Dani California ((NOT YET FINISHED))

"Are we there yet" was never a question on Dani's mind. All she knew was the open country roads, the cheap drive-through meals, and the smells of cigarette smoke and alcohol. The road changes her, and not for the better. But going on nothing but adrenaline and the advice of an old wannabe rock star, Dani gets the chance to prove that your upbringing doesn't always have to foreshadow your future.


2. Get Up

It was one of those nights. Mama was out at another bar, and I was tossed across the backseat of the Ford sipping a Corona I had stolen from the nearby liquor store. There was nothing to listen to but a strange chorus of my newest record, Dexy's Midnight Runners' Come on Eileen, and the chirping of the crickets from just outside the truck. I took a few slow sips of my beer, closed my eyes, sang a few bars, and then took a few more slow sips. Sip, sing, repeat. Sip, sing, repeat. It went on like that for what must have been hours, until a strange sound intruded into my record's melody. 

It sounded like the footfall of heavy boots on pavement. Groggy from drunkenness and lack of sleep, I thought it was just Mama and fearlessly opened the back door to throw my now-empty bottle at her. I wasn't expecting to open the door unto an older man, maybe in his early seventies, who looked as shocked to see me as I was shocked to see him. I launched the empty Corona at the road just next to him, trying to warn him off, but he only smirked and leaned against the front end of the pickup.

"Little lady, I thought you was a bit older than you are, going on just your singin' voice," he laughed. I just stared angrily at the man. Who was he to stand there and talk to me, when he had nearly given me a heart attack? I was only fourteen, but I certainly could fend for myself and intended to prove this point to the man.

"Sir," I said pointedly. "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't mind leavin' me alone. Or if you got any money, buyin' me another Corona. I'm fresh out." I laughed crookedly at the suggestion that this rude stranger would buy an underaged girl a beer. Much to my surprise, he pulled two Coors Lights out of a satchel he wore around his shoulders and handed me one.

"Hope you'll settle for this instead," he grinned, winking. I stared at him in astonishment and took the drink. I set it beside me on the backseat of the pickup and swung my legs around to dangle over the edge of the open door frame. This man was intriguing me, and although I didn't trust him of course, I wanted to know why he was bothering me.

"Why were you listenin' to my singing?" I interrogated. He put on a serious face and folded his arms over his thick chest.

"Missy, I thought maybe you were some kind of travelin' muse. You've got a damn good voice. Makes you sound quite a bit older than you are. Fifteen, maybe?" he replied calmly.

"Fourteen," I answered, skeptical of the old man's claims to have thought I was older. It was about midnight, and this man was wandering the parking lot searching for traveling minstrels? I didn't buy it, and apparently he could tell that I didn't. 

"I wasn't gonna kidnap you or nothin', if that's what you're thinking. And I'm sure it is. But you could use that voice of yours, kiddo. Fourteen year old girl like you shouldn't be drinkin' and sleepin' in old ratty pickup trucks in old ratty parking lots. I did that when I was your age, or maybe a little younger even. Blamed my no-good parents for everything and never thought I could be anythin'. And here I am, I'm nothin'. Not because I started with nothin', but because I thought starting with nothin' meant you could never gain a thing."

I blinked. This stranger was giving me life advice in the middle of a strip club parking lot in the middle of the night. This stranger had just handed me, a fourteen-year-old girl, a beer when I had asked for one, and an explanation when I had asked for one. No, I didn't trust him, but I wanted to know more about what he might be suggesting.

"Are you telling me," I began, "that I should leave my Mama behind? And just wander the roads, singing and playing guitar? Hell, I don't even have a guitar." I rolled my eyes, remembering how Mama had smashed my old acoustic against the side of our pickup in a drunken rage a few months before.

The man looked toward the club on the far end of the lot. "If that's where your Mama is right now, I don't think you have to worry about abandoning her. I think she's already done so to herself, as well as to you. Might as well make something of yourself besides a lot-living drunk, I think," he said thoughtfully. I bit my lip, knowing he was somehow right but refusing to believe that it was right to leave Mama behind. 

"Look, kiddo," he went on. "I wanted to be a rock star. All my life, that's all I wanted. And my good-for-nothin' family and my good-for-nothin' friends told me I could never be that. But here I am, a good-for-nothin' stranger tellin' you you can be whatever you want to be if you kick the bad habits and do a little work for a change. Get up off your lazy, beer-stealin' ass and find a guitar and find a good life for yourself. Because I know you didn't buy that Corona and I know you ain't gonna get anywhere sitting in that truck like a lowlife." He glared at me, and I glared back. We were both drunk, he from God knows how many Coors Lights and myself from too many stolen Coronas. We were both angry, too, he because of a life he never got to live and me because this drunk and angry stranger was trying to tell me what to do. Angrily, I rocketed the beer he had given me at him. I missed by a few inches, but he got the point and stalked off, turning one last time back towards me and mouthing the words Get up. Then he continued off into the dark envelope of night.

I sat there for a while, contemplating everything the stranger had said. Only God knew if half of it was true or not, and there was no way I could just travel on my own without Mama and without any money. But the man had inspired me to do something to change myself - again. And I felt that it had to start with forcing myself to listen to two simple words - Get up.

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