Fourteen Months Later
Summer in the city was so much different from what it was back home in the Plains. In my youth, it meant playing outside in the dirt pile just on the border of Mama’s garden. To a girl of four, it sat like a mountain. Funny that as I grew, the “mountain” shrunk, but it was never small enough to be considered anything less than a hill.
I recall it clearly, as though the conversation was just yesterday instead of nineteen years ago.
“What do you think, Desi?” Mama said. “I thought you’d like to play on it while I work in the garden.”
I remember being so excited. A place to play with my toy horses and dolls. It was the perfect combination of dirt, sand, and grass torn up and taken root in splotchy patches all over the mound. “I play here?” I asked.
“I made it for you, sweet pea,” she said. “It’s your hill. It’s Destiny’s hill.”
“Wow!” my four-year-old self squealed. “My hill! Desi hill!” I couldn’t get my toys outside fast enough.
I spent entire summers soaking in the bathtub after a day’s play, covered head to toe in dirt and silt. Who needed the beach when I had Destiny’s hill in my own backyard? The memory made me smile, sitting at the desk of the biggest, most successful talent agent in town; Ernesto Gonzales.
“Have you decided on a stage name Destiny?” he asked.
I nodded, a broad grin on my face. “I have.”
Two Months Before
Following Daddy’s timely advice, I began singing around town. Wherever people gathered, I played for tips, but I avoided the park like the plague. Each time I’d been there for a festival, the same group of bullies dominated the front stage area at Verde Park. I had no desire for a repeat performance.
Leading worship at the chapel became a regular thing. When Tanya and her husband discovered they were expecting their first child, she stepped down as worship leader and appointed me in her place. I didn’t feel worthy of such a responsibility, but it gave me the opportunity to use some songs I’d written as a teenager and compose new ones to sing.
The Saturday evening before I would debut my first original songs, Stephen and I sat at our favorite pizzeria, combing through each musical arrangement for flaws. Though we couldn’t change much—as we’d rehearsed the songs for months—I still wanted to make sure they were perfect. We sat at our usual table near the karaoke stage, nibbling on pizza and sipping sweet tea.
“What are you so worried about, Destiny? The songs are fantastic, and the congregation will love them. I guarantee it.” Stephen patted my hand and smiled. “I know you’re anxious. Worship leaders use new music all the time.”
“But they don’t write their own stuff, Stephen. This is all my original work. What if they flop?”
“Would you relax?” he said with a chuckle. “There is a reason Tanya promoted you to worship leader, Destiny. Besides, Pastor Tim adores you. He credits you with the chapel’s growth, you know.”
I blushed as red as the checkered cloth on the table. “You flatter me, sir.”
“Nope. There’s nothing insincere about my compliments. You deserve everything you’ve achieved since you’ve been attending the chapel.”
Stephen poured another sweet tea for me from the pitcher and topped off his glass. As he set it down, the karaoke jockey called for the next singer. “Destiny. Well, that’s a pretty name. Where’s Destiny?”
I looked at Stephen like a deer in bright headlights. “What did you do?” His sly grin said everything.
“I snuck your name in while you were fretting over the songs. I thought it would do you good to show off a little.”
“Thanks… Thanks a lot.” I glared at him as I stood. “I’m Destiny,” I announced.
“Come on up, darlin’,” the KJ said. “You’re going to sing Katie Price’s ‘Baby, One More Time?’”
I nodded, then shot a dirty look at Stephen. “Sure…?” I shrugged. In my peripheral vision, he was laughing his head off. I gritted my teeth as I took the microphone.
I didn’t even need to watch the lyrics on the screen. I’d sung this song so often, the words rolled right off my tongue, in tune and with faultless pitch. Even I had to admit I killed it. When the song was over, everyone in the restaurant was on their feet cheering my name. Stephen sat at our table, beaming with pride. I waved, gave a sheepish grin to the crowd, and took my seat at our table.
“I didn’t expect that,” I said. My cheeks once again matched the red in the checkered linens on the table. But inside, I was about to burst at the seams. It felt so good; no, it felt euphoric. I was flying on cloud nine in my own little world when Stephen’s gentle nudge on my shoulder brought me out of the stratosphere.
“Destiny!” He couldn’t contain his contagious laughter. “What do I keep telling you? You’re going to get noticed someday if you keep singing in public.”
I pointed at the ceiling and shifted my gaze upward. “From your mouth to His ears, Stephen.”
That night, I barely slept at all. Poppy was restless—I imagined she was reactive to my nervous energy—and her fidgeting didn’t help my nerves one bit. Every hour that passed was another opportunity to find fault with the songs we’d sing later that morning. I was moments away from scrapping the whole thing when my alarm sounded.
“Alright, I’m up,” I growled at the clock, as though it were a sentient being instead of an inanimate object. Poppy didn’t stir as I flopped out of bed and stumbled toward the bathroom to shower.
The warm water felt good, so I stood there longer than I should have, singing and warming up my voice. The acoustics in my bathroom were incredible; I could almost set up a recording studio in it.
I wrapped up in my robe and walked back to the bedroom. Poppy was awake and grooming herself; when she saw me, she trilled and jumped down to rub against my ankles. “Is it breakfast time, sweetheart?” I bent down to scratch her head. My question was answered with loud meows and my resulting laughter.
I walked down the steps with Poppy at my heels, her trills and cute little mews breaking the early morning silence. She waited, weaving through my legs impatiently, while I opened a can of food for her and spooned it into her bowl. While I prepared her breakfast, I started the coffeemaker, too. My first cup was brewed by the time Poppy’s meal was ready. I placed her bowl on the floor and padded into the living room to sit by the barren fireplace.
Outside, the weather was blustery. I knew the forecast called for rain overnight, and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint. There was thunder in the distance, likely a storm coming in off the coast. I was happy I’d gotten my shower in before the lightning arrived. Poppy jumped onto the loveseat and took her place on my lap while I sipped my coffee.
After my last mouthful, I plodded back upstairs to dress for church. My closet was filled with my clothes and some of Mama’s old dresses. I picked through the wardrobe, searching until I found an outfit that Mama wore to church years ago. The ensemble was perfect; a blue skirt with a leather belt and a matching sweater. She and I wore the same size, which was quite handy. Her pretty clothes were hardly used, some of them still with tags on them. At home, Mama almost always wore a pair of jeans and a shirt with her boots.
The outfit lay on my bed while I sat at my makeup table. A smoky blue color shaded my eyes, with gray eyeliner, a cool color blush on my cheeks, and a warm, coral lip tint. Poppy sat on the floor watching with great interest until a moth in the window caught her attention. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and secured it with a pink scrunchy. A few shorter strands of hair formed bangs. I wrinkled my nose as I tried in vain to tuck them into my hairstyle. No, Destiny, I thought. It will not happen today. Before I left the bedroom, I took Daddy’s prayer book from my nightstand and slipped it under my arm.
My purse and keys sat on the side table near the door, so on my way downstairs, I stowed the book inside my bag. My song journal already stuck out of it; I really needed a bigger purse. I made the rounds to make sure everything was turned off and out of Poppy’s reach before I left her alone for the morning. She’d nap while I was gone, and then greet me at the door when I came home. If everything went like I imagined it would, I’d need her to cheer me up.
The car sat in the driveway, slightly crooked. I wasn’t even drinking last night, and that’s how I parked it? “Maybe I should have had a glass of wine,” I muttered under my breath. I might have slept better, too. I opened the door and hopped into the driver’s seat. The engine fired with the turn of my key; I shifted into reverse and backed out into the street, headed toward the church in the western hills of Starlight Shores.
Fifteen minutes later, I parked the car in the lot behind the church and walked through the back entrance. Just inside, another door led me upstairs to an all-purpose room the church used for just about everything. Stephen was on the sofa reading his prayer book when I opened the door. His bright smile put my jittery heart at ease like nothing else could have. He stood and walked to me, wrapped me in a hug, and kissed my cheek.
“You look like you’re scared to death,” he said and hugged me tighter. “I promise you, everything will be fine.”
Though Stephen and I had reviewed the songs until we were bleary-eyed, I doubted them. It was an enormous leap of faith to trust my instinct and his encouragement. It was too late to change the song list. Everything was ready to go, except for me; I was a nervous wreck.
“You’re as cool as a cucumber. Meanwhile, I feel sick.” I wiped my clammy hands on Mama’s skirt. “Are you sure those songs are good enough?”
He squinted at me and cocked his head. “I wish you’d have just a little more self-confidence, Destiny. You’re so much better than you give yourself credit for.”
“Thank you for your faith in me, Stephen. You’re the only reason I haven’t scrapped everything. I trust your opinion.”
Stephen took my hand and squeezed it. “My opinions are solid gold. And so are you.”
One by one, other members of the worship team entered the common room, each of them giving me a pep talk and telling me how excited they were to play the new songs. Unexpectedly, Pastor Tim opened the door, wearing a wide grin. He seldom involved himself with the worship team; he spent most of his time in the chapel, meeting and greeting churchgoers downstairs.
“Destiny,” he said, “I’ve been hearing great things about the musical selection for this week. I understand they’re your original songs? Stephen tells me they’re amazing.”
I blushed and hid my face in my hands. “What you’ve heard is true, but I’ve been having doubts about—”
“Well, don’t. Church attendance is up twenty-five percent since you’ve become worship leader, Destiny. We might need to add a second service if we don’t stop growing! I’ve watched you blossom every week. Your ability to touch people with your voice is a gift from above, and I’m so happy you’re blessing us with it.” Pastor Tim hugged me and then stepped back. “I know you’ll succeed out there today.”
“Thank you,” I whispered with humble gratitude. He gathered the worship team around me; all of them laid hands on me while Pastor Tim prayed for us.
“You’ve got this, Destiny. Make me proud.” He patted my shoulder once more and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ as he walked from the common room.
Stephen and I walked together down the steps on the right side of the stage. The musicians filed in and descended the stairs that would lead them onto a riser behind the main stage. Stephen, a guitarist/vocalist named Frank, Tanya, Jorge, and I, would all be on the main stage. Everyone followed my lead; on my signal, we moved together into the packed auditorium.
Behind us on the back wall sat two monitors that would display the song lyrics for the congregation to follow along. I noticed the first song was ready for us ahead of our arrival on stage. Darren sat at his drum set and watched for my signal. He tapped out four beats on his sticks, and the band played the first notes of the songs. It’s go time, I thought. Fake it till you make it.
I couldn’t watch the audience for the first few lines of the first song. My eyes were closed while I concentrated on the words I knew by heart. When we reached the chorus, I noticed the congregation singing along with us. My heart soared! They loved the music! Stephen, that wonderful, lovable scoundrel, was right again. As usual, I was worried about nothing.
After services were over, a man—I guessed he was a little older than me—approached me. I recognized him immediately, though I didn’t recall seeing him in the sanctuary. It was Ernesto Gonzales, the biggest talent agent in town! A serene smile wore on his face as he drew near.
“Well, well,” he said, stepping onto the stage. “The rumors are absolutely true, I see.”
“I beg your pardon?” I looked around to see if anyone else was near.
“I heard the buzz around town; a young lady of extraordinary talent who sings at the chapel in the western hills. I had to come see it for myself.” He reached for my hand to shake it, then chuckled at my bewildered expression. “Ernesto Gonzales. And you are?”
“Destiny Farmer.” His grip was firm, almost painful. My heart pounded in my chest, and my mouth suddenly felt like a desert. “I know who you are, Mr. Gonzales.”
“Destiny, I’m going to get right to the point. You’re an amazing entertainer, not only with your voice, but in how you command your audience. Anyone can sing well, in my opinion. But not everyone has what I call the ‘It Factor’. You have loads of potential. Would you be interested in doing a formal audition at the studio this week?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. What?! “I-I’d love to!” I cringed right after I said it. The last thing I wanted was to sound desperate. “I mean, I’d be honored.”
He snickered and handed me his business card. “Give my office a call to schedule it whenever it’s convenient for you.”
It was difficult to contain my excitement, but I tamped it down long enough to speak. “Thank you, Mr. Gonzales.”
“Please, call me Ernie. We’ll be on a first name basis once we’re working together.”
I acknowledged his request with a simple nod. “Ernie it is.” We shook hands one last time before he left me standing in front of the chapel, dumbfounded.
Stephen watched the exchange from a few feet away, and he couldn’t wait to hear what had transpired. He walked toward me with a huge grin on his face.
“Was that who I think it was, Destiny?”
I played dumb, just to be coy and puckish. “That depends. Who do you think it was?”
“Ernie Gonzales is my first guess.”
“Great guess!” I laughed. “He wants to see me this week for an audition, Stephen. He gave me his card!” I flashed Ernie’s card in front of Stephen’s eyes; he plucked it from my fingers and perused it.
“Impressive! I know people who would kill to get their hands on one of these business cards.” He watched as I swallowed hard, then he winked. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe.” He held the card over my head. I laughed while I jumped for it, snatching it back from his grasp.
“Gee, thanks!” He held his arms open for a hug; mine wrapped around him. Stephen stood strong and held me to him.
“See? I told you!” he playfully teased me. “I’m so happy for you, Destiny. No one I know deserves this chance more than you do.” Stephen set me down on my feet. I hadn’t even realized I was hanging off of him.
“Thank you.” My thoughts went directly to Mama and Daddy; I wiped away the few tears that pooled and threatened to trickle down my face.
Stephen noticed, looking into my eyes. “Why are you sad? This is such an exciting time for you!”
“I wish my daddy and mama were here for this moment. We all wanted it so much.”
“That’s understandable. But I can assure you, Destiny, that they’ve never been prouder of you.” Stephen planted another kiss on my cheek. “Just like I am.”
My face flushed a deep red. “Thank you, Stephen. You’ve had faith in me when I had none. I hope you know how special you are to me.”
“Of course, and you’re just as special to me, too. Why don’t we go to lunch to celebrate? My treat.”
How could I say no to that? “I’d love to.”
The weather was cooler than usual the next morning; the overcast skies remained from the previous day, trapping the dark, dank feeling in the city beneath the gray clouds. My alarm clock woke me at 4:00 AM. Poppy was already awake, ready to say good morning with her customary head butt and a sandpaper kiss on my nose. I never minded her grooming me, but a raspy lick on my face first thing in the morning was just the encouragement I needed to slip out from under the covers.
“Good morning, Poppy,” I said to her and scratched her chin. Her head nuzzled into my hand, trying to get the maximum amount of attention before I stood. She flopped over onto her back and bared her tummy for me to pet. Funny, she was the first cat I’d ever met that didn’t mind a belly rub. Her rumbly purrs always set the mood for a happy day.
I walked into the bathroom and ran the water for a shower. Though the warmth of the shower felt amazing, I stayed only as long as I needed, then stepped out onto the bath mat. I grabbed my plush robe and tied it around my waist, then gave my teeth a quick brush, gathered my wet hair into a ponytail, and turned out the light.
Poppy escorted me down the steps, talking to me the entire way. How did I ever survive without her company? I filled her bowl with kibble, prepared cereal for myself, and we sat together eating breakfast, albeit hers was served on the floor. I’d have my coffee at the shop when I arrived, which reminded me—I needed to tell Jared my news about Ernie. What would he think? I wasn’t sure, especially if it threatened my job at the coffeehouse.
If the weather had been clearer and less drizzly, I’d have walked to work. But I’d already taken a shower; I surely didn’t need another, colder one. I picked Poppy up and cuddled her, gave her a kiss on the head, and put her down at my feet.
“Watch the place while I’m gone,” I said, as though she could understand me. I knew she’d go upstairs and watch the world outside the window from her perch, and fall asleep in the first sunbeam that found its way through the cloudy skies that morning. “See you soon, little one.” I grabbed my car keys and my purse and opened the door that led to the garage.
Jared was already at the coffeehouse when I turned my key in the door. I swear he lived there. “Good morning!” I greeted him. “I thought you were coming in later?”
“Evie asked to switch shifts with me last night. Something with her mom.” He shrugged. “Who knows?”
He studied my face. “Is something wrong, Des?”
I exhaled a deep sigh. “Yes, and no. It’s nothing.”
He held in his hand the coffee drink he had crafted and walked to a nearby table; he pulled the chair out, turned it around backward and sat, patting the seat next to him. “Whatever it is doesn’t seem like ‘nothing’. What’s on your mind?” I sat at the table, my hands folded in front of me, mostly to keep them out of my hair. I still struggled with that nervous tic; it drove me crazy most of the time.
“Something happened at the chapel yesterday. I’m not sure what you’ll think of it.”
“It couldn’t be that bad. I mean, it’s church after all. Just tell me.”
“You know Ernie Gonzales, right?”
He nodded and took a sip of his coffee. “Of course. What about him?”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. “He was at the chapel yesterday, Jare.”
I watched as a smile swept across his face. “And…?”
“He was there to see me. Apparently, there’s some scuttlebutt around town about some young lady of so-called extraordinary talent who sings at the chapel in the hills.”
“Des, I’m dying over here. What did he say?!”
“Well, he wants me to do a formal audition some day this week…” I cringed, waiting with my eyes squeezed shut for Jared’s grunt of disapproval. Through one peeking eye, I caught his glowing smile.
“That’s fantastic news! I’m so happy for you!” His reaction was unexpected, though I wasn’t sure why. I knew how he felt about me, and that he always had my best interests at heart.
“Of course! I know how much you’ve wanted that break. Maybe this time, you’ll catch it.” He took my hand and squeezed it. “When does he want to see you?”
“Well, he said when it’s convenient for me, but I’m on the schedule all week.” I wrapped a strand of hair from my ponytail around my finger and flicked it. Nervous tic-1, Destiny-0.
“Mondays are usually busiest, so probably not today. But any other day this week, we can work schedules around so you can get out of here.”
“I don’t want to be an inconvenience, Jare. I mean, you still have a business to run. Are you certain?”
“Yes, I’m positive. Go audition. You’ll excel there, just like you have here. But I’ll miss you.”
“I haven’t resigned yet!” I laughed. “You won’t get rid of me that easily, either. This isn’t a sure thing, you know. It’s just an audition.” Jared nodded, but had a weird, almost sad expression. “I’ll call on break and set up my appointment. Then I’ll let you know when I go.”
“Fair enough,” Jared said, glancing at his watch. “Are you ready for the morning rush?”
My gaze shifted to the waiting throng of people outside the door. “As ready as I’m going to be. Let ‘em in!”
At break time, I made a caramel macchiato and sat in the back room, my phone clutched in my hand. With this call, my life could change forever. Was I truly ready to grab the reins and take the ride of a lifetime? I dialed the number into my phone and pressed Send. A friendly voice answered my call.
“Gonzales Talent Agency, this is Kerry.”
“Hi Kerry, my name is Destiny—”
“Ooh!” she exclaimed. “Mr. Gonzales wanted me to let him know when you called. Just a moment.” The phone went silent, and then the music on hold played. Thirty seconds later, Ernie’s voice was on the other end of the phone.
“Destiny! I’m so happy to hear from you. Look, I know your time is valuable, so I’ll get right to my point. I’ve reserved thirty minutes of studio time for you to sing your best song. It could be anything you’re comfortable singing. Now is your time to shine. How does 2:00 PM today sound?”
“I don’t mean to be trouble, but today doesn’t work for my schedule. I’m currently employed at the Flying V, and I’m working until close tonight.”
There was a silence on the other end of the phone. Ernie cleared his throat. “You know, that’s not a problem. When’s better for you?”
“Let’s shoot for Wednesday around 3:00 PM. Is that suitable?” Giving Jared more than a day’s notice would certainly help him cover my absence.
“Wednesday it is!”
“Do I need to bring—”
“Nope!” Ernie said, interrupting my question. “Just bring yourself and that perfect voice. We have instruments if you need them, or you can sing a cappella.”
“If you have an acoustic guitar, that would be great,” I said.
“I will arrange it.” Though I knew where his office was located, he rattled off the address of the building. “We’re on the twenty-first floor. You can’t miss it.”
“Thank you, Ernie. I’ll see you on Wednesday—” The call cut off in the middle of speaking, and without a proper end. It was odd, but Ernie seemed a bit on the eccentric side. I had a weird feeling I’d need to adjust to his quirks, and that was okay with me.
I washed my hands and walked back out behind the counter. “You’re okay to take a break if you’d like, Jare.” Instead of leaving, he followed me out to the coffee machine.
“So?! How’d it go? Come on! I need info! You’re not being very forthcoming!” Jared stood with his arms crossed, feigning indignation. The expression he wore made me giggle.
“Patience!” I mock scolded him. “Good things come to those who wait.”
He groaned, rubbing his face with his hands. “Don’t make me fire you.”
“Psh,” I scoffed. “You need me too much to fire me.”
“Don’t test me!” Jared crossed his arms and tapped his foot, pretending to be annoyed.
“Okay, okay!” I laughed. “Wednesday, three o’clock. Is that okay?”
His demeanor softened. “Thank you for giving me some time to finesse the schedule. Maybe I won’t have to work an OC.” He meant an open to close—a fourteen-hour shift—something Jared had done way too many times. The long hours were what he called an occupational hazard.
“That’s why I did it on Wednesday.”
“Evie owes me a big favor after today.” Jared sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I need a vacation, Des, likely before Ernie takes my star employee. Wouldn’t you think so?”
I cringed. There it was; the pain my departure would cause. I knew it would come out eventually and drape a scratchy burlap shawl of guilt over my shoulders. “I don’t have to go to that audition, you know.”
“Yes, you do! Don’t worry about me. Besides, you and I will always be friends. You said so yourself, right?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Then don’t make me drag you kicking and screaming to that audition!”
That made me laugh out loud.
“I’m here, Des,” Evie called out, walking through the coffeehouse’s front door. “Go knock ‘em dead.” She caught me in the dining room wiping down tables; I looked at the wall clock. Noon?
“Jared and I decided you should go get ready for your audition at home.” She waved as she walked back to the break room; Jared stood behind the counter, beaming.
“When were you going to tell me this?” I teased, standing with my hands on my hips.
“Now…?” He laughed; I threw at him the rag I had in my hand and giggled.
“You’re being way too cooperative, you know that, right?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Des. I intend to fight for you when the time comes.” He chuckled, but looked away. “I know it’s a fight I’m going to lose, but I won’t stand in your way, either. No one deserves this opportunity more than you. You realize that, right?”
I blushed a fiery red and nodded. “Thanks, Jare. I’ll come back later and let you know what happens.”
“Psh,” he huffed. “Take the day and relax. I’m expecting your resignation tomorrow, anyway.”
I took his hand and pulled him closer to me. “Hey… you’re not getting rid of me that fast. And even if I don’t work here, that means nothing for us.” I reached up to caress his cheek, staring into his hazel eyes. “Nothing.”
He gulped a breath; I never noticed he wasn’t breathing. “You promise?”
With a gentle smile, I nodded. “You have my solemn vow.” I gave him a quick hug and a peck. “Thank you for letting me do this. I owe you one.”
In an instant, Jared’s gloomy expression fell away, replaced with mischief and a bright grin. “Yes, you do!” We both laughed, but we realized, too, that the audition would change things. “You’re in my prayers, Des. Break a leg.”
Why his statement brought tears, I couldn’t say. But I took his hand and squeezed it, unable to speak beyond the lump in my throat. No more words needed to be said. Instead, I flashed him a “thumbs up,” grabbed my purse, and left the coffeehouse.
At home, I jumped into the shower to wash the coffee aroma from my hair. Poppy sat on the toilet waiting for me to emerge from the stall. I opened the door and grabbed the towel that hung on the hook; Poppy trilled and rubbed her fur on my wet skin, followed by her raspy tongue on my leg. I giggled and hopped away from her.
“I think I can dry myself, thank you!” I said, laughing. She reached up to my hand, begging for a chin scratch. And I, like a total sucker, obliged her. I sure loved that little cat.
I primped, applying makeup and styling my hair. I decided on an elegant updo, something I didn’t normally do with my hair. With enough hair spray, mousse, and the patience of a saint, I achieved my desired look.
I raided my closet, looking for an appropriate dress. This was the most important audition of my life; I needed to look my best. Half my closet lay on my bed when I found one that Mama used to wear. Yes! I thought. This is the one.
The dress was just below my knees, not unlike the bulk of Mama’s pretty things. The pattern was a green floral with a self-same patterned belt around the midsection. It fit me beautifully, as though it had been made just for me. It slipped on over my head, covering the lingerie that I normally wore under my gown. I stepped in front of the full-length mirror that once sat in Mama and Daddy’s bedroom and admired the reflection I saw.
“Good enough, I guess,” I whispered. One last fix with my hair, and reapplication of lip gloss, and I was ready to go.
Poppy met me at the bottom of the stairs, wending her way through my steps. She had a keen sense of awareness, always knowing when I had something going on. I stooped to pet her head, grabbed my keys, and slung my purse over my shoulder.
“I’ll be home before you know it, sweet girl. Wish me luck!”
The car was in the driveway, so I walked out the front door and locked it behind me. With shaky hands, I opened the door and slumped into my seat behind the wheel. If ever I needed Daddy to show up in a big way, it was now. I started the engine and let it idle while I folded my hands, my eyes lifted to the heavens.
This is it, Daddy, the day we’ve all waited for. It’s “my make it or break it” moment, and I need you with me. Everything we’ve wanted comes down to this audition. I hope I continue to make you proud of me. I love you and Mama so much.
While I had my mind in the right place, I whispered a quiet prayer. Suddenly, I wished Stephen was with me for moral support.
Twenty minutes later, I parked in the lot behind the building where Ernie’s office was located. I double-checked his business card and the address on the building. “Yep, this is it,” I said to myself. I took a deep breath and opened the car door.
The building’s lobby was luxurious; marble floors, textured paint on the walls, and brass light fixtures hung from the ceiling. In front of the elevator, a young man sat behind a desk. He stood when I approached him.
“You’re here to see Mr. Gonzales?” he asked. I nodded, about to speak, when he opened the elevator door for me. “He is waiting for you. Top floor, Miss Farmer.”
“Thank you…?” The recognition flustered me. I stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the highest floor; twenty-one. I spent the entire ride talking myself up, trying to shake off the inevitable nerves.
Moments later, the elevator opened into a lobby, decorated in warm tones and contemporary furniture. A lady sat at the desk just outside an office door; I assumed it was Ernie’s office. She looked up from her computer when the elevator opened, smiling at me.
“You must be Destiny. Have a seat. I’ll let Mr. Gonzales know you’ve arrived.” I couldn’t believe the personal attention I was getting here. Was Ernie really that impressed? I sat by the window and observed the city from the twenty-first floor. I was so lost in daydreams that Ernie startled me. HIs booming voice made me jump a foot.
“Destiny! There you are!” He was genuinely happy to see me sitting there. He walked to where I sat and gave my hand a vigorous shake. I stood and blushed.
“Hi, Ernie,” I squeaked out, my mouth suddenly dry.
“Come on in.” He walked to his office door and held it open, allowing me to pass through. “Superstars first!” he said with a chuckle, and then turned to his secretary. “She is my next ‘big thing’, Kerry, mark my words. Please hold my calls.”
She gave him a smile and winked at me. “If Ernie says it, it must be true! Welcome aboard, Destiny.” Kerry waved as I stepped through the door into Ernie’s office.
I wasn’t sure what I expected his office to look like, but it was nothing like what I’d imagined. Instead of wood paneling on the walls, there were light bricks, a couple of gold albums, and posters of their current clients. He directed me to have a seat at his desk; when I turned around, I glimpsed at an enormous poster. What the…? Ernie must have seen my distraught expression.
“Is there something wrong, Destiny?”
“Did you sign…?” I pointed at the poster on the wall—The Rock J Experience. I couldn’t bring myself to finish my question. Wherever I went, there was Jeff with that pompous smirk!
Ernie laughed. “Oh, them. No, no, I haven’t been able to hook ol’ hardnose Jeffery Dean, despite my best efforts. Something about having ‘bad blood’ in the Shores. Personally, I think he is headed for a fall. He’s one cocky S.O.B.” I couldn’t wipe the smirk off my face, delighted someone else shared my opinion. “Enough about them. Let’s talk about Destiny. Where are you from? I know it’s not around here with that drawl.”
Argh! This accent, I swear, is going to be the death of me! I swallowed the renewed anxiety his comment brought, cleared my throat, and wrung my hands in my lap out of Ernie’s view. “I’m from a small town called Appaloosa Plains. It’s about two hours by airplane, a little south and west of here. Ever heard of it?”
Ernie shook his head. “No, I haven’t. How small of a town is it?”
“Its population was about five hundred when I left years ago. I can’t imagine it’s gotten much bigger. The township is mostly agricultural, except for the military base where my daddy was stationed all his life. My folks owned the farm where my mother was born; she was a third generation farmer.”
He crossed his arms and sat back in the chair. “Interesting! So, farm life wasn’t for you, huh?” I was about to speak when he continued. “What brings you to Starlight Shores, my dear? Why not Bridgeport?”
I smiled, thinking of Daddy and Mama. “I’ve wanted to sing since I was a little girl, and living in Starlight Shores has been my dream from my earliest memories. My folks did the best they could to encourage me, but their livelihood was back on the farm. My mother couldn’t leave the Plains and her birthright.”
Ernie scratched his chin. “So from a tender age, you’ve desired fame and fortune?”
“No,” I said. “It’s much more than that. Money has never impressed me, and fame can be fickle. Understand, Ernie, that music is my one true passion. I want to sing because I can’t envision myself doing anything else. I desire to make a difference, to affect people on an emotional level.”
He folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair. “That is probably the best answer I’ve ever gotten from a potential client, Destiny. It’s pure, almost altruistic. So, do you sing mostly covers of other musicians’ material?”
“I write my own songs and music. Every song I sing in public, though, is a cover. I don’t want to sing my original songs until I can record them myself.”
“I understand the songs you sang at the chapel were your originals. Is that true? I’d never heard church music like that before.”
I nodded and smiled. “They were. I am always writing songs, including the three that debuted on Sunday. My friend helps me to tweak them until they’re almost perfect.” I blushed and looked away. “I was nervous they’d flop, to be honest. With new material, you never know how it’s going to go.”
Ernie nodded in agreement. “I have to admit, it takes guts to debut one new song in church, let alone three of them. They were astounding, Destiny. The crowd obviously loved them, too.”
“Thank you.” I didn’t know what else to say. Compliments always flustered me. Ernie seemed to sense this and changed subjects with his next question.
“Do you have any siblings? What was life like for a young Destiny Farmer? Tell me about your folks.”
I paused a moment, thinking of how to begin. “I’m an only child. My mama and daddy waited a long time to have me, so when I was born, I was their miracle. Mama worked the farm and ran a produce stand at the farmer’s market every year. Daddy was in the army and retired after his final deployment. Appaloosa Plains was really a great place to grow up, but it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my life. I’m more like my father in that respect. We had a shared case of wanderlust.”
“I can tell by your expression that you are close to them. Are they still in your life?”
“No,” I said. “They both passed away after my eighteenth birthday. I’ve been on my own since.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Destiny. You’re obviously resilient and mature beyond your years.”
“Thank you, Ernie. It was rough for a few years. But I know what I want, now more than ever. It’s time for me to pursue my dreams.”
“I agree with you. You’ve told me all I really need to know about you.” He stood and motioned toward a different door. “It’s time for me to meet the real Destiny Farmer. Are you ready?”
I swallowed all my fear and apprehension. On shaky legs, I stood with him. “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my life.” Just keep repeating that in your head until you believe it, Des, I thought.
Ernie showed me into his personal recording studio. It was nothing like what I expected. This was cozy and warm, with rugs, fly cases, music stands, and assorted instruments behind a wall of windows. The control room sat adjacent.
He opened the door to the studio, allowing me to enter first. “There is a headset you can use here.” He reached up and retrieved it, handed it to me, and smiled. “Do you need anything else to be comfortable?”
I gawked around the room with wide eyes. My surroundings here made me feel immediately at ease. “No, this is wonderful. Thank you.” He gave me a ‘thumbs up’, walked into the control room, and settled down behind the soundboard.
His voice boomed over the speaker inside the studio. “Can you hear me okay?” he asked. I nodded and picked up the guitar, put the strap around my neck, and checked the tuning on it. “Strum your guitar and let me see how the sound comes through on your end.” I did as he asked, and then his voice came back. “Sounds great! Whenever you’re ready, Destiny.”
I plucked the guitar strings, playing the opening tune for “Maybe It’s Better This Way.” I was certain Ernie would love it. Every little sound in the room echoed in the headset; my nervous breathing aside, it sounded amazing.
The acoustic arrangement of the song was simple but effective; it allowed me to showcase the lyrics and my voice. I drew from the hurt I felt the night I wrote it and let the emotion pour from my soul. My voice quivered on the last chorus; the guitar’s final chord reverberated through the studio until it faded to quiet. I sniffled and then looked at Ernie’s beaming face on the other side of the glass.
“Holy hell, Destiny. That was… did you write that one yourself? You were incredible.”
Hearing his compliments made me feel shy. “I did.”
“I recorded this session to make a demo. I have connections in the recording industry here in town. Do you mind if I talk to my buddy over at Soundwave Records? He needs to hear this as soon as possible.”
Soundwave Records was the biggest name in the music business. I was dumbstruck. “Um… yeah,” was all I could mutter. A fog settled around the edges of my vision; at once, I felt lightheaded and dizzy. I had to get the guitar off my neck before I passed out and damaged it.
Ernie noticed me teetering and sprinted to my side. A folding chair sat along the wall; in seconds, he had it ready for me. I sat on the chair and waited for the room to stop spinning. Did he really say he wanted Soundwave Records to hear my song?
“Are you okay? Do you need some water?” I nodded my head, thinking that a sip might help calm the butterflies in my stomach. He left the studio and returned moments later with a bottle of water. He twisted the cap open and handed it to me. “There, maybe that will help?”
“Thank you,” I whispered. “It should.” I sipped the water for a few minutes until everything settled down. “I’m sorry. Normally, I don’t feel faint like this. I don’t know what happened.”
Ernie chuckled. “It’s okay. The studio gets stuffy. I need to get some better air circulation in here. I meant what I said, though. My buddy needs to hear this demo, and the sooner, the better. Are you okay with me doing that?”
I nodded. “Yes, of course.”
“What inspired the song? Who could have caused that kind of emotion?”
I gave him a sheepish smile. “None other than ‘hardnose Jeffery Dean’. We were engaged once upon a time. That song brought me some closure, but he was the inspiration behind it.”
Ernie nodded his head and laughed. “So, when Dean said he had bad blood in the Shores, he was talking about you?” I cringed and nodded.
“I guess…? Our split wasn’t exactly amicable.” I wrung my hands while I sat. “I-I shouldn’t be speaking of him. It’s just that—”
“Don’t worry about it. For one, I asked, and second, what is said in this studio stays between us. No one will judge you, because no one will know.”
“Thank you, Ernie. I’ve never spoken about Jeff in public, and I don’t intend to start.”
“You’re a wise young lady, Destiny. He’s so pompous, he won’t need anyone to slag him. He’ll be his own downfall given enough time.” Ernie motioned for me to stand, which I did. “Let’s go listen to your demo. You can have my seat in the control room.”
I was blown away by the quality of the recording Ernie had made, but I wasn’t sure why it shocked me. The studio, though comfortable and quaint, was still top-of-the-line. He toyed with the soundboard during the playback, changing effects and boosting my voice. Though I was familiar with soundboards, this one was miles different from the ones I used back home. It was overwhelming.
“There is so much I can do with this song, Destiny, but it doesn’t really need much tweaking. The quality of your vocals is astounding. Have you had formal voice training, or is that raw talent?”
“I’ve had no training at all. What you hear is natural.”
“Yeah, there’s no doubt in my mind. I’m going to make you a star.” He stood, and I did, too. “Let’s get you signed on here. We can start recording this song for your first single within the week.”
I swallowed harder than I wanted to. “I’m still working for Jared McMurphy at the Flying V. Do I need to resign there first? He usually requires two weeks’ notice.” My jaw clenched, trying not to be so obvious.
Ernie smiled at me. “I can see it will be tough to walk away from your job, Destiny. If he requires two weeks’ notice, then I can allow that. From the time we record, to its eventual release, will be about six weeks. I’ll need you to consider something, though. You will need a stage name, because let’s face it. ‘Destiny Farmer’ won’t sell records, and I mean no offense to you or your family.”
I nodded, though I hated the idea of being anyone other than myself. “What would you suggest?”
Ernie bobbed his head from side to side. “I think your stage name should be a part of you; you will have it for your entire career. So think about situations from your past. What was important to you?”
I bit my lip and sighed. “I’m drawing a blank.”
“There’s no hurry. We have a few weeks to figure everything out before we go public with your first single. I’ll let you know when we’re getting close to a deadline.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll think of something.”
The rest of my visit was contracts and paperwork, and when I was finally done, it was already dark outside. Ernie walked me to my car, and I drove home, exhausted but hopeful. Poppy greeted me at the door when I opened it, just as I expected her to do.
“Hi, Poppy,” I whispered to her. “Are you hungry, or do you just want attention?” I walked to her food bowl, which was still half-full. The water bowl was filled and fresh, so it must have been my attention that she needed. I walked to the loveseat in the formal living room and sat; Poppy joined me immediately and curled up in my lap.
“Things are gonna change soon, sweetheart,” I said as I stroked her fur. “I hope stardom is everything I wish it to be.” A sudden wave of emotion swept over me. It was happy, sad, and excited all at once, but it brought tears and a lump in my throat. I remembered Jared’s words from that morning. “I’m expecting your resignation tomorrow.” The memory brought more tears and a sense of dread, knowing I was going to cause Jared pain. I didn’t want to do it.
I skipped dinner and walked up the steps to my bedroom with Poppy right behind me. Though I should have called Stephen, I wasn’t up for more conversation, except for the one I’d have with Daddy. I changed into my pajamas and washed up.
Kneeling beside the bed, I closed my eyes and clasped my hands together. I had Daddy’s prayer book on the bed between my elbows as I relaxed and spoke in whispers to him.
Daddy, it’s me. I finally did it! The biggest talent agent in the Shores took me on as a client today, and he was so impressed with my voice and my song. I wish that you and Mama could be here to celebrate this moment with me. I miss you both so much. There is something I’m struggling with, Daddy. Ernie wants me to take a stage name because he doesn’t believe I will sell records without it. I don’t know what to do. What should I pick? I’m so lost without your advice.
Everything else is okay in my life, but it’s going to be hard telling Jared that I’m leaving the coffeehouse. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow morning. I know I have to do it, because I’ll never achieve my dreams if I don’t take this leap of faith. Daddy, Ernie says he’s going to make me a star. I know I’m ready; I just wish you were here. Going to sleep now. I love you. I miss you. We’ll be together again someday.
Poppy waited patiently for me to snuggle into bed so she could assume her position on the pillow next to my head. The deep rumbles in her chest were so soothing, and so welcomed. It didn’t take long for her to lull me to sleep.
I didn’t see Jared at the coffeehouse the next day until my shift was almost over. I was stocking coffee beans into bins behind the counter when he walked in. He had a huge smile on his face when he saw me; he rushed to my side to help. It was obvious he had a question for me.
“Hi Jare.” I couldn’t hear him over the rattle of beans flowing into the containers, but I saw his lips moving. “What?” I asked when the last beans settled.
“I said, how did it go yesterday?” He stood expectantly with his hands planted on his hips. Jared was too cute when he wanted information. “This has been killing me.”
Me too, I thought. “It went okay,” I lied. “You know, the recording and stuff. I had a lot of fun.”
“You haven’t answered my question, Des. What did Ernie say?”
I wiped my hands on my apron. “He signed me. And, he’s taking my song to the head of Soundwave Records…” I waited for the twinge of hurt on Jared’s face. Much to my surprise, none came.
“Destiny! You did it!” He hugged me so tight, I almost couldn’t breathe. “Tell me everything!”
“Well, I sang the song I wrote about Jeff, and I guess he liked it. I’ll be in the studio recording it in a couple of weeks, and that will be my first single.”
Jared cocked his head. “A couple of weeks? Why so long?”
I blushed. “You, silly. I know your policy is two weeks’ notice. I wanted to give you enough time to find someone else.”
“My gosh, Des! I don’t care about the two weeks! What if we consider today your last day? Would that free you up to record your song? I can have your ending paycheck tomorrow.”
My heart broke. I wasn’t counting on him being so willing to let me walk away. “So soon?”
Jared’s face softened when he noticed my expression. We were close enough that he saw right through me. “You don’t want to leave here, do you?”
His question caused an immediate, emotional reaction. I shook my head and tried to swallow the lump that seemed to live there. “No, I don’t. But I know I have to if I want to chase my dreams.”
He hugged me again and placed a soft kiss on my forehead. “Des, I was preparing my heart and mind for this. I knew the second Ernie wanted to see you, he would take you away from me. But I wanted to run something by you, you know, as my assistant manager.”
“What’s that, Jare?”
He smiled and brushed my too-long bangs out of my eyes. “I’ve been thinking about this day and the eventuality, even when you weren’t looking for a music career. What do you think about me promoting Evie to assistant manager? I won’t do it without your say so.”
I nodded with a gentle grin. “I think that’s a great idea. Evie deserves the promotion. She’s almost as dedicated as I am.”
Jared blushed and looked away. “She’ll never be you, Des, just so you know. And I’m going to miss you like crazy.”
I placed my trembling hand on his chest; my breath caught in my throat. “I’m always here. Whenever you need me, I’m here. Nothing will ever change that.”
He nodded in acknowledgement, then called Evangeline back into the break room. When she appeared, Jared and I stood side by side with grins on our faces. She crept in with her shoulders hunched. “What? Am I in trouble?”
Jared looked at me for assurance, and I nodded my approval. “Evie, Destiny is leaving us. Today is her last day, and that leaves me with a problem. I hope you can help remedy it.”
Evie looked at Jared and then at me. “You aced your audition, didn’t you?!”
It was a mixed bag of emotions. Thrilled because I was pursuing what I truly wanted, but devastated that I had to leave my best friends behind. “I signed a contract with Ernie Gonzales yesterday. My first single will be on the radio in a matter of weeks.” I cringed, waiting for the shriek of joy from Evie’s mouth. Almost on cue, she emitted a piercing howl.
“Oh my gosh, Des! Congratulations!” She hugged me in between excited jumps. Evie always made me laugh.
“Thank you!” I giggled. Jared nudged my arm with his elbow, wanting me to make the bigger announcement. “Since I’ll be gone, that leaves the assistant manager position open. Jared and I were hoping you’d take it.”
If I thought her shriek was loud the first time, she amplified it twice on the second go around. “Are you serious? Jared?!”
Jared nodded. “If you want it, the position is yours.”
Evangeline nodded slightly with a beaming smile. “I won’t let either of you down! I promise!” She sidled up to me and nudged my arm. “You know, this gives you freedom to date him,” she whispered in my ear. “He really loves you.” We shared a knowing look, and then she left the two of us alone.
Jared took my hands in his. “I guess this is it.”
“Mmhmm. But you know where I live. Mi casa es tu casa.”
He gazed into my increasingly watery eyes before he spoke, choosing every word carefully. “I know. It doesn’t stop the ache, though. Not having you here with me every day…” Jared’s voice faded to nothingness.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said. His body language, however, said just the opposite. “Go.” He wrapped me in a hug and kissed my cheek. “Go be a star, Des, and when you reach the top, remember who loves you most.”
I wiped a tear from my eyes. “There was never a doubt, Jare.” I mouthed the words, “I love you, too,” to him. I couldn’t take another minute of goodbye. One last thumbs up to Evie; I blew a kiss to Jared and left as an employee at the coffeehouse for the last time.
The next few weeks were a flurry of activity. Each morning, I stopped at the Flying V for my coffee. Jared and I sat and chatted when he had the time, which wasn’t often. For the first few weeks, I welcomed the familiarity of the coffeehouse. It was as though I hadn’t really left.
Ernie’s friend at Soundwave Records signed a contract for my first single, with the option to take me on full-time, contingent on record sales. The only catch was not recording “Maybe It’s Better This Way” as my first single. The label wanted a livelier, more upbeat song to break into the market. Being new in the business, I agreed, but only with Ernie’s encouragement. I took the demo of my first single home with me and learned it.
That studio, though it had all the newest technology and the best equipment, wasn’t nearly as comfortable as Ernie’s personal one. They had musicians on standby, waiting for me. I spent the entire first week working with them on the song’s arrangement. When we had it perfect, we rehearsed the song together until it was flawless.
Ernie produced the single and taught me how to use the studio’s sound board, though it would take more than a few times to learn it. Everything was so over-the-top fancy and complex. When he played back the raw recording, I’ll admit I cried, still in utter shock that everything was happening so fast. It sounded so professional; I didn’t believe it was my voice singing it.
Every night, after a full day’s work in the studio, I drove home and almost collapsed into bed. I hadn’t seen Stephen in weeks, and if I didn’t stop at the coffeehouse every morning, I wouldn’t have seen Jared or Evie, either. Before I slept every night, I still talked to Daddy, asking his advice for things that perplexed me.
With a week to go before my single was released, Ernie and I were up against a deadline to decide on my stage name. I was still no closer to figuring it out. I got up earlier than usual that morning and headed to the coffeehouse. It was my time to relax and concentrate before heading to the studio.
Jared was there that morning with Evie and a new guy I didn’t recognize. Jared’s face lit up when I walked through the door, like it did every morning. I sat at the corner booth in the back of the cafe with my laptop open, looking through pictures I had on it. Jared came over and sat across from me.
“What are you looking at this morning, Des?” he asked. “I brought your favorite. My treat.”
I blushed with a shy smile. “You didn’t have to do that, but thank you.” I turned my laptop around to show him. “These are pictures of me when I was little.” I pointed to a photo Jason had taken. “There’s Mama and me on that old dirt mound in our backyard.”
“I didn’t realize how much you look like your mother, Des. She was beautiful, too. The more I learn about Appaloosa Plains, the more enthralled I am with it. What’s the significance of the dirt mound?”
I smiled at the warm memory. “Our neighbor, Caleb, plowed our field every year, but when we started having problems with the plants, he suggested Mama bring in some top soil to replenish what the constant planting had depleted. He dug about four inches of soil off the top before they brought in the fill dirt, so that mound was the product of the restructure. Jason and Mama worked so hard in the garden that year, and she had a bumper crop of everything. They piled all of that dirt for me to play on it. Mama said it was ‘Destiny’s hill’…” A light bulb went off inside my brain; I smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. “That’s it!”
Jared gave me the most confused look. “Am I missing something?”
“I can’t tell you until I make it official, but you’ll be the first to know!” I took my last sip of coffee, closed my laptop, and stuck it back inside the backpack I carried. “Thank you for the inspiration!” I gave him a quick peck on the cheek and slung my backpack over my shoulder. “I promise I’ll call you tonight!” Jared still sat at the booth, looking bewildered, when I ran to my car.
Ernie was already in his office when I greeted Kerry. “He’s in,” she said, still nursing her first cup of coffee. I walked right in and sat at his desk, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“Good morning, Destiny,” Ernie said. “Is there something wrong?”
“You could say that, yes.”
He sat down and stirred the coffee he had in his hand. “Color me intrigued! So, what’s going on?”
“You know how I’ve been trying to figure out what my stage name should be?”
“Yes, I do. Have you decided on a stage name Destiny?” he asked.
I nodded, a broad grin on my face. “I have.” The anticipation was killing me, but I drew it out another moment before the big reveal.
I took my laptop from my backpack and opened the photo I’d showed Jared back at the coffeehouse. “This is me when I was about three, maybe four years old, sitting on this big old mound of dirt, the one Mama made for me. She told me it was ‘Destiny’s hill’.” I breathed a content sigh. “Ernie, I want to be known as Destiny Hill. When I saw the photo this morning, I knew it was my only choice.”
A smile broke on Ernie’s face. “Destiny Hill it is, then.”
Up Next: Chapter Seven, Generation Two
Around The Sims 3
Blooming Room 4to3 Conversion
Cargeaux Kitchen 4to3 Conversion
Checkered Cloth Pattern
Ernie’s Business Card (Anneke’s Bag Set)
Exhibition & Museum Shop
Guitar Player’s Den
Recording Studio Set
Mod The Sims
Wedded Bliss (Bouquet of Roses) by PurplePaws
Tears Makeup by bille
Cruise Ship Picture by Kris Elizabeth Sims
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