“Why oh, why… can’t…I?” The singer with a long blond ponytail leaned closer to the microphone and held the final note as long as she could, long after the acoustic guitar’s resonance faded. She then let her voice do the same. Looking out from the small raised platform in the back corner of the Seaside Bean Coffee Shoppe, the clock and crowd told Melanie Turner it was time to go home.
“Thank you and goodnight,” Melanie spoke into the microphone and pressed the stop button on her phone’s recording app. The only patrons left in the shop – a small group of college students across the room – did not look up from their laptops. Must be close to finals Melanie thought to herself, deduced from the fact that college kids were in the coffee shop this late on a Tuesday night in early May.
Melanie unplugged the microphone cord from her PA system, then yanked the PA’s power plug from the wall. She reached for the guitar’s faded black hard case, propped in the corner, and lifted it up onto the closest table. A lone Hootie and the Blowfish sticker adorned the case, which she opened gently and placed the guitar into the red velvet bed. Melanie closed the lid and latched it securely.
Turning around, she took a deep breath and picked up the PA system in her left hand, then grabbed the guitar case with her right, balancing the two as she walked toward the barista counter. She passed the table of young college kids, easily ten years her junior and each with earbuds and fully engrossed in a Macbook. Melanie frowned and shook her head. Still, none of them noticed as she walked by.
Melanie stooped at the order pick up end of the counter and set her equipment down on the floor. Harold, the shop owner, and tonight’s closing barista, stopped the steamer he was using to clean out cups. “That was beautiful, Melanie,” he said. “Always my favorite part of the show. Judy Garland would be proud. Now remind me why you’re wasting your talents in my little shop?”
“Thanks, Harold,” Melanie said and looked into the tip jar at the end of the order pickup counter. “This all the tips tonight?” she asked, frowning.
“Yep, Harold said. “Nothing but college kids tonight. Guess they’re out of money at this point in the year.”
“Sounds like my entire year…or decade,” Melanie said.
“Go ahead and take it all. Tourist season will be here soon. It will pick up.”
“Nope, a deal’s a deal. Fifty-fifty,” she said and took a couple of bucks, slipping them into her jeans pocket. “I can get a gallon of gas, I guess. See you Thursday.” Melanie bent down and picked up her gear again.
“Have a good night,” Harold said and started cleaning another cup.
“Good night, Harold,” Melanie said and backed her way out the shop door.
The smell of coffee disappeared, replaced by the Lowcountry night air. Not crispy and clear but a special kind of smell, heavy, salty, and not quite fresh. It was pleasant to Melanie, though. There were plenty of parking spots along the street now, unlike when she arrived to play.
Melanie lugged her PA system and guitar a block down the road and turned. She spotted her faded gray Jeep Grand Wagoneer with worn wood paneling another block down this street, the only vehicle on the abandoned throughway now. Melanie switched the PA to her other hand.
“Good evening, ma’am. Looks like you could use a hand,” Melanie heard from behind. She turned around to see a lone man approaching.
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