Here’s a sneak peek at something that’s been simmering since 2005. Enjoy!
As I walk toward the elaborate, new-brick home, a sense of gloom descends. Throughout my childhood this property was abandoned and ignored but I had reveled in that fact since it meant no one took notice of the frequent visits of a certain freckled tomboy with big dreams.
The wholesome, earthy scent of a south breeze over dry grass recalls laughter and carefree joy when time moved at a crawl and life was viewed through the rosy haze of endless possibilities.
I have permission from the new owners to look around but the bright, sparkling windows seem like unblinking eyes. My companion and I round one last corner of the model home, past another ornamental rose bush, and there it is… my old friend. How could life have marched by leaving it untouched? It was ancient when we first met so many years ago and ancient it remains.
Petra, her long, ebony limbs glowing in the red-gold light of dawn, seems to understand my need for silence broken only by the crunch of our feet on dry grass and the tinkle of her beaded earrings. I’m grateful for the presence of my fourteen-year-old companion, though she’s been warned I might not be the best company today.
“It’s beautiful.” I peek at her face to discover real admiration.
There was a time this was my private haven, the place I came to rest, to think, to lick my wounds. That’s something I could use right now.
A mourning dove’s call, like a voice from the past, breaks the silence, drawing me deeper into youthful memories.
As we enter the wide opening of the sun-bleached wooden beams, the musty aroma takes me through a portal where the past twenty years no longer exist. The little door at the bottom of the stairs is still askew, squeaking its familiar protest at being disturbed. Petra climbs the stairs ahead of me with her customary grace. Her sense of self-assurance is rare for her tender years. I didn’t possess it at her age. In fact, I don’t possess it now.
As we climb, ever mindful to sweep a hand over our heads in case of webs, a growing sense of sadness consumes me. Why is it the happy memories bring pain?
I look to the right as I reach the top of the stairs. There it is, my spot, the place where the upper level drops off to the ground below and opens to the sky above; perfect for leaning against the barn wall and swinging a leg over the edge while dreaming, unraveling life’s mysteries, or just pondering the flight of a hawk high in the sky. Here, no question is too foolish, no goal too farfetched. Here, I can revisit where it all began.
“Hey look! It’s still there!” Petra moves toward the pile of hay in the center of the floor. I’ve told her bits and pieces of my story through the years so, for her, this is a visit to an historic site.
I was twenty that spring, a child masquerading in the body of an adult. The world was simple then. Little did I know how complicated it would soon become.
For years I’d wanted to leave this place. My upbringing had been ordinary, just a small Texas town with Friday night football, rodeos in the summer and no secrets any time. It took me years to realize just how extraordinary that was. Most of my friends were content to stay and build their lives here. Not me. Big things happened elsewhere. I would see the world, do something important and earth shaking. My horizons were unlimited.
What would I have told that younger me who, twenty years ago, sat on this very spot gazing at these fields, unaware of the gathering storm?
Today, my body reminds me time doesn’t stand still. I wince as I shift on the hard floor where I was once able to relax for hours while Petra reclines with ease. Even in these humble surroundings she moves with the grace of an African princess. Small wonder her father and I have been approached several times to allow her to model. For now she’s more interested in sports than glamour so that decision can be postponed. How far she’s come from the underfed, determined waif we met twelve years ago.
“So tell me everything,” Petra’s melodic voice interrupts my reminiscence.
“Ya sure I won’t bore you?”
“It can’t be that boring. It led ya to me.”
“True.” I return the dazzling smile, then pause to collect my thoughts.
I used to wonder what stories these bleached wooden beams could tell. Today they resound with my memories, the story of a young life perched on the edge of a precipice, wings outstretched for that first breathtaking leap to either fall or fly.
“The day I met him, I had just had the worst week of my life… so far.”
ONE NIGHT WITH A ROCK STAR
I strolled into the dorm that spring afternoon, wind-tossed and refreshed from a visit to my parents’ ranch. The week had been a nightmare. Monday—failing grade on a feature story. Tuesday—fired from a modeling job because I refused to wear the strings they called a “swimsuit.” Wednesday—met with my agent to explain why I had ticked off a client, then forgot an important story assignment scheduled for the same afternoon. Thursday—endured a royal chewing out from my favorite journalism instructor due to aforementioned missed assignment.
The lecture from Dr. Morgan, my disgruntled professor, still pounded in my ears. “It’s just plain sloppy! I never would’ve expected this kind of negligence from you, Esther!”
That made two of us. I knew I was juggling a lot in my life. Sometimes it was insane trying to blend the worlds of journalism student and mediocre print model but, since the occasional paycheck was paying my way through school, the juggling was essential. Now, due to modesty (I honestly hadn’t been able to tell what string went where) I’d lost two full days of modeling fees.
Friday started with a bang as I’d flunked a pop quiz in Biology from the lecture I’d been too distracted to listen to on Wednesday.
Ugh! Maybe it would’ve been better if I’d just stayed in bed… all week.
I haven’t mentioned the worst part, the thing that had cast the dark cloud over my life. That very night, Sky, my favorite music icon and, admittedly, big crush since junior high, was in concert downtown and all my efforts to acquire tickets had been thwarted. I tried to be mature, to assure myself it wasn’t the end of the world, that someday when I was a famous news anchor they’d beg me to attend, perhaps grant an exclusive interview. But still my dark mood persisted, the perfect ending to the perfect week.
As soon as classes were over that day I had skipped town to indulge in my favorite fix—barn therapy—as effective as chocolate minus the guilt. After a couple hours, I was resigned to my concert-less weekend and drove back to campus, determined to get my crazy life back under control.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
As soon as I entered the hallway to the dorm room I shared with my best friend Marti, she flew toward me, cornflower blue eyes wild with excitement, hair a futuristic array of hot rollers as she pulled me into the room shouting, “Where’ve you been? I’ve been tryin’ to find you fer hours!”
I started to answer but she cut me off, “Shoo! You smell like a cow. You better get cleaned up quick or you’re gonna blow it!” Her Texas drawl became more pronounced when she was excited. At the moment, she was channeling Daisy Duke. This must be big.
“What’re you talkin’ about?”
She strode to my closet door, yanked it open and pointed at the poster inside. Sky’s two-dimensional image stared at me with piercing, gray-blue eyes. My mouth became the Sahara desert and the world stopped turning when she said, “Of course, if ya don’t wanna go… ”
I think I screamed, fainted for a split-second, then set a new record for showering and drying hair as Marti filled me in on details from our friend and former dorm mate, Andrea, who had secured a spot as a dancer on the North American leg of Sky’s tour. Just that morning she had stopped by and she and Marti had hatched a plan for how we could get past backstage security. To help us pass as dancers, she’d provided a couple dresses that had been retired due to wear and tear. Marti’s finesse with needle and thread had mended any noticeable flaws.
I asked her about Andrea as I dug for a pair of panty hose without runs.
“If ya mean was she glowin’ ‘cause she’d been rubbin’ shoulders with a god—no.” Marti tossed an egg-shaped stocking container at me. “She didn’t have a lot of time to chat.”
But I wanted details! What was Sky really like? Did she ever talk to him? I smiled to myself as I recalled the rapture of watching him on a recent HBO special. Tall, with the lean-muscled body of a dancer, dark blond hair tousled as if he had just applied hair gel in a speeding convertible, and eyes—ah!—the eyes of a lion imprisoned in the body of a housecat.
“Could Andrea get in trouble for this?” I tried to apply make-up with shaking hands as Marti worked to tame my thick curls.
“I don’t plan to get caught but if anyone gets curious we’ll bring out our student press passes and play amateur journalists.”
“And if that doesn’t work?”
“Look, you know any chance of gettin’ to be backstage is worth the risk, right?”
“But this is crazy!”
“So be crazy! Stop thinkin’ and hurry up!”
Yes, our dancer friend Andrea was taking a risk but the article about dance auditions for his tour had been my discovery and she had been looking for a way to repay the favor.
The black velvet dress on my bed looked tiny. I prayed it would fit as I shimmied and tugged it into place, grateful not to hear any rips. As Marti zipped the back she gave a low whistle. The clinging velvet was snug at the waist and hips and flowed to a full skirt that draped lower in the back following the lines of the V at my shoulders. I couldn’t resist the urge to spin like a little girl and watch the skirt flare. Marti’s dress of peacock blue emphasized her tiny waist and blue eyes. We stood side-by-side facing our own reflection.
“We clean up pretty good, huh,” Marti struck a dramatic pose.
“Actually, I still feel like a kid playing dress-up in your attic,” I said.
“You’re a knockout in that dress.”
“I’m a big fat liar in someone else’s dress.”
Marti took me by the shoulders. “Look Esther, ya don’t drink. Ya hardly date. Ya study while the rest of us are partyin’. Your one weakness is HIM. So, I’m hereby commandin’ you to stoop to some harmless deception to have some fun.”
“And I’m supposed to be grateful, right?”
“Indebted for life,” she glanced at the clock. “We gotta git!”
I grabbed my backpack off the bed wishing I had something a bit more attractive to go with the dress. “Wait! Shouldn’t we take along something to write on? We’re journalists, remember?”
“Oh! Right!” She grabbed a writing pad and I snatched up the small notebook that served as my journal. “Now come on!”
We took my car since Marti’s was sitting stubbornly on “E.” I felt a bit calmer behind the wheel. At least I could feel in control of something. Besides, I knew the Dallas area since my forays into the modeling world had forced me to learn my way around. Many a nerve-wracking hour had been spent navigating warehouse districts armed with a city map and a messy scrawl of directions. I was sure if the police had any idea how many illegal u-turns I had executed in my short career they would put me away for life.
“Let’s set the mood,” Marti said as we pulled out of the dorm parking lot. She put a cassette tape labeled, “Best of Sky” in the deck and the familiar strains of Sky’s “Soulfull” filled the little car.
“Over the hills to new horizons
I fly free.
Leave behind everything that binds me… ”
I took a deep breath, relaxing with the flow of Sky’s music though the velvet cinching my waist was very binding.
“Probably drugs.” Marti stated, blowing my reverie. “I’m sure he can fly very free with a little pharmaceutical intervention.”
“Do ya mind? I’m havin’ a moment here.”
“Really, Hon,” she was serious. “What about that Wade guy in Political Science? He’s really cute and you turned him down.”
“I told you,” I said with a hint of exasperation. “I’d rather not date at all than go out with someone I’m not absolutely crazy about.” She tossed her shoulder-length chestnut curls and rolled her eyes as I continued. “I see the other girls tryin’ on guys like they’re shoppin’ for a new pair of shoes. I’m just not any good at that.”
“And,” she countered, “you always go for what ya can’t have.”
“Oh come on.”
“You had a crush on Elvis and a guy who was a senior when we were ten. I rest my case.”
I started to protest but she was too quick.
“But then you bought Sky’s first album,” she feigned a swoon, “and I haven’t heard about anyone else since.”
Ah, the moment I’d first heard Sky had turned my twelve-year-old world upside down. I’d gotten off the school bus that afternoon devastated by remarks from boys ridiculing my chicken legs and frizzy hair. How could I blame them? Arms, legs and feet were sprouting at an alarming rate and the new braces had only added insult to injury. I’d retreated to my bedroom to cry and try to lose myself in a book while my a.m. radio piped out the week’s top forty.
Suddenly, a lovely guitar and piano melody drew me from the depths of Middle Earth, as a soothing male voice began to read my thoughts.
The pain will pass
As far as you dare…
I held my breath and I drank in every word, hot tears running down my cheeks. The music had pulled out feelings I couldn’t express and lifted my mood with it’s beauty. I had purchased Sky’s debut album, Idlewise, with my carefully hoarded allowance, memorized every word of every song, and proudly watched it climb in sales to become the debut album of the year.
The first time I saw Sky on television had been equally momentous. Marti and I were in the middle of a sleepover, discussing boys and eating popcorn while The Tonight Show played on TV. When Johnny Carson listed Sky in the evening’s line-up I screamed and dumped my popcorn all over Marti. That night, when he answered Johnny’s questions with his gorgeous Brit accent as fans screamed marriage proposals from the balcony, I knew Sky had ruined me for mere mortals.
“It’s safe, right?” Marti’s strange statement broke my reminiscence.
“Ya know, the thrill of love without the pain. That’s what you’re doing.”
“No more psyche classes for you… ”
“Really, Esther. Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist. Someday you gotta quit playin’ it safe.”
“What? Like you? Cry my eyes out over some jerk?”
I bit my tongue but it was too late. When I was still in training bras, Marti, with her big blue eyes and teasing smile, had been a boy magnet. Oh how I had envied her—until the tears. And college had been more of the same. Fly high on love, then crash. She folded her arms and stared out the window.
But I hated when she lectured and made me feel like an inexperienced kid. What was even more aggravating was that Dad had said basically the same thing.
I could hear him ruining my favorite breakfast of biscuits and gravy as he critiqued my non-existent social life. “Give the poor boys a chance. There’s only been one perfect man, Esther, and HE never married.”
So I wanted perfection. I could dream, couldn’t I?
Luckily Marti never held a grudge for long and besides, the sight of Sky’s name in huge letters on the convention center marquis along with “Tonight!” made the blood pound in my ears. Somewhere, close by, was Sky. THE Sky. This was really happening.
Marti and I squealed in unison.
But the moment of truth—the backstage entrance—loomed. Suddenly the butterflies in my stomach became pterodactyls. “So do ya think they’ll slap on the handcuffs before or after the concert?”
“Look,” said Marti as she saw me beginning to waver, “I’ll do the talkin’. You just work on keepin’ those ‘deer caught in the headlights’ eyes of yours outa sight or we’ll be dead, got it?”
I gulped and nodded.
We followed Andrea’s directions to a lanky, graceful group in comfortable, sloppy clothes just entering the arena.
“Look at them! We don’t fit in a bit.” I hissed as we drew close to the dancers.
Marti dug a warning nail into my arm.
Andrea, her shiny black hair pulled into a ponytail, moved back to intercept us. Shoving a parcel into Marti’s hands she spoke in a low voice. “This should help. It’s backstage passes from two days ago but if you wear them backwards no one should notice.” She grinned as she moved back in line. “By the way, I never saw you before in my life.”
Soon, we were facing the burly security guard. Marti, always good under fire, asked if he could PLEASE tell us how to get to the nearest ladies’ room. He grinned, gave the information, she batted her eyelashes and—we were in!
“What now?” Marti chewed a nail, her large eyes wider than ever. “Andrea said once we’re inside we’re on our own.”
“Well, we’re journalists, right? There’s our answer if someone asks. If we stay out of the way, we should be okay.”
“Do ya always talk like Dr. Seuss when you’re nervous?” Marti giggled.
“Like I’m the only one who’s nervous.” I swatted at the hand in her mouth.
“Okay,” she lowered her voice as we dodged a muscular worker pushing a huge black crate on wheels, “the more we can blend in the better, so let’s hang around the people backstage, ask a few questions, look like we belong… ”
“That’s nuts.” I said as I tried to keep a calm smile plastered on my face. “The last thing I wanna do is draw attention.” Already, I felt like a criminal caught in a searchlight, striped suit and all.
I wanted to hide and she wanted to mingle so, rather than a public disagreement, we decided to part ways to test our theories of remaining inconspicuous.
The women’s restroom was a safe haven, but 30 minutes was all I could take of that.
I glanced in the mirror. Yep, there they were, my “deer caught in the headlights” eyes. The hair was coaxed into obedience and the dress was flattering, though I wasn’t used to the low cut of the bodice. I had never considered myself a beauty, reserving that description for exotic women with enormous eyes and full, sensual lips. The eyebrows were arched and my nose turned up on the end giving me a look Mom said always made me appear I was ready to ask a question. The braces had been off for a couple years; that helped. But in spite of the pretty dress I still felt like the tomboy whose body had forgotten to look female until I was sixteen.
“God,” I whispered, “What am I doing here?” I considered running back to the safety of the dorm but if I lost my nerve now, I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life.
So, with a deep breath I plunged out of the ladies’ room and into the fray.
The efficient chaos was staggering as I dodged several long poles, navigated an ongoing maze of cords and tried to concentrate on not looking scared. Mom had always taught me, if there was ever a question of etiquette, I should wait a moment and observe the actions of someone who seemed to be in the know. Although the present course of action was much more important than the choice of a salad fork, I paused to get my bearings and observe.
One man in particular caught my eye. He radiated importance as he bustled through the groups of stage managers, technicians, musicians and countless others who had a vital function in this crazy dance. He was dressed in jeans, running shoes and a “Sky” crew t-shirt but, with clipboard in hand and headset attached to his ear, I was sure no one would dare to question his authority. He stopped for a quick word with a technician, then flipped back a curtain and entered the darkened hallway beyond. Curious, I made my way toward the curtain. Perhaps if my approach was convincing, I could find a hidden alcove to pass the hours until show time.
I brought the journal out of my backpack and did my best impersonation of the busy man as I made my way toward the curtain. I nearly froze as I heard a voice say, “Hey, dancers aren’t allowed back there.” But I flipped back the curtain as I had observed and scurried to a shadowy corner behind a tall, potted plant, fully expecting to be pursued.
It seemed an eternity had passed before my pounding heart slowed and I found the courage to venture from my hiding place.
One favor, give me some feedback on these tag lines:
Esther has her fantasy on a silver platter. Now what?
Be careful what you wish for–you just might get it.
Her daydreams were safe. Real life? That gets complicated.
Coming Soon. Please spread the word!