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

All Apologies

Sam exited onto I-94 and headed toward home. She couldn’t help but feel like a star-crossed co-ed returning to college on the heels of a whirlwind summer romance. She was traversing that excruciating expanse between exquisite heartache and ominous responsibility. It was a most agonizing and sickening space to be—mourning a past and future that were incompatible. As she sped into the dusk, she sat in silence and ached. It was all she could manage.

The 90 minutes of arrhythmic hills, occasionally flatlining for infinite stretches, did little to meliorate Sam’s condition. Veering off Hwy 37 onto Hwy 12 and coasting down the hill toward the Chippewa River felt like an inmate’s bus ride to prison. Granted, Sam had a fool-proof escape plan already arranged, but she resented the time-served she was about to endure.

As many times as she’d crossed the bridge over the Chippewa River at twilight, Sam still reveled in the majesty of the college campus that crowded the opposite bank. In a bedroom community like Eau Claire, the collegians were its parasitic life-blood. They provided the life that sucked all the marrow from the parochial riverside outpost.

While Sam searched for a parking spot, the brave and the clueless undergrads from across the river bobbed and weaved down the gutters and alleys like errant bowling balls in search of the truth that could only be found at the bottom of a $3 pint of beer.

Sam pulled into a spot around the block from her apartment. As small and cloistered as Minneapolis felt, Eau Claire felt downright claustrophobic. Pausing for a beat on the corner of Fifth Ave. and Water St., the first whiff of small-town stench leveled her and jolted her back into her grand-scheme irrelevance. She began to drag her luggage and lug her guitar case down the block. In the process, she dodged gaggles of giggling co-eds, mobs of dudes stinking of testosterone and stale beer, and the occasional couple pretending that there was culture to be had in the bowels of the college town. Arriving at the doorway to her tiny refuge above the coffee shop + wine bar felt the cherry on top of her latest descent.

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


Lipstick Sunset

Bending down, and resting his chin on Sam’s shoulder, Sid whispered into her ear, “So are you the newest member of Gray Davidson’s band?” 

Sam reached around his neck and pulled him into her nook even further. She stuck her tongue into his ear, swirled it a bit, and whispered, “Yes, but I’d rather tour with you.” 

“I’d rather tour with you too,” Sid agreed. 

The very notion sent a wave of warmth cascading from just above her eyelids to just beyond her thighs. It nearly caused her to jolt in her seat. 

“I may take you up on that offer,” Sam said with her lips askew in a mischievous smile. And that was the last moment she’d be able to recall from the evening. 

She’d be rescued by the ever-vigilant Maud after passing out in the restroom stall. 
She’d be loaded into the van by Sid and Kenny.
She’d be carried up to her bedroom by Sid and Kenny.
She’d be stripped, kissed, and put to bed by Sid.
She’d miss the final grandiose conversation on the rooftop patio.
She’d miss Kenny’s big announcement about moving to Amsterdam.
She’d miss the parade of joints making their way around the bistro table. 

She’d endure a disquieting dream of vague impenetrable revelry that she could only covet while some unforeseen urgency demanded her attention. As she tossed and turned, as she wrestled with the daunting amorphousness just below the surface of consciousness, she desperately wished to be rescued and delivered to the revelry. But the unforeseen urgency blocked her ascendancy to the raucous fray—her dream, as her self, was forlorn. 

The dream carried on like that all night long, just as Sid, Kenny, and Maud carried on all night long, just beyond Sam’s grasp. 

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

To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have a Nice Time) 2

Sam contemplated not telling him at all. How would he ever know? How would any of them ever know? It’s not like she’d bump into them at a concert in Budapest or Berlin. And as far as they all knew, she’d already resigned herself to a purgatorial existence in Eau Claire slinging wine, coffee, and song. It’s not like she and Sid were about to embark on a sweeping love affair. Their tryst was going to end in a parking lot in Uptown Minneapolis in less than 48 hours, and they both knew it. The seemingly innocuous thought shot her through with a dull ache that emanated from somewhere deep in her heart and coursed outward through her body, mind, and soul. 

What was that?! I hate that… she thought as she sat on the sofa and the swallowed the sentimental flavor of her breakfast cookie. Could the bittersweet twinge of nostalgia manifest in just five days? Or was it something else? Something like a hangover of the whole damn experience and not just the prior evening.  

As Sid rested his cup on the table, Sam drew a gulp of courage from hers, looked into Sid’s eyes, and said, “He offered me a job!” 

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

Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) 2

The space smelled rich, like some combination of cologne, cigar smoke, and Rolex watches. Sam assumed the omniscient redolence was the result of a burning candle or two. Her eyes darted all over, but she didn’t spot any. Gray himself smelled like some combination of cologne, gin, and Italian suits steam-pressed in expensive European cigarette smoke—a stark contrast to Sid’s deodorant, sweat, and leather, but no less heady.

Sam’s ears pricked up to a jazzy upbeat ditty emanating from everywhere. The singer, whom she had never heard, possessed a golden throat and was just enough roughed up around the edges to be interesting. His harmonies complimented the music like a savory sizzling ribeye compliments a dark jammy Cabernet. His voice, the music, fit effortlessly and enticed the atmosphere up a notch.

At the other end of the room, Sam noticed that Bas, Kat, and Maud were clustered around an efficient little makeshift bar, which sat atop a fridge. Kat and Maud, apparently having put in their drink order, retreated to the adjacent table and chairs. Sam noticed they were chattering like college dorm mates, Maybe they were? she mused. Four square windows hanging on the far wall formed the backdrop to all the placid commotion. Each pane framed a perpetual snapshot of the blinking Amsterdam evening.

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

To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have a Nice Time)

Kenny nodded and followed Sam on stage.

Sid balanced his guitar against the far wall then spun to fetch his bass.

Sam snatched Sid’s Fender bass guitar from its case at the rear of the stage. As she approached, not missing a beat, or a step, she tossed it at him from ten feet away.

With a look of surprise bordering on terror, Sid, exhibiting the dexterity of a big-league shortstop, plucked it out of midair by the neck and swung the strap over his head. Kenny stepped behind Sam as she scooted onto stool behind the microphone. As though she expected a guitar to descend from the heavens, Kenny draped her strap over her shoulder laying the guitar in her lap. As Kenny skulked off stage, both Sid and Sam smiled at the audience and bowed, selling the illusion they’d just executed as a well-rehearsed parlor trick.

Sam looked over her right shoulder past her guitar strap at her man. Sid shook his head with a face-splitting grin. She knew that if they weren’t on stage in front of hundreds eager music fans, he’d be hiking up her skirt and extorting a little payback for the impromptu stunt. The thought gave her pause, then shivers. 

The blatant byplay was spiking feverish anticipation throughout the room. Still gazing backward at him, Sam began to plunge the heel of her black leather Frye boot into the stage so loudly, that the crowd was struck silent. In her mind, she was humming, hmm hmm hmm…(tap)…hmm, hmm hmm hmm…(tap)…hmm. Each tap became a clomp, each clomp became a stomp, and each stomp became the unmistakable bass line from Sid’s capable and thunderous fingers.

Sid led into the first verse as Sam seamlessly weaved a stoic accompaniment. Almost imperceptibly, the two were singing with one voice. Their conflated harmony was expansive—richer and warmer than either could muster alone. Sid noticed, Sam noticed, the audience noticed. As Sid stoked his bass and vocal chords for the key moments of the chorus, Sam lent her breath. Together, they nudged the chorus toward a new immortality, even by their haughty standards. 

This was no longer the haunting ’60s R&B classic, they had transformed it, and it was theirs. As she bowed, Sam knew it. As they roared their approval, the crowd knew it. As he straightened from his bow, Sid knew it. But a familiar twinge flared somewhere at his core. Without knowing it, he knew it was their swan song.

“That was great!” Sid smiled as he bent to return his instrument to its case.

“That was fucking epic!” Sam admonished with girlish exuberance.

Kenny hopped over the front of the stage, “That was epic!”

“See!” Sam exclaimed as she thrust out her hands for full-body emphasis.

Sid smiled and nodded at them, “OK…epic it is…”

“You ready to dazzle famous dude?” Sam asked Kenny as she motioned over her shoulder toward the leather couch.

“I’m going to do my thing, so yeah,” he assured with a wink.

“Well, don’t tear your jeans,” Sam joked.

Kenny made a gun out his thumb and forefinger, aimed it a Sam, and winked again as he dropped his thumb.

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

Man in the Moon

Sam was relieved that she and Sid had screwed in the shower before the festivities. By her estimation, there was no way he could possibly be anything but spent and hammered, like she was. 

Maud was leaning against Kenny, who was leaning against the light pole. It was evident that everyone was drunk, stoned, weary, or D. All of the above. Sam mused that they were doing the rock star lifestyle the justice it so richly deserved. 

“See you tomorrow,” Bas announced as the cab pulled up to the curb. 

A chorus of half-hearted replies flowed in Bas’ general direction but fell short of his ears. 

As he opened the door for his daughter, he added, “Get some sleep!” He tap-danced around the back of the cab and waved at the group. Before disappearing inside, he warned, “You’ll need it!” Seconds later, the cab disappeared around the corner. 

“Did that just happen?” Kenny asked. 

No one answered.  

No one moved. 

Everyone was sharing the sensation of floating a few inches off the ground. Whether it was the Heineken, the weed, or the break-neck wonderment of the night, it was unclear and immaterial. The gloaming of the Amsterdam witching-hour held them suspended in its dark womb. The jaundiced glow of the street lamp captured them in its opaque hue, as though they were about to be beamed aboard a UFO parked just off the rooftop patio of their flat, as though they were about to be whisked off to another galaxy, as though this was their last night on earth, as they knew it…

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

Opening Sequence…

From their booth near the back of the room, Julia was staring blankly in the general direction of the stage. Musicians were scurrying about like ants, plugging in chords and fiddling with mic stands. In the periphery, hipster guys and pixie gals were pouring in from the street to squat at the choicest upfront tables. With a full tray and a busy expression, a server sporting Warby Parker frames and pink hair was ducking in and out of the frenetic malay. She was doing her best.

In the midst of a comically familiar third marriage—one which she had quietly enrolled in hospice—Julia found herself midway though a date with her first ex-husband. The irony of this moment was not lost on her. But the dinner she’d just eaten, the G&T she was rimming with her right index finger, and the show she was about to suffer, would be. She hadn’t been expecting to be wined or dined; she was desperate for what came afterward.

Who cheats on their future ex-husband with one from the ash bin? she wondered. She felt like a despicable unicorn—loathsome and unique. She downed her remaining drink, called for another, and perished the thought in lieu of hopes for sturdy, possibly violent, encore fuck. As she glanced over at Gary’s excited expression at the prospect of seeing his buddies take the stage, she knew she’d have to wait until the band finished their’s.

Excerpt from All the Men Stayed, the forthcoming serial from Blake Charles Donley

Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)

“So, it feels like we’re international rock stars, right?” Sam muttered as she bent over to rest her guitar in its case.  

Sid, high on applause, adulation, and Heineken, reached up her skirt and squeezed her left ass cheek with his capable right hand. 

“Sid!” Sam screeched and she went bolt upright. 

“Yes, how can I help you?” Sid asked with an innocent boyish expression on his face. 

Sam softly slapped his stubbly cheek, “You can get your grubby paws off my backside and start winding cords, OK?” 

“Yes ma’am!” he responded with an upside-down Benny Hill salute. 

As Sid was standing with his back to her looping a blue extension cord around the heel of his palm and elbow, Sam shed her jacket and pressed her chest into his back. 

Sid immediately ceased winding the cord and looked over his shoulder. 

“Seriously, we are like real rock stars here in this place, right?” 

Sid did an about face and set his cord on the stool. 

“It’s pretty damn fun, Sam, it really is. But this is pretty much what we barstool bandoleros do: we entertain groups of five to five hundred, mostly drunk, strangers. Then we move onto the next gig and do it all over again, until we can’t.” 

Sam frowned, “So this is as good as it gets?” 

Sid smiled, “Yep babe, this is pretty much tops for rebels like us. If we’re one of the lucky ones, we’ll weave an endless strand of gigs into a career—some a bit better, some a bit worse, but hopefully most like this one. Thirty years down the road, we can regale our grandkids with stories, tales, lies, and exaggerations from our workman’s vantage point, as we retire to a bedroom in their parent’s basement.” 

Sam looked crestfallen, “Really…?” 

“Them is the facts hun. How many ‘International Rock Star’ jobs do you think open up each year? One? Two, maybe? And you don’t just get those gigs by working hard. You gotta know someone who knows someone, and so on…” 

Sam looked despondent. 

Sid put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her to his chest. 

“Hey, do you love it though?” 

Sam looked up at his glorious square jaw and smiled, “Yeah…I do…” 

“Then who gives a fuck if you are playing to 500 sweaty Europeans, or 50,000 screaming teenagers? If you love it, you soldier on!” 

Sam kissed his cheek, “You’re right, I guess…” she wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed him. At that moment, it was as good as she had ever known it to get, and that was everything.

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

You Can’t Go Home Again

Either Kenny or Maud had already brewed a fresh pot of coffee. Sam grabbed a mug off the lattice of wooden knobs protruding from the wall above the sink. She filled it to nearly overflowing with the essential onyx liquid. She snatched a stroopwafel from the package and headed for the sofa beckoning her to the other end of the room. She set her cup on the end table and fell into it the over-sized cushions. 

Prior to embarking on her trip, she arranged for an international phone plan which afforded her only 30 minutes of talk time each day. She had to call Kendra, apparently, but she would need to throttle Kendra’s desire to chat for hours as they had done on so many occasions in the window seat of their apartment. 

Sam shifted her focus to the bustle of everyday life just beyond floor-to-ceiling window that bookended the massive space. In her peripheral vision, she monitored steam escaping the small opening at the far edge of her mug she had failed to eclipse with the gooey caramel cookie. Smokey tendrils danced in the autumn sun flooding the room. Suddenly, the realization of fleeting nirvana came to her. This city, these people, this moment—bliss. She savored it gratefully. She never wanted to go home.  

She swung her legs up onto the sofa. The path from her heels to her ass was a caret or lazy capital V, depending on the vantage point. She leaned forward resting an elbow on the broad arm of the sofa. She gazed out the window for a beat. As she reached for her coffee, a resigned frown formed on her face at the thought of Kendra crashing through her utopian moment. 

Sam lifted the nearly melted stroopwafel and took a bite. A stubborn gossamer strand of caramel refused to let go as she pulled it away from her mouth. When it finally broke loose, it landed on her chin, neck, and the drawstring of her hoodie. She quickly twirled it onto her index finger and sucked it off.

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