Authors: Jill S. Alexander
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Performing Arts, #Music, #Social Issues, #Friendship
Waylon’s face went tomato red. He still wasn’t comfortable with the notion of a bigger spotlight on us.
“And the peach grove to the left”—Levi rolled the brim of his baseball cap between his palms—“that’s the groupies.”
Even though Levi kidded him, none of us called Waylon on his self-doubt. Not even me. I was beginning to understand their guy-talk better. Playing out the nerves instead of talking them out. And I trusted Waylon’s guitar to give him more confidence than any encouragement I might try to prop him up with. Furthermore, his insecurities were about to be tapped. I had something new to spring on Waylon.
The band waited on me to count them in, but I rested my sticks on the snare. “I’m going to try a different opening,” I said, knowing full well that Waylon would blow up over the very idea this close to showtime. Still, I knew deep down he trusted me with the beat. Any opposition would most likely be out of fear, and Waylon was going to need to get past fear if he planned on getting anywhere.
Waylon put his hands on hips and stared at the rafters. “No way, Paisley.”
“I’m counting us in with the
.” I put the little drum between my legs and drew out the basic one, two, three, four, but with a twist. I added a skip, a saucy
between the hard counts. I repeated it; the rhythm echoed inside the hangar. “C’mon.” I steadily drew out an
“Small drum, big sound. It makes a statement, Waylon. We’re not just another copycat country band.”
“We can’t haul off and throw down a new opening. We don’t have enough time to get it right.” Waylon fought the idea, but he didn’t say he didn’t like the sound.
We all trusted Waylon, and it was high time he trusted us. “Leave the percussion to your drummer, Waylon.” I knew opening with the
would be sweet, a twist with the groove.
“Lay the count down again.” Levi readied his bass guitar.
I did and he linked up at the right time, same as always. Cal lit up the Gibson with his signature riff.
’s like salt.” I had Waylon’s attention. “Opening with it changes nothing. It just brings out the flavor.”
“Dude, what she’s sayin’…” Levi put his hand on Waylon’s shoulder. “Heck, I don’t know what she’s sayin’, but it sounds good. So does that bongo thing.” He pointed at the
Paradise had been silent, probably afraid if he uttered a word, Waylon would turn on him and say the whole intro change was his idea. He might even refuse to use it just to keep from giving in to Paradise. But Waylon had already given in, he just couldn’t see it. Every rehearsal since the bonfire at Moon Lake when Paradise got Waylon to sing, Paradise had been backing off parts of songs. Waylon had continued to sing. The more Paradise backed off, the stronger Waylon’s voice held out. Waylon didn’t seem to realize it, but Paradise—always more interested in his accordion than singing—was pulling the lead vocals out of him. Paradise was giving Waylon his band.
“What do you want to do, Waylon?” Paradise eased the issue forward. “Give it a run-through?”
Waylon finally trusted me. “Don’t dress it up with a bunch of fills in between the count,” he said. “Keep it pure. It’s a Latin drum. It’s going to sound like a Latin drum. You don’t need to try to spell that out between the counts.”
My heart bounced into my throat. That was as good an approval as Waylon could muster.
Paradise took a step toward me then stopped. I think he would’ve kissed me if the thought of messing things up hadn’t popped in his mind. I settled for a wink.
I counted us in on the
and we ran through the set we’d play soon for the crowd at Texapalooza—not once, but twice. Song after song. Drumroll after drumroll. Waylon pushing his vocals. Paradise backing off. Cal breathing harmonies like a cooing dove. And Levi plunking bass.
Then Waylon called rehearsal.
“Let’s stop before we get bored with our own set.” Waylon rarely cut practice short.
I could’ve played for another hour. Plus, I had that much daylight left and then some.
“I’ll help you with the doors, Paisley,” Levi said.
Paradise took his hat off, combed his fingers through his hair. “I can handle the doors.”
“You good with him handling things?” Levi watched Paradise pack his accordion.
One word from me and Levi would stay.
“He can handle the doors, Levi,” I said.
The guys closed up and left one by one. Behind them, Paradise pulled the giant hangar doors shut. The sun was still high enough in the sky to keep the shadows short.
“You got some time?” Paradise clasped his fingers between mine.
“Maybe.” We walked around the hangar, stopping by the four-wheeler. I didn’t know what he had in mind, but there wasn’t anything I was in a hurry to head home for.
I laid my drumsticks across the seat of the four-wheeler. Paradise pulled me toward his Bronco.
“Where are you taking me?” I joked. He wasn’t taking me anywhere. I was going on my own.
He opened the passenger door. I climbed in.
“Dancing,” he said with a smile.
ONE OF THESE NIGHTS
In late spring when the days grow longer, the tall pines shade Moon Lake from the setting sun. And right about twilight, there’s a wild whisper of wind that careens through the trees, parts the reeds lining the bank, and sends the lily pads rocking on the water.
Where that wind began, I didn’t know. I only knew that it had a life of its own and could sway everything in its path.
I stood at the end of the pier, the toes of my boots slightly beyond the edge. And just to the outside of my boots were those familiar scuffed-up snip-toes. Paradise wrapped his arms around my waist. His belt buckle cold against my lower back. His chin resting on my head. Every now and then after the wind swirled past us, he leaned against me, bending me toward the water, far enough forward that my heels would rise, but not so far as to lose his balance and lose me to the water.
That was where he kept me. On the edge.
An old Eagles song was coming from the Bronco. Paradise turned me around, facing him. My heels hung off the pier. The only thing keeping me out of Moon Lake was the strength of his hand. He kissed my neck and whispered, “I say we go skinny-dipping.”
I buried my face in his shirt. Embarrassed and laughing at the same time. “You first.”
The Eagles faded, and a two-step beat lapped around us in time with the water against the bank. A rocking country beat. And we danced. Spinning round and round on the pier. Over the water. In the purple haze of twilight. The old quarter-sawn boards creaking with every two-step and twirl.
As the song drifted out and another in, Paradise held me in his arms and pushed his lips against mine in a way that made me forget where I was, forget the time. My feet had long since left the ground. All I could feel and all I could taste was the sweet softness of his lips.
I wanted to stay in that moment, hold tight to it, but Paradise pushed us forward.
He brushed his fingertips along the slope of my neck. His middle finger slipping gently under my bra strap. His hand was hot against my skin and his heart pumped through his palm.
I squeezed his wrist, kissed his hand, and walked away from him to the end of the pier. So much in my life was uncertain. Not just him. The band and school and where I’d end up. Where drumming would take me. I couldn’t figure us out, until I figured me out.
Paradise stayed back. I heard him blow out a long, hard breath followed by the clopping of his boots on the pier. He sat down behind me. I pointed at the bright star shining near the moon. “That’s Venus.”
“How do you know?” Paradise smoothed his hand across my stomach and under my shirt.
“Lots of factors.” I leaned back into him. “Starting with it’s the clearest, brightest thing in the night sky,
it reaches optimum brightness right after the sun sets.”
He laughed. His fingertips tickled my ribs. “Did you just say ‘optimum brightness’?”
“I’m good in science.” I felt compelled to defend my intellect. “And math.” I thought about the kids at school who grew up in Big Wells with tutors and social calendars and the purebred, inbred prejudice that rural kids were dumb hicks. I pushed Paradise’s hand off my stomach and sat up. “I’m ranked number four in my class. I can quote Mark Twain and the geometry formula for the area of a cone.”
The water below us swished as a bass hit a grasshopper. The tree frogs whirred in a mad harmony with the locusts and a lone whippoor-will.
Paradise fingered a sprig of hair behind my ear. “Whew.” His breath danced around my neck. “I’ll keep that in mind if I ever need a lecture and a dunce hat.”
I swatted his leg. “I’m serious. My grades are important to me.” I traced a heart on his leg with my finger. “I may want to be a Rhodes scholar.”
Paradise grabbed my head in his hand and kissed me. A long, slow kiss that burned through me and melted my boots. He leaned over, laying my back against the pier. His other hand pushed against my chest.
The weight of him took my breath away. Scared me. If he didn’t stop, I wouldn’t be strong enough to stop him. I shoved him.
Paradise raised both hands as if I held a gun on him. “A
would have been fine.”
“I’m not . . I can’t…” I didn’t know what to say, so I just shook my head.
shouldn’t need a discussion, but I went there anyway. “I don’t want you to be mad.”
“You keep saying that.” He twisted the bottom button on my shirt. “Would it change your mind if I said I was?”
“Then you don’t have anything to be sorry for.” He kissed my forehead. “I’m all yours.” He paused, and I could feel his chest rise with a deep breath. “On your terms.”
He hugged me, lifted my feet off the ground, as darkness closed around us. “But if you think you can coax me out here, use me to dance with, then drop me like an old drumstick, you’re wrong. I won’t be treated like that. I have too much self-respect.”
out here?” We got back in the Bronco. It was dark enough now that he needed the headlights. I’d be way late getting home. Time with Paradise slipped by.
Every time a worry crept into my head, I stared at his hand clasped around mine. Dancing with him on the pier was something I’d never regret regardless. But
took on a whole new meaning when he pulled up to L. V.’s to let me out. My drumsticks were resting on the handlebars of the four-wheeler. They’d been moved. L. V. wasn’t due back until tomorrow. I looked across the thicket. There were only a few people who would’ve been up here and moved my sticks.
Mother ranked at the top of the list.
Musical-themed sugar cookies cut into treble clefs and quarter notes and decorated in black and white covered the kitchen counter. A breeze floated through the screen door and the windows, cooling the kitchen from the heat of the oven and stove.
“You missed dinner.” Mother squeezed icing from a fat tube with a tiny pointed tip on the end. Her hands were red and dry from working the cookie dough and ringing the icing bag. She had her hair piled on top of her head in a wonky updo. Definitely not Lacey’s work.
“Where’s Dad?” I asked. His truck wasn’t in the drive.
Mother put the icing bag down. She dabbed her forehead with her sleeve. “It’s baseball season, Paisley.” She wiped her hands on her apron and smirked. “He’s running the batting cages. Probably blowing rays of sunshine up the rear end of every Little League dad who wants to hear his son is the next A-Rod. I’m prepping for a big catering job Saturday. That’s what we do. We work.” She rubbed her hands as if they ached and rubbing would ease the soreness. “We work so that you girls can have more opportunities than what we had. So you can get an education and get away from here. We don’t want you stuck eking out a living in Prosper County.”
Mother could’ve been at L. V.’s. She could’ve moved my drumsticks. The dig about work came out of the blue.
The screen door opened and Dad stepped in. Mother jumped. She wasn’t expecting him.
Dad hung his baseball cap off a cabinet knob and kissed her. “Haven’t seen this in a while.” Dad pointed at the stitching on her apron.
THE KITCHEN GODDESS CATERING.
A relic from my elementary-school years and Mother’s short-lived attempt at a catering company.
“I’m temporarily back in business.” Mother drew in a deep breath. She picked up the icing tube. “I agreed to do a job Saturday.”
“Lucky folks,” Dad said. “Where have you been?” he asked me. Straight up.
I dodged his question. Not wanting to lie to him. “I just got home.”
Dad stared at me. He peeled his leather work gloves off his big hands, and he smelled like fresh-cut grass. Dad had been shredding. He could’ve moved the sticks. Maybe it was him after all. I thumbed toward Lacey’s room. “I’ll grab a snack later. Lacey and I need to talk about this weekend.”