AN EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK: 

 

Chapter One

“All Shook Up”

“Don’t Be Cruel” blared from the alarm clock.

Kevin groaned beside me. He thought it was cruel to have Elvis blasting out at him at three-thirty every morning. He wanted a “normal” alarm. And he had one—set for three hours from now, when it was time for him to get up. This one was all mine.

As always, Elvis also accompanied me in the shower. I lathered, rinsed and repeated to “Hard-Headed Woman,” which Kevin deemed more than appropriate, since I wouldn’t give up my morning Elvis fix. On weekends, I’d drag Kevin into the shower with me, soaping him down, fittingly, to “Release Me,” and he’d stop protesting my musical choices. At least for a moment.

Thanks to a timer, the coffee pot was full and hot by the time I was dry and dressed. Checks, Kevin’s multicolored cat, waited somewhat impatiently for his breakfast, which today he decided would include chunks of my cream-cheese-slathered New York bagel. He attacked and devoured it like I imagine he’d partake of a mouse meal had there been any in our tenth-floor Manhattan apartment.

This was my favorite time of day. Well, my whole life was pretty much my favorite. I’d worked hard over the past few years to get everything the way it was. I had a great job as Margo in the Morning, the a.m. DJ for WKUP, Wake Up 107, a country radio station housed in the Empire State Building. We liked to joke that WKUP was for people who were country at heart but afraid of farm animals. I had a great market share, enjoyed near-celebrity status among New York City country music listeners and had the privilege of meeting many of my favorite country artists every week.

I had a boyfriend who loved sex, remembered to put the toilet seat down and didn’t pressure me to get married—a definite not-gonna-happen in my book. We lived in a terrific apartment—complete with elevator and doorman—on the edge of Chelsea, surrounded by Kevin’s modestly elegant decor and my Elvis collection.

I loved New York—running in Central Park, Broadway matinees (so I didn’t have to dress up) and meeting friends for drinks at our favorite sports bar. I loved the traffic, the noise, the variety of people. I loved the fact that my mother lived in California.

I simply loved my life.

At four-thirty, I dragged on a lightweight sweat jacket, shoved my feet into sneakers and gave the Elvis bobblehead on the hall table a tap. He’d been my good-luck charm since winning him on eBay six months ago. Some people rubbed Buddha’s belly; I whacked Elvis upside the head to watch his pelvic gyrations.

Though the sky over Manhattan was still dark, the sidewalks were bright with lights from the buildings, as was typical for the pre-crack of dawn in mid-June. It was five long blocks to work, and the brisk walk in the still-chilled air warmed me up. I dodged the other Type A personalities headed for work before most people even thought of opening their eyes, and spent the time going over any exciting news I’d read or heard in the past twenty-four hours, which would serve as fodder for my program. I went for fresh and hip on Margo in the Morning.

Two blocks from work my cell phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Margo? Honey, is that you?”

“Mom? Mom, it’s—” I squinted at my watch as I passed a lighted store front, “It’s 1:35 a.m. in California. What’s wrong?”

“I know what time it is, Margo. I have a watch.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Then why are you calling so early?”

“I wanted to catch you before you got to work.”

“Well, I’m almost there now. What’s going on?”

“I’m getting married.”

I froze in the middle of crossing 34th Street.

I paused to count marriages with my fingers. On both hands. Oops, no, we needed a toe for this one.

A cab blared its horn and grazed my calf with its fender, prompting me out of my shock. I stepped onto the curb.

My mother was getting married. Again.

Why did this surprise me? This is why I would never get married. My mother had used up her quota of marriages and all of mine.

“Margo, did you hear me? I’m getting married.”

“I heard, Mom. Who is it this time?”

“Now don’t take that tone, dear.” She said it with no recrimination. My mother didn’t get angry. It would have been an insult to her gentle Southern upbringing.

“Tone? What tone would that be?”

The tone that says “I can’t believe she can’t live without a man for more than six months?”

The tone that says “I find it hard to believe she’s found ‘true love’ eleven times?”

The tone that says “I’m pissed that she’s been married to more men than I’ve ever slept with?”

“The tone that tells me you’re not happy for me, honey. I’m in love. Be happy for me.”

She’s always in love, at least until they die, leave her for a younger woman or she gets bored and throws them out. Actually I’m not sure about the last two because I try to avoid the intimate details of my mother’s love life. Five husbands died from natural causes—or lost the will to live married to my mother. However, I’m not fully certain of the reasons behind the five divorces she’s racked up. Other than her divorce from my father, Husband Number One. I have to give her the benefit of the doubt on that one. It’s hard being married to a man who disappears off the face of the earth then shows up a year later claiming to have found God, the secret to crop circles and a new eighteen-year-old wife. Maybe that started my mom on this downhill cycle.

“Oh, sure, Mom. I’m happy for you.” Just like I’d been happy when she married (in no particular order) William, Coleman, Bert, Jim, Ray, Juan, Leonard, Dominic, uh… Oh hell, I hadn’t been happy when she married any of them. Who was I fooling?

Apparently my mother.

“Oh good, honey. I want you to come for the wedding.”

“You’re having a church wedding?” The last four or five had been hasty city-hall affairs. If she was the daughter and I the mother, I’d have been checking for a baby bump.

I stopped outside the Empire State Building and leaned against the chilled wall. I didn’t want to go up while still on the phone with my mother, as it was entirely possible I’d jump out an eighty-fifth floor window to put myself out of my misery.

“Of course, dear. Quinn is very religious.”

Quinn. I didn’t know anyone over the age of twenty named Quinn. Well, well. That would be something my mother hadn’t done before. She hadn’t yet robbed the cradle. There was always a first time.

“Doesn’t the church have something to say about you having been married so, uh, often?”

“I’m not sure. I’m sure it will be fine, though.” I could see her waving dismissively at anything that might upset her little dream world. “You’re coming, aren’t you, Margo? It’s going to be on the last Saturday in July. Of course, I’ll need you here a few days early to be fitted for the dress. We can go shopping and do lunch. It’ll be such fun!” She deafened me by clapping her hands directly in front of the speaker.

“A dress?”

“Your bridesmaid dress! I want you to be my maid of honor.”

Wow. That was a new one. “Why?”

“Because I love you and I want you by my side.”

This was a complete surprise to me. My mother had never asked me to stand up with her before. She so rarely had a church wedding, it hadn’t come up. Even when she did, she’d had a friend stand up with her or no one at all.

It was very suspicious.

“Mom, I probably can’t get the time off.”

Again, my mother didn’t want to hear what she didn’t want to hear, so she pretended I never said it. “Will you tell your brother, too, dear? I can’t ever seem to get Robert on the phone and he doesn’t have an answering machine.”

But he does have caller ID, I thought, reminding myself to explain to my brother—yet again—that I am not an only child and that he should be forced to talk to Mom, too.

“I’m afraid the only way to get his attention is with email, and you know how I am about things like that.”

“I’ll tell Rob. But, Mom, I don’t think I can—”

“Margo, I need to go. Quinn just got out of the shower and I’m not comfortable chatting with my daughter while he’s naked.”

I could have lived the rest of my life without that visual.

Before going on the air, I emailed my brother. Mom’s getting married again. Not going. How ’bout you?

***

“Tired of fast food? Looking for something different? The Seoul of Korea Restaurant, in the soul of Greenwich Village offers authentic Korean cuisine at a price that’ll leave you enough money for cab fare home. So don’t eat anywhere else, or you’ll be left saying ‘Wow! I could have had Korean!’”

“Geez, who writes this stuff?” I asked Cleo, my producer, near the end of my shift. I’d had so much fun I’d nearly forgotten my mother’s nuptial addiction. Cleo didn’t answer, as the music segued from the Korean restaurant ad into the next one—I shuffled pages—for a Korean dry cleaner. Geez.

Peppy Asian music cued the end and I turned to the last ad. “No way!” I said to Cleo, off-mike. “Who transported us to Asia overnight?” The third ad was for a Korean grocery.

Cleo just shrugged, concentrating on her computer screen so she wouldn’t miss anything exciting. I read the copy, stumbling over unfamiliar Korean delicacies, hoping I wasn’t botching them into obscenities.

“Holy crap!” I punched up the next song, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” by Kenny Chesney, and stared through the glass into the radio control room otherwise known—at least between 5:00 and 10:00 a.m. every weekday morning—as Cleo’s Domain. “No more unpronounceable words. High-school Spanish doesn’t help with the pronunciation of Korean edibles.”

Cleo shrugged again. “I don’t write ’em. I just pass them on.”

“Then we need to hire an interpreter.”

Kenny finished his tribute to Mexican vacations and then it was time for the traffic and weather. I pointed at Ben Barnes, who slipped into the studio—followed by a cloud of cheap cologne strong enough to penetrate a chemical suit—just in time for his report. “Go, Benny.”

After Ben told us how horrible the traffic was in Manhattan (why didn’t we just replay the same traffic report every morning since it never varied?), he moved on to the weather. “Today in New York, we’ll have a high of eighty-seven and muggy. More of the same tomorrow, with a high of ninety. Seoul is expecting a high today of eighty, and tomorrow a high of eighty-three with monsoon rains possible.”

I gaped at Ben open-mouthed. “I must be losing it. I could have sworn you just did the weather for South Korea.”

“That’s what they gave me.” He waved the sheet at me, as if to prove his point, even though I couldn’t read it from the other end of our Formica-topped table. “Maybe for our foreign listeners tuning in over the internet?”

“I guess,” I replied, with an eye roll. “Well, anyone hopping a plane for Korea, pack an umbrella. Anyway, that’s it for me today. Don’t forget to sign on to the WKUP website to win those tickets to next month’s Carrie Underwood concert at the Garden. I’m Margo in the Morning and you’ve—”

Cleo waved frantically at me from beyond the glass wall. “You have a call,” she said into my headphones.

Glancing down at the computer monitor, I noted she’d cued up a call from someone named Nancy. No subject line. “Well, I guess I can’t go home quite yet. I’m taking a call from Nancy. Hi, Nancy.” There was a moment of light static on the line before my caller finally spoke.

“Hi, Margo. I’m Nancy Noble from Today’s Country Magazine.

“Hey, my favorite!” I said, meaning it. They put out a great magazine filled with country music gossip, a lot of which I used on my show, but also had in-depth spreads on other country-related stuff. This month’s issue even included an article about the upcoming anniversary of Elvis’s death and the memorials planned in Memphis. Elvis may not have been a country singer, but he was loved in the South all the same.

“I’m glad you like it. We have some wonderful news for you, Margo. You’ve been chosen as this year’s Best Country DJ.”

I blinked and looked up at Cleo. Her heavily-lined face cracked into a huge grin. I looked over at Ben. He, too, smiled broadly, eyes magnified behind his thick lenses.

“Really?” I squeaked. “Me?”

“You were nominated by your listeners,” Nancy said. “We award Best Country DJ to someone who’s popular amongst their listeners, provides dedicated service to the country music industry and has spent at least three years at their current station, on-air and in a promotional capacity. You’re the first jock outside the South to win. It’s a pretty big thing.”

I was at a total loss for words. Or thoughts.

Me. Margo Gentry. Best Country DJ.

Wow.

“Are you there, Margo?” Nancy asked over the phone line.

“Yeah, I’m just in shock. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“You can thank us by coming for an interview next month.”

“Sure. I’d love to.” I know I told my mother I couldn’t get away for her wedding next month. Maybe the eleventh time I got voted Best Country DJ, I’d be more jaded. But now I felt like jumping out the eighty-fifth floor window—this time, because I was sure I could fly.

I hastily signed off and moved into Cleo’s Domain to talk to Nancy about the details. When we were done, I hung up and stared at Cleo, still in shock.

“Good job, girl,” my producer said, pulling cigarettes out of her purse. She fondled the pack between her purple-painted fingertips, crinkling the cellophane. “You deserve it.”

“I still can’t believe it,” I said, leading the way out into the hall that circled the station offices. “This has to be the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Hit ’em up for a raise, I say.” Cleo shoved an unlit cigarette between fuchsia lips and headed off for her smoke break before her blood-to-nicotine ratio got so low her organs began shutting down.

With a grin, I bounced off to the break room to get my stuff from my locker. This award was big. National. It would open doors to other jobs, if I wanted other jobs. But I loved it here at WKUP and had no intention of leaving for a very long time. Even if they didn’t give me the raise Cleo suggested I hit them up for.

I had to tell someone. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed as I walked.

“X-Treem Sports, Chip Xavier speaking.”

“Hey, Chip. It’s Margo. Can I speak to Chris?”

I pushed away the tiny twinge of guilt I felt for not calling my boyfriend first to tell him the good news. Kevin and I aren’t married, so that unwritten rule about having to first tell your spouse about every momentous occasion in your life didn’t apply. Oh, Kevin’ll be happy for me. He’ll tell me he’s excited and push all the right body parts to show his support, but Chris… Chris will get it. He’ll know what it means to me. Kevin is my boyfriend, but Chris Treem is my best friend. Has been for nearly twenty years. Even though he’s straight as an arrow—and thick as a log to hear him tell it.

The summer I turned ten was a very bad year. My dad walked out, my fragilely Southern mom took to her bed and my older brother, Rob (Chris’s former best friend), took solace in his Sega Genesis. I needed someone to talk to, and Chris was taking applications for a new best friend. The rest is history.

“Chris here.”

“You’ll never guess what I got.”

He paused to consider a moment, then suggested, “You bid on a square of Elvis’s used TP and won.”

“You know, your crappy attitude about Elvis is the only thing that prevents you from being the perfect friend.”

“It’s my only fault. So shoot me.”

“You wouldn’t like where I’d aim. Now will you be serious? Guess what I got.”

I heard a cell phone, presumably Chris’s, going off in the background.

“Can we do this without the twenty questions?” He silenced the phone.

I sighed. It almost took all the fun out of it. Almost, but not quite. “I just won Best Country DJ. Today’s Country Magazine called during my show.”

“Damn! That’s pretty huge, isn’t it? Your big mouth finally paid off.” I smiled at the pride in his voice. That was why I’d called him instead of Kevin.

“I even get to go to L.A. next month to be interviewed. With a stop in Nashville for a photo shoot for the cover. It’ll be in an issue a couple months from now.”

“Pretty good, for a girl,” Chris said. “I’ll buy on Friday night.”

“Damn straight.”

We said goodbye and I pocketed the cell phone again, glad I’d taken the time to call. Kevin I’d tell in person tonight, over Chinese take-out, maybe naked, so we had something to fall back on if our enthusiasm levels weren’t equal.

I continued down the hall, slowing and moving to the side to let pass a group of tourists being shown around the station by Clement Banks, assistant to Joe Looney, our general manager. Clem was a major dweeb, who spent much of his time kissing ass and pretending to be more important than he really was. The tourists appeared to be Asian businessmen, smiling broadly and gesturing to each other as they moved through the green-carpeted hallway under Clem’s guidance.

Spotting me, they stopped and bowed and smiled. I bowed back, hoping that was the correct response to their greeting. For all I knew, it was insulting for a woman to bow. Or construed as some sort of sexual signal. No one jumped my bones, so I was probably wrong about the last part.

“Hey, Margo!” Clem waved from the other side of the group. I groaned inwardly. I’d been hoping to pass without any acknowledgement from him. But Clem wasn’t going to ruin my good mood. “Gentlemen, this is Margo, our morning DJ, just coming off her show. She’s been one of our most popular DJs. Margo,” Clem continued pointedly, “these men are touring the station from the Soon Kim Group of South Korea.”

Hmm. Maybe we hadn’t been transported to Korea overnight. Maybe we’d been invaded. Not that it bothered me. You couldn’t live in New York without being used to the ethnicity of the city. Still, how many Koreans actually listened to Garth Brooks and Johnny Cash? Did these guys even know “A Boy Named Sue”?

Smiling, I bowed again at our guests. “Have fun, gentlemen.” I turned away, but Clem called out to me. Oh, lucky me, I thought, turning back and flashing a smile that would only fool someone who expected everyone to smile at him.

“Margo, someone wants to see you in the break room.”

A few minutes later, I discovered the entire station waiting for me, complete with flowers and a cake that said Congrats Margo! Best Country DJ!

Cleo and Ben were there, having circled around the hall to beat me to the lunch room. My friends Katya Steinberg and Adair Lewis from sales, Duane and Yin from promotions, and everyone from engineering and sports were there, too. God, my life is good, I thought, accepting hugs and well wishes from all my closest friends and coworkers, who’d apparently been alerted yesterday about the award.

Someone had mocked up a cover of Today’s Country Magazine, where they’d superimposed my face over the body of a country star who was much better endowed than I (perhaps I should consider a boob job before my photo shoot), and had inserted the headline Margo Gentry, DJ of the Year!

I couldn’t stop grinning. I accepted a knife and began cutting the cake and distributing it all around. “Where’s Joe?” I asked the crowd at large, missing our general manager, one of my favorite people.

“He had a meeting he couldn’t get out of,” our intern, Nigel, said. “He was pretty pissed about missing your party.”

Oh well. Even that wasn’t going to get me down. I’d see Joe later.

Katya, a spindly, spiky-haired blonde and one of my close friends, sat down at the table with her cake. “I could barely get a break to come here. Your award’s put your time slot in demand for advertising already. The phone’s been ringing off the hook for the past twenty minutes.”

I laughed. “Glad I could help.” I’d put up with reading Korean advertising on-air for the rest of my life, if only I could keep this feeling.

I loved my life. It was perfect.

Chapter Two

“Double Trouble”

My celebration with Kevin went pretty much like I’d envisioned—Beef Chow Yuk and nakedness included. There was also the added bonus of sweet-and-sour sauce body paint, sticky but satisfying. He was happy for me to the extent an accountant could show happiness. I mean, granted, my Best Country DJ Award wasn’t as exciting as Kevin’s Best Tax Loophole Award, but he tried to work up the same enthusiasm.

After my show the next day—a damn good show if I do say so myself—the general manager sent word for me to come to his office. I practically jogged down the hall to see Joe. I’d missed him sharing in my excitement yesterday. He was the best boss I’d ever had, besides being my mentor and good friend. You know, one of those people you can always count on. I knew he wanted to congratulate me, and I’d take all the pats on the back I could get.

I knocked at Joe’s door. His gruff voice barked softly to enter. Joe was a huge man, probably six-eight and solid muscle, mammoth in size and girth, especially to a five-foot four-inch girl like me. He sat behind a tiny metal desk—the station owners weren’t big on esthetics—circa nineteen thirty, I think. Maybe it wasn’t really tiny but just looked that way because of Joe’s size.

“You summoned me?” I said, drawing Joe’s attention from the papers he was inspecting.

He glanced up and quickly removed his reading glasses before standing.

“Margo.”

I blinked at his somber tone. Joe tended toward cheerful and nearly effusive enthusiasm, with a soft spot for his morning girl, in my own humble opinion, and I surely expected him to be thrilled about my award. Now, he was decidedly not effusive. Or thrilled.

“I missed you at my party yesterday,” I said. “But, I know you planned it. It was really nice. Look, I brought you the magazine the guys in IT made.”

He ignored the magazine I tossed on the desk and looked up at me. A stab of worry went through me. Despite the huge smile I had on my face, Joe looked like someone had died.

He motioned to the faux leather chair in front of his desk, but I shook my head. “I’ll stand, if you don’t mind,” I said, twisting my waist one way then the other, in an effort to get some of the kinks out. It would also serve as a warm-up for the Central Park run I planned to take with Katya and Adair in a couple of hours. “A shift in the studio is enough to freeze the limberest joints.”

Joe nodded again and returned to his own seat, not quite meeting my eyes. His fingers thrummed lightly on the cover of my magazine, not really seeing it. “Well. Margo.”

The pause became so pregnant it nearly gave birth.

“You okay, Joe?”

He finally looked up, meeting my eyes, his gaze serious and forbidding. For an instant, I felt a catch in the pit of my stomach. Maybe someone had died and Joe had to tell me who it was. I briefly racked my brain trying to remember who in the station I hadn’t seen this morning. Who might have been hit by one of those damned cabs that honked at nothing or who may have succumbed to some fast-acting virus spread through the subway by a bronchitic sicky. I came up with no one.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

He heaved a deep breath. “The station’s been sold.”

“Hey, that’s great,” I said. The station had been up for sale for months with no takers, and I knew that the current powers-that-be were getting a little antsy. New blood, new investors, meant bigger and better things for WKUP. “When did this happen?”

“It was finalized yesterday afternoon. That’s where I was during your party,” Joe said. Then he waved at the chair again. “Sure you don’t want to sit?”

“I’m fine. Tell me about the new owners. Anything new and exciting in the works?”

Joe groaned. “They’re Korean.”

Completely aside from the fact that I’d heard the terms “Korea” and “Korean” more times in the past two days than I had probably ever heard them before in my entire life (today’s program had contained even more Korean ads than yesterday’s), I was a bit surprised at his reaction to the nationality of our new owners. We had a pretty eclectic group of people working for the station, maybe not the typical employees of a country station in the South, but this was New York after all. Diversity was our middle name.

Then it hit me. Korean ads, Korean weather, Korean businessmen touring the building (they’d made a repeat appearance this morning, sitting in with Cleo through part of my show). I glanced back at the door and jerked a thumb in that direction. “The Soon Kim Group?” I guessed. Joe nodded grimly.

It would be different, I supposed, with Asian owners of a country radio station, but it probably wasn’t unheard of. Maybe.

“Is this a problem?” I asked, rising up on my toes, stretching out my calf muscles and thinking vaguely about my run. As much as I loved my job, by the time I was done with my shift my body screamed for exercise. And I needed to work off some of the nervous, excited energy my award and the anticipation of the interview were giving me. That reminded me that I also needed to schedule time off to fly to Nashville and L.A.

“Yeah,” Joe said, folding the reading glasses he still held in his hand, placing them gently on the blotter in front of him and picking up the neon-green stress ball he kept on the desk. Cleo had given it to him to replace the cigarettes he’d given up last year. He gave it a few fierce squeezes, and I wondered if it honestly did anything to relieve the stress. He still seemed to have a pulse beating beneath his balding pate, right smack in the middle of his forehead. “Yeah, it is a problem.”

“Why?”

“They’re dropping the country format. It’s going to be an all Korean Jazz station.”

“Pardon me?” I was sure I hadn’t heard him right. “Like Chick Korea?

He smiled at my attempted levity, but then shook his head slowly and sadly. “They’re letting a lot of people go.”

My head snapped up. “But, why? Stations get bought out all the time and nothing changes. Things just go on as normal.”

“Not this time, I’m afraid.” Joe looked like he was ready to cry. I’d never seen him like this before and it scared me to death. I didn’t deal well with emotion.

Suddenly, my heart thudded to a complete stop, and I sank into the formerly proffered chair. “Oh no. Not you, Joe. Please say they didn’t fire you.”

If anything he looked even more miserable than moments before. He tossed down the stress ball and rearranged his glasses on the desk until they were precisely parallel to the edge of the magazine with my face staring up at him.

“No, not me.”

“Then who?”

“You.”

Text Copyright © 2010 by Shannon McKelden Cave