Chapter 2

       

       For the past seven years, Michael had been taking up residence in a cozy little neighborhood known as 'Butcher's Hill.' Back in the year of 1999, he was set to star in a film titled: 'The Nightmare of Edgar Allen Poe.' Since the movie was set to be shot on location near Poe's former home in Baltimore, he decided it would be best if he relocated rather than traveling back and forth from coast to coast.

       While he was looking for places to live in Baltimore, he fell in love with a beautiful three-story, two-bedroom, brick home, located on Pratt Street, which he ultimately decided to buy. Besides owning a condo in New York, he didn't own any other property on the east coast and thought it would be a great investment.

       When the movie was finally set for production, he received a phone call from the director, citing the film had been scrapped due to a lack of financing. Never in his life had he been so heartbroken over an acting project. But without having much time to sulk around, he started preparing for a reunion show with his brothers.

      At first, he wasn't too sure about doing the show. It had been a long time since he had performed, and he wasn't looking forward to a grueling rehearsal schedule.

But now, with the movie being canned, he thought, "to heck with it." He needed to set his focus on something positive, and performing had always lifted his spirit.

       After the airing of the show, he and his brothers received raving reviews from both fans and critics alike. But as always, it didn't last very long. At least not from the media. Soon they began to print their harsh criticisms of him. Growing tired of the relentless negativity being spewed, he needed to get away from it all.

        Deciding to throw caution to the wind, he packed up a few of his belongings and headed for the home he had purchased in Baltimore two years prior. If he had stayed a mere second longer in California, he was sure to go insane. He needed a new release on life. He no longer wanted to be 'Michael Jackson,' the celebrity that everyone took shots at.

        After living quietly in Baltimore for a few months, Michael decided he wanted to earn a real college degree. He had always loved learning and was a big advocate of one furthering their education. Though he had received an honorary doctorate of 'Humane Letters' from Fisk University in the late '80s, it wasn't the same. He wanted a degree that he earned. He wanted to take the same test and study as a regular student would.

        When he began his journey, he applied to many different schools. A few accepted him but even more turned him down. At first, he took it as a major blow, but this was what the real college experience was all about. He wanted to attend a school that he got into on his merit.

        Since most of the schools he wanted to attend required an audition as apart of their acceptance, he applied under the name, Michael Black. It was a legal alias of his that he acquired back in the late '90s. In the past, when he wanted to do things as a regular person, he'd throw on a disguise and present himself as Dr. Black.

         The doctor title was both important and hilarious to him, now considering that he held it officially after receiving his Ph.D. in music.

        When Michael finally returned home after grading papers, he was greeted with excited barking.

        "Hey, Shadow! Did you miss me? I missed you!" he cooed to his adorable new puppy, playfully brushing its fur. "Come on... Let's go for a walk."

       Never in a million years, did Michael think he'd ever go out for 'Just a walk.' A simple walk usually entailed him putting on a disguise, going out late at night when there were fewer people out, or being flanked by an entourage of bodyguards.

       Deciding to get a drink, he headed over to a nearby lounge that accepted small dogs inside. It was a favorite of his to attend after a long day of teaching.

        "What can I get ya, Dr. Black?" One of the regular waitresses, a leggy brunette with braids down her back, asked him kindly.

       Leaning back in his seat, he answered. "What do you recommend?"

         The waitress flashed him a naughty grin. "For you? 'Sex on the beach."

         "That sounds delightful; I'll have two, please... But stagger them out."

       Writing down his order quickly, Victoria winked an eye at him. "Will do, Dr. Black."

         When she walked away from the table, Michael took a long glance at her behind. He thought many times about asking her out but decided not to. He enjoyed having a pleasant place to attend where he could just relax. He didn't need the drama that was sure to occur if she had caught feelings for him.

       After sleeping with Raven, Michael swore off hooking up with anyone that lived or worked within close proximity to his home. At this point in his life, he was enjoying being free, especially after a very public break-up to an ex-girlfriend he had proposed to a few years prior.


***

        "Come on, you guys! Stop goofing around. Does everyone have a copy of our setlist for tonight?" Symphony screamed at the top of her lungs.

        "For the 10th time... Yes, we do! Now calm your tits!" One of her band members yelled.

         "You know what, Dylan... If you don't take our gigs seriously, you can be replaced."

        "Calm down Symphony; you know how he is." April, one of the female backing vocalists interjected.

        Stalking out of their dressing room in anger, another band member chased after her.

       "Hey! Wait up! Don't let him get to you. You know how much of a jerk he can be at times," Nicolae called out, running up to her.

       Symphony sighed. "I know... I know. I'm just tired. Our band has been together for five years, and I feel we should be signed to a major label by now. I'm thinking of calling it quits. I'm now pursuing my music degree, and to be honest; I'm not sure how much time I can dedicate to the band."

         Taking her by the hand, Nicolae smiled compassionately. "Well, I can't tell you what to do, but for me — I love being apart of this band. Right now, It's one of the few good things I have going for me."

          Knowing what Nicolae said held a double meaning and also being fully aware of his crush on her, Symphony eased her hand out of his for fear of giving him the wrong impression.

         "I know, Nicolae. This band is important to me as well, but I'll be turning thirty years old in a few months. I think it's time for me to move on," she spoke sadly.

       "Hey... I get it. If the band isn't making you happy anymore, I understand your reasoning. But can you please think about it first?"

         Flashing him a small smile, she replied plainly, "sure."

         Before heading back to their dressing room, Symphony peaked her head out at the audience from behind the red curtain on the stage.

        "Oh, my God! Dr. Black is here!" she gulped, snapping the curtain shut.

        "Dr. Who?" Nicolae retorted.

        "Dr. Black! My music teacher," she reiterated.

        "No way! Michael Jackson? I mean... I know he doesn't go by that name anymore, but still, the guy is a legend."

       Symphony remarked. "Who are you telling? I still can't believe he went from being the world's biggest pop star to Dr. Black—The music theory teacher. Or well... I shouldn't say it that way. Earning a Ph.D. in music is no easy task. He's also one of the top music professors in the country. I still can't believe I'm taking his course."

       Shrugging his shoulders, Nicolae spoke profoundly. "I can't believe it either. But you know, life is funny like that. One day you're at the top, and the next day it can all change."

       After returning to their dressing room, Symphony tried calming her nerves before they were slated to perform. Even though Michael was no longer in the music industry, she was still nervous about performing in front of him. After all, he was still her music teacher, and she didn't want him to think that she or her band sucked.

        When it was finally time to hit the stage, Symphony took a deep breath, morphing into full performance mode. As she focused solely on her craft, the thought of Michael judging her had soon dissipated.

        As Michael took a sip of his drink, his eye's widened in surprise when he saw Symphony appear on stage.

        "Hmm...  Interesting," he spoke quietly to himself.

         Appearing calm, cool, and collected.  Symphony smiled brightly as she introduced her band to the audience.

       "Hey, everyone! This is our first time performing here. If you don't think we sound good now, just have another drink or two," she teased, "but seriously, we hope you'll enjoy our performance tonight. And we are Love and a piano.

       From the moment she opened her mouth to sing, he couldn't take his eyes off of her. Seeing her outside of the classroom had allowed him to recognize her beauty. The only reason why he hadn't noticed in class is that when he was at work, he was at work. He saw his students as students, and nothing more.

       Standing at about five foot seven with brown copper skin, cute freckles, natural blown-out hair, and more curves than a freeway, he thought her voice was heavenly, and her piano playing was impressive.

       Now seeing what a highly skilled musician and vocalist she was, he couldn't wait to read what she had written about music. Her paper was the only one he hadn't gone over from the assignment he had given earlier in the day.

          Making eye contact with Michael briefly, Symphony smiled at him shyly before averting her gaze elsewhere. As she sang one of her favorite songs, her body moved silkily to the beat.

           Trying to suppress his smile, Michael took another sip of his drink, as he enjoyed watching her get lost inside of the music. It reminded him of how he would become a slave to the rhythm himself, every time he performed. When he listened to the strings in an accompaniment, he became them. When he felt the bass in a song, he let the pulsating beat drive his body. He felt that the music should always tell the body where to go.

         For the longest he could remember, the stage had always been his second home. Even though he was no longer performing before billions of adoring fans, he still enjoyed performing at school recitals. He was now showcasing the music he wanted to — classical.

        Albeit he had always wanted to record and release a classical music album, Sony records would always shoot down the idea. Nevermind the fact that he was not only signed to them but also owned half of their ATV catalog; one would think they would have allowed him to release a non-pop record.

       Deciding to call it a night, Michael gulped down the remainder of his drink and headed home. It was getting late, and he needed to sleep off the alcohol so that he could function properly the next day.

       Towards the end of their set, Symphony noticed Michael had left the lounge.

       "Oh God! Did we really sound so horrible he had to leave?" she thought silently to herself as she prompted her band into their third to last song of the evening.


***

        Later that night, as Michael laid awake in bed, he decided to read Symphony's paper. He had been itching to read it after seeing her perform and couldn't fall asleep until doing so.

       Ensuring that he could see adequately in his dimly lit bedroom, he held the paper close to his face as he read quietly:

[From the moment I was born, I could remember hearing music all around me.

Whether it be from sparkling snowflakes falling to the ground on a cold winters night or the loud beeping of a car horn. I  hear it everywhere. I firmly believe that music has the ability to heal and transport you to another place in time. When I create music, it's an immersive experience. I become one with the rhythm. I become one with the beat. The melody envelopes my soul as we make love and become one.]

      Feeling what she had written on a deep level, he spoke aloud through a sleepy yawn. "Simply amazing! That's exactly how I feel about music. To become one with the song. To join the flow. When you join the flow, the music is inside and outside... both are the same."

      Not being able to keep his eyes open any longer, he looked over at the clock on his night-stand and groaned. "Damn... It's 11 pm already! Where did the day go?"

      Within minutes of shutting off his night-light, he turned over onto his side and fell soundly asleep.

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