“You sure you want to do this?”
“It’s a bit late to back out now,” said Cheryl-Ann. The Muleteers were almost finished their set; the kind of music Cheryl-Ann liked, lots of fiddles and banjos. It was upbeat, and she needed upbeat. She was about to perform in a real live opera house: The Grand Ole Opry House, to be specific.
Jerry fussed around her, not letting anyone near. Giant electric fans did their best to keep the backstage cool without destroying elaborate hairdos, but Cheryl-Ann could feel a trickle of sweat roll down her belly from under her breasts. More likely stress than heat, she thought. She should have had a calming shot of bourbon, except that she didn’t drink any more. Jerry tried to look confident and cheerful, but instead had a puppet smile stretched unnaturally across his face and the whites of his eyes showed, just like the feral cat Cheryl-Ann had shooed away from the chickens. She turned away from him and put the earpieces in, nice and snug. She’d be able to listen to the broadcast with the earbuds, and hear her cues.
All the sound and commotion were immediately muted, and Cheryl-Ann took a deep breath, exhaling noisily to clear her throat. She hadn’t peeked out at the audience; that would make her too nervous. She knew the place was packed. She knew that she— at least Louisa J— was the big attraction this afternoon. Her first real public performance, to be recorded and televised. Jerry had carefully released a few publicity photos, once Cheryl-Ann had learned who Louisa J was and agreed to a promotional tour.
Sure, she’d been mad at first. Jerry was crazy. Crazy like a fox, as her daddy used to say. She wondered if this was all a big mistake. She loved her life on the farm, the baking competitions, the cruises. Now Jerry had bought her a big touring bus, and made her buy new clothing with sequins, and held so many rehearsal sessions she thought her knees would buckle under her from fatigue. But he said: We go all the way or we don’t go at all. She agreed. That’s how they rolled, she and Jerry.
Her outfit was a long red satin skirt with a matching peplum jacket, hand-embroidered and sequinned with an elaborate J. They used the Opry studio hairdresser, who did a serviceable, puffy bob and a flip, though Jerry might have to take a hammer to it before bed if she was to sleep comfortably that night.
Jerry leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, his face close to hers, smiling, and he said something, his final words of encouragement, which Cheryl-Ann couldn’t hear. She hoped he’d said, “We are ready. You are ready. Just do like you did yesterday and you’ll kill ‘em!” That would be encouraging for sure.
He slipped the dark glasses over her eyes. Now she was almost blind. The host would guide her to the middle of the stage, where the microphone was, and point her in the right direction. All the production staff anticipated loud and long applause for the courageous little blind woman with the big voice. Louisa J, in person, at last.