Have a wonderful weekend.
MY NAME IS EVIE PRESTON and I hang out with dead rock stars. Oh, and the occasional dead movie star or two. I’ve learned quite a bit about those who live on the other side over the past few months. For instance, they aren’t all ghostly and transparent. Oh no. The ones I see are almost always in full- color and 3-D except when they exert, ah … certain energies. Then they go a bit hazy. Oh, and they prefer to be called spirits.
Yeah, I know … I sound completely insane. Like, “commit me” insane. But honestly, I am not crazy. Believe me, the first time I saw Bob Marley in my place (well, technically not my place, but I’ll get to that) in the Hollywood Hills, getting high and singing “Buffalo Soldier,” I thought I was either dreaming, hallucinating, or, yes, completely nuts. Thankfully, it was none of the above. In fact, Bob is a very real, very dead guy who likes to hang out with me, along with a handful of other deceased, famous rock musicians (and a few who never quite made the charts, one of whom I’ve recently developed feelings for—more about him later). So, not only do I hang out with dead rock stars, I also think I am in love with one, or at least in lust… which makes me totally screwed up. But I am not crazy. I swear.
Before I go any further, though, I need to take you back a few months to the day after my twenty-eighth birthday. Welcome to Brady, Texas—population 5,500—and, according to the sign on the main road into town, “The Heart of Texas.” Truth be told, the signs were everywhere. Signs, that is, telling me to get the hell out of Brady.
I was at Mrs. Betty LaRue’s place. Her house smelled of Tide, home cooking, and mothballs. Betty was comforting me over the dismal turnout of my Mary Kay presentation—my latest attempt at becoming an entrepreneur—which she’d kindly hosted.
We were drinking apple-cranberry tea, with her Lhasa Apso, Princess, curled in a ball under Betty’s chair, and my dog (of indeterminate breed … possibly part-coyote and part-lab, with a dash of border collie in there), Mama Cass, across my feet. I loved how Betty always let me bring Cass in the house. My dog went everywhere with me, but not everyone was as gracious about her presence as Betty.
“I really thought this would go much better,” I said, bringing the warm cup of tea to my lips.
Betty smiled sympathetically, the fine lines in her eighty- something face creasing deeper into her skin, “Oh, honey, I don’t know what happened to my girls today. I am so sorry. I thought there’d be at least ten of us. They all love my snickerdoodles. But you know how some of us old gals are; we forget things.” She twirled a yellow-white wisp of curled hair around her finger. The rest of it was pulled up into a loose bun (or chignon as Mama calls it). She’d obviously been in to see my mother that morning for her weekly hair appointment.
I nodded. “It’s okay, Betty. Thanks for hosting anyway, and the cookies were delicious. Three isn’t such a bad turnout.” Thing was, only Betty bought anything. Her friends, Margaret and Hazel, came for the cookies and samples. “And I made about ten dollars, so that will buy me a couple of meals. You’ll love that anti-wrinkle cream, by the way.”
Betty ran a hand over her face and laughed sweetly. “Child, ain’t nothing gonna work on this face now. And I’m proud of these lines. I earned them.”
I laughed back. “So you only bought the cream because you felt sorry for me?” Cass’s ears perked up and she lifted her head to peer at me.
Betty sighed. “Evie Preston, I have known you since you started kicking up a fuss in your mama’s belly.” She winked at me. “I’ve watched you try so hard to be exactly what your mama and daddy wanted, especially after all that bad business. And there was that unfortunate situation with—” She paused. “What was his name?”
She brought her cup to her lips, her hand shaking ever so slightly. I sighed, knowing exactly what bad business she was referring to. As for the unfortunate situation, he was the star quarterback my senior year and the lucky recipient of my virginity. Sadly, he was also the jerk who then decided to share the news with the entire town. Thank God my mother was able to intercept that little tidbit before it reached my father’s ears.
Betty waved her free hand in the air as if to brush the painful thoughts away. “I know you were hoping to be a good Texas girl and marry a good Texas boy and have babies and run a family like your folks did, not because you really wanted it,” she said, shaking a finger at me. “But because your parents wanted it for you. And now, my dear,” Betty leaned over and gave me one of her rare, stern looks. “It’s high time you stopped pretending and started living!”
“What do you mean?”
“You got a God-given talent. You need to get out there and do something with it.”
She tried to set the tea cup down on the side table and almost missed. I grabbed it and set it down for her. Betty beamed at me. “Thank you, honey! Always so polite.”
I looked down at my dog, licking the unpolished toes peeking out of the only pair of high-heeled sandals I owned. “Fact is, Betty, I know I’m good, but there are a lot of good musicians out there.” I dejectedly twirled the ends of my long, baby-fine hair. Mama always said God hadn’t been paying close attention when it came time to give me hair. It was stick straight, dark brown, and silky. I couldn’t do a darn thing with it, except put it into ponytails.
Betty waved her hand again. “Nonsense!” Placing her hands on the sides of her chair, she slowly pushed herself up to a stand and ambled over to the white brick mantle. She grabbed an envelope and handed it to me.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Your birthday was yesterday, wasn’t it?”
She frowned. “I may be old, Evie, but I don’t forget birthdays. Especially when they’re for people I care about.”
“That is so sweet of you.” I was flattered and grateful someone seemed happy to have me around.
“Oh honey, you know you’re one of my favorite people. You got spunk! Had it since you came out ass-backward, showing the world what you thought of it.”
“Thank you, I think.” I couldn’t help smiling. Betty was the only one I knew who spoke the truth without holding back. Betty was authenticity at it’s finest. She didn’t tiptoe around stuff like my family. Tiptoeing was what we did best.
“Open it! I don’t have all day. It’s about time for my nap.”
I tore open the envelope and found a check inside for five thousand dollars, made out to me. I gasped.
“Betty! What…” Cass jumped up, her huge ears pricked forward, tail wagging, watching me like a hawk. “It’s okay, girl.” She lay back down but still alert.
“I was twenty-eight once too, you know, and I had dreams … big dreams.” Betty’s blue eyes glazed over for a moment. “I wanted to be a movie star, and I could have, too. I was damn good, like you are at what you do, and, believe it or not, I used to be good looking.” She winked at me again, but there were tears in her eyes. I knew about Betty’s dreams from long ago. I also knew there was a part of her life that hadn’t been so good.
“But then my folks, like yours, had other ideas and I decided to play by their rules. I don’t regret it … well, maybe I do a little. Thing is, young lady, you can sing like a nightingale and you can play the guitar like nobody’s business. You need to get the hell out of this town before you wind up like every other girl here—knocked up, changing dirty diapers, and cleaning up after some idiot male who spends his nights with a beer in one hand and a TV remote in the other.”
I frowned. I’d already seen almost every girl from my high school graduating class living the life Betty had just described. The lucky ones skipped town and went to college. I hadn’t been quite that lucky for a variety of reasons. I had the grades and the desire, but life had other ideas. On the positive side, which is where I like to go, I’d at least not had the misfortune of marrying some guy who didn’t appreciate me, expected his dinner on the table when he got home from his shift at Walmart, and wanted his wife and children to obey, just because he said so.
“Betty, I really do appreciate your vote of confidence but still, I can’t accept this.” I held the check towards her.
“Yes, you can, and you will. Go live your life, Evie Preston. Pack up that van of yours, your guitar, and Mama Cass, and head west. You sing your heart out in every bar, every café, every church—I don’t care where you go, but go and sing. I know one thing: you have what it takes to be a star. Forget all about them cosmetics you’re trying to pawn…”
“Mary Kay,” I interrupted. “It is a really good line. Mama swears by it.”
She frowned and waved that hand at me. “Just forget all that, because you and I both know it won’t get you nowhere. That kind of thing is for people like Shirley Swan up the road trying to make an extra buck to take care of those four kids of hers. Take the money, cut your losses, and run. You gotta stop living for your mama and daddy. You didn’t cause what happened and you can’t never change it.” She shook her head vehemently. “Go on and live life. Do it for me. Humor an old woman, please?” Her blue eyes watered, the creases crinkling as she choked back emotion.
How could I refuse after a plea like that? I tried one last time, for the sake of courtesy. “But my daddy—”
Betty dabbed at her eyes with a kerchief. “He’ll get over it. And your mama is gonna secretly be cheering you on. It’ll be hard on them, but this’ll be the best thing for all of you.” She sighed heavily. “Especially you, Evie. Trust me.”
So I did. I trusted Betty LaRue.
The next day I packed up my 1974 VW bus, a suitcase of clothes, my Rosewood Gibson acoustic guitar, and Mama Cass. I pulled out of my parents’ driveway while Daddy waved his arms wildly in the air, yelling, “You’re gonna ruin your life out there, Evangeline!” (He’s the only one who ever calls me by my full name.) “Los Angeles isn’t the city of angels. It’s a city of heathens and devils!”
I knew he was just scared. I’m pretty sure if I looked closer, I’d see tears in his eyes. But Betty was right. This was something I had to do.
I could see tears for sure in my mother’s big hazel eyes, the same color as my own, as she mouthed, “I love you.”
I rolled down the window, choking back my own sobs. “I love you, too! I’ll call. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
With blurred eyes, Mama Cass’s head in my lap, a Patsy Cline cassette in the tape deck (thank God for eBay—you have no idea how hard it is to find cassette tapes these days), I headed west to the City of Angels. For the first time in sixteen years, I felt like I could finally breathe again. I was leaving behind the only two people I knew who I had never been able to heal even a little bit, and I didn’t think I ever could.