Multi-platinum Award-winning Country Band Crossroads of Wanton Wishing has a contradiction at its core. Their lead singer, Bill Dillard, is gay and wants to come out, but the timing is not the best.
Jonah Stalham is a street singer, with a promise to keep his broken heart (and other parts of his body) closed to any man, as he dreams of the Big Break in Music City.
Bill and Jonah cross their paths in the streets of Nashville, and their lives will never be the same. Love and Fame are not used to go holding hands.
#2011 #contemporary #musicindustry #nashville
“You can’t come out.”
“How many country male singers are openly gay?”
Bill didn’t have a rebuke for that. He had to press his point anyway. “Mike, if I don’t come out, I won’t be able to find the man of my dreams and live in peace.”
“Baby, this is Country not Pop! Brokeback Mountain is a fantasy wrote for housewives and girls in Catholic school. And you know how that one ended.” Mike growled, frustrated.
Bill knew Mike was upset since his daughter came from Japan obsessed with boy on boy love stories. That wasn’t helping his own cause. “You just ain’t getting it, do you?”
“I’ve got it very damned right. Straight porn has lesbian scenes. Carrie Underwood going down on some other hot chick would be a hit, an awesome sex tape. You, with a dude— would be a fucking catastrophe.”
“I wasn’t really asking for permission, you know.”
“As your manager, I forbid you to come out. As your friend, I beg you to understand. All you’ve worked so hard to achieve would go south faster than you could say Reba. It’s not worthy. Think about the other guys in the band. Don’t you think they deserve a say on this?”
“I’ll talk to them. I was hoping for your support as back up.” Bill stopped his pacing. “I need some fucking fresh air.” Bill turned around and left their manager’s office, smashing the door on his way out.
The sky above the building by the river was a dull gray, mimicking Bill’s troubled mind. Forty-five degrees outside, and Bill forgot his jacket back in the office. Good. The chill would help him to chill out.
It was that time of the year, when spring hadn’t kicked winter in the balls yet to make him go away. They were just side by side poking each other with happy blooms throwing sucker punches here and there. Bill needed a long walk to calm himself for sure.
The street sign flipped him the bird. Just in this town you would find such ambiguous directions, Church Street to the right and Gay Street to the left.
Fuck First Avenue.
If life were as easy as just choosing the way his heart longed for, he’d have chosen left. This time, Bill chose right to wander Church Street.
Bill walked by tourists taking pictures in light jackets and toboggans and sunglasses. Surely, people from the North; this weather was warm for them. A couple of blocks ahead, Bill entered a Farmer’s Market to get a bottle of water—he was parched and enraged. He circled the place several times distracting his troubled head with brands and colors.
When Bill came out of the store, a male voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar caressed his face. He crossed the street (looking for the source of enchantment) and saw a group of people surrounding someone.
He walked in a trance, following the merman’s baritone. He tried to imagine to whom that enchanted voice might belong but nothing came up. The guy must be sitting on one of the columns of that bank’s entrance because the crowd circling him blocked the view.
Bill finally scooted between the transfixed people and discovered the source of the spell. The guy had long legs nicely framed by a well-worn pair of jeans. The cascade of slim, sunny-wheat hair reached below his five o’clock shadow— a hot sign for a little pass noon. An army surplus jacket effortlessly disguised a stretched smiley face t-shirt. The eyes, those were what captivated Bill more than the dreamy voice. Big and brown like sweet honey.
When people played for money on the street, they tried to please the audience with cheesy songs or whatever was on the top ten that month most of the time. This song, however, was something Bill had never heard before. It was a melancholic piece sang with a vitality mostly reserved for Flamenco. The voice was mesmerizing, but beyond that, the guy’s presence sent something roaring inside Bill, a mix between anger and hope.
They were on the opposite side of the street from a Church of the Gospel, and for the first time, Bill noticed the building had two large billboards on either side of the entrance. One had dates and names ranging from 1785 to 2002. Thirty lines of information that for some reason (he couldn’t grasp in that moment) reminded him of a chalkboard scribbled with a menu planted on any sidewalk. The other board was a chronology, stating fires had consumed two previous buildings. Bill wondered why that information was intriguing enough to be there.
Conflict swirled inside him. Bill knew the burning sensation. This stranger had ignited a bigger resolution to kick Mike straight in the crotch and to vent those things that were more personal with retaliating rage. What if he just grabbed the guy, kissed him there in the middle of the street, and the truth finally soared?
Two things could happen, the hot-as-fuck street singer would punch Bill in the face for being a fag, or the guy would return the kiss and grab Bill’s ass with blissful abandon. This was fucking Nashville, there were no paparazzi lurking in the corners, waiting to catch the downfall of celebrities. And Bill didn’t even consider himself a celebrity. He was just another singer, with just a little better luck than the one making him think all this nonsense.
The crown jewel of the church nightmare (or delusion, Bill wasn’t sure anymore) was the invitation for Sunday Worship.
RISING FROM THE DEATH WITH FUN. 11:00 A.M.
Only in the Bible Belt, Easter Mass can be advertised that way.
Bill was the last one standing there. The guy looked up and nodded, acknowledging him, then cocked his head toward the upside down fedora with money in it. He thought of giving the guy a couple of tens, but a different idea nudged him. “You wrote that, dude?”
“Yep. All by myself.” The guy grinned.
“Usually, I don’t give people money. But, I can buy you a meal, if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure. Why not?” The guy was noncommittal.
“There’s a Boxed Joker’s close. Would you like that?”
“My favorite.” The blond street singer winked and something shuddered inside Bill.
The fast food joint was a place very in tune with California and with little to do with Tennessee, but the egg rolls were delicious. They faced the counter, one hundred combos struggling for their attention. “Order whatever you want, dude.”
The guy answered with his attention apparently on the board. “I really don’t eat that much, dog. Order something for me. Anything would be fine.”
And two egg rolls combos with large cokes was their order. They seated at a table by the windows, watching people stroll outside. Bill thought it was seriously messed up that every time the guy bit a roll, his mind drifted to something of a different texture— basically, a part of his own anatomy.
“My name is Bill. What’s yours?” He asked, hoping conversation could distract the inflamed images slapping him.
“Jonah Stalham. Nice to meet you, Bill.” The guy extended his hand for a shake.
The guy had the hands of a pianist with long, slim fingers. Crackers Jackers, if Bill didn’t just imagine those digits stroking his cock.
What the fuck, Bill? Control yourself.
“You a tourist, Bill? You look familiar.” Jonah cocked his head, studying him. He probably didn’t fully recognize him because Bill wasn’t wearing his usual cowboy hat, and his hair was messy after all the pulling while arguing with Mike.
“As a matter of fact, I’m a singer just like you. I’m with Crossroads of Wanton Wishing.”
Big brown eyes grew wide in astonishment. “You’re shitting me, right? You’re that Bill Dillard?”
“Yep. No relation to the department store, though.” Bill chuckled.
“Cool. And where are the other guys?”
“Well, they’re going about their own businesses somewhere. I was having a conversation with my manager that didn’t go as I expected.” Bill shrugged to avoid further explanations.
“I hope you aren’t thinking about leaving the band. Y’all are the shit.”
“Thanks, man. I appreciate it. But no, it wasn’t about that.”
Jonah finished his last egg roll, sipped his coke, glanced at his 12.85 digital watch and extended his hand for a goodbye handshake. “Bill, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. Now, I’ve got to get me a bus.”
Bill panicked; he didn’t want the moment to finish so abruptly. “If you need a ride, I can take you wherever you’re heading. Ain’t have nothing else to do right now.”
Jonah considered him for a moment, surely weighing his offer. “I really don’t want to impose, especially after you bought me lunch.” Jonah grinned gingerly.
Bill would insist one more time. If Jonah declined, he would try, at least, to get the man’s cell phone number— from fellow artist to fellow artist.
“Tell me where you live.” He gave Jonah a tentative grin as if it weren’t a big deal to take him.
Jonah twisted his mouth in a way capable of melt ice easily. “I rent a room close to Percy Priest Lake.” He moved to his feet.
“I-24 or Murfreesboro?” Bill asked contently, calculating both routes.
Jonah exhaled a low chuckle, tickling lower things inside Bill. “It’s up to you. You’re the one doing the driving.”
“Okay,” he stretched the two letters. “My car is on First Avenue. Let’s go.”
Jonah hesitated, then strapped his guitar and adjusted his fedora, murmuring, “Hell, yeah...”
* * * *
They headed back to Church Street and strode in a straight line up to First Ave without much talking, comments on the weather mostly. Jonah acted nonchalantly, but he was a wreck inside. It wasn’t every day that you get a meal (and a ride) from the lead singer of a platinum award-winning Country band.
They turned left, crossing the street and a parking lot. “I thought this building was abandoned,” Jonah commented as they turned into an inner garage in the middle of the block.
“No. But the main entrance is sealed, though. To go up, we use the underground parking.”
Jonah retraced his steps and faced the big glass doors, using both hands to protect his eyes from the glare. With his nose glued to the glass, he saw two large round stairs and a magnificent mosaic of George Washington on the floor between the stairs. “It’s a shame because it’s a really cool entry.”
Bill was beside him, but not looking through the glass doors. He must have seen this entrance a hundred times, at least. Bill chuckled. “Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe they lost the keys.”
Wow, Jonah had seen this man on videos and always thought Bill was a real looker, but the screen was an envious motherfreaker, because this man was stupidly gorgeous.
“My car is over here.” Billy beckoned Jonah, turning into the inner parking lot.
The short sleeves of the maroon shirt hugged the tanned triceps as Billy walked with an easy stride ahead of Jonah. He wondered why Bill wasn’t wearing a jacket in this weather. He followed the round butt wrapped in faded jeans, not tightly but enticingly, and Jonah swallowed a gush of saliva because drooling wouldn’t be polite in this circumstance. Besides, he’d always been a sucker for thick legs, and Bill had thighs for days.
C’mon (Jonah gave himself a mental head slap), the man was a freaking country singer; you can’t get more straight than that. Bill must be crushing pussy all over the South.
An alarm beeped, opening a car. Bill stood by a fire red Wrangler— ‘09 by the look of it.
“Sweet ride.” Jonah whistled. “My folks gave me a ‘89 Sidekick for my eighteenth birthday. A fifteen-year-old camel, but they knew I loved jeeps.”
“So, what are you, twenty-five?” Billy asked, arching an eyebrow.
The man was quick.
“Yeah. Arrived there last February.” Jonah nodded and winked. He saw Bill’s Adam’s apple bob strangely, like Bill had just swallowed a lot of thick saliva. Perhaps the egg rolls weren’t agreeing with him.
Bill opened the door and jumped into the driver’s seat. “Cool. What happened to the Sidekick?”
Jonah moved to the passenger’s door as he answered, “A junkyard snacked it two years later.”
Bill started the ignition. “You must have been devastated.” Humor laced his hot drawl.
“I enjoyed it while it lasted. Never had another car after that, though.”
“You’re a public transportation guy, then,” Billy added without looking at him.
“I buy my monthly pass religiously.”
They drove through the interstate silently. “Is Bill short for William or just Bill?” Jonah asked, simply to break the silence.
Bill stole a glance at him, smiling. “It’s Belisario actually. Like my father.”
“Wow. That’s a different name.” That was a piece of information not on the Crossroads of Wanton Wishing website.
“Yeah. My mother never got around to pronounce it correctly, so they left it at Bill.”
“Beli-sari-o Dillard.” Jonah enunciated. “Doesn’t sound country to me. Heh heh.”
“Dillard is my mother’s maiden name. My father’s surname is even more unpronounceable than my name.” Bill laughed heartily.
Jonah loved this man’s contagious mood. “Try me,” he challenged.
“Gorrichategui,” Bill gurgled.
“Nope. Not easy at all.” He sniggered. “I feel you, dog.”
The rest of the way, Bill told him about his childhood in Antigua, Guatemala. How he played soccer in a wide plaza protected by an enormous stone cathedral. One of many old churches in the ancient city.
Bill had come to America when his father died, and his mother returned to her Southern roots because she wasn’t Catholic, and the family of Bill’s father never accepted her completely. His parents had loved each other so much that their different approaches to the Big Book didn’t interfere with their relationship. Respect was always a major aspect of his childhood according to his narration, in total opposition with Jonah’s own repressive growing experience. High school had been hard on Bill, but he had eaten college in a breeze, and he was in the same dorm with all the members of the band. They were doing gigs long before they became famous.
Before Jonah realized it, he’d been giving Bill directions to navigate the maze to reach his house.
“Wait a minute,” Bill said alarmingly. “I don’t see bus stops around here. How you catch the bus?”
“I walk,” he confessed. “It’s around twenty-five minutes. It keeps me in shape. My work is just like twenty away, though.” Jonah knew how to make miracles when the weather was nasty.
“And where do you work?” Billy asked, apparently interested.
“At a gas station in the opposite direction from here. I do the graveyard shift. It gives me time to pursue my career during the day. Here we are. Turn left.”
Jonah couldn’t understand the expression on Bill’s face.
“I would invite you to come in, but I don’t know if you’ve got the time.” Jonah was sure he looked sheepish. “Thelma and Louise would die if I tell ’em, you were here, and I didn’t invite you in.”
Bill looked as if he was about to burst laughing. “Thelma and Louise? You just call them that to mock ’em, right? Are you their Brad Pitt?” The laughing creases around his eyes made Bill even hotter.
“Nope, those are their real names. Louise prefers to be called Louie, though. They’re a lesbian couple in their forties. I think they’re actually beyond fifty, but you can’t say that to their faces.” Jonah shrugged, ready to climb off the jeep.
“Let’s do something. What time you’d be up tomorrow?”
“I usually don’t sleep after my shift. What I do is snore around five hours before going to work.” Jonah wouldn’t be able to sleep today after been around this hot guy, but he’d try his best.
“Great.” Bill appeared ecstatic. “Give me your phone number, and I’ll give you a call around eight for breakfast, and you can bring some of your songs. I’m really interested.”
Jonah crossed his arms over his chest and cocked his head. He grinned to soften his next words. “They’re registered, you know...”
Motherfreaking Bill Dillard had just asked for Jonah’s cell phone number. But, you could never be too cautious in the music industry. He didn’t know if the man was just a greedy opportunist. Jonah hoped that wasn’t the case. If Crossroads of Wanton Wishing used any of his songs, it would be an awesome breakthrough.
Bill seemed unabashed; there was an actual twinkle of pride in his unbelievable blue eyes. They were the color Earth must look from space. “It’s very good that your rights are secured.” he nodded approvingly and extended his hand for a shake. “Nice to meet you, Jonah Stalham. I will see you tomorrow morning.”
They exchanged phone numbers, and Jonah asked, “Would you remember how to get out of here?”
Bill tapped a finger on his temple. “I’ve got it totally GPSed in here. Have a good shift.”
Jonah stood open-mouthed at his entrance as the Wrangler vroomed away.
Shit, shit, shit!