"Ready to kick some butt?" Cooper asked Jane.

They were standing in the backstage area of Bar None. Peering through the curtains, the girls could see a crowd gathered around the small stage, listening to the band that was playing. Some people were nodding their heads along with the driving bass line being hammered out by the band's lead singer, whose throaty voice matched the forceful music he was playing. Listening to him, Cooper had to admit that he was good -- really good.

Unfortunately, the singer was her boyfriend, T.J., and the band was Schroedinger's Cat, which she and T.J. had founded together. She had quit three weeks before, when they'd told her that they thought her music was getting too witchy. This was the first time Cooper had heard them play without her. While the split with the band had been friendly, if undeniably difficult, Cooper found herself feeling a little bit jealous that they'd been able to carry on without her guitar playing and singing.

"Don't let them get to you," Jane told her, noting her friend's expression.Cooper smiled at her new songwriting partner. She'd met Jane shortly after leaving the band. Jane had been playing the guitar and singing on a street corner. Attracted by her lyrics and her skillful playing, Cooper had struck up a conversation with her. She and Jane had become friends, and lately they'd been playing together a lot. Both of them had been hesitant to start writing with someone else, but they'd created a couple of songs they were happy with. So when Cooper had seen Bar None's Battle of the Bands flyer, she'd suggested to Jane that they try their stuff out in front of a liveaudience.

At first Jane had said no. But Cooper had worked on her, and finally Jane had given in and said she would do it. Cooper suspected that Jane had agreed simply to get her to shut up, but that was fine with her. The important thing was that they were about to perform in front of a live audience. Standing there, waiting to go on, she felt the familiar mix of anticipation and nervousness coursing through her veins.

Schroedinger's Cat finished their number and the band members walked backstage. T.J. came over to Cooper and stopped, wiping the sweat from his forehead. "What did you think?" he asked, grinning.

Cooper snorted. "You call that music?" she said, taunting him. "I've heard better songs on an 'N SYNC album."

T.J. laughed. "Good thing the audience gets the last word, then," he said. "We'll see who they pick." He nodded toward the main room, where the sound of the cheering audience was still deafening. "Listen to that. I think it's safe to say we have it in the bag."

"What do they know?" Jane said caustically. "They're probably the same ones who made Celine Dion a star."

"T.J., meet Jane," Cooper said.

T.J. reached out and shook Jane's hand. "So you're the one who stole my girlfriend away from me," he said jokingly.

"Hey," Jane said. "Don't blame me if you're a lousy kisser."

"Now I see why you two get along so well," remarked T.J. to Cooper.

"Wait until you hear us sing," replied his girlfriend.

Just then the emcee of the evening walked to the microphone and said, "That was Schroedinger's Cat, people. I have no idea what the name means, but they were pretty rocking, don't you think?"

The audience clapped and cheered. Then the emcee continued. "Now we've got another great act for you, he said. Cooper and Jane, otherwise known as the Bitter Pills."

"The Bitter Pills?" T.J. repeated, giving Cooper a look. How appropriate.

"Yeah, well, we'll see how easily you guys can swallow us down when we win this thing," Cooper said. She gave him a quick kiss and then followed Jane as she walked onstage.

The two of them plugged their guitars into the amps that were set up beside the microphones. Cooper looked at Jane. "Here goes nothing," she said, and launched into the song they'd chosen to perform for the contest, Danger Girl.

"Don't tell me what to do," she sang, the words hard and fierce. "Don't tell me what to say."

Her fingers moved across the strings of her guitar, coaxing the melody out. Beside her, Jane was playing as well. Her eyes were closed as she unleashed the fierce rhythms of the song, and her long dark hair hung in her face.

"I'm not your little baby. I'm not your sweetest thing," Cooper sang, pouring herself into the lyrics. She was swept up in the music, and she felt powerful. She could do anything. She could say anything. And no one could stop her. She had become the girl in their song.

When she reached the chorus, Jane joined her, her throaty voice blending perfectly with Cooper's." I'm the one they said would steal your heart, they purred. I'm the one they said would steal your soul. I'm the one they said would turn the world upside down. I'm a danger girl."

After another verse, Jane launched into a guitar solo. Cooper stood back and let her friend take center stage. Jane unleashed a torrent of notes, and Cooper looked out at the audience to see how they were responding to what they heard. She saw a lot of astonished faces, and she knew that she and Jane had surprised some people. "Why does it always shock them that girls can rock?" she thought as the solo came to an end.

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