Time to Pretend
Chapter One: Dreams
Oh, my life is changing everyday,
In every possible way.
And oh, my dreams, it's never quite as it seems,
Never quite as it seems.
I know I've felt like this before, but now I'm feeling it even more,
Because it came from you.
And then I open up and see the person falling here is me,
A different way to be.
I want more impossible to ignore,
Impossible to ignore.
And they'll come true, impossible not to do,
Impossible not to do.
And now I tell you openly, you have my heart so don't hurt me.
You're what I couldn't find.
A totally amazing mind, so understanding and so kind;
You're everything to me.
Oh, my life,
Is changing every day,
In every possible way.
And oh, my dreams,
It's never quite as it seems,
'Cause you're a dream to me,
Dream to me.
The Cranberries "Dreams"
Leo pulled the van up to the driveway and parked in the first spot in the lot. He got out and and walked to the back of the vehicle, sighing at the sight of the faded ice cream stickers and childish art plastered on the side. He shook his head, making a mental note to remember to make time to paint over it, remembering Raph's comments when he first bought the van about how Leo looked like some creepy predator in it. Raph had spent the rest of the day calling him 'Pedonardo'.
Raph hopped out of the other side, slamming the door shut behind him, grumbling when he had to go back and slam it even harder to get it to close.
"Raph, if you keep slamming the door that hard, you're only going to make it worse," Leo scolded, opening the rear doors. He reached in and began to pull out cables.
"Pftt, whateva'. Look'it this thing. It barely runs. I don't know what the fuck you were thinkin' when ya bought this piece of shit. It looks like it ain't run properly since 1978. Probably gonna break down any minute now-"
"Well, this was all we could afford for now. Unless you could magically come up with another grand, this was it. It's fine for now-"
"Not to mention we look like we're gonna kidnap little kids in this thing-"
"Raph, that wasn't funny the first time, and it's not funny now. Knock it off-!"
"It was a simple fuckin' task. Get a vehicle! Why did we even trust you wit this in the first place-!"
"You guys, a little help here..." Casey interrupted, grunting as he climbed out from the van, carrying parts of the drum set. Slash was about to climb out with a few guitar cases when he saw Casey struggling and set his guitars down to lend a quick hand before clumsiest member of the band set them back another few hundred dollars by breaking yet another bass drum.
The sound of a back door creaking open got everyone's attention, and they looked up to see a turtle with a giant grin on his face. "Hey, TMNT? I'm Mike! Lemme give you guys a hand!" With that, he ran over to help with unloading. "You guys are here really early!"
Leo watched as the turtle named Mike ran over. He immediately took in the calm, friendly demeanor, the ear to ear smile, and smiled back as he switched the cables to his other hand so that he could reach out to shake Mike's hand. "Hi, I'm Leonardo. We spoke yesterday."
"Great to finally meet you! I bet you guys can't wait to get started," Mikey replied, observing Leonardo. They had spoken over the phone a few times before Leonardo scheduled his band to use Mikey's recording studio. During those times, Mikey didn't fail to notice the serious, almost no-nonsense tone, causing Mikey to peg Leonardo as the Band Mom: always worried about one thing or another, giving late band members a hard time, scolding the drummers for goofing off, basically sucking the fun out of rehearsals. Guys like him always made Mikey laugh. It was almost his goal in life to get these type-A freaks to loosen up and live a little. He glanced casually at the turtle's thick forearms peeking out of rolled up sleeves and wondered if Leonardo worked out...
"...So then I'll edit the crap out of it, and you can decide how you like the end product. And we can work with it until we got something you all like." Mikey stopped his spiel to take a sip from his soda. "Waddaya say? Sound good?"
Leo was quiet, taking in everything before speaking up, "Well, it all sounds well and good, but, the truth is we probably can only afford just the bare minimum. I don't know that we can afford your editing work. We were hoping to basically just record the three songs and put them on a disc."
Mikey flashed a bright smile. "Hey, I hear ya. Don't worry, dude. We'll just keep it simple then. As far as recording all three songs in one afternoon though, I don't know that that's gonna happen..."
At this Raphael piped up. "Why not?"
"Well, 'cause it just isn't usually that simple. I mean, yeah, you could just slap some chords an' vocals on a disc and call it a demo, but if you really want to get your full money's worth, it's gonna take some time. If you want it to sound good, to really convey your image, you gotta work it, you gotta make sweet, sweet love to this thing," Mikey replied, wagging an eyebrow in Leo's direction.
Leo blushed hard and cleared his throat. "That fact of the matter remains, we don't have much money. So we're going to have to make do with what we have. We can't afford anything else."
Mikey sat back and clasped his hands behind his head. He gave Leo one last glance before addressing the band as a whole. "Tell you what...Let's get started, see how far we get, and go from there. If it looks like it's gonna go over the agreed time, I'll let you guys continue and you can pay me back later, when you got the cash."
"You would let us do that?" Leo asked, surprised that the business owner would allow them time on credit.
"Yeah, dude. You guys seem pretty cool..." this Mikey said to Leo, giving him a wink.
"Hell yeah! Thanks, bro!" Raph called out as he jumped from his seat, giving Casey and Slash high-fives before going to shake Mikey's hand. "Let's do this!"
Mikey made his way into the engineering booth to begin working. Once he was out of earshot, Raph went over to Leo and punched him in the arm, laughing hard. "Geez, Leo, maybe if ya showed 'em a little leg, we could've gotten a discount, eh...eh?" Casey and Slash were laughing as well as they watched Leo's face light up in a furious flush.
"Alright, alright, that's enough..." Leo got his composure back and began to assign tasks to everyone, getting them organized and in working order to begin recording as soon as possible. They couldn't afford to goof around, and in no time, Mikey had them hooked up, tuned up, and ready to go.
Once they began, things went fairly smooth. Raph was going back and forth between vocals and second guitar. Leo was focused on his part as lead guitar. Slash worked bass, and Casey was on drums. They knew the songs like the back of their hands. On occasion, Mikey would interject, making suggestions and giving advice. Sometimes he even suggested cutting out parts, and even rewrote some lyrics. At some point, Mikey thought the band members might tell him to back off and quit messing with their song. But...
Everybody seemed okay with the changes. In fact, after awhile, they began to see that Mikey was making very good suggestions, and would on occasion stop to consult him and ask his opinion. The enthusiasm was palpable and soon they were transforming their rough song into something bold and alive... into art.
When they reached the end of their allotted time, they decide it was time for a little break. Everybody was very excited, but Mikey was right. They were nowhere near finished with the recording of even the first song.
However, everyone was in a pleasant mood and full of extra energy. Since they had begun, Raph and Leo had only gotten into one argument, a record in everybody's book.
Raph had gone out back to smoke a cigarette when Leo came out to look for him, suspecting that his brother was out back doing exactly what Leo had hoped Raph had quit weeks ago, like he said he would. As soon as Leo stepped foot outside, Raph rolled his eyes and dropped what was left of the butt onto the ground, stomping it with his old, worn Dr. Martens.
Leo glared at him, but said nothing.
"What?! You comin' out here ta preach ta me? Like ya fuckin' know everything? Yeah, I'm still smoking. Yeah, I know it's bad fer me. And that I need ta quit. And that I shouldn't drink so much. Or stay up past my fuckin' bedtime." Raph fumed, glaring at Leo.
Leo hadn't said a word since stepping outside. He simply leaned against the door and turned his sight towards the graffiti on the far wall on the other side of the lot. When he looked closer, however, he realized that the graffiti was more than just tags left by local gangs. It was actually a work of art, a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, all framing an orange cat in the center, the words 'Astro Klunk' emblazoned on it's belly.
"Pretty tight, huh?" Mikey said, startling Leo. He hadn't heard Mikey come out. Raph had gone back inside.
"Did you do this?" Leo asked gesturing at the wall before them.
Mikey leaned back against the wall, taking in his own work. "Yeah. I was getting bored with the bare wall and worked on it in my spare time."
"Wow. It's amazing. The music, this art... you really are something," Leo said. Realizing what he'd just blurted out loud, he turned to Mikey and sputtered, "I mean, well..."
Mikey flashed Leo a disarming smile, eyes practically shining. "Thanks," he replied before nodding his head in the direction of the studio. "I think everybody is ready to continue." With that, he turned and disappeared inside, leaving Leo outside feeling embarrassed.
By the end of the early evening, everybody was talking all at once. The song was almost done. The roughness was gone. It was starting to sound smooth. What had started out as a simple demo was inadvertently turning into something that sounded almost as a good as a professional recording. This wasn't what the band members had had in mind when they had first contacted Mikey. But the hope was infectious, and against Leo's better judgement, he had accepted Mike's offer to use the studio on credit. Now the band was buzzing with excitement.
Leo walked into Mikey's booth. "Hey, I want to say thank you for everything."
Mikey looked up at Leo from his seat as he leaned back. "No prob, dude. Your band rocks! I mean, I've been in and out of tons of bands in the last couple years, and you guys, you just... I don't know... things just really come together just right. You guys have this sort of weird magical connection, like you're all thinking the same thing at the same time. That's hard to find. I know, I've looked!"
"Well, our song was nothing compared to what you've turned it into. We really couldn't have done it without you. You really know your stuff. We're just a bunch of guys who want to play open mike nights," Leo said, chuckling. "Before getting this band together, Raph and I were trying to decide what we even wanted to do. Raph's the one who convinced me to give this a try."
There was a moment of silence while Mikey began to shut down his equipment before Leo spoke up again, "Hey, you were looking to be in bands before, what about joining ours?"
Mikey kept his focus on his board. After a few seconds he answered. "Naw. I got a good thing going here. I mean, yeah, technically TMNT is my first client, which is why I'm not giving you guys a hard time for the extra hours... but, I did put pretty a penny into this business. So, as freakin' awesome as your band is, I can't accept. Plus, I've had so many let downs that I just want to chill for now."
"I understand. Well, if you change your mind, we would be happy to have you."
Suddenly a bright orange light went off in the booth, alerting Mikey that his office phone was ringing and he excused himself to go answer it. Leo watched him go, following the bouncy turtle's frame down the hall until it disappeared into the back office. Suddenly a pair of dark green fingers snapped a few inches in front of his face.
Raph laughed. "Wow, it's only been one day and already you've fallen so hard I think ya might've cracked yer shell!"
Leo grumbled, "It's not like that..."
Raph just laughed harder, "Sure, sure. 'Cuz ya totally don't have a dopey, love struck face right now...Hey! Invite 'em to come wit' us ta celebrate!" Raph urged, elbowing Leo as he spoke.
"I don't know, Raph..."
"-Mikey?" a soft voiced called from the front entrance. Leo and Raph turned to look and saw a turtle peeking through the door, looking around.
"I'm in the office!" Mikey called out.
The turtle entered and closed the door behind him. He stood there near the entrance looking uncomfortable, before Mikey finally came out of the office.
"Oh! Donny, you gotta meet these guys! C'mon!" Mikey grabbed Don's hand and dragged him towards the band members. "This is Third Mourning Ninja Town."
Everybody gave him a quick hello before continuing to pack up their instruments and equipment.
"Are you ready to go?" Donny asked Mike.
"Sure, gimme a few more minutes and I'll be all set," Mikey replied.
Raph turned to give Leo a look, motioning his head toward the turtle that was now packing up and getting ready to leave. When Leo didn't act, Raph shoved him, hard. Leo nearly crashed into Mike.
Mikey gave Leo a surprised look, and Leo turned to glare at Raph (who was now ignoring him). He turned his attention to Mikey. "Mike, we're all going to go celebrate. Would you like to join us?"
Mikey was caught a bit off guard, but recovered quickly, a smile replacing his surprised expression. "Yeah, dude. I'm in!" He turned to Donny, "Don, you wanna join us?"
Leo felt a twinge of disappointment when he saw Mikey inviting this other person. But he pushed those feeling down, and tried to keep his face neutral.
Don looked at the other band members who were done packing up, and were simply waiting for an answer from the newcomer. "Maybe next time..." he said.
"Aw, c'mon, Donny! You said you were all done!" Mikey whined, looking almost on the verge of tears.
"No, you go ahead, I'll see you later tonight," Donny said with finality.
"All right," Mikey grumbled, "I'll see you later."
The shy turtle mumbled a goodbye to the band, then turned and left.
The group whooped and hollered over the noisy crowd in the little dive bar. They were crammed into a tiny booth in the rear near the bathrooms and right next to loud music blaring speakers. Leo and Mikey ended up smooshed in the center, their arms and thighs pressed up tight. After their toast, Leo, feeling a bit uncomfortable pressed up so tight to the energetic turtle, tried to shift a bit, but only succeeded in rubbing up against Mikey. Mikey, feeling the movement against him, turned his head to Leo and gave him a smirk.
Leo turned his head away to hide his embarrassment. Around them, Raph, Casey and Slash were getting louder and louder.
Leo turned to Mikey, "So, uh, how long have you had Astro Klunk?" Leo tried to ask over the noise and music.
Mikey tried to get his ear closer to Leo. "What?!" he yelled.
Leo cleared his throat and tried to speak up, "I said," he yelled, "how long have you had Astro Klunk!"
"Oh! Weeks! I wasn't kidding when I said it was brand-spanking-new!" Mikey yelled in response.
"Ah! I see!" Leo yelled back. "Whoa!" he cried out as Casey accidently knocked his beer right into his lap.
"Whoops! Sorry dude, I'll go get a towel or somethin'!" Casey exclaimed.
Casey got up, allowing Leo to slide out of the booth.
"No, don't worry, I'll just go into the bathroom and ..." Leo began, but was cut off by the the stench wafting out of the single stall men's room in the wake of the last gentleman that had used it.
Leo frowned and made his way to the bar instead to ask the bartender for a wet towel. He generally hated this type of environment, but seeing as the others wanted to come here for their celebration, he couldn't really argue. The bartender gave him the towel and he wiped away at his pants, frustrated at the wet spot on his pants that kept getting bigger and bigger.
"Need some help?" came a voice right next to him. Mikey had snaked an arm around Leo's, getting up close to inspect the damage. He reached out and grabbed the towel from Leo's hand and tossed it back on the bar. "Dude, forget it. That's not coming out. Let's just go outside for some air."
Mikey had been sensing that Leo was not having as much fun as the other guys. And he couldn't really blame him. Though Mikey could make just about any situation fun, Leo obviously was more into less chaotic means of entertainment. In fact, after watching the whole beer-meets-lap event, he was almost sure Leo would decide that he'd had enough and leave. And Mikey was not having that.
The two made their way through the pack of loud, drunk, sweaty patrons and eventually found the exit. The fresh air was a godsend. The blast of cigarette smoke to the face was not. They eventually found an outside table that wasn't sticky or wet and took a seat, grateful for the momentary peace.
Mikey leaned back in his chair, tipping it dangerously onto two legs, his eyes on Leo the whole time. He watched Leo struggle with deciding whether or not he should be the one to break the ice. Mikey was tempted to say something first, his tongue muscles twitching with need. But he decided to be patient for once and let Leonardo speak first, curious to what the turtle had to say. He did however take in other details while he waited in silence: the tucked in shirt, black trousers, and oxfords; the broad shoulders and thick veiny forearms; the only accessory a plain, leather strapped watch. Mikey, in contrast, was wearing his 'Frankie Says Relax' t-shirt, black jeans with strategically placed rips and tears, neon green high-tops, and a black, worn leather vest. His wrists were adorned with chunky wrist-bands and colorful rope bracelets.
Mikey was so preoccupied with staring that he was startled when Leo finally spoke up.
"How did you get into this business?" He finally asked.
"Well," Mikey answered, "I've always dabbled in music, most of my life really. I was taking piano lessons before I could barely write. It's just always been a part of me I guess. I'd gone to Juilliard's Pre-College division and then got my bachelor's at Eastman's School of Music. 'Course, the only reason I didn't continue at Juilliard's was 'cause Donny chose to go to Rochester and I couldn't stand to be more than a few feet away from the nerdy turtle," he finished with a laugh.
Leo shifted a bit in his chair, "I see. So, is Donny your, um, friend...or boy-friend..."
Mikey laughed some more. "No, Leo. Donny isn't my boyfriend. He's just my bestie. We grew up in the some condominiums. Both our parents bought space before the tower was even built, and we've been neighbors almost our entire lives. We just get along like two turtley peas in a pod." Mikey stopped to take a sip from his beer. "I can almost bet money that you guys all probably think he's stuck up or something, but he's just shy at first. He opens up once you get to know him. He just needs a little push now and then. It's why I wanted him to join us tonight. Trust me, he's super cool. Plus, he's a freakin' genius! He graduated high school when he was like fifteen. But yeah, we're almost like brothers. Probably just as close as you and your brother!"
"Raph's not my brother, at least not by blood, though we are as close as brothers can get, anyway," Leo said with a smile. "We grew up together, too. We were adopted by the same family."
"Whoa, dude! Donny and I are adopted too! We have soooo much in common!" Mikey giggled, batting his eyes at Leo, who finally relaxed and chuckled along. "So what else do you do, besides play badass rock 'n' roll?" Mikey asked, playing air guitar and making whiney electric guitar noises.
Leo laughed, "Well, I have a black belt in Aikido and Kenjutsu."
Mikey stopped laughing for a second to process that. "Whoa, dude... seriously?"
"Yeah, Raph does as well. We practically grew up in a dōjō."
"Dude! I know martial arts too!" Mikey exclaimed jumping up from his seat in excitement before sitting back down again. "I practiced Shaolin Wushu!"
Leo blinked a few times, his mouth opening and closing. "Wow," he finally said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Well, maybe we should meet up and spar sometime."
"Yeah," Mikey replied leaning back in his chair again, "maybe we should."
Leo tried and failed to keep a goofy little smile from creeping onto his face. "So, you seem to be a turtle of all trades. Is there anything you don't do?"
Mikey brought a finger up to his mouth, pretending to think hard, "Hmmm...nope! There's nothing I can't do, man. You name it, I've probably already mastered it."
"And modest," Leo quipped.
"Hey, when you're as awesome and talented as I am, you can't keep it to yourself," Mikey said with a serious face.
"So you said you've been in lots of other bands before?" Leo asked.
"Yeah, some I started, some I joined up, all of them sucked. Nothing but drama queens and divas. Everybody wants to be a freakin' rock star. I just wanna make music. In fact, Donny helped me design a music program. Well, he designed it, I just told him where to put all the bells and whistles. It's pretty sweet. We sell it online, it makes us a pretty penny. Of course, it's more supplemental. Which is why I opened Astro Klunk. But yeah, I couldn't stand most of the bands, and eventually gave up." With that Mikey drained the last of his beer.
"What about TMNT?" Leo asked. "Have you given any extra thought to perhaps joining us? The reason I ask is because, well, we all loved your ideas. It was just so great working with you today."
Leo watched Mikey carefully as the cheerful turtle was suddenly quiet, staring at the bottle in his hands, picking at the label.
"I dunno. I have to sleep on it... Like I said, I only just opened this business. You guys really are my first clients! It's why I didn't give you a hard time about paying upfront... I'm desperate!"
Leo and Mikey laughed. Once the short bout of laughter passed, Mikey spoke up again, "Plus, I kinda like you...er, you guys..."
Leo shifted a bit in his chair, glancing down at his lap before looking back up. Mikey was staring at the empty bottle in his hands. "Would you like another drink?" he asked him.
Mikey looked up and smiled. "Yeah, I would."
Leo got up and was immediately tackled by Raph, who now had him in a headlock.
"You fuckin' turtle killer you!" Raph slurred loudly. "Mike, dis 'bout as close as Leo'll probably eva' get ta flirtin', so just go ahead an' make yer move!" he hollered right by Leo's face.
Leo grimaced and disentangled himself from Raph's drunken grip before going back inside to get Mikey another beer.
Donny parked his sedan in front of the studio, grabbed his bag from the front seat, and entered the building. He could hear the voices of the band members that Mikey had been raving about for the last week. He peeked his head into the office to see if Mikey was in there, but the room was dark and empty. He figured Mikey would probably still be in the booth, so he head towards the voices in the back to find his friend, who at this rate would be late for his doctor's appointment. Again.
When he reached the booth, instead he found some of the band members.
Raph stopped talking to Leo when he noticed Mikey's friend looking around. Raph was about to say hi, but before he could open his mouth, Don had turned and walked away to head towards Mikey's office. Raph frowned, though he wasn't entirely surprised.
" 'Sup with the stuck-up turtle?" he grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Don? Actually, Mike was telling me the other night that he's actually just very shy," Leo explained to Raph.
"Whateva'. Anyway," Raph continued, "wadaya think of this guy? I mean, Case says he's a friend of some cousin of his, but I dunno. He seems kinda slimy ta me. An' trust me, I think I seen enough slimeballs in my lifetime that I can spot one a mile away."
Leo scratched his head awkwardly. "Well, Casey suggested him, and we do need a manager if we're going to continue with this the way it's going. By the way, Mikey was just telling me earlier this morning that we've gotten some downloads in the few days the song has been online! It sounds like we've already made a dozen sales! Can you believe it?" Leo said, his eyes wide with disbelief.
This also caught Raph by surprise. He frowned at Leo, not quite believing it either. "What? Already? But, it's barely been on the site fer a day... Wow..."
"I know!" Leo agreed. "Just Imagine once we get this demo going! You know, I think this might just work out."
Donny went to Mikey's office and sat in the thick leather chair at the desk. The lights were out, the hallway light shining in. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He hadn't slept very much the night before. He could hear voices drifting down the hall. One of them caught his attention.
"It'll be a total of twenty percent. Plus, fer every gig I book you guys it'll be another ten percent. And fer sales of merch it'll be another ten percent. So yeah, that's gonna round out to about twenty percent," Rudy explained to Raph.
It sounded right to Raph, so he was just about to agree when somebody behind him cleared his throat.
"That's not twenty percent," Donny spoke up. The two turned around to stare at him.
Rudy glared at the nosey turtle. " 'Scuse me, my associate an' I are conversin' so, if ya don't mind..." he spat at Donny.
Raph was surprised to see Don standing there in the first place after ignoring him just minutes ago, and now the turtle was about to start arguing with their new manager.
"But that's not twenty percent," Donny said calmly, standing his ground. "If I heard correctly, you want to be paid a certain percentage for your services. Most managers charge fifteen to twenty percent of a band's gross income. What you appear to be asking is that after that initial payment, you get paid additional fees, specifically ten percent more for bookings, and ten percent more for sales. But the the original twenty percent already comes from shows and sales of music and merchandise. So you're essentially charging them twice. Actually, more than twice."
"What?!" Raph snarled, turning his attention back to the now nervous human.
"Hehe, now, wait a sec here," Rudy gulped and tugged at his collar," I-I, that's not what I meant...Of course I only meant twenty, I was..." Rudy cleared his throat, "I was simply making it very clear where the twenty was comin' from... so there'd be no confusion...yeah."
Donny stared at the human, his look unwavering, before turning around and heading back to the office.
"Hey, hold up!" Raph called out behind him as Donny took his seat in the leather chair again. Donny looked up, his brown eyes taking in the fierce golden ones looking back at him from doorway. The one called 'Raph'. He was taking up the entire door frame, the turtle's own bulky frame draped in worn leather. He stood there silently, not saying a word. When he spoke up, his deep, rumbling voice almost startled Don.
"Thanks for catching that," Raph said in a low voice. "This guy, I don't trust 'em yet. He's a friend of Casey's, so..."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to intrude, I simply overhead and couldn't ignore the numbers," Don chuckled.
"Hey, I'm glad someone was lookin' out for us. Thanks," Raph gave him a cocky grin, teeth glinting in the low light.
Donny smile back. "Sure."
Raph turned to leave, but thought better of it. He turned back around to face Don again. "Listen, uh, Don... So seein' as how there's a chance we almost got had by our pal here... You seem ta know yer shit. How 'bout ya give us a hand. Ya know, help us with the business part, get us organized, pay the bills, work with the labels..."
"You want me to manage your band?" Donny asked incredulously, sitting up in his chair.
"Well, yeah. You saw what just happened. So we don't get scammed..." Raph said.
"I don't know the first thing about managing a band," Don said, taken aback by the absurd request. "You need somebody that knows the business."
"Oh, c'mon, how hard can it be-"
"Besides, I'm in the middle of applying to grad school. I simply don't have the time," Don continued.
"You have all the time in the world!" Raph pressed. For some reason, he was suddenly very interested in the smart turtle. "C'mon, take a gamble! You'll get ta travel, kick back... you can go ta school anytime-"
"Donny! I'm ready!" Mikey hollered, running down the hall. He was late for his appointment.
Don sighed. "No." He rose from his chair, grabbed his messenger bag, and followed Mikey down the hall and out the door.