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Raven’s Resurrection
: by Yvonne DeBandi

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A Novel by Yvonne DeBandi

Year Published:  2016

Raven was born to play music, but for nine years had not touched an instrument or set foot on a stage. Her relocation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, however was about to change everything.

So many reasons. So many secrets. Raven was tired of hiding, tired of sacrificing herself for the greed of others, tired of feeling hollow inside. By recklessly accepting a single dare, she was swept into a tidal wave of surprising events, her past finally catching up to her present.

Join Raven and her family of friends in this suspenseful tale of overcoming darkness with laughter, love and faith as she spreads her wings and resurrects her broken life.

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Description

RAVEN’S RESURRECTION
A Suspenseful Story of Inspiration

A Novel by Yvonne M. DeBandi
Copyright © 2016 Yvonne M. DeBandi

CHAPTER ONE

Maybe it was time. Maybe today was the day. Maybe nine years was enough to hide, to blame herself, to forget.

Raven stood, leaning up against a wall, in a dark corner of a dark little bar about fifteen miles outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Her layered hair hung unusually down her face before flowing down her back, allowing only her eyes, nose, and part of one cheekbone to protrude from behind the long curly curtain. Most people shrugged-off her unusual, abundant and unruly hair as a stylistic choice; but, those that took a closer look would see it was by design.

“Crazy hair suits you,” her best friend, Jessie, had said years before. “You know when you put it all together, it’s like a Picasso.  It’s abstract, but it works. ­I love the red, keep that. In fact, don’t hit me; but this look suits you better than anything I’ve seen on you!” Jessie always knew how to say just the right thing, although Raven did kind of want to hit her.

Raven had only been living in Jackson Hole for about six months; but, she already knew everyone in the bar by name.  Truthfully, she could probably fill up the entire Jackson Hole Daily with “Fun-Filled Facts About Your Neighbors,” but they would find it hard to write more than a paragraph about her. They only knew her as Raven, Denny’s Goddaughter, a sweetheart that would ‘share a smile’ and was ‘so easy to talk to,’ or so she had overheard more than once.

Denny’s Den was not an establishment found on the local tourist beat or even on any of the maps. While most of Jackson Hole was dedicated to bringing in tourists, this was the place the locals hung out; and, like every other Wednesday night, it was packed.

The room itself was rustic, and felt more like a cozy community cabin than a bar. On the south-side wall, a large fire roared inside a massive multi-colored stone hearth. Small neutral-colored sofas and easy chairs were littered around the open space with your standard round tables covered in red-checked tablecloths.  It all added up to the perfect recipe for quaintness.

Raven could see the flames of the fire dance in and out of the occasional smoke ringlets which were ascending from the occupied tables in between.  Mesmerized, she watched them drift straight up to the ceiling, where they were summarily sucked into the deluxe air-filtration system. Denny hated smoke, but without even looking Raven knew he would have a stogie in his left hand. It was a Wednesday night tradition.

“Lived in with love,” is how Denny had described the Den’s ambiance during the official welcome tour. Looking around now, she again reflected that it was quite appropriate. The only thing that had probably changed about the place in Denny’s ten years as proprietor, besides the air-purification system and Denny’s hair going handsomely gray, was the spot above the fireplace where the buck head and many pointed antlers used to hang. As her eyes rested on that very spot, Raven couldn’t help but smile as the video-like memory played out in her head.

“It goes or I do,” she had said firmly, initiating a familiar stare-down challenge as Denny considered her request.

Denny knew she didn’t have to work there as a trade for room and board.  She could easily pay rent and expenses with her computer work. He also knew Raven would be perfectly happy stowing herself away in the tiny cabin located at Bear Crossing CabinLand, seeing no one for weeks. Denny didn’t like that idea for both selfish reasons and his concern for Raven. She needed to be with people, good people, and maybe he needed her just as much.

Not willing to take the chance, Denny shook his head and dramatically proceeded to remove the beautiful animal and hideous trophy from its decorative position. With a very formal 180-degree military spin, he proceeded to march out to his truck full of pomp and circumstance. Making sure Raven was watching, he tenderly laid it in the back of his truck and covered the item with respect using one of the many tarps from the bed storage box. Snapping into a sharp military salute, he formally whistled a beautiful rendition of “Taps.”

During all the ruckus, Fred, Denny’s nephew, came running out of the kitchen with a spatula in his hand, holding it up as if he intended to use it as a weapon.  He made it just in time to catch the end of the ceremony. Without a word, he looked from Denny, to the fireplace, to Raven, before lowering the kitchen utensil and rolling his eyes with absolute glee. He returned to his kitchen duties chuckling, thinking about how life in Jackson Hole had never seemed so entertaining.

Marna, the young lady who ran the flower shop about five miles down the road after the turn-off, was having her regular mid-day coffee break at the time of the incident. She had made no attempt to hide that she was enjoying the scene, even winked at Raven in response to the change. Later that very afternoon she paraded in with a beautiful large, hand-woven basket filled with dried flowers and sage to set on the mantel. The basket was almost large enough to cover the obvious space on the wall where the wood was lighter in color, a prominent outline where the beautiful animal had been on display.

Marna was 31, just a handful of years younger than Raven, but she was wise for her age. She had always been the girl with the plan, a personal detail she had shared with Raven during their first conversation.  The story was filled with both confidence and appreciation for how things worked out, but Raven thought she also saw a twinge of regret in her eyes. While her friends had taken their time settling into their lives, Marna immediately opened her own business and had been working hard ever since.

Raven sensed Marna’s longing for adventure, for something more, which made Raven smile at life’s questions. While Marna sometimes wondered where she would be now had she taken that trip to Europe with her girlfriends, Raven was wondering where she would be now had she taken Marna’s safer, smarter road.

Marna was obviously sweet on Denny, despite the age difference. Anyone watching could sense the connection in the air when they talked; but, the conversations never moved beyond respectful, attentive friendship.

Raven’s eyes continued to rest on the mantle with the sage basket as her memories played out, but she knew Marna would be sitting at the corner of the bar. It was the closest seat to Denny’s habitual standing post. He stood there every evening with an obvious twinkle in his eye, watching over the crowd like a proud papa. It suited him.  It had been no surprise to Raven that the folks around here had adopted Fred’s term of endearment for his uncle, “Pops.”

Denny just touched people that way, something Raven had witnessed all of her life. One thing you knew for sure when talking to Denny is that he would tell you the truth, no matter what, even when it came to the difficult topics; but, he would do so with genuine sincerity and kindness. He was firm and strict; but, also very loving.  Simply put, Denny challenged everyone he met to be the best version of themselves.

An active marine for most of his adult life, at 59, Denny looked like he was still physically able to serve at a moment’s notice. His initial tour began shortly after he had become Raven’s Godfather; but, he had spent every bit of leave with Raven’s family. He even had his own room in their home where Raven would hide out during his absence, counting the hours until his return. Raven was an only child and loved her parents dearly, but they didn’t “get her” like Denny did, and Denny was not oblivious to this fact.

Like Raven, he was a 1’s and 0’s man: yes or no, black and white, what’s right is right. Questions that had other people turning in circles for days were quick and easy decisions for him. He loved his childhood best friends, Sean and Lydia, who had married almost as soon as their graduation tassels flipped on their square hats, but he felt a personal emotional responsibility for Raven. In his heart, he knew it was his job to help this child reach for the stars that were rightfully hers. Because of this commitment, it was Denny that got Raven started with both playing music and working on computers.

It started when she was seven.  Denny was home for one glorious summer month. He burst open Raven’s bedroom door to announce his surprise return, presenting a guitar of her very own. In previous years, she would sit and listen to Denny for hours and still beg for more; but, that summer they played together. He taught her the basic chords, how to strum and fingerpick, along with the importance of taking care of the instrument and treating it with respect. Raven practiced what he shared intensely and was immediately addicted, even having to be reminded to eat. That month was glorious. The memories of her parents as the audience, while she sang and played the evenings away with Denny, were some of her most treasured.

Raven’s MBA-accomplished parents loved and adored Denny, but they didn’t see eye to eye about Raven in many ways. While they “allowed” Denny his month of fun with their daughter, they thought of music as a hobby and, sadly, a great distraction. After Denny returned to his tour of duty, their insistence that Raven put the guitar down and do something more useful with her time became unbearable. Demands that finally resulted in the guitar being taken away altogether.

Denny read Raven’s short and matter-of-fact letters repeatedly, until he could almost recite them. He understood his friends’ position of wanting to protect their child’s future, but if they would just “see” who she really was inside instead of simply “looking” at her as who they wanted her to be, Raven would not suffer this intense disconnection and loneliness.

The next week-long leave had Denny returning home with big bear hugs . . . and a computer. He spent the entire week showing her the computer ropes, focusing a good deal of time on software he had installed for her.

“Well,” he whispered that first night, “we aren’t really hiding what you are doing from your parents. They were thrilled about the computer training and didn’t ask about the music software, so I didn’t tell them. But here is the deal. You divide your time.  Half of it to music and the other half to those programming tutorials . . . after your homework and chores, of course. Deal?”

Denny wasn’t worried about the slight obfuscation of truth. He knew Raven would follow his instructions to the letter, increasing both her artistic talent and ability to join the work force. Doing it this way, without full disclosure, just saved a long three-hour conversation about their “vision” for Raven. That conversation always ended the same way.

Sean and Lydia would outline their rigid plan and Denny would respond with, “And what about Raven’s vision? Raven’s talents?  Raven’s dreams?”

The answer was like a broken-record: “Raven is too young to know anything for herself, or to recognize personal talents or dreams.”

Denny still thought about those conversations on occasion, and more often since Raven’s arrival.  As he watched his Goddaughter standing alone in the dark corner, he desperately wished he could have that argument all over again. He missed his friends terribly. The year Raven entered high school, her parents had perished in a car crash.

CHAPTER TWO

The bar was packed because it was Wednesday, Open Jam night, and still a couple of days before the official winter tourist season began. No doubt the music was going to go all night long; and, somewhere around two o’clock, Jacob, a scruffy looking regular who worked at the auto shop and loved to barbecue, would start giving Denny a hard time.

“How can you have a bar named Denny’s that doesn’t offer breakfast? I’m telling you Pops, gold mine! I mean, who here isn’t hungry?” he would shout out looking for reinforcement.

Of course, once enough noise was made, Mario would run next door to Mario’s Marvelous Pies and bring back enough pizza for everyone to eat and take home, the entire time muttering in Italian under his breath. He loved it, but he would never admit it. Rumor has it that he and Jacob were actually devising a breakfast pizza and, of course, a breakfast barbecue pizza. As of this moment, though, that was still a rumor.

Mario, originally a tourist that decided he never wanted to leave, lived in the cabin closest to the restaurant; but, he was never there.  If you were looking for Mario, you would find him standing watch over a pizza oven, tossing dough or attending to other restaurant duties.  That applied to just about every day of the week, except Wednesday nights. Tonight, like all the regulars, he sat in his normal open jam seat. His was next to the fire with his feet on the logs. Every once in a while, he would shift his position to toss in another, keeping the fire perfectly stoked.

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone” crooned Kevin O’Connell, the town resident blues vocalist, bringing Raven’s focus back to the stage lining the east end of Denny’s Den. Raven guessed the stylishly-dressed young singer was in his early thirties. His voice was pleasing, inviting, and you could tell he sang for the music, not the crowd. Raven appreciated that about Kevin, even though his arrogance off-stage kept her from being a personal fan.

She was, however, a huge fan of the song. It was the perfect choice for the moment, summing up the atmosphere in the room. Three days until the official calendar start of ski season and so far, no snow. That meant that despite the amazing entertainment and drunken revelry, an untouchable heaviness drifted around the room.

Raven may have been new to the area and never before lived in a tourist town, but it wasn’t too hard to understand that a slow tourist and ski season meant a tough year ahead for the town residents. Despite that, everyone was doing their best to forget their troubles, a point made obviously clear as the entire room began to sing along with the bluesy classic. It was loud and out of tune, but also sincere and heartfelt. The latter being all that mattered.

Small towns are great, Raven thought, watching the room with hidden marvel. At least they seemed to be great from her viewpoint of standing on the outside looking in. The town had embraced her and accepted her, but Raven had a knack for turning questions into questions. She understood that most people preferred to talk about themselves and had turned personal space and private vagueness into an artform.

She knew, however, that if she accepted Denny’s dare tonight, all that would change. She would no longer be watching from the outside, a mystery, an intrigue not worth the trouble of pursuing. The spotlight would once again illuminate, and the shadowy sanctuary in this dark little corner would be gone.

Despite those thoughts, Raven knew it was a losing battle. The real challenge wasn’t whether she could ignore her godfather’s dare; but, how much longer she could deny the piano’s magnetism when every moment since her arrival, it had relentlessly beckoned to her from across the room.

Mulling over her thoughts, she closed her eyes and smiled in appreciation at the ear-candy offered. The musicians were doing the number true justice and this only made her think about the piano even more. Sighing, she pulled out a cigarette and immediately heard the familiar flick of a lighter, followed by words spoken in a proper British accent.

“My Lady?”

“Bugger,” she said to herself, silently reciting, “Rule no. 3: never offer an opportunity to approach.”

Slowly she turned her head and accepted the flame. As her cigarette began to glow she allowed her eyes to wander up, expecting to find a stranger. She didn’t recognize the voice, and Raven was good with voices. Since moving to Jackson Hole, however, she had fallen for this trick every time.

“Wally,” Raven sighed more than spoke as he handed her a drink and winked, “Stop doing that!”

“Guuurl, you broke your own rules. Never pull out a cigarette without first lightin’ yo flame!” he exclaimed in a gruffly, cigarette-choked voice while staring, waiting for her to defend herself.

Others might have been taken aback by his tone and eye contact, but Raven knew it was all an act.  She tried her best to stare at him blankly, noticeably failing as her lips lifted into a smile of their own accord. Wally was good people. That was what her gut said the instant they met, but nevertheless she asked Denny just to be sure. His gut was never wrong, at least not in her entire life.

Waiting for the dramatic scene she knew would unfold, she crossed her arms and looked at him through her long curtain of hair in expectation. Seeing the open window, Wally instantly broke into a brilliantly white, beautiful smile, changing his stance to match his newly chosen accent and character, a much younger version of his previous choice. Wally never turned down a spotlight.

“Gurlfriend, saved you from Table 12, an early-bird tourist that wandered in. Pfft. He don’t know no better. Can’t blame him. Look at you standing up, all over here alone, in black, in those boots and ripped jeans, with that dark red hair over your face. Since he probably hasn’t heard the very kindly put ‘hands-off’ rule you so clearly established to our locals here, I would have thrown him out for NOT noticing your mysterious, sexy self.”

Raven couldn’t help but laugh. Wally was a very tall black man, well built, with a smile that lit up a room, a twinkle in his eye and a hug that felt like home. His voice was as smooth as butter with a slight southern drawl when he was truly relaxed, but when working he usually used some sort of accent, playing some sort of character. Originally born in Alabama, Wally had been here for as long as he could remember. At least, that is what he said when you asked him. Truth be known, Raven had gathered it really hadn’t been all that long.

The adventurous tourist probably pegged him as the bouncer. Easy mistake since Wally liked to wander as he worked and well … looked like a bouncer; but, there was no bouncer in this place. No need. These people respected each other and took care of each other on nights like this when alcohol did come into play. No, Wally was the bartender; and frankly, words seemed to fail when trying to describe his unique and impressive drinks.

Late one Saturday, Raven stayed to help sweep the floors and straighten up. She wasn’t sure how closing chores actually took twice as long that night, but then again, they did stop numerous times in fits of laughter. And, the sight of this 6’4” black man rolling on the sofa with giggle fits just made things worse.

That night they came up with the brilliant advertising angle: Wally, the ARTbender and Spirit Specialist. It was the first time Denny had heard Raven laugh like that in as long as he could remember. All he could do was sit in his office and listen with tears streaming down his face, probably for a good hour, before finally joining them hands-on so they could get out of there.

Denny thought the ArtBender angle was brilliant. He was having signs and cards made, and also asked Raven, the Den’s webmaster, to create a whole section devoted to it. Denny had vision like that, as Raven well knew. It was easy to see . . . and well, taste, that Wally’s secret drink recipes were like nothing you could find anywhere else. It was a no-brainer for Denny. He grabbed onto the idea quickly and set it into motion. Not to increase the bar business (although that was definitely a check in the pro column), but to see where Wally might take this interesting and original idea.

As a result, on Wednesday nights Raven could count on a new drink recipe unveiling and was never disappointed. Tonight’s concoction was the Flaming Leotart. The unexpected fire demonstration had been truly impressive and the taste indescribably satisfying. It somehow washed over you smoothly, like a second skin, and ended with a kick of delectable tartness.

Despite this obvious talent, Wally would tell you bartending was his day job, like so many other hopeful actors and artists found behind a bar. With Wally, you never knew what accent or speech pattern you would get during conversation; but, if there was a theater production in town you could bet your life that he would be center stage or somewhere in the front row shouting accolades and clapping louder and harder than any other audience member.

Wally winked again and as he started to turn away Raven said, “Hey Wally, if Fred ever does you wrong, you let me know. We will start a conversion intervention and I will steal you away,” Raven quipped as she watched the big beautiful man chuckle with grace.

“Oh yeah. I almost forgot,” he said pulling a napkin out of his pocket. The branded paper was covered in scribbles that Raven instantly recognized as Denny’s hand-writing.

“Pops said to remind you that you have to do your thang tonight. . . Dang girl, you standin’ in the darkeeeest corner of the room.”

Raven grinned as Wally squinted dramatically, waiting for his eyes to adjust, finally turning the napkin in circles to follow the words written around the edges.

“He says he has upped the stakes. You do your thang . . . whatever that is . . . and you get to move to that more private cabin you wanted by the lake at the first of the month. You don’t, and he is starting a breakfast shift with you in charge.”

He paused for effect, leaned a little closer, lowered his voice like a confidante, and raised one eyebrow.

“So, Miss Thang, what’s your thang? Breakfast shift, huh? Pretty serious situation to consider for our resident vampire who doesn’t sleep until the sun comes up, hmm? Don’t think I didn’t notice. Why do you think I started wearing these here turtlenecks?” he asked, ending his speech by stretching the neck of his stylish apparel and letting it pop back into place.

Denny and his nephew, Fred, who helped manage the bar and cook, were the only ones who knew the entire truth about Raven’s past– why she was here in Jackson Hole and why she needed a new start. Truthfully, no one but them even knew her last name. Raven wasn’t sure if Wally had been ‘read in’, but with this playful question, she suspected Fred had honored her privacy.

Wally and Fred had been together for three years now, although when Raven asked how long they had been together, everyone in earshot recited in unison, “as long as he can remember.” Wally was not a time tracker or a dweller. She often heard Wally answer questions with phrases like, “Doesn’t really matter what any of us did before here, what are we doing now?” So, he never asked Raven about her life circumstances. He simply welcomed her friendship in any way she was willing to offer it.

Fred and Wally were a most unlikely couple. If she had just met them on the street, Raven would have never guessed in a million years they could be a perfect match, but they were. Wally with his artistic imagination, flamboyance and style; and Fred, who dressed in plaid, only spoke when necessary, stood tall at five feet if he was lucky, and truthfully was in desperate need of a tan. He was much more like the marine side of his Uncle, but Fred seemed to understand Wally, like Denny understood Raven.

Wally and Raven, who shared the same childlike imagination and wonderment when discussing things that could be created or dreamed, became fast friends. Denny and Fred had even commented to each other, that watching Wally and Raven was like watching two only children who suddenly found a lost sibling.

Needless to say, because of the fun atmosphere being created, bar business was up. Denny wasn’t surprised. Simply put, Wally was the biggest drama queen and diva of them all . . . and proud of it. He intrigued people just by being who he was, obviously and outwardly different from the rest of the flock. And Raven had always been a magnet. People loved her. Despite the fact that she didn’t share personal details about her life, people loved the way Raven made them feel.

Denny couldn’t have found a reality show on the planet that would have turned down the shenanigans that were now everyday occurrences. The two of them together were like magic to watch as they shared their smiles and kind nature with anyone that crossed their path. Of course, it didn’t hurt that their childlike games and harmless practical jokes seemed to entertain the guests as much as the two-man jokester crew. Denny firmly believed that some people were becoming daily regulars just to see what they would come up with next.

Despite the twinkle in Wally’s eyes, the entertaining vampire reference, and his ability to ask questions without expecting an answer, tonight there was a question of concern. It was almost hidden by his acting skills; but, not entirely. That onion layer had been added when Wally had reached to brush the hair out of her eyes one afternoon. They hadn’t known each other very long then. Before he could succeed, Raven had grabbed his muscular arm in her strong little hand, purely out of instinct. Stopping him like a mac truck, she said only one word in a voice he didn’t recognize, “DON’T.”

The next morning it was like nothing had happened. Except now there was that new look in his eye and fairly regular cracks about how Raven could probably beat him up. But, being Wally, he didn’t ask for details and frankly didn’t care. The only thing he knew was that voice deep down inside, the voice that mattered, the voice that said it was his job to make that girl smile.

Looking past Wally after hearing the message, she found both Denny and Fred smiling and waving at her across the bar. Wally laughed at the overly done scowl on Raven’s face and then stopped cold.

“He knows, Fred knows what the thang is, doesn’t he?”

Looking back and forth between Raven and Fred, Wally wasn’t sure who to pressure first. You see, it was okay not to offer information, but if someone else knew something and he didn’t, it festered until he could take it no more. His decision, however, was made for him when Denny pointed at the bar and motioned for Wally to get back to work. Denny then turned directly to Raven and raised his hands in question of her decision.

Reluctantly nodding, and thinking only of the promised beautiful little cabin on the lake, Raven mouthed, “Okay, you win. Last. Put me last.”

CHAPTER THREE

As the night wore on, the musicians worked through a stylistic smorgasbord of tunes, leaving almost no style untouched. Earlier in the night the younger musicians had shared some wonderful selections and arrangements, new styles and style moshes that had Raven shouting, “Bravo!” Cheers that probably couldn’t be heard over the ecstatic parents whose accolades outweighed Raven’s by several decibels.

At midnight, however, the crowd shifted.  Denny had a “curfew” in place and all underage individuals were booted out, all but one, that is.  Michael had a special pass.

It was a larger shuffle than normal tonight, with the youngsters exiting and a new flood of late night workers, mostly over the age of thirty, piling in. As the music continued, both the amount of alcohol consumed and level of comradery grew.  The heavy burden that had previously hung in the air evaporated, but not for Raven.

Almost immediately after accepting Denny’s cabin bribe, Raven started to think too much. It wasn’t that she was afraid to get on stage and it wasn’t that she was afraid to perform; in fact, she wasn’t afraid at all. Her questions concerned the aftermath. She would no longer be the sweet and mysterious stranger that stands in the dark corner, the girl who freely shares a smile, but refuses to dance and always buys her own drinks. No, after tonight, people would want more.

There was also the question of addiction. Once she allowed herself to touch that piano, could she stop the tide that would ultimately follow? Her addiction and love for the piano far outweighed her love for the guitar. It had a powerful draw that even Raven didn’t understand. It made her feel strangely complete; like the piano was a true extension of her own body, reading her mind and dancing along with her fingers. Denny had found her thoughts completely logical.

“I’m not surprised. It’s an organized numbers thing appealing to the mathematician in you. I expect a concert when I get home,” he had responded many, many years before when she had shared her discovery.

But all of those reasons were small, minuscule, compared to the real reasons behind her hesitation.

Raven’s thoughts were interrupted as Denny yelled her name across the room. “Raaaaveeeeen, we got musicians and they need a lead. You’re up.”

There is not much you can do to argue when more than eighty surprised and slightly inebriated people are staring at you in expectation, maybe a little bit of shock, but definitely expectation. Immediately commentary began throughout the room.

“Raven, you play piano?”

“Did you know she was a musician?”

“Does she sing?”

“Get up there! Go Raven!”

Denny was nearly beside himself, pleased with his manipulation as he watched the audience weave the web of no return. Raven needed music to survive, to find herself; and, if Denny had to manipulate such a situation, then by God he was on the job.

A quick glance at Wally, found him frantically mixing a drink, so fast it seemed his hands were blurry. Raven couldn’t help but giggle internally at his antics, but came to full understanding when he swooped from behind the bar with perfect timing to hand her a drink as she stepped onto the stage.

“From Pops and me. I doctored it up a bit. I don’t know what you’re doing, since I know you don’t like to draw attention to yourself, but go get ’em girl,” he whispered smiling, but with no trace of accent.

“Thank you,” whispered Raven in return, moving closer to make sure her words were not overheard. “Um, Wally, if I say the word asparagus at any time, can you get me out of here no questions asked?”

Without hesitation, Wally’s expression changed to one of complete serious intent as he replied, “in the blink of an eye,” offering his hand as support on the last step up.

As Raven took her first sip of the drink, she appreciated that Denny had thought of everything, well almost everything, Raven realized as she crossed to the piano. She could hear the audience still making comments about their surprise and excitement, when she heard Denny’s voice again, “and by the way, you know you have to start with my favorite, right?”

Raven smiled as someone from the audience said, “Pushy, aren’t you Pops?”

As the audience continued to give Denny a hard time, Raven nodded respectfully to the other musicians. There was an upright bass, a small set of drums with a myriad of percussion options, and Grandpa Bernie on jug who had been playing all night long. It didn’t matter that he had reached the point hours ago where no tone existed. Bernie might have been short on wind, but he was heavy on gumption. He liked to stay right in the middle of the action and had a permanent stage seat on Wednesday nights.

Having listened to the bass player, Randy, for several weeks, she knew he could follow along with no trouble and that the very talented percussionist, Steve, would add his own unique touch. Raven said, “Let’s keep it easy and do it in C.”

Raven turned back to the beautiful piano that had been calling to her for months and lovingly stroked the keys. It has been a while, my friend.

Clearing her throat, Raven adjusted the microphone, “This one goes out to my Godfather, Denny. My roots, my wings, my strength, my family.”

Within moments, the crowd became completely quiet.  Raven played the introduction, making love to the piano like someone who has been starved for a tender touch, before singing a most mesmerizing rendition of “Wind Beneath my Wings.” By the last note, it was over. Raven knew she could not force her soul to live without music any longer. Let the healing truly begin.

As the last note faded, the room stood immediately and applauded, possibly more out of surprise than appreciation; but, before it could get too crazy Denny shushed the crowd.

“Now play us one of your songs. How about the one you sent me on my last tour?”

He loved her Gospel stuff, claiming it stayed with him all day long. Locking his gaze, she could see the twinkle in his eyes. He wasn’t fooling around and didn’t flinch at Raven’s stare. It didn’t matter. The demands from others around the room were growing stronger and the piano’s calls even louder. Raven’s hands began moving out of pure instinct. She was born to do this.

“This is dedicated to those that have suffered at the hands of terrorism. It’s called Reaching for the Light.”

As I witness, this darkest night.
I can feel you, trying to show me the light.
And I’m reaching, oh yes I’m reaching,
Reaching for the light.

So many faces, so twisted and dark.
They don’t know You, don’t know Your heart.
They bring terror, like it’s their right,
So I stand, in Your love, reaching for the light.

Reaching for Your light,
Standing in the light.
Sharing love and being kind,
I will stand and I will fight,
In Your name by reaching for the light.

You give us freedom to make a choice,
And I’m choosing to use my voice,
On earth as it is in Heaven,
That’s the world that I want to live in.

In the light I find the hope,
And the strength to forgive.
I will stand and I will fight,
In Your name by reaching for the light.

Reaching for the light,
Standing in the light.
Sharing love and being kind,
I will stand and I will fight,
In Your name by reaching for the light.

Reaching for Your light.
Standing in the light.

On earth as it is in Heaven,
That’s the world I want to live in.

At the end of the song, Raven was torn between the peace the song always gave her, jumping off the stage and out of the spotlight before they could ask for another, or complying with the piano’s demands to play until she could play no more. Her hesitation gave Denny yet another chance to control the circumstances.

“Encore! Encore! Encore!” he shouted as everyone else joined in as reinforcement. “Now how about we end the night with All I Need?

He couldn’t. He didn’t. Could she even make it through that song without breaking down? It had been a long time since she had opened that door.

Raven wasn’t sure how long she sat there with a blank look on her face, lost in another time. She could feel Denny’s and Fred’s eyes on her, smiling, encouraging, excited. Glancing over at Wally, she found him bouncing back and forth from foot to foot like he was dramatically preparing to run, with a huge smile on his face shouting “Encore” louder than anyone else. Once again, her fingers started of their own accord, despite her emotional hesitation.

I can’t believe that I’m again sitting here,
Feeling so alone, when I know You are so near,
Lately I find there’s an emptiness within,
Maybe it’d be easier if I’d just give in.

But then again, every lesson must be learned,
And when I stray, You guide my safe return.
Just when I think, there’s no more I can bear,
I turn to You, You are always there.

I will stand strong, No matter what may come.
I won’t be down for long, Now the battle has begun.
My faith will win, I’ll never give in,
Because it’s true, it’s You.
You’re all I need.

In truth, Denny didn’t know what would happen and had his own set of fears. The only thing he did know is that different was good and this girl was born to play music. No one was going to stand in the way of that. He couldn’t bear the hollow look that haunted her eyes any more. He thought he had lost her once and now that she was here, damned if he was going to watch her live a half-life. Listening to her sing her own lyrics, “I will stand strong,” he knew that no matter what happened, this was a step in the right direction.

Sometimes it seems, like the world’s closing in on me,
No peace to be found, chaos at my feet.
But with a single prayer, You dry my tears,
And with a gentle hand, You vanquish my fears.

So I can stand strong, no matter what may come.
I won’t be down for long, now the battle has begun.
My faith will win, I’ll never give in,
Because it’s true, it’s You.
You’re all I need.

And when it seems every hour is getting worse,
And every word I speak feels like it’s a curse,
I turn to You, to set my spirit free.
Yes, I turn to You, because I believe.

If Raven could have heard Denny’s thoughts, she probably would have agreed. She was lost, engaged in the music and the message completely, no longer paying any attention to her surroundings. She was home again in her beautiful musical bubble. The words empowered her as she continued, allowing her to offer more to the song with each lyrical line. And then, as the last chorus began, Raven forgot.

I will stand strong, no matter what may come.
I won’t be down for long, now the battle has begun.
My faith will win, I’ll never give in.
Because it’s true, it’s You.
You’re all I need.

She forgot the piano was facing the wrong direction. She forgot to guard herself. She relaxed her body, allowed the full feeling of the song to be shared. The emotional performance resulted in Raven lifting her head, something she rarely did these days. And then as the last note was being held, she lifted her eyes to heaven, tilting up just enough for gravity to swoop in and pull her hair back off her face, allowing everyone to see what he had done to her—how the monster had carved into her like she was his property. The gasp in the room was tremendous, but it was Wally dropping a glass that made Raven open her eyes, startled, but oblivious.

After a moment of deafening silence, while Raven was reorienting herself in this plane of existence, a none-the-wiser Bernie stood up from the other end of the stage, shouting and pointing at the window.

“Hey, it’s snowing! It’s snowing!”

Raven looked and saw the snow was indeed coming down and fast. Looking around the room, she expected to meet eyes of excitement about the snow; but, no one except Bernie was looking out the window.  All she saw was concerned and questioning eyes, making her realize her mistake. The women were holding the side of their face and the men that had come to know Raven, however superficially, looked stricken, trying to hide the tears in their eyes.

Not wanting to explain, but also not flinching or hiding, Raven scanned the crowd. She found her little family immobile, as if in shock. This was obviously not one of the scenarios they had played out in their heads when manipulating this performance.

With a reassuring look and smile that all would be well, she then turned and scanned the speechless crowd with the same “It’s okay” expression, albeit with little effect.

To the far left, her eyes came to rest on Michael, the young man with the curfew pass. She had been mentoring him for weeks on how to build websites and attach them to social media sites. His face was contorted with disgust, not at Raven, but at the camera in his hand. As she watched, he dropped it on the table and backed away a few steps like he had just discovered it was evil. Slowly he looked up at Raven in horror, shaking his head, apologizing with his eyes.

These actions slowly, at least it felt like a very long time to Raven, led to the realization that Michael had been putting their last lesson to the test.  He had been streaming the entire event live onto YouTube and who knows where else. Although she tried with all her might to not let the smile drain away from her face, all she had left to give at that moment was a disbelieving chuckle at how the night had played out.

“Hah,” followed by one word whispered into the microphone, “Asparagus.”

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: by Yvonne DeBandi”

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