Infinity + One
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I’d said I was sick. But before leaving the stage, I’d performed just like I’d been trained to do. I’d sung the songs from my latest album, as well as favorites from the previous three. With four albums under my belt, not counting the rushed release of all the songs I’d sung on Nashville Forever a month after my big win, I was established in the business, a headliner, a Grammy winner, and my latest album, Come Undone, had gone platinum.
I had fulfilled my obligations. And no one could say I hadn’t delivered. I had sung my heart out, belted out each note while prancing around on stage in the carefully chosen costume—artfully torn, skin-tight, blue jeans and a black silk shirt with high-heeled, red cowgirl boots—straddling the line between pop princess and country crooner to maximize my marketability.
The lights had been hot on stage, but my makeup was still in place, fake lashes and expertly applied shadows and liners made my dark brown eyes look deep and soulful, big puppy dog eyes framed by loose golden curls. Those long, blonde, Bonnie Rae Shelby curls that had become the style little girls everywhere tried to copy. I could have told them it was easy. Mine were store-bought. All the little girls could buy them too. Sure, now they were expensive, but they didn’t start out that way.
When Minnie’s hair had started falling out because of the chemo, we decided to shave our heads together, light brown hair falling to the floor in fluffy piles. We were twins. Identical twins. Mirror image twins. If Minnie was going to be bald, I had to be bald too. But Gran said I couldn’t be bald on stage, so the day I auditioned for Nashville Forever, Gran took our bus money (and our food money) and bought me a wig with long, ash-blonde curls.
“Dolly Parton always wears wigs, Bonnie,” Gran had said brightly, pulling the wig over my smooth head. “Look at you! Blonde hair suits you, Bonnie Rae. It makes you look like a little angel. That’s good. That’s what we want. Angel hair to go with your angel voice.”
I’d had angel hair ever since. Except now I didn’t wear a Dolly wig. I had extensions and professional dye jobs and a hairdresser that traveled with me everywhere I went. A hairdresser, a makeup artist, a stylist, and a team of bodyguards. I also had a publicist, an agent, and a lawyer on speed dial. And Gran. Gran was a little bit of everything. But mostly, she was my manager.
Gran hadn’t wanted me to go up to my dressing room without her. Gran was smart. And tough. And sometimes a little mean and scary. And she smelled something off. She smelled the burning bridge. She just couldn’t see the smoke.
“Give me a second, Gran. I’m twenty-one years old. I can be alone for thirty minutes without the world falling apart.” My voice was placid, but inside I was flinching. I was such a liar. Her world was going to fall apart tonight. Such irony. She nodded once, and then turned away to attend to business.
Now, I was alone.
I looked at myself in the big mirror in front of me. There were mirrors everywhere. I ran my hand over my curls and blinked my eyes a few times. And then I pulled out the scissors I’d taken from Jerry’s little bag of tricks. And I started to snip. Snip, snip, snip. And the angel hair started falling around my feet, just like it had six years before. A few strands landed on my shoulders and in my lap. A clump fell down the front of my shirt and I started to laugh, the hair peeking out of my cle**age like I was a man with boobs. I laughed harder as I cut. And then there was only a little hair left. It stood up in short tufts on my head and around my ears, jagged and uneven. It was even shorter than Damon’s. Damon was the drummer for the Bonnie Rae Shelby Come Undone Tour. I thought he was cute but Gran kept him away because she heard he had Herpes. I was pretty sure it was because he had a penis. Gran did her best to keep all the guys away.
The laughter hiccupped into something closer to tears as I looked at what was left of my hair, knowing there was no turning back now, knowing Minnie wasn’t here to go hairless with me. I squashed the regret and pulled off my fake eyelashes, wincing as the spidery legs resisted being plucked free. I scrubbed my makeup off with a handful of wet wipes and pulled a stocking cap down low over what remained of my angel curls. The knit cap smelled like Bear—it was his hat—and I felt pain again, pain that was harder to squash than the regret. I would miss Bear. He would miss me.
The red boots and jeans would have to stay. I didn’t have anything else to wear or time to change. The oversized tour sweatshirt went on next, all of our 2013-2014 tour dates printed on the back in long rows. It made me tired just looking at them. I pulled the hood up over my stocking cap, shading my face like a gangster wannabe. I needed to hurry. I didn’t clean up the hair. I left it strewn in a sloppy mess across the vanity and on the floor. I don’t really know why I wanted Gran to see it. But I did.
I lurched for the door and skidded to a halt. How would I catch a cab or take a bus? I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have my purse or my credit cards. I never carried any of that stuff. I never needed to. When I needed something, Gran or someone made sure I got it. I panicked for a full ten seconds until my eyes fell on Gran’s purse sitting on the vanity. I couldn’t believe she’d left it.