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Jesse's Girl (Hundred Oaks)
Author: Miranda Kenneally



The Space Between


   Backstage, there’s so much security, you’d think it was the White House.

   I’ve been to plenty of concerts, but I’ve never had a backstage pass, so I follow Dr. Salter’s lead and keep flashing my all-access badge over and over. My principal squeezes between two beefy men in security jackets and knocks on a door stamped with a red star.

   A man in a tailored black suit and shimmering blue tie opens the door. He’s got better skin than any girl I know, and I bet his haircut cost a small fortune. “Oh good. It’s you,” he says to Dr. Salter, giving him a bright smile. The man takes my hand. “You must be Maya.”

   “Yes, sir.”

   “Come on in.”

   Inside the dark dressing room, I spot a vintage Gibson guitar, three flat-screen TVs all showing the Braves game, and a table piled high with burgers and corn on the cob. I thought nothing could smell more delicious than my mom’s cooking, but I was wrong.

   “Maya, this is Jesse’s manager, Mark Logan,” Dr. Salter says.

   Mr. Logan pats my back like I’m one of the good ole boys. “Jesse will be out in a minute to meet you. Why don’t you get yourself a drink?” He gestures at the bar, which appears to be booze-free. Seems like a good move, considering Jesse got drunk and fell off that yacht a few months ago. The press had a field day with that, because it was totally out of character for Jesse Scott. Yeah, he’s a famous country star, but everyone thinks of him as this sweet, quiet boy from down on the farm.

   “Could I have a word next door in private?” Mr. Logan asks my principal. “Jesse’s telling the crowd tonight.”

   Dr. Salter’s face goes from happy to anxious, and they step back into the hallway where the security guys are buzzing around in their yellow jackets.

   All alone now, I gaze over at Jesse’s guitar. I’m itching to try it out. What I wouldn’t give to throw the strap around my neck, charge out of the dressing room onto the stage, and rock out to Queen. But would I do “Somebody to Love”? Or “Another One Bites the Dust”? It’s a silly idea—I wouldn’t make it three feet before the beefcake security guys tackle me. I’d bite the dust. Literally. And if I sang, it’s a one hundred percent possibility my voice would crack. Playing onstage at the Opry…wouldn’t it be great, though?

   I love playing guitar and performing more than anything. Before I started The Fringe, which was originally an eighties tribute band but has since become heavy metal only, I even went to church on Sundays just to sing with the youth choir. All the crotchety old people would whisper and point their walking canes at my bright red lipstick, but I doubt God cares about that or the diamond stud in my nose. God only cares that I sang “I’ll Fly Away” at the top of my lungs.

   That was before I gave it up to focus on my band. I also used to be a proud member of my school’s show choir, which isn’t anything like the cool groups in Pitch Perfect. You know, that a cappella movie? We sang songs like “When the Saints Go Marching In” and wore billowing green dresses, like you’d see on the cover of a historical bodice-ripper romance novel. If that doesn’t tell you how much I love music, I don’t know what will. If the choice had been mine, we would’ve worn leather pants and tight tanks, but my director said that isn’t proper attire for our school’s most distinguished arts program.

   However, as much as I love music, I am generally not a fan of country. I don’t like banjos. I don’t like sappy lyrics about trucks and hauling hay. Dolly Parton is my mortal enemy—my mom plays “Jolene” over and over and over and over, and it makes me want to chop my ears off like van Gogh. Yeah, yeah, I’m from Tennessee, where it’s a crime if you don’t love country, but I like deep, rumbling beats and singing loud and fast and hard. I do not like closing my eyes and crooning to a cow in the pasture.

   Yet here I am at a Jesse Scott concert, getting ready to meet him and to see if he’ll let me shadow him next Friday. My school requires every senior to “shadow” a professional for a day. It’s their way of helping us figure out what kind of career we want. Like, if you want to be president when you grow up, you might get to shadow the mayor. Want to be a chef? Have fun kneading dough at the Donut Palace.

   When I said “I want to be a musician,” I figured they’d send me to work in the electronics section at Walmart.

   I certainly never expected to shadow the king of country music.

   It turns out that Jesse Scott is my principal’s nephew. Jesse won TV’s Wannabe Rocker when he was ten and has gone on to become very successful. In sixth grade, every girl in class—myself included—took the Teen Beat quiz: “Would Jesse Scott Like Your Kissing Style?” (Obviously the answer was yes.) In middle school, I had a Jesse Scott poster on my ceiling. It’s hard to believe he’s only eighteen, because he’s already won three Grammys. When he was younger, his songs were about family, fishing, and playing baseball, but lately they’re about love and making love and all things sexy.

   I wouldn’t say I’m a fan anymore, but I would never give up an opportunity to learn from a professional with such a gorgeous, pure voice. I want to learn what it’s like to perform day in and day out. Despite what everyone and their mom says—that I’ll struggle as a musician—all I want is to play guitar in front of a crowd and hear people cheer for me.

   I can’t believe I’m backstage at the Grand Ole Opry! I bounce on my toes. Jesus, is that an archtop Super 4, the model Elvis played? I’ve never seen one in real life. It probably cost more than my house.

   I’m ogling the guitar when Jesse Scott comes out of the bathroom, drying his hair with a towel. He pads across the room to the couch, wearing nothing but a pair of rugged jeans with more holes than Swiss cheese.

   The lighting is dim, and he doesn’t seem to notice I’m here, which is good, because I’ve moved from ogling the guitar to ogling him. Who wouldn’t? He was one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People,” and it is a truth universally acknowledged that you should stare at people who’ve made that list.

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