My body melts into the sheets as he licks me over and over, putting just enough pressure on me that I feel no pain, but complete and uninhibited ecstasy.
We’ve been practicing Barton Hollow for two days, mostly in our room at the Holiday Inn, but we walked out by the Mississippi river at the end of Canal Street and did some practicing there, too. I think Andrew came up with the idea to sneakily try to get me more comfortable singing in public. There weren’t many people out there at the time, but I was still nervous as hell. Most just walked past without stopping to check us out (we weren’t in full performance-mode and often stopped and started over at different parts of the song, so it wasn’t really much to listen to), but one or two here and there lingered as they walked past. A woman smiled at me. But I don’t know if it was a pity smile because I’m horrible, or if she happened to like my voice.
I guess it could go either way.
By day three, Andrew is sure that we both have it down and is set on heading to Old Point soon to perform.
Me, not so much. I need another week or month or year or two.
“You’re gonna do fine,” he says while tying his boots. “Actually, you’re gonna do great. By the end of the song, I’ll have to beat the guys off you.”
“Oh shut up,” I say, slipping on a black open shoulder top with cute chain straps. I’m definitely not wearing the strapless one on a night like this. “I saw the way the girls were lookin’ at you that night—I think having you up there with me is the only thing I’ve got going for me because everyone will be too preoccupied with you to notice my screw-ups.”
“Baby, you know the song better than I do,” he says. “Stop being so negative.” His black t-shirt tumbles down over his abs. He’s wearing a black and silver belt, but only tucks the shirt in a little around the buckle, letting the rest hang freely around the top of his chiseled hips. Dark jeans, the front of his tousled hair spiked up a bit—What was he saying?
“The only thing you really need to try to remember,” he goes on as he applies a layer of deodorant, “is not to sing every line in the song—got an opportunity not to sing as much but you still sing my parts, too.” He raises a brow looking over at me. “Not that I mind, I just figured it would make you more comfortable having to sing less.”
“I know, I’m just so used to singing along to the whole song—kind of hard to get the hang of not singing certain parts.”
I slip my feet down into my new heels and go to check myself out in the tall mirror over the TV stand.
“You are so damn sexy,” Andrew says coming up behind me.
He slips his hands on my waist and kisses my neck, then slaps me on the butt of my tight almost-skinny-jeans and I yelp a little because it stings.
“And as always, babe, I love the braids.” He reaches up and slides the two braids lying over each shoulder down the length of his thumbs and then kisses me playfully on the cheek.
I recoil and push him away teasingly. “You’ll mess up my makeup.”
He walks away smiling and grabs his wallet from the nightstand and slips it into his back pocket.
“Well, I guess this is it,” he says.
He moves to the center of the room and extends one hand far out to me, placing his other arm horizontally across his back and bows, grinning. The tips of my fingers inch their way across his and then he encloses my hand and pulls me along with him toward the door.
“What about the guitar?”
We stop just before he opens the door and he looks at me thankfully.
“Yeah, that might help,” he says, taking the guitar up by its neck. “If Eddie isn’t there, we might’ve been shit out of luck with no guitar to play with.”
“Oh, well then I shouldn’t have said anything.”
He shakes his head and pulls me with him out the door.
THIS TIME WE TAKE the Chevelle. Andrew took one look at my shoes and knew I wouldn’t make it all the way into Algiers wearing these babies and he wasn’t about to carry me and the guitar. We take the freeway instead of the ferry and make our way across the Mississippi and are there by nightfall. Walking the rest of the way to Old Point like we did the first time would’ve been better, because right now as we drive closer, I know we’ll be there in no time.
I’m starting to feel sick to my stomach.
We park along Olivier Street and get out. My feet are cemented to the road.
Andrew comes around to my side and pulls me into his arms, gently squishing me.
“I won’t make you do this,” he says, having a change of heart. I’m pretty sure I look like I’m about to lose the late lunch we had not long ago.
Pulling me away from his chest, he takes my face into his hands and gazes into my eyes. “I mean it, baby, all joking aside—I don’t want you to do it if you absolutely don’t want to, not even for me.”
I nod nervously and inhale a deep breath; my face still cupped within his hands.
“No, I can do this,” I say, still nodding, trying to pull my courage together. “I want to do it.”
He brushes my cheeks under the pads of his thumbs. “Are you sure?”
He smiles in at me with those green eyes, which I’m starting to believe are bewitching me in some way, and then takes my hand. He plucks the guitar out of the back seat and we walk into Old Point together.
“Parrish!” Carla says from behind the bar. She raises her hand and waves us towards her.
Still hand in hand, Andrew weaves us through the thick crowd and over to her. The TV behind her head is playing commercials; the light from it casts a white glow around her.
“Hey Carla,” Andrew says, leaning over the bar to hug her, “is Eddie here tonight?”
She puts her hands on her h*ps and smiles over at me.
“He sure is,” she says, “he’s around here somewhere. Hi Camryn, good to see you again.”
I smile back at her. “You too.”
Andrew sits on a barstool and motions for me to take the one next to him. I hop up and sit here nervously. All I can think about is how many people there are in this place. My eyes scan the room uneasily, over the tops of moving heads and through people standing up now that the band has started playing again. As the music picks up, Andrew and Carla are practically shouting at each other over the bar:
“Got any room for us tonight?” Andrew asks.
Carla leans in further toward him. “Us?” she says, glancing at me once. “Oh wow, are you both going to sing?” She looks excited.
My heart just jumped ship and fell into my knees.
I swallow down a nervous knot looking between them, but then another one just forms in its place.
Carla tilts her head and her already huge smile warms. “Oh honey, you’ll do great—no need to be nervous; everybody here will love you.” She reaches somewhere behind the bar and pulls up a shot glass. A man sits at the bar on the other side of me, obviously a regular since he doesn’t have to tell her what he wants and Carla is already pouring him a drink.
She keeps her attention mostly on me and Andrew, though.
“I’ve been tryin’ to tell her,” Andrew says, “but this is her first time, so I have to cut her some slack.”
“The first and last time,” I correct him.
Carla grins secretly over at Andrew and then says to me, “Well, I’m not the violent type, but if you have any problems with anyone out there, just come get me and I’ll throw them out the side door just like you see it done in the movies.” She winks at me and then turns back to Andrew.
“There’s Eddie now,” she says, nodding in the direction of the stage.
Eddie is walking through the crowd, wearing the same sort of thing I saw him in the first time I met him: button-up white shirt, black slacks, shiny black shoes and a deep, wrinkly smile.
“Ga, dere come Parrish!” Eddie says gripping Andrew’s hand and pulling him into a hug. Then he looks at me. “Galee! You look like dem lad’es in dem magazines, you do!” And he hugs me, too. He smells like cheap whiskey and cigarettes but I can only feel comforted by it for some reason.
Andrew is beaming.
“Camryn’s going to sing with me tonight,” Andrew says proudly.
Eddie’s eyes get real big, like bright white balls of excitement fixed within the dark brown backdrop of his skin. It should make me more nervous like when Carla found out, but Eddie’s presence is actually helping to ease my mind some. Maybe I should shackle him to my wrist while I sing.
“Oh sha,” Eddie says, grinning in at me, “ah bet you sing as preddy as you are.”
I blush hard.
“Well get’own up dere!” He points at the stage. “When dem’s done playin’ dis song ‘ere!”
Andrew takes my hand and pulls me to his side. I feel like Eddie is like another father to Andrew and Andrew is happy that he seems to like me so much.
Eddie walks beside the stage and holds up three fingers at us. “Teree more minutes!”
“Oh my God, I am so frickin’ nervous!”
Yep, Eddie should’ve stayed nearby.
Andrew’s hand tightens around mine. He leans in to my ear. “Just remember: all these people here are just having a good time; no one’s here to judge you—this ain’t American Idol.”
I take a deep, relaxing breath.
We listen to the band finish up their last song and then the music stops, followed by the usual sound of instruments being moved or tuned or just knocked against something the wrong way. A wave of chattering voices becomes louder without the music to drown it out, rolling through the space like an amplified, irregular humming. A thick layer of cigarette smoke makes the air feel stuffy, mixed with all of the bodies packed into the area.
When Andrew starts to pull me toward the stage my hands start shaking and I look down, realizing my nails are digging into the skin around his knuckles.
He smiles gently and I walk up with him.
“Do I look OK?” I whisper to him.
If I get through this without having an anxiety attack I’ll be surprised.
“Baby, you look perfect.”
He kisses my forehead and then sets his guitar next to the drum set so he can position the microphone.
“We’re going to share the mic,” he says. “Just don’t head-butt me.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “That’s not funny.”
“I’m not trying to be funny,” he laughs softly, “I’m serious.”
Several people in the crowd are already looking up at us, but most everybody else is doing their own thing. I can’t do anything but stand here and that in itself is making me more nervous. At least Andrew is able to preoccupy himself with his guitar. I’m just twirling my thoughts around in my head.
“Are you ready?” he asks beside me.
“No, but let’s get it over with.”
We look at each other and he quietly mouths: “One. Two. Three—”
We sing together:
“Ooooh…oooh…oooh…oooh!” A one-second pause. “Ooooh…oooh…oooh…oooh!”