Everybody laughed. The session went swimmingly. The only thing Helen had to say when they were done was, “We should’ve recorded that.” Then she snatched Keith by the collar. “Boy, come here. I wanna talk t’ you.”
They went back out to the lobby and Helen said, “Okay, whatever it is I’m paying you, you get a raise.”
“Works for me.” He pressed his luck. “Y’know what’s a good idea?”
“You and the brat singing some Sam and Dave. I could pull out some of my best Steve Cropper riffs.”
Helen nodded. “Yeah, that is a good idea. Damned good. I knew I had the right man for this job. Okay, I’m outta here.” She turned and walked off, Keith watching her wear the hell out of those sweat pants every step of the way.
Keith got home, went in and, dog tired, fell out on the sofa. “Baby?” he heard Lesli say. Grunted, rolled over and landed on the floor. Bruno came over, looking concerned, and licked his face. “Damn.” You haven’t truly had an interesting experience, he thought, until you’re woke up by a cat rubbing his sandpaper tongue on you.
“Shoo.” That was Lesli. Standing over him looking down with a pitying smile. “Rough day, hunh?”
“You don’t know the half of it.” He got to his knees.
She giggled and pulled him to his feet. “We’re going tomorrow so you can meet Hank and Mari. Looks like you’ll need eye-drops.”
She shrugged. “Afternoon?”
They got up next day, caught the train. Keith looked at suburbs the way Lesli looked at his job. It must be real swinging to live here. These nice houses, manicured lawns and the whole nine yards. He’d grown up broke as a joke in Flatbush, Brooklyn. And never knew anything outside city streets.
They got there and, stepping out of the taxi, he took a deep breath in, then let it out. So did she. They walked up the drive and before they could get to the door, Mari burst through the screen door, letting it slam behind her. “Baby!”
“Hi, Mom,” Lesli said as her mother enveloped her in a suffocating hug. Keith looked on, amused. There was always something special about the way mothers and daughters related. That certain connection.
Mari finally let Lesli go, walked over and, shaking his hand, made no bones about sizing him up. “So, you’re the musician.” He simply nodded. She let go of his hand, still measuring him. “Well, come on in. The two of you must be hungry.”
Poor Lesli was scared half to death and, as Mari just about dragged her inside, looked over her shoulder at her man, wincing. Keith gave her a reassuring grin and followed behind. “Henry!” Mari yelled. “Get in here. We’ve got company.”
Lesli’s dad strolled in from the den, looked at his daughter and beamed. “Daddy!” She rushed over, wrapping her arms around him, head flat against his chest, rocking, holding on for dear life.
He rested his face on the top of her head. “Little bit.”
“This is,” Mari said, “the guitar player.”
Lesli broke the embrace and reached out for Keith, who gladly stepped over. Her father asked, “He got a name?”
“Keith, Daddy. Keith Jackson.”
Keith shook her dad’s hand and something warm passed between them. The kind of mutual respect it’s not easy to come by. “Got burgers on the grill out back. Should be ready by now.”
Mari grabbed Lesli and pulled her into the kitchen where they both immediately weighed a trolley down with bowls of potato salad, macaroni salad, hamburger rolls and pretty much everything else they could manage. Keith followed her father outside. “Like your meat well done?”
“Good.” The backyard could’ve been a small football field. Immaculate.
“Nice lookin’ spread, Mr. Hall.”
“Hank. Just call me Hank.” Gave a small smile, looking around. “Yeah, not too bad, hunh?” They both laughed. The guy exuded understated authority. Lesli, it didn’t take Keith long to surmise, didn’t get that hair-trigger temper of hers from this man.
Next week: Keith gets grilled by Hurricane Mari.
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