Part 16 in Thurmount Holiday (see the category “Thurmount Holiday” for the other entries).
Tonight’s the charity fundraiser for the children’s cancer ward at the local hospital. I have asked Will a million times if he’s up to doing it, but after the first one-thousandth time he started to wave me off and get a bit irritable so I mostly let him be except for the other of thousands of times when the question just slipped out. He looks fine, except for the cast.
He, Jasper, and I practice our songs one time in the garage at Jasper’s parents’ house, just like old times, except we’re older, lots older.
The high school auditorium is filled to the brim. Blake is also performing. He heard about it and squeezed himself in as the closing act and I am trying hard to remember that it’s all good because it is for charity, but I have the sneaking suspicion that he’s doing it for Blake and not for the kids, and then I have to remind myself: why does it matter who he does it for as long as the kids benefit? All the reminder pinching has created a bruise on my arm.
A quartet of high school students sings four Christmas songs a capella and they’re really good. Whenever I hear folks just that talented, it fills me with so much inspiration.
We’re up. I walk with Will as he uses his crutches. He sits in the chair he’ll be performing from and I hand him his electric guitar, and make sure his acoustic is within reach, while I have the cello and fiddle, and Jasper the keyboard and drums. Not all simultaneously, mind you. We’re good, but not that good.
As we run through a few of our songs that have actually been relatively decent hits, Will takes over the microphone and I eye him strangely. He never likes to talk. That’s my job.
“I’ve got a surprise for y’all tonight and it’s a surprise for my best friend, my soulmate, and love of my life, Kayla.”
Oh, crap, I think, look from him to the audience and smile, but it’s a frozen kind of smile, a deer caught in the headlights kind of smile that feels like it could instantly shatter.
He nods to someone in the back of the auditorium and then a screen lowers behind us. It’s a video of him and me singing “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”, a song that we had sung as a joke last year, which someone, probably Jasper, must have taped. It’s been seamlessly edited and enhanced and we look sweet, but I’m mortified, still, by the “soulmate” and “love of my life” and now this video that, while beautiful, oddly makes me want to vomit.
I glance at Will from the corner of my eye and he is watching me, not the video. When it ends, there’s a lot of applause and some hooting.
And then Blake is swaggering onto stage already holding a microphone. “I think that this must be my cue before some yahoo runs off, or limps off, with the love of my life.”
Bizarro world I am yours.
There are camera flashes and now it looks like superstar Blake Hunter is going to turn this into a media hassle. Joy. Joy. More Joy.
“Thank y’all for coming. In case you forgot, we’re The Thurmount Trio hailing from this beautiful town of Thurmount. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year.” I blow a kiss and avoid Blake as he tries to put an arm around my waist and keep me in place.
Will looks pissed and I realize that it’s probably a good thing he’s on crutches or the newspaper folks or whoever’s out there would get more mileage out of this than they may already be getting. Good fortune? Ha!
Blake holds the microphone down at his side and then aggressively whispers in my ear. “Don’t walk off this stage without singing that song or I will make it all look very, very bad for you and gimpalong.”
I smile as if he just told me something funny. Blake smells like a whiskey distillery. Will waves to the audience and hobbles off. Now I feel sicker. Whatever he had wanted to achieve with that video has crashed and burned thanks to Blake, and maybe me.
The music starts up. It’s a recording and I hope we’re not supposed to lip sync because that’s just bad form. I sing while Blake prowls the stage, riling the crowd. Lots of cameras flash, more than should be and I’m pretty sure that Blake has brought in some outside outlets to record this.
I turn toward the side of the stage, but Will is nowhere to be seen. When the song ends, Blake grabs hold of my wrist and swings our arms upward as if we had just won a boxing match. Maybe he thinks he has. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost something.
“Stay on stage. I’ll make it worth your while,” he says, but as soon as he lets go, I blow a kiss to the crowd and hurry off the stage.
A reporter blocks my path, holding his phone out at me after rifling off a question about whether it’s true that I will be touring with Blake.
“I know nothing about that,” I say. Touring with Blake? What the?
Then Blake’s manager is there, the man who said I wasn’t good enough to go with Will and Blake to Nashville. He nods at me. “You and me have to talk.”