Callie Hudson stared out the front right side window of her grandfather's old Chevy pick-up truck. She had the window rolled down just enough to let her long, dirty blonde, curly hair flutter lightly at the passing wind created by the truck speeding down the road at fifty-five miles per hour. She had her head resting in her right hand, her elbow propped on the arm rest. She sighed as she watched the passing scenery fly by as her grandfather drove her to her doom.
She could not believe that after three years of high school that her grandfather had decided to move them to, from what she had heard, a small, and not-much-there town for her to start her senior year in. When he had first told her that they were moving, Callie had been speechless. When she had found her voice, she argued that they could not possibly move now, not with her senior year coming up. He had calmly explained to her that he had found a better job at a factory in this town called Asheville, and that by taking this position he could make them a better life. Callie had argued back that she was comfortable with the way they lived now, and that after her senior year she would be going on to college where he would no longer have to support her. He had shot down her hopes for staying when he told her he had already accepted the job.
Every now and again, Callie could see out of the corner of her left eye, her grandfather glancing over at her when she sighed. He had told her that he did not want her to be angry with him for deciding what was best for them, and that he hoped she was not mad at him. Callie had continued to pack her belongings in boxes, acting as if she could not hear him. For the whole week he had stayed out of her way, and only told her good morning, I love you, and good night. Callie could tell that it deeply hurt him for her to be mad at him for something he thought was the right decision. However, her stubbornness kept her from saying anything to him the whole week leading up to what she had labeled Doomsday.
Now, that week had passes by her so fast she felt that she had not properly finished the school year or had said good bye to her friends to a degree that satisfied her. She felt as if the final week with her friends and her school had been wasted due to her negative thoughts about leaving everyone and everything she loved behind. She reflected on her last week, and out of the whole mess of things clearly remembered her last day with her dearest friends, her band friends.
"Oh, I wish you didn't have to leave us, Callie," her best friend, Eva whimpered Thursday morning during band. "Who's going to be first clarinet?"
"I suppose you are," Callie had answered her with a smile. "Besides, I think it's time you took charge of this section."
Ever since the start of her band career in sixth grade, Callie had always either been first or second chair, switching back and forth with Eva. Almost immediately, the other clarinets recognized her and Eva to be the "leaders" of the section since they seemed so good. Yet, Eva never wanted to take control of anything which had aggravated their Middle School Band Director, and which would later aggravate their High School Band Director as well. Eva had always let Callie run the show when it came to playing the solos and the hard parts of their music. Over time, as a result of Eva's actions, Callie had become the section leader of the clarinets.
Later that period, her band director, Mr. Caudell, called her into his office to talk to her about what she meant to the band.
"Callie," he had said, "I just wanted to let you know how much I hate losing you. This program needs you, but unfortunately for us we can not keep you. I wish you the best of luck in your new school, and I also want to say that they will be lucky to have you. You have contributed to many successes for this program and for yourself, and I just wanted to say that I am proud of you, and if you decide to come back, we will happily take you in again."
His words kept echoing in her head as she continued to stare at the blur of trees and grass and road signs they passed. She suddenly jumped out of her reverie as she felt something heavy on her leg, and looked down to see her grandfather's hand resting a little above her knee. She stared at his hand for a moment before glancing up at him, and then quickly turned her attention back out the window.
"You can't stay mad at me forever, you know?" He whispered as he took turns looking at her, then out the windshield, then back at her.
Callie remained silent. It was true that she had a tendency to break down after a while of practically shunning him. They had been through too much to be separated by anger and sadness.
Four years ago they had faced what seemed like total devastation when Callie's parents had been killed by a drunk driver. Callie's mother had been her grandfather's daughter. She had received the dreadful news from her grandfather while in school. It was her eighth grade year, and it just happened she was in band. The principal herself had come to the band room to fetch her, and from the expression on her face, Callie could sense something was horribly wrong. She had followed the principal to her office when she saw her grandfather sitting in a chair opposite the principal's desk, tear stains on his cheeks and his eyes red and swollen. It was not often that her grandfather cried for he was a large man with large hands, feet, shoulders, head, deep voice, and a pot belly. From his state, Callie started crying herself without knowing the reason why. When her grandfather had explained the situation, Callie cried harder than she ever had in her life, and was thankful that he was there with her.
Callie remembered the following days, weeks, months, and years after the crash, and remembered how awful she and her grandfather had felt. For her sake, he kept on with his job and pretended to be alright so he could be strong for her. Callie on the other hand, was not strong at all. She lost interest in everything she once loved, including band. She remembered her band director, Miss Mirren, being there for her during school, and how she had explained to her that band would keep her mind off her parents' deaths. Reluctantly and half-heartedly, she had agreed to stay, and in her opinion, it was the best decision she had ever made.
"Callie, I know you don't want to move, and I completely understand that," her grandfather continued, glancing at her.
Quickly turning to face him she angrily said, "Then why are you doing this?"
"I want you to have better," he explained as though the answer was obvious. "I want you to have whatever you want. Also it's your senior year, and your senior year is not exactly cheap."
She rolled her eyes at him, and turned her attention back out the window. He did not seem to understand that she was not concerned with money and how much she had to spend. She would gladly trade all the money she had to stay with her friends.
They drove on another twenty minutes without saying a word. Suddenly the blur of scenery came into clearer focus as her grandfather slowed the truck to stop, and turned off the main road into the dirt parking lot of an old diner. Callie stared at the rusty, weather-beaten trailer that was the Robin's Nest 24 hour diner. She then turned to face her grandfather who was staring at her with a grin on his face.
"Do you remember coming here?"
"Should I," she asked, staring at a dirty looking, middle aged man who stepped out onto the wobbly, moldy, wood steps and cussed as his foot fell through.
"A long time ago your mother, father, and I brought you here with some of our friends. We wanted to also show you off to Dottie, a waitress who used to work here."
"Oh, I feel so special," she replied, watching the man getting heaved back up into the trailer by three of his friends, two of which appeared to be drunk.
"Well, let's go in and grab a bite, shall we," he asked, opening his door and heaving himself out of the truck. He then walked around to Callie's side and opened the door for her. He held his massive, work-worn hand out to her to assist her, but she refused it and hopped out by herself. He frowned slightly at her refusal and slammed the door shut.
Cautiously Callie approached the front steps where the four men still stood, continuing to swear at each other, the steps, and a little old waitress that she could only hear.
"Well, if all y'all weren't so fat I wouldn't have to pay money to get all my steps replaced with new ones!" the old waitress hollered.
Callie stared down at the steps and thought to herself that they needed to be replaced as her grandfather walked up beside her and listened in to the argument.
"Dottie," yelled the man who had gotten his foot stuck, "those steps have been here ever since you opened up this dump forty years ago! It's due time they were fixed!"
At that all the men grunted in agreement then carefully made their way down onto the parking lot. Callie quickly looked away trying to avoid any confrontation with these men; however, one of the drunks saw her looking and decided to say something.
"What are you looking at little girl!"
Callie looked at him with wide eyes and stammered, "N-n-n-nothing!"
Slowly the drunk stumbled towards her, and in an instant Callie saw her grandfather move in front of her. Just when the drunk was about to lunge at him, a gun fired closely beside them. Everyone jumped and looked towards the shot and saw a little old woman in an old diner uniform holding a smoking shotgun.
"That's enough, Daryl," the old woman hollered. "Those two are my friends you old drunk skunk!"
"Shoot, Dottie, I wasn't gonna hurt them," the drunk man named Daryl whined.
"Go on, get out of here!"
Slowly the four men turned and walked to their old cars and trucks and drove away. Callie's grandfather turned to her and asked, "Are you alright, baby girl?"
Callie looked up at him and nodded as the woman named Dottie made her way over to them. Her grandfather turned to face the little old woman and said, "I'm glad you were here, Dottie, or I may have had to get rough in front of my granddaughter."
"Oh, you would have done no such thing you old geezer," Dottie teased, winking at Callie as she said it. "Why don't you come on in, Jack, it's been a while."
Jack gestured for Callie to go ahead of him and follow Dottie into the diner. Cautiously she followed Dottie up the old stairs and into the cramped, dingy diner that had cigarette smoke hanging in the air.
Dottie turned to her and yelled over the clamor of voices, glasses hitting the table tops, knives and forks scraping plates, and an old jukebox playing Elvis Presley's "You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog", "I'll get you a table in the back corner! No one will bother you there, and the smoke isn't so bad!"
Callie nodded her approval for she was anxious to get away from whatever she could. She could not imagine being a little baby, and being shown off to a place like this. She hoped it had been a little cleaner and nicer back then.
Dottie sat her and Jack down at the table and placed two menus in front of them. She whispered something in Jack's ear, then he whispered something back in hers, and then she nodded and walked away. Callie had been watching them talk, but when Dottie walked away she returned her attention back to her menu.
"I think you'll like this, baby girl," Jack said to her, leaning across the table so that she could hear him.
"Attention, attention everyone," Dottie yelled, standing in the middle of the diner. Surprisingly everybody heard her and the clamor died down immediately, and in the back by the jukebox, an older man hit the jukebox so it would quit playing.
"Thank you," Dottie said to all of them. "I want to tell you that we have two special guests here with us! One of them is my dear friend, Jack Bowman, who hasn't come to see me in years, and his granddaughter, Callie Hudson, who is going to be a senior in High School this year!"
Everyone in the diner craned their necks to see them both, and Callie shrunk down in her seat as far as she could to avoid all their eyes.
"Now, from what Jack has told me, Callie is one heck of a clarinet player, and I thought I could add a little class to this dump y'all have made it if she would be so kind as to play us a couple of songs."
Everyone in the diner clapped, hollered, and whistled all except one man who asked his buddy, "What's a clarinet?"
Callie stared at him with one eyebrow raised and shook her head. However, Callie always loved to be in the spotlight, playing an impressive piece of music from either Beethoven or Bach, but she figured that would be way over this crowd's heads. Reluctantly she rose from her seat and yelled to Dottie, "Okay, okay, I'll be right back."
The crowd cheered as she left to get her instrument, pep band music folder, and her foldable stand out of the truck. When she came back, they had cleared a spot in the middle of the diner for her to set up and play. As she was setting up everything, she could sense the eyes of the place on her, watching her every move. When her instrument was together, her stand up to the height she wanted, and her folder opened to her favorite song, she asked the crowd, "Any requests?"
Another older lady in the back of the crowd shrieked out, "Do you have any us old folks would know?"
"Well," she said, flipping through the sheets of her binder, "do you know any songs from the seventies and eighties?"
They all clapped their hands to tell her they did. She thumbed through her music some more until she came upon a piece she was sure would be a hit with them. It was "Carry on my Wayward Son" by Kansas. She wet her reed for a few seconds, placed it on the mouth piece, tightened the ligature, and played B flat scale to get in tune. As soon as she was ready, she let loose and played.
All of them were a wonderful audience. They cheered and clapped and urged her to play more. She was on her third song "Dirty Deeds" by ACDC when Dottie walked over to where Jack was sitting at his table, and took the seat opposite him.
"She's wonderful," Dottie bragged, watching Callie working the crowd.
"Yes, she is," Jack agreed watching her too.
"Why did you decide all of a sudden to uproot yourselves and move to this neck of the woods for," Dottie asked, still not taking her eyes off Callie.
"I found a better job," Jack told his reason again.
"Oh, no, Jack," Dottie said, shaking her head at him. She then turned to face him and said, "You loved where you were and the job that you had. What is going on, Jack?"
Jack smiled a little and chuckled. He knew that Dottie would be the only one to see through him. He sighed as he met her eyes and explained, "Alright, alright, you caught me. The real reason for the move is one of my best buddies from the army is the Band Director for Asheville High School. He just retired at the end of this year, and he called me voicing his concerns. He told me his band was struggling, not only with the music, but with themselves. They are not exactly what you would call a band."
"Oh, Jack, I could have told you that," Dottie whispered across the table to him. "You should hear them when they march in parades, or football games, or at the basketball games, and don't even get me started on graduation. In short, Jack, they are terrible. I don't blame old Jed for retiring and getting out while he still has his sanity."
"That's why I've moved Callie down here, Dottie," Jack explained. "I told Jed about her and Jed asked if we couldn't help. Well, the only way we could help was to move."
"Do you mean to tell me, Jack Bowman," Dottie whispered in a deadly voice, "that you have taken away poor Callie's life to stick her with a terrible band for an old army buddy?"
"Yes," Jack answered, staring down at an old cigarette burn, "but she won't just be part of it; she will be in charge of it."
"How do you figure that?"
"Jed told the principal about Callie, and since the school needs to save money anyway, the principal agreed to let Callie handle the Band Department! I think she will be a fantastic band director."
Dottie stared at him with an incredulous look in her eyes and on her face. After a few moments she said, "Jack Bowman that is without a doubt the dumbest idea I have ever heard! Have you told Callie about this?"
Jack slowly shook his head. He heard Dottie sigh and say, "Well, good luck to you."
She walked away leaving Jack to stare after her. He then stared at his granddaughter and watched her play, wondering if he had indeed done the right thing.