by Kim Pritekel with Alexa Hoffman
We walked around campus, the African mask in my hand, my fingers tracing the colorfully painted lines. The mask was large enough that I could wear it if I so desired.
"Thank you, Nat. This is really beautiful." I smiled at my former roommate. She smiled back.
"Well, as soon as I saw it I knew it was for you. The woman told me it is a pumzisha mask, which means to give someone peace." I looked at her; she was smiling proudly.
"Thank you." I turned and gave her a hug, smiling at the feel of human contact. Before Dag came into my life again, I had never been one for the touchy, feely kind of stuff. She had taught me that it was okay, and was actually enjoyable. Oh boy, was it. We continued to walk.
"Have you found peace?" She grinned, nudging my shoulder with hers. I smiled, looking down at the ground so she wouldn't see the extent of my happiness. I felt shy all the sudden, but nodded.
"Yes and no." I turned to her. "Dagny and I worked things out, Nat, and um, well, we're kind of a couple." I looked at her, almost afraid of what her reaction would be. Last fall when she'd returned to school from her summer-long missionary thing she had been even closer to God then usual. I wasn't sure how she'd react to this. She looked at me, then away, but a smile was firmly in place.
"You know something, Chase? Before I came to school I was just as involved in my church as I am now, if not more so. After all, I did have more time, then. I do admit, I was quite close minded, even though science is my biggest passion next to God. I think of how much I've grown, and I think I owe a lot of that to you." She looked at me, then turned to watch a group of guys playing football.
"Well, for starters, when I first saw you, when I smacked you with the door that first day, I thought, oh, Lord, what have you done to me." She laughed, so did I.
"Oh, great. Thanks." She patted my arm. "But as I got to know you, and saw you with those kids that first year during our Thursday night bible studies, I realized there was so much more to you then what met the eye." She indicated a bench, and we sat. "You're filled with depth, Chase. There's so much love inside you, and a great need that I never could quite understand. But, if Dagny fills both the love and the need, then who am I to say any different?" I looked at her, stunned. "And besides, haven't you guys been a couple for like two years now?"
"Well, wasn't that what the deal was after Christmas? You two broke up, right?" I laughed, shaking my head.
"Nah. We were never a couple, Natalie." I was thoroughly amused. What I had wished for, and didn't think I had a chance of getting, my roommate had thought was there the entire time. I guess it did make sense, though. I mean, we spent every single available moment together, and Dag was all I had talked about. Poor girl.
"Oh, well then I'm doubly glad it worked out."
"Wow. Why couldn't you be my mother?" She looked at me, brows drawn.
"I'll tell you later. But, thank you. I'm not really sure what to say."
"You've said it all, Chase. I had a feeling this was the case from the start, so I'm not so surprised, you know? You're a great person, a talented person, and I think you and Dagny are lucky to have found each other again. I tell you, it's too bad you're not a writer, Chase. Well, beyond music, that is. You could write your story down and make millions." She grinned and winked.
"Yeah, that'd be nice." I smiled, putting my arm around her shoulders. "I'm going to miss you this year, Nat."
"Me, too. I'm glad to finally get my own place, though."
"Oh man, I hear you. Dorm life is for the birds."
"Stay in touch?"
"Oh, hell yeah!" She smiled.
"Don't say that. It's a naughty word."
"I've missed you."
"Me, too, Chase. So tell me about this mother thing."
I stepped up to the microphone, adjusting it to my height.
"Good evening, everyone." I grinned into it.
"Hey, the prodigal daughter returns!" someone yelled up to me. I smiled, waving.
"Hey there, Danny. Yup, I'm back and feeling good, so I hope y'all are ready to rock out there." The patrons cheered, whooping away as the band began to play, and I dug into the music. I looked around at everyone as I sang, seeing my girl sitting with her table of friends, talking and laughing. Just like old times, but better. She looked at me, and my heart fell to my knees. I winked at her in return, receiving a smile and a salute before she turned back to her friends.
It wasn't long before we had the place on its feet, everyone either singing along or dancing, having a wonderful time. I had never had so much fun on stage. My heart was light, my spirit on the way to healing. Life was good.
"Okay, don't any of you go anywhere. Just spend some more money, get drunk, and we'll be back." I stepped away from the mic, setting Than on the guitar stand.
"Wow, whatever you've been taking, can I have some?" I turned to see Terrie smiling at me. I grinned and nodded.
"I think I should bottle Dag and sell it. I'd make millions."
"The feel good serum for the new millenium?" I nodded.
"You got it. How was your summer?" We headed downstairs to the bar.
"It's been good, busy. Give me a vodka rocks, Greg." He set out to get our drinks as we leaned on the bar. "I met someone." I looked at her.
"No shit?" She smiled.
"Oh man, that's great. What's she like?"
"Hey, baby. You were fantastic." I turned to see Dagny walking up to us. She grabbed me for a monster hug. Terrie stood by, watching. I took Dagny in my arms, holding her tightly to me. Though she was in the room, watching and listening to us, she was still too far away. I tried to persuade her to join us on stage before the first set, but she said that a cat in heat sings better then she does.
"Thank you." I kissed her.
"Hey, Dagny. How are you?" We turned to look at Terrie who stood, feet set wide apart, thumbs hooked into her belt loops.
"Terrie. Not bad, how about yourself?" Dagny put her arm around my waist, moving in close to me. Terrie chuckled at the possessive move.
"Not bad. She did great, huh?" She nodded toward me, looking at me with pride.
"Yeah, she did. Kicked some major butt out there." Terrie laughed.
"You two enjoy the break." She took the drink Greg had left on the bar, and walked away.
"She met someone," I said, nuzzling my face in Dag's hair.
"Good. She can leave you alone." I chuckled.
"Babe, she's no threat. I think you've made more than clear who I belong to." She looked into my eyes as a slow smile broke out across her lips.
"Belong to me? Are you mine?" I smiled, shaking my head with disbelief that this incredible creature would want me to be, would care enough to ask. I brought my hand up, caressing the side of her face with the backs of my fingers. I nodded.
"Oh, yeah. You had me from the time I was eight years old. You became my standard." She just stared at me. Funny time to make the parallel, but it reminded me of when you talk to a faithful furry friend, the way they stare into your face as if you're their entire world, their reason for living. I could only hope this was true with Dagny. "I love you."
"I love you, too." She sighed with contentment, and kissed me again. I heard someone clear their throat from behind the bar. I turned to see Greg staring at us.
"You two wanna get a room?"
"Bite me." He laughed as he walked away to help other customers. I turned back to Dag to see she was staring at something over my shoulder. She looked at me, indicating with a nod for me to look. I did, and stopped cold. Carla stood behind me, her hands clasped nervously in front of her. When she saw she had my attention, she smiled.
"Want me to stay?" Dag asked, her voice low. I shook my head, squeezing her hand.
"I'll be over at the table in a few."
"Okay." Dagny glanced at my sister one more time, then walked away. I fully turned to Carla and just looked at her.
"Um, can we sit?" I nodded, still staying quiet. I wasn't sure what I was feeling, my body suddenly cold, my stomach in emotional knots. I wasn't sure if I should cry from the memory, or if I should be angry and mean, or if I should just fall into her arms, relieved to see a family member.
We found a table off all by its lonesome, and sat, her a bit stiff and rigid, me relaxed and cocky. But, ready to bolt at any given time.
"So, um, how have you been, Chase?"
"Been great. Yourself?" she shrugged and sighed.
"Okay, I guess. Had a horrible summer."
"Funny that." She smiled ruefully, but said nothing.
"You were fantastic up there," she said, her voice quiet. As I looked at her, I could see her eyes were a bit too moist. Was she going to cry? "I had no idea. Why did you never tell any of us?"
"And what good would that have done, Carla? I'm the fucking leper of the family. Do you think it can be fixed with a song? I don't think so."
"True. But you do have a wonderful voice and talent." I only stared at her. I didn't want her compliments to mean anything. "I wasn't so sure what to expect when I came here tonight, as you know bars have never done much for me." She smiled. "But this isn't bad. I have to tell you, you just about made mom drop her teeth when you told her you were singing in a bar." She chuckled lightly.
"I don't want to talk about her," I said, my voice like steel.
"Okay, Chase. Whatever you want."
"Whatever I want? Oh, that's a bunch of bullshit if I've ever heard it." I sat up straighter, my emotions beginning to lean a bit to the angry side at the mention of my mother. "It's never been what I want, Carla. You seem to forget, you're the perfect golden child here, not me. You don't have the slightest clue about what it's like to feel like an outsider in your own fucking family."
"Chase, please calm down. I didn't come here to fight with you."
"Why did you come here?" I glared at her.
"I came to apologize. I never meant for what happened to happen. I really just wanted to help you, Chase."
"How the fuck do you figure opening your goddamn mouth was going to help me? Then you have the balls to spend the day with me and Dagny, knowing what was in your little brain to do? Jesus! Talk about betrayal."
"Chase, it wasn't supposed to happen that way. I know how disapproving mom and dad have always been. I've never understood it, but I knew it was there. I thought maybe they would take it better if they heard it from me, maybe it would soften the blow, you know?" She looked down. "It was shitty of me not to do anything about it, and I'm sorry. I think I just got so caught up in my own little world of achieving that I never gave any thought to your side of it." She took a breath, staring at me with pleading eyes. "I know I messed up, that goes without saying. But doesn't it mean anything that I'm here?"
"Does the expression 'too little, too late' mean anything to you?"
We were both silent for a moment, Carla looking down at her hands in her lap, me looking out toward the stage. I really wanted to be there right now. Finally my sister sighed.
"Well, however you want to take it, I was just really trying to help you guys. I can't apologize for that, Chase. I just went about it the wrong way, and for that, I am sorry." I said nothing. "I've noticed you haven't sent in your RSVP for the wedding." I looked at her.
"I don't know that I'm going." She looked down again, stung.
"I'd like to make a request." She looked at me. "That's what you do with a singer, right?" I just stared. Where was she heading with this?
"I want you to sing at my wedding, Chase." My jaw dropped. What?
"I want you to sing at my wedding." She lifted her chin.
"What, is this some sort of sick door prize for fucking up my relationship with your parents? Trying to butter my bread?"
"No. You have immense talent, and I haven't been supportive of you in the past. I want to say I'm sorry for that, and show it in the only way I know how, circumstances being what they are. Watching you up there tonight, you had that audience in the palm of your hand, which with a bunch of drunks, I can't imagine that's easy to do." She smiled weakly. "You're wonderful, and I'm proud of you." She swallowed and looked away as tears began to gather in her blue eyes. She angrily swiped at them before turning back to me. "Chase, you're doing what I've dreamed of my entire life."
"No! Living your own life! I'm doing what I want to do as far as being a doctor. I've always wanted to follow in dad's footsteps, but I've always had a spotlight on me. Hell, I should make an even better entertainer than you do." I chuckled softly. "I've hated it, but I found out a long time ago that it's easier to just go along with it, let mom and dad have their little pride fest, and then do my own thing later. Well later never came."
"And whose fault is that? I'm not about to sit here and feel sorry for you because you let yourself become a puppet, Carla."
"I know. I'm not asking for your sympathy, Chase. I'm just venting. You've ruined my chances of ever telling mom and dad how I really feel. How am I supposed to top that?" I grinned, but looked down. I didn't want her to think she was out of the soup, yet. "Well, anyway. I've said what I came to say." She looked me in the eye, reaching across the table to grab one of my hands. "Chase, please think about my wedding. If you choose not to sing, well, that is your choice. But please come. You and Dagny both."
"I have to go, Carla. It's time for the second set." Without another word or even a glance, I stood and hurried back to the stage.
"You okay?" I looked at Terrie, concern in her eyes. "Who is that? Want me to fuck her up for you?" Grinning, I patted the drummer on the shoulder.
"Thanks, but no. I'm fine." I grabbed Than, and got ready for the next song. As the show went on, I looked around, trying to see if Carla was still at the bar or not, then was shocked to see her talking to Dag. They were standing near the bathrooms, and seemed to be having a decent conversation. What the hell was she trying to do with my life?
"Comfortable?" I asked, completely amused. She nodded and kissed my neck.
"You know, it's funny. I never thought I'd actually enjoy snuggling up with someone who was all sticky and smelly. Especially when it gets so hot." I stroked her back and hair. "Guess I was wrong."
"Well good. I'm glad to throw a wrench in your theories." I chuckled.
"I'm sure you are. You definitely have done that."
"Besides, it's because of you that I'm sticky and smelly."
"Yeah, yeah. And boy, did I have a good time accomplishing that."
"You better have." She pushed herself up on an elbow, staring down into my face, smiling. "You're so beautiful, Chase."
"No, that would be you."
"Oh, I disagree completely. I've never seen a more beautiful spirit." I stared at her, in awe for the one millionth time that day alone.
"You make me get so cheesy. You have a talent for that, I think." She smiled.
"So do you." She leaned in and kissed me, running her hands through my hair. "I love you," she said when the kiss finally ended, leaving me breathless.
"I love you, too."
Dagny laid back down against me, her head on my shoulder, body halfway on top of mine.
"I must say I was shocked to see Carla show up tonight," she said, running a finger along my collarbones.
"Me, too. I saw you guys talking."
"Yeah. She was apologizing to me."
"That was nice." I kept my voice even and low. I still wasn't sure how I felt about this yet, and didn't quite know how to act with Dag.
"You know, babe, the wedding invitation has been hung on the fridge with a magnet for over two months now."
"Well, are you going to send in the RSVP?"
"Carla brought that up tonight, too." I sighed, turning my head to look at the window.
"Do you not want to talk about this?" Dag gently caressed my shoulder and arm.
"I don't know. I don't know what to do, Dag." I looked at her. "It's because of her that my family is so fucked up, and I've been kicked out of the flock."
"Babe, please don't take this the wrong way, but your parents always had a warped view of you and Carla. What Carla did definitely didn't help things, but I think you and I both know the reaction would have been bad regardless of how it came about." When I didn't say anything or bite her head off, she continued. "Carla is the only sister you've got, or will ever have. I know you guys haven't been close in the past, babe, but why throw it away? If your mom wants to be a bitch, then let her. But Carla is really trying to make this up to you."
"But Dag, she had no right!"
"No, she didn't. I believe that she honestly thought if she broke the news to your parents first, the daughter who is their guiding light, their precious little angel, then maybe things would go better for you. I truly don't think she thought what happened would have happened anymore then you did."
"Are you defending her?" I asked, my brows drawn as I felt anger building. Dagny put her hand on my chest, pushing herself up so she could look into my face.
"No, babe, I'm not. I'm just trying to be the voice of reason for you, who is very, understandably, emotionally driven right now. All I'm saying is think about your decision before you make it. Obviously you're doing that as proof sits on the fridge door."
"She wants me to sing," I said, my voice quiet as indecision really began to set in.
"What did you say?"
"A whole bunch of mean things."
"Which you're justified in saying." She kissed my forehead. "Listen, Chase, I'm not trying to tell you what you should do or shouldn't do, I'm just trying to give you some food for thought. Okay?" I nodded, looked at her and smiled.
"That's what I'm here for."
The wedding was in a month, and I had still yet to come to a decision, though I knew which way I was leaning. Hell, part of me wanted to go just to piss my mother off.
He and I were to be in a room with a two-way mirror where Dagny and the psychologist could observe.
I read Jesse's file to try and see what exactly it was that had this poor little boy so far within himself. He was eight years old and lived with his grandmother. A year and a half ago he had seen his father, a twenty-five year old drug dealer, shot to death near Jesse's house on the Native American reservation where they lived just outside of town. Since then, he has refused to speak.
Ava, his grandmother, said he is fascinated by guns now, and does nothing but draw them.
Dagny and I sat in the room where Jesse and his grandmother would be soon, pouring over his file and discussing our approach.
"Do you think he'll be upset by my presence?" I asked, setting Melo aside. She shrugged.
"I really don't know. This is a total experiment, Chase. I hope it works, but don't really have a whole lot of expectations. I've been seeing this little boy for over a year and still haven't gotten anywhere with him." Her shoulders slumped, and she sighed. "God, am I cut out to do this?"
"Babe, he's got some serious stuff to deal with." I put my hands on her arms. "You're wonderful with him, and with what you do. You have been given a very tough nut to crack. Well, so to speak." I grinned, so did she. "I have every confidence in you, Dag."
"Thanks. I wish I did."
There was a knock at the door. Dagny closed the manila folder, and put on a smile as Jesse and Ava walked in. I could tell she was really nervous, and I wished so badly that I could give her one last comforting hug, but this was not the time nor the place.
"Hey, Jesse. How are you today?" He looked at her and shrugged. "Do you remember Chase?" She indicated me, and I smiled and waved. He looked at me and the edges of his lips turned up in a tiny grin. Good sign. "She was in the waiting room when you were last spring." He nodded, and Dag looked to me. I knelt down to be on his level, but he backed away from me. I held my ground, staying where I was.
"Hey, Jesse. How are you? My name is Chase Marin, but you can call me Chase, okay?" He just looked at me. "We'll talk more, soon. Okay?"
"Jesse, Chase wants to talk to you today, okay? Are you alright with that? If we leave you in here with her?" He looked from Dagny to me then at his grandmother, who had been spoken with a few days earlier in regards to the experiment. She nodded at him and smiled.
"She's a real nice lady, honey. She won't hurt you," Ava said. He looked back at me, his dark eyes curious but leery.
"Well, you two have a wonderful time, and we'll see you real soon, okay, Jesse?" Dag smiled charmingly at the boy, and then she and the grandmother walked out of the room. I walked over to the table that sat in the middle of the room, two chairs waiting to be sat in. My guitar sat in the corner.
"Do you like music, Jesse?" The boy stared at me for a moment, a good ten feet separating us. Finally he nodded, looking over at the guitar with curious eyes. "Do you know what that is?" He shook his head, eyes still on the black case. "That, my little friend, is a guitar." He looked back at me, his eyes wide. "Have you ever seen a guitar before?" He nodded. "In real life?" No. "Would you like to?" He just looked at me, taking a step away from me as I slowly made my way to the guitar. I smiled, trying to reassure him that I would not hurt him.
I grabbed Melo, unzipping the case to take her out. I watched Jesse from the corner of my eye. He noticed every move, but began to explore the room. We had some toys set out in one corner. He walked over to those, fingering a few, but not showing any real interest.
I placed my guitar on the table and stepped away from it.
"Would you like to touch it?" He shook his head no, but his eyes told another story. "Do you like to sing, Jesse?" He shook his head. "Do you like music?" Again, no. I smiled. "I happen to know you like to hum. You did with me, remember?" No response. His big, dark eyes just looked at me, flitting to Melo off and on. I recalled the song in my mind that I had been humming that day so long ago it seemed, and began to quietly hum it again. Jesse stared at me when he heard sound, then the tiniest of smiles appeared at the corner of his mouth. I hummed a bit louder. It didn't take long before he began to hum, too. It was low, barely audible, but there all the same.
I reached for Melo, making my movement small. The boy reminded me of a skittish rabbit. I was shocked he was doing as well as he was, considering it was just me and him in this strange room. I had the feeling there was a lot to this little boy.
Getting the guitar into position, I began to play a song, soft and simple. Something that could go with the song I was humming. He watched my fingers as they danced across the chords, his eyes large and curious. I stopped humming, wondering what he'd do. He also stopped, looking at me as though I'd just stepped on his toe.
"Want to continue?" He took a moment, thinking over an answer, then slowly nodded. "How about I sing? Want to sing with me?" He didn't answer, didn't nod or shake his head. I started to strum again, and began to sing a simple little song that he could easily follow along with if he chose.
I played on and sang for another half an hour when someone knocked on the door. Immediately Jesse's wall went up, and any distance that he'd crawled out of himself today was gone in a heartbeat. Dagny opened the door, and smiled at me, then turned to her patient.
"Hey, Jesse. How are you?" I looked at her, and said nothing, but I think Dag saw what I did; there was a tiny spark in his eyes, like there was a little boy in there somewhere who wanted to just jump out and play.
Jesse sat on a chair as his grandmother talked to Dagny and I.
"I'm not surprised at all that he is reacting to the music. When he was a baby, his grandpa used to play for him." She looked at her grandson and smiled sadly. "I wish my little boy would come back to me." She sighed heavily. "Well, thank you, girls. We'll see you next week, Dagny."
"See you then, Ava. Bye, Jesse." He looked at her, put up his little hand for a nearly nonexistent wave, and walked out of the office. Dag turned to me and smiled before grabbing me in a huge hug.
"Whoa! What's this for?" I held her close.
"We feel this was a success today, babe," she said, her voice low so as not to be overheard. "You did a fantastic job."
"Really? Damn, and I didn't think I had gotten anywhere with him."
"Are you kidding? You got further in an hour than I have in a year. I don't know what your magic touch is, but damn, you've got it. Will you do this again for us, Chase?" I looked at her, stunned.
"Uh, yeah. Sure." Another hug.
I picked up the cordless, tossing it from hand to hand as I thought. This would be it, I would have to see my parents, sing in front of my family for the first time. I could be putting Dagny through some unpleasantness. I had no idea how my mother would treat her. But, I did know that she could handle herself, probably much better then I could with them.
I dialed the number, listening to the ringing of the phone. Part of me wished she wasn't home, and I could just leave a message on her answering-
"Hello?" or not. I took a deep breath, running a hand through my hair.
"You got one song. If the food is good, maybe two. And, I will not wear a dress."
"What? Who is this?"
"Your sister." I sat back against the couch, my heart beating wildly in my chest.
"Chase?" asked my surprised sister.
"Do you have any other sisters I don't know about?" She laughed softly.
"No. So are these your conditions to sing at my wedding?"
"Yes they are."
"Does this mean, have you,"
"Forgiven you? No. It just means I'll agree to go to and sing at your wedding."
"Oh, Chase." Carla's voice instantly became thick as I imagined the tears in her eyes. "Thank you, thank you, thank you. I really didn't think you were going to do it."
"Neither did I, to be honest." I grabbed the invitation, looking at it, my hands needing something to do to get rid of some of the nervousness.
"Is Dagny coming, too?"
"She said she'll go if I do, so I guess so."
"That's good. She's a really great person, Chase."
"I know she is. That's why I fell in love with her." My sister was quiet for a moment, I figured trying to process what I had just told her.
"I'm glad, Chase. You seem really happy, and so does Dagny. I hope you guys stay that way."
"Thanks." I sighed. "Look, I'm going to go. Send me a list of songs you'd like to hear so I can get a hold of some lyrics, okay?"
"Yeah. I can email those to you. Take care, Chase. Okay?"
"Yeah. You do the same."
"Um, well, bye."
I pressed the off button, and stared at the phone. Lord, had I done the right thing?
"Come on, babe. You won't even try it on for me?" Dag laughed, that evil spark in her eye that I loved. But, not enough to try on a cocktail dress for her.
"Not in a million years."
"Okay, okay. You're no fun." She put the dress back on the rack, looking around the Talbots store.
"Are you sure we should be here, Dag? This place is, like, way too expensive." I eyed merchandise as we walked through the quiet store.
"Sure. The thing is, you have to be able to find a good sale. Come with me, oh doubtful one. We'll get you something. If not here, then somewhere."
We shopped and we shopped, and we shopped some more. Have I ever mentioned I'm not a big fan of shopping? True to her word, Dagny ended up finding us both really nice outfits for the wedding. For herself she found a beautiful skirt set, a long, black matte jersey skirt with a slit up the side to the knee, and a sleeveless black and silver top. Definitely sexy. For me I picked a pants suit in black, the pants the same material as Dag's skirt. It was fitted and, according to my girlfriend, fit me just right in all the right places.
A great deal of time, and a hefty chunk of change later, we headed home with our bags in tow.
We sat in the same room, Melo at my side. My goal for this session was to get the boy to play with the guitar. I would sacrifice a guitar string or two for this kid's mental health and well-being.
"See, this chord makes this sound." I plucked a string, letting the sound die off. Jesse watched, obvious interest on his face. "Did you like that?" He nodded. "This one makes this sound." He watched me do it, then looked up into my face to see my reaction to it. "Kind of neat, huh?" Again he nodded, giving me a small smile. "You know what I think, big guy? I think you want to talk to me, and I think you want to play this guitar. Am I right?" He looked at me, but did not shake his head. I had come to find that this was him being indecisive. If he truly didn't want something, he shook his head outright. But, I had a chance if he wasn't sure. I put the guitar on the table, and slid it over to him. "Try it."
Jesse looked at me, startled for a moment, but then when he realized I wasn't coming with the instrument, he stayed where he was, and stared at it. He looked up at me one more time before slowly reaching out to touch the neck, but quickly withdrew his hand.
"You're doing fine, Jesse. Go for it," I urged. He grabbed it, pulling the guitar toward him. He looked at me, his big dark eyes wide with surprise. "Kind of heavy, isn't it?" He nodded, I smiled. To my absolute delight, he smiled back. The small boy took the instrument, and set it in his lap, against his body as he had seen me do. The thing was huge for him, his arm barely able to make it over the body to the chords. An idea struck me upside the head.
Dagny and I lay in bed later that night, Jesse still on my mind.
"I can't believe I got him to take the guitar," I said, staring up at the ceiling. I pulled Dag a little closer, her body half laying on mine again, her usual, favorite place.
"I know. Levy and I nearly jumped for joy, and Ava was beside herself." She laughed, kissing my neck. "You weave some magic, Chase."
"Nah. It's just trying to understand Jesse. God, I want to help that kid so bad."
"I'd say you're well on your way, baby."
"Dude, when did you start singing for weddings?" Doug asked as we packed up our gear from rehearsal. "Did you rent some cheesy tux, too?"
"Fuck you, Doug," I said with a smile. He put his arm around my shoulders as he walked me to my car.
"You'll go out there and kick some serious ass, kid. Good luck to you."
"Thanks, man. God, I hate this kind of shit." I put my guitars in the trunk of my car.
"What shit? You do this twice a week, Chase."
"Yeah, but in a bar in front of a bunch of drunks. Not in front of a bunch of stodgy people in gowns and tuxedos."
"Ah, it'll still be in front of a bunch of drunks, believe me. Just sing later in the night so people will really be gone by then." I grinned.
"I try. You'll kill 'em, kid."
"Thanks. See you tomorrow night."
"Babe, will you stop? Everything'll be fine," Dag yelled to me from the bedroom.
"No, I'll make an ass out of myself. Why the hell am I doing this?" I walked to the bedroom to see Dag standing in front of the dresser mirror putting her earrings in. She looked at my reflection.
"Babe, you'll do just fine. You know the song, know what you're doing. Just put yourself at Gotfry's. You have absolutely no problem singing there, right?" I shook my head. "Alright then." She turned to me, looking me over. "My god you look good." I saw the look in her eyes, and knew we had to get out of there before it wasn't just sweat that was on my clothes.
We walked out of the bedroom, and as we did I lagged behind a bit, looking my lover up and down, too. Holy shit, is it legal to be so damn sexy?
Dagny stopped to grab the handbag she'd bought with her outfit, and I stepped up behind her, hugging her, pressing her body to mine.
"You are so unbelievably beautiful," I whispered into her ear before giving it a quick lick.
"Oh, you are so mean," she moaned. I chuckled evilly, bringing my hands up to cup her breasts. "You better stop now, Chase, or we will never get out of here."
"Okay. We'll just stay here and make love all day, and stay in bed eating chocolate. How does that sound?" Dag turned in my arms and glared playfully.
"You are such a baby." She kissed me lightly on the lips. "Come on, baby. We have to go."
"Okay." I felt like a child, sulking all the way to the car. I knew Dagny was right, and I would never forgive myself if I didn't go, but my stomach was in knots, and I wanted to throw up. Why had I agreed to sing? Going and having to see my parents again was one thing, but having to sing in front of them? I must be suicidal.
The church where Carla had chosen to have her wedding was beautiful. Todd was Catholic, so she had converted so they could be married in a Catholic ceremony. Man, were those things long.
When we had arrived at the Cathedral I had not seen my parents. We decided to sit in the back. Well, I decided to. Dagny tried to get me to proudly march up that center aisle and sit my butt down with the family. I couldn't bring myself to do it. The thought of my mother staring at me during the entire ceremony was just too much for me to handle. Besides, sitting in the back we could get out first. Yeah, right.
The ceremony ended, and I nearly sprinted out the door, Dagny following close by.
"Hold on there, stud. I can't run in heels."
"I'm sorry." I slowed as we got closer to Freud. Dagny walked with me, glancing at me from time to time.
"Are you okay, babe?" she whispered. I nodded.
"God, she looked so beautiful, Dag," I said, my voice nearly choking up. My sister had chosen an ivory gown with lots of satin and lace and beadwork. I'm sure it had cost a small fortune. Todd and all his groomsmen had been in black tuxedos, Todd's bow tie and vest had been ivory satin. Together they had looked incredible.
"Yeah, she did. Todd looked so handsome." She sighed. "Did you see your mom?" I shook my head as I climbed into the passenger side of the SUV. "She was gorgeous, wearing a white and blue dress. She looked really good. Your dad, too."
"You know, I used to dream about my dad giving me away when I got married. The crazy thing is, I never wanted to get married." I smiled at her. "Now I know why." I squeezed the hand that was in mine. "But, I remember as a kid seeing it in movies where the father gave the daughter away, and he'd get choked up." I felt my throat tighten as I looked out the window. "I've really hurt them, Dag."
"Babe, you did what you had to do. You have a right to live your own life, Chase." I looked at her, trying to believe every word she said. I knew she was right, but it still hurt.
"I know. And I want you to understand that I don't regret a moment of it, okay?" She nodded. We pulled up to a stop light, and she looked over at me. "I love you, Dag. It just hurts that my family has to be such assholes, and not give me the chance to live my own life without it being on their terms. Why couldn't today be a great day for all of us? They love you, so why couldn't they just accept the fact that you and I are more than just friends but we're still the same people we always were." I looked out the side window. "I don't get it."
"Neither do I, babe. Neither do I."
We arrived at the hall for the reception. Lots of cars were already there, and I started to get butterflies in my stomach again. The time for me to sing was coming near, and I was terrified. This would officially be the largest crowd I'd ever sung in front of, but despite the large numbers, I was really only afraid of one person. How sad was that?
Carla, Todd, his parents and mine all stood at the door to greet the guests coming in. God, I didn't want this. I had to grit my teeth to stop myself from running or crying. Dag was behind me, her hand discretely on my back for comfort, especially the closer we got to the heart of my family. We had to go through the wedding party, first. Finally it was our turn to see Carla and Todd.
"Chase." My sister pulled me into a tight hug when she saw me. Finally letting me go, she looked at me. "You look really nice," she said, approval in her voice.
"What, were you afraid I'd show up in jeans and a tank?"
"It crossed my mind." She grinned.
"Yeah, yeah." I hugged her again, all the feelings I had had before seeming to shrink under the idea of my sister married. "I can't believe it," I said, trying to not choke up.
"I know. Pretty amazing, isn't it?" I looked at the two of them, looking so much in love.
"Good luck you guys."
"Thank you, Chase," Todd said, smiling.
"Are you ready to do this?" Carla asked.
"I don't know. I haven't seen her since April. God, what will she say to me?"
"I meant the singing."
"Oh." I grinned, embarrassed. Guess you know what was on my mind. "Yeah, I think so."
"I can't wait," she said. "We'll see you in there. Hey, Dagny."
"Congratulations, Carla." The voices faded to the back of my mind as my mother came into view. She was two people ahead in the line, and her eyes were on me as she waited for the next person to pass by. The look on her face was that of contempt. That was all it took. My mushy center had turned hard and cold. If she wanted to play it this way, so could I.
I congratulated Todd's parents, and moved my way up to my mother. I walked in front of her, deciding to stop. I turned to face her, her eyes boring into mine. Her jaw was set, her chin raised. I did the same. It was a silent stand-off, mother against daughter, though no one would win. No one ever did.
Finally I had had enough, and I turned away, not saying a word, moving on to my father. Dagny smiled at my mother, but she didn't see Dag as worthy enough for her precious time. Moving up behind me, Dagny walked away from her, seemingly unfazed by the coldness.
"Hello Chase," my father said. His shoulders were slumped and he looked tired.
"How are you?"
"I want to talk to you later," he said quietly.
"Sure. I'll be around." With a nonchalant shrug, I moved on.
"Dagny," he said, his voice stern, strong.
"Mr. Marin," she said, hers just as polite.
"Are you okay, baby?" Dag asked quietly as we made our way into the hall. I nodded, not trusting my voice to speak. Never in my life had I experienced something so pointless, so absolutely ridiculous than the way my mother acted just now. I was appalled, surprised, hurt and angry. Would this ever end?
Dinner was served, prime rib and salad and incredible desserts. I had no idea how Carla and Todd had managed to pay for all this. I'm sure my parents helped out. Hell, they won't help me with my college education anymore, but by god let's give Carla one hell of a wedding.
We sat at a table with strangers, my parents at the family table with the happy couple and Todd's brother. I had never felt so uncomfortable in all my life. I just wanted to sing my song and leave.
I wasn't sure if the folks we sat with were part of Todd's family, or friends of theirs from school, but Dag had started to chat with the guy who sat next to her. Soon they had me into the conversation, and I began to feel a bit better, like people actually did see me. It wasn't long after that, that the bride and groom were up on the stage.
"Can I have your attention, please?" Todd said into the microphone, looking around at all of the guests. Silverware clattered as people stopped eating, and gave him their attention. "First of all, I'd like to thank you all for coming. This has truly been a wondrous day for us." He looked at my sister and smiled. "Though I have to admit, I'm not sure which bill I'll be paying for longer, my wedding or med school." This got a chuckle from people, even from me. "As I get older I discover more and more about life and the people in it. People do shape your life. They can make it a wonderful experience," again he looked at Carla, "or they can make it pure hell." I glanced over at my mother, surprised to see her looking down at her hands. "I want to thank Carla Marin, yes she's keeping her last name, for being who she is, and for agreeing to be my wife." I looked at my sister, who had tears in her eyes. He leaned over and kissed her. This won a round of "Awww," and applause. Carla took the microphone.
"Hello, everyone. You know, going into this, I had no idea these dresses were such a pain to get into." Again, I chuckled. Who knew my sister and Todd had a sense of humor? Huh. "But, it's all worth it." She turned adoring eyes on her new husband. I felt a hand on my leg under the table, and turned to see Dag smiling at me. I smiled back, squeezing her fingers. "Thank you, Todd, for asking me to be in your life. I love you." Another kiss. Normally I would have been plenty irritated by now, but I did understand. As I looked at Dagny I realized just what love could make you do, and how funny you looked doing it.
"Everyone, I'd like to introduce a very special person who will be singing for us." My head jerked back to the stage to see Todd at the mic again. He looked over at us and smiled at me. "Carla's baby sister, Chase. Come on up, Chase." The guests clapped, and I stood on shaky legs, feeling like a brand new colt trying to walk for the first time.
"Good luck, baby," Dag whispered. I smiled at her.
I glanced over at my parents as I headed for the stage. My father looked surprised, but interested. My mother, furious.
Climbing the stairs to the stage, suddenly my suit felt about three sizes too tight. God, this sucked. The band they had hired was getting set up behind me, and I took several deep breaths, trying to get my nerves under control. I ran through the words to the song in my head.
"You ready?" the lead guitarist asked. I turned to him and nodded. Stepping up to the mic, I tried to focus my attention on Todd and Carla, but it was difficult as they were seated right next to my parents. Seeing the look of contempt on my mother's face was almost too much to take.
"Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I am so happy for my sister and Todd. They make a great couple, don't they?" I began to clap for them, and soon the guests caught on and clapped also. Hey, I had to do something to avert my attention from what I was about to do. "This song is dedicated to them." The music started, and I closed my eyes for a moment, waiting for my cue, and trying to get into the state of mind that I used at Gotfry's. Just forget about what you're revealing to a room full of perfect strangers. Just do it, and love it.
As I began to sing, my nerves melted off my like butter. The words were taking over, and their meaning; love, life and happiness. I smiled at the newlyweds as I sang of these things, forgetting about my mother and her pettiness. This was Carla and Todd's day.
The guests listened, many of them getting lost in the song themselves. I was grateful; it went off without a hitch. The song ended, and I was met with thunderous applause, including that of my father. My mother only stared, her mouth open, her eyes wide. Yeah, eat it up.
Todd stood up. "Let's hear it for Chase Marin." A new round of applause, Dag looking like she was about to burst with pride, her hands pounding together. I smiled at her, and she smiled back at me, letting me know I had done good. "How about another, Chase?" Yet a third round.
"Um, sure. Any requests?"
"Do some Elvis for us." Todd grinned, rubbing his wife's arm. My sister had loved The King since we were kids.
"Okay." I turned to the band and told them what I had in mind, and gladly they agreed. I stepped back up to the microphone, and let the music begin. This time I looked around the room at the guests, then finally to Dag, telling her through song how I Can't Help Falling In Love. She looked at me, the biggest smile on her face. I could tell she was trying to hold back the emotion. I loved when my singing made her cry. It meant that what I felt had successfully been transferred to her. I loved her with my entire heart, and I wanted her to know it.
To my surprise, Todd and Carla stood and headed for the dance floor right in front of the stage. I watched them, young love. Life is good.
The song came to an end, and I smiled as the applause rolled in, including from the band behind me. I stood to the side, my hand out to them so they could get their well deserved recognition.
"Thank you very much. Please enjoy the rest of the night."
I took my leave from the stage, my mother's eyes following me as I made my way to Dagny. I would have done anything to kiss her right then. I needed that connection with her right now. Instead of sitting, I grabbed her hand.
"Come on." We found the nearest bathroom and headed inside one of the stalls.
"You were fantastic, baby," she whispered, her arms around my neck.
"Really? Did I do okay?"
"God, more than okay!" She reached up and kissed me, I of course kissing her back. The kiss was not filled with desire or lust, just plain and simple love. "I love you, Chase."
"I love you, too, Dag."
My father pulled me aside after we got back to the main room and led me over to the door. I wasn't sure what to feel or think. What did he want? Not sure what to expect, I kept up my guard, arms crossed over my chest. He also looked nervous, pacing a bit before finally standing right in front of me.
"Well, first of all, you were really good up there." He looked at me, a mixture of pride and pain on his face. I hadn't seen him in seven months. This ordeal had really taken its toll on him. He looked older, and very sad.
"Why didn't you share this with us before, Chase?" I was taken aback.
"Are you serious? Singing isn't med school. Would you really give a shit?"
"Don't talk to me that way, Chase. I am still your father." He said, his voice low so we wouldn't be overheard. I seriously doubt anyone knew what was going on. Like he or my mom would ever reveal the true, evil nature of their youngest child.
"Then act like it," I growled. He looked at me, stunned. I almost expected him to slap me across the face. Instead he looked down for a moment, reached into his pocket.
"Well, anyway. The reason I brought you over here is to give you this. Your mother and I started a college fund for you and Carla when you were little. It's paid for your education thus far, and I see no reason why it shouldn't continue to do so. After all, it is your money." He handed me an envelope. "In there is a check for the remaining money. I hope you do finish school, Chase. But, it is yours to do with as you will." I looked at the envelope in my hand, not sure what I was feeling. Relief for one, but also I felt so very sad. My throat tightened just the slightest bit, but I quickly swallowed it down.
"Why did it have to go like this?" My father looked at me, shook his head.
"To be honest, Chase, I don't know. I do not agree with what you're doing, but, hell. I just don't know." He ran a hand through his graying hair. "Well, anyway. There you are." He walked away. I watched him go, wondering what would be the case a year from now, two, five, ten. Where would I be, and what would I be to them?
As the night went on, my mother still refused to even look at me, but after awhile I decided to ignore her childishness. This was Carla's wedding, and not my chance to attack her, no matter how I may have wanted to. Dag and I had a great time. We laughed with people we met, we both even danced with a guy. That was a change.
"Okay, it's time to throw the bouquet!" Carla exclaimed from the stage. "All you single women, get on out there." Dag and I looked at each other, not sure if we should bother. I mean, we weren't exactly single.
"Come on," she said, grinning at me evilly. She grabbed me by the wrist, and dragged me out to the middle of the dance floor. We were surrounded by a whole group of single, mostly young, really giggly women and girls. I was one of the taller in the bunch, so figured I had a shot, but who knows. Carla looked at all of us, a smile on her face, the bouquet in her hands.
"Ready?" She turned around, her back to us, and tossed that puppy high into the air. I watched it, almost as if it was in slow motion, up into the air it went, falling, falling, falling. Crap, it's headed right for me, I think. I reached up a hand, feeling the soft petals against my skin, nearly slipping right past me, but I reached up with the other one, getting a better hold on it. I snatched it out of the air, and brought it in to my body. I looked at the beautiful, ivory roses, then turned to see Dagny looking at me. I grinned, she grinned back.