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PART ONE:
THE WORLD IS MY GUITAR

CHAPTER ONE

Take Your Licks and Learn Your Lesson Well

 

The club was dark, stinky, and so smoky it was hard to see across the room to the bar. The rowdy crowd was comprised primarily of men with big hats and big mouths. Most were seated at small tables behind a partition that separated them from the tiny dancefloor in front of the stage. There were two busty waitresses in high heels, Daisy Dukes and bikini tops serving sweaty pitchers of draft Lone Star. Their bulging bikini tops looked like US flags; stars on the left boob and stripes on the right. There was plenty of allegiance being pledged, no doubt. Jennifer had to have a second look when one of them walked by the stage.

Something about seeing the faces of her audiences beforehand always helped ease Jennifer’s stage fright, but not this time. She turned away from the stage and felt a sudden sinking in her belly. Her nerves were taking over. This gig was starting to feel like a mistake. They just didn’t look like a heavy metal crowd. Then again, what does a heavy metal crowd look like in Lubbock, Texas?

Rich said Lubbock was cool; like Austin, rooted in rock and roll. It was where the great Buddy Holly was from. Jennifer wasn’t a fan, nor was she impressed when they pulled into town earlier that evening. All she saw were men driving big pickup trucks with gunracks in the windows and Jesus fish on their tailgates. When the band stopped for beer and snacks, the clerk and other customers gave her and Randi plenty of stares. The two held hands while waiting in the checkout line, initially unaware of the spectacle they were creating. When they realized eyes were upon them, Jennifer tried to shy away and let go of Randi’s hand. But, just to be socially defiant, Randi pulled her closer, put her arm around Jennifer’s shoulders, bent down and planted a kiss square on her mouth.

Might as well give ‘em something to look at! This had become Randi’s motto, philosophy and objective.

In Lubbock, there weren’t even any rock stations on the radio. No That’ll Be the Day, Peggy Sue or Oh Boy! There was a Buddy Holly Boulevard and a Buddy Holly Museum, but no radio stations playing his songs or any rock and roll. Just the same old country/western, gospel, sermons and conservative talk radio that you’d hear in any Tornado Alley hellhole, along with a few stations playing that funky Mexican music with the accordions.

Rich was full of shit. Lubbock was no Austin.

“You ready for this, Maestro?” Randi hollered into Jennifer’s ear over the house music blaring in the bar.

Jennifer leaned slightly away as Randi’s booze-soaked breath brought a scowl to her face. She hated when Randi overdrank, and she was doing a lot of it lately. Back in Dugan, where she was still living at her Aunt Donna’s, Randi had become the talk of the town. And not in a good way. She was the lesbian harlot who seduced the town sweetheart, then plotted to kill the innocent girl’s loving parents and trick her into evading the authorities. Randi received death threats at school. Ugly slurs were spray-painted on Aunt Donna’s garage. Killer Whore! Dike Dog! Things much uglier.

To help cope in her Maestro’s absence, Randi took to the bottle. There was nothing Jennifer or anyone could do to help. They lived two hours apart. And although they talked on the phone every Tuesday night when the long-distance rates were cheapest, they only actually saw each other three times during the five months since Jennifer left Dugan.

Still, it irritated Jennifer that Randi was so drunk on the night of their very first gig. It’s one thing to relax and party, but when it starts to negatively affect the music, then it’s a problem. Jennifer took the music seriously. She didn’t even have bong hits, as was their custom before rehearsals. Jennifer insisted on being fully sober, and she was pissed that Randi didn’t show the same dedication.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Jennifer finally answered with a nervous sigh. She hid it well, but she was terrified. The queasiness she’d felt a moment ago swelled and she became nauseated.

Just then, Scotty, Rich and Sean entered backstage. Scotty had his drumsticks in his gloved hands and Rich had Randi’s black Fender bass strapped over his shoulder. He was filling in for Randi, who was still learning the bass and not quite up-to-snuff, in her own words.

Sean Boltz was the newest addition to the Dark Artemis lineup. He was brought in as second-fiddle guitarist. He was tall and good-looking with long, straight hair that went down to his ass. He had a high opinion of himself, but he wasn’t half the player Jennifer was. She had to show him almost every riff and chord pattern he played. But he was adequate, and he made them look more like a heavy metal band.

“Okay, you guys…and ladies,” the club manager said, glaring at Randi and Jennifer as he came backstage. He was medium height and chubby with a big broom moustache, greasy, hat-pressed, salt-and-pepper hair, and a wad of Skoal bulging beneath his frowning lips. “It’s time. Just watch the profanity, and no disco!”

Randi took a chug of her beer and said with a slight slur, “Do we look like a disco band to you, douchebag?” 

The club manager went to Rich and spoke into his ear. “I only booked you guys as a favor.” He pointed at Randi. “I don’t need this shit from some skinny skirt with a smart mouth.” Then he walked over to address the rest of the band. “This ain’t amateur night! If you don’t bring it, and people start leaving my bar, I’ll pull the plug and you’ll never play another gig in Lubbock.” He turned and hastily exited.

“What an asshole!” Scotty said.

“He’s right, you guys,” Jennifer said, once again finding herself in the position of mediator between Randi and anyone with authority. “We can’t get a gig in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, or anywhere worth playing, and we’re ten times better than any heavy metal band in Texas. If we screw this up, we’re done.”

“Oh, well then we better get serious!” Randi blurted sarcastically as she turned and went out to the stage.

The crowd reluctantly applauded and started filling the dance floor as Dark Artemis took to that tiny stage for their first paying gig. They’d rocked a couple house parties back in Dallas for beer and barbeque, but this was an actual, professional gig. When Jennifer entered the stage behind the rest, scoffs and chuckles could be heard.

“What is this? Bring Your Daughter to Work Night?” someone shouted, causing an uproar of laughter.

The words pierced Jennifer’s soul and her stage fright worsened. Her hand shook as she reached down and plugged the cable into her guitar. She lifted her head and glanced at every single face in the venue. Some appeared puzzled, curious, concerned, but most were laughing at her. She wanted to run off the stage, throw up and cry, but she took a deep breath, sucked it up and looked over at Scotty who was awaiting her signal to count off the first song of their thirty-minute set.

Then, just as Scotty was about to click his sticks together, Randi put the mic to her lips and started breathing heavily into it, in-and-out, creating an eerie whooshing sound that enveloped the room and silenced the crowd. All eyes shifted from Jennifer to Randi as she continued. Then she stopped and said into the microphone in the deepest voice she could muster, “Luke! I am not your father!”

Half the crowd burst into laughter, while the other half booed, shouted obscenities and threw empty bottles towards the stage.

“Would you…guys play!?” the club manager hollered from the front of the stage.

Jennifer looked at Scotty once again, nodded, and he counted off the beginning of Breaking the Law. It was the very first song they’d ever played as a group and they knew it frontwards and backwards. They should’ve been able to rock that song like pros, she thought.

She was wrong.

The song started off okay, but when Randi started singing, it wasn’t so good. Her normally spot-on pitch was flat, and her articulation was sloppy. She was drunk, she acted drunk and she sounded drunk. She forgot the lyrics to the second verse and pre-chorus. When the instrumental break came, Sean and Rich were both lost. Jennifer’s guitar volume was too low in the mix, making it impossible for the band to follow her. Scotty’s snare drum mic was too hot, causing a shrill feedback with every backbeat. Towards the end of the song, Jennifer stepped on her guitar cable, causing it to pop out, fall to the floor and hum. She didn’t know it until the song was over.

It was a train wreck.

When the labored song finally concluded, Jennifer noticed people picking-up and leaving. The club manager was meeting them at the door, trying to change their minds, but he couldn’t convince many that Dark Artemis was worth sticking around for. Some remained, just to see where the spectacle would go, but no one took them seriously.

“Well, we’re waiting!” someone yelled from the dancefloor.

In the growing melee, a man in the crowd tossed a beer bottle to the stage and it hit Jennifer on her right shin. It hurt, but she kicked it aside and paid it no mind.

Randi, seeing the face of the man who threw the bottle, dropped her mic and leapt from the stage down to the floor. She shoved her way back to where the man was seated at his table, lunged at him and started swinging.

By now, a good old-fashioned barroom brawl was brewing. Sean and Rich put their guitars down and jumped off the stage to help Randi. Frightened, Jennifer unstrapped herself from her guitar and quickly went behind the drums where Scotty held her. He was like her big brother, and she felt safe in his arms.

“Why is this happening?” Jennifer asked him, crying.

Suddenly, a gunshot echoed and the room went silent. “Alright!” a deep voice bellowed from the entrance. “The party’s over, folks.” Three police officers entered. People nearest to the exits scattered. Everyone else stood still, sweating and panting. Two of the officers went to Randi and placed her into custody.

“Get your goddamn hands off me!” Randi screamed as the officers took her arms and cuffed her hands behind her back. She wiggled and struggled, but she was no match for the hearty officers.

“She’s underage, sir,” one officer told the other, looking into the wallet he pulled from Randi’s back pocket.

“Naturally. Aren’t they always?”

“I said, get your goddamn hands off me!” Randi insisted, continuing to squirm in their tight grips.

“Relax, sweet-cheeks,” the lead officer said, trying to calm her. “You’re going for a little ride uptown, that’s all.” He turned to his officers. “Take party-girl here to the station, put her in a holding cell and call her mommy. Tell her the Lubbock PD is not her goddamn babysitter and if we see her little darling out past bedtime again, charges will be filed.” The officers led Randi away and out the door.

Scotty and Jennifer carefully left the stage and exited the club through the backdoor. Two vans belonging to the headlining band were idling in the rear parking lot. An angry man approached them as they stepped down onto the gravel.

“You’re the little shits that just cost me six hundred dollars!” he hollered, eyeballing Jennifer with contempt.

“We’re sorry,” Jennifer said quietly. “We didn’t mean to…”

“Well, golly gee, honeybee, that’s sweet and all, but ‘sorry’ doesn’t buy our gas back home to Denver or explain to my band of real musicians why we drove all the way to Lubbock, fucking Texas on a hot Friday afternoon for nothing. Some of us do this for a living, you know!” His gaze shifted from Jennifer’s eyes to her chest and down to her jeans. He was scanning her up and down like merchandise and licking his lips like she was a Sunday brisket. He took a step closer to her. “But, if you’d like to make amends, honeybee…”

“I don’t think so,” Scotty defended, stepping between Jennifer and the much-older man, holding his drumsticks up like a weapon.

The man retreated, put his palms in the air, turned and walked away.

Scotty and Jennifer walked around the club and watched as the police officers forced Randi into the backseat of their cruiser and then drove away. Jennifer shook with fear, anger and uncertainty as Scotty held her close.

 

“That’s the last of it,” Rich said as he, Sean and Scotty were finishing tearing down the stage and loading the equipment. With all those strong men around, Jennifer didn’t have to do much grunt work. She mostly wrapped and tied cables while they muscled the amps, speaker cabinets, flight cases and drums out to Rich’s pickup and trailer.

“Sucks we came all this way for nothing,” Sean said coldly with a shrug. He picked up his guitar case and walked off the stage and out the front door. His tone and eyes suggested to Jennifer that he blamed her for the night’s failure.

“It’s okay,” Rich said. He approached Jennifer, seeing how distraught she was. “Every great band has shitty first gigs. It’s a rite of passage. The shittier the gig, the bigger the band. I saw KISS booed off a stage like a bad Vaudeville act in Arlington back in ’72, and look at them now. They’re the biggest band on the planet.”

Jennifer chuckled. “Thank you,” she said, giving him a look of understanding and appreciation.

It really wasn’t okay, though. The truth was, Jennifer was broke and the band was counting on the $150 gig money to help pay for the trip. When the club manager told them to piss off in lieu of payment, her heart sank into her hungry tummy. She wouldn’t be able to pay the motel bill. She couldn’t afford the gas money she’d promised to Scotty and Rich. She didn’t know what she was going to do.

“Are you ready?” Scotty asked Jennifer, bringing her out of her deep thoughts.

“Yeah,” she answered with a faked smile. “You guys go ahead. I’ll be out in a minute. I gotta powder my nose.”

Scotty patted Jennifer’s shoulder, then turned and walked out of the empty club with his snare drum tucked under his left arm.

Jennifer walked down the hall towards the restrooms, passing by the club manager’s office on her way. She stopped, peered into a hazy, tempered glass window and saw the man at his desk counting a small stack of cash. She took a deep breath, opened the heavy door to his office and stepped inside to a rush of chilly air. She didn’t know what she was going to say to him, but she had to try something. She was desperate.

“Yes?” the club manager inquired, looking down at his desk.

Jennifer stood silent and motionless, trying to think of something to say.

“What do you want?” he asked curtly, finally looking up at her.

She spoke softly. “Sir, we drove all the way from Dallas and got a motel and everything, and…”

“And you think I should pay your sorry-ass band, despite running off my patrons and shutting me down on a Friday night.” He pointed to the money on the desk in front of him. “This doesn’t even cover the air conditioning you just let out of my office. It’ll take me a month to recoup. I’d estimate that Dark Armpits, or whatever the hell you call yourselves, cost me three, maybe four grand tonight. And now you think you deserve to be paid?” He got up from his desk and walked towards her. “I’m going to give you the best advice you’ll ever get, more valuable than any amount of money. Go home. Go to school. Go to prom. Meet yourself a nice boy, get married, move to the suburbs, join the PTA, bake casseroles and knit doilies. Women aren’t cut out to be musicians, sweetheart.”

Jennifer stood quietly, almost in tears. The manager gently took her arm and began showing her out, but she stopped and faced him. She couldn’t leave without trying. Without the money, they’d have to skip out on the motel bill and beg for gas money on an expressway overpass. She was the band’s leader. She felt a responsibility to her bandmates who held her in such high esteem because of her guitar playing, and she felt like she was letting them down. When she exhausted every other possibility in her mind, she closed her eyes and sighed. “Please,” she said, reopening her big eyes and begging him with them. “I’ll do anything.”

Jennifer learned a few months prior that sex was a highly valuable commodity to barter with. When she first arrived in Texas, following that fateful evening when she was orphaned by her parents and society, she had to grow up quickly. She had to rely on others to help her with basic things, and they weren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They expected something in return. The first time it happened, all she needed was a light bulb changed in her loft bathroom. The second time, help carrying a mattress up the stairs. Times three through eight, dinner with Danny downstairs when she couldn’t afford groceries. The ninth time, a ride to the women’s clinic after missing two periods. She wasn’t pregnant, thank goodness. The doctor said it was probably stress and poor diet, but he put her on birth control pills anyway, just to be safe.

It happened twelve times in all.

This grimy club manager looked plenty shady enough to give a young girl a few bucks for a quickie, so Jennifer put on her best seductress act. It was an easy sell. She had the man bending her over his desk in a matter of seconds. Lucky Number Thirteen. It was a little rougher than she was used to, but he wasn’t as well-endowed as Dinner Danny downstairs. It didn’t hurt as much.

When he was done, the club manager shoved Jennifer off his desk before she could finish pulling up her Levi’s. She stumbled awkwardly and tripped to the floor. He tucked his shirt in and fastened his pants. “You guys played one shitty song of a thirty-minute set, emphasis on the ‘shitty’. You’re the worst band I’ve seen in a long time. You look ridiculous and you sound like shit. You’re a joke.” He took a twenty-dollar bill from the top of his desk, wadded it and tossed it at her. “You got a cute face, a nice rack and a good, tight twat, though. You’ll have no problem landing yourself a nice fella. Consider tonight a lesson, kiddo. However cute and talented you think you are, the music business will fuck you much harder than I did. A woman’s place is at home, not on a stage in a bar in Lubbock, Texas. Take your licks and learn your lesson well. Now get up and get the hell out of my bar.”

Jennifer stood, buttoned her jeans, grabbed the $20 and stuffed it in her pocket, tossed her hair to the side and left the club manager’s office with as much dignity as possible under the circumstances. “Thank you,” she said quietly to him as she turned the knob and pulled the heavy door open.

She exited the bar and walked out to the mostly empty parking lot where the guys were waiting. She stepped up to Rich’s idling truck and he rolled the window down from inside.

“Here,” Jennifer shouted over the engine, holding the $20 up to the window with a smile. “I found it in the bathroom, on the floor under the sink. I know it’s less than I said, but…” She stepped onto the pickup’s running board, leaned in closer to him and said softly, “We’ll make up the rest. I promise.” She smiled, tilted her head to the side and batted her eyelashes at him.

“Cool. Thanks, Maestro!” Rich said, gladly taking her money. “See you guys at the motel.” He and Sean drove off in a dark cloud of dust.

Jennifer got into the passenger seat of Scotty’s Pinto. She covered her face with her hands and started crying. When Scotty tried to comfort her, she shoved his hand aside and recoiled from him, pressing herself against the car door.

“Fuck the motel!” she screamed angrily between sobs, knowing she couldn’t pay the bill anyway. “Fuck all of this! I want to go home!”

“It’s a long drive to Dallas. Are you sure…?”

“I mean home, home. I wanna go home!” She was beside herself.

“Okay.” Scotty nodded, put the Pinto in gear and they left for Dugan, Oklahoma in the dark of night, leaving Rich and Sean behind at the motel, clueless.

 

PART ONE:


“Right this way, ma’am,” the officer said as he led the tall, sharply-dressed woman through a heavily-fortified door and down a narrow hallway. Her complexion was dark and her eyes were sort of exotic-looking. “It’s not too often we get senators and such dropping by the city hoosegow in the middle of the night.”

Hawaii State Senator Aina Harris followed as the man continued leading the way. The sound of her heels clicking on the hard, checkered linoleum echoed up and down the corridor. They turned a corner and approached a cell door. The officer extended a key from his belt, the lock clicked and the door squeaked open. She stepped inside and went to her daughter who was sprawled across a cot wearing torn, faded jeans and a black t-shirt, snoring lightly.

“What the…!” Randi blurted as the sound of the cell door jolted her from her drunken slumber. She opened her bloodshot, blurry eyes and gazed towards the door. “Oh, god!” she sighed at the sight of her mother.

“Are you ever going to stop being a complete embarrassment to this family?” the senator asked her daughter.

“Well, that’s kinda my thing, ain’t it?” Randi answered, stretching her arms into the air, trying to smack some moisture up into her parched mouth with her tongue.

“Do you realize that I am an elected official now? I narrowly beat out my haole opponent, the incumbent, on a platform of island values and tougher penalties for criminals. What do you think would happen to my political career if this were to end up on the front page of the Star Advertiser?”

“And what makes you think I give a shit about your political career?” Randi mumbled, yawning, sitting upright on the side of the cot.

“You better start caring,” the senator answered. “If it weren’t for my and your stepfather’s political connections, you’d still be sitting in a LA juvenile detention facility for that liquor store heist you pulled last summer.” She walked to her daughter and stood directly in front of her. “You’re coming back to the islands with me.”

“Oh, hell no!” Randi retorted, standing. “I’m not going to Pearl City!”

“No, you’re going to Papa’s ranch on the Big Island.”

“I ain’t going to that shithole. I’d rather stay here in jail!”

“What in the world makes you think you have a choice in this matter? You’re underage, and I can’t afford to have you running around on the mainland causing trouble. You’re going to Hilo.” She turned and walked towards the cell door.

“You can’t make me!” Randi shouted in desperate defiance, coming to tears.

“I don’t care if we have to hogtie and drug you. You’re going to Hilo! Now, shut up and try showing a little gratitude that you’re going home to an island paradise, and not on your way to juvie for your impressively long list of probation violations.” She gestured to the officer outside.

He entered, cuffed Randi’s wrists behind her back and then led her down the hallway and outside where two big men were waiting beside the senator’s limousine. They took hold of Randi’s arms and the officer removed the handcuffs. “Y’all have a nice day, now,” he said as they shoved Randi into the car and stepped in behind her.

 

As they drove to the airport, Randi fought to hold back tears. Of all the miserable places on the planet, Hilo was the one she hated the most. She was born there, and lived out on the ranch until she was fourteen. It was a beautiful place to grow up, if you’re an islander. A true Hawaiian. But since Randi was a haole, it wasn’t so great for her. She was only half white; half-howlie, as her half-brothers and sisters used to call her. She was the only white girl in her small school and was constantly teased for it.

When Randi was twelve, her uncles started molesting her. It started with aloof touching; getting handsy while helping her into her saddle, being a bit too touchy-feely while swimming in the lagoon, etc. By the time she was fourteen, it had progressed into a weekly ritual. They would drive her up into the hills, get her loaded and then take turns raping her. Then they’d leave her behind afterwards to walk home; alone and damaged. She thought about telling someone, but nobody would have believed her. Her uncles were island saints, and she was nothing but a troublemaking, lying haole bitch.

When enough became enough, she slipped out one night, walked to town, and then stowed aboard a livestock freighter to Honolulu. Once in the city, she did what a girl had to do to get by down on Hotel Street until she scraped up the cash to buy a plane ticket to the mainland. When they realized she was gone, they barely lifted a finger to find her.

Randi found her biological father in Los Angeles; a washed-up musician trying desperately to cling onto the remnants of his former glory. She’d met him back when she was nine years old on a family trip to the mainland, but didn’t really know him. He couldn’t deal with her, but he let her move in and hang around. This was when Randi first got exposed to music beyond listening to the radio. Her father had many friends who were well-known musicians, and she got to see them play often. Soon after, she realized her own musical gift in the form of an amazing singing voice.

It seemed like things were going well, but the lack of structure and parental guidance took its toll. Randi’s behavior became erratic and rebellious; fueled by anger and increasing substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol were abundant. When she became too difficult, her father kicked her out. After that, nobody wanted her. She shacked up with thugs, and bounced from relative to relative until all her welcomes were worn out. On her sixteenth birthday, she was left at a rest area in Montana by a second cousin who was that eager to be rid of her. Taken for a ride like an unwanted mutt.

When Aunt Donna, her father’s estranged sister, agreed to give Randi one last chance, it seemed like she finally had a chance to live a somewhat normal life. It was safe there. Aunt Donna was like a real mom; loving, but sort of firm too. There were no weeklong parties and no one raped her every weekend, so it was like heaven, really.

And when that little girl showed up that morning in choir class, Randi’s whole life changed. She never thought she could care about anyone the way she cared about her Maestro. Her heart melted and fluttered in Jennifer’s presence.

 

The black limousine approached the motel where the band was staying for the gig. “Maestro!” Randi mumbled to herself as they got closer to it.

“What?” Senator Harris said to her teary daughter from the opposite seat.

“Can we stop at the motel?” Randi asked quietly, unaware that Jennifer wasn’t there anyway.

“Whatever for?”

“So I can say goodbye to my…friend.”

“Don’t be absurd.”

“No!” Randi burst into sobs as the car drove past the motel.

She wanted to see Jennifer so badly, it hurt. She imagined her in there, sad and vulnerable, being consoled and comforted by that lanky Scotty, who’d been giving Jennifer the googly eyes ever since he joined the band. Feelings turned inward and tears flowed outward as she realized Dark Artemis might be finished and she could lose her Maestro for good.

 


CHAPTER TWO

Welcome Home, Hummingbird!

 

Traffic was light as they pulled into Wichita Falls and turned north towards the state line. Jennifer drove Scotty’s Pinto up Highway 281 through town as though the streets had been cleared for her. He said to wake him if the traffic picked up, but it didn’t so she let him sleep. She was listening to a cassette tape by this killer new band, Iron Maiden. Scotty always had the newest music from the coolest bands. A tune called Running Free was playing just over the hum of the car’s little tires on the roadway and the whistling of warm air racing through the cracked windows.

The music business will fuck you much harder than I did!

The Lubbock club manager’s words kept playing in Jennifer’s mind and cutting into her soul. It was a nutshell synopsis of the past five months as she was coming to terms with the realities of rock and roll and adulthood.

Women aren’t cut out to be musicians, sweetheart!

Part of her was beginning to agree. Her Daddy told her the same thing when she got her first guitar at age twelve. But it’s a nice, little hobby for a girl to have, he’d say. Perfect for singing Sunday specials for the church. When her musical chops began to surpass that of her teachers, though, it became much more than a little hobby. Music became her companion. Her escape. Her focus. Her passion. It was the source of her confidence and the foundation of her self-esteem. And now, it was the cause of all her pain and misery.

Jennifer’s thoughts drifted to Randi and that fateful night at Pioneer Park, singing songs and drinking beer by the riverside. It was such a wonderful memory. She had a true inner awakening that evening; musically and personally. It was as though the real Jennifer Harrington had been born at last. She was so in love with Randi.

Up until a few hours ago, she never had doubts about that night. But as the Pinto crossed the Red River into Oklahoma, and she was overwhelmed by a sudden rush of familiarity and emotion, the question started popping into her mind: why the hell did I skip church choir?

Sure, church choir was boring. It didn’t seem like skipping it one night would be the end of the world. But it was, at least for her parents. Bill Harrington was an awful man, no question. Jennifer didn’t miss him at all. How could she? He killed her mother and then blew his own brains out with a shotgun like a coward. He was a cruel and abusive man who probably deserved to die. Good riddance, Daddy.

She missed her Mama terribly, though. She cried for her every single night. Millie Harrington gave her life to save Jennifer from him. She certainly didn’t deserve to die.

Not that Jennifer’s world was faring much better. In only five months, she went from being an innocent, local songbird with a home, a family and a future to a woman forced to have sex just to get a bite to eat or a few bucks for gas. As dull and predictable as her former life was, abuse and all, she found herself longing for it.

Why did I skip church choir?

Jennifer turned the car onto Route 7 and saw the sign; Dugan – 31 miles. Iron Maiden’s Phantom of the Opera was playing in the tape deck. Even in the dark, everything was familiar. It was the first time she’d returned to Oklahoma since being whisked away and dumped in Dallas five months ago. She knew she would have to do it someday, but she never wanted to return to Dugan until that night. There were so many bad memories. She found as she got closer to town, though, that the comfortable feelings associated with being home overpowered the bad memories. She was happy to be home.

It was about 2:30 in the morning and Scotty was still reclined in the passenger seat with his knees pressed to the dashboard, snoring, when Jennifer flipped the turn signal and pulled into the dark driveway of her childhood home. The shrubbery was neatly groomed, just the way Mama kept it. When she turned the corner and saw the old, white farmhouse shining brightly in the Pinto’s high beams, she was overwhelmed with emotion. Tears dripped from her eyes as she parked alongside her Mama’s beige Caprice and killed the engine.

“Where’re we at?” Scotty asked groggily, sitting and returning his seat to its upright position. He gazed outside the car and immediately recognized the house, the Caprice and Jennifer’s 1971 Duster. “That was fast.” He’d been asleep since Abilene.

Jennifer was half laughing and half crying with her hands over her mouth. It was like every emotion she’d ever had in that house over the course of her youth suddenly overtook her. She got out of the car and darted up the steps onto the porch. The door was locked, so she went to the letterbox where Mama always kept a spare key. It was still there.

Scotty walked up to the porch just as Jennifer got the front door open. They stepped inside and Jennifer turned on the lights. They were glad to see the electricity was on. The living room was spotless, not in the state of disarray as she’d left it five months ago when Mama freed her.

“Hello?” Jennifer called out, thinking someone might be there. She stepped over to the table by the phone and turned on the lamp. There were two sets of car keys. Beside the lamp was a hand-scribbled note that read:


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Christi Brekke is a teacher and writer of fiction and narrative non-fiction. She hails from the US Pacific Northwest, where she lives today with her longtime spouse and cat.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
"A Visit from the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan, "Kicking and Dreaming: a Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll" by Ann & Nancy Wilson, and "Tomorrow Will Be Different" by Sarah McBride
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The series follows two talented young women, Randi and Jennifer (The Maestro), a same-sex couple, as they navigate their way through the triumphs and trials of fame, fortune, love and loss in the early 1980s Hollywood music scene.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
A dream.

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A knight's tale of love and betrayal
The Playthings
In ancient Egypt, a Chicago girl tackles Hell