The bartender comes over and points at Rebecca. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Rebecca sits up, and in her most adult voice, says, “Bring me a rum and Coke.”
“Sure,” the bartender replies. “Can I see your ID?”
Rebecca sighs. “Bring me a Coke.”
“Coming up,” the bartender says and starts to go.
Rebecca says after her, “No ice”, which the bartender acknowledges, then looks over the menu, deciding on fries, and mac and cheese (Decatur’s Best!) by the time the bartender returns. Her food order handled, Rebecca sips her Coke and turns so she’s facing the stage. There are, at least, three guitars, a small drum set, and keyboards onstage, with a couple of tambourines and a harmonica holder hanging from the mic stands. Rebecca looked at the poster that described the artists performing when she bought her ticket, but other than one called Echo, who she’s not sure is a person or a group, she can’t recall them.
Lately, Rebecca has felt in need of some sort of release. A sophomore at Decatur High School (Class of 1999!), she’s the oldest sibling in her family, which consists of her, younger brother Steven, and mother Sharon. Her father, Owen, a pilot, abandoned the family when Rebecca was nine — “flew right out of our lives,” Sharon always says — and Rebecca has not had any contact with him since. For the past six months, her aunt, Rachel Lawson, has been living with them, having come to look after Sharon, after she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. It was Sharon who suggested Rebecca have a night out, perhaps correctly sensing her daughter could use a break.
As upbeat and positive as Rachel tries to be around Rebecca and Steven, she’s never sugarcoated the stark facts of Sharon’s illness or chances for survival. Sharon had ignored the symptoms, then put off treatment too long, despite warnings from Rachel, who had been living on the West Coast when Sharon first started complaining of feeling run down. In recent weeks, Rebecca has seen her mother’s energy level further drain away, as Sharon moved from the previous aggressive treatment she’d endured to what Rachel now calls “maintenance of pain”. Rebecca and Steven have both been reluctant to leave the house for fear their mother might slip away while they’re gone, but tonight, Sharon had insisted, giving Rebecca plenty of money to do whatever she wanted, once Steven left to spend the evening with a school mate.
Rebecca’s food arrives, and she starts eating. She tastes the mac and cheese, then douses it with a generous helping of Tabasco sauce, then tries another bite.
“Best gets better,” she says.
As the crowd starts filling in, a tall, shapely, dark-haired woman in her early-20s enters and leans against a stool near Rebecca, who can’t tear her eyes away. The woman sits with her back to the bar, and seems to be watching the door for someone.
Rebecca decides to try her luck. Leaning toward the woman, she says, “Excuse me. Are you performing?”
The woman glances over her shoulder at Rebecca, before returning her eyes to the door. She gives a quick, “No.”
Rebecca considers this, then presses ahead. “I’m Rebecca. Ah, Becky.”
“Good for you,” the tall woman says without looking. She rises, and Rebecca looks to see a tall, slender, dark-haired man, accompanied by a small woman with light, red hair, who looks not much older than Rebecca, headed toward the tall woman.
“We set?” the man says.
“Yeah, I talked to the sound guy,” the tall woman says. “He seems to know what’s what.”
“What, what, what,” the smaller woman says, all the while twisting her head slightly to the left. “Let’s get ready. We’re opening.”
They move away from the bar and toward the stage. Rebecca keeps her eyes on the tall woman. She suspects it could be love at first sight.
For more than a year, Rebecca has been trying to come to terms with the feelings she’s been having for some of her female classmates. She’s well aware of the implications, having been exposed to the topics in human sexuality class, but had not anticipated that it would affect her in a personal sense. Still, she concludes, if it’s how she is, there’s nothing much she can do about it, so she might as well learn to live with it. She doubts her mother or Steven will mind, and has considered broaching the topic with Rachel, but Rebecca isn’t sure how much she trusts her aunt. Rachel isn’t quite what Rebecca was expecting from her mother’s description of her older sister.
Sharon has always described Rachel as a “classic free spirit” and always seemed a bit in awe of her slightly older sister. Rachel moved to California in the 70s right out of high school with her best friend, and her life there has been shrouded in mystery. From what little she’s been told, Rebecca knows Rachel’s friend died, and Rachel became a nurse, but Sharon hasn’t spoken much of what Rachel was doing during the 80s. Prior to Rachel’s arrival, Rebecca formed this image of this wild party girl, hobnobbing with celebrities and cruising LA in a hot sports car. The woman who appeared at the house this past November was totally different, more “new age” than Rebecca expected, with few stories of her exciting Hollywood lifestyle.
The trio of the tall woman and her two companions are now on stage, the man behind the keyboards, and the smaller woman holding a guitar. The tall woman appears to be helping with setup, communicating with the person in the booth as the smaller woman strums the guitar. The lights dim, and the tall woman takes a seat to the right of the stage. A man who identifies himself as Eddie comes to the stage, tells the audience to “hush up” while the singers are performing, and introduces the first act, Echo.
The smaller woman tells the crowd she’s Charlotte, and introduces her brother, Brian on the keyboards, then launches into a song that leaves Rebecca blown away. For such a small person, Charlotte has a huge voice, that floods into every corner of the room, and puts Rebecca in mind of Alison Moyet or Annie Lenox. At one point, midway through the forty-minute set, the tall woman goes to the booth and speaks to the man running sound. She spends the remainder of the performance stationed in front of the booth, listening.
Afterward, Rebecca heads to the lobby between the music room and the patio, where Charlotte is speaking to some audience members, and signing people up for Echo’s mailing list. Brian and the tall woman are packing up their instruments.
“I enjoyed your performance,” Rebecca says, as she’s adding her name to the list.
“Thanks,” Charlotte says. “We’re going to be working on an album real soon.” Her speaking voice reminds Rebecca of how her father’s relatives around Macon talk.
“Is that other woman your sister?” Rebecca asks.
“Sister, sister, sis–” Charlotte begins, giving Rebecca an idea of where the group gets its name. “No, that’s our friend, Claire. She does our sound and helps set up.”
Brian enters and joins Charlotte, who introduces Rebecca.
“Always nice to gain a new fan,” he says as he shakes Rebecca’s hand.
“Is Claire waiting?” Charlotte says, to which Brian nods. She looks back to Rebecca. “It’s great meeting you, Becky. Hopefully we’ll get some stuff out to the mailing list about our next show.”
“I’ll look for it,” Rebecca says.
Once Charlotte and Brian leave, Rebecca goes back to the music room and settles her tab. She hangs out for a couple more performers, but can’t stop worrying about her mother, so she decides to call it a night and heads home.
Rebecca makes a mental note to try and keep up with Echo, but in the meantime, life intrudes. Less than a month later, Sharon Asher loses her battle with cancer.