With suitcases and sleeping bags strapped to the luggage rack on the back, the Corvette made its way down Peachtree Street for one last time and to the parking lot of The King nightclub. It was after 8pm, the sun slowly sinking into the western sky. The sign outside the door now advertised that that night’s performance would be Diane’s last at The King.
Tod parked the car and paused a moment. Buz studied his friend. “You sure you want to do this?” he asked.
It was a long moment before Tod answered. “Yeah. I think so.”
Buz nodded and popped open the passenger door, stepping from the Corvette. Tod followed a beat after. They headed into the club.
The place was packed with people, the tables all full and everyone else jammed along the side walls of the room and around the bar. Tod and Buz gently pushed their way toward a spot by the bar, while the entire audience was enthralled by the lady on the stage, surrounded by soft light and the sultry jazz music as she sang…
I never had a chance,
I thought you cared for me,
But now I see
I never had a chance.
I never had a chance.
Though you never told me so,
Somehow I know
I never had a chance.
I knew we'd have to part,
For I could always reach your lips
But I could never reach your heart.
My dream about romance
Ended in a friendly chat.
But more than that,
I never had a chance.
Not a single chance…
The irony of the song wasn’t lost on Tod. He watched her and for a moment she looked in his direction but he was sure she couldn’t see him, not with the spot light on her. Nonetheless, the look sent a pang through him. What was he doing here?
He made no move to leave, however, applauding with the rest of the room when the song ended. He and Buz remained where they stood through the rest of her set which seemed a little heavier on the torch songs this time.
When the show ended, she remained on the stage during the final applause, thanking the audience. When the roar died down enough she spoke.
“Thank you so much,” she said, “and thank you, Atlanta, for being my home for the past 10 years. As most of you know, Sam and the boys and I are heading down to Miami after this…”
A collective “aww…” came from the audience.
Diane smiled. “I know. If I could bring y’all with me I would, so many of you have been so supportive and wonderful over the years. It has been a pleasure to sing for you. I can only hope the folks down in Miami are as enthusiastic as y’all have been.”
“You’ll knock ‘em dead!” Buz hollered, eliciting a few cheers and claps from the audience.
Diane laughed. “I’m going to do my best. Thank you again everyone, take care and good night!”
The crowd applauded again and the spotlight went out as Diane made her way off the stage. The house lights came up and the applause died down and the crowd started to thin out as some people made their way toward the exit.
Tod and Buz remained by the bar and Vicki, the brunette haired waitress Buz had flirted with previously, came up to them.
“I thought I recognized that voice,” she said with a grin.
Buz smiled at her. “Hey, now with Diane leaving, the club’s going to need a new act. Can you sing?”
“You kidding? Why do you think I’m serving drinks instead? Won’t get me up on that stage.”
“That’s too bad,” Buz said. “I think you’d knock ‘em dead too.”
Vicki glanced at Tod. “Got an answer for everything doesn’t he?”
Tod smiled. “He usually does.”
Vicki giggled. “Listen, Diane’s not going to do her usual meet and greet tonight but she did say that if you two came she wanted to see you.”
“Both of us?” Buz asked, glancing toward Tod. This was more Tod’s goodbye than Buz’s.
Vicki nodded. “Both of you. I can take you back…”
Vicki lead the way across the lounge toward the stage and then to the side hallway leading back to the dressing rooms.
“She’s going to be quite surprised,” Vicki said just before they reached Diane’s door. “She said she didn’t expect to see either one of you again. I told her she was silly to think you wouldn’t come to see her last show…” At the door, Vicki knocked. “It’s Vicki, Diane. I have two visitors for you.”
A moment later, the door opened and Diane looked at them, her expression somewhere between relief and remorseful. “Hi,” she said. She then glanced at Vicki. “Thanks.”
Vicki nodded and headed back to the lounge. Diane stepped back to allow the boys in.
After she closed the door she looked at Buz. “Was that you I heard shout from the crowd?”
Buz nodded. “That was me.”
She gave a half smile. “I honestly didn’t expect either one of you to come back here again, not after all that happened.”
Buz tilted his head toward Tod. “He wanted to come back.”
Diane looked at Tod and shook her head. “You can’t possibly be that forgiving?”
Tod shrugged. “I got the car back. And you’re free from Doyle now. What’s there to forgive?”
“Free,” she said, like the word was foreign. “I’m not sure yet if I even deserve that.” She stepped to the vanity to pick up the smoldering cigarette from the ash tray.
“You’ll get used to it,” Buz said. “It grows on you after a while.”
Diane gave a soft chuckle as she carefully blew out a string of smoke. “You know, for so long I never realized how trapped I was here. On stage I was content, happy. But when the lights shut off and the music stopped, there was something in me that shut off too, blocked everything else out, kept the vision before me that everything was going good.” She looked at Tod. “Then you showed up. You and Buz, but you especially. I had said you were a breath of fresh air. Little did I know you’d be a forceful wind of change.” She looked at both of them. “I am truly sorry for everything that happened. I should have realized sooner, tried to do something sooner…”
Buz shook his head. “You didn’t have to do anything. It all worked out anyway. Don’t be too quick to find another set of chains to wear.”
Diane nodded. “I guess the forgiveness I’m having the hardest time with is my own.”
“It’ll take time,” Buz said. “And one day there won’t be a difference between being on that stage and being off.” He stepped toward her and took her hand. “You’re a beautiful and talented lady, Diane. One day the world will be at your command. Don’t be afraid of it.”
She squeezed his hand. “I’ll do my best.”
Buz smiled and leaned to give her a kiss on the cheek. “Good girl. And good luck to you.”
Buz released her hand and looked at Tod. “I’ll wait in the car. Take your time.”
After Buz left, Tod turned to Diane. “Buz is right. Don’t saddle yourself with guilt about what happened. Buz and I are walking away intact and so are you. Most importantly, you’re free. Mitzi Gaynor better look out now.”
Diane gave a sad chuckle. “Oh Tod. Maybe in time I’ll forgive myself for a lot of what happened here, but there’s one thing I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for.”
She put her cigarette down in the ash tray on the vanity and took hold of his hand. “Losing out on what could have been with you and me.”
He sighed and rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. “I’m sorry too,” he said and met her gaze. “Real sorry.”
Diane sighed and shook her head. “I’m going to ask this, I already know the answer but I’m going to ask it anyway: Come with me to Miami?”
Tod hesitated. There was the pang of temptation followed by the reminder of having been played. He forgave her, but it still burned. He shook his head.
She smiled sadly at him and nodded. She looked at the innocent freckled face that had charmed her. “Are you and Buz staying in Atlanta?”
“When are you leaving?”
She was startled. “To where…?”
Tod shrugged. “Who knows? We figure to head north, Chattanooga maybe. Buz is the navigator, he picks a spot on the map and we go.”
“Maybe someday you’ll pick Miami.”
“I hope so, just so you can see I made it.”
Tod smiled. “If we ever make it to Miami, Diane, you better not still be there. I want to walk into a record store somewhere and see your face on an album cover, right next to Peggy Lee. Then I’ll know you made it.” He gently released her hand so that he could reach into his sport coat. “I want you to have something…”
Diane’s eyes widened when she saw the $100 bills in his hand and he counted out five of them to give to her. “Tod…I can’t take your money.”
“It’s not my money. Well, it is… it’s the prize money from the race but it was Doyle’s race and Doyle’s money. Take it. Use it to cut a demo record or something.” He gently pressed the bills into her hand. “Just don’t let anybody or anything hold you back from now on.”
Her eyes brimmed with tears and she threw her arms around his neck. She held back on a sob but there was no stopping the tear that trickled over her cheek. “Oh Tod… thank you… I’ll never forget you…”
“Same here…” After a moment, she eased back from him and he brushed away the tears from her cheek. Their gaze met and there was a beat of hesitation before they met in a soft kiss, full of forgiveness and farewell.
When they parted Diane held on to him for a little longer. The truest moment she’d felt in a long time.
In the parking lot, Buz waited in the Corvette with the radio playing. He leaned back with his eyes closed, the warm night air gently tousling his dark locks. He heard approaching footsteps but didn’t open his eyes until he heard the driver door pop open.
Tod slid in behind the wheel and closed the door. He could feel Buz’s gaze on him and he waited for the smart remark.
It didn’t come and he looked at Buz, seeing a more sober expression. “Aren’t you going to ask me if she cried?” Tod asked.
Buz shook his head. “I know she did.”
Tod turned the ignition and pointed the Corvette to the parking lot exit. Back on Peachtree Street, they headed north, onward to the next town and the next adventure…
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