Soda Pop Girl

When the Uber driver plunged his finger into the doorbell at the street-level door, Sam and Kendra were sitting in the window seat. Sam wanted to soak up the magic of that space one last time, linger in that atmosphere just a moment longer. She’d yearn for its calming aura for months.

Sam kissed Kendra on the cheek as the driver wrestled her unwieldy suitcase down the hilariously narrow stairway. Kendra handed Sam her carry-on, “Show them, show them all what a kid from Eau Claire can do—make us all proud!”

“I’ll do my best,” Sam said with an air of uncertainly that was not lost on Kendra.
“You’ll do fine, just fine” Kendra assured her.

They hugged, and Kendra watched as Sam clomped down the stairs in her black leather Frye boots.

Sam started fumbling with her portable CD player and the CDs. Her plan was to listen and practice during the 110-minute drive to MSP International. But as Nissan Juke pulled out onto the uncongested main drag, she knew that would be impossible.

“I’m Ken, so you’re headed to the airport?”
Jesus, Sam thought, a master of the obvious. And what’s with all the Maud’s and Ken’s.
“Yep,” Sam answered from the back seat.
“Where ya goin’?”
“Why Rome?”
“Gray Davidson.”
“Gray Davidson?”
“Know him?”
“The singer?”
“He’s interesting.”
“He’s awesome!”
“He’s pretentious.”
“Who isn’t.”
“I’m not.”
“Ya sure?”
“Not really.”
“You’ve met him?”
“I’ve met him.”
“He’s totally amazing!”
“He’s totally gay.”

Sam was dumbstruck that she said that out loud. She punched herself in the shoulder.

“I thought so.”
“I couldn’t tell—”
“He’s very private.”
“When we met.”
“He’s a fantastic singer.”
“I’m his backup singer.”
“What? Seriously? On tour?”
“Meeting him in Rome.”
“That’s some crazy shit!”
“Believe me; It is!”
“How’d you meet him?”
“During shows, in Amsterdam.”
“You’re from Eau Claire?”
“Hard to believe, right?”

The driver shook his head, fiddled with something in the front seat, and popped a Gray Davidson CD into the dashboard CD player just below the navigation screen that was barking out directions. Sam heard a nauseatingly familiar melody emanating from the speakers.

“My kids won’t believe it.”
“They listen to Gray Davidson?”
“I do, so they do.”
“Ha, I know the feeling.”
“Ha, I’ll bet you do.”

Sam held up one of the CDs she’d received in the mail. It caught the sun and bounced it back at the rear-view mirror temporarily blinding the driver. He glanced up at the rear-view mirror

“He sent me this CD.”
“Cool, what’s all on it?”
“The tour setlist, I guess.”
“Holy crap, that’s pretty awesome!”
“Not if you’ve heard it endlessly.”
“That wouldn’t bother me at all.”
“Want it? I don’t need it.”
“You serious? I’d love to have it!”

Sam passed the CD to Ken, who reached over his shoulder to eagerly accept the one-of-a-kind Gray Davidson collectible. He briefly examined the CD cover which was white with bold black printing that read: “Fall/Winter European Tour Setlist”. Ken deftly opened the CD with his free hand to reveal a gold disc with the set list printed on it.

“Jesus, this is totally friggin’ awesome!”
“Glad to be rid of it.”
“Will you sign it for me?”
“You got a Sharpie on ya?”
“I think in the glove compartment.”
“Mine are packed in my bag.”

Sam’s memory flashed to the scene in Amsterdam when Sid lectured her on always carrying a Sharpie. A small ache emanated from some deep recess of her heart and pulsed outward through every vein in her body.

Ken rummaged in the glove compartment with his free hand. He produced a blue sharpie marker, which he passed to Sam.

“Personalize it, or just my signature?”
“To Ken, would be great.”
“To Ken it is then.”

Sam paused to contemplate the comic significance of her second fan signature. For a beat, she thought about starting a signature diary. She quickly determined that, depending on the trajectory of her singing career, maintaining such a ledger would either be depressing or impossible. She eschewed the thought and signed Ken’s CD. She handed it back to him.

“Mind if I play it?”
“I need the practice, sure.”
“That’s so cool, seriously!”
“It’s really not cool, seriously.”
“It’s cool for me, seriously!”
“I’m happy for you, seriously.”

They both chuckled like old friends. With his free hand, Ken ejected his Gray Davidson CD, carefully replaced it in the jewel case, and inserted the freshly autographed setlist CD bearing Sam’s cerulean signature.

“You gonna sing along?”
“You OK with that?”
“Please do! Please do!”
“Practice makes perfect, apparently…”
“That’s what they say.”

The first notes of the first song began to flood the interior of the Ken’s curvy compact SUV. The intro to the first song was unexpectedly long. It was a version of the obvious Gray Davidson lid-lifter tune that Ken had never heard. He decided to take a shot at clever.

“Who are they?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yea, me either.”
“I’ll shut up.”
“I’ll sing, backup.”
“Very cool.”
“Let’s hope.”

As the first chorus approached, Sam readied herself to serenade this perfect stranger while the two of them spend down I-94 toward MSP International. And as she melded her voice into the harmonies cascading from Ken’s car stereo speakers, Ken sunk into his seat to enjoy the makeshift private concert.

20 songs and 100 minutes later, Ken was exiting toward Terminal 1. He hadn’t uttered a word since “cool”. He swung his head around briefly as the jam that preceded the departures lanes met them.

“Wow…just wow! That was the thrill of a lifetime!”

Sam was caught off-guard, she blushed, “Oh, thanks, it couldn’t have been that great, a cappella and all.”

“That made it great—a cappella and all.”
“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“You can sing in the back of my car anytime.”

They both laughed.

“But seriously, you are gifted…like really gifted. Some of your accompaniment was touching, beautiful, I was blown away.”

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

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