I got to the Double Decker a few minutes after
nine and added my name to the sign-in sheet at the front door. Yeah, I was
early. Anxiety had that effect on me. I’ve been told I look totally calm and
collected before a show, but on the inside, I’m a nervous wreck. I knew I was
good, but that did nothing to assuage the stage fright. It would vanish with the
first few notes, but until then I had to endure it.
The first round didn’t start ‘til ten. The thirty slots would fill up fast, I
figured, given the juicy prize. The main entrance led to a bar—pool tables, C&W
jukebox, pinball machines. Next to the phrase ‘gay honky tonk’ in the dictionary
there should be a picture of the Double Decker’s first floor. The only thing
missing was the layer of smoke that used to hover just outside the reach of the
lazily-spinning ceiling fans. City ordinance took care of that about five years
ago, which was just fine with me.
Rough-looking women in baggy cargo pants and steel-toed Doc Martens, none with
hair longer than two inches, pretended to ignore the baby dykes at the bar. If I
had a dollar for every Shane wannabe in the room, I could forego the contest and
just buy the spa weekend outright. I once heard a famous author speak at a
conference, and something he said stuck with me: Be a first rate version of
yourself, not a second rate version of someone else. That summed up my
feelings about the copycats emulating a fictional television character who
physically resembled a fifteen-year-old boy. It was undoubtedly her confident,
unapologetic sexuality they hoped to capture, but most needed to lay off the
cheese fries to achieve anything close to that strong, sinewy look. In my not so
humble opinion, muffin tops and wife beaters were just not an effective
As expected, I saw at least one gaggle of local girls who’d summoned enough
courage to show up in the hopes of exploring their sexuality. High femme types,
mostly. I steered way clear of that scene. It seems that every “straight” chick
I’d ever fooled around with fell head over heels in love with me, and it took me
far more time and trouble to get rid of her angst-ridden ass than the ass was
worth in the first place. Pass! There’s nothing like a woman scorned to make me
wish I liked men.
Now, I’m not one of those dykes who won’t touch a woman who’s touched a dick,
but there’s quite enough drama in lesbian circles without bringing Buffy and her
angry ex-boyfriend—the one with the Chevy Silverado sporting a Confederate flag
and a loaded gun rack—into the mix. The last time I dabbled in that kind of
pussy, I wound up having to send a linebacker to the E.R. with a busted tibia.
Those steel-toed boots do come in handy on occasion.
A contingent of gay men occupied one corner, having discovered the Double Decker
a good place to hide from the fruit flies who hung around just to prove they
weren’t homophobic. They waggled their fingers at me, and I waggled back. No
pretentiousness there. As a whole, I admired their moxie. It takes big cojones
to be yourself when your self is living in a rural Appalachian college town.
“Hey, Corey,” I yelled at the manager over the twangy strains of Alan Jackson’s
Chattahoochee. “Can I change in your office later?” I held up the garment
bag and winked. He responded with a nod and a thumbs-up, tossing me the keys.
Corey and I went way back: high school classmates who never really fit in any
niche. We hung out together by process of elimination. No one else wanted us
around. Misfits, Unincorporated.
Well, the years changed our welcome in various circles, but not our connection.
I could go months without hearing from him, then we’d hook up for a beer and
it’d be like old times. He was the one who let me know about karaoke night. I
hadn’t participated in a while, because I was ineligible for a full twelve
months after my last win.
At the bottom of the narrow stairs, the atmosphere changed along with the décor.
Blood velvet tapestries hung from the walls, which were lined with cozy,
high-backed booths—perfect for snuggling or a discreet public finger fucking.
Not that I’d know, of course. I had to fiddle with the key a bit to get it into
the old deadbolt, but once I’d managed to unlock it, I hung my outfit on the
coat hook on the back of Corey’s office door, ran the keys back upstairs to him,
then went to check out the stage and setup.
Two men I didn’t recognize were testing the sound system. They must’ve been new
to the touring company, ‘cause I’d never seen them before. It felt weird to be
downstairs with the lights on and the music off. I was used to it being noisy
and dark and sexy, not bright and sterile and kinda naked. Accustomed to the
soft, filtered light of the red sconces, I felt like I’d seen the Wizard behind
“You singin’ tonight, babe?” The older guy motioned to me. Babe? Only on an
S.O.L. day do I get called ‘Babe.’ “We need a sound check, if you don’t mind. I
know you’ll sound better than Jeff over there.” The other man—Jeff, I
assumed—barked a laugh as he taped a bundle of thick cables to the floor along
the perimeter of the room. Looking around, I decided it was to my advantage to
help them out. I’d get to warm up my vocal chords while getting a feel for the
“Gimme This Kiss,” I said as I took the stage. Faith Hill was way out of my
comfort range, but I figured she’d let me know my limits for the evening.
Since no one but the sound crew was downstairs, I saw no reason to hold back. It
wasn’t as if I was gonna give away any big secrets, after all. And, if someone
did happen to overhear, they’d hardly think me serious competition. The guys
completed all their checks before I even hit the second verse and graciously
allowed me to finish the entire song—a good sign.
“You don’t happen to have any Lucie Silvas, do you?” I asked as I stepped off
the small stage. I thought it unlikely that they’d have a British artist who was
virtually unknown in the States, but Jeff surprised me. Another good sign. “I’m
gonna take her for my opening, then.”
“Nice pipes. G’luck.” Jeff’s colleague stuck out his calloused hand. Ask I took
it, he continued, “Name’s Roy. I’d bet my next paycheck you’re Tess.”
My stunned expression drew a wide grin, and something about his smile was
incredibly familiar. I opened my mouth to respond, but before I could formulate
a coherent reply, he pointed to the flyer tacked to the wall of the stairwell.
There, amidst a collage of posters advertising roommates wanted and second-hand
furniture was my smiling mug ‘neath the words ‘Returning This Friday!’
Apparently, my karaoke reputation preceded me. I grinned and shrugged.
“Nice to meet you, Roy. You two new with the tour?”
“Found out at the last minute that the new tech’s afraid gay is contagious or
something, so we’re just filling in as a favor for the boss lady. She said you
were good, and she was right. She usually is.”
“Don’t let her hear you say that!” Jeff called from across the room.
Score one for the acoustics, I thought. Our words shouldn’t have carried that
far. Something to keep in mind. I was flattered that the woman behind the tour
thought enough of my talents to tell others about me. When Roy burst into
laughter, the source of familiarity became instantly clear. “You’re related,” I
blurted, more to myself than to him.
He confirmed with a nod. “My sister. She’s not here yet, so no worries.” Roy
directed the latter toward his partner.
“She got the looks and the brains,” Jeff joked as he joined them. “Roy here just
got the brawn, and now even that’s going to pot.” He threw one arm across Roy’s
shoulders and with his other hand, lovingly patted the substantial abdomen. With
a wink, he added, “He’s all man where it counts, though.”
I watched the blush rapidly climb Roy’s neck and settle on his cheeks, thinking
them a delightful couple. I wondered how they met, when and where such a
relationship blossomed, and suffered a momentary pang at the absence of such in
my life. Tonight would change all that, I promised myself. Someday, we’d tell
our kids—and grandkids—about karaoke night at the Double Decker.