Sondra Crench kicked a roach out of her way as she walked into her tiny apartment and sat down at her old laptop. It was after midnight. So, she figured her new friend, Jason, was already dead. And so were her hopes of landing a secretarial job in time to keep her apartment. Rent was due on Tuesday, and she had just enough money to pay it. But then she’d have no money for food or gas or anything else.
Maybe it was time to go home for a while. Surely she could put up with her mother for a few weeks while looking for work.
She opened her Favorites list and clicked on the link for The Orange Leader. Sondra had not been back to her home town in a long time, but she liked to keep up with what was going on there. Occasionally, she’d see one of her old classmates in a wedding announcement. Those people led real lives, and held real jobs. As a working musician, she lived in a completely different world. She had more in common with actresses than a secretaries.
She checked the Classifieds. Nurses wanted. Nope. Part-time receptionist. Not enough pay.
Then she saw a full-page ad announcing the upcoming Grand Opening of Billy-Eye’s Arcade and Dance Barn. Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, 6:00 PM to Midnight. For ages 12-20. Free soft drinks and popcorn. Live band. Five bucks to get in. Only twenty-five cents for arcade games. Sounded pretty cool for kids. She wished there had been such a place when she was growing up there.
But what really caught her eye was the note about auditions for a house band. It would play two hours a night, and earn $2,000 per week. Divided by four band members…Sondra could actually live on that! Not very well—but she could get by. And besides, her band could do other gigs during the week to supplement it.
Only problem: the auditions were beginning next Friday night—and she didn’t have a band. Her all-girl group, Red Hot Curling Iron, had split up months ago. And there was no possibility of a reunion. Not after she broke the middle finger of her lead guitarist. But that thing would never point at her again.
The day for audition registration was Monday. She would go to Orange, sign up, and then put a band together. She was so excited that she wouldn’t be able to sleep. Maybe she’d write a song or two. Her dream of making a living as a musician was not dead after all.
First thing in the morning, she would go by Goldie’s Pawn Shop and get her Stratocaster and Fender amp out of hock. Then she’d make the two-and-a-half hour drive to Orange.
“Judy, I need a another plate of biscuits.” He scarfed down two more bacon strips, followed by a large chunk of scrambled eggs. Billy-Eye Buttard didn’t weight 330 pounds from eating granola and yogurt. For him, it was bacon, eggs, hash browns, grits and biscuits seven days a week.
He blamed his father for his enormous size. If Billy Bob Buttard had gone into construction or the hardware business, maybe his son wouldn’t have learned such bad eating habits.
But who could resist his father’s special recipe biscuits? Everybody in Orange loved them. Folks would come to the restaurant and stuff themselves with them for breakfast, and then buy a couple dozen to take home. The Buttard Biscuit, better known as simply The Biscuit, was the most popular breakfast spot in town.
“You’re late.” Billy-Eye glared at his two grown sons as they approached his booth. Because of a ‘lazy eye’ condition that was never properly treated, he appeared to be looking out the window with his left eye while watching his sons with the right. It was the inspiration for a cruel childhood nickname that stuck. His real name was William I. Buttard. Nobody seemed to know what the ‘I’ stood for. But it must have been something even worse than being called ‘Billy-Eye.’ “You were supposed to be here at 6:00.”
“Don’t blame me,” said Lenny. “I was ready to go. But Craig wouldn’t get out of bed.”
“I had a date last night,” said Craig.
“You have a date every Friday night,” said Lenny.
“Yeah, but this one was special.” Craig grinned proudly and winked at Lenny.
“I don’t care,” said Billy-Eye. “If you two are serious about being partners with me on The Barn then you’ve got to get your act together—in a hurry. Otherwise, I’ll just hire somebody else—somebody I can depend on.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” said Craig. “You’re right. It won’t happen again.”
Billy Bob had died three months ago, leaving his son The Biscuit and a nice pile of cash to start his own venture. The restaurant brought in a good profit every year. But that was his dad’s success. Billy-Eye wanted to build a business of his own—from the ground up.
Judy delivered a fresh plate of biscuits. “What will you boys be having this morning? The usual?”
Before either of them could speak, Billy-Eye said, “They’re too late for a regular breakfast, Judy. They’ll just be having biscuits and coffee. Thanks.”
“Look, Boys, we’re opening next Friday night, and we’re nowhere near ready. Craig, I need you to take the truck over to Beaumont and pick up the popcorn machines and those other three arcade games.”
“I doubt either one of them are open on Saturday.”
“Well, if not, you can help Lenny with the plumbing. We’ve still got three new toilets to install in the men’s bathroom.”
Craig frowned. “Can’t you just hire a plumber to do that?”
“I know you can afford it,” said Craig.
“That’s not the point, Boy. You need to get your hands dirty. So far, you don’t have a durn thing invested in this project. And yet you expect me to make you a partner.”
“But you know I don’t have any money, Daddy” said Craig.
“That’s why you need to invest some labor. Am I right?”
Craig wanted to make his fortune, and buy his own house and a fancy car or two and a powerful speed boat. He was 30 years old, and yet he had no education beyond high school, no valuable skills and no assets. “Yes, Sir. Your right. I’ll do whatever you say.”
Norma handed Ralph a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. Then she sat down across from him and began to make notes in her spiral notebook.
“Thanks, Honey.” He took a sip and picked up the newspaper. Then he lowered it just enough to see her over the top. “Now, you promised you wouldn’t make a big fuss.”
“Just a few friends, right?”
“And Ed, of course,” she said.
“Good.” He returned to his paper for only a moment. “What about Greg? You didn’t invite him, did you?”
“Well…he is your son.”
“Norma! You know I don’t want to see him. And he don’t want to see me.”
“Well, I just thought I’d let him decide. How do you know he wouldn’t want to come? It’s your 75th birthday. It’s special.”
“I ain’t got no use for that holier-than-thou do-gooder. He thinks I’m the Devil. And maybe I am. But I don’t need him telling me so.”
“No, of course you’re not the Devil. And maybe he’s changed. How would you know? You haven’t talked to him in…how many years?”
“It don’t matter, Norma. He’ll never change. He’s been that way ever since that preacher got a hold of him. Barbara thought church would be good for him, so she started taking him. But by the time he was a teenager, I couldn’t hardly stand to be around the kid. I was glad when he went off to college. We finally had some peace in the house. Then Barbara had her accident…”
“I know. He should have been sympathetic. But instead, he blamed you. I remember.”
“I’ll never forgive him for that.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think you could—if he’d meet you halfway.”
He reached across the table and gently held her hand. “Look, Honey, I know you always want everything to turn out right, and for everybody to be happy. But believe me, it just ain’t gonna happen.”
“He’s got a new wife, you know. Her name is Cynthia. You might really like her.”
He released her hand. “Not if she’s anything like that first wife of his.”
“And what if they have kids? You’d want to see your grandkids, wouldn’t you?”
He picked up the newspaper and pretended to read it.
“Of course you would. And so would I.”
Ralph Tenorly looked over at his new wife and longtime friend. He could see how much she wanted grandchildren. Norma and her first husband, Vic, had never been able to have kids. “Okay. I don’t care. He can come if he wants to.”
“But don’t get your hopes up.”