She hurried into the recording studio lobby, late, looking for Mr. Tidwell. No one sat at the reception desk to help her. Turning the corner into the waiting room, she discovered four young men there.
Three sat in various poses around the room. One had his left leg thrown across the arm of the chair while he tapped his fingers against an end table. Another, elbows on knees, hunched over an old music magazine. The third stretched out in his chair, the back of his head resting against the wall, his eyes staring at the ceiling, his long legs crossed at the ankles. The fourth stood, leaning his left shoulder against a windowsill, his arms folded across his chest. They looked bored and restless.
All four glanced at the tall woman as she entered. Long, dark, wavy hair cascaded to her waist. She wore a short black skirt and a light blue blouse, the blouse almost as blue as her eyes.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Have any of you seen Mr. Tidwell? Do you know where he is?”
Two shook their heads. The one reading the magazine mumbled, “Uh, nope,” and returned his attention to it.
In that brief moment, she saw the strong similarity among them. Brothers, she thought. They looked Native American, with beautiful copper skin and jet black hair. They all wore jeans and T-shirts. One had an old jacket as well.
“Okay, thanks anyway.” As she turned to leave, she looked closer at the man standing by the window. He stood well over six feet, with his long hair loose, spilling across his shoulders and down his chest. His jeans looked well-worn and his boots scuffed. Something in his eyes — something familiar — made her stop and study his face for a moment.
He jerked his head once upwards at her, annoyed, as if to say, What you lookinˈ at?
She took a few slow steps toward him, still holding his gaze. As if finally making up her mind about something, she took the last two steps quickly and leaned in to whisper, “You look like someone…” she paused for a breathless moment, “…like someone who could use a kiss.” She stepped back one pace and looked into his eyes again, only to see the annoyance still there.
After a long silence, he mumbled, “Okay. So do it.” Now he mocked her — dared her.
Her eyes narrowed slightly at the challenge. She moved closer and, tilting her head and closing her eyes, kissed him lightly, sweetly on his lips.
* * *
Caleb had never seen this woman before, but he felt her kiss — soft, sweet, delicious. The delicate scent of her perfume filled his lungs. Stunned, he dropped his arms to his sides, unable — no, unwilling — to stop her.
She stepped back again and smiled. Without a word, she walked out of the room, the hem of her skirt hitting her legs in time to the click-clacking of her heels on the floor tile.
He watched her leave. He wanted to run after her, but he just stood there and watched her leave. Turning back, he found his brothers staring at him in wordless amazement, so he shrugged as if to say, She’s crazy, misúŋ. It’s nothinˈ. But he knew he lied. Something in his well-guarded heart just thawed.
Late that evening, the four bone-tired brothers walked out of the studio to head for home. Caleb wearily got into his truck and, as he put the key into the ignition, he noticed a piece of paper stuck under the windshield wiper.
He sighed heavily and got back out to get it. Once seated again, he started to ball up what he mistook for a flyer and throw it on the floor when he caught sight of Sara’s handwriting on the back. He unfolded the paper and clicked on the dome light.
Lakota Man, we’re too busy and I miss you. I just wanted you to know you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Your woman, Sara
He suddenly didn’t feel tired anymore.
The next morning, he left a note taped to her office door.
Woman, I am running dangerously low on ‘sugar’. I don’t want to alarm you, but the situation is critical. Save me, quick!
She answered within minutes.
L.M. Got your message about sugar shortage. Am doing lip exercises and applying lip-gloss in preparation for emergency rescue. Hang on. I’m on my way. S.
“Caleb, I think this is for you.” Jay handed him the folded note as he walked back in from a break. Caleb read it and grinned, enjoying himself.
Later that afternoon, Sara found another note taped to her door. Her eyes twinkled in anticipation.
Woman – your rescue mission at lunch was a complete success. Victim has revived and is now going strong on the new influx of sugar. However, I foresee another shortage in the near future. Be prepared.
“What is going on?” Quin asked when he handed Caleb yet another note. “I feel like I’m passing notes in high school.” Caleb just grinned as he snatched it out of Quin’s hand.
L.M. Received your notification of future sugar shortage. I regret to inform you that the price of sugar has gone up. It will now cost you dinner.
“Uh oh. She just upped the ante.” He scribbled a reply. “I’ll be right back.”
Woman – message received. I’ll pick you up at 7:30. Bring sugar!
On Thursday, two days after their movie date, Caleb and Sara took a small break from their hard work and stole away to the park with sandwiches and sodas. It felt good to be outside in the fresh air. The warm sunshine felt nice on Sara’s shoulders as she sat cross-legged on the grass while munching on her sandwich.
“Ahhh, I needed this,” she said.
Caleb nodded as he reached for a soda. “It has been intense.”
“So, what are your plans for this weekend? No, wait. You’ve got Joaquin’s birthday,” she remembered.
“Yep.” He opened the soda and took a drink.
“Have you gotten him anything?”
“Nope. It isn’t Saturday yet.”
“That is so typically male.”
Caleb grunted at her remark and set the soda down.
“Will your whole family be there? I mean your sisters and all?”
Caleb looked at her and wondered why all the questions. “Look, Sara, I’d invite you down, but it’s really a family thing. You understand.”
“Sure. Absolutely. I wasn’t fishing for an invitation, Caleb.”
“Didn’t say you were. Just wanted to explain. That’s all.”
The moment felt awkward.
“What about you? You doing anything this weekend?”
“Hmm, I haven’t really thought about it. Been too busy,” she answered.
The awkward silence continued for too long. Caleb finally spoke, deciding to confront whatever it was.
“Something is bugging you, woman. What is it?”
She studied his face, wondering if she should say anything or just keep quiet.
“Well?” he pressed her.
“Okay, okay,” she dusted the breadcrumbs off her hands. “I’ll admit it. There is something.” She looked down at the ground and continued, “After the show Saturday, when you were all at my place, I overheard Jay ask if you were bringing me to Quin’s party. You said it wasn’t a good idea.”
Caleb looked up at the sky and then back at her. So that’s it.
“Why is it a bad idea, Caleb?” Sara looked straight into his eyes. “Would I embarrass you in front of your family somehow? Is my being a singer the problem? What’s wrong with me?”
“Oh, honey! Honey, no,” Caleb reached for her hand. “That’s what you’ve been worried about? It’s not you at all!” He scooted closer to her and put his arm around her shoulders.
“I guess I need to explain about my family,” he continued. “I probably should have done this sooner,” he paused, trying to get his words right. “My family, being Lakota, has lived on or near the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota for several generations. My parents were the first ones of their generation to move away, when Dad joined the military. My brothers, sisters and I were born and raised away from the reservation. So, while we are Lakota, we aren’t as affected by that culture as my parents are.”
He looked at her to see if she understood.
“Go on,” she nodded.
“We were raised to treat everyone with respect and dignity. When you move as much as we did, you meet people of all races and faiths and backgrounds. A lot of the time, as military kids, we were completely surrounded by entirely different cultures. We learned to live and let live.
“But, my parents were raised on the reservation and they have a different perspective. They are fiercely proud of their culture and of their tribe.” Caleb struggled for the right words.
“I think I get it, Caleb,” Sarah interrupted him. “You are trying to find a gentle way to say you’re worried about bringing an Anglo home to your parents. ‘Hey, Mom, look what I found?’ Am I right?”
Caleb entered his front door and threw his keys on the table.
“What are you doing here?” Jay looked up from the TV. “I thought you were with Sara in Philadelphia.”
“Yeah, well, change of plans.” Caleb walked through the living room, down the hall and into his room.
Matthew shot a look of concern at Jay. “Something’s wrong.” Matthew got up and went to Caleb’s room.
“Hey, čhiyé,” He talked to the closed door. “Let me in.”
“Yeah, okay. Come on in,” Caleb’s muffled voice answered.
Matthew walked in to find him sitting at the top of his bed, his head leaning back against the headboard.
“So, what happened?” Matthew sat on the desk chair. Silence met his question. “Okay, Caleb, spill it.”
Caleb brought his head forward and looked at Matthew, pain and anger evident in his eyes.
“I was set up, misúŋ.” He shook his head, still in disbelief and then poured out the whole sordid story to a shocked Matthew.
“So, is Melissa still alive?” Matthew asked at the end.
“Barely. You don’t know how badly I wanted to choke the life out of that — that...” He held his right hand up, recalling the feel of her face being crushed by his fingers.
“What about Sara?”
“What about her?”
“You can’t just leave things like that, čhiyé. You gotta talk to her.”
“Yeah, but not right now. I can’t get over that she didn’t believe me! I’ve been down that road too many times and I’m not going there again.”
“All right. I understand.” He patted the foot of the bed once and stood. “If you need to talk, you know where to find me.”
* * *
Caleb wrestled with his dilemma for two days. Could he get past her mistrust or not? On the afternoon of the third day, he got some mail that made his mind up for him. A small, brown manila envelope with a Philadelphia postmark held the locket he had given Sara. No letter or word of explanation accompanied it. He held it in his hands and felt his heart splinter.
The next afternoon, once his last class ended, Steven went straight to Caleb’s house. When he knocked on the door, Joaquin answered, recognizing Sara’s brother from their introduction at the barbeque.
“Hi. Is Caleb here?
“He’s in here.” Joaquin pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.
“Thanks. Can I come in?”
“Sure.” Joaquin stepped out of the way to let him by.
Caleb sat on the edge of the recliner, hunched over his guitar, intently working on a new riff. Matthew looked over his shoulder from his place at the dining table to see who stood at the door.
“What the hell did you do to my sister?” Steven growled as he took three steps into the room.
Caleb’s head snapped up as he looked at him in offended astonishment. “What did I do?”
“I thought you were going to be different.” Steven jabbed an accusatory finger toward Caleb. “But, no! You’re just another low-life player. Jerk!!!” He wanted to hit Caleb, but he was outnumbered, surrounded by Caleb’s brothers.
Before Caleb could continue, Steven turned on his heel and left, slamming the front door behind him. Joaquin grimaced across the room at his oldest brother. Caleb slumped back in the recliner, staring at the door. What just happened?
The encounter didn’t last thirty seconds, but it stayed with both Steven and Caleb for a long time.
With her out of the room, Caleb turned off the light and switched on the lamp by the bed. He turned on the radio and grabbed another beer, walked back to the bed, sat down and pulled his boots off. When Olivia returned from the bathroom, she found him sitting at the head of the bed, drinking. She sat down next to him.
“Where were we?” she purred as she leaned in to kiss him. He set his beer on the nightstand and turned the lamp off. Grabbing the back of her hair, he gently pulled her head back and began kissing her throat. After a moment, she sat up and began unbuttoning his shirt. Caleb drunkenly watched her fingers undo the buttons in the dim half-light. He knew he should be enjoying this, but it felt flat and empty. Olivia pulled his shirt off and then took hers off as well. Within a few minutes, a pile of clothes sat beside the bed and the two of them lay tangled up together in sheets.
The radio had been playing “new artists” all evening. The DJ announced a new song by Sara Bradford that had been recorded live at one of her concerts. “Lakota Man” began playing, with its heartbreaking lyrics and haunting melody. When Sara’s beautiful voice filled the room, Caleb stopped kissing Olivia and jerked his head up like he’d been stung.
“What is it, lover?” Olivia asked, lying beneath him.
“Shhh,” he ordered. He hadn’t heard this song before. Caleb rolled over on his side and, removing his hand from her breast, pushed his hair back behind his ear. He didn’t touch Olivia again. The words — his woman’s words — blistered his conscience, one after the other. The sound of Sara’s pain hung in the air. She was talking to him as clearly as if she sat next to him. What are you doing?
At the end of the melody, Olivia said, “What a sad song! Lakota Man.” She looked at him, “Aren’t you Lakota?”
Caleb rolled over on his back and, misunderstanding her, murmured, “I used to be.” She put her hand on his chest and snuggled against him.
“Come here,” she cooed.
“Sorry,” Caleb didn’t look at her as he sat up, “but you’ve got to go.”
“What? Caleb, let’s at least finish what we started.” Olivia felt confused.
“Go!” he ordered as he turned on the lamp.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, picked up her blouse and threw it toward her. “Get out! Now!”
Olivia lay across the bed to reach the rest of her clothes on the floor. She grabbed them and went into the bathroom, hurt, confused, and angry. When she came out, she walked to the door and turned to face him.
He didn’t look at her. Instead, he stared at a locket dangling from its chain tangled in his fingers. It twinkled in the soft lamplight as it slowly twirled. He didn’t hear Olivia leave.
His vocals started each verse angry and loud but, as Caleb worked through the lyrics, they ended almost in a whisper — or a low growl — or maybe a moan of pain. He stepped back, his eyes closed, his fingers finding their way among the frets, up and down the strings, bending and blistering notes.
He once again leaned in to the mike. Matthew met him for the chorus, taking the harmony.
On – ly – one – man.
Just – one – heart. (ba-dum)
On – ly – one – shot
At – this – life. (ba-dum-dum-dum)
I – won’t – go – on
With – out – you. (ba-dum)
Not – giv – ing – up
With – no – fight. (ba-dum-dum-dum)
Not giving up with no fight.
Caleb looked into the audience. Several people had their eyes closed, their heads bobbing to the beat. A few others watched him intently, trying to study his work. He could see cell phones raised, connected to who-knew-where on the other end. Jay walked over to him, his long fingers thumping the bass. They played side-by-side for a few bars before Jay went back to his mike.
I’m – a – lone – heeerre (ba-dum) in this bed
Talk – ing – to – yooouuu (ba-dum) in my head
Love – you; – need – yooouuu. (ba-dum) Where’d you go?
I – can’t – breathe – juuussst (ba-dum) so you know.
They broke for Caleb’s guitar solo. He took a few steps to the left of his mike and let his fingers fly. His face scrunched, his eyes closed in concentration, he became lost to the people watching him, lost to the world, lost to everything but the music pouring out of his soul and into the guitar.
The strings sang of his pain, of his longing, of his being completely lost without Sara — his woman, his baby, his life. Where was she now? How would he ever make it without her? Why couldn’t he find his way back to her? His heart cried — the guitar cried for him; its music, like tears, washed over the audience. Where is my woman? Where is my woman? Where is my woman?
Tears fell from his eyes and he didn’t try to stop them. Let them see him weep. He didn’t care. She was gone and he felt lost. Why would he care what they thought? His world ended. He could only try to play the pain away.
Matthew looked across the stage to Jay, worried. Caleb’s solo kept going. He didn’t seem ready to quit any time soon. Jay looked at Quin behind the drums, but Quin just shrugged. He didn’t know what to do, either. Jay finally walked over to Caleb and stood behind him.
“Come back to us, čhiyé,” he said in Caleb’s ear. Caleb heard somebody from far away. Were they talking to him? He opened his eyes and realized he stood on stage. For a moment, he had forgotten that.
“Caleb!” Jay said sharply.
Caleb twisted around to look at him. “What?”
“We need to wrap this up, don’t ya think?” Jay looked at the tears on Caleb’s face and realized Caleb’s state of mind was even worse than he thought.
“Oh, okay.” Caleb gave the high sign to Quin and Matthew, and they met at the third verse.
On – ly – fools – woouuld (ba-dum) walk away
And I’m – not – lea – viiinng, (ba-dum) not today
Not – for – ever – soooo, (ba-dum) here I am.
I – love – you – giiirrl. (ba-dum) Understand?
They played the chorus through twice, with a break in the bridge for a short bass solo. As Caleb and Matthew sang the last line one more time, Joaquin drummed them out. They all met at the end with a cacophony of lead and bass guitars, keyboard and high hats. The audience broke into a wave of wild applause, whistles and shouts. They didn’t realize they had just witnessed a meltdown.
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