April and SeptemberbyI_M_Patient©
Okay folks, I usually just write straight from the muse, but this one is a little different. For one thing, I usually don't kiss and tell. That's right, this story is real. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, identifying bits of the story have been removed, and just enough fiction was put back in for story continuity. This was just to much serendipity to keep it to myself, and has been approved by all involved before it was submitted.
The story will take a while to get going. Real life can be stranger than fiction, but it usually doesn't get a person from first meeting to laid in a page and a half. It is written from my own perspective instead of the usual omnipotent 3rd person perspective with 1st person quotes on both sides. Some of this makes this story a little awkward, but life's just like that sometimes. Stick with it. I think you'll like where this goes...
...I certainly did.
Living in small town America has certain advantages. I haven't locked my doors since I moved here. I know everyone; judges, priests, sheriff, kids, and storekeepers... everyone. It's the kind of town where the sheriff doesn't chase you for speeding. He waits on your doorstep or if you are a juvenile, he's already talked to your grandma. It has been compared to Mayberry.
This means that life can get pretty boring too. The closest town of any size is an hour's drive in any direction, but folks make the drive, even with today's gas prices, just to see something new. This makes the town hemorrhage money. Most money that comes into the community's families goes straight to WalMart, 80 miles to the north. Now that the mines closed, were it not for the welfare and retirement checks coming in, this place would be a ghost town.
It's also a very conservative town. If you aren't Catholic or Methodist, you are regarded with a bit of suspicion. My being an active participant in a non-Christian faith makes it necessary to practice in private, even though Pagans of various types comprise 20-25% of the county's population. They probably live here for the same reason I do. To me, GOD is an acronym. It stands for the Great Out Doors. The view from my front porch is more than sufficient for a daily devotional, and should I need a more serious retreat, nearly virgin wilderness is within a 30 minute drive.
As a semi-retired professional sound and lights guy, I produce most of the live shows that come to our local theater. At about 250 seats including the balcony, it's fairly roomy yet cozy. Normally it shows movies and employs most of the teens who don't work at our two fast food restaurants.
The theater was bought twenty five years back in terrible shape... roof caved in and 4 feet of water in the lower seating rows by the stage, but it was all we had. The man who bought it realized that he had a chance to keep some hard earned money in the community and maybe even bring in some revenue from other places. He sunk a fortune into the building and brought it back from the brink of being condemned. He also had a good sound and light system put in along with the projector which he bought when the drive-in closed.
Today it's still here, more as a testament to the good workmanship of the repairmen a quarter of a century ago than to any maintenance done since. The paint, which is done in some of those eye-popping jewel tones favored back then, is chipping and peeling. All the equipment is still there and suffers from the fact that it is expected to perform well beyond its anticipated lifespan. What was once top of the line gear is now scarcely adequate and poorly maintained. Productions are done with skill, luck, and with a fire extinguisher handy.
Both the sound and light system are antiquated now. The Crown amps still work, and with some basic maintenance, sound as sweet as they did back when they were new. I wish I could say the same for the light board. Back in the day, NSI made some bleeding edge equipment, but times have not been kind to the system. Not only do the controls not always do what they are told, the wiring for the lights has been modified by many well meaning, yet inept people over the years.
It was to the point where all folks could do was turn all the lights on or off. It was pitiful. Volunteering to help make things better, I had a look. Six months of unpaid labor later, some of that on a 25 foot rickety ladder to reach an improvised light bridge, I could make the lights sit up and dance... barely.
I wasn't entirely happy with things since it wasn't perfect, but it was a damn sight better than it had been. There was only one problem. I was the only one in town who could make it do anything other than turn pairs of lights on and off, much less program it. When a fairly well known "crossover" band announced that it was coming to town, I had to make sure it was the best show I could make it. Not just for the performers and myself, but primarily for my community.
It was a sunny Thursday afternoon and time for the first rehearsal. While I saw the pictures in the fliers, nothing prepared me for what walked through that door. Four twenty-something clock-stopping female bodies with none of the "performer attitude" I have grown to expect, having cut my teeth in Nashville's music industry. Everyone was human and professional... rare traits in the music biz I found to be filled with prima donnas of both sexes.
During set up, the drummer noticed a buzz in her set. Anyone who has played drums will tell you that finding an intermittent buzz in a drum set is just about impossible by yourself. Moving around to listen changes the way things sit against each other, and the sound changes or goes away. The solution was self evident. While she thumped on the drum, I wound my body around the set under her legs to find the loose bit. It must have been a sight, me an athletic forty-something twisting around underneath this gorgeous creature to chase down a ghost. To my credit, I never tried to catch a peek; I was the epitome of professional.
What I found was an easy fix... the bass drum pedal mount had a loose screw. Locktite and a screwdriver fixed that, while a little gaffer's tape in the jaws of the clamp made things a little more forgiving. As I was cinching things down, she remarked that I was remarkably flexible for an older guy. I just took the backhanded compliment, smiled, and moved on. Other issues fell quickly as well... So quickly in fact that we were set up and ready with hours to spare. It was then that I took the time to formally introduce myself to the band.
It turns out that they were all sisters. Faye, a wiry 24 year old was on strings, Chrissy, a curvy 26 year old was the vocal talent, May and April were tall dark twins who did keyboard and drums respectively. I noticed that for identical twins, May and April were remarkably different. May had more confidence and a bit more of an experienced air about her, while April had a childlike innocence and shyness. Physically they were close, but they had enough differences to easily tell them apart if you knew where to look.
While I hit it off with all the sisters, April and I just migrated toward each other. Before we knew it, the rest of the crew has left us alone to talk. In contrast to much of the small town I live in, she came across as smart and educated. I heartily enjoyed our chat. It was over way too fast, but it was time for the full rehearsal.
I took my station, followed the play list and made the sound "pop". The lights were appropriate and on time, but uninspired. I am a perfectionist, and I was almost happy for a rehearsal. The trouble was spotlighting the players while creating the mood for each song. I started scribbling notes to improve things. I was getting ready to move the stage monitors a little to kill an 80Hz resonant growl that made things sound a little muddy, when April sauntered up.
"Thanks for helping me out with the drum set," she said.
"No trouble at all. I expect issues like this, that's why I have what I call a crash kit. It's a bag with everything needed to fix just about anything," I said smiling.
"That was incredibly well done for a practice. It's even better than some shows we have done."
"Yeah. The sound guy usually blows off practice sessions. I guess they think rehearsals are just for the musicians."
"Hon, my sound experience comes from production studio and stage work in Nashville. If there's one thing I learned from that, it's that there's no such thing as a 'blow off event'."
"That explains it. We've worked with some real winners, let me tell ya!" Faye said in passing.
"Don't worry about a thing. The concerts will be even better." I said.
April flashed a smile that lit up the room and winked at me as her sisters dragged her off to dinner. Smiling and shaking my head, I finished my notes, adjusted the position of the monitors about 18" inboard to kill the ground wave on the stage which caused the resonant growl and went home.
Coming home to an empty house is always rough on me. I'm a divorced dad who's daughter plays musical houses, and that particular week she was with her mom. Still, I had this warm spot growing in my heart and a grin that I just couldn't get rid of. I wish I could have told my daughter about this right then and there.
The next morning I got up, made coffee, fed my daughter's kitten and Babe, a coyote-shepherd mix who's smarter than I am, and did the rest of my morning ritual. Looking at myself in the mirror, I thought about the previous day.
"Quit thinking about things you'll never get. Yeah, she's gorgeous, but look, don't touch," I thought. "And guard that heart dammit! It's taken a while to find all the pieces from the last time."
I decided to eat breakfast out. A breakfast croissant and hash browns... the teen in the drive through called me "sir" when she handed me my change.
"Oh well, you are getting up there you know..." I thought. With some gray in my hair, an athletic build, and a young face, folks have a hard time pinning an age on me. Opening the old theater, I took out my list to see what I could do while my food cooled down from thermonuclear.
Hours later, all the work was done and I'm was eating cold food. I liked what I saw. Looking at the watch I had time to run a full test before the theater opens. I hooked up my laptop to the mixer and brought up similar music. I ramped up the volume and worked the lights. Walking to various positions around the theater, I took notes. Bright presence here, Dead spot here. Tip out the monitors five degrees...
I didn't notice that anyone else was in the theater until I felt a tap on the shoulder. Jumping out of my skin, I spun around. There was April with her megawatt grin putting my stage lights to shame. She said something; I could see her lips move, but I couldn't hear. Extending my index finger in the universal 'wait-a-sec' sign, I bounded down to the sound board and brought the volume down to mere mortal levels.
"Hi!" I greet her with a smile.
"Brilliant... that's the best I could come up with? Maybe the university should make sure we take charm lessons before we get that degree. It would keep all those awkward engineer jokes from being so damn true," I thought to myself.
"Hello! I thought I'd come early to get some peace and quiet. Crowds aren't really my thing."
"Ah, no worries. I was nearly done anyway. One little adjustment and I'll be off."
"Oh, I said that wrong," she said. "Please stay. I want to be around people I like. It's the chaos of the crowds that gets to me."
"Okay. I'm the same way. Maybe we can pick up where we left off when your sisters towed you off to dinner?" I said smiling as I adjusted each monitor's angle out another five degrees to kill a dull spot.
"I'd like that," she said with a smile.
"Damn, I'm going to need sunglasses to protect myself from that radiant smile," I thought.
"You're going to need something for your heart before this was all said and done!" chided a voice from somewhere in the far recesses of my psyche. He's that little voice we all usually ignore. You'd think he'd be used to it by now.
"A shy performer... isn't that a contradiction?" I said with a grin of my own.
"Yeah. I can hide behind the drums, and with the lights in my face, I can't really see the crowd."
"April, this is your fourth tour and with an average of 20 stops per tour and 3 shows per stop, that's what, 240 or so shows? I'd think you'd be used to the publicity by now. Why are you still so shy?"
"I'm ugly," she said.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. Here was this gorgeous creature informing me that my eyes need checked. "Excuse me?"
"I'm ugly. I have a deformed ear, a big birthmark, and my sisters are all prettier than me. See?"
As she turned her head from side to side she showed me what I had noticed during set up. She had two perfect ears, they just didn't exactly match. Now I admit that my scale of beauty is very wide, but April registered a solid nine plus change on my ten scale.
"Yes, I see... but you are anything but ugly. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool and needs his eyes checked. What idiot told you that, if you don't mind me asking?"
"My ex-fiancée," she was tearing up. "He told me that I was misshapen, hideous, and ugly."
I just stood there with my mouth open. Using those adjectives to describe a person to their face will put you in a dark little place in my heart. Convincing this beautiful, kind, and gentle woman that his vicious description of her was correct ignited a quiet fury in me.
"If I find this ass in a dark alley, I'll show him misshapen... in the god damned mirror!" I thought. "I'll fuck him up good!"
Her quiet sobbing snapped me out of my happily murderous daydream. I put my arms around her and pulled her close. She put her head on my shoulder and convulsed with her sorrow.
"I have got to fix this," I thought sadly. "This is no way for her to live."
"April," I said "I think you are beautiful."
"Huh? No," she sniffed leaving a wet shoulder behind.
"I do. Really. I assume your ex-fiancée was your age?"
"I think I have a little more experience in seeing and recognizing beauty around me at my advanced age. Trust me, you are stunningly gorgeous. All of you took my breath away when you walked in yesterday, but you were the one who really caught my eye."
That little voice screamed "What in god's name are you doing???" As usual, I ignored it.
"Advanced age? You're what, 35?"
"46," I corrected.
"Wow. You don't look it," she said as she looked me up and down. "Come to think of it, you don't move like it either,"
"Thank you. If I gracefully accept your compliment, will you give me the satisfaction of accepting mine?"
I cut her off. "No buts. You are incredibly pretty... the stuff of legends. The longer we argue about this, the more cheesy the compliments will get, even though they will all be true. You might as well concede now."
Throwing up her hands she acquiesced. "Okay, okay! You win."
"I usually do. I never take a stand unless I am right, and I always tell the truth. Now, I'd like to hear you say it."
"Say 'I am beautiful'."
"Don't make me get you in front of a mirror to prove it. Say it."
"Okay. I am beautiful," she said a bit unconvincingly.
Just then her sisters walked into the theater. While they didn't see us in the sound booth, we saw them and April was became distracted, looking around nervously.
"April, are you a truthful person?"
Coming back to the conversation, she said "Huh? Yeah. I'm so honest, it sometimes gets me in trouble."
"Then believe yourself when you said you were beautiful." Checkmate.
She jolted for a second and slowly smiled at me. This smile was different. This one went past her face and lit up her soul and the world with it. Looking in those green eyes I realized I could loose myself in them.
"Good thing I am still in control," I thought.
That little voice was laughing at me with that 'I know something you don't know' laugh. Whatever.
She giggled as her sisters approached the sound booth. "'...the stuff of legends'? Like Helen of Troy?"
I put on my best 'geezer' voice impression. "Well, it was quite a while ago, but I seem to remember that she was not all that beautiful."
"What?" she looked confused.
"Well, what would you look like if you used your face to launch 1000 ships?"
Faye couldn't understand why we were laughing tears when she dragged her sister away to dinner yet again. This time they invited me to come along.
Dinner was one of those formal-informal things, a dance every community does for its informal dignitaries. The town was trying to honor their guests with their best, while trying hard to look normal. The performers just wanted food, and had seen this production before in every small town they hit in their tour. It was the kind of dance where everyone knew the steps.
Looking at the time, we realized that we would have to eat quickly to not rush the final preparations for the show. It's one of the funniest things to watch in the music biz. Stars and staff looking dazzling in fine restaurants shoveling food down their gullets as though they haven't eaten in a week. I was glad to see all four sisters eating as voraciously as I was.
The smiles on the faces of April and myself and the stolen glances across the table did not go unnoticed by the sisters, but I missed the mischievous twinkle in their eyes as well as the silent plotting that was going on.
The show went uneventfully, and in the music biz, that's a good thing... sorta. The music was fantastic and the crowd enjoyed every minute. Judging by the attendance for a Friday show, I knew Saturday's show was going to be a sell out crowd. I was going to have to do something special, but what? Today the girls left them breathless, but I felt there was room for improvement in my performance. Taking notes again, I wrote my marching orders for the next day.
Looking around I didn't see anyone left in the building, so I headed out the front door which was closer to my car. April was at the door waiting for me. She handed me a slip of paper, kissed me on the cheek, climbed in the back seat of their car with the rest of the sisters, and was off.
Thunderstruck, I just stood there for what seemed like hours. Finally, I found myself at my car looking stupidly at my hand with the note. Unfolding it with shaking hands, I had to read it several times. It said:
I would like to get to know you better. Coffee 10am tomorrow? Pick me up at 1251 W. Davis St, up the stairs around the back.
-April the Beautiful
"Well, fuck a duck," I said out loud to no one in particular.
Thinking about that little voice in the back of my psyche, I said "So, what do you think of that?"
A weak little voice said "Well, fuck a duck."
I don't remember the drive home or anything else that night, other than setting the alarm clock and laying out some decent clothes. That little voice was encouraging for once. He was full of constructive advice:
"Don't fuck this up!"
Saturday morning I woke with a jolt hours before the alarm. Rather than go back to sleep, I knew it would be better if I just got off to a slow gentle start. After a nice long shower while the coffee brewed, I sat at the dining room table and collected my thoughts while waiting for the caffeine to have its desired effect.
Babe was looking at me with one of those shit eating grins only a coyote can get.
"What?" I asked sharply.
Babe cocked her head and kept grinning at me as her tail thumped the ground loudly.
"Okay genius what now?" I thought.
Genius is my pet derogatory term for myself. While it's not a misnomer, there are times I feel I could have made better choices. The smarts are there, but common sense is frequently absent. Talking things out to myself, planning for every likely contingency, and making lists are my ways of compensating.