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(Don't Fear) The Reaper
Cecilia Gunner's relationship with her rock star mother had never been warm and cozy. Her mother preferred the limelight and didn't have time for her only child, but it didn't mean her mother didn't care about her. Besides, hugs and kisses from mama were never expected and she survived just fine.
She tried her mother's phone again. "Answer, Mom," she murmured. The phone rang five times before it went to voicemail.
"Jammin' with my gals," her mother's voice came in loud and clear along with the band playing in the background. "Leave a message at the tone. Peace out."
"Mom, call me back." She ended the call with a curse. This time of the year really sucked. It marked the anniversary of her father's death of twenty-three years and counting and her mother's annual drinking binge began as if it were part of the twelve days of Merry-Effin'-Christmas. Last year, she'd ended up in the hospital after she fell down a flight of stairs. She could have broken her fool neck.
Cecilia texted her mother next just in case she didn't listen to her voicemail.
She often wondered what her life would have been like if her father, the rock star legend, Lars Gunner, had lived. She would turn twenty-seven in a few months, the age her father had died. "Probably, not much different than now," she murmured. Her mother hadn't matured with age and there was no guarantee her father would have either.
Despite her messed up childhood, she'd graduated from college with a business degree and had her Esthetician license. She opened her makeup artistry studio, Radiant, last year at a prime location, nestled against the majestic mountains and just a short distance to the beach. She wanted nothing to do with the rock 'n' roll life unless it was to do the star's hair and makeup. The rock 'n' roll scene had devoured any sanity from both of her parents. They would party all night where booze and drugs were the hosts and none of that had ever appealed to her. She knew when the clock struck twelve, the magic didn't leave behind hope in the form of a glass slipper; instead, it left broken dreams and sometimes death.
Her father hadn't avoided the grim reaper despite his hit single titled: The Grim Reaper Ain't Goin' to Find Me. He took a trip to the bottom of the ocean when he was too drunk and probably too high, to realize his vehicle couldn't fly once it zoomed off the private pier on their property.
Dead at twenty-seven, he joined the ranks of the 27 Club, a term, referring to the belief that an unusual number of musicians had died at that age, like Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain and Winehouse–just to name a few. Of course her theory, if anyone would care to ask her, they died because of their drug and alcohol abuse. If one lived life in the fast lane too long they were bound to crash and burn. No one escaped life with a pop of a pill or at the bottom of a bottle because once sober, misery was there to greet them with a big fat 'hello'. No mystery there. No supernatural intervention, just stupidity of youth and no one recognizing the cry for help masked behind the smiles.
She glanced at her phone again and cursed as she grabbed her car keys and headed outside of her condo to her dark green BMW sedan parked in the driveway. Once her car purred to life, she headed for Pacific Coast Highway and turned right. It was only eight o'clock but she had a hunch it was going to be a long night.
Three days since she heard from her mother when she usually texted her with, Thinking of you, babe, if she couldn't pick up and have a decent conversation. Her mother's annual drunken binge was her way of remembering the good old days with dear-ole-dad, which was such a laugh. The night her father died, he told her mother he was going to divorce her. It's why the crazy conspiracy theorist kept on insisting her mother had something to do with her father's demise.
If one more reporter hunted her down and asked her if she knew if her mother was responsible, she might have to prove to the world she was indeed her father's daughter and deck someone.
When she arrived at her mother's Cape Cod style mansion, she drove the long stretch that was lined with various shrubbery and colorful wild flowers to the driveway that circled to the front of the place. While most of Malibu's ocean front homes were packed in like sardines, her parents had purchased eleven acres of land back in 1990 before Malibu was incorporated into a city. They built an elaborate two-story mansion with a breathtaking ocean view. A naturally formed cove created by erosion surrounded the house, giving them the privacy they sought after touring for months at a time. The property also had a small private pier with a bungalow that sat at the end of it, overlooking the ocean. An eccentric movie director had built the pier sometime in the 30s for one of his films, but due to the cost, instead of removing it after the film was completed, he kept it as a novelty stop for the rich and famous. Lavish catered dinners by moonlight were held on the pier. Long tables draped with white tablecloths were set up on both sides of the pier's length for the romantic setting.
The Silent Plaids used the pier in a video shoot for their hit single, Ocean Paradise. Her father had created the backdrop from an old photo taken in the mid-30s at one of those special nights. Due to the pier's smaller size and perfect location of a semiprivate beach where there was less wind and distraction, the pier became a favorite backdrop for films and TV shows also.
She grabbed her purse and headed for the front door. The salty seaweed scent of the ocean and the soft breeze caressing the nape of her neck welcomed her. Even though Cecilia spent many months away at boarding school while growing up, due to her mother's touring schedule, this was home and she had always wanted nothing more than to return to the only constant in her life.
She slipped her key into the lock and entered the dark foyer. She reached for the light switch and instantly chased the shadows away. She glanced at the alarm panel on the wall and noticed it had not been set. "Mom?" she called and her voice echoed off the walls, making the house feel empty and lonely.
"Mom?" she called again with no answer.
She placed her purse and keys on the Mahogany table at the entrance and headed toward the stairs, her boots clicking on the black and white tile floor as she went. At the foot of the long winding staircase, she paused and stared at the dark landing at the top. No lights and no sounds filtered down from the upstairs. Then she realized where her mother would be and pivoted in the direction. As she neared the music room that stood at the end of the hall, and right across from the kitchen, she recognized the low and raspy voice belting out the lyrics to the edgy rock and roll ballad.
The door stood ajar, which surprised her since her mother kept the music room, a shrine to her father, locked at all times whether she was inside or not. Cecilia usually had to pound on the door to rouse her mother from a drunken state to answer it. Her gaze shifted and she found the reason for the change of habit this year. The doorknob was broken and the weapon of choice a hammer, which lay on the floor imitating a door jam. Her mother must have lost the key and had improvised.
Cecilia entered as far as the threshold and spotted her mother slouched on the leather couch wearing a pink nightgown that barely covered her to make it decent attire. Her golden blonde hair appeared unwashed in its disarray of a half-hazard bun on top of her head. She gripped a bottle of whiskey in her hand as if it were a lifeline to the here and now. Her mother was only forty-eight, looked older without her stage makeup, but she still kept her figure, most likely because she'd forgotten to eat half of the time she was on tour. She may be Mom to her, but the world knew her as Phoebe Keddie of the Feral Hearts with golden blonde hair, gray eyes, and a curvy firm body that knew how to move in a way that hypnotized and fascinated the audience into dreaming of sex on the long summer nights. Or so the reporters liked to write about her. She wondered what they'd say if they saw her tonight.
The clicking hum of the projector playing behind her mother drew her interest, and she took a few steps into the room to glance at the white wall where her mother's gaze seemed to be fixated. Her father had recorded all of the band's rehearsals, and apparently they still had the old reels stored somewhere.
She never really knew her father, Lars Gunner, frontman for the Silent Plaids, since he died when she was three years old, but she'd seen plenty of photos since the media liked to keep his image alive with videos of his performances and his photographs plastered on the Internet. Lars could almost be called pretty with his Nordic good looks and wide blue eyes, but his five o'clock shadow and longish blond locks gave him the edge he needed for his rock star image. She was blessed or cursed, depending if they'd ask her, with looking like him. Long blonde hair, wide blue eyes ... yep, she could not deny she was the spawn of the late Nordic god whose songs had rocked the world in the early 90s.
Truthfully, she never cared for the Silent Plaids' music. If she were to listen to the oldies but goodies, she went for a Civilized Heathens' CD. God, Bellamy Lovel was a babe back then and his curly dark hair was to die for. However, enjoying music could not be compared to living and breathing it like her parents had. Heck, her mother still embraced it.
She glanced at her mother again and her heart ached for her. She'd never gotten over losing her husband. What a waste. It was as if she'd forgotten what an asshole he'd been. She may not remember her father, but Fritz did. He'd been the Silent Plaids' band manager until her father's untimely death ended the band's reign. Fritz eventually became the Feral Hearts' manager, which boosted her mother's career to have such a well-known manager promote her band.
Fritz had told her stories about her father and how he'd treated her mother. No matter how the world wanted to immortalize him as a musical genius, he was just a man who had major issues probably due to his alcohol and drug habits. She marched over to the projector positioned on a stand behind the couch and turned it off, and the room was swept into darkness.
"What the fuck?" her mother screeched and ruined any pity she might have felt for her moments before. Her mother wasn't a saint either.
She reached for the lamp next to the couch and turned it on. They weren't in the dark, but the lamp in no way illuminated the room into brilliance.
"Lars?" her mother said as she turned in her seat to peer at her with narrowed eyes.
She sighed and moved closer so her mother's bleary vision could focus on reality. "It's me, Cecilia. You know, your daughter."
Phoebe turned away with a huff. Obviously, she wasn't too drunk to recognize sarcasm. "I know who you are," she grumbled and lifted the bottle to her lips.
Cecilia moved around the couch and took a seat next to her mother. She reached for the bottle but her mother moved it away from her grasp. "I think you've had enough," Cecilia gently told her.
"I'll say when I've had enough," Phoebe hissed and her features hardened and her bloodshot eyes didn't quite focus on her as she sneered.
She tried a different approach. "I've been phoning you. For three days, Mom," she added for meaning.
Her mother's eyebrows puckered together. "Three days?" she asked with a shaky voice, losing some of her hostility.
She nodded and her mother lowered her arm then finally handed her the bottle. She placed it on the coffee table to join the other bottles her mother had indulged in while she had her pity party with her dead father. Butts were overflowing in the ashtray along with what was left of the marijuana cigs her mother had hand rolled, if she could go by the evidence left sitting beside the potato chip bags and candy wrappers. At least she'd eaten something in the last three days.
"I was watching films of your father," her mother said as if she didn't already know this. "He was so damn handsome." Her mother reached out her hand and tucked a long strand of hair behind Cecilia's ear. Her mother's fingers were cold to the touch when she cupped her face. "You look so much like him." Her voice choked on those words and tears fell, leaving streaks on her cheeks.
She'd heard this a million times how much she looked like her father. She sometimes wondered if that was why her mother had sent her away to a boarding school. She couldn't look at her without remembering her long dead husband.
She took her mother's hand and lowered it. "Let's draw you a bath. Once you're all cleaned up, I'll tuck you into bed. Okay?"
Her mother nodded, obviously too tired to argue with her, which proved a blessing in disguise. She helped her mother to her feet. "He's here, you know," her mother whispered and her breath smelled like an ashtray.
"Who's here?" she asked.
Her mother moved away from her grip and walked over to the black roadie box, which had wheels and a handle to make transporting equipment, music sheets, and other such items from place to place that much easier. Her father had taken this one with him on the road since his first concert when singing for his supper hadn't been a joke but a reality. He never replaced it with a new one when the band had finally made it big and gourmet banquets were set out for them as if they were royalty. It was like having a lucky sock or coin, but his lucky item just happened to be a beat up old roadie box. Her mother had one too, but hers had been custom made with leopard fur and pink rhinestones.
Her mother's hand slid over the black box, pausing over the dent in one corner as if that particular dent held a fond memory. "Right after your father died, you would come in here and stare at this beat up old thing. I would ask you what you were doing." She glanced over her shoulder at her. "Do you remember what you said?"
She shook her head. Of course, she didn't. She was a toddler and those memories at that age were far and in between and a bit fuzzy at best.
"You would say: Daddy's playing his guitar and singing to me." Her mother pulled her wrap closer around her for what little good the thin piece of material would do to keep her warm. "You were always his little girl. Even in death, you loved him more than me." Her lower lip quivered as if she were about to cry.
"Come on, Mom, you're tired," she said as she strode over to her mother and put an arm around her shoulders. "I was only three years old. Obviously, I had a vivid imagination."
Only standing five foot five in her bare feet, Cecilia towered her mother by four inches and that wasn't counting her boots she wore with the two-inch heels. Her mother lifted her chin to peer at her. "It's why I locked you out of here," her mother told her. "You kept talking to him."
A cold chill brushed the back of her neck, but she managed to keep her voice calm. "It's okay, Mom," she said and ushered her toward the door, but at the archway, she couldn't help but glance over her shoulder at the roadie box, half expecting Lars Gunner to be sitting on top of it. Of course, no ghost dad was to be seen.
Once her mother was safely tucked beneath the covers in her bed, she returned to the music room with a trash bag, intent on cleaning up the mess before she headed home for the night. She glanced at her watch and cringed at the time. "After eleven," she said with a sigh and was glad she didn't have anyone scheduled for a makeover until tomorrow afternoon.
She stared at the room that had been untouched by time, a shrine of sorts to her father. A desk stood on one end of the room with the recording tools of the trade. To the side of the desk sat the keyboard and drum kit. A bass guitar, electric guitar and an acoustic guitar waited on floor stands to be chosen. It was like the room held its breath for the band to return for practice.
The music room was the only room that didn't have large windows and a view of the beach. The walls were insulated, but not completely sound proofed. The band oftentimes recorded their music on a whim. It was for practice purposes only. The real recordings took place at Star Branch Studios, once co-owed by Fritz and her father, now her mother owned his share.
She'd always wondered why her father chose to live in a beach house, but spent the majority of his time in the music room where the surf couldn't be heard or seen.
Excerpted from "End of the Road"
Copyright © 2017 Karen Michelle Nutt.
Excerpted by permission of Twin Star Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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