Dozens of heads turn all at the same time and the wave of conversations ceases like turning off a faucet.
While Andrew plays the first riff and he’s gearing up to sing the first verse, I’m so terrified inside that I feel like I can’t move anything but my eyes. But the more he plays the more my body can’t help but move in time with the music.
Just about everyone in the place are already swaying and bobbing their heads to the sound.
Andrew starts to sing the first verse.
And then briefly together again: “Ooooh…,”
Then comes the chorus and we both sing the words and I know I’m going to have to hit a high-note in—
I did it!
Andrew smiles deeply at me as he merges right into the next verse, always strumming the guitar without missing a chord as if he’s known how to play this song forever.
The audience is really getting into it. They’re nodding to one another, the kind of nod that says: They’re really good, and I feel my face just light up as I start to sing my part with Andrew again and with gradual confidence. I’m moving my body more naturally to the music now and I think I’ve almost completely shed the fear, but my solo…oh my God, my solo is next…
Andrew locks eyes with me as if to use his gaze as a means to concentrate and stay calm and he strums the guitar.
He stops right in time with the music and taps the edge of the wood before my first line, strums the guitar and stops again, tapping the wood after my second and so on until I hit my last note and Andrew starts to play fully again while he says in a whisper to me: “Flawless,” and then he starts to sing again. He’s grinning so wide. So am I. We press our faces close as we sing our hearts out into the mic during the faster interlude.
The guitar slows and we sing the last chorus together softly and he kisses me on the mouth after we both say: “…soul….” And the song ends.
The audience erupts into claps and cheers. I even hear one guy say: “Encore!” from somewhere in the back.
Andrew pulls me close and kisses me again, pressing his lips hard against mine in front of everyone.
“Holy shit, baby, you did awesome!” His eyes are bright, his entire face lit up by them.
“I can’t believe I did it!” I’m practically screaming at him because the voices all around us are so loud.
I’ve got chill bumps from head to toe.
“Want to do it again?” he asks.
“No, I’m not ready! But I’m glad I did once!”
“I’m so proud of you!”
A few older men walk up with beers clutched in their hands. The one with the beard says, “You’ve gotta dance with me!” He holds his arms up at his sides and does an embarrassing little jig.
My face flushes and I catch Andrew’s grinning eyes.
“But there’s no music!” I say to the man.
“The hell there ain’t!” He points at someone across the room and a few seconds later the jukebox kicks on next to the vending and gaming machine.
I’m so excited that I just got through singing that song on stage that it, along with how bad I’d feel if I told this guy no, makes dancing with him mandatory.
I glance back once more at Andrew and he winks at me.
The bearded man takes my hand, holds it high above my head and I instinctively twirl around. I dance with him through two songs before Andrew ‘saves me’ by smoothly cutting in and pressing my body as close to his as it will go and moves his h*ps around with me on them. His hands are on my waist. We dance and chat with people and even play a game of darts with Carla before finally leaving the bar after midnight.
On the car ride back, Andrew looks over at me and says, “So, how do you feel?” His lips ease into a knowing grin.
“You were right,” I say. “I feel…I don’t know, different, but in a good way—I never thought I would do something like that.”
“Well, I’m glad you did.” He smiles warmly.
I unhook my seatbelt and move over next to him. He drapes his arm around me.
“So, what about tomorrow night?”
“Do you want to sing tomorrow night?”
“No, I don’t think I could—.”
“Ok, that’s fine,” he says, rubbing my arm. “One time is more than I expected, so I’m not going to hound you about it.”
“No,” I say, lifting away and turning at the waist to see him. “You know what? I do. I want to do it again.”
His chin draws back in a surprised motion.
“Yes, really.” I smile with teeth at him.
He does the same.
“Alright then,” he says, hitting the steering wheel softly, “we’ll play tomorrow night.”
Andrew takes me back to the hotel and we have sex in the shower before going to bed.
We stay in New Orleans for two more weeks, playing at Old Point and then making our way to several other bars and clubs all around the city. A month ago, singing and performing live at clubs was probably so far down on the list of things I could ever see myself doing that it would seem ridiculous, but there I was singing my heart out to Barton Hollow and a few other songs where I could mostly shadow Andrew and not be the center of attention. But everybody loved us. So many people stopped us after each performance and shook our hands and asked if we could sing this or that song, to which all of them Andrew declined. I’m still too nervous with this stuff to be able to play by request. And to my dumbfounded surprise, I was even asked for an autograph and a photo with random people more than a couple of times. They must’ve just been really drunk. That’s what I made myself believe because anything else would just be weird.
By the end of those two weeks, Andrew had a new favorite band to add to his list. He loves The Civil Wars as much as I do. And last night, our last night in New Orleans, we lay in bed together and sang along to Poison & Wine coming from the phone beside the bed…and…I think we told each other things through those lyrics that we’ve been wanting to say…
I think we did….
I cried myself quietly to sleep in his arms.
I died and went to heaven. Yeah…I think I’ve finally died.
“YOU NEED TO DO IT, just to make sure,” Marsters said sitting in his clichéd black rolling chair in his clichéd office wearing a clichéd coat.
“There’s no need,” I said, sitting on the other side. “What more is there to say? What more is there to find?”
“No, you know what?—Fuck you.” I stood up, pushing the chair back across the floor and into a plant behind me. “I won’t put myself through that shit.”
I left, slamming his office door behind me so hard the glass shuddered in the frame.
“Andrew! Baby, wake up,” I hear Camryn’s voice. My eyes pop open. I’m still on the passenger’s side of the car. I wonder how long I’ve been asleep.
I lift up and crack my neck to both sides and run a hand over my face.
“Are you OK?”
It’s night. I look over to see Camryn’s concerned gaze fixed on me until her eyes are forced to look at the road out ahead.
“Yeah,” I say, nodding, “I’m fine. I guess I was having a nightmare, but I don’t even remember what it was about,” I lie again.
“You punched the dashboard,” she says, chuckling a little. “Your fist just shot out of nowhere; it scared the shit out of me.”
“I’m sorry, baby.” I lean over smiling and kiss her on the cheek. “How long have you been driving?”
She glances at the glowing numbers on the clock.
“I don’t know, a couple of hours maybe.”
I look up at the next highway sign to see if she did what I said to do and stayed on 90.
“Pull over up there.” I nod to indicate a flat clearing alongside the highway.
She eases off the road and onto broken asphalt, putting the car in park. I start to get out, but she takes my arm and stops me.
I look over at her. She turns the engine off and slips out of her seatbelt.
“I’m going to drive for a while and let you get some sleep.”
“I know,” she says looking over at me somberly.
She drapes the fingers of both hands over the steering wheel and leans back against the seat.
“I’m not so sure about Texas anymore.”
I scoot over next to her.
Finally, she looks at me.
“Because what then?” she asks. “It feels like the last stop. You live there. What is there left to do?”
I know where she’s coming from and I’ve been sharing these fears secretly with her for a while now.
“What’s left is whatever we want to do,” I say.
I turn around on the seat and reach out, taking her chin within my fingertips. “Look at me.”
She does. I see a longing in her eyes, something scared and tortured. I know this because I’m feeling the same thing.
I swallow and then lean in and kiss her carefully.
“We’ll figure it out when we get there, OK?”
She nods reluctantly. I try to force a smile, but it’s hard to do when I know I can’t give her any of the answers she’s looking for. I can’t give her the ones I want to give her.
Camryn moves across the seat and into the passenger’s side while I get out and walk around the car. Two cars pass by, blinding us with their high-beams. I shut the door and sit here for a moment. Camryn’s gazing out her side window, her thoughts undoubtedly in the same frame as most of mine are: lost and uncertain and maybe even afraid. I’ve never felt a connection to anyone like I have with her and it’s killing me slowly. Reaching out to turn the key, I pause with my fingers pressing around the brass. I sigh heavily. “We’ll take the long route,” I say softly, not looking at her, and then the engine roars back to life.
I feel it when she turns her head to look at me.
I glance over. “If you want to.”
A tiny smile gives her face life again. She nods.
I press the power on the CD player and the CD switches itself over. Bad Company starts playing through the speakers. Remembering our agreement, I go to change the music to something else, but Camryn says, “No, leave it,” and her small smile grows even warmer.
I wonder if she remembers that first night we met on the bus, when I asked her to name any song by Bad Company. She had said Ready For Love. And then I said: “Are you?” I didn’t know why I said it then, but I’m realizing now that it wasn’t so wrong, after all. Odd how that’s the song playing right now.
We drive through much of the bottom half of the state of Louisiana and then we stay on 82 all the way into Texas. Camryn is all smiles this morning—despite being in Texas—and seeing her like this only makes me smile. We’ve been driving with the windows rolled down and she’s had her bare feet hanging out for the past hour; all I’ve seen through her side mirror when I try to glimpse the traffic are her cute painted toenails.