Ruined My Rhythm
She had never run so fast or so far. She couldn’t feel the throbbing pain any longer in her heels, in her shins, or in her thighs. The pain didn’t matter anyway because Mama was dying and she had to run as fast as she could. Hopefully, if she could get there in time, Mama would be okay.
In the hospital.
“No. Mama, please.”
“Maria, my baby,” Mama said, holding her close.
The nurses and doctors were trying to save her.
“Please, Mama, don’t leave me.”
Maria tried to hold on to Mama but she was pulled away.
“Maria, su padre.”
“Mrs. Sanchez you need to relax…Will someone get her out of here?” the doctor yelled.
“Come with me,” the nurse said to Maria.
“Su padre, Maria,” Mama said.
They pulled her out of the emergency room and her heart felt like it was about to break open. Why couldn’t they let her stay? Mama was all she ever had. She was all she ever knew. I wouldn’t be in the way. I could hold her hand, she thought.
Maria paced back and forth in the waiting room for what seemed like hours then she crawled up into a ball on the couch. She hoped that by making herself as small as possible her worst fear would disappear. No, Mama. No. Please don’t die. The other people sitting there only watched until a woman offered her water and tried to hug her.
Every day of the week, except one, Mama cleaned houses. On Saturdays they cleaned them together. For four days out of the school week Mama walked with Maria in the morning to her bus for school and then waited for a bus of her own to clean houses until late in the afternoon. She would then take another bus to the hospital where she did more cleaning morning until two o’clock the next morning. The one exception was this day, when Maria would kiss Mama before leaving for school and let Mama get rest. Mama had no houses to clean on that day and she could sleep in. She would wake up in enough time to do laundry or something else around the house and then catch the bus again for the hospital.
Mama waited at the bus stop. She could tell the sun had been out earlier because she could see the heat rising from the street mixing with the exhaust from the traffic moving by. Now a thick blanket of clouds covered overhead and coolness pushed down slowly. It felt like the quiet air before a thunderstorm or tornado. She spotted her bus down the street a few blocks away and another car coming much faster. The car slowed as it came close to the bus stop and Mama looked away. She always looked away once she noticed gang bangers. She saw just a glimpse, a car full of them. They were the reason she was working so hard. She would move Maria out of this place. She knew Maria was meant to have more. Maria would be more than this.
Bap! Bap! Bap! Bap! Bap!
That afternoon a drive-by shooting killed a rival gang member caught on the wrong side of town and Mama was an unexpected casualty. In minutes ambulances and police cars arrived. The boy was killed but Mama was still alive and they rushed her to the hospital.
Just minutes after the ambulance left and as the police finished their reports and questioning, a school bus dropped off all the kids from that side of town. Maria was one of them. When she found out about Mama she just started running. She knew the hospital they would take her to and there could have been a train or a transit that would have gotten her there quicker but she didn’t have time. The dark clouds pushed down closer to the earth as she ran as fast as she could.
Maria’s legs were long. They were perfect running legs. They carried her along fast and smooth as she moved through the city to the hospital. Her shins and ankles started to hurt but she forgot about them. It was her heart that hurt the most. Someone said Mama was dead already. Maria knew that couldn’t be true and she had to get to her as fast as she could. She thought if she could get there in time Mama would be okay. It began to rain but Maria was still running. Her long straight hair that had been shiny and flowing behind her now was starting to weigh her down. She made sure as she ran to miss all the cracks and the lines. She would never step on those.
Maria recognized the places she ran past. She knew she was getting closer as she passed the church and then the park and then a bus stop. She knew San Antonio. Mama had tried to show her every bit of it. She felt like she was in a dream, running in the cold wind and rain, only thinking about Mama. Her legs pulled her though the wet streets and alleyways, closer and closer to Mama, until she ran into the doors of the hospital. She knew she could save her and so she ran down the hall of the hospital. Mama! Mama! Mama!
Mama was shot three times and as much as they tried to save her there was too much blood lost and so her heart stopped beating. It was on this day Maria’s heart stopped too. The doctors said Mama was dead and so they let Maria hold her. She held Mama close and her heart broke open and she cried and cried and cried. She wished she would have gotten there sooner. If only she could have run faster, she thought, Mama would still be alive. A rush of pain and fear, loneliness, and anger filled Maria where her heart once was. The feelings hurt too so she replaced them with nothing and forced a wall up around. She never wanted to feel again. It wasn’t right that Mama was gone. It wasn’t right that Mama was taken away. Mama was all Maria ever knew.
Maria didn’t know her father. She only had a postcard that her mother had given her years before. It was from her father to her mother and it was signed, ‘tu papi’. Mama said that was what she always called him. It was his idea. They ran away together from the small town in Mexico they grew up in and came to Texas. He always said he would be her daddy but then he started drinking and doing drugs. Mama told him to choose between her and drinking and Mama said he chose drinking. He left when you were a baby, Mama said many times. Why would he leave? Maria thought this more times than she could ever count but then one day, just like the day Mama died, she chose to never think about it again. It was too hard and too sad and it made her very angry.
In a small office about the size of a broom closet, Mr. Ruiz was straining to read the computer screen in front of him. He looked at the screen and then down at the opened folder and then back to the screen. Mr. Ruiz was a guidance counselor at Roosevelt High School. He looked past his computer monitor at the teen-aged girl slumped down in the chair on the other side of his desk. Her hair and eye make-up made him think of a frizzed out angry raccoon woken up too early.
“You have a lot of absences, a lot of tardies,” he said.
She just shrugged and slumped down more. Pulling out a pen and a sketchpad from her backpack, she began to draw.
“If you are absent one more time you’re going to juvi and if that happens there won’t be anything I can do.”
He waited for her to say something but she just looked up at him through her defiant raccoon eyes and then back down at the drawing on her sketchpad.
“I’ve talked with your foster parents, Maria. I know they are trying to help you. They are good people. You have so much talent, Maria. But you’re throwing that away. Don’t you see? There won’t be any art school if you don’t buckle down. Well?”
“Well, what?” Maria hissed without looking up from her sketchpad.
“María, eres una chica hermosa y talentosa!”
She lifted her eyes slowly.
“¡Estás lanzando tu vida como basura! ¡Despierta, niña! ¡Despierta!”
Maria huffed, and put her pen and sketchpad back into her backpack.
“Are you done?”
“Yes. I guess I am,” he said with sadness.
“Then can I go?”
Maria got up and turned to leave but then stopped when Mr. Ruiz spoke again.
“I think your mother would have expected more.”
She turned back to him and he looked at her whole outfit. She wore tight black boots and a short skirt he knew some other teacher should have said something about by this time of the day and her legs were completely pen tattooed with what looked like a combination of ravens, knives, and handguns. He could read the word, “Damaged,” scrolled down her left leg; down her right arm the words, “Born to Die,” were penned. Her hair was bigger and more frazzled than he ever remembered seeing it before during that school year.
“You didn’t know my mother!” Maria growled. “You think I’m throwing my life away? You don’t know!”
“I believe in you, Maria…”
“Why? You don’t even know me!”
“I know you’re running down the same road as your father.”
“My Papi is a great guitar player in Dallas!”
“Your father was an addict, Maria. I know this,”
“That’s not true!”
“And he’s probably dead.”
Maria looked around. She wanted to throw something she was so angry. She knew she wasn’t angry at Mr. Ruiz or anything he said, she was angry because she knew it was true. She swatted a stack of papers and they flew everywhere. Mr. Ruiz didn’t say anything. He just looked at her. Maria turned to the door, slammed it open, and stormed completely out of the building. Just then the last bell of the day rang as she took the last step of the front stairs of the school. She unchained a bicycle and started to peddle.
The bike she rode was the bike her foster parents had given her. It was a beautiful baby blue bike that she had sprayed black and covered completely with stickers of her favorite band, TV on the Radio. Maria knew her foster parents were trying but most of the time she felt they were either feeling sorry for her or sorry for themselves and that was the reason they were trying so hard. Why does everyone feel they have to try so hard? It kind of comes across pathetic. She couldn’t stand the fact that she was usually at the center of everyone trying so hard. She peddled violently thinking about what Mr. Ruiz said. My Papi isn’t dead! He’s not! If Mama had said his name it was for a reason! What does Mr. Ruiz know? What does anybody know! He’s alive and I know it! He’s playing guitar somewhere. My Papi’s in Dallas. He is. She knew she was trying to convince herself and it was depressing to want something so bad that would never come true. She was the one who was pathetic.
Maria rode up to the front of the pretty, make-believe, princess-style, two-story house, the kind of house she and Mama dreamed of having after watching some Barbie movie when she was younger, and it never felt right to her. It usually made her feel sick when she saw it from the front, so most of the time she rode in from the back through the alley and came in the back door. Today she didn’t care. She peddled up to the front. She wouldn’t feel any worse than she did already.
Maria threw the bike down, leaving it right in front of the porch and opened the front door. Going straight through a hall that led to stairs, she ran all the way up to her room shutting the door as quietly as she could. Tossing her backpack on the bed, she found her mp-3 player on the desk next to her bed, put the ear buds in, and turned it up as loud as she could, humming along with Tunde Adebimpe, TV on the Radio’s front man. Lying down on the bed, she pulled out the sketchpad from her backpack and began to work again on the drawing she had started that week. She stopped abruptly, rolled over to her backpack and pulled something out of the side pouch. It was the postcard from Papi. She felt it’s worn edges with her fingers and put it up to her nose. Its smell was like an old magazine or comic book but really it reminded her of Mama the most.
The first time she saw it was when she was six years old. Maybe it was seven. She remembered finding one of Mama’s journals under Mama’s bed and when she opened it the postcard fell out. On one side was a photo of a neon sign saying, Club DADA, and at the bottom was printed, Deep Ellum. On the other side of the postcard was a postage stamp and a note from Maria’s father to her mother.
“Mi Mariposa, yo estoy perdido. Yo nunca debió haber salido. Cuando puedo conseguir cosas juntos por favor, llévame de vuelta. Puedo amarte como antes. Un hombre puede hacer que los peores errors! Soy un tonto. Por favor, acepte este tonto porque le gusta más a usted. Estoy jugando en Deep Ellum todas las noches. Cuando tengo suficiente estaré de vuelta.
En el Amor, Tu Papi
After reading it many, many times and studying the handwriting and copying it over and over, her own handwriting so closely resembled the writing on the postcard that anyone would have thought she was the original writer. She could be obsessive that way. She knew it was true. She knew she could be very obsessive compulsive and it started on the day Mama died. She always heard that if you stepped on a crack then you broke your Mama’s back and since that day she always avoided the cracks or lines under her feet as she walked or as she ran. It was impossible to avoid all of them all the time but she almost always paid attention to it. She had never told anyone this. She knew if she did tell someone she’d also have to admit that she even tried to walk over the imaginary lines that came off of angled objects, like boxes or tables or the corner of buildings or anything else, any imaginary line. Maria wondered if she was the only one to ever have the same problem. It wasn’t really a problem, she told herself. It’s just something weird.
Maria brought the postcard close to her face again, closed her eyes, and dreamed the same fantasy she had so many times before. She saw Mama in the kitchen, washing dishes. From the back she was so beautiful in her thin yellow dress. A warm quiet breeze from an open window moved her dress and long black hair gently back and forth. Then Papi would come up from behind her and take her by the waist, spin her around in his arms, and dance with her. In her dream, Papi is wearing a tight blue embroidered shirt that shows his lean muscular build and contrasts his dark black hair. He’s making Mama smile. Mama’s smile was always in her eyes. It’s such a nice dream seeing Mama so happy and seeing her lovely smile and then that’s where Maria’s fantasy always ends. She never thought to ask Mama if this was an actual memory or just a beautiful fantasy and she always wished she would have.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Maria’s foster mother, Donna, heard a noise upstairs and knew it must be Maria. Donna and her husband Jeff had spent the last three months trying to pry themselves into Maria’s life. It was the most Maria had spent in any one place since Mama had died almost a year ago. I know you want to help her but she’s a stone, Jeff had said. She’s probably too far gone, he had said a few times. Donna never believed that. She saw something in Maria. The truth was Donna was a fan of Maria’s, probably more a fan than a step mother. She loved Maria’s sketches, no matter how dark Jeff said they were. Donna had always wanted to draw the way Maria did but it wasn’t really her gift. What Maria had was a gift, she told Jeff.
“Maria! Please come down here. I got something for you and I’m excited to give it to you.”
Donna heard no response so she walked up the stairs to Maria’s room and knocked. When there was still no response she opened the door and saw Maria lying on her bed sketching and listening to her mp3 player. Maria saw her but ignored her. Donna motioned to her to take the ear buds out of her ears but Maria acted like she didn’t see.
“Take those off please,” Donna said.
Finally, Donna walked over to the bed and pulled an ear bud out of Maria’s ear.
“Please come downstairs. I have a surprise for you.”
“I hate surprises. I’m sketching something so please leave,” Maria said putting her ear bud back in, but still being able to hear.
“What are you drawing?”
Maria moved the sketchpad as Donna came over.
“Can I see?”
“I said please leave,” Maria said snottily.
“Listen,” Donna said a little irritated, “I just wanted to give you something I bought. Jeff and I do a lot for you, you know. The least you can do is show some consideration.”
“You’re so fake.”
“You don’t care about me. You and Jeff are just pretending I’m your kid because you can’t have any of your own.”
“That’s not true,” Donna said, looking for a response that wouldn’t automatically bring tears to her eyes. It was true that she and Jeff couldn’t have children and also true that they had been waiting to adopt a little boy but they truly cared for Maria. Maria knew this too. Donna took a deep breath and fingered her blond hair back behind her ears gathering composure.
“Your mother would have wanted you to have a home and from the minute Jeff and I met you, that’s what we’ve tried to give you.”
“You’re not my family.”
“We want to be. We see a lot of potential in you, your artwork for example. We want to help you, Maria. And you don’t have anybody else.”
“That’s not true. I have my Papi.”
“Seriously? Your dad left you and your mom when you were a baby.”
“But I know where he is,” Maria said.
“Okay, where is he then?” Donna asked.
Maria was now very interested in this conversation. She hadn’t been able to talk to anyone about her thoughts about Papi. Mr. Ruiz at school had tried to get her to talk about it but he was always talking about how your father was a drug addict your father was an alcoholic or your father left you and your mother and she just wanted someone to tell her that there was this guy out there somewhere he was her Papi and maybe they would be together again. She knew Donna really cared and she was glad to have someone to listen, even if it was sort of an argument.
“He’s in Dallas. He’s a great guitar player and someday we’re going to meet.”
“Maria. I know that’s what you think you want but you better be sure.”
“Well, I’m going to find him.”
“He hasn’t been there for you your whole life, Maria. I’m just saying how do you know he wants to see you?”
“But maybe he does. You don’t know.”
“You don’t have the money and even if you found him what if he’s what everyone says he is?”
“What a drug addict?” Maybe she didn’t want to talk about this, Maria thought.
“Yes. And if he wanted to see you why didn’t he even come to your mother’s funeral?”
“I don’t know. He probably doesn’t even know she died.”
“Exactly, he hasn’t exactly been there for you. Jeff and I want to be.” Donna moved closer to Maria on the bed. “And we’re right here.”
“Did you know Jeff tried to have sex with me?”
“What?” Donna was a little startled.
“Yep. He’s been trying to ever since I moved in.”
“Maria. Why would you say that?” Donna knew it wasn’t true and Maria could see that Donna didn’t believe it but she could also tell it hurt her and she was sorry she had said it.
Donna tried not to appear wounded.
“I know you don’t want to talk about any of this. I just don’t want you to be disappointed and hurt more than you have already.” Donna hopped up off the bed and tried to change the mood of the room. “I got you a surprise!” Donna smiled big. “Come down for dinner and I’ll give it to you.”
Maria was interested in the surprise but her guard was still up.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well, when you are, come down. And then I’ll give you your gift.”
Donna left the room sort of bouncing, trying to act like everything was okay and Maria thought how pathetic it was that everyone around her tried so hard to cheer her up. Maybe she didn’t want to be cheered up. Maybe she wanted to be the one to cheer herself up. It made her frustrated to think about it. She put her ear buds in and started to sketch again.
Downstairs, Donna is sitting at the kitchen table staring at a large unopened box of art supplies. She looks up to the ceiling towards Maria. Jeff was right. She is as hard as a rock and nobody will break her. I’m so stupid. Why do I care so much about this kid? We don’t deserve this. Maybe this isn’t working out. It depressed Donna to think about Maria’s situation. She wished so much that she could be the one to get through to her. Now she was feeling hopeful again. Jeff is right a lot of the time but not this time. She picked up the box and carried it over to the pantry and placed it on the top shelf. She’s going to like this, Donna thought.
Later that evening it was quiet until outside a thunderstorm got closer and closer. Maria never came out of her room. When she heard Jeff come, between thunderclaps, she could hear them talking about her. She couldn’t hear anything specific but she knew they would be talking about how things weren’t working out and how Maria would need to move somewhere else or back to one of the girl’s homes if there was room. She was so tired of being the subject of everyone’s difficult discussions. Mr. Ruiz, Donna, they all wanted her to figure it all out.
As she lay in bed, lightning flashed over and over.
Maria’s mind wouldn’t slow down, seemingly thinking of a completely new thought every time it thundered. It seemed like she would never get to sleep. It sounded crazy to her, going off to find some guy would was supposed to be her father. All she had was a postcard and the hope that he was in Dallas. Mr. Ruiz would say that if she wanted to find her father that she should do it after she was accepted somewhere, after all the scholarship money came through, and stuff like that. And Donna would probably help her get the money to go to Dallas but only after she graduated. Graduation, that wasn’t going to happen, she thought. Why was that so important? Ansel Adams dropped out. So did Johnny Depp.
Life isn’t about school anyway. “What is life about?” she said out loud. Shut up, she thought. You’re wasting time thinking and need to be finding him. She thought about what he probably looked like. She forgot what he looked like. She had seen a picture one time that Mama had shown her but she didn’t study it. It was one of those times when whatever someone is showing you just isn’t important to you at the time so you don’t really pay attention. She could never find it when she moved out of the apartment after Mama died.
A blinding flash of lightning lit up Maria’s room for a second and then a loud roaring thunderclap shook the house.
Maria thought about so many things that night. She thought she would never go to sleep but as the storm slowly moved to the east, the night got quieter and she stopped thinking as much and slowly faded off to sleep.
Since Mama died Maria had learned to be a light sleeper and she didn’t need an alarm clock. It was like she never actually went to sleep. She had been told she couldn’t stay in the apartment she lived in with Mama and so they told her to get all the things that meant something to her, including clothes, and put them in two suitcases. The lady was nice to help her. She was someone who knew Mama from the hospital. She and her husband really wanted to help her, maybe let her stay with them for a while, but social services wouldn’t let her because they had a son. They were afraid it wouldn’t be a wholesome environment so she was put into a girl’s home that would be more appropriate. It wasn’t.
Maria was glad when she moved in with Donna and Jeff. Now she was going to be sad, leaving them. She had been up for a while that morning, listening to them from upstairs, getting ready for their day. Maria knew what she would have to do and so she would leave when they left for work and she didn’t plan on ever coming back.
At first, her foster parents never left her at home alone. They didn’t trust her. Maria had a sick feeling that she had become someone she never thought she would be. Maybe they were right at first and now they were wrong. They had grown to trust her because she had been trustworthy. As much as she had tried to be “hard” and “unreachable” they had reached her. She appreciated them. She was grateful but this wasn’t going to look like that. And now, she felt sick that she was going to steal from them. She had thought of all her options and there wasn’t any way to get to Dallas safely unless she borrowed from them. That’s what she wanted to call it. But some of the things could never be replaced. She knew that might be true but they would have wanted her to be safe. They had already been so giving. This wouldn’t hurt them that bad. She would pay them back as soon as she could.
Maria heard them shut the door to the garage, and then the garage door open and then shut. She heard Donna say to not be late for school and to please read her note on the kitchen table. She walked down the stairs and in her mind she could she a sketch of herself, or it was a drawing in coal on canvas. She was coming down the stairs, halfway down. That’s where she would stay in the drawing. She knew that she was about to do something that Mama would be so disappointed about. In the drawing, her eyes would be down because she was ashamed. She was embarrassed and disappointed in herself. She was going lower than she thought she ever would. Until this time, she felt like maybe she had acted like any other teen but now to steal from someone who trusted her. It felt low. And now she was coming all the way down the stairs and she wasn’t going to go back up. She was going to follow through.
Maria walked into Donna and Jeff’s bedroom. She had been in there before when they were gone but only in curiosity, not to take advantage of them. She had looked at all of Donna’s things. She had smelled all her perfume bottles before and put on her jewelry a few times but every time she put everything back in its place. She stood in front of Donna’s dresser with her heart beating so fast. She had the weird sense that her heart had been there and she had forgotten how much it can pump. She opened the jewelry chest. She thought that she could tell which rings weren’t as important and special and she could tell that some of them were very nice and would be sellable. She wasn’t going to take it all. She took what she thought would be enough and then she went to their closet. She had seen some silver coins one time and so she took them out and put them in her backpack, in the same pouch she put Donna’s jewelry. Jeff had a couple really nice watches and she found one and took that too. Maria had forgotten the sick stomach she had. She thought that maybe she should just sit down and rethink. She could just put everything back and go to school. She was already going to be late and that would eventually mean juvi and she would have to leave Donna and Jeff. Either way, she thought, I’m going to have to leave. I might as well give myself a chance to meet him, if I can find him. She thought of Mama in the hospital and how she had said “tu Padre.” Papi. She had to find Papi and juvi would not help her find him. Going to school wouldn’t bring her closer to him.
She took some other things she thought she could sell and that would be replaceable and wouldn’t hurt them too much and put them in her backpack and went into the kitchen. On the kitchen table was a note from Donna with Maria’s name on it. She picked it up and looked at both sides of it. She knew Donna had written something nice on the inside and it would feel good to read it but maybe too good. It would only make it harder to leave if you opened it, she thought. She put it back down. Opening the refrigerator, Maria looks back at the envelope then back into the refrigerator. She would take some fruit for the trip and then she would figure the rest out. She took some grapes out and some strawberries, shut the refrigerator, and sat down at the table. Ignoring the envelope felt like a cat trying to ignore a bird at the window. Maria didn’t want to feel any of this. She had to go find her Papi and if she felt too much it would never happen. She shook her head, picked up the envelope, and slowly opened it. She thought Donna had pretty handwriting, like Mama’s was.
I’m sorry we fought last night. Jeff and I think you are a great girl and we can’t tell you how much be believe in you. Please accept the gift I bought you yesterday. It’s in the pantry.
Maria read the note a couple times and looked at the pantry. She didn’t want to know what it was because if it was worth something she might sell it and then feel worse than she already did. This she was sure of so she didn’t think about it again.
Maria knew how to stop feeling but sometimes it wasn’t easy. She decided that if she was going to do this she was going to have to stop feeling for a while. Maybe a long time. Maybe she would feel again when she met Papi. Shutting the front door and getting on her bike, she wondered what she would do if he was a jerk. What if he didn’t want anything to do with her? After all, in all these years he never tried to contact her or Mama. If he’s a loser then no big deal. At least I’m doing it. Mama would be happy I tried. She’d be upset how I’m doing it but she’d get over it.
The bike ride was longer than she thought. She was going back towards her old neighborhood and to the pawn shop. Then she’d get the bus ticket.
Maria looked around the pawn shop and emptied everything in the backpack that she intended to sell and the cashier looked at each item and then up at her more than a few times. She wondered if it was obvious she’d never been in a pawn shop before. She’s never seen so many guitars and so many weed-eaters before. The cashier asked her how much she money she was expecting.
“We just didn’t need these anymore and so my mom asked me to see what we could get.”
She felt like she was scrambling for words but then felt more confident.
“These were left over from the garage sale,” she told the cashier.
The cashier looked at Maria, sizing her up, looking at her clothes and hair. She hadn’t done anything to her hair that morning and it was as big as it ever had been. She didn’t have an afro but it looked just like it, like there could have been African blood in her family tree. The cashier gave her the cash and since it was much more than she expected to get she was happy. Then she thought it made no sense for her to be happy about it since she had just stolen everything she just sold. So she decided again to just not think about it and get to the bus station as soon as she could.
Maria sat down on a bench inside the bus station after buying her one-way ticket to Dallas and people-watched. There were all kinds of people buying tickets and waiting for their bus. It made her wonder if any of them were like her, not sure about where they would stay when they got to their final destination. The ticket hadn’t cost near the amount she thought it would and the money she got from the pawn shop would be enough for at least a week by her calculations. She would go straight to the club that Papi used to play in and go from there. She wasn’t a detective but she was smart. He’s not still playing there, she figured, but someone would know where he went, or at least they would have known about the band he was in. It was a long time ago but she felt it was her best shot. It was a better plan than staying in San Antonio anyway, she thought. Would have been sent to juvi anyway. Juvi. What if they called the police? Donna and Jeff wouldn’t do that. Or, maybe they would. They had to since they are foster parents. They’re kind of obligated to report me missing, aren’t they? But they wouldn’t tell about everything I stole. Maria looked at the police officer stationed at the entrance and wondered how soon the police would be looking for her. What if they already knew? She put her head down.
Maria felt someone very heavy sit down on the opposite end of the bench. She slowly eyed the person to her left. He was looking at her. She looked away.
“This will be a long trip, a long strange trip,” he said.
Maria ignored him. He wasn’t talking to her, she hoped.
“What’s wrong with you sweet Jane? Lost your sparkle?”
She turned slightly to him and he was talking to her and their eyes met. Why do people do that? Why do some people have no problem whatsoever inviting others into their world? What is wrong with some people? She wanted so bad to act like she hadn’t heard him but he had seen her look and she had to say something.
“Excuse me. What?”
“Lost your sparkle, sweet Jane?” he asked.
“Again, what?” she asked.
He wasn’t going to make this very easy, she thought. Why do people do that? They make you participate when you clearly aren’t interested, like they’re doing you a favor by helping you. They’re difficult so you have to really work at it.
“Do you know me?” she asked.
“It’s from the Grateful Dead. You know, the Grateful Dead?” he asked.
She shook her head and then looked forward hoping that was it. Just ignore him now. He’ll find someone else to creep out.
“Well, that’s from one of their songs, ‘Truckin’. You’re like, Sweet Jane, you know?”
He wasn’t finished. Why God, why? She took a deep breath and turned to him again.
“Okay. So, what?” she asked, hoping by her tone, she was communicating.
Maria took in his appearance. He was like a really big boy, like a little kid that grew into a man overnight. He was a man, a young man, maybe in college but he looked like he still had all his baby fat, especially in the face. He was one of those sweaty, smelly boys from elementary school with red cheeks that just came into class from playing kickball during recess. She knew she should probably be glad he was on the other end of the bench. He looked like he smelled but he also looked so much like those bigger boys she always liked in elementary that were true friends.
“Dallas got a soft machine. What do you think that means? You don’t know about the Grateful Dead?” he asked again.
“I’m sorry but I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said trying to be polite. “And I don’t really want to talk right now. Okay?”
“You don’t know about the Grateful Dead?”
“You haven’t been living if you don’t know the Grateful Dead,” he said.
Maria looked at him with squinted eyes. She felt like she was getting a headache.
“I’m sorry. My name is Ben. Ben here. Ben there.”
He laughed at himself and sat down next to Maria. He kept laughing and Maria thought that she was definitely getting a headache.
“Get it?” he asked. Major headache, she decided. She nodded reluctantly.
“I like your threads, by the way. Kind of like Goth meets Glam or Punk or whatever. It’s hot. I like it. I’m not saying you’re hot. I mean, you are but that’s not what I’m saying.”
Is he going to shut up? Please, God, Maria thought.
She closed her eyes and faced straight ahead and eventually he did stop talking. When I open my eyes he’ll be gone, she thought. Please tell me he’s not on my bus. Please, God. She heard him breathing and she slowly opened her eyes, taking her own deep breath. Nope. He’s still there.
“Can you please…?”
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She took another deep breath.
“Maria. Ah!” he said. “You got the Mexicali Blues?”
“What? Oh. It must be Grateful Dead.”
“Yeah,” he nodded proudly.
“I’m not Mexican. I’m American. Please leave me alone, okay. I think if you stopped talking to me right now we would both be happy, trust me.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t trying to say, you know, you’re Mexican or anything. I really like…”
“The Grateful Dead. I see that,” Maria said, sitting up, looking for another seat.
“So, what are you going to Dallas for?” he said, leaning into view.
Maria slouched down defeated. Deep breath, this will all be over soon, she thought. You’ll go get on your bus. He’ll get on his. And it will all be over.
“How do you know where I’m going?” she asked.
“I heard you when you bought your ticket. I’m going to Dallas, too.”
Great, she thought. I should have flipped him off or something. She shook her head. But that wouldn’t have worked. You’re right. It wouldn’t have worked. Nothing is going to work on him. But he’s nice. Look at him. He’s sweet. He’s annoying as shit but look at him. He’s just a big kid, she thought, and is the way you’re going to treat everyone on your amazing journey? She shook her head no for more than one reason. Another deep breath, Maria, she told herself.
“I’m going to find my Papi,” she said to him.
“Poppy?” he asked. “Poppy?” he said, enjoying the alliterative sound of the name.
“Papi. My dad.”
“Oh, I’m getting away from my Pop. Yeah, he thinks I’m gonna sell his cars for the rest of my life. Adios Pop!”
He laughs and salutes.
“I’m going to California with a friend in about a month. Yeah, we’re just going to go where the wind blows us. Oh, yeah. Let freedom ring.”
“Okay,” she said rolling her eyes with raised eyebrows.
“See, freedom is the air we breathe, my little senorita. And I’m going to fill my lungs with it. Do you know what I mean? No expectations, just anticipation. What’s around that next corner? You know? Kind of like the Grateful Dead on tour.”
Maria thought her new friend, Ben, would never close his mouth. He had chosen the seat to her left and although she had told him twice she was tired and needed some rest he assured her it was a long trip and she’d have plenty of time to sleep so he kept talking, all the way to Austin. By the time they passed the capital building Ben’s mouth had slowed down to a complete stop. Austin is pretty, she thought. Maria had never been anywhere outside of San Antonio. She had thought that someday she would go to Mexico but Mexico was a touchy subject with Mama. She only brought up visiting Mexico a couple times because after the last time when Mama became so irritated she dropped it, and because Mama told her never to mention it. Mexico, Maria thought, must be too hard for Mama to think about because it reminded her of Papi. Maria wondered, why would a man leave his wife and kid? What kind of man does that? It was making sense to her now. That’s what you want to know, she told herself. That’s what he’s going to have to tell you. She realized that maybe the reason she was so angry all the time wasn’t just because Mama died but maybe even more because Papi left.
It was dark by the time the Greyhound bus pulled into the station. Maria said goodbye to Ben. She tried to be nice but he had been so annoying, she told herself. He said goodbye to her as if they had known each other forever.
“Adios, Maria! Take care of yourself,” he said, standing awkwardly and still as Maria nodded her head and tried to politely turn away.
And now I’m free from him, she thought as she walked away. She felt guilty for thinking this and thought that maybe they would see each other again and it would be a different. Maybe I should turn and wave goodbye, she thought. He’s probably still standing there.
As Maria began to turn, she felt a push and then a jerk. When she realized what happened she turned forward to see a man running in front of her. He had taken her backpack. He was wearing a yellow and purple basketball jersey with the name O’Neal on it and he was getting away. Maria began to run after him and so did Ben who had seen the man pull the backpack off and had started running immediately. The man had quite a head start but Maria was a fast runner. She had committed to running for the high school track team the year before Mama died. She would have been on the team but everything like that seemed so unimportant and boring. The thief had taken a turn around a building and Maria lengthened her stride. Turning the corner she caught a glimpse of the man and he had stopped and was pulling everything out of the backpack. When the thief saw Maria he dropped the backpack and began running again, immediately turning behind a building again. Maria had started running even faster as she turned the corner but slowed when she saw him drop the bag.
When she ran up to the backpack she had slowed to a walk and walked past it to see if she could see the thief around the corner of the building. He was gone, nowhere to be seen, just a few businessmen walking in her direction. She quickly ran back around to the backpack. When she came back to the backpack Ben was coming around the corner and he yelled, Maria!
The thief had taken everything from the backpack except for a magazine she had found in the bus station in San Antonio. Everything was gone. Maria began crying. Ben was breathing heavily when he slowed up.
“What’d he get?”
“Everything. He took everything I had,” she said, thinking about how much she missed Mama and wishing she could be in her arms.
“Well, that sucks. How much money did you have?” he asked looking like he was about to throw up.
“Over three hundred dollars,” she said feeling very alone and scared for the first time in a long time.
“What are going to do now? You could get a ride with me to where ever you were going if you wanted. My ride will pick us up at the bus station, if you want.”
Maria didn’t answer. She almost felt like somehow Ben was partially responsible even thought she knew he wasn’t. Riding with Ben anywhere would end up being an even bigger pain in the ass but she wasn’t sure of any other option. She walked back to the bus station as Ben followed. She kicked a used McDonald’s bag, swearing under her breath.
“Oh yeah, man,” Ben said, trying to comfort her. “That blows. I am so sorry, Maria. I never saw him coming or else I would have warned you or something.”
They turned a corner to see the bus station again.
“That’s Charlie,” Ben pointed to a Volkswagon microbus. He ran to it.
A tall, thin, curly-headed man in his mid to late twenties wearing prescription goggles got out of the microbus and gave Ben a hug and a forearm bump. Ben turned around and motioned to Maria to come over to the microbus.
She was walking towards them but trying not to look at them and then reluctantly smiled with squinted eyes. She was going to regret this, she thought.
“Oh, hello,” she said, introducing herself to Charlie with a half-smile.
“Ben,” Charlie said with an airy laugh, nodding his head repeatedly.
“Who’s this? Is she coming with us?”
“This is Maria. I met her on the bus,” Ben said. “She needs a ride to…”
“Deep Ellum,” Maria said. “Is that far from here?”
“No. It’s not far. Why aren’t you going with us? California’s beautiful,” Charlie said, straightening his goggles. He was preparing to drive.
“No. She’s got to find her old man. He’s a guitar player or something,” said Ben, opening the backseat door to the microbus for Maria and offering it to her. “Maria. A carriage for a princess.”
She took a deep breath and got in.
Maria sat in the back looking at Ben. He was in the front passenger seat looking at Charlie, who was adjusting his goggles again and his rear-view and side-view mirrors. He then put the microbus into gear and began driving. He pulled out a lighter.
“Charlie knows a lot more about the Dead than I do,” Ben said, turning around to face Maria.
“Oh, you’re too kind,” Charlie said.
“Yeah, he’s been to see them so many times and he saw Jerry Garcia three times. Isn’t that right, three times?”
“Oh yeah.” Charlie nodded his head looking straight at the road ahead. “One time that I actually remember,” he laughed, nodding. “So, Maria. You’re looking for your Pop, huh?”
“Her Poppy,” Ben said, emphasizing the ‘p’ sound.
“Yeah, I’ve never met him,” she said.
“Oh man!” Ben blurted, interrupting. “She just got jacked!”
“Oh, bummer,” Charlie said.
“Oh, hey,” Ben interrupted, “You can have some money if you need it.”
Maria nodded her head and smiled a half-smile.
“There you go buying friends again,” Charlie said, discreetly taking a drag on a joint.
“Just sayin’,” Ben said.
“That happened to me one time though, at a record store. I got ripped off or jacked or whatever,” said Charlie.
“Which record store?” Ben asked.
“It was Dick’s records,” Charlie answered. “This guy says, ‘Can I score some weed?’ and I said, ‘What do I look like, a freakin’ pharmacologist?’ then he was like, ‘Man, I’m sorry,’ and I was like, ‘Just kidding, step into my office.’ So, we went outside and he says, ‘Where’s the hooch?’”
“Oh no, was he a cop?” Ben asked.
“No, but he did confiscate my stash and all my money.”
“What? Did he have a gun?”
“No ,” Charlie answered.
“How did he take it all, then,” Ben asked.
Maria just looked at both of them and shook her head.
“He said he was an undercover cop and I was scared so I gave it to him.”
“He didn’t show a badge or something?”
“No. I asked him and he said he didn’t carry one since he was undercover. He threatened to take me down to the station so I gave him everything.”
“Bummer,” Ben said sympathetically.
Maria laughed a full laugh.
“Let that be a lesson,” Charlie said.
“Don’t shop at Dick’s?” Ben answered.
Charlie hesitated and then said, “Yeah, man.”
They all laughed and Maria suddenly felt very hopeful and happy. She noticed for the first time that the inside of the microbus had become smoky and she waved her hand trying to dissipate the smoke.
“Maria, you should really come with us,” said Ben.
“Yeah,” Charlie chimed in, “if you’ve never seen San Fran, you’re so missing out.”
“I’ve gotta find my Papi,” she said.
“Well, we’re leaving in a month,” Ben said, pointing to Charlie to take a right. “There it is, Café Brazil.”
They pulled off the service road of the highway and into the parking lot of a coffee house. College aged kids were going in and out.
“Just ask them inside,” Charlie said, “They’ll be able to help you find where you’re going.”
Ben got out and opened the side door of the microbus and slammed it shut when Maria got out.
“Bye Mexicali Maria. It was a pleasure,” he said.
He gave her a hug and Maria tried to hug him back.
Ben jumped back into the Volkswagon and he and Charlie yelled out a goodbye as they drove off.
Maria waved and then turned to the coffee house. She walked in and was greeted by a thin, bookish-looking server wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a blue worn-out dress. He name tag said, ‘Terri’.
The girl smiled at Maria and could tell she had never been there.
“Find a booth and serve yourself at the coffee bar. We’ll be with you in a minute.”
Maria looks around the café at all the artwork on the walls and all the different people talking, eating, and drinking coffee, then spots an empty booth. She sits down in the booth, pulls out her sketchpad, and begins sketching. The girl named Terri is moving from table to table with so much energy and enthusiasm. Maria hoped she could capture the scene. The girl would have to appear a bit blurry she was moving so fast and so often. Maria wanted to also to show the different pictures on the walls and the colors and texture of them. Some pictures were framed and some not, some were like Picasso and some were very realistic, lots of charcoal but plenty of thick oil paintings too. She really liked this place.
“Do you know what you want?” Terry asked. She made warm and sincere eye contact with Maria.
It had been a while since anyone close to her age had been a real friend and it felt like Terri had been her friend forever. It kind of scared her.
“No, but do you know where Deep Ellum is?”
Terri’s face lit up.
“Oh yeah, I love Deep Ellum. There’s a lot of live music down there. I don’t go much though. I wish I could though. It’s awesome! So much live much down there and stuff. What club are you going to?”
“Just Deep Ellum. I’m not sure what club I’m going to,” Maria answered.
“Oh, well it’s not too far from here. You just need to hop on the Dart and it’ll take you straight there.”
“The Dart?” Maria asked.
“Yeah, the train. The closest station is just a block away. That way,” the girl pointed. “Do you know what you want to eat?”
“Can I just get a scrambled egg?”
“Anything to drink?”
“Okay, one egg and water coming up!”
Terri smiled and then whisked away.
Ten minutes later.
“Here you go!”
Terry placed a plate with eggs and fruit down in front of Maria and a glass of water and orange juice.
“I just wanted one egg,” Maria said. “That’s all.”
“Oh, I know. I’m just charging you for one egg if that’s okay.”
Terry smiled and then noticed Maria’s sketchpad.
“You draw? Can I see?” Terri asked.
Maria tried to shield the drawing from Terri’s view but Terry was too quick.
“Wow! Is that me? Oh my gosh, that’s me. You’re really good. Wow. You’ve just been here for five minutes and you did that? Are you at the Art Institute?”
“I’m an art student,” Maria said trying to change the subject. “Thanks for the food.”
“Oh yeah, I thought you were an art student. Oh, but I bet you’re at SMU, aren’t you?”
Maria nodded, expecting Terry to move on quickly to another table they way she had watched her do but she continued.
“I really wanted to go there but my parents couldn’t afford it and I was too scared to try for scholarships and I didn’t want those huge school loans so I’m just in the workforce. Wow, so you really draw well. You should have your artwork hung up in here? Have you asked about that? I can let Emelio know you want to hang some of your stuff here.”
Maria thought it was strange that this girl rambling on would normally have bothered her but Terri was so sweet and genuine. And she had never thought of showing her sketches to anyone, much less hang them. That sounded cool.
“I don’t really have anything ready to hang for people to see.”
She looked at Terri and imagined that under that old worn-thin blue dress and those scratched-up fat-rimmed glasses that she was very pretty. Her eyes were. Maria always noticed people’s eyes. For her, blue eyes were stunning and Terri’s eyes were the prettiest aqua blue color.
“You have pretty eyes,” she said to Terri.
She hoped the girl didn’t think she was coming on to her.
“Thank you!” Terri blushed, and then seemed to make a decision in her head. She motioned for Maria to scoot over and before she could object she plopped down next to her in the booth.
“So, what are you gonna do in Deep Ellum?” Terri asked leaning her head towards Maria, putting an elbow on the table and resting her cheekbone on her hand.
Maria now felt awkward about Terri and she wasn’t sure she wanted to say anything more.
“My Papi played guitar there and I’m trying to find him. I’m hoping someone knows him or knew him and could tell me where he is.”
“Oh,” Terri said, not really being sure she knew what a ‘Papi’ was.
“That’s my dad,” Maria said. “He left when I was little and I’m trying to find him.”
A cook yells at Terri through the kitchen serving window.
“Order’s up, Terri! Come on!”
“Oh my gosh, I’m supposed to get a break around here but it never happens. Okay, Emelio! Enjoy the food,” Terri said to Maria, hopping out of the booth.
Straightening her dress and pulling it tight, down closer to her knees, she put her hand out to shake Maria’s.
“My name is Terri. What’s yours?”
Maria wipes her hand and shakes Terri’s?
“Maria. Very nice to meet you, Maria.”
Terri smiled and Maria thought her eyes seemed to sparkle.
Emelio yells again and Terri rolls her eyes.
Fifteen minutes later, Maria finished her meal and stopped sketching, putting the pad in her backpack. Terri noticed that Maria was ready to leave so she came back over. Terri gave Maria directions to the Dart train, told her to have fun, saying said she wished she could go too but she’d already worked a double shift and it would be too late when she got off. There’d be a lot of good bands playing about right now, she said. Terri asked when she’d be coming back and Maria told her she didn’t know but thanked her again for the extra food.
The weather outside was warm but cooler than inside the café. Maria looked back at the café and could see Terri moving from one table to another and wondered if she would see her again. She had to find Papi, though.
Maria walked to the Dart train station and was there in five minutes. Terri had said to take any train south and to make sure to get a ticket because they were really cracking down on ticketless riders. She purchased her ticket from the ticket box and walked to the platform. The station was quiet, just the sound of paper blowing around on the platform concrete. Maria sat down on one of the platform benches and thought about her ride with Ben and Charlie and meeting Terri.
Maria could see a southbound train coming from about a mile away and group of seven or eight college students came up the ramp to the platform. One of the female students laughed and pointed at Maria.
“Lisa, Oh my God. Look!”
A tall, tan, brown haired girl dressed in what Maria thought were probably designer clothes acknowledged her friend and discreetly glanced over at Maria as they walked past.
Sometimes Maria was reminded how different she looked from anybody else with her huge hair and her long skinny legs. She didn’t care what people thought. In fact, she dared anybody to say something to her about her choice in clothes and hairstyle. She’d kicked another girl’s ass at the girl’s home one time for saying something about how she looked and they all left her alone after that. The only thing that bothered her sometimes was what Mama might say if she saw the way she dressed now. But Mama wasn’t here anymore.
That was another thing that bothered her a lot. Where was Mama? Did she go to heaven? Or, is there even a heaven at all? Do we all just disappear when we die? And if we do, what the hell is the point. God, why did she have to think about that sometimes?
Maria watched the students interact with each other and heard one of them say something about Deep Ellum so she felt less anxious about getting on the train. As the train pulled in the doors opened and the students go on. Maria went through another door on to the train, one car away from the students. Maria sat down in an empty row on the right side of the train, next to the window. She noticed the train smelled like a combination of sweat and urine poorly masked by some kind of cleaner that made her nostrils burn a little. The cleaner smell reminded her of Mama when she would come home late and give her a hug in bed.
Maria could see the students in the other car laughing and having a good time. They were showing their tickets to an officer as he made his way to Maria’s car. Eventually he was in her car and asking a young couple in front of her about their tickets.
“You wanna show me some of your ticket,” the officer said.
The two searched their pockets for their tickets.
“I will throw you off train if no ticket. No free rides! I will throw off! Throw off!”
The boy showed the officer their tickets and he moved on. Some other people on Maria’s car were quietly laughing at the officer as he approached Maria. He was a little man, wearing a uniform a size slightly too big and a hat that didn’t seem to fit either.
She gave him her ticket and he scrutinized it, turning it over and examining the other side, and then gave it back to Maria.
“This is good for all day until 2am. Remember. Have a wonderful happy day for riding.”
Maria put the ticket back in her pocket and rested her eyes. She dozed in and out of sleep and dreamed short, vivid dreams. She dreamed of Mama in her kitchen, wearing a pretty yellow dress. The kitchen window was open and mama’s dress fluttered in the calm gentle wind. She was dreaming about a time when she was a baby. And Papi was there. He was wearing a blue shirt, one of those bowling shirts or something like it. She couldn’t see his face.
Maria woke up as an announcement was made for the train’s next stop. The train slowed to a stop and the doors opened and the couple in front of Maria got off the train. She watched the college students and they were not getting off so she didn’t move from her seat. The doors closed and the train started again. She fell asleep again and dreamed of sketching Terri and the café. But they weren’t in the café, they were in a park or maybe it was a cemetery. They were at Mama’s grave. Terri was there and Ben, the big kid.
“Next stop, Deep Ellum station,” the train engineer announced. Maria looked down at the next car and the students were getting ready to exit. Maria felt the power of the train as it speed up and then it began to slow and then finally came to a stop. The doors opened and Maria got up and exited a walked towards the group of students. She was going to follow them.
Maria walked slowly behind the students. She didn’t want to get too close to them. As they walked off the station platform they ran across the street and Maria saw a tall sculpture of some kind. It was lit up and the Dallas city lights were reflecting off of it, making it blue and silver and green and red. She stopped before crossing and just looked at the sculpture from where she was. It was a metal sculpture of a person or robot running or maybe walking fast. The students had stopped a moment to look at it and then moved on. When they had walked further away she ran across the street to the sculpture and looked at it. It had long thin legs and they were confidently headed somewhere, taking the rest of the body with it. She just stared at the metal structure in awe. Her neck got tired looking up at it. She would have kept staring at it if she didn’t catch the clear sound in her ear of a guitar.
The students had walked down the street and out of sight but she could hear the music and people yelling or talking or laughing. Maria walked toward the sounds and finally saw Deep Ellum. To the left she saw three or four blocks on both side of the street, club after club and lines of people formed along the sides of the buildings. A rush of hot air mixed with exhaust and the smell of beer and cigarette smoke.
She walked down the street and the more she walked the more crowded it became and louder. She got lots of looks as she walked by and a couple smiles. Her clothes fit right in with the crowd of people walking on both sides of the street. She passed a tattoo parlor and thought about why she never got a tattoo. Mama wouldn’t ever have let her get one and would not be happy if it ever happened. But the right tattoo would probably come along, she thought. Maybe she should become a tattoo artist. That would be crazy. Maria kept walking until she came to a club that seemed to be less crowded and not as loud and walked up to the door.
“Ten dollars,” the doorman said. “I need your i.d. too.”
“I’m not coming in,” she said.
She had ten dollars but not to just go in and look.
Maria looked past the doorman to see if she could see anything inside but couldn’t see anything. A group walked up and asked Maria if she was in line so she started walking again.
A van pulled up and a side door to the club flew open at the same time. Two young men came out of the side door and began pulling heavy equipment from the van and taking it into the club, guitar amps, a big bass amp, and parts of a drum kit. Maria went up to the van and found something small to pick up and take into the club. She carried it in and one of the boys stopped her on the way back out.
“Hey, thanks for the help! You don’t mind getting some of the other stuff too, do you?”
“No,” Maria said with a smile.
“Good. If you don’t mind, there’s a duffle bag in the passenger seat. Can you put it down next to the drum kit? Awesome, thanks! I’m David.”
He stuck his hand out to her.
“Thanks again for the help.”
Maria looked for something else to pick up but nothing small was left to carry.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We can get the rest. Do you know someone in the band?”
“So, I know you’re not one of their techies. Are you trying to sneak in?”
“No,” she said with some irritation.
“Can’t afford the cover?” he asked.
“Just looking forward to the show.”
“Oh, you like our music?”
He motioned for her to grab one side of a guitar amp and he took the other side and they carried it in.
“Love it,” she said, “especially your latest CD.”
“Oh, right on,” he said with a big smile.
She nodded and he smiled even bigger.
“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying it, especially since it hasn’t even been released.”
Maria blushed as they lowered the amp down on the stage.
“Anyway,” he laughed, “where do you go to school?”
“The Art Institute?”
“Was that a question or an answer?”
“I’m an art student,” she said.
“Hence, art school.”
“So, why are you really trying to sneak in?”
“I love rock and roll?” Maria said biting her bottom lip, scrunching her nose, squinting her eyes, and rocking her head slowly.
“Do you answer everything with a question?”
“So, really are you staying for the show? If you are you can hang out with us afterwards.”
She shook her head.
“You can’t hang out after?”
Three hours later.
The band is packing up the equipment the van. They appear exhausted but happy about having a great show.