session!” announces Bean as he twirls his sticks in the air.
“We are so ready!” I exclaim. The competition is just a week away, but I’ve never been so ready for anything in my life. We have the smoking hot tunes. Four of them, and they’re full of positive energy. And we have the smoking hot name. Starlight. I love the way it rolls off my tongue when I say it.
For a brief second, I think about who we’re up against for the competition and Duh-Wayne’s face floats into my consciousness. I shake my head to wash the image away. Nothing is going to ruin this chance for me, not even Duh-Wayne.
The competition. It’s my one chance to get out of this town, to have the musical career of my dreams. The winner gets a paid-in-full opportunity to audition for American Singer and the winner of that gets a recording contract. I can almost feel the contract in my hand.
Turning my attention back to the task at hand, I unplug my guitar. As I put my Gibson back into its case, Bean moves from his perch behind his drum set and squats next to me. “Hey, I’ve got to give Stevie a ride home, but after that would you like to go for a cruise?”
“Yeah.” I give him a smile. “I would.”
“Bean. Come on, I’ve got to get home,” Stevie says in a tone that’s not quite impatient.
I stand. “Just let me put this away,” I say, patting my guitar case. I hustle inside and run my guitar up to my room.
When I return to the garage, I hit the button and then sneak under the door as it makes its descent. Stevie’s standing just outside the passenger door, waiting for me to climb into the car next to Bean before he gets in. He’s thoughtful that way.
I climb in and give Bean a nudge and a grin. He grins back and his eyes have that special twinkle that’s just for me.
Stevie scrambles in and closes the door. “Let’s go.”
Bean backs out of the driveway and heads down the road. The Brown Turd rumbles and backfires as he steps on the gas. I’m surprised Mr. Szasbo hasn’t made an appearance, but then I remember his cat. Ever since I saved his kitten, I haven’t heard a complaint from him. Maybe he has warmed toward me.
It takes us fifteen minutes to reach Stevie’s house. A brick ranch with a long front porch and attached two-stall garage. The house doesn’t seem to match my friend. I expected him to live in some bungalow by the sea. Instead, he’s in small town suburbia and it dawns on me that I don’t even know what his parents do for a living.
“I’ll catch you guys tomorrow,” Stevie says with a wave, pulling me from my thoughts.
“Yeah. Tomorrow,” I say with a quick smile. I can’t wait for him to leave so I can be alone with Bean.
“Later, Dude,” Bean yells before rolling up his window. I snuggle up to him as he steps on the gas and heads toward downtown. “So where do you want to go?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. Let’s go someplace where we can talk.”
He winks at me and says, “I know just the place.”
“You’ll see.” He gives me a mischievous smile that sends my heart racing. I love it when he looks at me like that.
We make small talk while he drives to our destination. I’m shocked when we pull into a cemetery. “What are we doing here?”
“You said you wanted to go someplace to talk.” He snickers. “We definitely won’t get interrupted here.”
“No kidding,” I say as I stare out the window. The grave markers go by and I can’t help but think about the people lying beneath the ground. I wonder what kind of lives they had. As I think about these things, I realize there’s a lot of history in this cemetery.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” Bean asks as he grabs my hand. The familiarity of the rough calluses on my skin warms my heart. He stops the car and turns the engine off.
“My mom admitted it.”
“Admitted what?” Bean shifts in his seat and slouches against the driver’s door.
I shift and turn toward him. Before I speak, I rub my fingers along the scar above my right eyebrow. It’s my bastard stamp. I got it the day Duh-Wayne called me a bastard and then laughed when I didn’t know what one was. As I recall the horrific fight we had, a shudder runs through me as I tell him. “She admitted that Jared Miller is my father.”
“What?” Bean sits up straight and bumps his head against the window. Rubbing it he says, “When did all this happen?”
“Last night.” I brush a curl away from my face. “We had a heart-to-heart.”
“Wow.” Bean’s eyes mirror his surprise. “I can’t believe she admitted it.”
“So how did she tell you? Did she come right out and say it?”
“No,” I say as I brush a wayward curl out of my eyes. “I asked her and she finally told me the whole story.”
“Basically, she got pregnant and wouldn’t get an abortion, so he dumped her.”
“Yeah.” I nod. “Can you believe it. The guy’s a total douche bag.”
“So what are you going to do?”
I give him a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”
Bean sniffs and wipes his nose on his sleeve. “Well, are you going to talk to him?”
I shake my head. “No. Mom doesn’t want me to contact him.”
We grow silent. Bean looks out the window and starts drumming on the steering wheel with his fingers. “Do you even know what he looks like?”
“Yeah. I saw a picture of him in one of my mom’s yearbooks.”
Bean continues his drumming. “But you don’t know what he looks like today, right?”
“No I don’t.”
Are you curious?”
“Yeah. I am.” My stomach flutters. “But Mom didn’t want me to contact him.”
“But she didn’t say you couldn’t look at him.”
“True.” I nod and furrow my brow. I have a good idea where Bean is going with this, but I have mixed feelings. “I don’t know if Mom would want me to do that.” I suddenly feel like I’m being disloyal to her somehow, even though just looking at him doesn’t break my promise.
“Let’s just find out where he lives,” Bean says as he nudges me over and positions himself behind the steering wheel. He turns the key and the Brown Turd roars to life. We rumble out of the cemetery and head down the road. “We can just drive by. Your mom will never know.”
“She’s out shopping,” I say in a quiet voice.
“We’ll just drive by.”
“Where are we going?” I ask as the butterflies in my stomach take flight.
“We’ll find a phone book and get his address,” Bean says as he pulls up to the stoplight and turns on his blinker. “Hey did you ever find out if he’s Cassie Miller’s dad?” After he asks me this, he watches a car drive past and then drives out of the cemetery.
“I did ask her. He’s not her dad, he’s her uncle.”
Bean gives me his classic Beaner look and then turns his attention back to the road. “So you and Cassie are cousins?”
“Yeah. Pretty wild, huh?”
“Pretty wild, Chickie.”
“What’s going on?” I sputter as Bean slams on the brakes and I grab the dashboard.
Bean motions with his head. “Mrs. Deakins just ran the red light.” He gives her a friendly wave, but I can see the exasperation in his expression. “I don’t know how she keeps her license.” He pulls up to Pearl’s and parks. “Let’s run in and check out her phone book.”
“All right.” My stomach flutters again as I slide across the front seat and climb out of the car.
Bean grabs my hand and we walk inside. I squint against the dim lighting and listen to the clatter of dishes and the banging of pots as the staff prepares for the evening meal. On Sundays, Pearl’s opens at five and serves a buffet style dinner and that’s it. It’s usually pretty good though, and there have been many Sunday evenings Francine and I have come down for our evening meal. The oily scent of fried chicken wafts past me and my stomach rumbles. I haven’t had fried chicken in a long time, and of course, I’m hungry after our jam session this afternoon.
My stomach gurgles again and Bean hears it this time. “Hungry?” He gives me a grin and pats my stomach. “Why don’t we stay and eat?”
“Awesome idea.” Scanning the area, I search for Marge. She doesn’t have wait staff on her banquet days. I catch a glimpse of her as she bursts from the kitchen carrying a heavy tray of mashed potatoes. “Hello kids,” she says as she rushes past in a breathless blur. “Take a seat.”
We grab a booth close to the buffet table. It’s near the back by the stage where we played on Friday night. Marge stops by our table after depositing the mashed potatoes at the banquet stand. “I’m a little late getting things together tonight. But all the food will be out in a second. What would you kids like to drink?”
Bean and I order sodas and Marge disappears. She’s back seconds later with large drinks and straws. “It’ll be just a few more minutes before the food arrives.”
“It smells awesome,” I say as my stomach rumbles again.
Marge gives me a smile and then vanishes into the kitchen. When she’s gone, Bean leaps from his seat and dashes toward the back. He searches beneath the bar and pulls out a Clarksville phone book. He holds it up in the air and waves it at me with a triumphant grin. Returning, he slides into the seat across from me and opens it up. Scanning the pages, he comes to the Ms. He quickly finds Jared Miller and turns the book so I can read it.
“Twenty fourteen Green Street.” The words roll off my tongue as naturally as if I were saying my own address. “That’s right around here.” I gaze at Bean as my stomach clenches into a painful knot.
Bean winks at me and says, “That’s right, Chickie.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of Marge. She appears from the kitchen carrying a huge tray of steaming fried chicken. Hustling toward the back of the room, she drops the tray off and turns on a heat lamp. The chicken basks in its glow, staying warm before hungry mouths devour it. Marge dashes back to the kitchen, waving at us before she disappears.
“Food’s almost ready.” Bean turns and glances back at the steaming tray. Facing me, he grabs my hand. “Now that we have his address, we can go by his house after we eat.”