Three girls enter the saloon.

Heh. Sounds like a standup bit. "Three girls walk into a bar: a black, a white and an Asian."

All eyes turn. They're not used to seeing college girls in here...

Don't they prefer hip hop?

...especially not minorities.

But they ain't bad looking. Not bad at all.

The girls find a table in the back and sit down, knees shaking.

"M-maybe this wasn't such a g-good idea?" Tiffany whines.

"But it's the only nightclub in town that plays country," Keiko says.

Keith Urban belts Your Body from the overhead speakers as two cowboys strut over to their table.

"Want to dance?" the cowboys ask. They ogle the white girl, who glances at her friends.

"Um, o-okay. S-sure. We'd, um, all like to dance, I guess." She gulps. "Um... w-wouldn't we?"

"Sure! Come dance, ya'll," the cowboys say. But their eyes say no.

X

Ashanté took the hint.

Tiffany and Keiko stood up on wobbly legs, but Ashanté remained seated.

"You go ahead. I'll order a drink." She read the menu while the cowboys led the other girls to the dance floor.

What would the others want?

She had no idea what to order; the fall quarter had just started and she didn't know her roommates that well. Only that they liked country music. She ordered a pitcher of mojitos and hoped it was okay.

It didn't occur to her that she wasn't legally old enough to drink yet.

Omigod, I forgot! But what else is there to do in a bar except drink? And the waitress didn't card me. Thank God.

What could she do if the authorities called her parents?

Die of embarrassment. That's what.

The waitress returned with a pitcher and three glasses. Ashanté took a sip. Oooh, not bad. She'd never had liquor before, and got buzzed on one glass.

Heh. Not bad at all! Who knew rum could taste so good? Hehe. Really good. She poured another. What would her mother think if she could see Ashanté now, drinking liquor in a honky-tonk?

Omigod, Mom!

X

Her mother hadn't wanted her to leave home for just this very reason.

"When you go off to school, you'll find new friends who'll make you smoke and drink and do drugs and get pregnant. Mm hmm. I know all about universities, baby girl."

But Mom!

How was she ever going to get a decent job without a degree?

Especially with the economy the way it was and that nut case in the White House.

You see, Mom, I just want─

Tiffany and Keiko returned to the table, and Ashanté stopped talking to herself.

"Oh! You got a pitcher. Awesome!"

"Yeah, those cowboys bought us a beer, but I didn't like it."

"Sure makes you feel good, though." The two girls burst into giggles. They'd never drunk before either.

Ashanté wished she could giggle too, but wasn't feeling it. With a few more sips the giggles came without effort.

"Heh! Hey, look," Keiko said. "Karaoke!"

X

"C'mon, guys. Let's go sing something!" Keiko led the way to the little stage.

Ashanté followed, wondering why she wasn't nervous anymore. She absolutely hated singing in front of other people, except in church.

But in church it's not just me. Everyone sings in church.

Singing without a choir was like giving a speech in class, yet it didn't feel like giving a speech would be such a big deal right now.

Must be the mojitos.

The girls flipped through the song list, but Ashanté's vision blurred.

"What was that one? The Dixie Chicks?"

They finally found the perfect number.

"Runaway June! Lipstick!"

They burst into giggles again, then Keiko said something that stunned Ashanté.

"Ash, you sing lead. I'll sing low harmony, Tiff, you sing high. Ready?"

Ashanté just gaped.

X

"Ashanté? Yoo hoo!"

Keiko's voice wafted toward her from somewhere out in the blurry bar, but Ashanté couldn't quite place it.

She'd assumed that since Keiko had pointed out the karaoke machine, she'd want to sing the lead herself.

"Okay, the music's starting!" Tiffany bounced, pointing at the lyrics screen. The lyrics glowed in bright orange when they were supposed to sing.

The cowboys applauded, and everyone in the bar turned to watch the college girls make fools of themselves.

Wish I had another sip to clear my throat, Ashanté thought.

Too late for that; time to sing.

The words turned orange, and she belted out the first verse.

"If you're gonna love somebody..."

And the audience went silent.

X

"Not your mascaraaaaaaaa!"

Ashanté held the last note until the harmonica faded out. Her throat was killing her now. After hopping off the stage she headed for the mojitos while the cowboys laughed and applauded.

"Wow, Ashanté!" Keiko squealed behind her. "You sing super boffo!"

"Yeah, that was amazing! You should sing professionally!"

Yeah, right. They're just being nice.

She swilled some of the drink. Ah, that's so much better!

"Ashanté, they want another song!"

What?! She turned to find the audience still clapping and stomping. "For me?"

"Yeah! They want another song!"

Ashanté swilled some more, then refilled the glass. She took it up to the stage with her this time. "Um, okay. So what do we sing?" she asked, searching through the song list.

"Us?" Tiffany asked. "They don't want us. They want YOU!"

X

Ashanté's eyes popped.

"It's true! Our voices are just ordinary, but yours? Yours is amazing! Oh, I didn't mean anything insulting by that, Keiko."

"I know. Anyway it's true. Our voices are ordinary. Hehe!"

Ashanté gazed out over the sea of cowboys, farm hands, construction workers and other blue collar wage slaves.

They don't look like the most discriminating audience to me.

She took another swig.

At least, not discriminating in THAT way.

Well, what the hell? She shrugged. Maybe after one more song her roomies would believe her if she said she was tired and wanted to go home.

Let's hold that thought.

But what song? Solo, yet. She rifled through the list.

Argh. It was all newish music, but...

Why was it all so white?

I mean, nothing wrong with white people, but, um...

Why was there no Vicki Vann on this list? Or Rissi Palmer, Miko Marks, Star De Azlan? No Adrianna Freeman, Aaron Vance, Jimmie Allen or Tony Jackson. Not even Darius Rucker or Charley Pride.

No, wait...

Two songs by Mickey Guyton!

She mentally flipped a coin and chose Somebody Else Will.

Keiko pushed the button for the tune, and Ashanté took one last swig.

The music started...

...and Ashanté sang.

X

The room whirled in sparkly rainbows, and so did Ashanté.

Ha ha! So kewl.

A barmaid turned on the spotlight, and Ashanté tried to catch the dust particles floating in the beam.

Sparkle fairies, help me sing!

And she did sing.

The audience got up to dance, all but a tall suit in the back. Ashanté couldn't see him, but he watched her. And he watched the audience.

They started chanting, all these working stiffs.

"AW SHON TAY! AW SHON TAY!"

The stiffs heard her sing a Mickey Guyton song.

"AW SHON TAY!"

The suit heard ka-ching.

X

"Aw shon tay! Aw shon tayyyyy!"

It was almost eleven now and the crowd had thickened.

When Ashanté finished yet another number, there was thunderous applause.

Tiffany bounced as Ashanté wobbled off the stage.

"Oh my gawd, they love you!"

She clapped wildly, but Ashanté played it down.

"Eh, everyone's drunk. Right now they'd think Tom Waits has a beautiful voice."

"Hehe! You may be right."

Ashanté stumbled toward the table and dropped her drink. It hit the floor in a shower of splintered glass and white rum.

"Looks like some college girls need to go home," the barkeep said. His tone said  get out.

Ashanté apologized and fumbled for her purse. Stupidly she left a big tip, as if they didn't lose these cheap glasses by the dozen every day.

Staggering out of the building she nearly tripped and fell, until the suit from the back of the bar caught her arm.

"Let me give you ladies a lift home. You from State U? I can drop you off at the dorms. Unless you have an apartment off campus?"

The girls stared at one another, and then at the suit.

They kept staring as a limo pulled up and the chauffeur opened the door.

X

"Oh my gawd!" Tiffany whispered.

Everyone heard her.

"Look at this guy!" she said. "Drop dead gorgeous!"

Despite the blurry haze, Ashanté could see it was true.

The suit was hot. A babe. A stud. Totally ripped. Bootylicious beefcake. Smoking, sultry and sizzling.

He was also white.

White as snow. White as lies. White as the U.S. Senate or a Greek letter organization.

The thought made her giggle, but mister big shot suit didn't seem to notice.

He's probably ogling Tiff and Keiko. She couldn't tell at the moment, but it wouldn't surprise her.

He helped them into the car while the chauffeur held the door.

"He seems so nice!" Tiffany warbled into her ear, and Ashanté agreed.

He was nice.

He must want something from us. But what?

X

"I loved your singing, Miss Ashanté."

Ashanté gaped. "Um... thank you."

He sure had blue eyes. Or were they green? Maybe brown. She couldn't tell in this drunken haze, and the purple neon lights under the seats weren't helping. How much did a car like this cost?

Keiko gave him directions to the dorm, and the chauffeur drove them home.

"Are you a billionaire?"

"Ha!" The suit shook his head. "I wish. This is a company car." He pulled out a business card and handed it to Ashanté.

Keiko leaned over to read it. "Broken Pony Records?"

Ashanté was grateful Keiko read it aloud. To her it looked like Sanskrit, but she stuffed it in her purse.

"Yes, ma'am," the suit said in a cowpoke voice. "I'd really appreciate it if you'd audition for our A&R department. We'll cut a demo for the big wheels upstairs and try to get you a contract."

A and R? What's that?

Ashanté stared.

And stared.

And stared some more.

A country label music producer just happens to be in a bar when I sing karaoke, gives us a ride in a limo and offers me a record deal?

Bwahahaha!

Okay, that explained it.

This was all a dream.


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