Chapter 1

Copyright© 2009 by Jay Cantrell

I guess we were typical teenagers. When we were teenagers, that is.

We had dreams and hopes and aspirations. Some were realistic; others were wildly improbable.

My best friend was named Greg. He was a drummer in the school marching band. And a pretty darned good one by most accounts. He played soccer and baseball, but his first love was music. His second love was Carrie.

Carrie had been Greg's girlfriend since, well, since forever, I guess. I can't remember a time they weren't together. They started going out in seventh grade and were still going strong into their senior years of high school. Carrie was the one who got Greg interested in band. She played the flute in the marching band but she came from a musical family. So she also played guitar, a little bass and some banjo along with a host of percussion instruments.

Carrie's best friend was Kellie. I knew Kellie better than Carrie when I was younger — mostly because Kellie and I went to the same church. Kellie played the piano for the youth choir. I should know because I was a member of the youth choir from the time my mother forced me into it at age 9 until I could finally claim I was no longer a youth at age 17.

My name is Todd. I am not musical. I rarely listen to music and when I do it rarely is for very long. I prefer to read a book or to write stories of my own. I have been told I have a pleasant singing voice but I can not read music. I never could. Even when The Collection hit the big time.

I can say without reservation it was all Carrie's fault.

Her father's family was having some sort of get-together and she invited us all to attend. It was a weekend camping trip and it sounded fun. Carrie neglected to mention a couple of things. First, was that her entire extended family were serious musicians. Sure, I knew her father was the local high school band director and that her mother taught music in the elementary schools. But I had no idea that everyone associated with Carrie's family was proficient in a variety of musical genres.

Her uncle was an opera singer; her cousin was a Nashville session recording artist; her niece was a piano prodigy.

The second thing Carrie failed to mention is that her family get-together was more like an extended talent show. The small children kicked off Friday night with a series of musical skits that the families obviously had worked on for months.

Saturday afternoon was a square-dance and hoe down complete with shit-kicking country and western music provided by the various family members. Saturday night the adults performed a variety of duets and solo singing acts. Then it was Sunday morning.

Sunday morning was for newcomers. Apparently Greg and Kellie were aware of the necessity to perform because they came prepared with variety of things — things such as harmonicas, Greg's drum kit, a bass and lead guitar and an electric keyboard.

I admit I was looking forward to what they might put together. I knew the three of them had had "jam sessions" in Greg's garage periodically. I lived two houses away; it wasn't like I could have missed them. They sounded pretty good.

Then Kellie handed me a list of songs and took my arm. I was scanning the list and I thought it was a pretty eclectic mix. A little bit of Jewel mixed in with the Commodores and a couple of country ballads and a duet from Patty Smythe and Don Henley. I was nodding my head in appreciation when I realized what Kellie was doing.

"No way," I said.

"You know the words to all the songs," she said. "The ones with an asterisk are the ones you sing lead on."

"Uh-uh," I said trying to dig in my heels on the hard ground.

"Please," she pleaded. "Come on, no one will know. Carrie's family will go back to wherever they came from and you'll never have to see them again. I've heard you sing. It'll be awesome. We can't do it without you. You've got the best voice out of all of us."

She seemed on the verge of tears so I relented.

It really wasn't as bad as what I thought it would be. I mean, the songs that I didn't sing, I had nothing to do. I couldn't play an instrument and I couldn't even sing harmony because I was somewhat unfamiliar with the concept. So I stood in the background and tried not to pick my nose.

Carrie's family let out a wild whoop when we finished with an acoustic version of "Seven Bridges Road" by The Eagles.

Our styles were different. Greg had a soft tenor voice reminiscent of Billy Joel. Carrie had a harder alto almost like Beth Hart. Kellie had a sweet, kind voice that lent itself to slow ballads in the style of Martina McBride. And I just sang what they put in front of me.

I would copy the melody from the times I had heard the songs on CD. I had no idea what chord we were in; I had no idea of when I was off pitch or what to do about it when I figured out I was.

Still, it was fun while it lasted. Carrie's grandmother wound up giving us our name: The Collection. When we finished up, she clasped each of us on the shoulder with her bony fingers and told the group, "What a fine collection of voices we have here today."

As we headed home, Greg, Carrie and Kellie were plotting ways to include me in their garage band. And I was thinking about what I would like for supper.

I rejected everyone's entreaties to join the group. Mostly, I was embarrassed. I had no talent, no rhythm and no training. I could play no instruments — I wasn't even very good with a tambourine because my rhythm sucked.

I also had no intention of putting forth the time and energy that the three others expended in improving their craft. I was 16 years old and lazy as hell. I enjoyed hanging out with Greg — and with Carrie and Kellie — but I didn't want to spend my Saturday nights going over the same song a dozen times as I had heard them do.

Nope, my Saturday nights were spent cruising the strip and looking for any girl who might deign to lower herself to speak to me.

I wasn't one of the cool kids in school. I played on the baseball team but I wasn't a star. Greg was a much better baseball player than I was until he gave it up to focus on music.

I didn't get straight A's so I wasn't in with the geek crowd. It was the summer before college before I owned my first computer — which opened up a whole world of internet porn. But that's another story.

I interacted with many different groups. My parents were fairly strict but the one thing they taught me was to respect others. I didn't give the freaks and geeks a rough time; I didn't denigrate the kids in the band and I didn't idolize the kids who played football.

I was just me.

It was no secret to Greg that I had a crush on Kellie from the time I was old enough to notice girls. Kellie was (and remained so for many years) my version of the ideal woman. She was tall and slender with long blonde hair that hung down her back. She was only an inch or two shorter than my six-foot frame. She had a lilting laugh and the greenest eyes I have ever seen without the aid of contact lenses.

I still sigh a little bit each time I think about her (like now).

Still, I saw right through the additional attention Kellie began to show me. First she asked me to drive her to and from school (because she was still two months from getting her license). Then she asked me to help her with a history report (and Kellie was a straight A student). Then she began hinting that I should ask her to homecoming (even though she could have her pick of almost any guy in the school).

But I was paranoid enough to know that her attention was a ploy to get me to sing with her, Greg and Carrie. So I went to the homecoming dance with Marcy Detwiler. Not one of my brighter moves. First, Marcy had just broken up with her very scary boyfriend a week or so before; and second, Kellie was highly pissed off at me. I mean terminally pissed. Greg and Carrie were right behind her.

Me? Well I just pleaded ignorant. I stopped to pick up Kellie for school on Monday just like I always did but she told me she would rather walk that ride with me.

"What did I do?" I asked innocently.

"Screw you," she replied. It was as close as I had ever come to hearing Kellie swear. I would later learn she knew all the words but used them only when necessary.

"Is this about Marcy?" I asked.

Kellie just stared at me for a moment then walked off toward school. I figured to hell with it and drove that way myself. But as I glanced in the rearview mirror as I drove past Kellie, I saw she was crying.

Now I felt like a complete asshole. I would suppose with good reason, too. I pulled the car to the side of the road and walked back to Kellie.

"I almost begged you to take me to that dance," she said through her tears. "I let you know in every way I possibly could that I wanted to go with you. But instead you take that slut Marcy Detwiler. Is that what it was about? Did you just want to get laid?"

"Nothing like that," I said, only half lying. "I figured you could get any guy in the school to go to the dance with you. The only reason I could come up with that you would go with me is to try to entice me to sing with your group."

Kellie stood with her arms crossed.

"I would like you to sing with the group," she answered. "But we've also known each other for years. It would have been fun to go with you."

"As friends," I supplied.

Kellie's lip twitched and she lowered her eyes.

"Yes," she answered reluctantly. "As friends."

"And the reason I asked Marcy because I didn't want to go to homecoming with someone 'as friends, '" I answered. "You and I can be friends somewhere other than dances."

"But it was fun dancing with you at Carrie's family reunion," she insisted. "You're taller than I am. And I knew you wouldn't try any funny stuff."

I shrugged and sighed.

"The offer for a ride is still open," I said. I knew we had reached an impasse.

Greg and Carrie were waiting the parking lot when we arrived. I could tell both were excited and I had barely parked when they pulled Kellie away and walked quickly toward the school, talking animatedly.

I was left standing beside my car.

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