Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ginnie & Sebastian: November 30, ages 31-32

Ginnie & Sebastian, the first chapter: CLICK HERE
CLICK HERE for the previous chapter of Ginnie & Sebastian

November 30, age 31, turning 32     

"Come in, she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm."
-- Bob Dylan

     It’s been hard being “just friends” with Sebastian Haepst.  My “idea” of him wasn’t too far from reality.  But the “power couple,” as his musician friends call Sebastian and Gwen, seem still to be going strong.

     Although, about a month ago, Sebastian was driving me home after watching Magnusson play at Potter’s House; I didn’t live far from Seb.  Gwen was out of town, on vacation with her family.
     “Ginnie, can I ask you something?”
     My feet were on the dashboard, and my arms were tucked around me.  He failed to notice I was cold.
     “It’s about Gwen and me.”
     “She’s great.”
     My heart stopped. 
     “There’s nothing wrong with Gwen.”
     My ears perked. 
     “She’s beautiful and smart and funny.”
     I held my breath.
     “She’s great.”  He paused.
     “Yep, she’s great,” I mimicked.  “So…?  What’s the problem?”
     “We’ve been fighting a lot.  And…I don’t know.”
     “Okay.  What have you been fighting about?”
     “Little things.  Stupid little things.  She got mad at how I ate my sandwich the other day.  And then I argued with her over the best way to get somewhere.  Just things that don’t matter.”
     I rubbed my cheek.  My window had fogged, so I cleared it with the sleeve of my bomber jacket.  On the other side of the glass, the yellow line snaked back and forth.  I rolled my eyes to the ceiling of the car.
     “From what I can see,” I said, “you two are good for each other.  She cares for you, yeah?”
     A beat.  “Yeah.”
     “Does she make you want to be a better person?”
     He threw me a withering look.  “Yeah, guess so.”
     “You guess so?”
     “If I knew you were gonna get hokey about it….”  He grinned.
     “Maybe.  But – do you like yourself when you’re with her?”
     “Sometimes.”  He wiped at his nose.
     “More times than not?”
     Sighed.  “Yeah.”
     “Do you love each other?  And I don’t mean, are you in love with each other.  I mean, do you genuinely love each other?”
     He quirked his lips.  “What’s the difference?”
     I wormed my hands into the pockets of my jacket and studied the soft denim of my jeans – the threads running diagonally, stretched over my knees.  “Being in love is a feeling.  Love is something you do.  Like, even if you’re mad at someone, you still hold an umbrella over her head when it’s raining.  Or fixing her a to-go cup of coffee when she’s running late.”
     A warm smile spread over his face --
     this was the first time I heard his smile, the hum that no one else believes I hear, though I didn’t realize it at the time --

     I swallowed hard.
     “Yeah.  Gwen and I love each other.”
     I smashed my lips together, nodded and twisted my head to watch the houses pass.

     Tonight I sit next to Seb in the coffee shop; he and I are hanging out with some friends.  Gwen isn’t here.  “She’s working late tonight.  Her office has some sort of charity thing this week.  She wanted to start setting up for that,” Seb says.
     I sit next to Sebastian because I don’t know the other people as well, and none of the Magnussons are here.  Sebastian smells of pine.  His long hands lay clasped in his lap and his torso curves against the back of his chair, his waist meeting the lip of the small seat.  One ankle is crossed casually over the opposite knee.  He and one of the other guys are discussing famous musicians or maybe they have moved on to swords, but at one point in this conversation, Seb’s eyebrows draw together, his lips purse and he cocks his head.
     I gasp audibly.
     “What?” Sebastian turns to me with a wary smile, while the other guy joins another conversation going on at the table.
     “Nothing.”  Seb isn’t buying that.  “I just had an ‘I see the boy I knew in the man that stands before me’ moment.”
     “Okay, one – I love that movie.  But don't tell anyone.  And two – what are you talking about?”
     I sigh and grip the sides of my seat.  “It’s my favorite movie,” I say feeling the heat pinking the skin of my neck.  “And: you still make that face.  It’s that look you made when you were a kid that said, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m right, but I don’t want to make you feel bad for being wrong.’  I remember that look very well.”
     He makes the face again, and I laugh.
     “That’s it.”  
     I pull my buzzing phone from my pocket.  The caller id flashes Helena Haepst; she is probably calling about the birthday party for her sister I am helping her plan.  “Your mom,” I say to Sebastian.
     “I’m not here,” he says.  “Not dragging me into that party planning mess.”
     I snort before answering.
     “Hey, Ginnie.”  Helena’s voice is at a higher pitch.  “Is Sebastian with you?”
     “Yeah.  What’s up?”
     “It’s John,” she says.  There is a pause, empty air.  “He’s had a seizure.  The doctor doesn’t know what caused it.  He’s fairly stable now,” her voice shakes at the end, “but they’ve admitted him to ICU.  I can’t seem to get through to Seb on his phone.”
     “Okay.  Hold on.”
     I hold the phone in my hand covering the mouthpiece.
     “Seb.”  I lean closer to him.  “You’re mom’s been trying to get hold of you.”
     He feels in his pockets.  “Damn.  Must have left my phone at home."  He seems more upset about this fact than the situation warrants.  "What’s she need?”
     I wrestle with whether or not to tell him or let his mom give him the news regarding his father.  Back and forth I consider the choices.  One.  The other.  Tell him.  It’s a family matter, so keep it that way.  Hearing bad news in person is better than hearing it over the phone.
     “Your dad’s in the hospital.  He had a seizure.  They don’t know what caused it, but they have him in ICU.”
     Trying to make his fingers behave, Sebastian almost drops the phone I hand him on the floor.
     I watch as he takes in everything his mom tells him.  His face is still.  “Okay,” he says finally.         “I’m coming.  I’ll be fine, promise.”  He slips my phone into his pocket.
     “Sorry, guys.  Gotta go.”  He relays the short version to the group.
     Everyone gives their well wishes as Sebastian hurries for the door, key in hand.
     I follow him.  “Sebastian.”
     He turns, a distant expression on his face.
     “You have my phone.”
     “Oh.  Sorry,” he says and hands it back.
     I offer to drive him.  His dark blue eyes scan my face before he agrees.  
     It is a quiet drive with nothing but the sounds of Eddie Vedder playing.  I grip the steering wheel, and then relax my arms and hands.  I fight to breath normally.  To slow my mind.
     “I’ll sit in the waiting room,” I say once I have parked.  “In case someone needs a ride.”
     Sebastian says nothing, only stares at the dashboard.
     “Do you want me to call Gwen?  Have her here?”
     He shakes his head solemnly.  “Gwen and I aren’t really together anymore.  She’s been seeing Dan.”
     “As in your roommate?”
     “Not my roommate much longer.”  He glances at me out of the corner of his eye.
     I take a sudden interest in the street lamp that stands at the head of the car.  A light rain falls through the straining beam of orange-y light.  My car smells of old cheeseburgers; I had forgotten to toss the trash from lunch with Beth and her kids the day before.
     “Dan’s not really to blame.  Gwen and I don’t really bring out the best in each other anymore.” 
Sebastian rubs his hands together, and before I can talk myself out of it, I take hold of one.
     “Whatever we find up there,” I say, “I’ve got your back.  You ready?”
     “Okay.”  He frees his hand and then tugs on the door handle.
     I splash after Seb, following his black Chuck Taylors.  I am wearing a modest ruby ring on my right hand, which I slip to the ring finger of my left.  The rain now pounds on the pavement.
     A slate stone entry leads to a blue and gold tiled walkway surrounded on either side by well-kept carpet.  Behind a massive U-shaped desk sits a suited receptionist furiously typing things into a computer and answering a phone.
     Both Sebastian and I have our hands jammed into our pockets as we step into the elevator.  Cold rivulets from my rain-soaked hair drip down my neck.  Seb wipes the drops from his face with the inside of his coat.  Two nurses enter at the second floor.  One makes a joke, and both laugh.  At the ICU floor, the elevator doors open to a pristine-white nurses’ station.  A couple nurses are behind the desk making notes and studying charts.
     “This way,” Seb says.
     Our wet shoes squeak on the floor.  Machines whir and beep, and hushed whispers come from rooms with open doors.  The scent of rubbing alcohol assaults my nose and grazes along my tongue.  I try breathing only through my mouth, but it burns, so instead I attempt breathing without smelling.
     Seb finds his father’s room and nearly collides with a doctor exiting.
     “Are you family?” she says when Sebastian inquires about John Haepst.
     “I’m his son,” Seb says, “but--.”
     “His fiancĂ©.”  I point to Sebastian with my left hand.
     She nods taking note of the ring.  “Your mother is sitting with him now.  He’s sleeping.”
     “I’ll just go in,” I say excusing myself.  “Helena?”
     Her curly brown head sticks out of John’s coat.  Her fair English skin has lost all its color, and her brown eyes loom.  Yet even as she is, even under the harsh fluorescent light, even under such horrid circumstances, she is beautiful.
     She manages a smile when she sees me.  “How’d you get in here?”
     I show her my hand now adorned with the ruby ring and wink conspiratorially .  “Pulled a fast one.”
     I meet her quick hug, and then her boy walks into the room.
     “Mom?”  Sebastian leans down a little allowing his mother to wrap her arms around his neck.  “Mom, what happened?”
     I find a cushioned fold out chair in a shadowed corner and pull it closer to the bed.
     John Haepst is a big man, six foot two and stocky.  Full of life is John, but seeing him with tubes and wires connected to his body, his silhouette beneath the thin sheet and white blanket, his hands not quite the same color of life and work -- he looks delicate.
     And, suddenly, I know, as I just know things sometimes.
     Helena’s fair hand slides beneath her husband’s, palm to palm.  His lids open revealing eyes blue like Sebastian’s.  John's eyelashes though are normal.  Seb must have gotten his criminally long eyelashes from some other distant relative.
     “John dear.”
     “Hello, beautiful.  What the hell did I do this time?”
     “Hey, son.  Okay?”
      I excuse myself to find the waiting room.
     “Ginnie,” Sebastian stops me at the door.
     I grip the door frame.  The sickly, sweet smell lays in a thin layer just below the thick layer of freezing air.  My jaw aches; I gently separate my clenched jaws and stare at Sebastian’s waist; just past him, Helena and John speak softly, the light behind the bed shining down upon them.  The same light illuminates Sebastian’s head when I look up at his face.  If only I can make it to my car, I will be okay.
     “Please don’t go.”
     Air flows in and out of my body again.  My heart picks up to its normal rhythm, returns from the slow, pounding that it was.
     Sebastian’s eyes squint, and his lips purse.  He looks away.
     “Seb.”  I take hold of his shoulders.  “He’s going to be okay.  I’m not just saying that,” I say when he starts shaking his head.  “I know.  Look at me.”  His face is still turned down, but his gaze locks on to mine.  “Your dad is going to be fine.”
     “How do you know?”
     I shrug.  “I just know.”
     Sebastian resumes his normal, everyday face for the moment.  We sit with his parents for a few minutes or a few hours.  Then Helena orders Seb home.  Elliott, his brother, will be here the next morning.
     In the elevator, I push the button for the ground level.  There is a muttering.  I glance at Sebastian.
     “Can I hold your hand?” he says louder, his voice pushing past a lump in his throat.
     I quirk my lips in thought.  “I don’t know.  Can you?”  I hold out an open hand for him, the quirk in my lips sliding into a smirk.
     He returns a small smile and envelopes my small hand in his, his thumb glancing my skin before forming around the shape of my knuckles.
     “Geez, you’re freezing,” he says.
     “I swear, hospitals are like meat lockers.  Must want to keep the specimens fresh.”
     “Good lord.”  He tucks the captured hand under his armpit.
     I giggle.  “What are you doing?”
     “Seriously, have you felt your hands?  How are you still moving and talking?  Here, give me the other one.”  He swipes my other hand from my pocket and encloses it in both of his blowing into the opening he’s created.
     “’I’ll n-n-never let go, Jack.  I’ll never let go.’”
     “Shut up,” he says rolling his eyes and releasing the hand he’d just been heating with his breath.  He replaces the hand trapped under his arm back into the embrace of his own hand.  “You try to do something nice for someone….”
     I snicker.
     Hand in hand we jog to my car.  Sebastian opens my door for me before going around to his own side, his shoulders hunched forward and head bent against the rain.
     “Home, Charles?” I say in a mock British accent.
     Sebastian pauses wiping his face with a towel I keep stashed in my car.
     Of course, the matter of Gwendolyn and Dan.
     “Or, I have a nice couch?  Enough blankets to cover a boat load of people, and if you’re very good, maybe some coffee or hot chocolate.”
     He laughs a little.  “Okay, thanks.”
     The twenty minute drive to my house is eternal.  I hit every red light.  The car crawls through a road reduced to one lane due to a fender bender.  The whole time my stomach twists in knots.  It’s no big deal, I tell myself.  He’s only sleeping on your couch.  Then my thoughts travel to supplies.  Do I even have coffee or hot chocolate?  What about breakfast?  Cereal.  Yes, I have cereal.  But is the milk still good?  Is there even enough left for one bowl?
     “Penny for your thoughts?”
     I just smile and shake my head waving the question away with a hand.
     Finally, we make it to my house.
     Sebastian places himself on the middle seat of the couch, his wet coat soaking the cushions.  I advise him where the multitude of blankets are and pick out a couple of choice ones that will cover his long frame.  I run to the hall closet and grab an unused toothbrush and a tube of paste.
     “Do you wear contacts?” I call out to him.  Yes.  Grab a travel-sized bottle of solution and a container.  Put all of these toiletries in the guest bathroom.  “Towels and rags are beneath the sink.  Body wa-soap, shampoo and stuff in the shower.  Need a glass of water?” 
     My verbal diarrhea halts.
     Sebastian is slumped on the couch staring at the carpet. 
     I slide onto the seat beside him and take his hand.  “That was really scary,” I say.
     Tears plummet down his cheeks.  Then he turns to me and pulls me to himself leaning his head into the crevice between my neck and shoulder, his hands wrapping about my back clinging to my sides.  I slide my arms around him and squeeze as tightly as I can.  
     I can feel my face chapping.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Prayers Bouncing off the Ceiling

I've heard and read often the phrase "prayers bouncing off the ceiling."  I've been there.

I remember when I was going through depression in high school, the nights lying in bed, the room dark, crying out to God but feeling like those prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.  I remember those nights feeling like God was in the next room, and I was screaming for him to help me, and it felt like he could neither hear me nor, scarier still, could he get to me.

However, the Holy Spirit filled me with the power to cling to the knowledge, the truth, that my prayers weren't bouncing off the ceiling, that God could hear me and was with me.  It was during the depression I suffered in high school that I learned that sometimes I, we have to live by what we know and not by what we feel; following our hearts is not good advice.  Sometimes our hearts lie; sometimes our hearts are stupid.

When my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, I have to cling to the knowledge of who God is.  He is El Roi -- the God who sees us, and he is Emmanuel -- God with us.

"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.  Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above."  -- "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"

Those times when one's prayers are bouncing off the ceiling can be terrifying, but we have no need to fear.  No matter how far we wander from the path, we are his, marked with the King's seal.  We are his, safe in his hand.  2 Corinthians 1:22 (NIV) says, "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."  He set his seal of ownership on us; we are under his banner; we are marked with his sigil.  In Isaiah 43:1 God says, "Fear not for I have redeemed you.  I have summoned you by name.  You are mine."

Those nights (and days) of having to cling to who God is were scary and hard, but I am his.  We are his.  He is Jehovah Nissi -- the Lord is our banner.  There is nowhere we can go that he is not with us.  He sees us in our pain and suffering as well as our happy times, and he knows, and there is no where we can go that he is not already there.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ginnie & Sebastian: October 1, age 30

  Ginnie & Sebastian, the first chapter:  CLICK HERE
CLICK HERE for the previous chapter of Ginnie & Sebastian  

October 1, age 30

"Though nothing will keep us together/ We could steal time just for one day/ We could be heroes."
-- David Bowie

     Christopher Magnusson – Mudskunk.
     The whole time, he knew...
     “Hey GW, come meet August and me,” he said.
     It's the day after the Local Band Review.  I still can't believe he threw me on the stage, and I still can't believe I didn't throw up.  I wasn't sure I'd had enough high-sugared tea this morning to go out into the world.
     “Christine will be there, of course.  August and me are meeting up with some old musician friends.”
     “Because we like hanging out together.”
     I sighed.  “No, why do you want me to come?”
     “Are you busy?”
     “As a matter of fact – no.  I’m having a girl’s night with my friend Beth, but, unfortunately, I’m not busy right now.”
     “Will try not to take offense at that, and I will see you in an hour,” and he gave me the name of the restaurant.
     I put on what Beth dubbed my “trauma-armor.”  Some people prefer to wear sweats and hoodies the day after a traumatic event; I prefer gray Chucks, a black t-shirt and a leather bomber jacket that had belonged to a cousin. 
     “Bit overkill with the glasses,” Beth remarked the first time she saw this outfit, but the aviators help.  One pleasant memory salvaged from a mostly unremarkable childhood was my dad wearing aviators religiously.
     At the restaurant, August holds up a hand.  I sit deliberately in the chair before taking in the faces around the table.  Chris and Christine are on one side of me while August sits on the other.  And across from me – the tall, dark stranger from the night before, with his arm around his Natalie Wood look-alike girlfriend.
     “That was you last night, yeah?" I say to the stranger across from me.  "The one Kyle and I ran into, literally.”
     “That was me.  You knocked me right off my feet.”  He grins, and the school girl within me twitters.  The girlfriend flashes a fake smile.
     Chris makes introductions around the table, reaching last the handsome stranger across from me.
     “And this is Sebastian Haepst and his lady Gwendolyn Motts.”  All of my insides have disappeared.
     Chris, you dirty, filthy, rat mudskunk.  Be cool, GW.
     “This is Ginnie Wood.  If you’re nice, she may let you call her GW.”
     “Gin Wood?” Sebastian says.
     August and “Mudskunk” exchange a look and get ready to crawl under the table for cover.  No one calls me "Gin."
     “No.  Well, I was at one time, but, no.  I’m Ginnie or GW now.”
     The boys relax.
     “It is you.  When they said your name last night, on stage, I thought it was familiar.”
     I feign a quizzical look.  “Sebastian Haepst…from Hardy Road Elementary?”
     “Wow.  How the heck are ya?  What happened to you?”
     His family moved a lot.  After he’d completed first grade, they moved for the third time, and they’d moved one more time before finally settling in the house where his parents still live.  Though his older brother, Elliott, still moves around a lot, Sebastian was thrilled to lay roots somewhere.
     While Sebastian recounts this story, his ridiculously pretty girlfriend shifts to lean closer to him, rests her hand on his arm and interjects a few comments.
     Gwendolyn.  Or Gwen, which is what people around the table call her.  Horrible name, poor child.  Though I’d never been fond of the name Gwen, it is kind of medieval, like a King Arthur or Robin Hood character.  Sebastian had been seriously into knights and dragons and swords and castles when we were kids.  I guess he still is.
     The Magnusson cousins have been friends with Seb since college, when, as a bassist, he had played with them every now and then.  So Chris has been friends with Seb since college, which means Christine knew Seb since Chris’ college days.  Et tu, Christine?
     Someone else pulls Sebastian into a new conversation.
     Sebastian and Gwen act like any close couple.  There isn’t anything off, yet, I can’t put my finger on it, but I get the feeling they no longer make each other happy.
     Members of the table slowly leave for other engagements.
     “It was good meeting you again, Ginnie.”
     Sebastian and Gwen exit, his arm over her shoulder and hers around his waist, smiling and lost in their own conversation.
     Only the Magnussons and I remain standing at the front of the restaurant.  August splits leaving “Mudskunk” and his wife to wither beneath my glare.
    “What?” Chris says.  Christine remains silent, but then, she usually allows her husband to take lead in conversation.
     “You know him," I say.  "You force that story out of me, I confess his name, and you know him and said nothing.”
     Chris stares blankly at me.
     “You know Sebastian Haepst,” I whisper, almost in a hiss, “but you don’t bother saying you know him?”
     “What are you talking about?”
     I slap my thigh.  “I told you he is my ideal.”  So it was three years ago I had told Chris that Sebastian Haepst is my ideal, but still, the whole time?
     “Oh, that conversation.”  He chuckles.  “I didn’t know he was the same guy.”
     I scoff and turn to exit saying “Mudskunk” under my breath.
     “What is a mudskunk?” Chris says.
     “It, apparently, was the ugliest name my four-year-old self could come up with to call my mother when I was mad at her.”
     I turn abruptly on my heel to face him.
     “Woah, GW.  Are you mad?”
     “’Didn’t know if he was the same guy’?  How many Sebastian Haepst’s have you heard of?  How many Sebastian’s for that matter?”
     “Yeah, well, the whole story was weird.  Okay?  I didn’t want to say anything, but it’s weird.”
     “It’s not weird, it’s roman--.”
     Christine is staring hard at the “Please seat yourself” sign.
     “Oh fine,” I say and shove the aviators on my face.
     Chris snickers.  “Later, Gin.”
     “Such a punk,” I say before pushing open the door and leaving.

     I am at Beth’s recalling the story to her while she places a jar in front of six-month-old Emma and a plate of food in front of three-year-old Paul.
     My best friend knows about my “If ever I were to marry someone” thing.
     “Wow, so you actually met him again after all these years?  That’s funny.  Paul, you throw more peas and no Daniel Tiger after dinner.  Okay, Em, here we go,” and Beth swoops a spoonful of mushy something claiming to be green beans into Emma’s mouth.
     “How are you not appalled?  It’s awful?”
     “What, was he a jerk?  Justin!  I thought it was just the idea of him you were into anyway.  Justin!  Can you grab my sweater on your way down?  It’s on the foot of the bed!”
     “No, he’s fine.  I meant Chris having known him the whole time and not telling me.”
     “Oh.  Yeah.  Well, maybe he doesn’t know him that well.  Thanks, sweets.  Okay, you finish this.”  She stands and hands her husband, Justin, the jar of green mush.  “And if Paul throws peas again, no Daniel Tiger.  Mommy loves you.  Bye, sweets.”
     “They’ve been friends since college.”
     “What movie are we seeing again?”
     “Oh, fine.”

CLICK HERE for the next chapter of Ginnie & Sebastian

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Journey of Isaiah 12:2

"Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation."
-- Isaiah 12:2 (NIV)

I like how within two or three lines an entire journey is taken.  That's very much like our lives to God, is it not, but a mere breath?  As I read this verse to form it into a prayer, I wondered at the first line and the last line.  At first glance they say the same thing, but actually reading the verse, they are not the same.

The author of this verse begins with head knowledge but not heart knowledge:  "Surely God is my salvation."  He goes on to say that because of this head knowledge, "I will trust" (because I know God is my salvation); I will "not be afraid" (because I know God is my salvation).

Then his head knowledge expands going deeper to discover that Jehovah Majesty -- the One who created the heavens and earth and everything in them, who places each of the billion-trillion-zillion stars and planets and so forth in the sky -- who has the power to crush the author with just a word, a mere breath, this great God is on the author's side:  "The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense."

And by living with faith the head knowledge ("Surely God is my salvation") of who God is has become heart knowledge:  "he has become my salvation."

Beautiful.  All that long journey in but two or three lines.

Thank you, Father, for being true and faithful during all the times I had to struggle clinging to head knowledge.  Thank you for being my Good Shepherd, the Great Physician and King of kings: for your guidance, protection and provision; your healing; and your faithful sovereignty and leadership.  Because of who you are, I will trust and not be afraid.  Unfathomably, Jehovah, you are my strength and my defense.  Yes, you have become my salvation.  In Jesus' name, I pray amen.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Ginnie & Sebastian: September 30, age 31

Ginnie & Sebastian, the first chapter: CLICK HERE
CLICK HERE for the previous chapter of Ginnie & Sebastian

September 30, age 31

"Pleased to meet you.  Hope you guess my name."
-- Mick Jagger

     I am excited for tonight:  Local Band Review at Potter’s House put together by moi.  I am da’ bomb.  I have seven bands lined up with a surprise finale – a local band called Marc, which was hugely popular back when I was a kid, reuniting after fifteen years to perform one song.
     The other bands: Lucas, The Goon Dawgs, The Pfeifers, Braxton Hicks (I don’t ask questions because I don’t want to know), Alma Mater, The Haunt and, of course, Chris and his cousin August's group Magnusson, will each do three to five songs.
     Kyle, the manager of Potter’s House, had suggested I MC since I was having trouble finding someone.  It was hard not to laugh in his face.  I told him, the last time someone allowed me in front of a large group of people, my knees locked, I keeled to one side and remained catatonic for two minutes.
     Kyle had laughed thinking I was speaking in hyperbole.  “Severe stage fright,” he said once he realized I was not laughing with him.
     “Not stage fright so much as I just don’t like people looking at me.”
     “I’m looking at you.”
     “I don’t like a lot of people looking at me.  I’m fine with a small group or if someone else is there to share the attention, but me alone, and people watching….”  I had to stop talking about it.
     “Duh, I know someone I can ask,” I said.  “To MC.”
     August’s older brother, William, had been a DJ for his college’s radio station.  He was already coming, and, of course, for August’s friend he’d do it.
     Everything is set.  “GW” Wood, stage manager and director extraordinaire.

*      *     *

     I’d realized I had the “cosmic intuition” for a while.  Still don’t know what to call it.  It’s not really a sixth sense or a third-eye; I just know things – sense them, really, more than know.
     I knew August and Liz had split a week before he’d told anyone.  He hadn’t even revealed the breakup to Chris or William.
     At one Magnusson jam session, Chris started nagging August to bring Liz on a double-date with him and Christine.  August kept saying they couldn’t – he was busy, Liz was definitely busy.  Nothing suspicious there with regards to Liz.  She was a traveling nurse and wasn’t always in town.
     The Monday before Chris asked his cousin to double, I’d ran into August at the coffee shop.  He smiled, said “hi.”  I returned the gesture.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but as soon as I saw August, before he saw me and greeted me, the thought came: he and Liz broke up.
     “Is Liz out of town this month?” Chris asked during that jam session.
     August, sitting on his drum stool, sticks resting on the snare drum, sighed.  “Man, we can’t because there is no ‘we.’  Liz and I broke up.”
     It took August a week to confess that to his cousin, one of the people closest to him.
Chris is a very private person as well.  (How do I always find the quiet ones?)  Chris and Christine both keep things close to the vest.  Still, I knew.
     I was at the Magnusson residence for yet another pizza and movie night:  The Sound of Music.  Chris was very impressed with my sing-along skills.  “Well, okay then.  So you sing.”  He laughed.  “Damn lady.”
     “Please,” I retorted.
     And I knew.  There were no special looks.  No extraordinary, tender gestures.
     I shifted my eyes back and forth between Chris and his wife.
     “What?” Christine said and wiped her face.
     “Nope,” Chris said.  “Now we’re intrigued.  What were you going to ask?”
     “You aren’t pregnant are you?”
     Christine and Chris looked between themselves and me.
     I scooted deeper into the soft couch.  “Sorry.  None of my beeswax.”  I glued my eyes to the “magic box of light.”
     The screen froze.
     “Um….”  Chris laughed.  “How…?”
     “We only just told our family.  Who did you hear it from?”
     My heels pushed hard into the cushion, but my body wouldn’t move through the sofa.
     “Did August spill the beans?”
     I levelled my gaze at Chris.  “You think August is going to tell anyone anything?”
     “I’ve met William, like, twice.”
     “My mom?”
     “Chris, I’ve spoken to your mom once on the phone.  No.  No one told me.  I just…guessed.”
     “Guessed?” Christine said.  Sitting together on the loveseat, the couple turned to each other.  Christine shrugged, and then threw her hands in the air and squealed.  “Yes!  We’re going to have a baby!”
     She and I sprang from our seats and gave each other a hopping-embrace.
     “But you can’t tell anyone,” she said.
     “Not a soul.”
     I turned to Chris and squealed.
     He put a finger to his ear and squeezed shut his eyes.  “Do you think we could lower the decibel level?”
     “You’re just jealous you can’t reach that pitch,” I said with my arms held open waiting for him to get off his butt and meet my hug.

     Then there was the night five months later that I was driving home from the grocery store.  I watched the bugs dance in the light straining from the street lamps.  The rain from the morning still glittered on the slick streets.  I reached for the stereo knob to adjust the volume.  Dread plopped into my chest and spread like a stain through my veins.  I didn’t know what was wrong, but something.
     Chris and Christine’s house was the next right.  They’d fix it.  Their presence always cheered me up, like seeing that someone cared enough to leave on a porch light.
     I rang the doorbell.  Chris’ shadow darkened the frost-glass window.  He pulled open the door.
     “No,” was all I said.  I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
     He hesitated at first.
     I didn’t move.  Didn’t say I was sorry.  Didn’t open my arms.
     Chris gave a whole body sigh and stepped back to allow me in.
     Lead weighed my feet down.  My heart pumped harder.
     “Where is she?”
     “The bedroom.”
     Our voices were hushed; the house was still.
     I took my coat off, laid it on the back of the couch.  Placing one foot in front of the other, I made my way around a corner and down an unlit passage to a room lit by only a table lamp.
     Christine sat on a sage-clad bed with pillows between her back and the black, willow headboard, her legs crisscrossed; I stepped to the opposite side and faced her.  With my feet, I slid off my shoes and crawled slowly onto the bed deliberately placing my hands and knees.  I mimicked her pose and stared at the baseboard across from me.  I bit my lip.  So quiet was the room, I could hear each breath we took and each breath we exhaled.
     Then I drew my knees up and looked at my friend: wavy, blond hair a little mussed, eyes red and cheeks splotched.  She didn’t look any different.  Just sad.  Yet my soul burst and leaked over the bedspread to hers.
     “Christine?”  I spoke timidly.
     Her head, illuminated by the lit lamp behind her, slowly turned.  Her blue, watery eyes met mine for a breath before she turned back to face forward into whatever black void her heart had landed.
     I watched my thumbnails and flicked them together.  From the corner of my eye I saw Christine’s right hand resting near my foot.  I took hold of her delicate hand and nestled it between both of mine.
     Soft sobs escaped her, and she leaned into my chest.  I held still to her hand that was now gripping mine.
     Chris had come into the room.  He removed his guitar from the single armchair and sat staring at his feet sucking on a calloused fingertip.
     I removed my hand from Christine’s grip and placed that arm around her shoulders.
For a long time we sat, Chris in his chair and Christine cradled in my arms.  All night.

     Sometimes I just know things.

*     *     *

     Tonight, things have been running smoothly, the songs have been cooking for about an hour.
     I take a break from playing stage manager and sit at the bar joking with Tony and Andrea.  Kyle sits down on the stool beside me, and, the split second before it happens, I know it will.
     Kyle’s butt goes to meet the seat, but instead of staying in place, his stool careens to the left.  Impulsively, I lunge at Kyle – as if five foot, three inch, one hundred twenty pound me can keep five foot ten inch, husky Kyle from falling.
     As his stool crashes one way, Kyle falls the other throwing out his arms to catch himself.  One of his arms smacks me in the shoulder shoving me against my stool, which clatters to the ground in the path of a tall, skinny dude.  He trips but quickly rights himself on the other side of the fallen stool.  However, Kyle lands on his knees, his hands tangling with my feet, which, in an attempt to avoid stomping on Kyle’s extremities, do not stay underneath me.  Gravity pulls me backwards.  I smack into the tall stranger who catches me at the expense of his backside meeting with the concrete floor.
     Funny how time can flash and crawl simultaneously.
     My back thumps against his chest.  I unsuccessfully scramble to get up.  I feel the vibration of the stranger laughing before my ears register the sound.  I start giggling.  Kyle turns on his back guffawing.
     “Oh man,” he says.  “Wipe out.”
     Tony lays his head on top of his crossed arms, his shoulders shaking, and Andrea wipes a tear from her smiling face.
     Kyle manages to stand and proffers a helping hand first to me and then to the stranger.  “You all right, man?” he says still clasping the stranger’s hand; he places his other hand on the guy’s shoulder.
     I don’t take in the response.  I am overtaken by the scent of pine emanating from the man’s death-metal t-shirt; the hem of the shirt settles just at his hip.  Dark wash jeans cover the rest of his lanky figure, and Chuck Taylors adorn his feet.
     Standing near him, I have to crane my neck to see his narrow face, short, dark brown hair, blue eyes graced with long lashes (long lashes are wasted on men) and a smile that shines like the moonlight on a deep, dark night. 
     “Have we met?”  I say.
     “Don’t think so.”  He doesn’t expand, only shoves his hand in his pocket.
     “Oh.  You just look familiar.”  I put both my hands in my jeans’ pockets.  “Thanks.  For catching me.”
     The smile returns.  “My pleasure.  Milady.”
     The little school girl inside me titters.  He called me “milady!”
     He nods to Kyle and winds his way back to his table where a very pretty girl – like gypsy princess pretty – waits with sparkling eyes and smile.  When he sits, she leans in for a peck, which he obliges.  The stranger swings a long arm over the back of her chair, places his hand on her shoulder and turns his attention to the stage where The Pfeiffer’s guitarist rips out a solo.  The gypsy princess makes a remark to one of the other members at the table, and the stranger watches her; the corners of his mouth turn up.  Nuts.
     The last band before the finale is on its second of four songs, and I start to sweat.  My final act, Marc, still has not shown.  I growl.  August steps beside me watching The Haunt and nodding his head to the music.
     “August,” I speak into his ear.  By the way he jumps, I must have screamed his name.  I can never determine what volume I’m speaking with live music blaring.  “Sorry.  I need a favor.  The finale band is a no-show.  Do you and Chris have another song you can do?”
     With his arms crossed over his chest, August nods considering and drifts off, I hope to locate Chris.  He comes back, taps me on my back and says, “We got it.”
     It is time for the final song.  August, sticks over his shoulder like a tuff trekking to a rumble, saunters to the drums.  Chris passes me, and then suddenly turns to face me.  I furrow my brows as he looks down on me.  Before I know it, his hands grab my waist, and he hauls me to his burly shoulder.
     “Chris!  What are you doing?  Put me down.  No,” I say when I see that he is approaching the front mic.  “No, no.”  I kick my feet and slap Chris’s stupid, thick back until I hear some people in the front snicker.  I settle for glaring at Chris when he sets me down.  The lightening bolts zipping from my eyes have no apparent effect.
     “This is the final song of the night,” he says into the mic.  “We’re Magnusson, and for this number, we have a guest vocalist – Ginnie Wood.”
     I think people clap and cheer, but I hear nothing over the ringing in my ears.  My feet lose feeling, and my hands dangle heavily from the stumps of my arms.  Clouds of black spot in front of my eyes.  Sweat beads form on my upper lip, my eyebrows and my bare shoulders.  I shiver.
     Then Chris whispers in my ear.  “Can you see anyone out there?”
     I glance toward the audience.  He is right.  With the spotlight on my face, I can barely make out a few shapes up front.  I am blinded to the mass of people.
     “You’re driving the car singing along with a song on the radio.”
     During this whole interaction, Chris strums on his guitar.  I recognize the tune.  I know the words.  I play Chris’s game, singing along with song, punching the air to the rhythm of the drums reaching a crescendo – August’s drums, and lilting softly with Chris’ guitar.  Then the song ends.
     And with it the illusion I had created.  I see people standing and clapping and shaping their lips into whistles.
     Stiffly I walk to stage right, pick up my bag and do not stop my pace until I sit shaking at the steering wheel.

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