Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

What You Sow

 

Summary:

Set before (and sideways to) the early segments of The Rise and Fall of Radiation Canary, the untold story of how the Femme Reapers came to be.

Their building was rundown, the apartments in disrepair due to an apathetic landlord. It was hardly a glistening tower by the bay, Ella and Laura Cowan didn’t notice because they felt like they had the best view in the entire city. Their apartment was on the top floor, so the roof was just a short climb away. And beyond the safety railing was the entire city laid out before them. They perched in the window seat, their crows’ nest, and watched the world speed by on the web of freeway lanes running alongside their home. To the north, they could see the green and gray of Freeway Park. The state of the building only mattered to people looking at it. The Cowan twins were too busy looking out

When they were little, a guy in the building gave their father an old guitar as payment for some debt or another. He wasn’t interested in learning how to play, so he let Ella play with it. She spent hours cross-legged on the bedroom floor, hunched over to examine the chords, teaching herself how to make sounds like she heard on the radio. Laura would occasionally provide the vocals, lying flat on her back with her head hanging off the side of the bed. When Ella got good enough for Laura to be jealous of the talent, she taught her sister how to play while she took a turn singing.

They had mostly been exposed to country music, due to their father controlling the radio, so the songs they played were heavy on Randy Travis, Willie Nelson, and George Strait. Laura’s favorite song was “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” but Ella liked the duets because of how she and Laura sounded together. Her favorite was “Pancho and Lefty,” a song that taught her how to get her voice low and growly without hurting her throat.

They both loved playing the guitar so they alternated until they were old enough to get jobs. Ella worked behind the counter at McDonalds. Laura washed dishes at a restaurant that was too expensive for them to ever consider eating at. They turned it into a contest to see who could earn enough for the first guitar. Ella won and the second-hand guitar became Laura’s. Suddenly it seemed unworthy of being played and, two weeks later, Laura bought a brand-new guitar that matched her sister’s.

They practiced after school, squeezed together on the window seat. On the most important day of their lives, a summer-warm day at the end of spring in 1999, Laura arrived first and played random snippets of songs while she waited for Ella to show up. She knew the view from that perch extremely well. The roads cutting around their neighborhood and the interstate a few blocks to the west meant provided enough open space so they weren’t completely closed in by neighboring buildings. She could see the rooftop of their favorite diner. If the wind was right, she could catch a whiff of the onion burgers at dinnertime. If she leaned all the way out and looked south, she could see the sun sparkling off the bend where Lake Union became Portage Bay. To the north was a playground, blocking the end of the side street that ran alongside their building. She could see mothers and nannies corralling their children into the fenced-off area.

Ella finally arrived, tossing her book bag onto her bed as she reached for her guitar case. Her late arrival was due to hanging out with Jonathan. Their parents didn’t know about Jonathan yet, and Ella desperately pled with Laura to not say anything until she knew whether or not the relationship would be worth the hassle. “I don’t want to tell them and have it be a whole thing if we’re just, like, making out in his car after school.”

So Laura stayed quiet. She waited until Ella had her guitar and had taken a seat facing her in the window. Laura played the opening melody without naming the song. Ella picked up her part without missing a beat. Ella began to sing and her voice fell out the window, echoing off the neighboring buildings and the asphalt of the alley.

“You don’t know how to deal with girls like us,” she sang, “Because we’re enemies of the ordinary and coconspirators of stress.”

“Girls like us get in the way,” Ella sang under her breath, bridging the first line to the next.

“Scared of what we’ll do, what we’ll say, you think we’re weak ‘cause you’ve been holding us down so long, oh… but all that fighting we’ve done has only made us stronger.”

They couldn’t afford amps or studio space, but Laura loved the way their voices echoed off the buildings. It felt raw and real. The sound of traffic – engines roaring and the occasional bleat of a horn and the sirens that chirped up and the beeping of a trash truck – blended beautifully with the music. She moved her head to the beat as she sang.

“Ask me how far I go, you might be surprised. If you ever bothered to look, you’d see the fire in my eyes.” Ella joined her on the second line and their voices blended in perfect, twinny harmony. Laura smiled; their voices never sounded complete unless they were harmonizing. The song was one of Ella’s, something she scribbled during downtime at work, and it was one of Laura’s favorites. The melody was a little reminiscent of early Tom Petty, but she didn’t mind that. Tom Petty rocked. The growl of ‘Last Dance with Mary Jane’ and the bouncy pop of ‘American Girl’ swirled together to form something new.

During the chorus – “I’m not fighting for me, I’m fighting for you, I’m fighting for us and you can fight for me, too,” – she became aware of someone shouting from down in the alley. She ignored it for as long as she could before she opened one eye and looked down. A woman had wandered out from the building so she could see them and waved one arm over her head before shouting again.

“Hey! Singing girls!”

“C’mon, man!” Ella shouted without looking. “Give us three more minutes!”

“No, hey… hey! You…” She dropped her hand. “Are you two professional singers?”

Ella finally twisted her head to look down. “Who wants to know?”

“My name is Charlie Lovett. I work at Brooklyn Line Club. Can you come down here? I’d really like to talk with you about playing there some night.”

Laura looked at Ella, who raised an eyebrow in response. “1980,” she whispered without moving her lip. Laura nodded and put down her guitar. The Brooklyn Line was a bar, which meant they couldn’t get in the door unless they claimed they were eighteen. Laura leaned out the window and shouted down to Charlie, “We’ll be right down!”

Charlie smiled and gave them the thumbs up.

 

#

 

Charlie was short for Charlotte, and she never went by her full name because “what self-respecting parent would name their baby girl Charlotte Lovett?” Charlie was in her early thirties, just old enough to be considered cool but not so old she reminded them of their parents or teachers. She was tall and muscular, with thick black hair, and a tattoo of Wonder Woman’s logo on her right wrist.

She was the owner of the Brooklyn Line and they needed live music for the weekends. She was mostly interested in cover songs, but they could pepper some of their original stuff in depending on the crowd. “If they’re already really into it, sneak in something. If they’re not listening at all, same deal.” She looked skeptical at their alleged birthdate but didn’t press the issue. There were no contracts or W-2 forms to fill out. The girls would play every Friday they had free, and at the end of the night, Charlie would pay them $200 in addition to whatever tips they managed to accumulate.

“Now I just need to know what name to put on the board outside,” she said, once all the dealing was done.

Ella said, “That’s easy. TranSister.”

Laura stared at her in horror.

“Like… transistor. What?”

Charlie said, “Well, nothing is set in stone… for now we’ll just say the Cowan Sisters.”

Their parents weren’t exactly thrilled with the idea of their daughters playing at a bar, especially when they discovered they would be onstage until at least midnight, but Laura and Ella eventually wore them down. Their first week, they brought home almost fifty dollars in tips, plus the money Charlie paid at the end of the night. The next week, they were up to a total of three hundred. It was unusual to have money, to be able to buy whatever they wanted, but their parents insisted on savings accounts and Using the Money Wisely. They rolled their eyes but dutifully saved as much as they could.

One night, the bar was mostly abandoned by twelve o’clock. Jonathan had come to see them play and, since there was no audience, he and Ella went out to his car to “talk for a while.” Laura hung around the bar, putting away their gear and tidying up the stage. Charlie dealt with the last few customers before moving to the part of the bare closest to the stage so they could talk without raising their voices.

“You girls sounded good tonight. Country, but not. What do you call that genre?”

“We just call it cool.” Laura winked and took a seat at the bar. Lying about their age got them into the bar, but they couldn’t order anything alcoholic. Charlie brought her a bottle of Jones Soda, vanilla bean. It was Laura’s favorite, and she was always touched that Charlie remembered.

Charlie said, “Can I ask you a question? And if you’re not going to give me total honesty, then just say no and we’ll move on.”

“Ask,” Laura said.

“Are you girls really eighteen?”

Laura said, “We’ll be eighteen on our birthday.”

“Yeah. How many birthdays from now?”

“I only have to answer one question, right?”

Charlie smiled and nodded slowly. “Yeah. Okay.” She drummed her fingers on the bar. “I’m going into the back for a second. Holler if anyone comes in.”

Laura nodded and watched Charlie go. She wondered why their ages suddenly mattered, and why Charlie had looked so upset when she confirmed the truth. She wondered why she was so jealous about what Ella was doing at the moment but, when any of the guys at school paid her any attention, she completely ignored them. That was if she even noticed their interest at all. Whenever Ella pointed it out, Laura would shrug. “Guys are friendly. Guys are just like that, they’ll hit on anybody.”

She drank half her soda and debated what was going through her head. Finally, she slid off the stool and went through the door behind the bar. Charlie was rearranging the shelves in the storeroom, seemingly at random, and turned around when she came in.

“New customer?”

“No. We’re eighteen.”

Charlie smiled. “Sweetie, I knew you girls weren’t eighteen the minute I saw you. I was just kind of…” She shook her head. “Forget it. Never mind.”

“What if we were eighteen? What if we happened to be born in March instead of November? What if I’m hit by a bus when I’m thirty and I’ve already lived half my life?”

Charlie faced her. “That would be extremely sad.”

Laura moved closer and lowered her voice. “What if I was eighteen? What would you have done if I’d pulled out my driver’s license and proven to you that I’m past some bullshit age of consent? You know I was driving my dad’s car when I was fourteen?”

“Really? How long ago was that?”

Laura said, “I keep asking what you wanted to happen because I’m not sure what I wanted. I’m really confused about how I feel around you, and it’s making me think about how I am around everybody, and if that means something and if it means something, then am I going to dive right into… that… or am I going to try to be something else to see if I can…”

“Okay.” Charlie put her hands on Laura’s arms to shut her up. “Okay. I’ve really gotten to like you girls in the weeks you’ve been coming here. You’re talented and beautiful and funny. Ella’s not bad, either.” Laura smiled bashfully. “I suppose if you were eighteen, then I would’ve taken a shot and asked if I could kiss you.”

Laura felt like her head was full of oxygen but also like she couldn’t breathe. She leaned forward but Charlie responded by leaning away.

“Laura, stop. Do you know how much trouble I could get into?”

“Only if I make a big deal about it.”

“Or if your parents find out. The woman who dragged their daughter to a bar and started making out with her in the back room? I’m sorry, Laura, but I can’t do this. I won’t.”

She let go of Laura’s arms and tried to step around her.

“I have to know. I’ve come this far, Charlie. I’m standing here about to fall over I’m shaking so much because I’m scared. I’ve been trying not to think about this for months. But now here’s this gorgeous woman standing here willing to kiss me and she wants me to wait over a year before she helps me? That sucks, Charlie.”

“Over a year,” Charlie said softly. “Sixteen.”

“For whatever difference that makes,” Laura said angrily, “yeah. I’m sixteen.”

“I’m twice your age, Laura.”

“And if we both got hit by a bus tomorrow–”

Charlie rolled her eyes. “Will you stop with the bus? Neither of us is getting hit by any buses.” She pushed her hands through her hair and paced one step, the farthest she could go in the back room. “I’m not going to sleep with you.”

“I’m… okay. I’m not… I wasn’t…”

Charlie moved closer. “This is just going to be a kiss.”

Laura thought she was hyperventilating, so she just nodded. Charlie cupped her face, leaned in, and pressed their lips together. Laura kept her eyes open and held her breath. Her arms were rigid by her sides, fingers out and frozen stiff. After the initial shock, there was a moment where kissing a woman seemed perfectly normal, like it was something she’d done every night of her life, and some of the tension flowed out of her. She put her hands on Charlie’s hips and pulled her forward even as she stepped closer, their hips lining up perfectly against each other. Laura parted her lips and tilted her head to the side. Her mouth moved against Charlie’s, who adjusted so the kiss wouldn’t end.

Eventually, the hands on Laura’s cheeks gently pushed her away. Laura sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, eyes wide, suddenly feeling as young as Charlie had been seeing her.

“So?” Charlie said.

“So… I like women, I guess.”

The corner of Charlie’s mouth ticked upward. “Yeah. I thought I felt something like that.” Laura leaned in again, but Charlie put a finger against her lips. “No. I think that’s enough for right now.”

“I’m…”

“I know, kid. I know.” She kissed Laura between the eyebrows. “This isn’t easy. But it’s right. Okay? You might think you’re all grown-up and brilliant right now, but you’re also every single hormone firing at a hundred percent all day long. If you do this, it’ll screw you up. I don’t want to be the one responsible for that. You’re too perfect to mess with the formula right now, okay?”

Laura’s eyes were wet. “But I love you.”

“Oh, kid, you just signed the death warrant of anything that might have happened. You don’t love me. You want me. Two very different things.” She put her arms around Laura and hugged her. “There will be time. And time will pass so quickly. And when the time is right, it’ll be right. Okay?”

Laura pressed her face against the material of Charlie’s shirt. She didn’t trust herself to say anything, so she didn’t. She just held her and wished she had been smart enough to talk the older woman into changing her mind.

She and Ella didn’t talk much on the ride home. It seemed ludicrous to her that Ella could kiss a boy and go on dates with a boy and make out in his car, just because he was a boy. She didn’t have to worry about rejection. She didn’t have to worry about revealing a huge secret about herself just to find out if someone was interested. Ella could go up to any boy she liked and ask for a dance. But Laura? Laura couldn’t ask a girl out. They couldn’t kiss at their lockers. They couldn’t even hold hands on the way to class. It was utter bullshit.

When they got home, Ella said, “What are you all pissed off about?”

“Nothing. Charlie’s stupid.”

“Charlie? What did she say?”

“Nothing. I’m tired. I just want to go to bed.”

Ella knew when a fight was pointless, so she shut up. They got into their beds, shut out the lights, and Ella set the alarm for noon. It only took a few minutes before her breathing slowed, but Laura was still looking out the window at the rooftop across the street. She was thinking about Charlie, about how her lips had felt, and she decided she wasn’t going to let hurt feelings and disappointment ruin her memory of what had happened.

She’d gotten her first kiss.

She’d realized who she was.

It didn’t help her plan the road ahead, but at least it gave her some idea of what road she was on. That was huge. She smiled and touched her lips, letting her fingers rest there as she fell asleep.

 

#

 

“That side of the couch,” Laura sang, “and the sweatshirt you left behind, your forgotten things as lingering traces, you stick in my mind and I remember you in all these empty spaces.”

Ella joined her on the last line, raising their volume to a shout. There was a stomp box next to Ella’s foot and she used it to keep the beat. They were busking in Pike Place Market, close to the end of their slot, and trying to ignore the people around them. Laura hadn’t looked down into their guitar case for fifteen minutes. The money was great, but she looked at their busking as a way to hone works in progress and knock out kinks in their performance style. It gave them the pressure of a real audience, but an audience that was mostly distracted or tuning them out.

A woman fifteen feet away from their stage was buying fish. Two little kids ran past and shouted for directions to the big brass piggy bank. A few people were actually paying attention to the music and Laura did her best to play to them. When the song – “Empty Spaces” – came to an end, the spectators added a quiet round of applause to the general din of the market. A few of them leaned forward and added money to the case.

“Thank you,” Laura said, “thanks so much. We’re Laurella.”

Ella waited until the group had dispersed to start gathering their things. “I still hate that name,” she said as she transferred the money to her backpack.

“We could try Ellora…”

“No. Ellora sucks, too. It sounds like shitty perfume.”

They split up their gear so neither of them was carrying too much. The throng of tourists and other pedestrians swept them up and they moved with the rest of the crowd. They broke away to get something to eat at Mr. D’s. They walked to where they could sit against a wall and people-watch as they ate. Ella counted the money and revealed they had made thirty-two dollars. Even with the Greek food, they’d had a decent afternoon. Not good enough to quit their respective day jobs, but enough for a nice dinner. What else could they ask for? In the two years since Charlie gave them their first paying gig, they’d become addicted to the stage. Any parental suggestion that music was just a hobby had gone out the window. They both needed to play music, and they were good enough to make a little money doing it. They were still living at home, they were still working day jobs, and they didn’t have an official name yet, but they considered themselves professional musicians nonetheless.

“Thirty-two dollars,” Ella amended, “and a card.”

Laura wiped sauce from her lip. “A card?”

Ella said, “Cartography Records. Have you ever heard of them?”

Laura shook her head. “If we’re even going to talk to them, we’re going to need a name.”

When their food was done, they started walking again. They went down Post Alley, pausing to look at the various graffiti and artwork in the hope something might provide inspiration. They were almost to the end when two teenagers passed them going the other way. They were goth-punk, dressed all in black with spiked hair and pale pancake makeup on their cheeks. Ella and Laura moved to the side to let them pass.

“Couple of grim reapers,” they said under their breath, in stereo. Their smiles also faded at the same time, and they looked at each other.

“But not grim,” Ella said.

“Female reapers…?”

“No. Femme.”

Laura’s smile returned. “Femme Reapers.”

“I can see that on a CD cover.”

“And T-shirts.”

Ella wrapped an arm around Laura’s elbow, dragging her away. “We need to think about our look. We have a whole persona to craft before we call these Cardiology people.”

“Cartography,” Laura corrected, but she was already thinking of titles for their first album.

 

#

 

“Are you sure?”

Jenny nodded. Her head was close enough to Laura’s that she felt the movement like a tremor against her cheek. Their hair was tangled, thick black curls mixing with straight white-blonde. They were sitting together on Laura’s bed, supposedly listening to music, but sitting together had led to slumping against each other with led to staring into each other’s eyes and forgetting the music. Laura risked touching Jenny’s cheek. She saw Jenny flinch. Their faces were so close that she couldn’t miss it. Jenny’s lips were parted, slightly wet, and every time Laura’s mind drifted toward what she wanted to do, she found it hard to breathe.

“Yeah,” Jenny said, adding another layer of consent to her nod.

Laura leaned in. Jenny was a fan, someone who heard their music at Pike Place Market and struck up a conversation with them afterward. Ella had wandered off, but Jenny seemed to only have eyes for Laura anyway. They went out to dinner, just the two of them, to keep talking. And now they were sitting in bed. Laura and Ella’s parents were out. Ella was with Jonathan. They were completely alone in the house, Laura was practically lying on top of Jenny, and she’d just gotten the okay to go further.

“I’ve never kissed anyone before,” Laura confessed, forgetting momentarily about the life-changing kiss she’d shared with Charlie in the storeroom.

“I’ve never been someone’s first kiss. Does that mean you’ll remember me forever?”

Laura said, “I hope so.”

“Then we should make it a good one.”

“Uh-huh.”

They kissed. The music continued playing, a CD Jenny brought over to broaden Laura’s horizons, though at the moment she couldn’t remember the name of the band. She didn’t care of it was Nirvana mumbling, all she cared about was the feel of Jenny’s mouth on hers. It was then that she remembered Charlie. She felt guilty, but not too much, because this felt more like an authentic first kiss. There was desire, there was no stink of pity, or restriction of “nothing else can ever happen.” She and Jenny were the same age so if anything happened… if she wanted to go further…

Laura brushed her hand over Jenny’s stomach. She felt every wrinkle in the fabric and the quaking in Laura’s stomach muscles. She touched them waistband of Jenny’s pants and hesitated.

“Only if you want to,” Jenny said against her mouth. “But you can. I want you to.”

The hiss of the zipper sounded impossibly loud. Laura bit her bottom lip and kept her fingers stiff as she pushed them under the material. She kept her eyes open wide and kissed Jenny again. Jenny shifted under her, one hand on Laura’s wrist to guide her.

“Breathe, sweetheart,” Jenny said.

“I can’t.”

Jenny laughed. “Well… try.”

The bedroom door opened and Ella rushed in. “You’ve gotta see these jackets what’s going oh.” The sentence fractured against itself as Laura jerked away from Jenny, her hand twisting weirdly and getting caught against the front of Jenny’s pants. She cursed under her breath, pulled her hand free, and rolled to the side of the bed. Jenny sat up straighter and pulled her shirt down over her lap. Ella, meanwhile, looked at the floor, turned toward her own bed, and finally made a break for the door.

“I thought I’m sorry I was just.” The door slammed behind her, none of her attempts to speak reaching an ending.

Jenny said, “I guess your sister doesn’t know you’re gay.”

Laura blushed. She’d only ever admitted it in her head. “No. No one does.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not.” She leaned in and kissed Jenny long enough to assure her that she was okay with what happened. Well, everything but the interruption. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

She found Ella sitting on the couch. She was hanging her head, elbows on her knees, staring at her shoes. Laura sat beside her and tried to think of how she could start this conversation. Ella saved her the trouble.

“Jonathan and I broke up.”

“What?” Laura was so startled that it took her a moment to make sense of what she’d heard. “You did? When? Just now?”

Ella nodded. “That’s why I’m home early. Sorry about that, by the way.”

“Oh. It’s, uh…”

“He thought I was spending too much time with the band. I told him we had an appointment at the record studio next Saturday and he went all ballistic about how that was the only day off we had in common and I should spend it with him. So I invited him to come along and he acted like I was asking him to cut off his foot. He said I had to choose. So I chose.”

Laura said, “Wow. Are you okay?”

Ella looked at her. “If he’s the kind of guy who would ask me to give up my passion just to hang out with him, then I’m not going to mourn him very hard. Bullet dodged.”

“I agree.”

Ella put an arm around her. “So you’re gay? Or bisexual?”

“Gay, I think.”

“She was pretty. What I saw of her.”

Laura grinned. “She’s really pretty.”

Ella kissed her sister’s head. “I’m going to head out for a while. No reason.”

Laura blushed. “Don’t stay out too late.”

“I’ll stay out as late as I want to.”

When she got to the door, Laura remembered what she’d said as she burst into the room. “You said something about jackets.”

Ella turned, eyes shining. “Oh, yeah. Give me thirty dollars.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I’m making an executive decision. Femme Reapers have to have a look. I’m getting us a look.” Laura handed over the cash. “Thanks. Now go… you’re not being a very good host.”

Laura blushed. “We can talk about Jonathan tonight, if you want.”

Ella rolled her eyes. “Yeah, like that’s what we’re going to be talking about. Go!”

Laura laughed and went back down the hall to finish what she’d started.

 

#

 

The thirty dollars went to one of a pair of black dusters Ella found at Goodwill. Laura thought they might look too “cowboy,” but she had to admit she was impressed with what she saw in the mirror. They wore the jackets to their appointment at Cartography Records. The offices were located in Port Townsend, which required a ferry ride and the majority of their day, but neither minded. They had a demo album they’d cut together from performances at local bars along with songs they played in their bedroom, in the bathroom, in the window where their voices echoed off the urban sounds. Ella was nervous and Laura was high on adrenaline, so they tried to stay close to one another to feed off the other’s energy.

The Cartography building was like a castle on a hill, a beautiful red-brick building fenced in by trees on two sides. After they parked, Ella took Laura’s hand to squeeze her fingers for a few seconds before they went inside. It felt like stepping into another world. As soon as the doors clicked shut behind them, the outside sounds were extinguished. They heard the soft murmur of the heater and voices that echoed down the corridor from offices deeper in the building.

A receptionist was waiting in a wide open space straight ahead of the entrance. Ella held Laura’s hand, half-dragging her and half for support. The receptionist looked up as they approached and offered a welcoming smile.

“Hi, how can I help you today?”

“Ella and Laura Cowan. We’re supposed to meet Naomi Mare-oh.”

“Mah-row,” the receptionist said, waving it off even as she corrected them. “It’s fine, everyone says it wrong. Even her, half the time. Just a second.” She tapped on her keyboard and touched her headset. “Miss Marrow? Ella and Laura Cowan are here to see you.” She listened for a moment and shifted her gaze back to the sisters. “Band name?”

“Oh. Femme Reapers.”

“The Femme Reapers.” She listened again. “Yes, ma’am.” She aimed her finger down the corridor stretching out to the right. “All the way to the end, through the double-doors on the right, down the stairs.”

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure. Femme Reapers is a bitchin’ name.”

Laura smiled and pressed against Ella’s side as they continued their journey. The doorway did indeed take them to a flight of stairs, which led down to another door with a long, narrow window built into it. Laura peeked through, smiled, and opened the door to reveal what she’d seen: an auditorium, complete with bleachers and a projection booth. A woman was sitting on the edge of the stage, her Chuck Taylors swinging. She was consulting a binder that was open on her lap as they came down the sloped ramp to the front row.

“Miss Mare-oh… uh, Maw… Mm…”

She laughed. “Either one is fine, but you can call me Naomi. Are you the Femme Reapers?”

“We are.”

She adjusted her Buddy Holly glasses. “Rebecca didn’t tell us you were twins. She’s the one who gave you the card. Pike Place Market, right?”

Ella nodded. “That’s right. We have a demo.”

“Why don’t you just play?”

The new voice had come from behind them. They turned and saw a woman in the center of the back row, just under the projection booth. She wore ripped jeans and a plain green T-shirt under baggy flannel. Laura could only clap a hand over her mouth when she recognized who it was, but Ella somehow found the wherewithal to speak. She stepped closer as if to confirm what she already knew to be true.

“You’re Dash Warren. What the hell are you doing here?”

“This is my company,” Dash said.

“Oh. Wow. We… w-we didn’t know that,” Ella said. “We’re big fans.”

Dash grinned. “Appreciate it. But I meant what I said. You’re both here, Naomi and I are here, we have a stage. I doubt you brought your instruments, but you can borrow some of ours. Rebecca thought you were good enough bare-bones to give you our card, so what the hell. Why not?” She paused and leaned forward. “You’re more than willing to just leave the tape if you’d prefer…”

A tape which might get put on a stack with two dozen others, which might not get picked up or played versus having a private audience with Dash Warren. Laura didn’t even have to look at Ella to know what their answer was.

“Does that mean we’ll get to play one of your guitars?”

Dash’s smile widened. “Hell yeah. Naomi…”

Naomi was already off the stage moving toward the door. “I’ll be right back.”

Dash came down the center aisle and approached the girls. Laura rocked back on her heels, as if Dash was surrounded by an invisible barrier. She noticed everything about the rock icon: the Sharpie and pen hooked on one pocket of her pants; the way her hair fell across her forehead to feather over her left eyebrow; the rip on her shirt pocket that had been mended with a safety pin, making it both badass and practical.

“I like the name a lot,” she said, nodding her head. “Femme Reapers. It’s good. But before you play, there’s something you oughta know. I started this label because I was sick of labels telling me what to do, what to put on my albums, how I should look and sound. They were just trying to make me easier for them to sell. But fuck that, selling the artist is the label’s job. Why should I change because they’re too lazy to do their job? So go up there and play like yourselves. Don’t worry about what you think I want to hear. I want to hear what a Femme Reaper sounds like, and you’re the only two who can do that for me. Clear?”

“Clear,” Ella said.

Dash looked between them and clicked her tongue. “Twins. How about that.” She gestured at the stage with her chin. “Go on up. Get comfortable.”

They ascended to the stage. Naomi came back with a pair of guitars – one blue and one red – and handed them up. She then joined Dash in the audience.

Dash cupped her hands around her mouth. “Ladies and gentlemen, performing at Port Townsend for the first time, please welcome the Feeeeeeeemme Reeeeeeeeap-ahs!”

Laura glanced at Ella. The first song on their demo was ‘Down We Go,’ so it made sense to start with that. Ella started and Laura followed, eyes closed as she helped build the wall of music. Laura stepped forward as if approaching a microphone and began to sing. Ella provided the harmony and background. Her butterflies evaporated as she focused on the music and lyrics, rocking her shoulders and hips to the melody. It suddenly didn’t matter who was listening to them. They could have been in their bathroom or standing in a corner of the Market.

They had just finished the first chorus when Dash whistled. They looked out and saw her waving one hand. Laura’s heart sank as she stopped playing, her hand flat against the strings of her borrowed guitar. Ella cleared her throat and tightened her grip on the neck of her instrument. Dash stood up.

“Sorry about stopping you like that, girls, but I don’t like wasting time. You sound phenomenal, especially when you harmonize. I’ve never heard anything like it. You’re playing on guitars you’re not familiar with, so that can be graded on a curve, but either way, you’re only going to improve. My office is upstairs. We’re not going to sign anything today. I just want to tell you what I’m looking for and then you can talk it over with whoever you need. I suggest you have a few sounding boards just to make sure it’s the right move.”

Laura said, “Make sure what is the right move?” She suspected, but she didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

“Making a record.”

Ella smiled at Laura over her shoulder, then looked back at Dash. She nodded. “Okay. Yeah, let’s… let’s go to your office.”

 

#

 

They worked on the album for over a year. Laura was worried Dash would lose faith in them, but she replied to their email with reassurances. “I don’t like to waste time,” she said, “but I also hate to rush.” They were focused on making their debut as perfect as possible. They continued to wear the dusters when they performed but, on Naomi’s suggestion, added color underneath to prevent them from looking too bleak. Laura wore shades of red, Ella wore blue. Laura liked the way the tails flapped around their legs, and she got good and flipping it back like a cape when she got on a hot streak.

The Femme Reapers still had to be profitable for the label, so while they were working, Dash sent them on tour to open for established acts. They got to meet their heroes and occasionally played with them as well. They learned how to behave at venues, how to not be the diva performer every roadie mocked behind their back, and gained the respect of musicians they quickly realized would be their contemporaries. Better than all of that, though, were the crowds. They played in front of relatively enormous crowds and heard them cheering, heard the applause, and saw the faces of people in the crowd as they danced.

Their first album was finally finished. They went on Settle In, Seattle! to promote the first single and were amazed at how quickly the numbers jumped. Pre-orders of the album skyrocketed. Naomi started talking about a headliner tour, something that would take them around “home base” of the Pacific Northwest, and soon they were making plans. When the album actually came out, their song “Lost” was placed in heavy rotation. It helped that there was a hit television show with the same name currently taking the country by storm. Naomi assured them that the song was making waves on its own merit and helped them prepare for the tour.

“This time, you’ll be the headliners and someone else will be opening for you. We’ve got a great new act called Radiation Canary. Have you heard of them?”

Ella nodded. “They were on Friday Night Auditions a while back. They were pretty good. They got a great score, I think.”

“They did. Dash snapped them up as quickly as she could. Your sound is completely different, but it’s a chance to expose as many people to our acts as possible. And there is some overlap. It’s not like you’re doing rock and they’re Gregorian chants.”

“That would sound badass,” Laura said.

Naomi had laughed and loaned then a copy of Canaries first album. Laura listened while she packed and found herself falling hard for the music. It took the elements of the country music she and Ella grew up listening to and brought in rock and blues in very cool ways. By the time they arrived at the first stop of the tour, she had two of the songs memorized. She was listening on her Discman when someone told her Radiation Canary had arrived. Ella found her and they went to get a peek at their opening act. They were on an upper level, looking down into the backstage area.

“You know what they look like, right?”

Ella said, “Yeah, I saw them on TV. You didn’t look them up online? They have a website and everything.”

“When would I have had time?” Laura said. “I’ve been getting ready for the tour. Since you can’t be bothered to pack your own stuff.”

“I can pack. I pack really well…”

Ella continued talking, but Laura tuned her out. Four girls had come inside from the side entrance. The one in lead was wearing cowboy boots, painted-on jeans, and a billowy blouse that moved against her body just enough to reveal she had some dangerous curves. When she moved out of the way, however, Laura saw someone who took her breath away. Blonde, long and curly at the ends. Smiling big enough to break her face. The muscles of her right arm bulged from the weight of the cello case she carried, letting it bump against her leg as she moved. She wore a long skirt and wedge shoes. Her shirt was unbuttoned enough to reveal the scoop neck of her undershirt.

“There they… oh.” Ella caught Laura’s look and smiled. “She’s single.”

“She can’t be.”

“Sure she can.”

The other band went into their dressing room, unaware that they were being observed. “What’s her name?” Laura asked.

“Lana Kent.”

“I thought Lana was the lead singer.”

Ella looked at her. “The brunette.”

“No, the one with the cello.”

“You don’t like blondes.”

“I… whatever… I’m just…” She pushed away from the railing. “I’m going to go get changed before the show.”

Ella called after her as she walked away. “Karen. Her name is Karen Everett.”

“I don’t care.”

Ella laughed. “Don’t like to me, Laura. Never to me.”

Laura blushed and ordered herself to focus on the show. She didn’t have a crush. Crushes were silly, childish things. She was an adult, and she didn’t have a stinking crush on a dumb cello player named Karen or whatever. But she did, whether consciously or not, make sure she chose her best blouse to wear onstage that night. If she was trying to impress anybody, it was the audience. She could care less what the cellist of some band thought.

She looked over her shoulder and saw Ella staring at her, still laughing. She flipped her off and went to change.

 

2013

Laura stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows of their apartment and looked to the north. If she tilted her head just right she could almost see Lake Union. It was past midnight, she didn’t know how much past, but she’d woken up an hour earlier and couldn’t get back to sleep. So she decided to look out over their city and remind herself of just how far she’d come in life. The city was still vibrant and alive beyond the glass, but it had grown quieter after sunset. A few sirens, but otherwise just the soft hum of civilization. The window glass was cool against her forehead.

The apartment door opened and Karen came inside. The wheels of her luggage rattled against the floor and her cello bumped the door frame. “God damn it,” she hissed.

“It’s okay. I’m already awake.”

Karen looked up and saw her in the dark. “Hey, babe. You didn’t have to stay up for me.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

“Never.” She abandoned her things by the door and crossed the room. They embraced and kissed hello. They hadn’t seen each other in over a month, so the kiss turned into an almost desperate clinch. Laura smelled her girlfriend’s hair and smiled because she knew Karen was doing the same. Karen kissed her neck and stepped back, but she kept her arms around her.

“How was the tour?” Laura asked.

“Long. Laura-less.”

“Aw, poor baby.” She kissed Karen again.

Karen said, “We did a cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in St. Paul. Codie took over the vocals because you know she always rocks that one.” Laura nodded, smiling. “She killed. She killed.”

“Wow, wish I had been there to see that.”

“It’s on YouTube.”

Laura stepped out of their embrace and took Karen’s hand. “C’mere. I want to show you something.” They went back to the window. “Look to the north. Can you see Lake Union?”

“You know I lost my X-ray vision in the last reboot.”

Laura shivered and pressed back against her. She loved feeling the weight of Karen against her back. “You know I love it when you talk geeky to me. But no, I mean… look, you can sort of see it…”

“If you say so.”

“Okay, well… right about there is the bend where it turns into Portage Bay. Ella and I used to be able to see it from our bedroom window. That was where we practiced because it sounded great bouncing off the buildings. It was where we were technically discovered. And now… look. Puget Sound.”

Karen said, “You made it.”

“Not alone.” She turned around in Karen’s arms. “So where are we going next?”

“Well… I’ve been gone for a month, so I was kind of hoping if you weren’t too tired…”

Laura said, “Oh, definitely. I just meant in a larger, general sense. What’s next?”

Karen pecked the corner of Laura’s mouth. “I’m not sure. I don’t know all the details. But I do know it involves you and me together. Is that enough?”

Laura smiled. “Yeah. That’s all I need right now.” She kissed Karen again, then took her hand. “Now, about that other thing you mentioned…”

She didn’t need to know details. Sometimes all that mattered was having the next few days, or even the next few hours, planned out. If they could keep steering themselves straight at that pace, then the future was sure to be something wonderful.

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