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Love's Playlist by Ali Spooner

Chapter 1

Who’s That Girl? Madonna

 

Rita Calhoun strolled down Beale Street, in downtown Memphis, her camera draped around her neck, a camera bag slung over her shoulder as the sun began to fade from the sky. Music had already begun to fill the late afternoon air as tourists and locals filled the sidewalks, bustling to meet friends or family for Friday night festivities. She never tired of photographing Beale Street, or the myriad of people, young, old, wealthy, and common folk. Some of her best portraits were those of the aged musicians who made the street famous with their music.

 

She approached Handy Park, the sound of a guitar, and a harmonica drew her attention to the stage. A young white man strummed on a time worn guitar while sitting beside an older black man, his hands caressing his harmonica as his breath gave birth to beautiful sound. Their faces carved with ecstasy as their music joined and the love for their craft filled the air. They were oblivious to anything other than the notes that flowed through them in perfect harmony. Rita lifted her camera to her face, focusing on the look of pure joy on their faces and snapped several shots. She felt her lips curling into a smile as she witnessed the beauty of the moment these two very different men were experiencing together, captured by her lens.

 

They had their craft and she had hers.

 

She lowered the camera and listened for several more minutes before continuing her stroll. Summoned to arrive at Silky O’Sullivan’s at six, she was to meet a group of women she had shared four of her most wonderful years with at the University of Memphis.

 

Elizabeth Holman, the youngest of the wealthy Holman family, and Rita’s best friend since High School, was engaged to be married in several weeks to the devilishly handsome Roger Tanner. Rita and her sorority sisters were gathering for a pre-bachelorette party.

 

 Rita had begged her way out of being Elizabeth’s Maid of Honor, by promising to serve as the official wedding photographer, escaping the gown and high heels Elizabeth had chosen for her entourage. Since their graduation, Rita had evolved from the world of glamor and high fashion, preferring instead a more casual appearance and sensible shoes. Her designer clothing, orphaned for acid washed jeans and her favorite Doc Martens. She needed the freedom of movement for her photography shoots. Elizabeth was aghast, worried she would show up at the wedding in jeans, but Rita chuckled and assured her that she would be professionally dressed for her perfect day.

 

Susan Morris and Lesley Thomas made up the rest of the fearsome foursome. Susan, president of their sorority, and voted the most likely to succeed, of their small group after graduating top of her class in Business Administration, held the world in her hands. Unfortunately, her success to date was marrying Rodney Morris, prominent banker. She crowed at the top of her lungs when Elizabeth had asked her to be her Maid of Honor. Neither Rita, nor Elizabeth had the heart to tell her she was second choice, so life was good in Memphis.

 

Lesley had always been the grounded one, keeping them out of trouble when their mischievous personas threatened to bite off more than they could chew. She had settled into life as a Certified Public Accountant at one of the most prestigious firms in the city.

 

 Still single, Rita wondered if Lesley had also stepped into the dark side. The more she thought about their days in college, she couldn’t remember Lesley ever dating a man, but she frequently met with a group of women on campus. Hmmm…could it be? Was Lesley also a lesbian?

 

 

Rita was the last to arrive. A server was delivering plates of appetizers and mugs of cold beer as she walked to the table. There was a small stage next to the table and the name of a band written in chalk on a small chalkboard sitting on a barstool.

 

“Glad you finally made it,” Elizabeth said. “We were getting hungry so we ordered appetizers.”

 

“What can I get you to drink?” the server asked.

 

“A Coors Light if you have it.”

 

“I’ll be right back.”

 

“So ladies, has everyone had a great Friday?” she asked taking the seat across from Elizabeth.

 

“It’s getting better now that you’re here,” Elizabeth said. “I know this isn’t our usual haunt for a get together, but Roger wants to hire the band that’s playing tonight for the reception, so he asked me to come listen to them.”

 

“What kind of band?” Lesley answered.

 

“Blues, Jazz, a little bit of everything, according to him.”

 

“That sounds promising,” Rita said as she eyed the server returning with her beer. “Now that’s just what I needed,” she said taking the beer from the server. Rita moved to pay her for the drink and the server stopped her.

 

“The lady has started a tab,” she said. “I’ll be back to check on you.”

 

Rita picked up a chicken wing and took a bite. “Damn, these are good.”

 

“Try one of these,” Lesley said as she placed a fried pickle slice in Rita’s mouth.

 

“Those are good too,” she said as she wiped a drop of ranch dressing from her chin.

 

“Did you not eat today?” Elizabeth asked with a chuckle.

 

“Umm---come to think of it, no I didn’t, I guess I forgot.”

 

“I wish I could forget to eat,” Susan said.

 

“It does look like you’ve put on a few pounds,” Elizabeth teased.

 

Susan’s face turned scarlet and she excused herself from the table. They watched her disappear down the hall.

 

“Now you’ve gone and done it. She’s probably gone to the bathroom to purge the one chicken wing she ate. You’re so cruel,” Lesley said.

 

“Yes, I know,” Elizabeth said, and popped another pickle in her mouth. “I just get tired of her constantly thinking she’s fat. She looks almost as good as she did when we were in college for Christ’s sake.”

 

“Having a wealthy husband takes care of that. Liposuction, plastic surgery…yadda, yadda, yadda,” Lesley said.

 

“I guess I have been out of the loop. I haven’t heard all of this,” Rita said as she chewed.

 

“Be thankful,” Elizabeth said. “She has joined our ladies bridge group, so I get an unhealthy does of it on a weekly basis.”

 

“A bridge group, you’ve joined a bridge group? You aren’t even thirty yet?”

 

“It’s not the age that matters,” Elizabeth winked to Rita. “It’s the contacts with the other women that are important. You learn which groups to join and the right circles to be a part of,” she said.

 

“Good Lord, when did you get old? What happened to the wild, party girl from college?” Rita asked.

 

Elizabeth sighed. “It’s called growing up my friend.”

 

“Count me out then, I’ll stay young and rebellious.”

 

“I’m with you there,” Lesley said and offered her mug in a toast to Rita.

 

Rita tapped her mug with Lesley’s and broke out in a wide grin.

 

Susan returned to the table. “Is everything alright?” Elizabeth asked.

 

“Yes, that beer is going right through me,” she said with a blush.

 

“Time for another round then,” Elizabeth said, and caught the attention of their server.

 

Rita studied her friends wondering truly, when they all did grow up. She was deep in her thoughts when a commotion behind her caught her attention and she turned toward the stage. The band had arrived, and they were taking their places to prepare for the show. Just beyond her left shoulder was a shiny brass saxophone, and when she looked up from the instrument, she locked eyes with the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen. Her heart lurched into her throat and she felt herself try to swallow unsuccessfully. The eyes were sparkling and when she could finally tear her eyes away from them, she found the woman smiling at her.

 

Rita knew from that moment on, she was a goner. She could kiss her heart goodbye.

 

The woman wore black slacks, and a white linen shirt rolled up to her elbows. Black leather suspenders disappeared over her shoulders, and black curly hair flowed from underneath a black fedora hat. Enthralled by the woman, Rita watched as she picked up the instrument, clipping it to a lanyard around her neck, and brought it to her lips. She found herself holding her breath as the woman’s lush lips wrapped around the reed mouthpiece.

 

Lesley nudged her with her shoulder and held out a napkin. “Here, I think you need this.”

 

Rita tore her eyes off the woman to look at Lesley. “What did you say?”

 

“I said, here, I think you need this,” she repeated waving the napkin.

 

Confused, Rita asked, “What for?”

 

“Because my friend, you are absolutely drooling over the sax player.”

 

Rita punched her shoulder then took the napkin from her. “Smartass,” she answered.

 

“You have to admit, she is beautiful.”

 

“Yes, she is,” she mumbled, as her eyes returned to the stage.

 

 

Elizabeth took in Rita’s reaction and she knew then they had their band. She could care less what their music sounded like. Intrigued by the reaction Rita was having at the sight of the beautiful musician, she hid her wicked grin behind the fresh mug of beer the server had brought her. She had known Rita for more than ten years, and had never seen her react to anyone or show interest in anyone that quickly. Sure, she had held her in her arms when she crashed back to earth after short-term relationships had come to a teary end, but even her schoolgirl crushes, did not elicit this type of response. Rita was enchanted, her eyes spellbound to the woman. Elizabeth smiled, fascinated with Rita’s riveted stare.

 

 

Rita was mesmerized and as hard as she tried to join in the conversation with her friends, she found her attention returning to the stage. The other band members had arrived and they began playing.

 

Rita feared she would faint when the women caressed the mouthpiece with her lips and her breath breathed life into a beautiful sound. She watched as the woman’s fingers stroked the keys, the corded muscles in her exposed arms flexing with each new movement.

 

 

Olivia ‘Liv’ Lundy felt the woman’s eyes on her as she played. She concentrated on the music, but felt her eyes drifting toward the woman sitting merely feet away from her. Deep blue eyes watched her every movement, as the sandy haired woman sat enraptured by the music. When their eyes met and locked once more, Liv watched the smile growing on the woman’s face. She swiveled in her seat, fully facing the woman and imagined she was giving a private concert to an audience of one. The music, and blue eyes hypnotized Liv, and she nearly missed the end of the song, and the transition to the next number.

 

 

When the server returned to the table, Rita asked, “Who’s that girl?”

 

“Which one are you talking about?”

 

“The sax player,” Rita said with a blush.

 

“That lovely creature is Liv Lundy. The drummer is her half-sister Flex Bonner.”

 

“Flex?” Rita said.

 

“Yes, Flex, she used to be a professional body builder. She stopped competing a few years ago, but trust me she’s still strong enough to break you in half.”

 

“Who are the rest of the band?”

 

“Their brother David on guitar and his wife Della is the vocalist.”

 

“She’s gorgeous,” Rita murmured.

 

“Yes, Honey she is. Liv has broken many hearts in this town. She’s an amazing lover, but no woman has ever captured her heart.”

 

“Is that the voice of experience?” Elizabeth asked.

 

The woman shrugged with a grin. “I couldn’t resist her charms, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” the woman said, and walked to her next table.

 

 

Elizabeth caught the server as she served another table. “Stop by when you’re done please.”

 

“Sure thing,” the women served the tray of drinks and returned. “What can I get for you?”

 

“Will you send the band a round of drinks for their break and ask them to drop by our table? I have a business proposition for them.”

 

“No problem,” she said and turned to look at Rita with a smile. “Careful you don’t lose your heart.”

 

Rita smiled back to her as she thought, too late for that.

 

 

The band played two more songs before the singer announced they were taking a short break. They watched as the server carried a tray of drinks over to the stage and told them of Elizabeth’s request for them to join their table to discuss a business proposition. The four musicians talked among themselves for a few minutes and then Liv and Flex approached the table.

 

Rita approached the table next to them and brought two chairs over for them. Her heart did a flip when Liv took the seat next to her.

 

“Thanks,” she said, with a sultry voice and a warm smile.

 

“Terri said you wanted to speak with us,” Flex said. “My name is Flex and this is my sister Liv.”

 

The ladies introduced themselves and then Elizabeth took over the conversation. “I’m getting married in a few weeks and my fiancé and I would like your band to play for our reception.”

 

“What’s the date, and where is the wedding? Flex asked.

 

Elizabeth gave her the details and they quietly discussed the terms of the event. 

 

Liv turned to Rita. “I’ve never seen you here before.”

 

Rita’s panic threatened to steal her voice, but she was surprised to hear herself say, “I don’t come here often, but food is good and the music is great.”

 

“Thanks,” Liv said and shot her a charming smile. “We usually play here a couple times a month.”

 

“That’s good to know,” Rita said with a blush.

 

“Will you be at the wedding?” Liv asked.

 

“Yes, I’ll be shooting the gala,” she smiled.

 

“Shooting?”

 

“I’ve volunteered to photograph and video the event. My gift to Elizabeth, and Roger, and also my excuse for not wearing a gown and heels,” she whispered.

 

“I see,” Liv’s eyes glowed with excitement. “Not the gown and heel type of girl?”

 

“Hardly,” Rita said. “Give me a pair of worn jeans and tennis shoes and I’m your woman.” Rita cringed at how cheesy that must have sounded.

 

“Are you Rita Calhoun?” Liv surprised her by asking.

 

“Yes, I am. How do you know my name?”

 

“I’ve seen samples of your photography in some of the trade magazines. You do great work.”

 

Rita was in full blush now and could feel the heat rising up from her neck. “Would you mind if I took some shots of the band tonight?”

 

“Not as long as I can see the final product.”

 

Rita pulled out a cardholder and handed Liv a business card. “Give me a few days and then call or come by my studio.”

 

Liv looked at the address, “I will.”

 

“Thanks,” Flex said and gave Elizabeth her card. “Give me a call next week and we can work out the details. Thanks for the drinks,” she added and stood to leave the table.

 

 “Nice to meet you,” Liv said, slipping the card in her back pocket.

 

The view from the rear was just as fine as the front side, Rita thought as she watched them walk back to the stage.

 

“Cute asses huh,” Lesley whispered.

 

“Oh yeah,” Rita turned to her and smiled. “I didn’t know you like women.”

 

Lesley shrugged, “Late bloomer.”

 

“Better late than never,” Rita smiled.

 

 

The band resumed playing and Rita picked up her camera. “I’ll be right back.”

 

She walked to the front of the stage and took several shots of the full band, then individual shots of each musician. Her lens drew back to Liv who winked at her as she studied her through the viewfinder. Rita felt her smile widen behind the camera.

 

She knelt down in front of the stage to check her shots. Satisfied, she stood and returned to her seat.

 

“Always at work, aren’t you?” Susan said.

 

“You never know when an opportunity will arise for some good shots,” Rita said as she leaned over to show a shot of Flex to Lesley.

 

“Oh dear me, could you blow one of those up for me?” Lesley chuckled.

 

Rita also chuckled, “How big?”

 

“Um, life sized to hang on the ceiling over my bed?”

 

“Ha, I don’t have the equipment to go that big.”

 

“What a shame,” Lesley said with a dreamy sigh.

 

Elizabeth shook her head. “You two are shameless. Who’s up for another round?”

 

“Not me,” Rita said. “I’ve got to drive home, and be clear headed enough to shoot a six year old birthday party tomorrow.”

 

“I’m not driving, so I’ll have another round with you,” Lesley said.

 

 

An hour later, suffering from a serious case of eyestrain from staring into the glaring stage lights, Rita decided to call it a night. “I’ll call you next week to get the final plans on your party,” she told Elizabeth.

 

“Where are you parked?” Lesley asked.

 

“Down by the Forum, do want a ride?”

 

“Yeah, if you don’t mind,” Lesley said. “See you two soon,” she said as she stood to join Rita.

 

Rita opened her wallet, to pull out bills to cover the food, and beers she had consumed.

 

“Put that away, I’ve got this,” Elizabeth said.

 

“Thanks, I had a great time.”

 

“Be safe and I’ll call you next week,” Elizabeth said and stood to hug her best friends.

 

Rita glanced back to the stage and found Liv watching her. They locked eyes and Liv smiled at her. Rita returned the smile and nodded as she turned to leave the bar.

 

Elizabeth watched them leave and turned to find Liv watching them go as well. This is going to be interesting, she thought as Liv turned back to the crowd.

 

 

 Rita and Lesley walked together to her jeep. “So, my friend, when did you decide on dating women?”

 

“Our Senior year in college, I fell hard for one of the softball players at school,” Lesley answered.

 

“I never knew. Why didn’t you say anything?”

 

“To be honest, I was brainwashed by my mother who assured me this was only a phase of experimentation as she put it. Experiment or no, my heart still ached when Tyra went to Chicago to play professional ball.”

 

“Did you try the long distance thing?”

 

“Yeah, for a while, but we soon realized we weren’t cut out for that and she had a team mate that was more convenient for her, so she broke it off six months after we graduated.”

 

“Have you dated much since?”

 

Lesley placed her arm across Rita’s shoulder. “No, I just dove into my work, but you know what my friend?”

 

“What?”

 

“Things are going to change. Do you think I stand a chance at getting a date with Flex?”

 

Rita stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and turned to face her. “You won’t know until you ask.”

 

“I’m thinking I may come back out tomorrow night and listen to them play. See if I can strike up a conversation with her, and get up the nerve to ask her out. I don’t suppose you’d care to join me?”

 

“For moral support,” Rita asked. “I think I could be convinced.”

 

They had reached Rita’s Jeep and she hit the key fob to unlock the doors and disarm the alarm. “Thanks,” Lesley answered and climbed inside.

 

Rita drove into midtown and dropped Lesley at her brownstone. “Would you like to come in for a drink?”

 

“Thanks, but I’ll take a rain check. I have a party of screaming six year olds to be prepared for tomorrow.”

 

“I don’t envy you that task. What time is your party?”

 

“It’s at noon, and then I’ll spend a few hours down in the studio working on some prints.”

 

“Would you mind picking me up tomorrow night then? Maybe around seven, if that’s not too late to eat.”

 

“I’ll grab a late lunch,” Rita said as she pulled into the drive.

 

“Thanks Rita,” Lesley said and then bounced out of the Jeep and walked to her front door.   

 

Rita watched her slip inside and put the Jeep in reverse. She drove on to Germantown to the home she purchased. She lived in the top half and used the front room of the ground level as her studio.

 

“Home sweet home,” she spoke as she pulled into the small garage and carried her camera upstairs. She locked the door behind her and checked the time. It was still early so she descended the stairs and walked into the workshop at the back of the house. She powered on her laptop and pulled the digital card from her camera.

 

She walked into the small kitchen area downstairs, and made a cup of coffee in the Keurig while she waited for the computer to boot up. She slipped into her office chair and inserted the card into the computer. Rita sipped the coffee as the laptop loaded the new shots. A smile grew on her face as the first shot filled her screen. A photograph of the two men at Handy Park glowed with the joy the men experienced while playing together. She studied the shot for several seconds and then used the editing tools to straighten the shot a few degrees, and crop the body of a man crossing behind them in the shot.

 

Satisfied with the result, she sent the frame into the processor for an 8 x 10 print, and pulled up the next photograph. She worked through and printed the rest of the shots from Handy Park, and then smirked at the shots she had taken of Susan, Elizabeth, and Lesley at Silky’s. She made a few adjustments to the photos and then saved them in her friends file without printing. She moved to the next frame and gasped. Liv’s green eyes sparkled as she smiled at the camera. Rita sat for several moments staring at the photo just as she had stared at the woman. The shot was perfect, and there were no adjustments needed to improve the image. She sent the file to the processor, finished the coffee and she worked through the rest of the shots of the musicians. They were good quality shots, but none as appealing as the first shot of Liv, which she returned to after sending the last to the processor for printing. When she could pull her eyes away from the screen, she walked to the processor to remove the fresh prints and spread them out on a worktable for the ink to dry completely. A glance at the clock showed her two hours had slipped away from her. Rita took a final long look at Liv’s smiling image, closed down the computer and turned off the lights before climbing the stairs to her bedroom.

 

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