Behind me, a toilet flushed in a stall I hadn’t noticed occupied. Trix emerged from the stall with a huge smile.
“Better than okay!”
As Trix washed her hands, I couldn’t look away from those long fingers, moving fast and efficiently under the water.
“I didn’t take you for such an Improv Queen, playing the princess. ‘I’m not a singer’! Maybe I didn’t give you enough credit, Mouse.”
Normally I might have tried to fake that I knew what she was talking about until I figured it out, but I didn’t have the patience to even try. I’d had enough of feeling stupid today.
“I think you’re giving me too much credit.”
Trix shook her hands off rather than using a towel. They blurred like a psychodelic screensaver. Shaking my head, I opened the door to leave, and she was right behind me. I really needed some air and some time to myself, so I veered towards the front doors. But Trix was like glue – she passed me to open the door like a gentleman, then sprinted down the stairs two at a time. When I reached the sidewalk, she threw her arm companionably over my shoulder.
“Let’s walk – I’ve got a little errand. So, you stood up to me. Good. You are strong. I put you in your place. Good. I am still operating with my wits and not my loins. I let them know where you stand, where I stand, so now they can decide where they stand and perhaps we can focus on the task at hand instead of bruised egos and pecking order.”
“I really don’t want to sing that song, Trix.”
She smiled and mussed my hair. I didn’t know if I could feel more infuriated. I growled under my breath.
“Man, you’re a grump!” she complained. “Listen, I can’t drive you home tonight, I have somewhere to go.”
“Just a party.”
“Really? Can I come?” Trix stopped and looked down at me regretfully. She bit her lip.
“I don’t know. I’m working, I can’t take care of you.”
“I need taking care of?”
Her laugh insisted I must be joking.
“You, Mouse, are a China Doll who goes around handing people sticks.” She laughed again and sped her pace, clearly expecting me to keep up.
I pouted. It occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t go to a party anyway. I hadn’t seen Chris since the morning, and things felt unresolved. A late night wouldn’t help us.
“Whatever. Never mind – I shouldn’t be out late partying anyway, with poor Chris waiting at home.”
Trix didn’t respond, which made it pretty clear that she didn’t want me at her party. I felt petulant.
“I really don’t want to sing lead on that song.”
“Okay,” she agreed, already on to a new idea. “How about something different? Maybe a song written just for you?”
I suddenly knew where this was going. I stopped walking.
“No. No. You can’t…you don’t…”
My breaths came too fast and I stuttered over my words. I closed my eyes and focused on breathing into my belly and holding, holding, slow release. I opened my eyes. Trix’s face was right in front of mine, and I startled back. Without thinking, I shoved her. Trix staggered back a step before deftly catching her balance. As she straightened, her face showed surprise, anger and maybe a sense of betrayal.
“Hey! Cool off, Mouse! We don’t resort to violence.” We stared each other down for about twenty seconds, both of us slowing our breaths. When she spoke again, her voice brimmed with compassion.
“Of course you don’t have to play it. I didn’t mean to hit a hot button, I just thought it would be cool. I wasn’t thinking about your situation, I was thinking about my show. I’m sorry.”
We started walking again.
“I don’t play Asleep in the Backseat, Trix. Like, ever. I just don’t play it. At all. ”
“Right, okay. I get it. So, is all your dad’s stuff off limits? Is there any song you might want to play for the biggest show of my life to date?”
“Since you put it that way…” I smiled up at her. I felt relieved that she didn’t seem angry with me for losing it. We started walking again.
“I could do The Weight of It.”
“Really? Are you sure? You won’t do Backseat but you’ll do Weight? I don’t get it.”
“Do you need to get it?”
“No, but I’d like to.”
“Because you, Mouse, are revealing into intrigue, and I love intrigue.”
“Then I’m sure to disappoint you. There’s no intrigue, just me, not good enough to deal with stuff. Look, do you want Chrissy Purnell to do The Weight of It on your stage, or not?”
“I want YOU to do The Weight of It on my stage. Acoustic? Trace on harmony.”
No way was I singing that song with Trace. But I formed my answer carefully.
“We’ll see how things go. Why not play it full-out?”
“I need you to break things up and I need a song off that stage. Keep the music simple, the emotion high. We want them to sing along. You can teach the crew tomorrow.”
“What crew? All those people, everywhere? Doing things? They own crowd experience. Mix in, have contagious fun, and get the crowd singing or stomping or whatever we need them doing. They also keep things from getting too rowdy out there.”
“Wow, you really control everything.”
“I put the right things in place so that magic can happen. I can’t make it happen, I can only create the conditions. And that I will do in any way I can imagine.”
“That’s the only reason to be here.”
Trix herded me around a corner into an ally where four girls skipped rope, double-dutch. Two turned the ropes, and inside, the others performed a complicated routine involving jumping and clapping sing-song. The smallest girl saw us and abruptly dropped her ends, surprising the skippers.
“Trix!” The child ran full-tilt, slamming into Trix’s legs with a giant hug. Trix kissed the top of her head, then gently disengaged her.
The tallest of the pack hung back. Combining her self-conscious aloofness with the just-emerging mounds under her tank top, I judged her age around thirteen or fourteen.
“Hey, Echo, you tell your momma what I said?” Trix asked her.
“Yeah, I told her. She said…” The girl glanced around at the others, and didn’t go on. Trix reached out like she would place her hand on Echo’s thin shoulder, but instead her fingers just fluttered in the air for a few seconds before falling to her side.
“It’s okay, you won’t phase me. Spill.”
“She said you’re a pervert and a communist and I’d better stay away from you.” Echo spoke fast, robotic, her eyes off-side. Then she suddenly faced front, defiant. “I hate her!”
“Hey, shh, it’s okay,” said Trix softly. “Not everyone can understand. It’s hard enough knowing our own point of view, let alone anyone else’s, right? Don’t hate your mom because she shuts off thinking about one thing that matters to you. She’s got lots to think about.”
I noticed that one of Echo’s friends was capturing the moments with her cell. I needed to actively restrain myself from knocking the phone out of her hand. How dare she invade her friend’s privacy this way? But then I realized I was the last to notice – Echo seemed to play for the camera, while Trix just didn’t care. She was focused on the girl the way she’d focused in on Latchkey. Just the two of them.
“You are lucky,” Trix went on. “Right now, all you need to think about is you. Because it’s only you, in the end, that’s going to live your life however that goes. Your momma didn’t have that luxury – she’s hardly grown-up and here you are, weighing her down. Now maybe you need to make her sacrifice mean something by making your life worth giving up her’s for? That’s heavy, it won’t let you just ignore it. It’s there, inside you, even if it’s not fair, even if it’s not the whole truth. But what that means for your choices…that’s a life quest. Don’t let anyone tell you that part.”
We all stood there, in our ally-way cave, taking in her words. Echo gazed into the skyline, processing and likely trying not to cry. Trix broke the silence.
“You have a big talent. We need you, and I know you want to be with us on Friday. Or will you rot here?” That got the girl’s attention.
“No! Screw her, I don’t care what she says, I’m in!”
Trix smiled sadly.
“Now wait. That is not the way. Cheating is a maze, full of dead ends and disaster. So what is the way around this? We need a parent’s permission, and you have only one parent. I can’t convince her I’m not what she thinks, since actually, I am both a pervert and a communist – at least as she would understand. But I gotta wonder – is this about me, or is it about you? I want to help you, Echo, and I want your super-massive voice on my stage. I leave it with you. No forgery this time. This only works if she tells us okay herself, in person. It doesn’t have to be me. It can be Bash, Trace…even…Rekha, if it has to be.”
Echo shook her head. “You’re all the same to her. She said there’s a petition, to get you out. She said they’ve asked the authorities to look into whether you’re a cult.”
Trix blinked, then sighed. “Wow. Okay, well, I hope that gets us some press. Look, I gotta get back. You’ve got a problem to solve, my Echo In the Forest. You’re already late for practice.”
As if on a whim, Trix scooped up the skipping rope and began to skip in place, doing little criss-crosses, getting the feel. We all backed away, instinctively forming a wide circle around her. One of the girls bent to turn up music I hadn’t noticed playing, and Trix increased her speed to match its fast thump, then double-time it. Rope and feet moved faster while her body seemed stationary, her arms barely moving, just a flick of wrist. She played a little with the rope, never missing a beat as she lassoed above her head or ribboned it forward. She skipped impossibly fast, until she was a blur, and then suddenly, a spin, a beat, and back on centre – perfect execution. She flipped right over in the air from standing, her legs scissoring up and down again as she landed with a flourish into splits, then sprung back to standing and bowed to the still-recording cell phone. She turned to the girls with a crooked smile, half-embarrassed for showing off, panting with exertion. She grabbed hands with Echo and the youngest girl. The three whirled around together; Trix let go, and they spun like tops off a whip. I imagined myself in the circle, spinning off – it looked fun.
Trix spoke to the girls, and to the camera too.
“You can get good at anything if you practice enough. Spread love, little sisters! Rock on!”
Trix grabbed my hand and pulled me at a run.
“I said ten, right? I think we’re about to be tardy.”