Scene: Sandy and Neal before the wedding

[This scene is not currently intended for inclusion in a manuscript. It’s meant to help me know the characters better, so I have not concentrated on making it a true short story.]

Background for scene: It takes place in the mid to late 1990s. Neal and Sandy have been friends for roughly ten years. The pair have traveled from their home base in Los Angeles to Sandy’s hometown of Crescent City, California (a small town) for Sandy’s wedding to Sophie Linn, a rock star in her own right. The scene happens the morning of the ceremony.

Neal works with at-risk kids as young as 8 and 10, teaching them the benefits of learning to play music (with the aim of showing them how to avoid the gang lifestyle that messed up his own teenage years). His language flips between the slangy style of the inner-city kids he spends time with, and the more “correct” speech most of society uses.]

[approx. 2250 words]
Knocking morphed into pounding, then into a voice. Neal pulled the sheet over his head.  The clock radio hadn’t gone off so somebody was trying to get him up early. The damn clock was already set for fucking early, why couldn’t he be left alone till then?

“Come on Neal, it won’t kill you to get up now.”

“Nobody should have to get up before God,” he mumbled into the pillow. “Damn you, Guëro.”

He shuffled to the door, opened it, and blinked in the glare of the hall light. Sandy was dressed, though not in his best. He tapped a pair of drumsticks together.

“Listen, I need some quiet time to settle my head. Let’s go to the beach, and bring your guitar.”

Neal yawned and tried to keep his eyes open. “Now? It’s not even sunrise, is it? You are fucking crazy. All right, but you’re gonna owe me massively.”

Sandy grinned. “Just throw some clothes on. And bring a jacket, it’s chilly out there at this hour. I’ve got a thermos of coffee.”

“That’s nice, but it doesn’t make up for lost sleep.”

Neal found the single flannel shirt he’d packed and pulled a hoodie over that. If Sandy and Sophie had decided on a sunset service, everybody would probably be asleep now. Neal cradled his guitar and joined Sandy in the hall.

On the drive to the beach, Neal began to feel more awake. Yeah, this was a pretty town, if dinky. Most of the houses were small too. People here had pride, though. None of the lawns were scraggly and flowers even swung in baskets from lampposts. Maybe he should take another summer to kick back here. Hardly any cars on the roads and not one pedestrian. No gangs up here either, so far. Maybe a miracle would happen and they’d leave this place alone. There ought to be one spot gangs didn’t spoil.

State trooper cars lined the street on both sides. They weren’t kidding around.

Sandy pulled into a parking space in a tiny lot. Open-sided tents were already set up. This far from the commercial harbor, the beach stretched on both directions, devoid of people. Four more trooper cars were perched in front of the bait shop.  At least somebody else had to be up. Three uniforms approached them.

Sandy grabbed the thermos and got out. When Neal locked the door after getting out, Sandy laughed. “You’re the only person in this town to lock the door, you know that?”

“Old habits die hard.” Neal stepped to one side, to put Sandy between him and the cops.

“Good morning, Mr. Delling, Mr. Cory,” said the one in the lead.

“Didn’t you guys get the memo?” Neal said. “I’m using Rodriguez. Maybe you’d pass that on. I don’t think Sandy would appreciate having his wedding day marred by one of you arresting me because I didn’t answer to my old name.”

“We all recognize you anyway, sir.”

“Huh. Not sure I like that.”

“Be nice to the cops for one day,” Sandy told him. “As a favor to me.”

Neal saluted the group. “Esto de suyo es dificil, pero . . . Buenos días, mis valedores.  Cada oveja con su pareja, ¿no?

None of them even blinked.

The one in front said, “I don’t know Spanish, sir, but if you’d —”

Sandy shook his head. “It’s best to ignore him when he uses Spanish. Come on, let’s pick a spot to sit — I want coffee.”

They strolled toward the water. Its hypnotic music came and went in dreamy swooshes. Even the ocean was asleep. At the horizon, the sky was dipped in clear, deep blue that washed out higher up. Not a single cloud anywhere; that figured. The moon would probably come up just long enough to watch the “harmonic convergence.”

Neal dropped to a seat far enough from the water that an exuberant wave wouldn’t reach his guitar. “You’re right. It is cool out here. Pass the brew.”

Sandy poured coffee into the little cup from the thermos. “Shit. I forgot to bring another mug.”

“We’ll manage. You got a couple tats, now it’s time to learn to like black coffee.” Neal took the cup and drank some, then passed it back.

“I guess. I’m just used to a certain way.” Holding the cup, he stared out at the ocean. “Nothing’s gonna be the same, you know? I thought it sank in already, but I got into bed last night and just thought, ‘Damnation, tomorrow my whole life changes’. Everything I want to do from now on, I have somebody else to think about.”

“You jerk. You and Sophie have been living together for over a year. What’s gonna change?”

“Legalities, for one thing, but more than that, I’m gonna change. I really want this to last. I don’t want to be another Hollywood statistic. This means something, Neal. It’s not just repeating empty words. Sophie takes this really seriously, and I do not want to let her down.”

Neal took the cup and finished it off. “I know. Don’t freak yourself out. Come on, day to day, stuff won’t change. You’ll still have to mesh schedules. Drink.” He pushed the cup at Sandy.

He downed several swallows. “You ever thought about getting married?”

Neal guffawed. “What the fuck for? All that trouble if it goes bad? It suits some people, but I ain’t one of ’em. If a woman needs a piece of special paper to be convinced I love her, well, she can —”

Sandy looked sideways at him. “You never thought about it at all?”

He shifted his guitar and began tuning. “Don’t matter. Humid air isn’t good for these things, y’know.”

“We won’t be here long. My folks have been married for forty years, with no sign of anything weakening. I don’t know if I can do that. That’s a long time to be with somebody.”

“No shit. Sure feels like you’ve been on my tail for forty years.”

“Seriously. That’s almost half a century. I’ve heard them disagree, but at the end of the day, they’re still concerned about each other. That’s a good lesson if you ask me.”

Neal shrugged. A tuner would come in handy. Doing it manually always took so long. “I wouldn’t know. You know the example my parents gave.”

“But your mother also told you that you’re better than where you came from. Heredity isn’t everything. We learn from mistakes, other people’s as well as our own. What about your daughter? She’s kind of in the middle of things, isn’t she? This ‘sharing kids’ thing when people break up . . . I don’t know. That’s got to be a hard way to grow up. I can’t tell you what a relief it is knowing I don’t have to worry about that.”

Neal rested a hand on the strings and looked up. “What? She ain’t too old to have kids.”

“Never mind. She considers that a private issue. I’ve got a niece and a nephew and Sophie’s got nieces, so that’s more than enough.”

“If you’re terrified of being somebody’s husband, you’re too late to back out.” He went back to tuning.

“I’m not thinking about backing out. I didn’t think I’d fall this hard for somebody, and I sure didn’t think a fox like her would want to hang around me this long. She’s made me furious, and she probably will again, but . . .”

The pause was so long, Neal turned toward him. Sandy’s eyes zeroed in on the horizon. His fingers moved tenderly on the silver star dangling from its chain, Sophie’s engagement present.

Neal stretched his hands and carefully placed his fingers on the strings. Here, here — no, here. Maybe he should just do an exercise. Save the actual playing for the ceremony. He hadn’t finished tuning anyway.

“Good God,” Sandy said. “That’s all I’ve heard you play for the last week. You must know a whole song.”

“I do, but I’m saving myself. If I use my best effort up on you, I won’t have anything for when it counts.”

“You’re kind of nuts. Do you know ‘Blowin’ in The Wind’?”

“What? No! I don’t do folk, you lost your mind? I know some Boston, Van Halen, snatches of Zep, and a bit of ‘Layla’.”

“Oh great, a song written by a guy in love with somebody else’s wife. Not the kind of vibe I want today.” Sandy filled the cup and drained it in one swallow.

“I kind of know Eric’s arrangement of ‘Rainbow’. That’s pretty sappy even without violins.”

“Hey, I do not write sappy. I’ll remind you that song won two awards.”

“Yeah, one in Japan and one in Germany. I don’t think anybody in the States outside of the band even knows about that.”

Sandy shoved him. He steadied himself, keeping the guitar away from the sand, and laughed.

Sandy asked, “Why’d you learn something sappy, then?”

Neal placed his fingers for the beginning of the song. “Eric’s conceited, and he insisted I learn something he worked on before teaching me any CCR stuff. Even I’m not as proud of being a bastard as he is.”

“You could learn some by yourself.”

“Yeah, but I’m not real good at picking it up by myself.”

He picked out the tune for “Rainbow”. A couple weeks must have gone by since he played it last. Verse, verse, chorus. He stumbled a few times but kept going. When Sandy began to sing, almost in a whisper, Neal smiled. He got better as he started again from the top, but it was gonna take months more before he got good. Somehow he’d cajole Eric into teaching him CCR.

Seagulls cried as they drifted past. The guitar had settled itself against him like a lover. If only he knew more songs. Learning drums seemed easier. Just because Sandy wouldn’t expect him to know any Sam Cooke, Neal started “You Send Me”. He tried to sing along, but he couldn’t play well enough yet to do that and sing at the same time.

Sandy pulled drumsticks from his back pocket and tapped them together, in time. The sun seemed a little warmer. Sandy went right into “Your Song”. Neal had looked at some Elton John sheet music but didn’t go any further, so he tapped against his guitar and sang. He might not be able to play CCR yet, but he knew lyrics. He picked up with “Down on The Corner”. That got Sandy tapping on the guitar, but Neal tugged it away from the sticks. He tapped on Neal’s sneakered foot.

No warming up, but their voices sounded pretty good. Without having to worry about being perfect, Neal swung into “L.A. Woman” then “Hello I Love You”. Sandy flubbed a couple lines and Neal laughed at him.

Sandy started “You’ve Got A Friend”. Now, that was sappy. But all right, the day kind of called for that. Neal sang harmony in between gulps of coffee. When the song ended, Sandy took a huge breath and let it out slowly.

“I could do that one on piano. Hey, gracias, really. This was just what I needed.” He gave a lopsided grin.

De nada.” Neal picked out “Stairway To Heaven”, messed up, and swore. Leave it to him to screw that up.

“We still have time,” Sandy said. “Do you want to stop by the diner? You can drive.”

Neal stood. “Me drive a Ford sedan? Your brains are scrambled. I’d like to know why you’ve only let me drive the Ferrari once.”

Sandy laughed as they sauntered back toward the parking lot. “As if you don’t know!”

“Hey, I take good care of my ’Vette. I’m responsible.”

“You haven’t had it long. But I guess you’re right. When something insane happens, you’re responsible.”

“Keep it up, Ed McMahon. If you piss me off, you’ll never find out what I planned for your wedding present.”

“I can guess but I’ll let you surprise me.”

They settled into their seats and Sandy pulled out of the lot. Neal tried to get the guitar into place to play, but there wasn’t enough room.

“Do you think I should name this guitar? Like maybe Lucita, as a play on Lucille. I kinda like that.”

“You don’t play blues.”

“Well, I might. Besides, isn’t blues inherent in all rock? It’s only fair to recognize the giants whose shoulders we stand on.”

“True. It’s up to you. I don’t know if that one’s going to be around as long as Lucille.”

“You seem to think I destroy things on a regular basis. Have I trashed one drum kit? One hotel room?”

“Just my reputation. Call the guitar something unexpected, like Ruby.”

“Ruby. Huh. Maybe. Hey, where are you and Sophie jetting off to later? Your mom even said she doesn’t know.”

“And that’s the way it’s gonna stay. Info has a way of slipping out. If you don’t know, you can’t accidentally spill the beans. And no, we haven’t decided when we’re coming back.”

“Good. I copied your key, and I’m gonna buzz that Ferrari from San Diego to Oregon and back.”

Sandy’s mouth fell open. Neal slapped the dash and hooted.

“You bastard.” Sandy’s voice didn’t have any bite.

“I can’t believe you! Your picture is under ‘naïveté’ in the dictionary.”

Sandy scowled and shot through a red light.