[Swann] (Chapter 2) How To Test A Will: Step One!
Sometimes, you just have to get back to your roots.
Bethelynn crouched in the blistering hot dirt and searched around for anything edible. Combing through large leaves, she found only one under-ripe tomato, which had tough green skin and was still clutching to its vine. Bethelynn would feel guilty about picking the tiny green runt, so she left it alone and stood back up, her empty basket around her right arm. “Damn it, all of these plants are just blooming.” Bethelynn mumbled sadly as she dusted off her jeans which had changed from blue to musty brown. Suddenly her ringtone sounded and she fumbled around with her pockets for it. Finally she found it and stuck it to her ear, frazzled.
“Bethelynn Swann, LeAguE band assistant, what’s your complaint?” Bethelynn sweared and corrected herself. “I meant question.”
“Actually it is a complaint. Last week the singer for this band of yours broke into my shed, I know it was them. That long greasy hair and those pasty knock knees. They should be ashamed of themselves! Making this old lady’s life a living Hell! Took my spade and even my sweet little gnome!” The woman ranted on, and Bethelynn sighed.
“I’m sorry Ma’am, the band is working on themselves everyday. Someday, they will give back to the world instead of taking. Can I have your address ma’am so I can give you a flyer for a discounted concert?” Bethelynn’s response was the one contrived by the band’s manager, a cold alternative to getting involved with people. He said it would work, but it never did and only made people much, much angrier.
“YOU THINK I WANNA GO SEE THE BAND THAT BROKE INTO MY SHED?!? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!? I COULDN’T EVEN GO OUT IF I TRIED!! I’M ON A FULL TIME OXYGEN tank…” Her angry voice tapered off as she inhaled a puff of machine generated air. Bethelynn felt on the verge of tears as she hung up the phone and flipped it to vibrate.
“This is the job I asked for?”
Bethelynn was suddenly angry at herself for choosing her career. That damned DeAndre Wolf didn’t tell me I’d be answering angry phone calls from old women, and picking fruit. And it’s not like they’re good people either. Bethelynn thought while she played with a tiny ladybug on a chunky green leaf.
And that was just about what her job really was about. LeAguE was a washout boy band with too much guyliner and Vans. Nobody knew (or cared) about them, and would rather water their burnt yellow lawns than listen to angst ridden 20 year olds. When Bethelynn signed on to work at the theater, she had no idea she would have to be their assistant. Assistant is just a word for “Lets put all the work on her” Beth thought, still glum. She didn’t even want fame so much as just plain singing. Showing people she was more than the girl who lost her parents.
That night, after the community garden closed, she went by the grocery store. Beth was taken aback by the sweet aromas that filled the aisles. Her eyes seemed like a hundred pounds and all she wanted to do was curl up in the bakery and sleep. But she willed herself to walk down the section holding piles of fruit, and picked out a basket full of tomatoes and grapes and oranges, and also got a pack of watermelon gum for herself. It was almost painful leaving the air conditioned sanctuary. They were already flicking off the lights when she left.
It was late when Bethelynn trudged down to the theater and the moon was high in the air, and all around there was heavy darkness. Her hair was wound up in sweaty knots and she didn’t even bother to smooth it out. She knew she looked like a mess. She saw the band playing in a small storage area when she entered the theater, their faces plastered with customary frowns. Bethelynn tried to smile, but she was just to exhausted. She handed them the little woven basket, and they examined the vegetables.
“Awww, come on…These aren’t fresh, they even have the sticker on them still.” The singer sighed, handing Beth the basket back. “You know I can’t eat anything unless it’s fresh…” He was so whiny he made Bethelynn’s head spin. She was on the edge of passing out but she tried to reason.
“They’re fine! Look” She bit into a tomato and felt the sweet juices caress her chin. She smiled but they didn’t look amused.
“Uh, no. You might eat that crap but we don’t.” They all nodded their heads in agreement. Beth’s temper flared.
“You won’t eat anything that’s not fresh? Will you eat it if it’s thrown at you?” Then she chucked a fat red tomato at the singer. It Exploded across his forehead, instant anger spreading across his face. But Bethelynn didn’t notice. She was laughing out loud, clutching her chest and red faced. She thought of the irony of the situation. Usually you only threw fruit during the performance. But her laughter was sliced away when he yelled at her only a few inches away, spit hitting her cheeks.
“Leave!” He was livid with anger and so was she. She left without another word, fearing she would further ruin what she had. As she stepped into the pitch black neighborhood, she knew this was the end of her dream, if it ever was one in the first place. Her legs seemed to guide her to somewhere, and brought her to a public restroom. She didn’t even notice if it was for women or men. When inside, she collapsed, and sat in front of the door so nobody could see the tears that trailed her cheeks. And the loud sobs that broke the silence of the night. I didn’t know it would be this hard. She picked another tomato from the basket and bit into it halfheartedly. It’s not bad. I would have liked to get splattered with one of these, she thought with a smile, before being pulled into darkness.
Bethelynn woke up with the sky a sparkling onyx. Her vision was blurry and she was still wearing her dirt caked clothes. Her arms were covered in pink mosquito bites. Beth kicked off her clothes under the covers and aired herself out, glad that the night was so cool. She pinned her hair back with a scrunchy and snuggled back in the covers. Her thoughts came slowly. But when they did, she sat up straight and looked around, wishing she had real walls instead of dark and gloomy trees which could be holding any number of terrifying things. Who brought me home? I was in the bathroom… She continued to look around for several minutes and pulled out a flashlight with a shaky hand.
“Is anyone out there?” Her voice was quivering and her heart beat loudly enough that anyone near would hear clearly. She heard only the thin wings of bats and the fat bullfrogs that rested in the lagoons. Beth’s shaking eventually retired into soft jolts. She checked under her bed to make sure the person hadn’t taken any belongings. But they were still there, as messy as she had left them. With the flashlight still in her hand she checked to see if there were any injuries. But the only thing that was bugging her was her toe, but it had been broken so many times in her childhood she knew it was her own fault.
Finally she resolved that the person who had brought her back had probably left hours ago. Her body felt rested and able, the opposite of when she had blacked out in the restroom. Swiftly, Beth grabbed at her phone in her purse and glared at the date. She had slept through a full day and night. She smacked herself back against the bed and sent a small piece of paper spinning to the grassy floor. It was the same one the mysterious “Johnny B” had given her. She felt her body turn hot as she ripped open the slip.
You’re Just As Reckless As Before.
PLEASE Don’t hurt yourself again.
I Can’t Bare To See You Like This.
I Love You,
Just like the first letter, she read it a hundred times over. Then Beth slid out of bed, not even caring that anyone could see her nearly naked body. She clutched the note, and even though it was driving her crazy, she was more than thankful he had helped her. Maybe even saved her life. She thought about how reckless she had been that night. The bathroom she had passed out in was in an area notorious for gang activity. She could have been raped, stabbed, killed. Bethelynn shuddered and wished she could meet Johnny. He had been following her, because no sane person would have been out so late at night. Of course, there was a chance that Johnny B wasn’t sane at all.
The morning was passed thinking all about him. She even worked on a song that expressed her thanks to him. It was like one of those movies where the dashing fellow saves the beautiful damsel’s life. Then they would fall in love. Beth felt horrible that she didn’t even know who he was. She wrote his name a thousand times in a notebook trying to jog her memory, but all she succeeded in was draining the ink in a gel pen. Giving up, she hailed a taxi and stared out the windows as the car took a path to the park she hadn’t been through in years.
They passed a baby blue brick building and Beth recognized it as the school she had gone to as a kid. A hundred memories sped by her. The time she had scraped her knee and Marc had helped her up. The time she had just beat Pattina Knack at the double dutch competition and Marc hugged her. Beth realized they all had a connection to Marc Brandt. Just the name sent warm shivers up Bethelynn’s back. She had been trying to suppress the thought of him since she arrived two weeks ago in Twinbrook. And if she was truthful, years longer than that.
Before she knew it, the car stopped and Beth’s daydreams were pulled from her vision. She blinked and stepped out, the sun blinding her as it peeked through the weepy treetops. Beth stepped onto the lawn and opened up her guitar case. She wiped the instrument down and kissed the top of it. Then Bethelynn propped open the case and drew a big “Tips Welcome – Thank you” with a fat marker on a slip of paper. She started strumming with just her fingers, just like DeAndre the fraud had told her. Now that she heard what she sounded like, he was right. They didn’t have that ugly throng at the end. The songs she played were simple but sweet. Pretty soon two women stood in front of her. Bethelynn tensed up but kept playing, knowing she needed the money because she was sure the stunt she had played at the theater had ruined her career. I was so stupid, so incredibly stupid.Bethelynn laughed a little but cursed when she thought of how she had just made things so much more tangled and confusing. Her parents, who were blue collar workers, would have scolded her and told her that she may have just mucked up the one chance she had to be who she wanted to be most. Bethelynn would then become angry with them, but her mom would scoop her into a hug and her father would kiss the back of her head. They would tell her it was alright and that if she tried even harder, she could be something even better. Then they would make her a cup of coffee with crushed peppermint.
But this was just a lovely daydream. Beth’s parents were dead. Nobody to tell her it was alright or offer her peppermint coffee. Bethelynn lowered her guitar and stared into the sky, a tear slipping down her cheek and heating her whole face.
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