Miranda Kenneally

Mexican Food Cures Writer's Block

Archive for December, 2014

A Sneak Peek at JESSE’S GIRL!

Jesse's Girl

Jesse’s Girl!

As a holiday gift, here’s a sneak preview of my July 2015 book, JESSE’S GIRL!  This scene takes place a couple chapters into the book. For those of you who have not read the opening chapter, here’s a link.

 

Practice Makes Perfect.

Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.

But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?

 

Excerpt:

 

Welcome to the Jungle

Showtime.

On Friday morning, Dr. Salter drives us up to a whale of a brick home surrounded by iron gates and lush green hedges in Brentwood, the Bel Air of Nashville. A sedan idles by the curb. I peer through my window at the unshaven man hunkered down in the front seat. Another guy leans against the passenger side door and snaps pictures of us.

“Paparazzi?”

“Always,” Dr. Salter says as he steers the car to a security booth.

A beefy guard—he must weigh three hundred pounds—pokes his head out and tips his hat. “Dr. Salter,” his deep voice rumbles. “He expecting you?”

“Yes.” Dr. Salter sighs, drumming his thumbs on the steering wheel. “I guess he didn’t tell you we were coming?”

The guard shrugs. “You know Jesse. Let me call and get clearance.” He shuts the sliding-glass window and picks up a phone.

“Clearance?” I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word used that way.

“Jesse’s not—” Dr. Salter starts. “He doesn’t have visitors often.”

“Oh.” I wipe sweaty palms on my dress. The corset top is black leather and red lace, the short skirt poufy black tulle. It looks awesome with my ankle booties. I wore my favorite outfit, because spending time with Jesse will probably be uncomfortable. Might as well feel good in my own skin.

Ten seconds later, the steel gates slide open. A paparazzi guy rushes to follow us in on foot, but the guard steps out to stop him from entering the property.

We park the car in the semicircular driveway, and I climb out, staring up at the ivy-laced brick façade. The brick is just like my house, but his is about ten times larger. We only moved out of a trailer two years ago, after my parents finally saved up for a down payment on a small house. By comparison, this place looks like Buckingham Palace.

I unfold today’s schedule—I’ve read it so many times the paper is soft as a piece of cloth—and scan it one last time:

9:30 a.m. Arrival

10:00 a.m. Tour of Grand Ole Opry

11:00 a.m. Tour of Studio B

12:00 p.m. Lunch with Jesse and Mark Logan

1:30 p.m. Tour of Ryman Auditorium

2:30 p.m. Tour of Country Music Hall of Fame

3:30 p.m. Depart

“Come on,” Dr. Salter says, clapping a hand on my shoulder and steering me toward the door. “Jesse won’t bite.” My principal pushes the doorbell.

Seconds later, Jesse Scott opens the door wearing nothing but a pair of sky blue boxers.

Holy mother!

“Jesse,” Dr. Salter scolds him. “Put some pants on for God’s sake.”

Jesse stifles a yawn. “Hi, Uncle Bob.” He turns and goes back into the house, leaving the front door wide open. A woman with a tight bun, plain black dress, and fingers clamped over her mouth is left standing in the hallway in the wake of Jesse’s greet and run.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Salter,” the woman rushes to say. “I tried to get here first.”

My principal pats the lady’s elbow. “It’s okay, Grace.” He gives me a reassuring smile as we enter the sunlit foyer filled with leafy green plants. “Don’t mind him. Jesse’s not a morning person.”

“Based on how he treated me last week, he’s not an evening guy either,” I mutter.

The woman, Grace, disappears down a hallway, and Dr. Salter and I follow Jesse and his Gaelic tattoo into the living room, where he flops down in a cushy brown armchair made of cowhide. I set my purse on the floor and take a seat on a leather sofa across from him. This room could be featured in the Pottery Barn catalog that Mom gets in the mail. I want to slip my boots off and dig my toes into the plush beige rug. Guitars of all makes and colors—including a double-neck Fender Stratocaster!—hang on the walls. Over by a huge picture window sits a gorgeous, walnut-colored Steinway grand piano covered by sheet music.

His Grammys are on the mantle, but I don’t see any pictures of family or friends like at my house. Instead there are tasteful black-and-white portraits of the countryside: horses, cows, trucks, and tractors.

The only evidence that a person actually lives here is a drained coffee mug sitting on a glass table and sections of today’s newspaper, the Tennessean, strewn across the couch.

“You didn’t forget about Maya, right?” Dr. Salter asks Jesse.

“Nope.” He leans back and closes his eyes. “How could I forget I’m giving up my day off to hang out with a groupie?”

“In your dreams I’m a groupie,” I snap, shocking my principal.

“Why aren’t you dressed?” Dr. Salter asks his nephew.

Jesse shrugs. “Maya wanted to shadow me, right? Well, this is what I do on Friday mornings. And Thursday. And Wednes—”

“Stop being rude.” Dr. Salter shakes his head at his nephew. His cell phone dings. “Don’t let him fool you, Maya. He works harder than anybody I’ve ever met and has a good heart too.”

Jesse keeps his eyes shut.

My principal looks at his phone. “I need to get back to the school. Mark Logan just texted to say he’s two minutes out. Mr. Logan will stay with you two the entire day, and Grace, Jesse’s housekeeper, will be here until Mark arrives. Call my office if something comes up. Otherwise, Jesse and Mr. Logan’ll make sure you get home. Okay, Maya?”

“Got it.”

“Put some clothes on, Jess.” Dr. Salter pats his nephew’s cheek before leaving. As soon as the door clicks shut, Jesse checks me out.

“Wanna have sex?”

I gasp and glance at his boxers. And that line of hair on his stomach that leads down to places I shouldn’t be thinking about.

“No, thanks. You’re not my type.”

Jesse looks surprised. “That’s a first.”

What the hell have I gotten myself into? I mean, someone who writes such sweet lyrics can’t actually be such an ass in real life. Right?

“Everything okay?” Jesse asks. I look up to find him raising an eyebrow at me.

I shrug.

“Sorry—I shouldn’t be talking about sex. We just met. Wanna get drunk?”

Why is he asking such weird questions? “Didn’t you learn your lesson after you fell off that yacht?” I ask snarkily.

“You don’t know anything about that,” he snaps.

Ugh, I knew shadow day would be a stupid waste of time. Jordan probably learned more about being an NFL player from the Athletic Superstore manager than I’ll learn about music from Jesse. I swipe my phone on and look up the Hundred Oaks phone number. Maybe Dr. Salter hasn’t left the neighborhood yet. I push dial, and the school receptionist answers. “This is Maya Henry. Can you please connect me to Dr. Salter?”

Jesse jumps to his feet, snatches my phone from my hand, and says, “Wrong number.”

I reach to get my phone back, but he holds it way above my head.

“Give me that!” I leap up at my phone. “I want to leave.”

“Already?”

“I didn’t know it was your day off. I don’t want to waste your time. Or mine.”

He gives me a withering look. “Your time?”

I glare at him. “You know, before we met last week, I was really excited about this.”

“A punk rocker chick was excited to spend the day with me? Yeah, I believe that.”

“First of all, buddy, I wouldn’t call myself a punk rocker. I’m into the eighties—I was going for Madonna. And second, I got my hopes up about meeting you. I thought it would be cool to watch you practice. Hell, I thought I might even get some pointers, learn something from you.”

That’s when I realize I’ve been shaking my finger at him.

After he looks into my eyes for several beats, he hands me my phone. “Last Friday, you said you play a Martin.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Let’s hear you play.” He sits down and rests his elbows on his thighs. My eyes have a mind of their own and glance at his boxers again. He totally catches me.

“I didn’t bring my guitar.”

He purses his lips. “Why would you show up unprepared?”

“Well, why didn’t you prepare by putting on pants?”

“You’re not wearing any either.” His eyes trail up and down my legs.

Some girls would’ve jumped him already, but not me. Even if he has a nice set of biceps and the cutest freckles I’ve ever seen, he doesn’t deserve me after acting like a man slut.

“Where are your parents, anyway?” I ask.

“I dunno. Work? They don’t live here.”

“This is your house?”

“Yup. I bought it with my allowance.”

That makes me laugh. But how is he ready to live on his own? I mean, Mom still has to remind me to set my alarm so I wake up in time for school, and I can’t cook anything without burning it.

He carefully lifts an acoustic guitar off the wall and hands it over. “Play a song for me.”

I sit down and get it situated in my lap, studying it. My fingers tremble and itch to strum the strings. It’s a Martin, just like mine, only a lot older and more valuable. “Is this from, like, the 1930s?”

“Yeah…it was Pa’s—my great-grandfather’s—before he died.”

“You had a cool Pa.”

His mouth twitches. “I know. Now play a song for me.”

I run my fingers over the wood and bite my lip. Despite my different musical tastes, I thought my guitar skills were top notch and that I would be a huge asset to any band. But they wanted that guy Bryan instead of me. Maybe I’m not as good on guitar as I thought I was. If my own band ditched me, do I have any business playing for a Grammy winner?

He must sense my hesitation. “I’m gonna give you a bad grade if you don’t play.”

“You’re not in charge of my grade.”

“My uncle is, and if I tell him you didn’t do what I asked, you’ll probably fail.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m not willing to risk it. If I don’t complete shadow day, I won’t be allowed to graduate in the spring.

I pull my lucky pick (it’s made of quartz and shaped like a teardrop) out of my purse. Taking a deep breath, I start plucking the first song that Jesse put out after he won Wannabe Rocker. He wrote “Mi Familia” when he was eleven. I played this song over and over in fifth grade.

After the first chord transition, I get nervous, my fingers tremble, and I accidentally mute the D string, then miss the next transition. Jesse and I cringe at the same time.

“Crap—I never screw up,” I say.

“Maybe you haven’t been practicing enough.”

That’s true. I haven’t played much this week. Without a band to jam with, my heart hasn’t been in it.

“Go on,” Jesse urges, settling back into his armchair.

I start playing “Mi Familia” again, but after a measure, he waves a hand at me to stop. “Play something else. Know any James Taylor?”

“Obviously.” I’m more of an eighties girl, but any serious guitarist should know the classics. I start strumming “Carolina in my Mind.”

After I play two verses, Jesse holds up a hand again. “Are you gonna sing or not?”

I drum my fingers on the Martin’s tuners. “I don’t do solos.”

He shakes his head at the ceiling. “I don’t have time for this.”

“I thought you have all the time in the world. You’re quitting, right?”

The expression on his face could kill. “If you won’t sing for me, you should leave right now.”

“Fine, I’ll sing,” I shoot back.

“I promise I won’t laugh at you,” he replies.

“I’m not that bad a singer.”

“Then prove it.”

Game on, pretty boy, country jerk.

#

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt! The book will be out on July 1, 2015, and I can’t wait to share it with you all. Add JESSE’S GIRL to Goodreads!

 

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Cover and synopsis for my next book: JESSE’S GIRL!

I’m thrilled to share the cover, synopsis, and an excerpt for my July 2015 book, JESSE’S GIRL!

Jesse's Girl Cover

July 1, 2015

Practice Makes Perfect.

Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.

But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?

 

Excerpt:

The Space Between

Backstage, there’s so much security, you’d think it was the White House.

I’ve been to plenty of concerts, but I’ve never had a backstage pass, so I follow Dr. Salter’s lead and keep flashing my all-access badge over and over. My principal squeezes between two beefy men in security jackets and knocks on a door stamped with a red star.

A man in a tailored black suit and shimmering blue tie opens the door. He’s got better skin than any girl I know, and I bet his haircut cost a small fortune. “Oh good. It’s you,” he says to Dr. Salter, giving him a bright smile. The man takes my hand. “You must be Maya.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come on in.”

Inside the dark dressing room I spot a vintage Gibson guitar, three flat screen TVs all showing the Braves game, and a table piled high with burgers and corn on the cob. I thought nothing could smell more delicious than my mom’s cooking, but I was wrong.

“Maya, this is Jesse’s manager, Mark Logan,” Dr. Salter says.

Mr. Logan pats my back like I’m one of the good ole boys. “Jesse will be out in a minute to meet you. Why don’t you get yourself a drink?” He gestures at the bar, which appears to be booze-free. Seems like a good move considering Jesse got drunk and fell off that yacht a few months ago. The press had a field day with that because it was totally out of character for Jesse Scott. Yeah, he’s a famous country star, but everyone thinks of him as this sweet, quiet boy from down on the farm.

“Could I have a word next door in private?” Mr. Logan says to my principal. “Jesse’s telling the crowd tonight.”

Dr. Salter’s face goes from happy to anxious, and they step back into the hallway where the security guys are buzzing around in their yellow jackets.

All alone now, I gaze over at Jesse’s guitar. I’m itching to try it out. What I wouldn’t give to throw the strap around my neck, charge out of the dressing room onto the stage, and rock out to Queen. But would I do “Somebody to Love”? Or “Another One Bites the Dust”? It’s a silly idea—I wouldn’t make it three feet before the beefcake security guys tackle me. I’d bite the dust. Literally. And if I sang, it’s a one hundred percent possibility my voice would crack. Playing onstage at the Opry…wouldn’t it be great, though?

I love playing guitar and performing more than anything. Before I started The Fringe, which was originally an eighties tribute band but has since become heavy metal-only, I even went to church on Sundays just to sing with the youth choir. All the crotchety old people would whisper and point their walking canes at my bright red lipstick, but I doubted God cares about that or the diamond stud in my nose. God only cares that I sang “I’ll Fly Away” at the top of my lungs.

That was before I gave it up to focus on my band. I also used to be a proud member of my school’s show choir, which isn’t anything like the cool groups in Pitch Perfect. You know, that a cappella movie? We sang songs like “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and wore billowing green dresses, like you’d see on the cover of a historical bodice ripper romance novel. If that doesn’t tell you how much I love music, I don’t know what will. If the choice had been mine, we would’ve worn leather pants and tight tanks, but my director said that isn’t proper attire for our school’s most distinguished arts program.

However, as much as I love music, I am generally not a fan of country. I don’t like banjos. I don’t like sappy lyrics about trucks and hauling hay. Dolly Parton is my mortal enemy—my mom plays “Jolene” over and over and over and over and it makes me want to chop my ears off like Van Gogh. Yeah, yeah, I’m from Tennessee, where it’s a crime if you don’t love country, but I like deep, rumbling beats and singing loud and fast and hard. I do not like closing my eyes and crooning to a cow in the pasture.

Yet here I am at a Jesse Scott concert, getting ready to meet him and to see if he’ll let me shadow him next Friday. My school requires every senior to “shadow” a professional for a day. It’s their way of helping us figure out what kind of career we want. Like, if you want to be president when you grow up, you might get to shadow the mayor. Want to be a chef? Have fun kneading dough at the Donut Palace.

When I said “I want to be a musician,” I figured they’d send me to work in the electronics section at Walmart.

I certainly never expected to shadow the king of country music.

It turns out that Jesse Scott is my principal’s nephew. Jesse won TV’s Wannabe Rocker when he was ten and has gone on to become very successful. In sixth grade, every girl in class—myself included—took the Teen Beat quiz: Would Jesse Scott Like Your Kissing Style? (Obviously the answer was yes.) In middle school, I had a Jesse Scott poster on my ceiling. It’s hard to believe he’s only eighteen because he’s already won three Grammys. When he was younger his songs were about fishing and playing baseball, but lately they’re about love and making love and all things sexy.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan anymore, but I would never give up an opportunity to learn from a professional with such a gorgeous, pure voice. I want to learn what it’s like to perform day in and day out. Despite what everyone and their mom says—that I’ll struggle as a musician—all I want is to play guitar in front of a crowd and hear people cheer for me.

I can’t believe I’m backstage at the Grand Ole Opry! I bounce on my toes. Jesus, is that an Archtop Super 4, the model Elvis played? I’ve never seen one in real life. It probably cost more than my house.

I’m ogling the guitar when Jesse Scott comes out of the bathroom, drying his hair with a towel. He pads across the room to the couch, wearing nothing but a pair of rugged jeans with more holes than Swiss cheese.

The lighting is dim, and he doesn’t seem to notice I’m here, which is good because I’ve moved from ogling the guitar to ogling him. Who wouldn’t? He was one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that you should stare at people who’ve made that list.

The guy’s gorgeous. Like in the boy-next-door way. His wet, wavy, brown hair curls around his ears and nearly hits his shoulders, and while he doesn’t have a six-pack or anything, his body is fit. I wish he’d look my way so I can see his famous brown eyes. They always remind me of those caramel chews Poppy gives me when I visit. Jesse has some sort of Gaelic symbol tattooed on his left shoulder blade. I want to reach out and trace the design.

God, get a hold of yourself, Maya. Don’t be a horndog. Besides, he’s so not my type. I don’t do pretty boys.

Jesse grabs a black T-shirt from his bag and pulls it on over his head, then heads to his personal buffet. Humming to himself, he piles a bun and a burger onto a plate, and scrunches his nose at a plateful of pickles, which is just crazy because pickles are what make the burger. Instead he grabs a bottle of ketchup, unscrews the lid and tries to shake some onto his burger. It’s not budging. Must be a new bottle.

“Try hitting the little fifty-seven on the side—”

He startles. “What are you doing here?”

“Excuse me?”

“Did the Opry arrange for a ketchup expert to be at my beck and call?” he snaps.

“Clearly you need one.” I stride over, grab the bottle out of his hand, and tap the little 57 with the heel of my hand. Ketchup pours out.

“Thanks,” he says calmly. Then he yells, “Security! Another girl snuck in,” as he strides to the door in his bare feet. Jesse yanks open the door, revealing Dr. Salter and Mr. Logan. “I’m beginning to think you guys are letting them in just to torture me.”

The manager claps once. “Oh good. So you’ve met Maya? Have you discussed the possibility of her shadowing you next—”

“I’m sick of these groupie meet and greets,” Jesse says as if I’m not here. “Can’t I eat my damned dinner in peace?”

“You can now that you’ve got your damned ketchup,” I reply. “If you’ll excuse me.”

Mr. Logan and Dr. Salter gape at me. Throwing Jesse a look, I squeeze past Beefcake 1 and 2 into the hall.

I can’t believe how rude he was! Dr. Salter invited me to the concert so I could meet Jesse, and since I’ve already had the pleasure, I see no point in staying. I don’t want to shadow a spoiled pretty boy who sings about making love on tractors anyway. It’s still early. If I drive back to Franklin now, maybe I could meet up with Nate, and my Friday night won’t be a complete bust.

As I charge down the hall, pulling the all-access badge off from around my neck, a bunch of screaming girls rush my way. What in the world? A hand grabs my elbow. I go to shake it off and find Jesse still holding the ketchup.

“I’m sorry—can you come back inside?”

Before I can answer, the horde descends on him. It’s scarier than a zombie apocalypse.

“Shit,” he mutters.

“Oh my God, I love ketchup too!” a girl squeals at the bottle in his hand. “We have so much in common!”

“Want to come to my house, Jesse? My parents are out of town.”

A girl screeches and grabs his wrist. Another gets up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek and he jerks back.

“Jesse, Jesse! Can I sing a song for you?”

“Jesse! I want you!” This one yanks her shirt open.

I snort at her hot pink bra. Jesse smirks at my reaction as security breaks the group apart.

Jesse pulls me through security back into his dressing room, where he drops my arm and scans me. I’m wearing a great outfit—black ankle booties, skinny jeans, the belt I made out of duct tape, bleached blond hair, black tank top, the silly glittery bracelets I wear ironically, and a bronze military star medal from World War I that hangs from my necklace. Kids at school often make fun of my clothes, but I don’t care. I feel so Madonna right now.

Jesse shakes his head at me, then goes to give Dr. Salter a side hug. “Hey, Uncle Bob.”

Dr. Salter pats Jesse’s floppy hair and takes in his freckled face. “I’m looking forward to the show, son.”

“Thanks for coming,” Jesse says quietly.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Dr. Salter says. “Where’re your mom and dad? Will they be here soon?”

“They blew me off again. What else is new?”

Until a couple years ago, my dad was a truck driver and often missed my performances because he was on the road, so I understand how Jesse feels. But my parents have always been supportive. It shocks me that his parents aren’t at every show. I mean, the guy’s a three-time Grammy winner. It sounds as if Jesse’s fans attend more concerts than his parents do. And he’s their son.

While Jesse speaks in a low voice only Dr. Salter can hear, I decide to check my phone. My best guy friend, Dave, texted: I need a play-by-play of how hot Jesse is. Do we think he’s bi?

I also received a text from my bandmate, Nate. His reads: Hannah told me where you are. Did you really sell out and go to a Jesse Scott show?

Groan. I love hooking up with Nate, but geez. Why are guys so dramatic?

“What’s the girl doing here?” Jesse asks.

“Remember I told you about Shadow Day?” his manager says.

“Remind me,” Jesse replies through a big bite of burger.

“You agreed to meet with Maya. She’s pretty talented on guitar,” Dr. Salter says.

Jesse stares at me, chewing. “So you play, huh?”

I ignore him. When he realizes I’m giving him the cold shoulder, he turns to Dr. Salter. “Seriously? I’m missing the Braves for this?”

My principal gives me the glare he reserves for kids who cut class. “I’d like you to consider letting her shadow you, Jess.”

Jesse just shrugs.

I should’ve known this would be a bust. Shadow Day assignments always are. Students never get paired with professionals who can actually teach them something. Last year, Rory Whitfield said he wanted to be a movie director and ended up at the infant portrait area at Sears.

Dr. Salter says, “You should’ve seen her play guitar in the school talent show last spring.”

“Did you win?” Jesse asks me.

I shake my head, cringing at the memory. Why did Dr. Salter have to bring that up? After my band declared the school talent show “lame,” I decided to perform on my own, adding a hard edge to one of my favorite songs, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and had a great time rocking out. That is, until I started to sing, and my voice cracked under the pressure. Kids at school called me the siren for weeks. People have always said I have a great voice, but when all eyes are on me, something usually goes wrong—like the time I fainted during a solo.

I wish their eyes had somewhere else to focus. That’s why I prefer being part of a band.

Jesse takes another bite of his burger and gives me a bored stare, and I feel like the pickle he turned his nose up at. What a letdown. I figured People took personality into account when developing their beautiful people list. Apparently not.

You’d think Jesse would be as sweet as his songs.

Okay, okay. I’ll admit it—even though my musical tastes have evolved, Jesse wrote this one song, “Second Chance,” which I’ve loved since middle school. When Dave, my first crush and now best friend, wasn’t interested in dating me because he was too busy liking other boys (I didn’t know that at the time), “Second Chance” helped heal my broken heart.

So it kind of sucks meeting the real Jesse. I’ve seen more life out of mannequins. Granted, I haven’t smiled at him, but he was incredibly rude after I helped with his ketchup. I had really been looking forward to this opportunity, but he’s nothing more than a beautiful voice and a hot body with a cool tattoo.

Dr. Salter must sense our meeting is going downhill real fast. “Jess, you really should see Maya on guitar.”

“Hmph.”

Spoiled ass. Two can play. “My Martin’s much cooler than your Gibson,” I say, even though it’s a total lie.

Instead of taking another bite, Jesse turns his head toward me, wide-eyed. “Shut up. My Archtop is the best guitar there is.”

I gesture at it. “What year is it? A ‘67?”

Jesse nods.

I can’t help but ask, “A Super 4? Like Elvis had?”

“Right…” A smile forms on his face, but a second later he winces.

“So is it okay, Jess?” Dr. Salter asks. “Can Maya shadow you?”

Jesse studies me. “Mom and Dad’ll love that I’m hanging out with a sexy punk girl. So whatever you need, Uncle Bob.”

“Jesse!” Dr. Salter and Mr. Logan blurt simultaneously.

What a jerk.

Wait. Did he say sexy?

Mr. Logan claps his hands together again. “Well I think Maya seems fabulous. I’m okay with her shadowing Jesse next week as long as it’s okay with him.”

Silence engulfs the dressing room.

Jesse takes a long look at his uncle, then bites into his burger and talks with his mouth full. “Fine, she can shadow me.”

“I’ll see if I can work it into my schedule,” I say, then turn and walk out.

***

Against my better judgment, I decide to stick around for the concert because I’ve never been to the Grand Ole Opry.

Performing here is every country music singer’s dream, and while I’m not into yodeling, I still respect the Opry. When I looked at Jesse Scott’s website, it said he’s already done ten concerts here. I guess that means he’s really somebody. Which I could’ve told you considering his face is on every tweeny bopper magazine down at the Quick Pick and he’s at the top of the iTunes charts.

I stand in line for what seems like hours to buy myself a puffy pink cotton candy, then head inside the main concert hall. Heat from the crowd presses against my skin as I squeeze past shrieking girls and make my way down to the stage, which looks like an old red barn.

“Maya!” Dr. Salter calls out. “Over here.” He gestures for me to join him in the center of the first row. The best seat in the house.

I edge around another pack of squealing girls to meet my principal. “I was wondering where you went,” he says.

I hold up my cotton candy, offering him a piece. He pinches some off and pops it in his mouth. The other reason I didn’t leave early is because I’ve always liked Dr. Salter and I don’t want to let him down. He tells funny jokes during the morning announcements and always takes a turn in the dunking booth during Homecoming. It’s odd, though, seeing him in a Van Halen leather jacket and not his usual sweater vest and bowtie.

I point at the stage with my cotton candy. “We’ve got better seats than God, huh? From this close, Jesse oughta be able to see me not clapping for him.”

Dr. Salter gives me a stern look. “I’m sorry about my nephew… He’s not used to… He doesn’t meet a lot of new people.”

“I figured he meets people all the time.”

“There’s a difference between meeting people and actually speaking with them.”

The banshee convention I met backstage was something else, all right. I can’t imagine being surrounded by that, and not having my family, friends, and band to talk to.

“I thought,” Dr. Salter starts, then pauses. “I thought that Shadow Day might be good for both of you. You can get some music advice from Jesse…and he needs a break, and needs to spend time with somebody his age… It’s hard when everybody scrutinizes every single thing you do.”

As the lights go down, the band takes the stage and the screaming crowd crescendos to just about the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. A spotlight bathes the stage in blinding white light. Smoke billows in the wings. Dr. Salter puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles.

Then the most beautiful guitar lick rings out, echoing in the concert hall.

The screaming stops, because everyone wants to hear that sound.

Jesse Scott steps into the spotlight with his cedar-colored vintage Gibson strapped around his neck. He plays a riff and brings his mouth to the microphone.

“How you doin’ Nashville?” Jesse yells into the microphone in a deep Southern drawl, tipping his beige cowboy hat before starting to play “Campfires,” this country pop song about hiking and fishing with his grandfather. “Gimme fireflies, gimme trout, gimme burning logs, hell—gimme a mosquito, but keep your damned electricity.”

The bass ripples through the concert hall and makes the floor vibrate, and my heart beats in time with the drums.

During the chorus, Jesse flips the guitar around to his back, grabs the mike with both hands, and gives the audience a full view of his great body. He’s wearing the tight black T-shirt that hugs his biceps and chest, bright red cowboy boots, and a belt buckle shaped like a skull. Hey, it matches the skull pajamas I wore to bed last night! I feel silly for a beat, because my inner monologue sounds just like that girl backstage: “I like ketchup too!”

I’ve never seen anyone play guitar like him. Jesse blisters through the solo, and he’s so into his music, it’s like the crowd isn’t even here. Meanwhile, the girl next to me is bawling like her face is a busted fire hydrant.

When the song is over, Jesse grabs the mike with one hand and says, “Thanks for coming out tonight, Nashville. I may travel all over the place, but I want all my fans to know this is my one true home.”

Everyone screams as Jesse looks down and tips his cowboy hat at Dr. Salter. Jesse’s face seems sad as he scans the rest of the front row. He gives me a fleeting look before starting to rock out on guitar again. The next song is “Agape.” It’s about how he lives for music.

After his third song (“Ain’t No City Boy”), Jesse wipes the sweat off his face with his T-shirt sleeve and says into the mike, “Damn that popcorn smells good. Can I get some up here?” Ten seconds later, a stagehand rushes out with a bucket. Jesse eats a few pieces. “Perfect,” he says, licking his fingers. “Y’all want some?” The crowd roars, so he throws the bucket out into the crowd, sprinkling us with popcorn.

About halfway through the concert, Jesse makes everyone sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with him, but instead of singing “Root, root, root for the home team,” we sing “Root, root, root for the Braves!” And then with his eyes shut, he does this insane acoustic rendition of “Amazing Grace,” set to the tune of The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”

Jesse performs all of his hits, but the encore, “Second Chance,” is the highlight. He sings, “She may have been Paris, but I needed the soft sun, so I let her fly.”

I actually clap when the song’s over and he looks down at me again. The crowd roars. He may not have a great presence offstage, but when he’s onstage, he’s on.

He yanks off his cowboy hat. “Thanks everybody.” A pause. “As many of you probably know, in November I’ll begin a six-week tour of North America and Europe.” The crowd roars again. He speaks over the noise, “And, after that, in December—” His voice breaks. He takes a deep breath. “I’ll be leaving the industry.”

What?

Boos and cries—mostly cries—rattle the auditorium.

The king of country music is quitting? Is this the announcement Mr. Logan mentioned to Dr. Salter? I turn to my principal. His eyes are watering.

“I just wanted to say—wanted to make sure y’all know, my fans mean everything to me.” His voice cracks again.

And my heart breaks for him, because whatever is going on must be pretty serious. I can’t imagine giving up music for any reason whatsoever.

“Thank you, Nashville!” he yells into the mike and jogs offstage, carrying his guitar.

I find Dr. Salter’s eyes. “He’s really doing this, huh?”

“I guess so… The thing is, Maya, I don’t think he truly wants to.”

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posted by Miranda Kenneally in Uncategorized and have Comments (3)