A Song for JuliaCharles Sheehan-Miles
I want to take this opportunity to thank Sarah Hansen for creating such a beautiful cover for A Song for Julia, and my editor, Lori Sabin, for being so patient with me as we worked through all of the various problems in the manuscript.
Thank you also to the wonderful beta readers who helped out. Your suggestions, questions and feedback helped me shape this into a much stronger book. Jackie Trippier Holt, Jennifer Mirabelli, Stephenie Thomas, David Leibensperger, Darcie Sherrick, Wendy Wilken, Kerri Williams, Carol Davis Luce, Shaina Salisbury-Abbs, Rich Perez, Bryan James, Amy Burt, Elle Chardou: thank you all.
Veronica, Khalil and Amirah: thank you for giving me the space and time to focus on my writing. This has been a truly life changing year for me, and wouldn’t have been possible without the three of you.
Suburban Princess (Crank)
October 26, 2002
Maybe it’s just me. But I would have thought that a girl at the center of the biggest anti-war protest since the Vietnam War might not have had such a gigantic stick up her ass.
But no … there she was, her mouth moving, and I didn’t understand a word. To be fair, she was wicked hot, even if she did dress like a librarian; she wore a floral knee-length skirt that hugged her thighs and a pastel colored sweater with what looked like a thousand bangles and bracelets running up her right wrist. Her eyes were a striking pale blue, framed with dark brownish-blonde hair. She had this schoolgirl look about her that made me want to lick the back of her neck. It was the hostile stream of words out of her sexy little mouth that caused me to step back, both irritated and defensive.
“What was that?” I asked, hoping to get the torrent of words to just stop.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. I grinned.
“What I said was, you guys can’t set up here just yet. Mark Tashburn is about to go on … then there’s a fifteen-minute break. You guys can set up after that.”
I rolled my eyes. “And we go on at the end of the fifteen minutes?”
She smiled, her face relaxing a little. I don’t think she liked me that much. Her smile looked fake. Those ice cold eyes? Her smile never reached that far. I wondered what a genuine smile from her would look like.
“That’s right,” she replied.
“That won’t work,” I said. “Takes longer to set up than fifteen minutes.”
She sighed. “And why, exactly, are we just finding this out now?”
“Hey, not my fault. I don’t know who organized the time schedule on this thing, but it’s a complete mess. If you want us playing in 30 minutes, we needed to start setting up an hour ago. Takes time to set up the equipment and tune up.”
She huffed a little and said, “Fine. Just … try not to distract the audience too much.”
Jesus, whatever. She came running up the moment we’d started to carry equipment on stage. Not like the crowd was paying attention anyway, there must be a hundred thousand people out there. Bunch of hippies and peace freaks and what looked to be effing soccer moms. For the hundredth time, I asked myself how the hell I’d gotten roped into playing at an anti-war protest.
Of course, this was the biggest venue we’d ever played. But seriously, so far, the speakers had been a series of retreads from the 1960s. If that didn’t show how disconnected this thing was from reality, I didn’t know what did.
Whatever. This was Serena’s deal. She was big in the anti-war politics. And what Serena was into, the band did. We didn’t have a manager, but she was the closest to it. She sang with me and played rhythm guitar and had a magic sense for what music would work and what wouldn’t.
We rushed to get set up without alarming the natives or hippies. Finished in record time, no thanks to the princess who was off to the side of the stage with a clipboard, directing people here and there.
So, between the setup, tune up, and start, I had about fifteen seconds to take a breath and then launched into the first licks. The college kids in the audience started to groove on it right away, but the senior citizens and soccer moms … and holy shit, there was a lot of them … stared up at us as if the stage had been swept with radioactive contamination. I gave the guitar and vocals just an extra twinge for them, blasting out the raunchiest original version of the lyrics to our song “Fuck the War” rather than the extra special sensitive studio lyrics we’d ended up releasing.
I don’t want to mislead you. Morbid Obesity isn’t a punk band, more alternative rock, with a bit of an edge. I’m the edge. To date, our most popular song was “Fuck the War,” which we released on an EP a few months back. It’s a love song about my mom and dad, but you’ve got to listen to the lyrics to get that. I put a lot of emotion into it when I was writing it and when I performed it.
It was a perfect day to be on stage and outdoors: cool, but not cold. The sky was clear and cloudless, an occasional breeze wafting across the stage, a hundred thousand people of all shapes, sizes and colors spread across the frickin’ National Mall. I’d never seen anything like it.
I was on the second round of the chorus when I looked to the right of the stage and saw Miss Princess. She was grooving on the music. Moving just slightly, her lips were parted in a way that caught my breath. Pouty lips. Kissable lips. I had to laugh at myself a bit. So not my type. Well, except that she was female and kind of hot. Still, not my type.
Back in high school, some freak accident of the Boston Public School system sent a group of rich kids from Back Bay to South Boston High. That was a laugh. It only lasted a year, though I don’t know if that’s because they got the zoning reversed, or the parents just yanked their kids from the public schools. This girl reminded me of some of those kids. Imperious. Superior. Some of them looked at the rats like me as if we were future criminals.
I wonder if that’s why she was turning me on so much?
It made me want to tease her a little, so when I launched into the second verse, I sang right to her, and her alone. I was on the second verse when she met my eyes. I held them. Her eyes, so distant and blue, were arresting. She noticed I was singing to her and froze in place, a deer caught in the headlights. I love it when girls react that way. Showed she was human. If we’d been back home in Boston, I’d have grabbed her and pulled her on the stage, but that wouldn’t go over with this audience.
After a second though, she met my eyes and gave a sly grin, as if to say ‘I know what you’re up to.’ I grinned back, belting out the lyrics. The bass and drums in this song were powerful and demanded that the body dance. I broke off eye contact and took off across the stage, threw myself into the solo, screaming out the lyrics at the crescendo, and then I brought the song to a crashing halt.
Despite the shock of the soccer moms and lobbyists in the crowd, the college kids loved it and screamed for more. Suburban Princess applauded, a mysterious grin on her face. I wanted to know her a lot better.
That wasn’t going to happen. This was an anti-war protest, not a meet and greet. As soon as the song finished, we started breaking down the stage and golden girl jumped up to the microphone and shouted, “Give it up for Morbid Obesity and their hit “Fuck the War”!” I paused what I was doing to check her out while she was at the microphone.
The crowd went nuts again, which was nice. Hearing the name of my song on those lips was even nicer. But five seconds later, she was introducing the next round of speakers, a bunch of broken down Vietnam and Gulf War vets who had been dredged up by the organizers of this parade to give it some credibility.
Mark and I dragged most of the equipment off the stage, while Pathin broke down the drums, and Serena pulled the extra monit
ors and wiring apart. As I stepped off the stage for the last time, the suburban princess met me at the bottom of the stairs. I stumbled down the last step and ended up less than six inches away from her, looking down into those fantastic eyes.
“You guys were pretty good,” she said, her head tilted back, eyes on mine. “Thanks for doing this.”
I shrugged and grinned. “It was fun.” Pretty good? That’s it? Jesus, she was close. I could smell her perfume, a faint, pretty smell.
“So …” she said, looking me in the eyes.
“How long is this thing gonna go?” I asked.
“Half a dozen more speakers, then they march around the White House. Maybe another hour.”
Mark walked up just as she was answering the question. Our bass player, Mark, is a big guy, who might have been a football player in an alternate universe where football players smoked too much pot and hung out with the bugs in the Pit in Harvard Square. His eyes widened when I opened my stupid mouth again.
“So, after it’s over, want to grab some lunch?”
For just a second her smile faltered, and she looked … almost angry. I know I’m not exactly wearing frickin’ tweed, but I’m not a bad guy, no need to be offended.
“Come on,” I said, “it’s just lunch. I won’t do anything too offensive.”
Mark spoke in a sarcastic tone, “I don’t think she’s your type, Crank.”
She closed her mouth, eyes darting to Mark. Her eyes narrowed, and her lips set in a thin line. It looked like she wanted to hit him. This girl was volatile. I liked that. “Sure,” she said. “Where?”
I shrugged. “Um … I don’t know the area.”
She looked thoughtful for just a second. “Georgia Brown’s at 15th and K Street. They’ve got outdoor seating. See you there … four o’clock?”
Yes! Was it me, or had she moved closer to me?
Mark let out a chuckle and walked away.
“All right, see you at four,” I said, looking at her eyes one more time.
I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.
Nice Guys Lose (Julia)
I don’t know what I was thinking.
Except that when the bassist came up and made the comment about not being Crank’s type, it got under my skin. But seriously, he is so not my type, even if the music was incredible. I’m a serious music snob. Eclectic taste, but I love punk, and over my parents’ strident objections, I’d taken every class Harvard has even remotely related to the music industry. This was good, but different, original. Something about that driving bass, and Crank’s voice overlaid throughout … gravelly, deep … melodic. A voice I could listen to all day. This was abnormal for me. I don’t go out with guys at the drop of a hat. I don’t go out at all.
I had planned to go with some of the other organizers to an after-march meeting and help plan for the next one. And be available to talk to the press. But when he stumbled off the stage and ended up what felt like three inches away from me, I couldn’t say no. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t say no, because for the first few seconds, I couldn’t even breathe.
This was so wrong. I wasn’t in Washington to meet guys. Especially guys who called themselves Crank, played guitar and probably did drugs. I was here because of a cause I believed in.
But as he headed back to the band’s van, carrying his guitar and a heavy amplifier, I watched him walk away. And somehow I’d lost my enthusiasm for any more slogans. Stopping the war from happening was important, but did I think that was going to happen here? Not really. International ANSWER, a group that amounted to a known wing of the people’s workers’ party, had organized the march. My father would have a heart attack if he knew I was involved in this, given the organizers. But I hadn’t asked my father’s opinion. Ironically, my dad was in a position to do something about all this. But there was zero chance of that happening.
So that’s how I found myself getting out of a cab at McPherson Square at four in the afternoon on a beautiful October day in Washington. Traffic wasn’t heavy, but there were a lot of pedestrians walking up the streets, many of them leaving the protest. I saw him immediately, sitting at one of the sidewalk tables that lined the front of the restaurant. He was relaxed, sitting back in his torn jeans, legs splayed out, with a drink in front of him. His black sleeveless t-shirt sported a flaming skull and revealed elaborate tattoos on both arms, and his hair was bleached almost white and spiked. Incongruous, seeing him like that, sitting at a table with a white linen tablecloth, sipping a drink.
As I approached, he stood up.
“Hey there,” he said. “I was worried you weren’t going to come.”
I looked at him curiously. “Why is that?”
He shrugged. “Strange guy asks you to lunch in a strange city …”
I leaned my head a little to the right. “Well, you are strange, I’ll give you that.”
He grinned and pulled a seat out for me—an unexpected gesture for someone who looked volatile and dangerous.
“Let’s start over,” he said. “We were never introduced. I’m Crank Wilson.”
“Julia Thompson,” I replied. “What’s your real name?”
He chuckled. “My real name is Crank. It says so on my driver’s license. That’s all you need to know.”
“Would it be wrong of me to ask what your parents were thinking?”
“Julia’s kind of an old-fashioned name, isn’t it?”
“I have old-fashioned parents.”
“Me too, actually. So much so that I had to go to court to change my name.”
“Why Crank?” I asked.
“It fits, doesn’t it?”
I sat back and looked at him. Studied him. Crank was about six feet tall, with angular features. Several tattoos crept down the length of his well-muscled arms, but they weren’t like any tattoos I’d ever seen. On the right side, what appeared to be a scroll engraved with musical notes rolled down the muscles to his elbow. His left arm, however, was tattooed with what appeared to be barbed wire, and had a nasty scar, three inches long, on his bicep.
I could understand the urge to change your name. Change who you are. Disappear.
“I suppose it does,” I said. “At least from first appearances.”
The waitress approached, and I ordered an iced tea.
He grinned as she walked away. “So what’s a nice girl like you doing mixed up in all this anti-war weirdness?” he asked.
“Anti-war weirdness?” I asked. “It’s not weird at all. Going into Afghanistan after September 11 was one thing. Invading Iraq … that’s something else entirely, and there’s no good reason for it. A lot of people are going to die. So, yeah, I got involved.”
He shrugged. “In principle, I agree. But to be honest, I don’t see what good all this marching around in Washington’s going to do.”
I sighed. “I’ve got my doubts about that, too. But I felt like I had to do something.”
He listened, but didn’t reply.
I leaned forward. “What about you? You guys agreed to play at the demonstration for free.”
“Well,” he said. “That’s all Serena. She’s the other singer and guitar player. She’s also very political.”
“And you’re not?”
“Not a big fan of politics. Though I gotta admit, it’s wicked playing to a crowd that size. Usually we do clubs.”
“No, mostly Boston and Providence.”
I took a breath. “Boston?” I asked, quietly.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s where I live. What about you?”
Okay, this is so not a good idea. I should lie and tell him I live in Siberia, or Alaska, or Alabama. “I live in Boston, too, at Harvard?” My voice rose a little at the end of the sentence, like a question mark, like I wasn’t sure of where I lived. I was irritated with myself for the uncertainty.
He smirked. “I should have realized. Harvard.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you’re not the kind of girl I usually hang out with.”
I didn’t like where this conversation was going, but I couldn’t seem to control my mouth. “And what sort of girl is that?”
He gave me a long look. “Groupies. Tarts. Girls who hang out in the bars in Southie. Not your type.”
I bit my lower lip. I didn’t think much of a guy who talked about women that way. “So why did you ask me to lunch?”
He shrugged. “Sometimes you gotta shake things up. Isn’t that what you’re doing?”
“I guess so. You’re not the type of guy I usually hang out with, either.”
“What sort of guys do you hang out with, Julia?”
He asked the question in a half-teasing, formal way. I looked at him and answered truthfully, “I don’t hang out with guys. But I guess the times I do, it’s guys with ambition. Law or finance. Guys who wear suits. Guys who will end up in the Senate or as a CEO. Umm … guys my father would approve of.”
Crank leered at me and leaned forward suddenly. “You’re saying your father wouldn’t approve of me?”
I looked in his eyes and took a deep breath. They were blue and clear, very clear, and his bleached white hair made them stand out in a way that made me want to look into them all day. He stared at me as if he was trying to see inside. I swallowed, my throat dry. “My father would definitely not approve of you.”
He smiled, a crooked, boyish grin that made my heart beat a little faster, and for the first time I noticed that one of his bottom teeth was slightly crooked. It was cute.
“When do you go back to Boston, Julia?”
I swallowed and took a deep breath. “I’m taking the train back in the morning.”
He winked. “You know the city? I’ve never been here before. Show me Washington? We’ll have a good time.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” I knew it wasn’t a good idea. I’ve got a pretty hard and fast rule. I stay the hell away from guys I’m attracted to.
His grin, which was turning insufferable, got even bigger. “I know it’s not a good idea. That’s why we should do it.”