Authors: Jill S. Alexander
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Performing Arts, #Music, #Social Issues, #Friendship
Lacey lay on her stomach picking at the little pink balls of chenille on her bedspread with her French-manicured nails. Her silver abstinence ring, the one Mother gave her that matched mine, lay among a few pennies on her nightstand. “
good kisser.” She giggled into her cell phone. “Oh, gotta go.” She flipped the phone shut.
I sat down among a menagerie of stuffed animals piled on a chair. “That coughing thing was one of your better performances.”
Lacey heaved herself off the bed and stood in front of her dressing table—an antique chest topped with a tri-fold salon mirror, which Mother bought at the beauty supply. “You’ve got to help me, Paisley. I’m desperate. I just might die.” Lacey jabbed at her hair with the pointy end of a teasing comb. “I ain’t wearin’ that pink hat.”
“Just tell her you’re not going to wear it.”
“Right, and you can tell her about the band.” Lacey slapped the comb down and popped open a tackle box full of makeup. She click-clacked eye shadows and blushes around, finally pulling out a tube of concealer. “You know we can’t just
Drill Sergeant Diane anything.”
“Maybe you could forget the hat, leave it at home.”
Lacey stopped dabbing the concealer under her eyes.
She spewed like the air brake on an eighteen-wheeler.
I understood. We’d never had any luck leaving stuff behind. Mother kept a plastic storage box full of costumes and a karaoke machine in the Suburban at all times. She’d doll Lacey up and have her throw down a performance at a moment’s notice. I felt bad for Lacey. I might be hindered from doing what I loved, but at least I wasn’t made to do something I hated.
I wanted Lacey to put a stop to it.
“You’re a senior, Lacey. Two months away from graduation. Seems like a good time to bring an end to singing if you don’t want to do it anymore.”
“Not yet, Paisley.” Lacey lifted up the bottom compartment of her tackle box and pulled out an envelope. “I should’ve thrown a conniption a long time ago like you did when she put us in prairie skirts and tried to pitch us as the modern-day Mary and Laura Ingalls. But I didn’t. And I’ve paid and paid for it ever since.” Lacey handed me the envelope. Her face lit up and she got all giddy with a huge grin. “Look at this.”
Inside was a glossy pamphlet with a shiny-haired group of girls on the cover:
GLAMOUR BEAUTY COLLEGE.
I opened the pamphlet.
Get started on a beautiful career.
“I thought you were going to Prosper County Community College in the fall?”
“I can do that too.” She beamed. For the first time, I saw real passion in her eyes. Lacey had a dream, and it sure wasn’t singing. “I could get a business degree
go to beauty school. Have my own salon! A full-service spa with massages and pedicure chairs!” She grabbed me by my shoulders and parked me in the chair in front of the mirror.
All Lacey had ever wanted was to do hair and makeup. But Mother had big plans for her to sing in college. I wondered how Lacey was planning on scooting around that. “What about the Singing Eagles?”
Lacey gently brushed out my spikes and practiced styling my short hair into more of a pixie. “I’ll try out for the group,” she said. “But I won’t make it. Get real, Paisley! You know I’m not that good.” Lacey pulled two little pieces of hair in front of my ears. “Mother will just have to give up on my singing then.”
Lacey continued to brush and comb and curl and tuck my hair. It was what she loved to do. She seemed to have zero problem duping our mother to get what she wanted, which from where I sat looked a lot like more makeup and hair accessories. We both had our dreams all right. We just had different ways of chasing them down.
I took my drumsticks out from under my hoodie. The tips were worn down smooth and it was almost time for new ones. I hated hiding my love for the drums and the band. But I hated even more the thought of losing them both. I rubbed the worn wood between my fingers. The sound of Mother cleaning the kitchen, clanking pots and pans, played in my head like distant war drums.
Lacey clipped a blue rhinestone-flower barrette into my hair.
“Not bad,” I told her.
“It softens your look and makes your blue eyes pop,” she said. Then she came at me pumping a tube of lip gloss.
If she could hold out long enough, Lacey could probably ease our mother into giving up on the singing career and getting behind the cosmetology.
I’d never get that kind of support.
Drums are for boys. Bands are full of pot smokers and slackers
, she’d declared the day I broke free from her pageant prison.
There’s a big world out there, Paisley. I’m not going to let you screw up your life by hanging out with the wrong crowd. Mark my words. I’ll fall prostrate over the tracks to stop that hell train.
So I’d hide my drumsticks and my dream as long as necessary. And come Monday afternoon, I would be on the other side of the pine thicket in Uncle L. V.’s airplane hangar driving the beat for the Waylon Slider Band.
BACKDOOR BAD BOY
Being a bachelor and retired military man, Uncle L. V. kept his house as tidy and clutter free as a school library. All I had to do was unload the dishwasher, dust what little furniture he had, and run a damp mop over the kitchen and den floors. That way my mother couldn’t make him out to be a liar if she found out about the band rehearsing in his hangar. Technically, I was cleaning.
What he lacked in furniture, L. V. made up for in audio equipment. He had the old frame farmhouse wired with surround sound and a sweet subwoofer that shook the leaves on the pecan trees outside. He kept his stereo loaded with vintage Southern rock—Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, 38 Special. The mop and I tore it up every afternoon.
I was grooving across the hardwood. Sliding on the soles of my worn-down boots. Shaking it with the mop. Playing a little air guitar. All-out singing “Sweet Home Alabama.” Then I twisted around, thought I’d try dropping it low. But the only thing I dropped was the mop.
I spun around and came face-to-face with Paradise. Earrings, hat, and all. I jumped a foot high and screamed. The boy stood right in front of me. Straight out of nowhere. Uninvited. Close enough to slap.
My heart raced. “What are you doing in here?” I asked him between breaths.
“I said ‘Paisley,’” he drawled in his honeyed bass, “three, maybe four times.” He kept a straight face as if I actually believed it. Then he reached down, picked up the mop. I hadn’t noticed that my denim cutoffs had wiggled lower and my shirt had ridden up. Paradise pointed the mop handle at my belly button. “
didn’t answer.” His left cheek dimpled. “So I just decided to watch the show.”
My face burned red-hot. “Show’s over.” I jerked the mop away from him. “The band meets in the hangar, not in the house.”
“Nobody was in the hangar.” Paradise took off his hat and held it by the crown against his thigh. His dark, wavy hair shined like black silk and twisted into soft ringlets at the top of his shirt collar. His wide hand covered the hat’s crown. “The back door was open. I wasn’t trying to scare you.”
“Well, you didn’t. And you’ve got a loose definition of
.” I marched toward the laundry room, gripping the mop handle in my sweaty hand. “
aren’t the same.”
Paradise snickered a little but never looked my way. He propped his boot on the fireplace hearth and hung his hat on his knee. He seemed smitten with one of L. V.’s few decorative items—a collection of straw hats woven in alternating rings of black and white displayed on the mantel.
“What sort of work does your uncle do?” he asked.
“He flies transport helicopters, taking workers from Houston to offshore drilling rigs.” I stood by the door. Ready to head to the hangar. Ready to get behind my drums.
Paradise gently placed one of the hats on his head.
“Put that right back where you got it. My uncle’s particular about his stuff, and we need to go practice.”
Paradise ignored me. He put the one hat back down and picked up another. This one had little black-and-white woven triangle shapes in addition to the rings.
“Colombian cowboy hats.” He ran his fingers across the brim then put it back in line with the others. “Did your uncle live in Colombia or does he just collect hats?”
“He lived somewhere in South America after the first Gulf War, I think.” The pounding in my chest had softened. I was ready to go rehearse, but Paradise’s interest in the hats got the better of me. L. V. was as tight-lipped about his South American activities as I was about the band. “You sure those are Colombian?”
He took his own hat off his knee and strutted beside me, staring at my fingers tapping on the doorknob. My nervous drummer’s habit. Paradise reached for my hand and rubbed his thumb across the inscription on my ring.
He read the words etched into the silver. “‘One life, one love.’” Then he leaned against the doorframe and cleared his voice. “How’s that working for you?”
“Like a charm,” I blurted. “Works like a charm.” I didn’t even know what I was saying, but I knew that I’d suffocate if I had to share the same air with him anymore. “Works great.”
“Maybe it’s just never been tested,” he said.
I tried not to look at him and pushed open the door. The bright sunshine hit me like a camera flash.
Paradise followed me outside and took in a deep breath. His chest swelled, and I thought the snaps on his plaid shirt might pop. He caught me staring at him, the gold flecks in his green eyes twinkling in the sun. “Breathe, Paisley,” he whispered. “Life’s short.”
The spring smell of wild honeysuckle blooming along the fence row floated in the afternoon breeze.
I tried to just focus on the band. But it was no use. I was all caught up in a dizzying swirl of sweet honeysuckle and back-door bad boy. I had to breathe to keep from fainting.
An old Ford Bronco, restored with a shiny coat of baby blue paint, was parked on the grassy area between the house and the hangar.
I came to my senses.
“That yours?” I giggled at the nursery color.
Paradise didn’t answer. He just reached into the backseat and pulled out his murse.
The buzz of a plane coming in the distance filled the awkward silence. Over acres of farmland and pine thickets, L. V.’s red Piper Cub sailed like a cardinal against the sapphire sky.
I waved both arms above my head. L. V. circled his house and rocked his wings at me before landing on the closely shredded strip in his back pasture.
“He doesn’t drive back and forth to Houston?” Paradise asked.
“Nope. He says the interstate is too dangerous, and the day he can’t fly is the day we can bury him in a pine box in that peach orchard.” I pointed to the grove on the other side of L. V.’s house.
Paradise watched the plane glide low over the treetops and settle safely onto the grassy runway. He shook his head and grimaced as if L. V.’s pasture landing was like playing Russian roulette. Spin the barrel. Pull the trigger. Odds were that sooner or later he’d lose. “Seems like a risky way to get back and forth to a job.”
wasn’t in L. V.’s vocabulary, and Paradise just might be afraid to fly. “An earring-wearing, murse-carrying accordion player with a baby blue ride and a fear of flying.” I skipped by him on my way to the hangar and yelled out, “How’s
working for you?”
The bright yellow sunlight had turned to marigold in the late afternoon. Paradise stood with his hands on hips, his murse over his shoulder, and all the self-confidence in the world.
Other than taking care of business at school, all I ever thought about was rehearsing, getting to Texapalooza, maybe going to Nashville after high school and college, and drumming professionally. That was the only interest I ever had, ever thought about.
STRIKE UP THE BAND
The lights were on inside the hangar.
Miss Molly Moonlight
, shining on the nose of the B-25 bomber, leaned on a crescent moon in all her buxom 1940s glory.
I paused in the doorway.
Cal sat in a lawn chair tuning his black Gibson Les Paul. Last year, when he turned sixteen, Cal took his savings from mowing lawns and spent every last dime on the guitar instead of a car.
Levi, with his hands tucked behind the bib of his overalls, bobbed his head as Waylon warmed up on a banjo. Waylon and I had spent too much of our childhood in Sunday school together to actually like each other, but God knows I loved to watch him play. He could play anything with strings and plucked the banjo in a blur; no one had faster fingers than Waylon’s.
A shadow fell in front of me. Paradise put his hand on my shoulder.
“You going to watch or play?” He pointed to the tarp at the back of the hangar as if I didn’t know where my own drums were. “Time to rock and roll.” Then he blew past me, straight to the boys.