Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie

A heart-wrenching short story where a deep bond, and a life just blossoming, are stolen by a senseless act of violence…

by: Carolynn Kingyens

Chevy pulled into the half-empty parking lot at the Olive Garden, parking her used Prius beside Dwayne’s Dodge minivan. She knew it was Dwayne’s by the significant dent on the front fender from the night they’d hit an albino buck coming back home from a weekend in the Poconos. Chevy would never forget the moment when she locked eyes with the ethereal-looking creature. The intensity of its stare was as if it had been searching her soul for something. For what, she didn’t know?

Although Dwayne had hit the buck hard, it appeared unfazed. When he stepped out of the maroon minivan to inspect the damage to both buck and fender, the animal was gone. It was there then it wasn’t there, an animal apparition.

Dwayne was one of the line cooks at Olive Garden, and Chevy a waitress. He’d gotten her the waitressing gig after they’d met a year prior at a house party. She’d gone to the party for the free weed, but met Dwayne instead on the back porch where he was playing the Foo Fighters’ song “Times Like These” on his acoustic guitar. Chevy was immediately smitten with the mysterious-looking musician. She thought he resembled Lenny Kravitz with his beautiful bone structure, nose ring, and dreadlocks. He was the most beautiful human being she’d ever seen in her life.

Dwayne had met Chevy on her third day out of a sixty-day stint at a treatment facility for bulimia and self-harm by way of cutting. Her life had gone sideways soon after her father had left her mother for Melinda, her mother’s best friend, a woman who’d been like a second mother to Chevy. She felt like she’d been betrayed twice, once by her father and again by Melinda. Her mother, Alice, was in an equally bad place as Chevy, and would also enter treatment after developing a severe dependance on Grey Goose.

Chevy learned her father and Melinda had secretly moved to Sacramento while she was still in treatment, moving across the country without even a goodbye. A conniving Melinda had convinced her new husband, Chevy’s father, that his daughter was a physical threat to their unborn child, Chevy’s soon-to-be half-sister. One of the psych meds that Chevy was on at the time had caused a numbing effect that would sometimes manifest in a shark-like, deadened stare reminiscent of serial killers. Her presence in their home had made Melinda feel uncomfortable. When Chevy cut her arm a little too deep, and had to go to the ER, followed immediately by a sixty-day stay in treatment, her father and Melinda quietly put their house up for sale, before moving 2,785 miles away. The only thing left behind was a lone box tucked underneath a porch swing with Chevy’s name on it. She got the box and threw it off the front porch, not caring about the spilled contents. Her eyes filled up with tears. Before she left their vacant house, Chevy would take out a rolled joint from her front jean pocket and light it up. Fuck’em, she’d thought.

Dwayne introduced himself first. He noticed Chevy sitting with Molly, one of their mutual friends, on the porch swing while he was playing the Foo Fighters’ song on his guitar. He’d eyed Chevy right away, but she’d coyly look down every time he’d glance at her. Dwayne liked her all black, goth look, but perceived a sadness behind her amber-colored eyes. He also thought it was a little odd how she wore long sleeves in the middle of July. Philly was notoriously hot and humid in the summer months with its bevy of annoying minuscule gnats that would fly about the face and eyes. Dwayne was wearing his favorite Chronic T-shirt, and the back of his cotton shirt was already soaked. She must be sweltering, he’d thought.

“Hi, I’m Dwayne,” he said, finally introducing himself.

The sullen-looking girl dressed head-to-toe in black looked down before responding.

“I know. Molly told me your name. I’m Chevy.”

Dwayne smiled, letting out a soft laugh.

“Cool name. How did you get it?” Dwayne asked.

“My parents loved the song “American Pie,” she replied.

Just then, she began to sing the lyrics that inspired her name.

“So, bye-bye, Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry

And them good ol’ boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye

Singin’, “This’ll be the day that I die

This’ll be the day that I die”

Dwayne loved her voice immediately. He thought it had an angelic quality to it, sounding like a cross between Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star and Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays. Chevy had the whole ‘90s vibe-thing going on, and she seemed unapologetic about it.

“I thought American Pie was a movie, you know, band camp, Stiffler’s mom.”

The two shared a laugh.

Hours later, up on the roof of the row home where the house party was being hosted, Chevy rolled up her sleeves to show Dwayne her zig-zag scars. She told him about her father leaving, and how he and Melinda had high-tailed it out of Philly the second she entered treatment. Dwayne held her until she stopped sobbing. Embarrassed by her sudden emotional candidness, Chevy began to apologize to Dwayne, almost stammering.

“I’m so sorry. This is so embarrassing. I gotta go. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

Chevy turned to walk towards the rickety, rusted out fire escape, their only way back to the second floor bedroom where an opened window awaited their safe return, when Dwayne grabbed her hand, pulling her into his strong arms. She could hear his throbbing heartbeat when she rested her head on his firm chest. She felt safe in his arms, a feeling she hadn’t felt in a very long time. Dwayne then softly pulled up her baggy sleeve, exposing her Frankenstein-like scars under the iridescent moonlight. Next, he gently kissed each scar as tears streamed down Chevy’s pretty face.

They would become inseparable after that humid night up on the roof. Not long after, Chevy moved into Dwayne’s apartment, renting the bedroom beside him. He then got her a waitressing job at Olive Garden so they could spend more time together. They’d sometimes sneak off for a kiss, or a quick embrace. When she’d bring the customer orders back to the kitchen, slipping it through the open window to the line cooks, Dwayne would sometimes put his hand over her’s.

The day she parked beside Dwayne’s Dodge Minivan with its dented front fender in the half-empty parking lot was like any other shift on any other day. Being one of the line cooks meant that Dwayne’s shift started earlier than Chevy’s in order to prep the food ahead for the evening orders. Chevy liked to arrive early with enough time to check on her various social media accounts, or call her mother, Alice, who’d found love again, relocating to Miami with her new man. Chevy would call to check up on her sobriety as well. She had learned from Alice that she’d found a new AA sponsor since she moved, and had been attending weekly meetings. Chevy was proud of Alice for rebuilding her life after surviving one of the biggest betrayals, losing both her beloved husband and best friend in one fell swoop.

Chevy would frequently check Melinda’s Facebook profile to see if she’d posted any public photos of their new baby girl. Chevy only saw one photo since her birth six months ago. It was a photo taken shortly after her birth.

They’d named her Matilda Rose after Melinda’s grandmother. The baby weighed 7 lbs 10 oz. Chevy longed to hold Matilda, her already beloved half-sister. She longed to have a connection with her.  But it wasn’t meant to be, at least right now. She wiped a tear away with her sleeve before opening the heavy, Tuscan-style front door of the popular restaurant chain.

Tonight, Chevy would be waitressing at station five, which was located in the back right corner of the restaurant, near the restrooms. She’d blocked off one of their long tables for a party of ten. A customer had called a week ago to reserve this table for her sister Cecelia’s 40th birthday. Within forty minutes of her shift starting, Chevy’s station was filled with customers. She went from table to table refilling drinks and unloading baskets of warm bread sticks and unending bowls of Olive Garden salads while politely asking each customer, “Would you like some grated cheese on your salad?” Most of the customers said yes. Her petite hands ached by the end of each shift.                                      

When the birthday table was ready for her to bring out the custom cake they’d brought with them, she’d went around and gathered the other waitstaff, who were hanging around between tables, and together they sang happy birthday to the beaming birthday girl while clapping their hands in perfect unison like a team of giddy cheerleaders. The whole birthday charade felt forced, their enthusiasm, at best, awkward. But it was part of the job nonetheless.

Soon after singing, Chevy heard a loud popping sound. She’d initially thought one of the birthday balloons had burst. No big deal. It happens, she thought. Then she heard more popping sounds, followed by the sights and sounds of mass hysteria. People were screaming and hiding under the tables in her section since there was no easy exit. Before Chevy knew what was happening, she’d felt a burning sensation in her chest, followed by a steady flow of blood, soaking her black, button-down collared shirt. Her body was slowing down, and she started to feel weak. Chevy could faintly hear Dwayne screaming her name, telling her to fight, to not leave him that help was on the way. 

“I love you, Chevy. Stay with me,” Dwayne cried, as he applied pressure to her wound using towels brought to him from the kitchen. Chevy could hear the sister of the birthday girl, the one who’d made the reservation, screaming her little sister’s name over and over again:

“Cecelia!”

“Cecelia, No!”

“Oh my God!”

Chevy blinked, then blinked again.

Standing next to Dwayne, who was bent down beside Chevy, was the stoic albino buck they’d hit in the poconos six months prior, but he didn’t acknowledge it. It seemed like only she could see the beautiful, majestic-looking creature.

“Do you see it Dwayne?” she asked in a groggy voice.

“See what, Chevy? You’re doing great. Stay with me.”

“The albino buck we’d hit. It’s standing right beside you.”

Dwayne didn’t know if he should lie and say he saw it, too, or if her apparition meant something more.

“I love you, Chevy. I need you. Don’t you dare leave me.”

Dwayne was becoming increasingly desperate. He saw two EMTs arrive, who immediately started giving lifesaving aid to Chevy and Cecelia. Cecelia, however, had died instantly. But Chevy still had a pulse, although it was slipping fast. Dwayne watched as one of the EMTs frantically worked on her, while the other started an IV line. He could glean by their worried expressions that Chevy’s condition was critical. 

“We’re losing her,” one of the EMTs called out to the other. 

They started CPR, but Dwayne could tell that Chevy was already gone. The bright light that had once emanated from her amber-colored eyes was replaced with an odd vacancy reminiscent of the eyes of a department store mannequin. They called her death at exactly 6:52pm. 

Dwayne held Chevy in his arms, screaming in shock. The other line cooks, who were in shock themselves, never left Dwayne’s side. They’d formed a loyal family in the three years they worked together as line cooks. This particular restaurant had a five star rating. The employees liked to think their individual friendships had something to do with their excellent rating. 

By the next day, Dwayne and Alice would begin to learn the details of the random act of violence that took the life of their beloved daughter and girlfriend. Cecelia’s abusive ex-husband had shown up at her birthday celebration with only one motive in mind, to shoot her dead for daring to leave him. One of the stray bullets had hit Chevy from behind.  After shooting Cecelia and Chevy, the crazed shooter then turned the gun on himself like the coward he was. 

The days between the shooting and Chevy’s memorial service were a blur. Dwayne’s line crew took turns staying with him and Alice at the apartment he and Chevy once called home. Their fridge was covered with photos and memories they’d shared over their year long courtship. Their relationship had a special chemistry he couldn’t yet describe in words, although he would try when he gave Chevy’s eulogy the next day. 

Dwayne’s heart ached with loss. He wanted to punch a wall pretending it was the face of the shooter, or even Chevy’s asshole father. The day of her memorial service, Dwayne had noticed a tuft of pristine-white animal fur lodged in the front grille of his dented Dodge minivan. Curious, he pulled out the tuft of fur, and began to rub it between his fingers like sand. The ultra soft, fine white hairs began to take flight in the soft breeze. It reminded him of Chevy, how she’d always close her eyes and make a wish before blowing the stubborn gray fuzz off the head of a dandelion.

After Dwayne had given an emotional eulogy to the young woman he called his “eclectic soulmate,” he told the collective mourners the story of how they’d first met at the house party a year prior, and how when he’d asked her about her unusual name, Chevy sang him the lyrics to “American Pie.”

The mourners let out a group chuckle.

“So in honor of Chevy, I’m going to try and sing her song for you today.”

Dwayne then reached down for his acoustic guitar that was resting against the wooden podium. Chevy’s mom nodded her head in approval as she continuously dabbed her eyes with tissues that had now morphed into a tissue-snowball. 

Dwayne started strumming the intro before the song started to take off..

“I met a girl who sang the blues

And I asked her for some happy news

But she just smiled and turned away

I went down to the sacred store

Where I’d heard the music years before

But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets the children screamed

The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed

But not a word was spoken

The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most

The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost

They caught the last train for the coast

The day the music died

And they were singin’, bye-bye, Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry

And them good ol’ boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye

Singin’, “This’ll be the day that I die

This’ll be the day that I die”

Dwayne noticed as he played Chevy’s song that there was a middle-aged man sitting alone in the last pew of the church. His tears stained his ruddy face. Dwayne could glean that the man was broken. Dwayne’s heart softened after he realized the grief-stricken man was Chevy’s asshole father. Chevy had his large, almond-shaped eyes. After Dwayne sang Chevy’s song, the non-denominational pastor stepped up to the podium to offer some comforting parting words about the fragility of life, and how there was order in the chaos:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4.”

As Dwayne and Alice walked slowly up the aisle, her hand clenched tightly in his, he’d noticed the tall, red-faced stranger waiting for them at the back of the church. 

“Bill,” muttered Alice.

Dwayne looked over at Chevy’s mom. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. He thought this wasn’t good. But to his surprise Chevy’s parents embraced. The three of them walked out the front doors of the church into the bright sunlight that awaited them.  

 

Carolynn Kingyens’ debut book of poetry, Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound (Kelsay Books), can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Greenlight, Book Culture, Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop and McNally Jackson. In addition to poetry, Carolynn writes narrative essays, book reviews, micro/flash fiction, and short stories. She resides in New York with her husband and two amazing daughters. 

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