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Authors: David Pandolfe

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BOOK: Streetlights Like Fireworks
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I’m just about to take sip of coffee but I put my cup
down again. “Hang on, are you saying you know where he lives?”

Tohru shrugs. “I’m just saying we might have a pretty
good idea. But something tells me—and yes, this is my intuition talking—that
you two need to chill for today. We will share the rest of what we know
tonight. Right, Shakeesha?”

“That’s right, baby,” Shakeesha says. “That is our
Psychic Potato-keeping plan. You too, Pajama Boy. You’re starting to grow on


An hour later, we’re boarding a Nashville tour bus. The driver,
an old guy named Hal, welcomes us aboard and directs the flow of passengers toward
places to sit.

We take our seats and Tohru turns to Shakeesha. “I
totally always wanted to do this.”

“I know, baby. Me too.” She turns to face me and points
toward the old guy sitting behind the wheel. “P.B., if you have any questions,
ask that man up front. For today, I am a tourist in my own town.”

I have my doubts setting out but it really is fun. Sure,
it’s hokey as hell riding along in the tour bus gawking out the window
alongside mostly senior citizens but everything is new and why would I care if
I stand out as a Nashville newbie? We start out by the Country Music Hall of
Fame and roll down Broadway, the same street we drove along last night. Even
this early bands are doing sound checks, some already playing, music coming out
of the open doors and windows of bars, a mix of blues, jazz and country. We
check out the Ryman Auditorium, which I’ve actually heard of before. We learn
how the place started as a church long ago and then hosted the Grand Ole Opry
for years. On the bill tonight, though, Flaming Lips. I wish we could check out
that show but it has to be sold out.

“Those guys are awesome!” Tohru says. “We saw them a
couple of years ago.”

I try not to be jealous but I’m totally jealous.

We drive along the river learning about more of
Nashville’s history and, before long, we roll past the Hard Rock Café with its
giant mural of a Gibson Les Paul painted above the entrance. Les Paul himself
was from Nashville, it turns out. Something I never knew. I stare out at the
mural and my heart pings as I think about my beautiful sunburst Les Paul,
probably already sold from Gary’s shop. But I take my eyes off the painting and
look around at us—at Tohru and Shakeesha, at Lauren gazing out the window—and
realize it doesn’t matter. Trading guitars was my ticket to get here. No matter
what happens, I wouldn’t change that. More than a fair price to pay for just
this moment alone.

After the tour, we pile back into Shakeesha’s
ten-year-old Toyota Camry. It’s got to be over a hundred degrees in there and
rolling down the windows makes no difference. Shakeesha starts the engine and
blasts the air conditioner. I sit next to Lauren in back, waiting for some of
that cool air to reach us.

“On to ancient Greece!” Tohru says.

“Okay, baby,” Shakeesha says, “you hurt my ears that time
and I’m used to you.”

Tohru just laughs and points down the road. “The
Parthenon awaits!”


“Seriously?” I say.

We stand in front of the Parthenon. Who knew that
Nashville had a full-scale replica? Probably plenty of people but not me.
Lauren’s eyes meet mine and she’s no longer fighting back the smile. She’s
full-on grinning.

Tohru bounces on her feet. “Really? You guys didn’t

“Prepare to be amazed,” Shakeesha says, giving me a wink
and a smile.

And we are amazed, moments later, as we stare up at a
giant statue of Athena. Her gold dress shines back at us, her face alabaster,
eyes staring past us toward the sky like she’s waiting for Zeus to give her a
signal. We’re dwarfed at the hem of her gold gown.

“She’s over forty-feet tall,” Tohru says. “We don’t mess
around here in Nashville.”

Lauren drifts away from us to check out Athena from a
side angle. She gets out her phone and takes few shots. She’s still staring up
at the goddess when a guy walks up next to her. He’s got a hipster thing going
on—skinny jeans and black-framed glasses, thin beard and tattoos.

“Hey, do you go to Watkins?”

It takes a second for Lauren to realize he’s speaking to her,
then she says, “Me? No. I’m not from around here.”

“Which explains why I’ve never seen you before.” He
smiles.  “I totally figured you for an art student.”

Lauren smiles too. “Not exactly. I’m more of an English
Lit type. With some other dabblings.”

“Right, cool,” the guy says. “That’s my minor. English.
I’m thinking about maybe applying to an MFA program when I finish my undergad
stuff. I write some poetry when no one is looking.”

Lauren laughs, that same laugh I thought might just be
reserved for me. “Me too,” she says. “I never show anyone. I mean, it’s just
stuff I scratch down, you know?”

“I bet it’s great. Hey, I’m Steve.” He holds out his hand
and Lauren offers hers.

“Lauren,” she says.

I notice how different Lauren seems now that we’re no longer
in Edmonds. She smiles and laughs. Her eyes shine. Unimaginable back home where
she must have been keeping her defenses up the entire time she’d been growing

“What year are you in? Where do you go?” the guys says.

“I’m in high school,” Lauren says. “In Virginia.”

“Seriously? You must be a senior, right?”

“Next year,” Lauren says.

“Wow, cool. What are you doing here?”

I’m still pretending to be focused on the giant statue.
But from the corner of my eye I see Lauren gesture toward me.

“Jack and I are on a road trip together,” she says.
“We’re sort of on a mission.”

I feel the blood rush to my face. I hope it doesn’t show
but I know it does. I look over at Lauren and the hipster guy.  “Hey, how’s it

“Good.” The guy nods and smiles. Before long, he’s taking
another photo with his phone. Then he’s walking off again.

Lauren’s eyes stay on mine for a moment, then she shrugs.
“Is this statue  amazing or what?”


A few hours later, we’re finishing the stir fry Tohru and
Shakeesha made for dinner. I’ve been waiting all day to hear what they found
out about Purge’s bass player but I guess Tohru meant it when she said we
needed some time to chill. Even while we ate, we talked mostly about the things
we did that day.

It isn’t until she and Shakeesha finish clearing the
dishes that Tohru finally says, “Okay, now back to business. But don’t you
totally feel better now? You know what they say about all work and no play. We
just figured you guys needed to have a little fun.”

And she’s right. We had a great day.

Tohru takes her seat at the table again. “Like I said
this morning, we checked into Downes and Carter. Total waste of time. For the
heck of it, we looked into Jessica Malcom too but there’s nothing new on her.
Of course, there’s like a million other Jessica Malcoms out there too but not
Jessica Malcom. But then we looked into our buddy, T. We found plenty of them
too. So, Purge trivia question. Do you know where Trevor Harrison the Third was
from originally?”

Tohru waits for me to answer.

I shake my head. “No idea.”

Tohru rolls her eyes and sighs. “And you call yourself a

“How could I possib—”

“Just screwing with you, P.B.” Tohru grins now that she’s
gotten under my skin. “Originally, he was from Kansas City. Do you know where
that is?”

“Maybe Kansas?”

Shakeesha bursts out laughing. “You’re right, Toe.” She
turns to me. “She totally said you’d say that.”

“Everybody says that,” Tohru says. “Kansas City is also
in Missouri. And guess where we found a Trevor Harrison—yes, with Roman
numerals—living? Drumroll please.”

Shakeesha taps out the drumroll on the table with her

“Kansas City, Missouri!” Tohru announces even though, of
course, we know.

I can feel Lauren looking at me and I’m guessing that
smile is already tugging at the corner of her mouth. She knows me well enough
by now. And she’s right. “How far is that from here?”

“Like eight hours. No biggie,” Tohru says.

 I try not to think about my parents and how deep I keep
digging my own grave. But, either way, I’m going there so what’s a few more
feet of dirt?

“How did you find him?” Lauren asks.

“Facebook, of course!” Tohru gets up from the table and
grabs her laptop from the counter. She comes back and flips it open. “Here,
check it out.”

Tohru has bookmarked the page and a few seconds later
we’re grouped together staring at a Facebook profile. There’s nothing about the
page that gives any indication this guy ever had anything to do with music. On
top of that, there’s no photo. This Trevor Harrison uses a Halo gamer icon.

“He could be anybody,” I say.

“It’s totally him,” Tohru says. “I can just feel it.”

“Good enough for me,” Lauren says.

“Then it’s settled,” Tohru says. “How do you guys feel
about checking out the Nashville Ghost Tour tonight?”

“Ooh, I always wanted to do that too!” Shakeesha says.
“We need more tourists coming by to visit.”


Streetlights Like


Here’s the thing about bands: Most of the time, if they’re
good enough to be remembered, they were more than just a bunch of musicians who
decided to make some noise together. They were a tribe. They dreamt the same
dreams, lived the same hope, imagined the same future. At one point in their
history, they were an organism sharing the same emotional blood. And even in
the worst case blowouts, after the smoke has cleared and all the anger is put
into perspective, they get back in touch with each other. Family is family,
after all. Sure, they might say they have no idea what happened to the lead
singer they recorded and toured with once upon a time, but come on. At least
one of them had to know. That said, if any of the old members of Purge know the
whereabouts of Jessica Malcom, they haven’t given away her location for all
these years. So, why would they now? It doesn’t seem likely. Unless, somehow,
we can convince them we have something Jessica Malcom really wants. Maybe
that’s possible?

We hope so, since that’s all we have to go on as we
exchange hugs and goodbyes with Tohru and Shakeesha in the parking lot next to
their apartment building. They start crying and Lauren does too as they say how
great it’s been to have us there. I feel kind of like crying too since they’re
totally cool and I guess I’ll never see them again. But we tell ourselves we’ll
see each other again someday, because that’s what people do in these situations
to either stop crying or not start. And you never know, right? Maybe we will.


Four hours later, we’re crossing through Saint Louis and as
the Gateway Arch comes into view it’s like Lauren is thinking the same thing.
“We have to see that,” she says. “Jessica Malcom’s guitar will just have to
stop being so demanding.”

I laugh since it seems so true, like this piece of wood
has been bossing us around since I first spotted it. “Yeah, I’m totally in,” I

We pull off the highway and make our way through the
downtown streets of Saint Louis. Soon, we ride the tram up alongside other
tourists and stare down through angled windows from six-hundred feet in the
air. Below, there’s the Mississippi River on one side and the city on the

“Is that a river boat down there?” Lauren says.

I see it too now and she’s right. It’s an old river boat.
Or maybe it’s a new river boat made to look like an old one but it still seems
like it just floated out of a Mark Twain story. “Very cool,” I say. “I wonder
if we can take one of those tours.”

Lauren laughs. There are plenty of people around us and
maybe that’s why she stands so close to me, her shoulder pressed to mine. I
hope that’s not the reason.

“I’m glad we did this,” she says.

I don’t know if she means coming up in the arch or all of
it. “Me too,” I say, since either way it’s true.


By seven that night we’re crossing another bridge, this time
over the Missouri River, approaching yet another place I’d never imagined
seeing. And while I’ve never had any reason to think one way or the other about
visiting Kansas City, it still amazes me to see yet another skyline come into
view. There’s just something about all those tall, shiny buildings clustered
together, all those lives going on, that gives me a feeling of hope and
possibility. The world just keeps getting bigger and offering more for the two
of us to experience.

Still, the fact is, so far we don’t really have much of a
plan. All we managed to gather about Trevor Harrison from his Facebook profile
is that he was born in 1970, he lives somewhere in this city and he works at
someplace called Gentech Biosciences. God only knows what they do at Gentech
Biosciences but it’s difficult to imagine it being the kind of place where
you’d be likely to find a lean, tattooed bass player with a mohawk. I realize
many years have passed but, as far as the internet is concerned, the only
images for T still show him in his Purge days. It’s hard to picture how he
might look now. Either way, why would a bass player end up working at someplace
called Gentech Biosciences? More than likely, it’s an entirely different guy
with the same name.

But Lauren’s response to that probability has remained
consistent so far. “Tohru had a feeling about it,” she keeps saying. “Besides,
I have a feeling about it too.”

So, I don’t bring it up again now. Instead, I ask, “So,
what’s our plan?”

“I’m thinking Riverfest,” she says.

“What’s Riverfest?”

Lauren glances at me and points out the window. “Really?”

When I look out my window pretty much all I see are signs
for Riverfest lining the streets. “Oh, hey, look at that,” I say, “I guess
there’s a Fourth of July thing going on.”

“You know, you really should be more observant,” Lauren

“I totally knew you were going to say that.”

“For the record, that doesn’t make you psychic. At best,
it makes you marginally aware.”

“That’s all I was striving for to begin with,” I say. And
while I’m not sure if I should ask, I’m curious. “Thought you didn’t like the
Fourth of July.”

Lauren considers for a moment. “Definitely not my
favorite. But Riverfest seems like the thing to do when in Kansas City on July

She doesn’t add more, so I let it go.

It’s not hard figuring out where the festival is since
all we have to do is find the riverfront. Still, parking is all but impossible
and we spend the better part of an hour circling unfamiliar streets trying to
find a spot. Eventually, a family piles into an SUV and pulls away. We grab
their space at the side of the road.

“Riverfest better be good,” Lauren says.

“Totally your idea,” I say. “I didn’t even notice it was
going on.”

Admission is only five dollars so that part is good. They
also take credit cards, which is how we find out my father decided to try a
little tough love. The woman at the gate runs my card three times before
telling me it’s definitely a no-go. I’m not surprised. Worried? Yes. Basically,
we’re screwed. And when I figure Lauren will agree that we shouldn’t part with
any of our remaining cash to get in, she hands over ten dollars.

“Tohru and Shakeesha slipped me some money,” she says,
once we’re inside the gates. “But it’s not much. They had about seventy dollars
on hand. Things are going to get lean.”

I try to calculate where we stand. We filled the van with
gas that morning and must have used half of that getting here. Other than the
dollar I gave to the street musician, I haven’t touched my actual cash since I
started using the credit card. So, that gives us another sixty or so.
Considering we’re now two-thirds of the way across the country, we could easily
end up stranded soon. There’s no way we have enough to get back. Of course, my
father can’t know that. He sure as hell doesn’t think I’m in Kansas City. As
bad as things look, I have to laugh.

“What’s funny?” Lauren says.

“I know my father wouldn’t be proud of me. He never is.
But he’d definitely be freaked to learn how far I got before he cut off the
cash flow.”

Lauren laughs too, then surprises me by linking her arm
with mine. She pulls me closer. “We’ve had an impressive run so far, wouldn’t
you say?”

In that moment, nothing else really matters. “Amazing, if
you ask me.”

“And to think we’re not even done yet. Right now, we’re
here at Riverfest. Who would have thought?”

Even though Riverfest offers only the usual carnival
rides, food booths, face painting and bad music you’d find at any fair, in that
moment it seems an amazingly unique event, worth driving across the country
for. Kids laugh. Parents talk. Couples flirt. The air smells like cotton candy,
barbecue and funnel cakes. Rides swirl and lights flash. My skin tingles where
Lauren’s arm nests with mine, her skin against my skin. Magical stuff.

We aren’t there long before the sun calls it a day and
people get ready to watch fireworks over the river. We find a place to sit on
the grass and it feels like I’ve never seen fireworks before—the sky showering
light while explosions of color burst above us. I look over at Lauren at one
point and it seems the same for her. Her eyes are on the sky, her mouth half
open. Way more magical stuff. If I could keep staring, I would. But I look up
at the fireworks again. They’re beautiful but they really don’t compare.

Soon we’re following the crowd out of the park again and
wandering those unfamiliar streets back to where we parked at least a mile
away. Nothing there is threatening or strange. Just new. In the distance,
firecrackers pop. Every so often, a bottle rocket shoots into the sky. Voices
around us fade as the crowd thins and it’s  just the two of us walking along
under the streetlights. A misting rain starts just as we get back to the VW

“Should we look for a motel?” I say.

Lauren unlocks the door. “I think we’re home for
tonight,” she says. “After all, it nearly killed us getting this parking space.
I think we should keep it for a while.”

We climb in I follow her to the back. Lauren slides a
blanket from beneath the seats and we push our bags out of the way. She spreads
the blanket across the floor and we lie next to each other while the
streetlights shine through the windows, light trickling down with the rain. To
me, that light looks like fireworks. Better, though, quiet and peaceful with
just the two of us alone now. That magic is all ours.

“This doesn’t mean anything other than I like you, Pajama

Still, I hear the smile in her voice.

“Got it,” I say, letting my hands rest at my side. But I
can’t help smile too. And I think I understand. It’s been a long road for her
finding someone to trust. I’m fine with this for now. Couldn’t ask for more.

Lauren rests her head against my shoulder. When she
doesn’t say anything for a while, I think she might have fallen asleep. But
then she whispers, “That was my best July Fourth.”

“Me too,” I say.

A few more moments pass before she says, “I know you
heard me the other night when you were falling asleep. About me not really
having a boyfriend.”

“Why did you say you did?”

Again, she waits to speak. When she does, her voice grows
even more soft. “I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just using you.”

“What do you mean?”

Lauren breathes in slowly, then out. “Can we just go back
to the part about me liking you, Pajama Boy?”

I know that smile is tugging at the corner of her mouth.
“I liked that part,” I say.

“Me too,” she whispers. “Let’s talk about the rest

Then she’s out, breathing deeply as she sleeps after a
long day. But she’s next to me, which means I’m not really alone as I watch
light mix with rain and imagine fireworks still shooting into the sky overhead.


Somehow, I sleep through Lauren getting up and driving
across town. When she calls out, “Get your act together, we’re here!” I have no
idea what she’s talking about.

I prop myself up on my elbows and blink against sunlight.
“Where’s here?”

“Gentech Biosciences, of course.” Lauren glances at me
over her shoulder. “I figured we better get here before eight, just to head off
the early risers. Get your pants on and come up here.”

My pants? The last thing I remember was staring up at—

“Totally kidding, P.B. Last night was just about you

“Nice,” I say.

Lauren laughs. “Like you would have forgotten. Now get up

I go up front and sit next to her, eyes still blurry
while she remains focused on the parking lot, evidently wide awake. “What’s the

“Sit here and wait for T to show up.”

So far, just a view cars sit parked in the black expanse
of asphalt. “That’s kind of a huge parking lot,” I say. “Once that thing starts
filling up, we might have a hard time spotting someone.”

Lauren nods. “That occurred to me. So, this would be a
good time to start practicing those observational skills we keep discussing. By
the way, I got you a coffee.” She passes me a Starbucks cup.

She stopped at Starbucks? How the hell did I sleep
through that?

“Wasn’t sure if you wanted one of those iced decaf mocha
things. I hope actual coffee’s okay. People are starting to show up so remember
what I said about being observant.”

As the minutes tick by, cars keep flowing into the
parking lot. At first, it’s easy since it’s still early. A car pulls in,
someone gets out and we assess.

“Over there,” Lauren says. “Middle-aged guy getting out
of the blue Volvo.”

“Not likely.”

“Why not?”

“T’s not Asian.”

“Good observation. Okay, how about the skinny chick, red


“What? He might have had some work done. Don’t judge.”

“But she seems kind of young,” I say.

“Fair enough. What about that guy, silver Acura?”

“Pretty sure he’s at least sixty.”

“True, but maybe T didn’t age well. Stress and all that.”

I turn and stare at her.

Lauren laughs. “Just making sure you’re not slacking.”

Another half hour passes as cars keep coming and people
keep getting out of them. All kinds of people. None of them look anything like

“I think we’re screwed,” I say.

“Maybe not just yet.” Lauren peers through the
windshield. “What about him?”

I scan the parking lot, this time seeing a woman in a
green business suit, a bald man in tan pants and a white shirt and tie, then a
guy who looks to be seriously overweight trudging along wearing faded jeans and
a wrinkled blue golf shirt. All of them are white, so they have that much in
common with T, but that seems about it. I check again to be sure but Lauren’s
watching the guy wearing jeans.

“The big guy?” I say. “Not likely.”

BOOK: Streetlights Like Fireworks
2.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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