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“When life gives you lemons, you do tequila shots,” Laila Sood said, leaning against the counterspace before the vanity mirror inside the greenroom, backstage the Mural Amphitheatre in Lower Queen Anne. The room had been assigned to her band, Kali and the Juggernauts, who’d been recruited to perform as part of opening night for the city’s annual three-day Seattle Rockfest.
“Are you seriously equating not going to your own auntie’s golden wedding anniversary party to doing tequila shots?” Mira asked. She was Laila’s pregnant cousin who was sitting with her legs stretched out on a couch a few feet away. Her husband, Andy Fitzgerald, sat by her side. The two had been married a little over a year following a whirlwind romance, turning Mira Sood into Mira Sood-Fitzgerald.
“Mummyji can’t stand me,” Laila replied. “And I’m not exactly president of her fan club, either. Right there are my life’s lemons.” She shrugged. “Trust me, I’ll be sparing Mummyji some grief on her special day by not showing up.” Her auntie, Sharmila Sood, was the matriarch of their traditional Punjabi-Indian family. Everyone called her Mummyji. She and her husband, Vinod Sood, who everyone called Papaji, had immigrated to America forty-five years ago. Following the death of Badi Maa, Vinod Sood’s mother, Auntie Sharmila and Uncle Vinod had become the official heads of the Sood family. But none of that changed the fact that Laila and her auntie were always locking horns.
“You know, your auntie had no problem accepting me, a white American, into the Sood family,” Andy said with a smug smile.
Laila swatted the idea away. “That’s because you’re the glorious son-in-law. She had no choice but to welcome you with open arms. Tradition would’ve demanded it.”
Mira sighed. “Well, regardless of your relationship with Mummyji, I don’t think you can skip attending their wedding anniversary tomorrow.” She then let out a groan. “God, I’m so hot.”
Andy instinctively leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Of course you are, baby.”
“No, I mean, I’m hot hot. I need something cool, or I’m going to melt,” she replied. It was midsummer, and although the night air felt cool outside with the sunset, the small greenroom felt rather stifling.
Andy turned to Laila. “Does your greenroom have an AC?”
She raised a brow at him. “No, it doesn’t. What am I, Lady Gaga?” Uprighting herself, Laila walked over to a mini refrigerator to the far right of the room. Opening it, she stared blankly at its white light as she considered the predicament before her. Her auntie’s fiftieth wedding anniversary party was the last place on Earth she wanted to be. Heck, it was the last place on Earth she’d go to die. For one, Laila was the family rebel. The twenty-nine-year-old dark horse. A lone rock star in a family of miscellaneous traditionalists. While the other cousins had chosen to get married and have many, many babies, Laila had followed her heart, her dream to be a musician.
She’d left Punjab, India, at just nineteen and moved to America, despite the pushback from her family. She’d put herself through college, found a day job, and eventually started her band, Kali and the Juggernauts, three years ago. But none of her life choices had ever received her auntie’s approval. To the latter, Laila was a cautionary tale. A mutineer Sood with no family values. So, why then should Laila attend the older woman’s golden-whatever party? Because Mira asked her to? Laila sighed. She adored her cousin Mira. They’d always been close and had grown especially closer when Mira had gone through a nasty divorce before Andy had entered her life and made the sun shine brightly for her again. He was the best thing that had ever happened to her. And with Mira pregnant, Laila was especially protective of her cousin. The last thing she wanted was to stress out Mira over a stupid, inconsequential party. Grabbing three Coke cans out of the refrigerator, Laila walked back to the couch to Andy and Mira.
“Here,” she said, handing one to Andy.
“Thanks,” he replied, accepting it. “Are you planning to drink the other two? Because I sure as hell don’t want my wife drinking any caffeine.”
“Relax, Romeo,” Laila comforted and walked over to place one of the two cans between Mira’s swollen ankles. She then opened the third soda can and took a long, cool sip.
“Ahhh,” moaned Mira. “That feels so good.”
Sitting down on the coffee table next to the couch, Laila looked hopefully at Mira. “So, how badly do you want me to go to this anniversary thingy?” She paused, then added, “While remembering how much you care about me and how much I don’t care about weddings or wedding anniversaries or any of that happily-ever-after shit.”
Mira squinted back. “Really badly,” she said. “Besides, it’s a party, Laila. How bad could a party be?”
“It’s a Sood party, Mira. Meaning there will be nothing but gossiping relatives, samosas, grease-laced air, earth-shattering Bollywood beats, and, oh, did I mention gossiping relatives?”
At that very moment, the door to the greenroom opened, letting in a gentle flood of background music, cheering, and laughter from the festival that was getting ready to kick off outside. A lanky young man stepped in with a bass guitar strapped across his body. A dense frown clouded his eyes, standing out against the golden-brown hair that dripped down the sides of his face and interlaced with his beard. “You coming? We’re on in a few,” he said, holding the door open as he spoke.
Laila breathed in and nodded. “I’ll be right out, Sawyer.”
This didn’t appear to wipe the frown off his face. He took another second to study Laila. He then exited the room, closing the door behind him and engulfing the room in silence again. She now turned back to Mira. “Why do you care so much about me going anyway?”
“We’re family.” Mira shrugged. “If you snub Mummyji by not going to her golden anniversary party tomorrow, it’ll stir up all kinds of tension in the family.”
Laila closed her eyes and let out a forlorn sigh. “Fine, I’ll think about it.”
“Think fast because I’m not leaving the concert tonight without a yes from you,” warned Mira as she stood up from her seat with Andy’s assistance.
Laila shook her head as she followed suit, leading the way to the door. “You’re bossy tonight.”
“It’s the hormones.” Mira smiled, then reached over to give her cousin a warm hug. “Now, go rock the crowd’s socks off!”
Laila watched as Mira and Andy melted away into the dusk light and into the sea of concert attendees that had gathered before the stage. With Mira unable to stand very long, Andy planned to find her a seat in a back, close to the food and drink stands, where they could watch Kali and the Juggernauts and where they planned to catch up with Laila after the show.
It was now twenty minutes to go-time, so Laila headed backstage to meet Sawyer and the rest of her band as they prepared to go on.
“Where’ve you been?” Roland asked as she approached. He was a bespectacled man wearing a leather jacket and stretchy leather pants. He was the band’s keyboardist. The stage curtains were still drawn, so Laila could no longer see the crowd. But their roaring laughter, chatter, and the concert’s background music were impossible to drown out.
“I was chatting with some of my family. Why? I’m not late,” Laila replied, trying to keep her voice above the noise.
“No, you’re not late,” said Tig, the band’s sitar player with flowing, blond dreadlocks. “We were just wondering where you were, that’s all.”
“Well, you disappeared after our second sound check, and Sawyer said you were back in the greenroom drinking sodas,” Tommy countered. He was their broad-shouldered percussionist with a half-shaved head, body art, and cheekbone piercings.
Laila frowned. “Dude, I was chatting with my cousin. What’s the problem?”
“You know what, forget it,” Sawyer said, cutting in. His eyes then scanned Laila from head to toe. “Wait, don’t tell me that’s what you’re wearing?” he asked, pointing to her outfit.
Laila frowned, then turned to consider her reflection in the full-length mirror resting against a brick wall a few feet away from the stage wings—her five-feet-eight frame sported a tartan mini skirt and a strapless leather corset top with thigh-high, black leather boots. Her dewy caramel skin came to life against the shade of her scarlet lipstick. Dark brown hair flowed unabashedly down her shoulders, embellishing the rose-vine tattoos on her arm, along with a few more tattoos that were spread out across her body—some exposed, and others hidden. Laila turned back to Sawyer. “I don’t see a problem.”
He sighed just as one of the event coordinators walked up to them.
“Okay, guys, you’re on in five,” she reported with anticipatory eyes.
“Okay. Thanks,” Sawyer replied with a smile before turning back to Laila. “We talked about this, Laila. All costumes have to be preapproved by a band majority. That’s us,” he said, circling his finger around to the other members in their group.
Laila intently crossed her arms before her chest. “You mean at least one of the four men out of the five band members have to approve what I wear onstage?”
“Oh, here we go.” Roland sighed. “Why do you always hurl your feminist shit at us?”
“Why is it shit if women hurl it, and if men do it, it’s a progressive thought?”
The event coordinator reappeared. “You’re on!” she declared with urgency just as they heard the crowd cheer behind the curtains.
Laila nodded at her tentatively. “Thanks.” Breathing in, she then turned to her band. “Listen, could we just keep it together through this one, please?” she asked them in a tepid voice. “This is the first big gig we’ve booked in months. If we can smash it out of the park tonight, we might just spotlight ourselves in the news enough to catch the eye of a major label. Isn’t that what we ultimately want?”
“It’s definitely what we want,” Sawyer replied, his eyes panning the others.
“All right, then.” Laila nodded. “That’s all the band majority I need.”
End of Excerpt