PHILIP MARTIN

The One Thing Necessary

Creative Writing | Short Story


the-one-thing-necessary

ALEXANDER SANK into the Adirondack chair, and folded his cold hands into the warmth of his torso. His thoughts drifted, as they often did at times like this, to his friends, who were probably studying for midterms. He had flunked out of college and had nothing better to do than to roast marshmallows with his sister Alana on her 17th birthday. Alexander could tolerate nearly every annoyance, from the cold that stung his dry hands to black bangs that scratched his green eyes, except for her. It could have been that she was the white sheep of the family, or something more simple. Alexander may have been quiet and teetering on the edge of his parents’ expectations, but he had dreams too. He had ideas. If Alana had dreams they were probably superficial, like daydreams. He purposefully sat opposite her with the fire between them. The intimacy of a statement as trite as “Happy birthday Alana” was too personal. Their only sibling, seven-year-old Tripp, was much more tolerable to live with.

Across the yard, his home was well lit on the inside, and his parents were busying themselves in and around the kitchen. Tripp was standing on a chair at the table dipping a brush into every color of paint as if he could sketch a rainbow with one stroke. His parents lifted their heads like deer at what must have been the doorbell. While his father inched towards the door his mother scrambled about the kitchen for those last few seconds, practically throwing knives and bowls off of the counter and into the sink. Cynthia and Louise had arrived. His father greeted the two girls and gave them side hugs before showing them to the back door. Once outside Louise’s feet became tangled in Cynthia’s and they both stumbled and nearly fell. Alana jumped from her chair and ran to meet her two best friends. Alexander thought to himself that this could be the furthest she had run in her entire life.

“Happy birthday! Happy, happy, happy birthday!” Cynthia and Louise exclaimed as they wrapped their arms around his sister. Both of them were six inches taller than Alana but at least ten pounds lighter. Just then the speakers hanging outside of the home came to life, which awoke Alexander from malicious thoughts about his sister, thoughts so deep that his marshmallow was fully caught up in the flames and as black as the darkness that crept in upon them. A country twang reverberated through the night across the yard, giving rhythm to the flames as they danced. The girls stilled and stared at one another. “Nick Roh!” Alana said. All three sang along:

Playing poker with my buddies, college football on TV,
I’d slam the door and shut it off if it drove you far from me.
Snapper reeling, deep-sea fishing, camping under country skies,
I’d cut the line and hike to town to rid my life of alibis.

Alexander rolled his eyes and shoved his hands even more deeply into the pockets of his navy blue jacket, after throwing his roasting stick into the flames. One person singing this song was enough, he thought. From one of the pockets he pulled a folded piece of computer paper. He straightened it out and stared into one of his sketches, framed into four segments like a comic book. The man in the image bent his head low as his arms grew longer and longer, eventually wrapping the earth. Alexander crumpled the art and threw it into the fire as well, and he watched with a hint of regret as the paper melted into the glowing coals. Alana saw, but seemed to think nothing of it. After a few minutes, the music quieted and the girls chirped like nightingales about the country star. Not only was he handsome, he was eligible. He had recently played shows all across New England and was making his way south along the East Coast. Alexander’s angst boiled in him until he yelled out, “Nick Ruuuuuhhhhh. What kind of a name is that? How do you even pronounce it?”

After only a moment’s pause the girls ignored him as if he were a grasshopper chiming from the trees behind them.

“I’ll bet it’s not even his real name. I’ll bet it’s a made up celebrity name. They’ve all got ‘em, you know!” Alexander decided this was worth exposing his hands to the cold yet again. He pulled out his smart phone to look him up. Very quickly he came upon the truth, which was sure to crush his sister and ruin her birthday.

“It’s not even his real name. I have the proof right here!” he said through the flames, which began to die down. He was practically salivating at this opportunity. “His real name is Nicholas Rigotta. He’s Italian for crying out loud! You can’t get much less country than that!”

“His father was born in Italy,” Alana said, a bit like a snake, with a lisp like a hiss that whistled through her braces and round cheeks. On special occasions like this, she ditched her glasses for contact lenses, which bothered her eyes more than they did for most people. The firelight glowed in the tears brought on by the irritation. “He, on the other hand was born in Alabama!” There was definitude in this. It was almost as if she had researched the man simply to make Alexander look a fool.

“Glad to see you’re well-educated in the things that really matter,” Alexander retorted.

“Go back to college Alexander! Oh wait, you can’t—you flunked out!” Alana said. “Make yourself useful, and put more logs on this fire for my birthday.”

Alexander clinched his teeth and retreated deeply into himself in search of a remark that would crush her. It couldn’t be found. If Alana’s snickering friends weren’t around he would flick a coal or two at her and call it an accident.

Mockingly he scraped a handful of pine straw off of the cold ground and tossed it onto the fire. The bundle flashed a crisp yellow light across the fresh cut grass, but in only a few moments was swallowed by the golden waves crashing all around in only a few moments. Tripp, who had watched him out of the kitchen window, sprinted out the back door with a flashlight and began to gather the straw from around the yard. Over and over he threw it into the flames and each time took a step back as if he had tossed in a can of gasoline. After a while he became bored and started poking at the fire with a long stick. As the tension between Alexander and Alana subsided, their parents came through the back door carrying a cake. Seventeen candles shined together like a torch in the night, and illuminated their father’s smiling face. After all of the singing, their mother cut and distributed the cake, as their father carefully placed three new logs into the fire pit. Alexander watched to see if his sister would eat more than one piece. He was disappointed when she didn’t.

“Were you able to get the concert tickets dear?” their father asked Alana after dabbing his mouth with a napkin.

“No,” she said as she peered into the ground and crossed her legs at the ankles. “I already told you that they sold out in less than five minutes, and online they’re now triple the price, even for the worst seats.”

“Well, what are you going to do next Wednesday night instead?”

“I don’t know, just homework I guess.”

“Whatever you do, do not make plans!” their father said through a smile. From his pant pocket he pulled an envelope. It read, “FOR MY ALANA.”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Alana said. She ripped the envelope from his hands and tore it open. She pulled out four tickets:

NICK ROH IN CONCERT

LIVE FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIVIC CENTER

BIRMINGHAM, AL

As if it were planned, the three girls screamed in unison and danced around the fire. They drifted around the flames and like a whirlwind sucked up their father to thank him. Her joy was like acid rain to Alexander. He had to get out of here; he had to make it back to college. Even the community college in town had small apartments he could rent, but school was never his talent. If he weren’t embarrassed by his artwork he could do more of it, and maybe sell a piece or two. That might make his mom proud in her own maternal fashion, but his father would just as quickly turn his back on the idea.

“Daddy, why are there four tickets?” Alana asked.

Alexander chuckled to himself before asking Alana why she didn’t have enough friends to take to the concert of the year. Everyone ignored him.

“Well honey, it was my plan to go with you,” said their father. “Birmingham is quite a drive, especially with all that traffic downtown. Not to mention it’s a school night.”

“OK daddy,” Alana said, a bit dissatisfied that a parent would be accompanying them to a concert.

“However,” their father said as if it were a disappointment, “I have a board meeting that night, and won’t be able to make it, after all.” Alexander saw, to his fright, that his father cast him a sideways glance.

“No, please, please no,” Alexander whispered to himself. The hair on his arms stood straight up and his mouth hung open like a window.

“Your mother, as you know, has bridge group on the first Wednesday of each month, and it’s her month to host,” said their father. “So, that means that she can’t go either.”

Alana had a sense of what was coming as well, and began to propose solutions. “I promise I’ll drive carefully and none of us will fall asleep in the car. Never once, not even one time has the GPS on my phone been wrong. It’s always gotten me to where I need to go.” Her father put up his hand and opened his mouth, so she continued. “Last year, on my sixteenth birthday, Mom gave me a can of mace that I can slip into my purse in case anyone tries to mess with us, and all of us will make sure our phones are charged all the way.” Cynthia and Louise nodded their heads up and down and opened their eyes wide as if to prove that they could stay awake all night.

Like an honest judge the father considered all the evidence, but in the end fell back on what was surely his proposal from the beginning. “No, honey, no, I’m not sending you to Birmingham by yourself. Your brother will go with you, and—“

Alexander stood to protest but his father cut him off.

“—and if he doesn’t, then he can move out of my home and, since he can’t seem to find work, start searching under rocks to find money for college next year.”

There was nothing Alexander could say. It was finalized. He and Alana looked at one another and crept back to their chairs. Tripp was running as fast as he could around the fire until his mother swooped him away for a bath. After a few minutes of silence Alexander stood up and shouted a sarcastic good night before skulking off to his room. He made sure to drag his feet across the pavers and slam the back door.

Close to sleep, and in the near dark of night, Alexander had finally fallen into his comfort. Sitting at his small desk, paper spread before him, the light of the lamp casting an oval across the wood, mechanical pencil in hand; this was the purpose of his time. Over and again, he clicked the lead and pressed the tip into the desktop. This habit had a way of soothing and clearing the mind like a plumber clears a pipe. The light of day is problematic for those who do not wish to be seen. If blindness were the human condition, the world would be a simpler and, in many ways, a better place. If the blind were leading the blind and everyone fell into a pit, there would be no sense in placing the blame on any one person. Alexander however had fallen into a pit, a very large one at that, and had done so with eyes wide open by ignoring all of the warning signs. The opportunities that lay open before his sister showed no possibility of a pit. Over every ditch that Alexander had scraped through in life, from academics, to pleasing his parents and staying out of trouble, there stretched a bridge for his sister. He had failed in college, nearly every class. Now, his sister was closer to living the college life than he, closer to the success the world offered.

The next morning, Alexander received an offer for part-time work at the local hardware store, a position he accepted to keep his father off of his back. Although it paid only minimum wage, he enjoyed his labors most of the time. Typically he was set to work on some project, from spray-painting outdoor furniture to sweeping and mopping, which game him plenty of time to think. At first it was with dread that he passed the hours closer and closer to the date of the concert. He invented mental games to make the time pass more slowly as, if he could push the drive to Birmingham further and further into the future. He paced his steps to the rhythm of two seconds each and counted the tiles on the floor and the bricks on the wall. After a few days, however, he began to look forward to the opportunity of being a killjoy to the evening simply by his presence. Not only that, but also he could make his sister drive. She was a terrible driver, and had already more than once sideswiped a passing car driving on a major highway.

Eventually, the day of the concert arrived. Alexander had been home since noon, and was shocked away from his art when the three teenage girls burst through the back door, and slammed it shut. Their squealing pierced the walls like radiation, and rung in his ears. He had been working on this piece for days. The man with the long arms looked into the heavens as if to ask, “Why me?” His arms rolled over hills and through villages. Major cities had to build bridges over them and a few hearts were pierced by one of his hands. Pigeons built their nests nearby and perched along them, as if he might scatter a bag of breadcrumbs. Children balanced on the arms like tight ropes, and bureaucrats nailed citations and warrants and warnings to them so the people would know how unwelcome they were in that place. One police officer tried to saw it off but could not cut through the bone. After a few more minutes the cartoon was complete. Alexander bent low and blew along the paper. Excess bits of lead and rubber were damned to the crack between the desk and the wall.

With a smirk, the artist signed his name in the bottom corner, and as he stood up to admire the finished product he heard his name being yelled by his mother. She needed to talk to him, she said. Maybe she’d like to see it? Maybe this was the time to show her? Yes, he would have to start with her; he would make the work appear to be something more casual than reality, like a hobby. Yes mother, he would say, I have been working on these things in my spare time, yes father will say it is a waste of time, no I don’t care. He slipped his work into a manila envelope, and tucked it like contraband into the inside sleeve of his navy coat.

At the bottom of the stairs he had only to follow the sounds of bustle and stress like breadcrumbs to the kitchen to find his mother. The room looked like a small pottery outlet. Vases were lined up along the counter, platters of all colors had been pulled from cabinets unopened for months and now were spread across the island. She was splattering crackers and cheese with strawberry jam and, having sensed his presence, began to speak without turning around to face him.

“Tonight, please be careful dear.”

“I’ll think about it.”

As if he needed to know, she began to relay the details of the evening. Tripp was spending the night out at his cousin’s house and the ladies would begin to arrive around 6:15. Where they would put their purses and coats she did not yet know. Maybe they could spread them out on the bed, unless it was raining. In that case she would need every hook on the coat rack. Without warning scarves and jackets and hats and sweaters, only one of which belonged to Alexander, were piling up in his arms. His mother ordered him upstairs with them all and to put them in the proper place. She needed to run to the store and the florist before coming back and making final preparations. If the women were still there when they returned from Birmingham they were to come into the living room and say hello no matter how tired they were. Unless they smelled like smoke. In that case do not come in.

“One last thing,” she said. “You’re driving tonight, your father’s orders. Tonight is for Alana and her friends; do not ruin it.” She then scooped up her purse and two trays to put in the garage refrigerator on the way out.

Alexander climbed the stairs, dumped the pile at Alana’s bedroom door, knocked twice, and went back down to steal an hors d’oeuvre. He sank into the leather sofa to rest, placing the burden of leaving on time entirely upon the shoulders of his sister.

He did not know how long he slept. His eyes cracked open to see Alana shaking the car keys, and yelling to get up. When he finally did, he stretched and Alana caught a glance of the manila envelope.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“What’s what?”

“In your coat, what is that?”

“Crack cocaine, what do you care?”

“Ha, hurry up it’s time to go!”

He dare not leave the envelope in the house for fear that one of his family members, now knowing it existed, would search his room until it was found. Alexander stepped into the vehicle with a careful hand over his coat so as not to bend the art that was pinned to his rib cage. Alana grunted as he began to back out of the driveway before Cynthia and Louise had a chance to open the door. Just a joke, he said, and they drove off. It was a beautiful evening. Alexander rolled the windows down despite the protests of the three girls who had already done their hair. The cool air was refreshing. He breathed in, filling his lungs as if he could capture the peace of the moment and let it out when he would need it most at the concert. Before long, they were on the interstate where the brisk air rushed through the car and threatened to send loose receipts and other papers flying out into the world. Alexander rolled up the windows.

“I have something for you Alana!” said Cynthia. She opened a plastic bag sitting at her feet and drew out four t-shirts, one for each of them. “I didn’t think you’d wear one Alexander but I didn’t want you to feel left out.”

“I need something to blow my nose into anyway,” he said with a laugh that was not echoed by any of the girls.

Alana rushed to pull the shirt down over her head, but for a few moments it was stuck to her face. She looked like a cartoon character or a Pagan deity with the body of a person and the head of an animal. Alexander held back his laughter. It was a dark grey t-shirt, which on the back displayed the dates of all of Nick Roh’s tour stops for the year. On the front was the cover art for his new album, which was a large red fig leaf twisted slightly into the shape of a heart. When she finally pulled it down around her neck she gripped the symbol and pressed it to her own heart as if hers and Nick’s were one.

“What if he sees me?” Louise said from the backseat.

“No, no, what if he sees me?” Alana asked.

“If he makes eye contact with me I might just fall over and die!” Cynthia said.

Alexander let his head crash against the driver’s side window like he would welcome falling asleep at the wheel. The yellow needle of the speedometer hovered just above the speed limit and bounced a bit with the hills. Alexander pressed the gas and pushed his luck. He had to get there. At least at the concert he could excuse himself to the bathroom and wait outside for most of the show. An old woman rocking on a front porch raised her arm at the automobile, but if she was waving to him or cursing his speed Alexander could not tell. He waved back, envious of the freedom that the evening had bestowed upon her.

“I bet I can get a kiss,” Alana said. “If he knew me really for who I am and let me love him, then I know he’d love me back and give me a kiss.” At this the girls in the back giggled until Alexander interjected.

“You never been kissed your whole life, little sister! Tell me why you think this grown man, who can get any girl he wants, is gonna go out of his way to kiss you?”

“Shut up Alexander!” Alana hissed through her braces.

“The only man that ever kissed you was Dad,” Alexander said.

“Mom says you used to kiss me all the time big brother, and I know that’s the only kiss you ever got!”

“No wonder I have so much acne. I’m still waiting for the warts to pop out of my lips.”

Alana opened her mouth to reply but let it go. Alexander knew what she was thinking. Be the bigger person! Mom and Dad would be so proud of her. Alana bent down and drew from her purse a CD. It was Nick Roh’s newest album. “Guess what Dad gave me before we left? He says if you don’t let us listen to this then you’re not going back to college.” For half a minute she struggled to open the package. The plastic wrapping was so tightly wrapped around the case that it was not easily cut or penetrated. Alana began to bite at the case like an animal until she shrieked and dropped it to the floor. With her hands cupped around her mouth she began to cry little sobs of pain like a small child.

Cynthia and Louise each placed a hand on her shoulder and leaned through the middle of the car to ask what had happened. She put up a finger to tell them to wait and dabbed the inside of her cheek with a napkin from the glove compartment. After a few more moments she opened her mouth and turned towards her friends. A wire as sharp as a sewing needle had broken away from her braces. The sliver of metal was protruding from her teeth and into her gums near the corner of her lips. Cynthia and Louise rattled off suggestions as to how to fix it but Alana would hear none of it. She wouldn’t touch it. It was too gross; it was too dangerous. What if she messed it up? What if she ruined her braces, costing her mother and father even more money? No, no, this was her birthday she said and she would enjoy the evening no matter what. If she could survive the trip with her brother then she could survive anything. She gave Alexander a wicked glance and climbed into the back seat between her two friends. One of them wrestled the CD package open and slipped in the disc.

The first couple of songs were calming, and as Alexander receded into the comfort of his thoughts the strain that divided the front from the back seats began to melt away. This did not last long, for the third song on the album was the same as that of the birthday party, One Thing Necessary. From the point of view of Alexander, listening to this was only slightly preferable to crashing the car into a tree.

Playing poker with my buddies, college football on TV,
I’d slam the door and shut it off if it drove you far from me.
Snapper reeling, deep-sea fishing, camping under country skies,
I’d cut the line and hike to town to rid my life of alibis.

‘Cause there ain’t nothing, no nothing, that can split up love or fate.
My mamma she don’t understand that life is more of give than take.
My buddies say I’m whipped, my daddy says I best be wary.
What none of them can understand is you’re the one thing necessary!

By the time the album was half finished, Alexander knew everything he needed to about Nick Roh. He drank more beer than water and preferred bikinis to mini-skirts. Alexander had the feeling that if he became more like this man it would decrease the likelihood of a girlfriend, yet somehow this superstar could be found guilty of murder and girls would flock to him like geese. Alexander checked the rearview. The teenage girls began to awake from the ecstasy of the music as they pulled into the parking lot of the civic center.

Their seats were excellent. Row 11, seats 14 through 17. They were very near the front and Louise’s seat, number 17, was nearly the center of the row. Getting out of the concert through the masses of people was not going to be as easy as Alexander had anticipated. On his phone he looked up the lineup for the evening. Any minute the opening act, a female country artist, would play a set before introducing the legendary Nick Roh. Amidst this crowd of music lovers, Alexander’s only comforts were that there were many more girls than boys, and that if he stared at his phone from start to finish hardly a soul would notice or care.

The emcee emerged from stage left to a raucous applause and cheering reminiscent of a football stadium. He tipped his cowboy hat and yelled “How y’all doing tonight?” to even more applause. After a few more welcoming remarks and public safety regulations, he had a special announcement.

“We got something special out there for a lucky few! Something special, indeed! Four, count ‘em, four backstage passes to meet the man himself before the show begins.” After the gasps died down he continued, “Everyone check under your seat to see if you’re the lucky winner! If it’s you don’t hesitate and hurry up to the stage and show your passes to security! C’mon now!”

Within seconds it was discovered that seats 15, 16, and 17 had nothing beneath them. Alana gazed into Alexander as if the search beneath the chairs were a matter of life and death. He reached down with a fake gasp expecting to feel nothing but metal. What he felt instead was an envelope taped to the underside of the seat. He looked up at Alana who waited with more anticipation than parents at the birth of a child. She thought the surprised look on his face was a joke. Her cheeks sagged and her entire person seemed to droop. If he were to ignore the envelope none would be the wiser. Those eyes though, his sister’s eyes, changed him. They were deep and haunting for that moment, like the rough waters a man sees when thrown against the rail of a ship. He ripped away the envelope and held it out to Alana. Her scream gave it away for the entire theater. Within seconds the foursome was displaying the passes to a security guard, who led them onto the stage and behind the thick red curtain.

The muffled voice of the emcee and the opening act became less audible as the four followed the security guard down a narrow hallway and into a waiting area. They seated themselves on a leather couch as instructed and surveyed the room. Posters from past concerts hung on the grey walls. In a far corner was a wicker bar with four or five golden vessels of alcohol. On its right, a mini fridge was stacked with red plastic cups. The room held a subtle odor, and on the coffee table before them three cigarettes stood up straight in an ashtray. In his mind Alexander was brought back to college but did not know if he should be elated about the memory or block it out forever. The girls either did not notice the smell or, much more likely, did not care.

The footsteps coming down the hall made the girls jump up. A hand at the doorknob put smiles across their faces and they stood to attention like soldiers. The door was pushed open, and a young woman entered and poured a drink while ignoring the anxious fans seated before her. After a few seconds of silence, she turned and asked if they were here to see Nick, and added that he’s a real sweetheart. By the time she walked out the door her glass was half empty.

After a few more anxious minutes, the security guard asked them to stand once more. It was time, he said, to behold the man himself. The security guard pushed the door open and Nick Roh entered the room.

“Good evening!” he said before shaking hands with all four of them. The girls were anxious to pose for a picture but he told them there’d be plenty of time. Nick was not as put together or handsome as he appeared on television. He stumbled to the bar and poured a drink. Most of the liquor made it into the cup but some fell off the bar and onto the carpet.

“How rude of me!” he said as he turned around to face them. “Who wants a drink? I mean, how old are y’all anyway?”

“Twenty one,” Alana spit out without hesitation.

“Twenty one huh?” Nick said. “Well, anyone want a drink?”

When none of them said neither yes nor no, he left it alone and returned to the group. Like a man who has come home from a long day of labor he fell back into his leather seat and slumped. His left hand lazily gripped the rim of the plastic cup and more than once Alexander thought he was going to drop it onto the floor. His jeans were dark and tight and his bright plaid shirt was untucked, a look that matched the top two buttons, which were undone. His arms and chest were as golden as his hair, which was as golden as the drink he finished off before setting the cup before them on a coffee table. Cynthia eyed it, clearly intending to steal it as a relic when the meeting had adjourned.

After exchanging a few pleasantries Nick broke the ice with a question. “Can I tell you something about yourselves ladies?” He paused to hold in a belch. “Can I tell you something about yourselves that maybe you do not even know?”

The girls leaned forward as if this man were a font of wisdom.

“The three of you,” the country star continued, “are beautiful just the way you are. You know that? You can do whatever you want, you know that? This world if full of people with untapped potential. Untapped. It’s asleep in them and they don’t know how to wake it up.” His right hand was now on Alana’s knee, and Alexander knew the thrill that must be shooting through her like an electric current. “Be bold and be beautiful, and most importantly, be you.”

“It’s my birthday,” Alana said out of nowhere. “Well, it was my birthday, my father bought us these tickets to your concert for my birthday.”

“Your twenty first birthday, huh?” Nick said stroking her leg with a few fingers before raising them to rub his chalky eyes. “Well happy birthday to you!” The singer winked at her then glanced at his watch and motioned to security like it was time to wrap up the meeting. After posing for pictures with the girls he thrust one last shot down his throat and shook his head from side to side like he could toss the smell and the burn from his body.

Alexander was the first to file out, followed in line by Cynthia and Louise. Alexander glanced over his shoulder and in a span of time that felt like something less than a moment Nick had his arm around his sister’s shoulder and nodded to security to close the door after telling his sister he had to give her a birthday present. When he tried to get back into the room the security guard blocked him with one hand and told him to wait. Something within Alexander, something like a hangover from a more primitive time came forth. There was no time for thinking. He hit at the security guard and kicked and pushed and did all he could to get in the room. It was futile.

Seconds later the door was flung open from the inside. The country star was muffling curses and holding his mouth as if a bee had stung him. His sister’s eyes were cold and innocent, like those of a small child who had been caught up in a fight between her parents. The rough seas that Alexander had seen in them earlier had subsided and grown shallow and polluted. Her hands were folded at the navel like she was clutching a precious jewel to keep safe from a thief.

Nick took his hands off of his mouth and stuck out his bleeding and swollen tongue. “What the hell girl! What is in your mouth? This ain’t no joke I got a performance to give. Did you bite me?” The man pushed past them and strode down the dark passageway deeper into the backstage of the arena.

The security guard saw that the girls were no threat and grabbed Alexander’s hands, twisted his arms behind his back, and pushed him to a back entrance. They were being kicked out, he said, for having made an attempt to assault Mr. Roh. Cynthia, who held tightly to the plastic cup, nearly followed Nick down the passageway into the darkness. All three girls however followed the guard one by one, not knowing to comfort Alana or congratulate her on the kiss of the century. Alexander screamed a lie about how his father was a lawyer and that this wouldn’t be the last time that Nick Roh or the Jefferson County Civic Center would see the last of them.

In less than a minute the guard shoved the big brother out the door and slammed it closed. The four of them were on the backside of the theater and would have to walk quite a distance to the car. For a minute no one said or did anything. The silence was shattered when cheers erupted from inside. This muted applause carried with it the weight, which fell heavy like sandbags upon the girls, that they would not be attending the concert. Nick’s voice could be heard now, creeping through the cracks in the door like insects.

“Good evening Birmingham, Alabama!” he said with an added twang to more applause. “I know you’re all ready to hear about my one thing necessary, but—” he was interrupted by more screams, “but first I have to apologize. A pretty little thing bit my lip backstage but it ain’t nothin’ we can’t get through together tonight! This first one’s called Saturday Night to Sunday Morning.”

The bass drum kicked into rhythm and felt like punches against their chests warning them with finality to go away. Alexander offered to go get the car but Alana took his arm and said they’d all walk. Tears began to stream from her eyes and run her mascara, and before they reached the car Alexander whispered to her to use his shirt. She shook her head and instead pulled up her grey t-shirt and wiped her face, leaving the fig leaf to look as if it were bleeding black.

Alana sat in the front seat on the way home. Her friends whispered a quiet sorry in a last attempt to hide their dissatisfaction at being kicked out of the concert before it even began. Alana’s hands were still clenched in her lap and she stared out the window. Alexander saw her for what must have truly been the first time. This moment of vulnerability had laid her out before him like a corpse before a mortician. This kiss, which should have thrust her into unheard of popularity and built the confidence of nearly every American girl, had had the opposite effect. She felt more alone and friendless than before, at the bottom of a pit that Alexander never quite realized existed for her at all.

The two friends in the back were completely absorbed by their phones, probably posting pictures online of the encounter with the star. Alexander stretched out his arm and grabbed Alana’s hands. Like plucking flower petals he unclenched them a finger at a time and wrapped his hand around hers. She let him. When they came to a stop at an intersection he leaned over and, descending into her vulnerability, told her that Nick was right about one thing: she was beautiful, just the way that she was in that moment, and nothing in the world could make it more or less so. Her head turned towards his and she nodded in approval. While he had her attention Alexander reached into his coat, pulled out the artwork, and gave it to his sister as a belated birthday gift. She opened it, stared it over for a few minutes, slipped it back into the envelope, and slid it with care into her purse. Alexander ejected the CD and threw it out the window. It shattered on the shoulder of the highway.

Alexander dropped off the two girls at their respective houses. Cynthia unsuccessfully offered the singer’s relic to Alana. Both of them, in turn, muttered some final goodbyes and assertions that he was a jerk, and that in some ways it was great that Alana had gotten that kiss, but that they wouldn’t tell anyone unless she said it was alright. Alana pretended to agree, and said she’d see them at school tomorrow. It was too early to go home. If they were to show up now they would be marched into the living room to give a report on the concert to the group of women grazing on their mother’s hors d’oeuvres. Without asking, Alexander jerked the steering wheel to the right and parked the vehicle beneath a row of movie posters. His treat, he said.

Photograph by Grace Wetzel