesque flair to it. The instrumental touches are eerie, subtle; the whole remix is the haunted house version of her song, a jester spinning sounds from beyond the grave. Cosette's hands shake as she rewinds to listen to her song again. This is her song made better by production instead of bowdlerized for the sake of sales. This is amazing.
Cosette listens to the remix three more times before she manages to let the podcast play on. She turns and heads back home, fingers tight around her iPod as she waits for the mix to reach its end. There's no tracklist yet, but there might be at least a mention of her name, some proof that she's more than a high schooler who once played coffee shops in the area and then faded into obscurity. "Come on," she urges, her voice more a sensation in her throat thanks to her noise-canceling headphones.
The end of the podcast thanks her for downloading it from Cafe Musain, then credits the mixing to DJ Enjolras. Silence follows. Cosette gives an exhale of frustration sharp enough to earn her a startled look from a passerby, then rewinds back to her song as she picks up her pace, a jogging move long ago perfected. As soon as she gets home, she's going to look up this DJ Enjolras and find out how the hell he found her music--and what he plans to do with the rest of it.
Cosette takes the elevator up to the apartment, since running up twelve flights of stairs seems excessive after a run. Unlocking the door, she calls out a hello in case her father's home. No one replies. Cosette opens the curtains, pours herself a glass of water, shifts a stack of various pamphlets by nonprofits from chair to table, and takes a seat.
A screen pops up on her iPod, reminding her she has 20% battery remaining. Cosette ignores it. She's going to finish her water, she's going to shower, she's going to get dressed, and only then will she open her laptop and go to Cafe Musain's website. It's been so long since anything good happened to her music-wise that she's going to make it last as long as possible. She hasn't even written a song since the first rejection letter. Cosette finishes her water and puts her glass in the dishwasher.
"Shower," she reminds herself after casting one longing glance at her desk, visible through her bedroom's open door.
She sings a little in the shower, Beatles songs mostly. Her father used to wake her up with "Here Comes the Sun" until she turned fourteen and begged him to let her sleep in a little. As usual with her father, he didn't reprimand, just went quiet and sad and made her feel almost guilty enough to ask him to continue. But she was fourteen and always up too late writing songs about the people she saw on the street and falling asleep during her tutoring sessions. There was guilt everywhere she turned, since she loved Mr. Myriel's lessons.
"Hey! You've got to hide your love away," she croons on the way to her bedroom. She spends an absurd amount of time selecting a sundress, half-laughing at the way her knees tremble more in anticipation than exhaustion. She's being foolish, but for once it's fun.
After donning a pink sundress, Cosette sits cross-legged in her chair and opens her laptop. She still has the Cafe Musain post open from downloading the podcast earlier, so she refreshes the site and scrolls, hoping for a tracklist. Hope blooms in her chest when she sees new lines of text. We at the cafe are pleased to offer you something different from our esteemed DJ Enjolras, known for mixing music and politics. A little side project, if you will, to get your blood moving and your legs pumping… Cosette skims, looking for her name on the tracklist. (32:30) Unnamed Artist - 6 Underground (The Umbrellas of Ladywell Mix #2) * is all her entry says. Cosette follows the asterisk to the bottom of the page, which proclaims, * Unnamed artist has been silenced by the industry's corruption.
Shaking her head, Cosette clicks the DJ Enjolras tag. The rest of his mixes are a mishmash of protest songs and dance music, interspersed with guest posts from the DJ himself. Those posts are all long diatribes against the recording industry; eloquent, and certainly something for her to read later, but Cosette scrolls on. She uses two different search engines to search within the site, but still no mention of her name. She goes through page after page of Cafe Musain's archives, jabbing at her touchpad with rising irritation. The only mention of her music is on today's mix. She's hunting for an e-mail address when a banner catches her eye. Catch DJ Enjolras 7 nights a week at the ABC! it proclaims, then lists a Los Angeles address underneath.
Smile grim, Cosette gets out her phone and types in the address. She can even take the bus and have to walk only a few blocks. She's going to give this DJ Enjolras a piece of her mind, and then--then talk music with him for hours, in all likelihood. Maybe he'll have some idea of how to get her out of her contract, though most of his activism concerns rooting out unethical practices in the industry itself, not assisting artists who signed their creative rights away when they were eighteen and scared they would never make it.
"Cosette! I'm home!" her father calls.
Cosette shuts her laptop and closes the Google Maps app on her phone. "Hello!" she trills, walking back into the kitchen and hugging her father with genuine pleasure. "I'm going out later. There's a new musician I want to check out. Don't wait up for me, okay? It's bad for your back to sleep on the couch."
"Call when you leave the place," he says, kissing her cheek. "Will you be here for dinner? I brought Thai." He holds up a takeout bag.
Cosette blinks, noticing the angle of the sun for the first time in hours. During her research, mid-afternoon faded into evening, though the sun will still beat determinedly on through sunset. Her stomach growls at the smell of pad thai as her father pushes his collection of pamphlets to the side, making room on the table for the food. "Of course I have time for dinner! Let me get the plates," she says, and does.
Her father asks her about her day and she makes noncommittal noises, steering the conversation back to his charity work. It's not teenage rebellion or her father's disapproval that keeps her quiet about her music career; she's been singing with Jean Valjean since the day he adopted her. No, it's the look in his eyes during the rare moments he talks about the people he knew as a backup musician: the sellouts, the sycophants, the junkies. Cosette was born with her love of music, but her father nurtured it, cultivated it, and then listened in sad resignation when she told him she was going to make it to the big time. Even now, he knows little of her struggles, only that the label she signed with keeps delaying her album. He doesn't know she can't even play her own songs live and charge money for tickets.
"Do you still need me to make cookies tomorrow?" Cosette asks. Every Wednesday, her father supplies the food for the local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous. Membership has grown; for some people, it's the only guaranteed decent meal they'll have all week. Cosette's snickerdoodles are quite popular, although she doesn't have a particularly special recipe, just a tendency to dump in more vanilla than strictly necessary before baking.
He smiles. "If you're not too tired. I'll take care of the dishes tonight. Remember to call."
"Always," Cosette promises, throwing her arms around his neck. He laughs in surprise. She turns her face from his and vows that tonight, somehow, she'll find a way to win her freedom.
The moon is a fat wedge in the sky by the time Cosette arrives at the ABC, guided first by her mental map of the city and then by the strains of an acoustic set. The song's name is on the tip of her tongue when it ends, and she turns the corner to find a sign that proclaims ABC in red neon. The club looks unassuming enough, sandwiched between a laundromat and a cafe, but it's only Tuesday. The inside is probably half-full at most.
Cosette crosses the street, pushes open the door (also painted red), and discovers the club is packed wall-to-wall. "Excuse me!" she says, squirming her way through the crowd. It starts to disperse a little as the lights come up and someone onstage asks them to please be patient as they transition from the acoustic set. The bouncers look preoccupied lifting heavy things, so she makes her way to the bar. Or tries to.
Cosette shifts her weight onto her uninjured foot, wincing. "No harm done," she says, dredging up a smile for the boy who just stepped on her toes. The smile becomes a real one a second later. He's got a sweet face covered in freckles, and he looks wretchedly guilty. Even his ears are red. "Really, I'm fine," she says, patting his closest arm, which is holding up a guitar case.
"Oh!" He fumbles his grip on the handle but saves the instrument in time. "That's, um, that's great. Are you sure you're all right? You have a nice smile."
"So do you," Cosette says, laughing.
"Am I smiling?"
"No, but you look like you might."
Despite the boy's obvious embarrassment, he does. As expected, it's a nice smile, one that leaves endearing little crinkles around his eyes. Cosette reaches into her back pocket for her phone, ready to ask him for his phone number, when someone calls, "Marius! Stop flirting and get over here!"
"I have to go," Marius mumbles, red to his ears again. "It was nice to meet you."
"I'm Cosette! Look for me later!" she says, because she might be a woman on a mission, but she is also a woman who likes cute boys who compliment her. Marius lugs the guitar case over to his friends and she turns, elbowing her way into the thick of the crowd. People never suspect the tiny Asian girl of deploying her pointy elbows. It helps, too, that most of the crowd has drinks already.
"ID," the bartender says, not looking up from the glass he's polishing.
"Just a Coke, please, I'm my own DD," Cosette says, figuring it's best not to push her luck with the fake ID one of the NA members slipped her on her eighteenth birthday. She hands over a ten dollar bill. "Actually, I'm looking for your DJ."
"He'll be on in a bit," the bartender says, grabbing a glass and filling it with Coke. "Short set tonight because it's Tuesday. I take it this is your first time at the ABC?"
Cosette laughs. "Is it that obvious? I like it here." She takes a moment to survey the club's interior now that the lights are on. The bar takes up most of one wall, relieved on one side by an overstuffed coatrack and the doors to the kitchen on the other. On the opposite side of the room, the back corner leads to a small hallway promising bathrooms. The front corner holds the small stage, the former site of the acoustic set and now the subject of much bustling as the staff sets up for the next act. The tiling on the floor is black and there are paintings of famous paintings on most of the wall. Liberty Leading the People is the largest by far, except everyone is dressed like punk rockers.
"Our resident artist added a few touches of his own," her bartender says dryly, following her gaze. "Some might call it desecration."
"People say the same about remixes, but I say it's interpretation," Cosette replies, tilting her head for a better look. This DJ guy sounds better by the minute. "I'm actually here to talk to your DJ, though, not listen to his music."
Some of the friendliness fades from the bartender--Combeferre, his nametag says Combeferre. "Sorry to disappoint you, but Enjolras prefers to keep his own company. I'd offer you an autographed CD, but his posts are all online."
"No, no!" Cosette says, nearly knocking over her drink. Clumsiness might be catching from handsome strangers. "I'm not here as a groupie or anything. He remixed one of my songs, an old demo version, and it sounded amazing! I want to pump his brain!"
Her enthusiasm must convince, because Combeferre's shoulders relax. "What's your name?"
"Cosette Fauchelevent," she replies. "I'm not credited on the podcast, but I can sing the vocal part for you if you want, and maybe borrow a guitar--"
"Unnecessary," Combeferre says, waving a hand. "Take a seat until the music starts. Then I suggest you dance."
"You want me to stick around," Cosette says, and takes a sip of her Coke to rein in her expression, which must be desperate.
"I'll introduce you after the show," he promises.
Cosette claps her hands. "Really? Thank you so, so much!"
"No trouble at all. I liked the original."
"Now you have to tell me all about yourself," Cosette demands, waving a finger at him. "You talk like you're friends with Enjolras. Are you a musician bartending to pay your rent? You look like a violinist."
"Med student, though I'll take that as a compliment," says Combeferre, grinning wider by the second. "The ABC will have its hands full with you."
"And I will take that as a compliment," Cosette says grandly. A crowd of people choose that moment to come up to the bar, all of them clamoring for alcohol. Combeferre joins his other two fellow bartenders making drinks and Cosette sips her Coke, waiting for the music to begin.
When the lights drop, Cosette strains her eyes in the sudden dimness, trying to spot the DJ on the way to his equipment. All she can make out is a vague shadowy form climbing onstage and lifting the lid of his laptop. For a moment, the Apple logo is the only illumination on the dance floor, and the crowd draws its breath.
Cosette feels her own catch when the first electronic beats spill from the speakers, crystalline synths rippling over the thumping drum beats that join in seconds later. Now the clubbing lights are lit, flashing patterns to go along with the music. The song's hook works as intended, tugging her away from the bar as her cheeks flush and her adrenaline rushes. Cosette pounds the last of her Coke and abandons her empty glass for the dance floor.
Once upon a time, Cosette asked her father when he decided to devote his personal fortune to helping others. I was in church, he said, and the quiet seeped into my soul. Then I was walking outside in the cold, and the quiet filled my heart until there was no room left for any other decision. When there's music playing loud enough to drive out demons and feed hungry hearts, Cosette thinks she taps into the same sort of cosmic peace. She becomes the music: her hands the flare of the melody, her hips the pulse of the bass. Cosette's never had dancing lessons and there are plenty who could dance circles around her, but when she closes her eyes and throws her arms in the air, she's as much a part of the crowd as anyone else, a cell in the life of the party.
Someone asks her to dance and Cosette waves him away, preferring the anonymity of dancing by herself. She's gone to clubs before with the handful of friends she's made despite the years of homeschooling, and she swallows a sudden lump in her throat. How long has it been since they last texted? Wrote on her Facebook wall? Everyone else went to college and she--she stayed behind to work on a stalled out album.
At least DJ Enjolras lives up to his Internet fame thus far. He reads the room so well Cosette wonders why he doesn't tour more. The songs accelerate until the dancers spin themselves breathless, then slow to a more mellow tempo when Cosette is just on the verge of needing to sit down. She sways instead and pushes sweat-soaked hair out of her face. How long has she been out here? She should get a drink of water.
That's when the girl catches her eye, the girl with long black hair and a classic little black dress. Her face is beautiful, dark eyes sad despite the full lips parted in a laugh, and familiar somehow. Cosette squeezes past a couple making out for a closer look. She doesn't remember her from playing coffee shops, nor from the handful of high schoolers' parties she attended, but there's something--
--and then the girl puts her arms around Marius, the boy from before. Cosette blinks and starts to turn, but it's too late. Another member of their group, a guy with the most rakish grin she's ever seen, points to her and yells something that gets lost in the crowd but sounds friendly. Cosette lifts a hand in sheepish greeting, and then the the same guy grabs Marius by the arm and pushes him at her.
"Hello again!" she shouts over the music. She can't resist adding, "Come here often?"
"I work here!" Marius replies, stepping closer to make himself heard. "Sorry about Courfeyrac!"
"He seems nice!" Cosette waves to the guilty party, who waves back with an unrepentant look. "You should introduce me to the rest of your friends! I'm going to meet the DJ after close!" She peers past Marius's shoulder, but the dark-haired girl is talking to someone, her back turned.
"Okay!" The instant Marius turns from her to point out individual friends, his words get swallowed by the ambient noise.
Cosette smiles and nods hello, figuring she'll get a more thorough introduction later. When the pull of the music becomes too irresistible for foot-tapping, she taps Marius on the shoulder. "Would you like to dance?"
"Dance!" Cosette steps closer and puts a hand on his shoulder for emphasis. "With me!"
As if on cue, the current song blurs into the opening chords of "Call Me Maybe." Marius, who looks slightly terrified of her sudden proximity, pumps a fist in the air. "I love this song!" he informs her, seizing her hands. Cosette squeezes his hands back, beaming.
Marius turns out to be a terrible dancer, but his endearing tendency to shout along with Top 40 songs makes up for it. Cosette is informed several times in no uncertain terms to call me maybe, complete with enthusiastic hand gestures. Still, Marius seems surprised when she steals his phone and programs in her number.
"Well, you told me!" she says, and hands him back his phone. One of his friends is trying to squeeze past, so she hooks an arm around Marius's neck and pulls herself close. Marius does have a lot of freckles, constellations of them. Heat rushes into Cosette's face, but luckily it's already flushed from dancing.
"Where's Eponine?" one of Marius's friends asks him. The name rings a bell in Cosette's memory, but it's muffled by the passage of time. How does she know that name?
Marius scans the crowd, shading his eyes from the flashing lights. "Behind the bar!" he answers, frowning. "Isn't it her night off?"
"Thought so!" the friend replies, then turns back to dance with Courfeyrac.
Cosette spends the rest of the night dancing with Marius, save for one trip to the bar, where Combeferre serves them both water. "Last call's in fifteen," Combeferre tells her, and Cosette's heart beats faster for reasons that have nothing to do with Marius or strange girls.
Her excitement doesn't stop her from dragging Marius back on the dance floor, though most of his friends have gone home. Their legs are tired enough by now that they just bounce up and down to the music, laughing and holding on to one another. When the lights come up and the bell clangs for last call, Cosette sways forward, her cheek resting a moment on Marius's shoulder before she registers that the last song is the "6 Underground" remix.
Cosette's not the only one who's been waiting all night for this meeting.
The ABC's most esteemed DJ has disappeared from the booth by the time enough people have left that Cosette can see over the crowd. Grinding her teeth a little, Cosette goes back to the bar and waits with Marius. Does this guy have to make a grand entrance or what?
"It's so awesome that you play the guitar. I've been playing since I was twelve," Marius is saying. "I'm not any good at writing songs, though."
"I wasn't when I started," Cosette answers, distracted.
With an amused smile, Combeferre slides another glass of Coke her way. "He's just avoiding the groupies. I'll apologize for him, since he won't."
"Won't even occur to him," Courfeyrac adds. "Have you come to join our glorious crusade?"
"We'll see how late he is," Cosette says, with a guilty look at her phone. Her father doesn't understand texting, and it's getting late. Pressing her phone to her ear, she says, "I'm just going to call my dad. He gets worried."
Cosette is halfway through telling her father that yes, there are boys here, and no, she doesn't need him to come pick her up when a ridiculously attractive guy appears out of nowhere and heads over to their little group. Between the head of perfect dark hair and the faintly haughty expression, he could be a model--maybe a shampoo model, she amends, taking in the eye-searing vest. He opens his mouth to say something, but Cosette makes an impatient shushing motion and says, "No, Daddy, I have enough money for a cab, you don't need to stay up. I'm just going to talk to this musician about his technique and then I'll leave right away. Love you, too. Bye!"
Courfeyrac coughs something that sounds suspiciously like, Good luck with that, Marius!
"Hi," Cosette says brightly, ignoring him. "I'm Cosette, as you probably already know."
"My name is Enjolras," the newcomer says, shaking her hand. "What brings you here?"
"Strange question to ask, since you're the one who remixed my song," Cosette says. "I had to come after that podcast! How did you get your hands on my demo? What equipment do you use, by the way? What made you decide to remix it? You really seem to understand the song's overall atmosphere, which I guess goes along with your job, but you'd be surprised how many people try to interpret things using just the lyrics or just the sound. But a carnival! It's like Hamlet meets Ray Bradbury!"
Enjolras at first looks bewildered by her stream of chatter, but a small smile forms at the phrase "understand the song's overall atmosphere" and continues to grow. "I was thinking of a carnival," he says. "You're well-read."
"Homeschooled," Cosette says, then steps forward with her index finger raised. "But you didn't even credit me on your tracklist! Why not identify me by name if you're all about sticking it to the recording industry? You didn't even shoot me an e-mail! If you managed to track down my demo, why not my e-mail, too? It seems silly to remix a local artist without so much as dropping her a note, especially since she loved it so much!"
"It worked," Enjolras says, unperturbed. "You're here."
Cosette stares at him. "That… seems like a very convoluted plan for getting me here."
"That's what I said," Combeferre says, giving up all pretense of wiping the countertops.
Enjolras crosses his arms, frowning. It makes him look younger than he probably is. "It worked and that's all that matters. To answer your question, Cosette, someone I know--" here, for some reason, Courfeyrac has a fit of coughing-- "passed on a CD he bought after hearing you play at a coffee shop. I enjoyed what I heard, so I attempted to track down more of your music and discovered you were a prisoner of the recording industry." At her startled expression, he adds, "Your website has been promising an officially released album for over a year. I have certain contacts and they confirmed my suspicions."
"Which I could have done if you had just asked me!" Cosette says, fighting the urge to laugh. She likes Enjolras, or at least how passionate he is about music, but it wouldn't do to let him off too easy. "You're a funny guy. Did you remix my song because you liked it or to make a statement?"
"Both," he answers promptly. "The subjective quality of your music notwithstanding, no artist should have to sign his or her soul away for the promise of perhaps earning enough to make a living. An artist's creation belongs to the artist who creates it and the audience who experiences it. The recording industry forces itself between the two and makes a profit at the expense of both."
"Absolutely," Cosette says when Enjolras pauses to draw breath. "I've read your blog entries on the subject. What is it that you want from me, exactly?"
"To set you free," Enjolras says.
Cosette rises out of her seat without consciously dictating the motion, tugged forward as if the music has started again. She's aware of the other three members of Enjolras's organization nearby, stacking chairs and wiping tables as they close the place down, but all of her focus is for one man, a man who speaks with such quiet ferocity. Then the memory of the last time she let herself by swayed by words bursts in her mind like an unpleasant bubble, slowing the wild beating of her heart. Cosette leans back against her stool and says, "I won't be your symbol. I want to succeed on my own merits." She folds her shaking hands behind her back, reminding herself that she signed a binding legal contract. She can't get her hopes up.
"I see," replies Enjolras, tone and expression neutral. He frowns, but as though in thought, not in displeasure. "People will make you a symbol with or without my help, once they hear your story."
"As long as they hear my music," Cosette says, and squeezes the palms of her hands tighter together.
Enjolras flashes her a smile of genuine pleasure, and Cosette adds toothpaste model to her mental list of alternate careers for him. "Of course. Forgive me for taking the liberty of looking at your contract, but I found something of a loophole. If you release new collaborative material, your label doesn't own it. You do. Or we would, rather. Work with me. We'll be the first act on the independent label I'm starting. When the people hear our music and our story, they'll pressure Justice Records to release you from your contract."
There are questions Cosette should ask. The primary one is, You "took a look" at my contract? What are you, in the secret music mafia? But her heart is drumming at her ribcage again, the echoes loud enough to drown out her doubts. The paralysis falls away for the first time in months, and so she rises, drawing herself up to her full height. "I'd like to think it over," she says, though her heart answers yes, yes, yes for her. "I'll come back with my decision tomorrow."
"Agreed," Enjolras says, and shakes her hand again.
Cosette takes her leave then, sparing Marius a wave as she departs. Her heart soars in spite of itself, in spite of new caution borne of old wounds. Come tomorrow, she knows how she'll answer. Cosette lifts her arm and hails a cab.