Part 1: Chapter 1
The town of Ellington, located in the northeastern region of Arkansas, boasted a population of just over two thousand people. The town’s mainstays were liquor stores and car washes. Some Ellington residents often joked that it was the perfect spot for drunks with dirty cars. The townspeople went on endlessly about Ellington’s down home flavor and friendliness. On any day of the week, a stereotypical group of five or six elderly gents would sit outside the one barbershop in town, discussing how they wouldn’t live anywhere else if they had all the money in the world. Motorists passing through Ellington would usually be the only individuals willing to admit exactly how desperate the town’s situation was. Ellington slowly languished, and the old ducks who spent their retirement wasting away at one of the town’s dying businesses refused to acknowledge it. The young people left early, and the elderly stayed, as if trying to prove or justify their unending devotion to their hometown.
The Little City Cafe, one of two eateries in Ellington, was a popular dive for early rising farmers out to grab a cup of coffee before hitting the fields. In fact, the farmers and local school kids crowded into the cafe at lunchtime as well. Since the town was constantly financially depressed, the cafe couldn’t keep employees because opportunity often called elsewhere. As a result, the cafe was a popular place for a few local citizens to get a job when money was short. The cafe was also the place where an unlikely fairy tale began.
The heroine of this little tale worked at The Little City Cafe as a waitress. Barely sixteen, she had no business being there. She should have been out with her friends having fun or shopping like other girls her age. But that was not to be. She had to work because money was tight at home. Besides, she didn’t care much for shopping malls anyway. Even if she had, the nearest mall to Ellington was forty-five miles away, and there was no car or money to get her there. The girl had gotten her job through her mother, who had been a waitress at the same diner for a few years. Without the extra income, the small family would have lost what little they did have. The teenage waitress didn’t mind working. After all, she was a realist. She knew the money was needed for survival, no questions asked. However, she had other aspirations besides the norm.
In small towns like Ellington, not much was expected for the children of the poor, unless they were lucky enough to go on to college after high school. That usually did not happen often. Scholarships and the like were normally reserved for rich kids. It didn’t matter anyway. She did not want to go to college. What she wanted was to be a singer, but not just any kind of singer. She wanted sing in a rock hard band like her own personal heroes. Although there was no money to buy instruments, the girl and her friends had formed a band. Until they could afford their own equipment, the girls used instruments borrowed from the school’s music department.
The sixteen-year-old was Perion Thorn, a pale little thing with big blue eyes and equally pale hair that fell in waves down her back. Although Perion was too young to remember, her early life began in a way she could not have comprehended even if she had remembered.
Perion’s parents, Marilinn and Anthony Thorn, had been well off before their first and only child was born. They weren’t exactly Rockefeller well off, but they had a nice house in a suburb of Miami, Florida, a nice car, and a seemingly secure lifestyle. They thought they would always have each other and their happiness. But seasons often change.
When Perion was a wee slip of two years, Anthony Thorn was killed in a car crash. He had been driving home from a business trip when a drunken truck driver struck his Mercedes head-on. When his body was pried out of the wreckage, the state police found a bouquet of crushed daisies meant for his wife, and a stuffed dinosaur meant for his daughter. The sudden abrupt death threw Anthony’s wife and daughter into financial hell. Everything had been lost to creditors, even the very roof over their heads. Marilinn Thorn had no idea what she would do.
Anthony’s family, sinfully wealthy, had offered nothing to their daughter-in-law, but they had offered to take something away. Anthony’s parents wanted to take two-year-old Perion off Marilinn’s hands. Since Perion reminded them so much of their beloved Anthony, the elder Thorns had practically demanded that Marilinn hand her daughter over to them. They wanted to keep that part of their son close to them, but they didn’t want their daughter-in-law anywhere around. Marilinn, in dire financial straits, had nearly considered it. She had almost allowed them to take her daughter, the child she loved more than her own life. Marilinn knew Perion would be much better off with the Thorns. They could have given the girl a very good life, better than what she could offer. In the end, she couldn’t do it.
In order to keep Anthony’s parents from taking total control of Perion, Marilinn took what little money she had and bought a one-way ticket back to her old hometown. The two of them moved into Marilinn’s childhood home with her father, Burl ‘Buzz’ Conner. Although Buzz had never seen his granddaughter before, and hadn’t seen Marilinn in over ten years, he welcomed them into his home. Marilinn was put to work in Buzz’s small tavern, and remained there until he died. After that, the tavern had to be sold, and Marilinn landed a job at The Little City Cafe.
Although the cafe had offered Perion her first real job, the tavern offered her a real slice of her own dream. With no means to obtain childcare for Perion, Marilinn often brought her along to work. The toddler often sat and goggled at the customers as they listened to country music on the jukebox. Before long, Perion learned the words to the songs. It stunned Marilinn and Buzz to total awe when they heard the three-year-old perfectly singing A Boy Named Sue word for word. From that day on, Perion would sing for the tavern customers and Buzz would ‘pay’ her a quarter a week.
Perion’s ability did not surprise Marilinn at all. One of Anthony’s sisters was a dancer, and his aunt had been a singer in a famous opera company. Perion’s talents were not ignored. One afternoon, an infrequent customer of Buzz’s tavern happened to drop by for a drink during one of Perion’s performances. Before bankruptcy ended her business twenty years previously, the lady had owned a studio in St. Louis that trained dancers and singers. After moving to Ellington, she didn’t think she’d ever have another chance to train a talented performer again. How wrong she was.
The instant she heard Perion sing, she knew the child had a gift. She asked Buzz about his little performer, and he called Marilinn over to their corner. Within minutes, Perion was taken under the barfly’s wing. From that day on, Perion took vocal and dance lessons inside the lady’s home. The dance was ballet, and the vocal lessons focused solely on operatic styling. Talent oozed from Perion, she seemed naturally gifted. Marilinn accompanied her daughter to each tutoring session and fully encouraged her. She often hoped that Perion would one day sing in an opera like her great-aunt.
Although Perion seemed to be destined for a life of performing arias on stage, she didn’t like singing the music that went so well with her talent. At an early age, Perion took a liking to hard rock and heavy metal music. She found that when she put her vocal training to the driving music, it created an evil, if not an amazing mix. Perion learned at eleven years of age what she wanted to do with her life. She told her mother not long after making her decision. Marilinn was somewhat disappointed, but she wouldn’t admit that to her child in a million years. Her job as a parent, she knew, was to support her daughter no matter what. Perion soon told her tutor that she would need her services no longer. The woman protested, but refused to hold her star pupil back.
Perion’s ultimate dream was to have her own band. Her young friends wanted the same. They knew they would have to work long and hard to earn enough money just to buy secondhand equipment. Though they’d have to work for their dream, they knew they’d do what was necessary. If it took little shit jobs to fulfill it, then so be it. Perion’s best friend and future band mate, Debi Sigler, worked at the cafe with her and Marilinn. Perion’s other friends, Randi Parker and Syndi Dunn, worked at other locations in town. What money the girls earned was saved to achieve their goal of buying instruments to officially begin their band. Until that day arrived, the girls had to do what they could.
With the school’s instruments, Randi, Syndi, and Debi practiced three hours a day after school. They could all play almost as well as musicians who had played their entire lives. They, like Perion, seemed to have natural talent. Perion’s instrument, on the other hand, was more accessible. She could vocalize whenever she had time to do it. Do it she did-on breaks, during lunch hours, at home, and during walks to and from work. One would have thought she was rehearsing for a diva role in an upcoming Broadway musical. But what stunned most who heard her was that she vocalized operatic scales, not the popular songs of the day. No one knew why she kept at the style if she intended to sing something different. Perion knew why, that was all that mattered.
Characteristically, like the poor, Perion had always believed in fate. However, she never knew or had an inkling of an idea what kind of life fate would bring her. One night, an old dilapidated jeep roared through the main street of Ellington. It contained three young men: Blaine Marion, eighteen; Shon Spicerman, nineteen; and Ace Dorn, also nineteen. The guys had been partying, drinking, and raising more than a little hell. The three young men had come from a richer section of the region into a poorer one so they could buy more booze [it was a lot cheaper]. The jeep finally came to a screeching halt in front of The Little City Cafe.
The youngest of the three glanced out of his window at the lit-up cafe. “Hey, Ace-Hole, you kinda fucked up,” Blaine said.
“Why did we have to come here anyways? I told you that we could get some more stuff at home,” Shon declared.
“Go into that place and find out where the closest liquor store is,” Ace told Blaine.
Blaine sighed with deep aggravation. “Yeah, yeah, all right. I’ll go in.” He opened the jeep’s door and staggered out of the vehicle and walked toward the cafe.
The bell over the door tinkled as a customer entered. Perion looked up. It was almost quitting time and all the other waitresses had gone home. She hoped the lanky guy with the long hair wouldn’t want much. She grabbed her order pad and pen.
Blaine watched as a petite girl approached him. He had never seen hair as strangely colored as hers. It was frosty white, but didn’t look brassy or dyed. She wore it upswept into an elegant French twist with a puff of fluffy bangs falling over the right side of her forehead. Her skin was very pale, like porcelain, and her eyes were so blue they reminded him of a cloudless sky. His friends would have called her plain, but she was very pretty to him.
“Do you have an order,” she asked softly.
Although she had obviously been born and bred in a small, deeply mid-southern town, there was no trace of an accent in her voice. “Uh, no,” he spat out. He had actually forgotten what had brought him into the diner.
“Then what can I help you with,” she asked.
He blinked his eyes. He couldn’t remember, he actually couldn’t recall what had brought him to the cafe. The bell over the door tinkled again. Perion watched as another longhaired guy stuck his head through the open doorway.
“I thought you were gonna just ask directions, not order a damn tuna melt,” the guy said indignantly.
The cook/owner stuck his head out from the kitchen. He thought the kids were drunk. “Thorn, are those A-holes giving you any trouble?”
Perion turned to look at the man. “No, Billy Bob, it’s cool.”
“Holler if they get rude, girl,” he said.
“I will,” she promised with a grin.
“Blaine, move your skinny ass. The night is young, dude, and we still gotta get some more shit.”
Without another word, Blaine turned and left the cafe. Perion went back to her work, wondering why the guy had bothered coming into the cafe at all.
Marilinn met Perion at the cafe right after her shift to walk home with her. For a long time, there was no conversation, which was unusual. Marilinn normally talked all the way home. Perion grew tired of the silence very quickly. She finally began babbling about her day.
Marilinn cut in when her daughter’s jabbering began to get on her nerves. “Perion, you’re my kid and I love you to death, but I want you to hush for a minute.”
Perion hushed and followed her mother over to a bench on the side of the street where they sat down. “What’s the matter,” Perion asked.
“I know I’ve told you all about your father’s family and your Grandpa and Grandma Thorn, right?” Perion nodded, Marilinn smiled and went on. “I also told you how your grandparents offered to take care of you. Well, I nipped it right off; you know that, too. But I didn’t want to nip their involvement with you totally. Instead of them coming out to see you through the years, they put aside some money for you, in the bank here. They wanted you to use it to go to college, but they never figured on you not wanting to go. I thought since you wanted to start a band, I could let you have some money from that account now so you and your friends can get your instruments.”
Perion was so shocked she didn’t know what to say. “Momma, do you mean it,” she spat out when she could speak again.
Marilinn nodded. “Of course I mean it. I can’t think of a better way to spend that little dab of money.”
Perion was so happy and relieved that she felt like yelling. “I can’t wait to tell the girls the news! Can we stop off at Debi’s so I can tell her and call the others?”
Marilinn smiled. “Sure, let’s go tell them!”
For days, Perion and her friends obsessively played with their secondhand instruments. They were old and battered, but they did the job and gave the new band a unique sound. They named themselves Bitter Wynter. Perion wrote the band’s lyrics and Syndi and Randi wrote the music while Debi worked out licks on her guitar. For rehearsals, the fledgling group used an abandoned shed on the Thorn property. There, they could make all the noise they wanted. But what came out wasn’t noise, it was music, good music. It swelled from the shed and warmed the air. From there, a band was born. None of the girls gave up their jobs. There was still much to do to fulfill their dream.
On a night when Debi and Perion were working, the bell over the door tinkled, signifying yet another customer. Perion looked up and watched as a vaguely familiar looking lanky guy entered the cafe. After a moment, she remembered who he was. He was the one who popped in a few night’s previously without uttering an entire sentence. She was a little surprised to see him again. He walked in and sat down at a table in Debi’s station.
“Debs, do you mind if I get this one,” she asked.
Debi looked up at the guy. “No, go ahead.”
Blaine put on a little smile of relief when he saw pale hair coming toward him. He hoped he’d picked the right place, and he obviously had.
She stopped just short of the table’s edge with pen and pad in hand. “Are you ready to order a drink?”
He read her nametag: Perion. A pretty name for a pretty girl, he thought. He looked up and smiled. “I’m sorry we came in here the other night acting like asses,” he told her.
Perion smiled a little herself. “No prob. You have to order to keep your table, though.”
“Okay, that’s cool. I’ll take a Coke and your phone number,” he told her, smiling one of his best self-proclaimed winning smiles.
“The Coke I can do, but I don’t have a phone. Besides, I’m not old enough to date.”
She had to be kidding. She looked at least eighteen, maybe older. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. I’m sixteen, I can’t date until I’m seventeen.”
"Sixteen,” he spat out. “You can’t date now? Sixteen is old enough.”
Although Blaine’s obvious interest in her was exciting, Perion felt a bit antsy. Her boss was pacing steadily back and forth behind the counter. Soon, he’d yell at her. “Look,” she interrupted, “I have to go. If you came to eat, you have to order. If not, you have to give up the table.”
“God, I’m not trying to offend you or anything. Write up a burger if you want. I just wanna talk to you some more, that’s all.”
She scribbled down the order. “Then you have to wait until my shift is over. We’re really busy.”
Blaine looked around the cafe. There were no people in the room to be seen other than staff. “Oh yeah, elbow to elbow,” he spat sarcastically.
“I mean the lunch rush will be here and we’ll-”
“Be real busy,” he finished for her. “I just want to talk to you, all right?”
She nodded. “Okay, but later.” She walked away with his order.
During that day, Blaine ordered everything on the menu and then some. He wanted to be around when her shift ended. Blaine received some looks that day all right, but he ignored them and kept ordering.
Perion brought him his sixth Coke of the day and said with a smile, “You’re going to float away from here before the day is done.”
“When are you getting off?”
“In another hour. Would you like anything else?”
He smiled. “Sure. I’d like a chocolate ice cream sundae with tons of crushed nuts, then a stomach pump.”
Perion walked away giggling, shaking her head in sheer utter disbelief. When Perion’s shift ended, she saw that Blaine was still sitting at the table. She could not believe it.
“Would you like to sit down,” he asked her.
“No, if I do that, I’ll get asked to pull a double,” she told him.
“Good, then, we’ll go somewhere,” he told her, standing.
“We can’t go anywhere. I told you, I can’t date, not for another year.”
“Can you come to my jeep, then? We don’t have to go anywhere.”
“That’ll be okay, I guess.”
Before Perion could leave the cafe, Debi called out, “Hey! I thought we were walking home together.”
“We are. Just give me a minute or two, okay?”
Debi nodded. “Cool, but remember, we’ve got to play later.”
Perion smiled. “Now you know I’d never forget that.”
Perion and Blaine walked out of the cafe. “Did that girl say something about playing,” Blaine asked her as they approached his jeep.
She nodded. “Yeah, we’re in a band together.”
“A band? Really? What kind of band?”
“Great, I love heavy music. I’d like to hear you play. But your band isn’t what I want to talk about. My name is Blaine Marion, and I’d really like to see you.”
Perion was more than stunned. She had never expected the guy to have a thing for her. “I’m really flattered, but I told you I can’t date yet.”
“Do you think you could, like, talk to your parents or something?”
“I’d have to talk to my mom, she’s the only parent I have. I’ll try. I don’t think she’ll go for it. She’s kinda strict with her rules. Besides, I don’t even know you.”
He smiled a little as he opened the jeep door for her, and then said, “Dating is a damned good way of getting to know a guy. Is your mom home now?”
“She’s going to be at work here tonight. She’s probably on her way as we speak.”
“If I can’t date you, can I at least hear your band?”
Perion didn’t want her band heard so soon; they were still raw and unexposed. But the prospect was exciting. She was torn two different ways at once. She went for being heard. “I think you can as long as you don’t call it a date.”
“Cool, let’s go.”
“Wait,” she said, “I’d like to get my friend first. We can’t play without her.”
When Debi was collected, they drove out to Perion’s house, which was situated out in what most people referred to as the ‘boonies.’ Blaine, whose family was more than wealthy, couldn’t believe how poor she was. But he didn’t want to judge her based on socioeconomic bullshit. Poor or not, he really wanted to know her.
Having passed Marilinn walking to work, Perion knew she wouldn’t be home. When she saw her mother walking, Perion had ached to have Blaine pull over and give her a ride, but she dared not. If Marilinn saw her and Debi in a strange guy’s car, she would have gone nuts. She’d have called Debi’s parents and there would have been hell to pay all around.
When the jeep pulled into the driveway, Perion saw that Randi and Syndi had already arrived. Debi and Perion got out of the jeep first, then Blaine followed suit. He introduced himself to the others, and the group moved to the backyard shed for the rehearsal. Blaine stepped into the shed and saw their old, ailing instruments; he then drew in an inward groan. The band would likely sound horrendous. He wished he had taken no for an answer and left while the getting was good. But he hadn’t. There was something about that skinny, pale-haired girl he couldn’t resist, and he couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was, either.
Randi called out a song for them to work through. According to her, it was one that they had been ‘playing crappily.’ The girls picked up their battered instruments and connected them to the even more battered amps. They began playing the intro to the song. Blaine couldn’t believe his ears. The battered instruments produced a sound so original that he was totally blown away. He had never heard anything like it in his life.
Perion’s mouth opened and she began to put her voice to the music. Her voice was loud and high, but well trained and structured. He felt as if he were listening to one of those Viking babes his parents dug so much. Opera, he thought, is that what that is? It could not be. How could it be? There was no way an opera trained voice could blend with rock music. Such an unexpected talent explosion more than amazed him.
Blaine sat and envisioned the money and fame Perion’s band could rake in. He could also see himself at the helm of the mountain of opportunity rising before him. With guidance, the band would definitely be a big thing. His own hunger and drive for power and success made him believe he was destined to be that guide. The girls would virtually fall at his feet with gratitude after he offered his own services as manager. After all, he was positive they knew as much about the music industry as a tick. Not only that, but they seemed to be ripe for manipulation, especially Perion. If he could convince her, the others would follow, he was certain of that.
When the song ended, Blaine sat in stunned silence. The girls thought he’d disliked them. He was actually preparing his pitch. He took a deep breath and then began to spout out a litany of deep praise. The girls were so surprised; they didn’t know how to react. They were even more stunned to hear he wanted to manage them. Someone wanted to manage them. They were really getting into the big time. Management meant gigs and gigs meant publicity. Publicity was what they wanted in the first place. It was what they needed.
After a few hours, the girls tired out and Blaine prepared to leave. He smiled at Perion as he stood and said, “I need to get home before my shithead folks send the cops after my skinny ass. Wanna walk out with me?”
Perion returned his smile. “Well, considering it was kind of my fault I kept you so late, I think it’s the least I could do.”
They walked out to Blaine’s jeep. Before he got in, he turned to her and smiled again. “I really do think you’re a great singer,” he told her.
“The others aren’t that shabby, either, you know,” she said, almost defensively.
“I’m not trying to say they’re not, but you guys, all of you, are amazing.”
She smiled. “For a bunch of kids, right?”
“For a bunch of anybody. You have one hell of a gift. You could really go somewhere. Has anybody ever told you that?”
“No, just you. But that’s because you’re the first to have heard us.”
“I’ll do my damned best to get you gigs. I really mean that.”
“I really thank you for wanting to do it. No one would have, I’m afraid, just you.”
“I got to go. Good night, Perion.”
Before she could walk away, he bent down and kissed her. He didn’t give her time to react. He hopped into his jeep, started it to rumbling life, and pulled out of the drive. Perion stood there, stunned and starry-eyed, not knowing what to do. She had never been kissed before. She went back to the shed, her feet barely touching the ground at all.