Friday, December 5, 2014

Something New

Hey everyone.  Thanks for being so patient with me.  Hubs convinced me to stop posting The Guitarist here and I did.  Not sure if that was for the best or the worst, but there you have it. I'm working with some people now to get the whole book published--in print and as an e-book--by this spring, so again, thanks for your patience.

In the meantime, here's a story I wrote this past spring and I'm posting the entire thing.  It's a little different.  The main characters are American and it's told from the female point of view.  Nicholas, Caitlin and Oliver do have roles, so you'll recognize some familiar "faces."

So, without further ado, I present The Cruise.


The Cruise

I’d been on the Skulls and Hearts Cruise for a day and a half.  The response to my book had been positive and I’d sold nearly two dozen.  Not to mention meeting many, many hard rock fans—mostly women, some with their husbands in tow—and signing books for a few rockers’ wives.

This had been a major component of my marketing plan from the time I started my first novel, Rocker Love.  Gift a copy to each of the musician’s staterooms and try to sell the rest.  Rock cruises, rock festivals, and large-scale concerts drew just the demographic I targeted.

I held no illusions that my so-called “hard rock fiction” would invite many male readers, but that was okay.  Women bought books— more books than men—certainly romance novels, but books in general.

And talking with people face-to-face was one of my all-time strengths.  I could talk to anybody—would talk to anybody—from standing in line at the supermarket to people with whom I shared an elevator.  I made people feel comfortable.  Some of my friends called me charismatic but I didn’t buy into that.  It was easy for me to give compliments which would sometimes lead to conversations.

I’ll admit I was star-struck on this cruise, my first stop on the book tour.  I recognized members of the British hard rock band, Dirty Lilies and a couple of their wives, as I’d been a big fan for decades.  One-named Laban, of the heavy metal band Mindset was as unmistakable as Oast and Sandrine Odom.   The guys from the TV show Metalmania stopped by and I tried hard to act cool.  I nearly bit my lip till it bled when Manny Taylor and Moses “Mutt” Kimball walked by with the guitar virtuoso, known only as Slayton.

I’ll further admit to wishing that Jimmy Lander, who stood by the railing of the ship smiling at the pretty girls who surrounded my table about lunchtime on the second day, was really smiling at me.  As the founder, singer, and bassist of the wildly popular 80’s hard rock band, Landing Gear, he’d aged extremely well and I could fantasize as much as I liked.  I smiled in his general direction and let my imagination run wild.

It turned out I had fans of my own, which surprised me.  Several of those same pretty girls followed me and my little table from deck to deck where I set up my book stand.  This was fine with me, as an existing crowd will help create a future crowd.  So when Jimmy Lander showed up a couple more times, I figured he was picking from the smorgasbord of available lovelies to entertain him for the night.

 The next evening, all the pretties gone to shower before dinner, I packed up for the day.  I looked forward to a shower myself.

“Can I help you with that?” I heard as I tried to zipper up the case holding that day’s leftover books, pens, notebooks, bookmarks and other giveaways that were part of the marketing plan.  I’d also shoved into the case my hat, sunscreen, a tee shirt and a thick, cotton sweater, just in case.  The rolling suitcase was full.

Without looking up, I answered, “Thanks, but I think I’ve got it.” 

The bag bulged to such an extent, I clearly didn’t have it.  I heaved on that zipper.

Laughing, the speaker moved in.  “Here.  Let me help you.”  He pushed the swollen parts together and it zippered with no difficulty.

“There,” he said.

When I raised my head, Jimmy Lander stood there, his deep brown eyes smiling, along with the rest of his face—at me.

I think I gasped.

I know my hand flew to cover my wide-open mouth, my wide eyes fully exposed.

“It’s okay.  You don’t have to thank me,” he said with another laugh. 

Had I thanked him?  I didn’t think so.  I couldn’t think.  Jimmy Lander!  His gorgeous hair—shorter now, a more mature cut—his eyes, dark pools of infinity trying to pull me in, his well-groomed facial stubble that was so sexy, and that smile.  I felt a bit dizzy.

“Whoa now,” he said.  He took my arm and guided me to the chair.  “The sun’s been hot today.”

The sun?  Yeah, yeah.  Let’s go with that.

I looked up, the sun behind him, his sunglasses on top of his head.  He was really there, I wasn’t dreaming.  I shaded my eyes with my hand.

He stooped down to my level and held onto the chair-back.  “You sure you’re okay?”

And then I laughed.  All my people skills gone.  “I’m sorry,” I finally squeaked out.  “Thank you.  I don’t know what happened to my manners.”  I stuck out my hand and he took it.  “Devyn Campbell.”

“I know,” he said.  “Jimmy Lander.  It’s very nice to meet you, finally.”

I tipped my head in confusion.

“You’re always surrounded by those girls.  I’ve been trying to get your attention for three days, but I couldn’t get through the pack.”

My attention?”  My head felt fuzzy again.  

“Yeah,” he said standing up.  I heard his knees crackle.  He winced and sucked air through his teeth.  “Damn knees,” he said as he rubbed them.  “Anyway, I’ve been reading your book.  I wanted to tell you how much I like it.”

“Really?”

“Well, yeah.  Why’s that surprise you so much?” he asked with that enigmatic smile of his.

“I don’t know.  I mean, I’m glad . . . .”

“Aww . . . you’re shy.”

I giggled.  Holy crap!  I giggled!  I took a deep breath and got hold of myself.  I stood up and extended my hand again, which he—again—took.  “Hi,” I said.  “I’m professional author, Devyn Campbell.  It’s so nice to meet you, Jimmy.  So what did you like about the book?”

This time, Jimmy laughed out loud.  “Now, that’s a change.”  He picked up the pre-folded table and started to fold up the chair before he asked, “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay.  Look, I can get one of the stewards to help me with this stuff if you’re busy.”

He stopped and seemed to study me.  I felt a bit uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

“I am busy,” he said.  “I’m busy getting to know you and helping you get this stuff where it belongs.  After that, I hope to be busy having dinner and drinks with you as we continue to get acquainted.  I’m completely free tonight.”

I know I flushed which I hoped he thought was only sunburn, but my heart beat faster.  I took a deep breath and swallowed the confidence I had previously dragged out from somewhere in my psyche. 

“Are you asking me to dinner?” 

His smile returned.  “Yes I’m asking you to dinner.  And to get better acquainted.”  He leaned the chair and the table against each of his legs and held his hands in the air.  “Just as friends, I swear.  I’m not asking for anything else.  I think the two of us could find some fun on this cruise, what do you think?”

His gesture made me laugh and calmed me at the same time.  “I think I could give it a go,” I said.  “I need a shower first.”

“Yeah, me too.  Do these things go to your stateroom, or a storeroom?”

“I have a cabin, not a stateroom and yeah, they go with me.”

“Okay, I’ll help you with this and then come back for you when?  An hour?  Hour and a half?”

“Better give me an hour and a half.  I’ll need time to process what’s happening here.”

“Don’t do that.  I’ll come get you in an hour.”

♪ ♫ ♪

 

True to his word, Jimmy knocked on my door an hour later.  I’d bothered to apply mascara and lipstick and I’d somehow stopped perspiring, thank God.  I wore a simple sundress, blue with bright fish prints on it, and strappy sandals.  Jimmy was the definition of casual elegance in charcoal grey, lightweight trousers and a matching jacket over a light blue, V-necked tee shirt. 

God, he’s beautiful.  More beautiful than I am, for sure.

“Wow,” he said when I opened the door.  “You look great.  Ready?”

“Sure.”

“Here, I got this for you.  Sorry, but you have to wear it.”

He placed a lanyard over my head and I looked at what it held.  It was a laminated card showing the logo of the cruise and the words, “All Access Pass.”

“Oh my God!” I said.  “I’ve never had one of these.”

“Well, now you do.  And now you can go where I go.  Okay?”

“Yeah.”  I couldn’t say much more, but my body language illustrated my delight.

We headed forward in the ship which held my assigned dining area.

“No, we’re going this way,” Jimmy said, turning the opposite direction.  “Where the musicians eat.” 

The musicians’ dining room.  Holy crap!

I must’ve slowed my step because he had to come back for me.  “There’s no need to be nervous.  Just a bunch of regular guys with too much hair and too much money.  They’re nice enough, when you get to know them.”  He reached back and took my hand.  “C’mon.”  He lifted my hand to his lips and said softly, “Don’t tremble.  It’s okay.  Really.”

As we entered the room, some of the wives whose books I’d signed over the last few days waved at me, making me feel a bit more relaxed. 

“There’s my band.”  Jimmy turned his smile on me.  “Our table.” 

He hadn’t let go of my hand.  I couldn’t remember the last time my husband, Benny, had held my hand for any length of time.  I couldn’t remember the last time Ben had even reached for my hand.  We’d been married a long time.  Thinking of that brought me back to earth.

Jimmy introduced me to the three other Landing Gear members and the women who accompanied them.  They all were very nice.  They included me in the dinner conversation, asked about the book, writing life and future books.

“What are you doing this evening?” asked the woman with the lead guitarist.

“Um . . .” I sounded.

“We’re going to see the Dirty Lilies show,” Jimmy answered for me.  He took my hand again, under the table.  “Devyn’s a long-time fan.  They’ve got a new album coming out in a couple of months.”

Through dessert, the band members discussed their own future musical plans and then dinner was over.

The Dirty Lilies put on a most entertaining concert.  Of course, watching it from the Special VIP section didn’t hurt, but anywhere in the venue would’ve been fine with me.  Afterward, Jimmy took me backstage and introduced me to all the band members’ wives while the band showered.  I felt comfortable with the wives and they, too, commented on, and asked me intelligent questions about the book.

When the band emerged from cleaning up, I was totally star-struck.  They graciously posed for a photo with me.  I hoped I was smiling, but I was afraid I only looked amazed.  Jimmy took another one on his phone for which I knew I smiled.  It was the better of the two.

“Getting tired?” Jimmy asked when we found ourselves together in a quiet moment.  He’d caught me in a yawn.

“Sorry,” I said.  “Yeah.  I’m not used to staying up so late.  Got a long day of pushing books again tomorrow.”

“I’ll walk you back.”  Jimmy’s face softened from the professional musician persona I knew he had been setting forth, to something much more personal. 

I’m in trouble.

We took our leave and Jimmy reached again for my hand.  I couldn’t help it.  The contact made me smile.

“Another glass of wine?” he asked as we passed one of the more upscale bars on the ship.

I couldn’t resist the question of his tipped head and innocent face.  I was tired but there was no way I was gonna tell Jimmy Lander to take me home before he was ready.

“Sure.  Why not.”   

We found a booth in a quiet corner of the bar.  Jimmy sat next to me in the banquette instead of across from me.  He smelled divine.

“Did you have fun tonight?” he asked once our wine had been served.

“I did.  Very much so.  Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me.  It was my pleasure.  I’d like to spend tomorrow with you as well but, you have to work all day and we have a couple of events to work ourselves.”  He leaned forward and grinned back at me.  “Give you a call?”

I nodded and returned his grin.  “Yeah,” I said, knowing full-well the danger my heart faced if I saw this man again.  My smile turned shy when I said, “I’d like that.”

♪ ♫ ♪

 

Jimmy brought me lunch at my table while the pretty girls were off on excursions, or lunch or sunning by the pool.  He also brought lunch for himself.

“You coming to the show tonight?” he asked before he took a bite of a croissant filled with grilled chicken, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and goat cheese. 

“You know I’d planned on it,” I said once I’d unwrapped my own sandwich with the same ingredients. 

“I know.  I just wanted to hear you say it.  Be sure to wear your pass and come backstage to see me first, okay?  And the pass will give you access to special VIP seating for the concert itself.”

“Will you be able to have dinner first?”

“I never eat before a gig.  I mean, I have a really good lunch . . .” he gestured at his sandwich, a green salad with hard boiled eggs and cheese, and a square of chocolate ice cream cake with chocolate sauce topping, “but the stage lights are hot and I move around a lot.  You could have a snack or something though, then after the show, we’ll have a proper meal.”

“Okay.”

♪ ♫ ♪

 

I was too self-conscious to use my pass for the musician’s dining room without Jimmy so I went to my assigned table in the main room. 

“Where were you last night?” the bald real estate agent asked me.

I opened my mouth to answer, but his daughter—one of the pretty girls who hung out at my table—answered for me.

“She’s been hanging out with Jimmy Lander.  Looked like you were getting cozy last night in that bar The Refinery.”

My grin affirmed her statement and when I looked up, everyone at the table had their eyes trained on me.

“Jimmy Lander, of Landing Gear?” one of them asked.

“God!  He’s so hot!” said another.

Then they all talked at once, asking questions I didn’t have time to answer, so I didn’t bother until the cacophony died down. 

“Did he kiss you?”

“No.  We’re just friends.  Hanging out together, ya’ know?”

“You must be going to the show tonight then.”

“Well, yeah.  Sure.”

“Will you be sitting with the wives and the girlfriends and the special VIP’s?”

I nodded.

“Aren’t you married?” the real estate agent asked, with a disapproving glare.

“Daddy!”

I wiggled my wedding rings around the table which brought up a whole new line of questioning.

“Why isn’t your husband with you on the cruise?”

“Is he joining you at another point on your book tour?”

“What would he think about you getting close to a famous rock star?”

I laughed and shook my head as I put down my fork.  “Look Jimmy and I are just friends.  My husband has to work at his own job.  And he doesn’t mind if I have guy friends.  I’ve got a lot of guy friends and he has women friends.  It’s not unheard of.”

“You mean you have an open marriage?” one of the wives asked.

“No.  We don’t have an open marriage.  That’s not what I mean at all.” I answered, getting a bit exasperated. 

Conversation and speculation swirled around me as I wondered just how much trouble I had really gotten myself into.

♪ ♫ ♪

I felt a bit awkward and out of my league as I approached the linebacker-sized security guard, but once he saw my pass, he smiled, told me to have a nice time, and ushered me through.  The corridor was crowded with people coming and going, bumping me as I made my way through.  I was still a bit nervous when I spotted Jimmy.

He gestured for me to join him.  As he continued to talk with his band about the set list, he winked his eye at me.  I felt my grin spread across my face farther than I thought it physically possible. 

When was the last time anyone had winked at me?  I couldn’t remember if anyone had ever winked at me.

“Okay,” Jimmy said to the band.  “So that decision’s made.”

He stuck a hand out to the middle of the group.  The others followed suit like football players in a huddle.

“One, two, three,” Jimmy counted.

“Landing Gear!  Rock rules!” they all shouted at once.

The other three band members greeted me and told me to enjoy the show.

“You want something to drink?” Jimmy asked.  He touched my elbow, gently guiding me into another room where a food and beverage table was set up.

“Is all this for just the band?” I asked, thinking it would be a tremendous waste if they all had Jimmy’s attitude about eating before a show.

“No.  Mostly the techs, sound and lights, roadies and other support people.  It’s supposed to be for us too but Russ is the only one who takes advantage of it.”  He tilted his head and grinned.  “Takes a lot of calories to fuel a drummer.”

“I can see that.  Could I have a bottle of water?”

“Sure.  Would you like a glass of wine?” he asked, getting us each a water.

“No thanks.  I’ll wait till later.”

“I’m glad you came,” he said, his eyes soft and as inviting as his mouth.  With a smallish grin, his lips parted slightly making my heart race.

Did he lean in to kiss me then change his mind?  I must’ve been hallucinating.

I recovered.  “I’m glad you asked me.  I’m looking forward to seeing you live instead of just on YouTube.”

“You’ve never seen us in concert?”

“No.  I’ve always wanted to, but the stars never aligned, I guess.  I’ve been a fan since the first album.”

He smiled at that.  “Yeah?  That was the big one for us.  It’s amazing to think we’ve been together over thirty years.  Of course we’ve all gone off to find other work during the lean times, do our own things, writing songs for ourselves, for other bands, but some songs are Landing Gear songs, plain and simple.  We work well together.  We always have.  Known each other nearly all our lives.  Guess that’s our bond.”

“It’s a nice bond to have,” I said, wishing I had a bond like that with someone.

“Five minutes, Jimmy,” a portly, bald man said as he passed by. 

“Got it, Merv,” Jimmy answered.  “Our tour manager.”  He took a deep breath.  “Okay, did you find your seat yet?”

“No.”

He led me to the edge of the stage where we could peek out from behind the curtain.  He positioned me in front of him and pointed to an area directly in front of a catwalk-type of platform that was part of the stage.  I’d heard the pretty girls call it the stage thrust.  The seating area was cordoned off with velvet ropes and a member of the security staff allowed, or disallowed, entry according to one’s pass.

“Think you can find it?” Jimmy asked.

I looked around the curtain to get my bearings and smiled.  “I think so.”

We returned to the backstage area and he said, “Don’t be afraid to ask.  Anyone with a staff card will be glad to help you find your way if you get confused.  Just come back here afterwards.  I’ll get a shower then come find you.”

He pulled me closer by the hand and kissed my cheek.  “Well get dinner and relax, okay?”

“Okay.”

Still holding my hand, he leaned a bit closer and said, “Will you give me a kiss for luck?”

I tried to hide my excitement.  “You don’t need any luck.”

“No, I don’t.  But I’d really like a kiss.”  He studied my eyes, my mouth, my face.  “Okay?”

I studied him in return.  My heart raced and my breaths came in rapid succession.  I couldn’t deny him.  I closed my eyes and he lifted my chin.  He took my face into his hands and planted his open lips on mine.  When he offered me his tongue, I took it gladly.  Lustily.

When I next opened my eyes, his smile sent an emotion through me that I’d never felt before.  I found it hard to breathe.

“Just friends, huh,” I managed to say.

He considered my eyes before he gave me his wry grin and a shrug.

“I’ll see you after the show,” he said, releasing my face but smoothing my hair.  He kissed my forehead and then he was gone.

It took me a couple of minutes to gather myself and realize I needed to find my seat.  Stumbling out of the corridor as if I was drunk, my hands shook, my insides shook, and my knees felt like they would buckle beneath me at the next step.

Remarkably, I found myself to a seat near the back of the special VIP section and got off my feet before they failed me.  I spent several minutes breathing deeply and that steadied me.

“Devyn?  You can’t sit way back here.”  I looked up to see Susie, the lead guitarist’s wife coming down the steps at me.  “Come down here with us.”  She extended her hand and I took it.  She led me down to the first row of the elite section which just so happened to line up precisely with the stage thrust.

I sat where I was told beside Susie.  The other “LG Ladies,” which is what they called themselves, greeted me with kudos on the book which helped put me back on track. 

“You know,” Susie confided in me, “we’ve all seen the change in Jimmy since he met you.  He’s so much happier.  Just in a great mood all the time.  You’ve been really good for him.  I can’t tell you how long he’s been looking for that special one and here you are.”  She patted my arm.  “We’re glad you’re here.”

She was quite earnest but I didn’t know what to say.  Truth be told, I was overwhelmed.  Thrilled.  With just a touch of concern for my marriage drowning in the joy of it.  Once a couple of trays of beverages had been delivered to us, I held that concern down until it did, indeed, drown in the ecstasy of the moment.

When the house lights went down and the band took the stage, everyone in our special section stood and cheered, thereby setting the tone for the concert—loud, raucous, and on our feet.  They started the show with a well-known anthem and had the crowd from the very beginning.  Jimmy knew just how to play them to keep the energy high through the first half of the show, but it was time to let everyone catch their breath when he slowed it down for one of the ballads.

The song started out with a thrumming bass line that set the riff for the song.  Instantly recognizable as one of the singles off the first album, the crowd sang every word.

“Let’s keep that vibe for a minute, shall we?” Jimmy said.

Laine, the lead guitar player, began picking out the opening notes as he walked to the end of the stage thrust, the rest of the band coming in on cue after several measures. Jimmy joined Laine on the thrust.  The song, “Baby, Don’t Make Me,” was from their newest release and was reportedly about Jimmy’s second, and latest, divorce.

“Baby, don’t make me go through this again,” he sang in the chorus.  “I really don’t see us succeeding as friends/Ya’ said that you’d love me until the end/Are ya’ sure this is somethin’ that we can’t mend?”

During the third chorus, which was a cappella, he pointed right at me as he sang.  The LG women jumped and screamed around me while I tried to catch my breath.  With the resumption of the music, Jimmy kissed his first two fingers, touched his shirt over his heart and pointed at me again.  Tears rose to my eyes as my heart beat like I’d never felt it.

I tried to control my maniacal grin as I waited with the LG Ladies for Jimmy and the band to appear from the showers.  When they did, they looked at the same time, triumphant and joyful.  I couldn’t help but greet him similarly.  He swept me up in his arms and kissed me soundly.

I loved it.

And I hated it.

I hated myself for loving it.  For losing myself in this fantasy.  What was I doing here?  But when he wrapped me in his smile, I wanted to be nowhere else.  The hole I fell into was warm and bright.  Exciting yet comforting, and I never wanted to climb out.

We went back to The Refinery restaurant.  It was elegant, dark, and quiet.

“Are you hungry now?” he asked.  “’Cause I need to wind down some more before I eat.  Have a glass of wine or two.  Talk for a while.”

“No.  I’m not really hungry,” I said.  “I had a big salad at dinner.  I’m good.”

Jimmy ordered a bottle of wine, sat back in the booth, and scooting closer to me, he draped his arm around my shoulder.

“So, did you like the show?”

By my count, this was the fourth time he’d asked me.

“Yes, of course I did.”  I answered as if it was the first time.

“You looked surprised when I pointed at you.”

He’d not said that previously. I grinned.  And blushed.  “I was surprised.”  I dropped my head.  “It made me feel special.”

He tilted my chin up to look at him.  His fingers grazed my lips making my skin break out in gooseflesh. “That’s because you are special.”

I gently took his fingers into my hand and off my face.  “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

Just then, the waitress arrived with our wine.  She opened the bottle and went through the ritual of having Jimmy smell the cork and taste the wine for approval before pouring the glasses.

“It’s good, isn’t it?” he asked.  “Do you like it?”

“Yes,” I said, rapidly losing my nerve and hoping he’d forgotten I had something to say.

We drank a few sips in silence and listened to the soft jazz guitar music in the background.

“Oh,” he said.  “You were going to ask me something.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and watched my wine swirl in my glass.  I couldn’t look at him when I asked, “Why did you pick me?”  I’d spoken so softly, I could barely hear it myself.

But he did.  He took my wine glass from me and set it on the table before he again turned my face to see his smile, so sweet.

“We got here late,” he started.  “Almost too late with our flight delayed from Montreal.  So you already had your table set up by the lower pool.  I’d seen the book in my stateroom, but I hadn’t given it much thought.  What I wanted, was to escape the cold of Canada and enjoy the Miami sun.  I stood by the railing and looked out at that incredible clear water and thought about snorkelling.  That’s when I heard a chorus of female laughter coming from your table.  I recognized Mutt Kimball’s wife and Joey Payne’s girlfriend among the crowd there and then I saw you.  Your smile encompassed your whole face and your laugh drifted to me on the wind like I was meant to have it.

“I watched you interact with those people and you seemed, umm . . . what’s the word I’m looking for?  Comfortable?  You seemed comfortable.  And genuine.  You weren’t anyone other than who you are.  You can’t imagine how rare that is in this business.  The more I watched you, the more you made me smile.   As they were leaving, one of the women wanted to give you a hug and you obliged.  That’s when I saw the rings on your left hand.  That dampened my spirits but not entirely.  You laughed again and brought me back.  I went to my room, got the book, took it outside and read in the sun till the Muster Drill.

“I looked you up again the second day and by the third, I knew I’d have to meet you.  I didn’t expect to have feelings for you.  I just wanted a friend I could be myself around.  Someone I didn’t feel I had to impress every second, you know?  I . . . I don’t love you.  How would I know that?  I don’t know you well enough to say that.  And then those rings on your finger can’t be denied either, can they.  So.  Just friends.

“But when I kissed you before the show, there was chemistry I should’ve left alone.  I know that.  I’ve put you in a terrible position and I didn’t mean to.  I swear I didn’t.”

I couldn’t speak for the thoughts racing through my brain.  Benny had said things in a similar vein when he made his case those two decades past.  No one had ever before said anything like that to me.  That I had a beautiful smile or an inspiring laugh.  Ben had called me ‘the genuine article.’  Jimmy called me ‘genuine.’  What did that mean?

“I don’t know what to think,” I said.  “I’ve changed since I married Ben.  He’s changed.  He’s given up on romance.  Doesn’t even try anymore.”  

I looked at Jimmy.  If he’d needed to wind down, I’d succeeded in doing that for him.  His face expressed impending hopes dashed at my hand.

“I meet you and you’re like a dream—a dream come true.  My God, you’re handsome like no one I’ve ever known.  Like I’ve only seen in pictures.  You?  Interested in me?”  I felt my head shake slowly, but build up speed.  “No.  It wasn’t possible.”  My closed fist covered my mouth as I scanned the bar, the other patrons, the rows of colorful bottles lined up behind the bar and their reflections in the mirror they stood before.  I took a deep breath and allowed a tear to escape my right eye.

Jimmy wiped it with his thumb.  “Baby, don’t cry,” he said.

“It’s just . . .” I started.  “It’s just that I need what you offer me.”  I blinked and faced him.  “I crave what you’re offering me.  Physical affection, love—a more tangible love.  Friendship.  Companionship, but more than that.  A chance to travel—to see the things I’ve only dreamt of in the world.”  I couldn’t go on.

Jimmy refilled our wine glasses and took a sip.  “So,” he said.  “What does that mean?  For us?”

His face was beautiful in its disappointment and I couldn’t bear that I’d done that to him.

“I want you, Jimmy,” I said finally.  “My God, I want to touch you.  I want to feel you next to me.  I want to feel you inside of me.  I want to wake up in your arms.  I want to bask in the warmth of your smile without a joke being involved.  I want to know that you’ll be there if I need you.”  I stopped finally and he reached for me. I raised his hands to my lips.

“Right now,” I said, my words brushing the small hairs on the back of his hand, “I can’t have those things.  I don’t deserve those things.  You deserve someone you can have.  Someone who is available to you.”  I shook my head.  “I don’t think I can be your friend.  Not now.”

When I lowered his hand and looked up, his eyes were closed, his breathing ragged. He expelled a long breath before he said, “Holy shit, baby that was hot—what you did with my hand. That’s one hell of a way to let somebody down.” He cleared his throat.  “But okay.  “I get it.  I do.  I don’t like it, but I admire your loyalty.  I hope your husband appreciates what he’s got in you.  I wish I inspired that kind of loyalty from someone other than my band mates.”

My eyes glazed over thinking of Benny.

“He doesn’t,” I said.  “I don’t know.  Maybe it’s me.  Seems like he takes for granted I’ll be there for him. I always have been.  He was so sweet when we met.  But the years have taken us in different directions.”

“You could leave,” he whispered.

“Could I?”  Why did I sound so defensive?  So angry?  “Where would I go?  With you?  Is that what you’d want?  To be saddled with a middle-aged divorcĂ©e who looks older than her years, but still hasn’t grown up enough to be able to take care of herself?”

“Stop,” Jimmy said, kindness in his eyes, his face.  “Stop.  Stop.”  He took me in his arms and let me cry.

I worked to pull myself together while he watched me closely in silence.  I wanted to see love in his eyes, but it may have only been sympathy.

“Jimmy, let me out, okay?”

Distress took his face.  “Devyn,” he said, and reached for my hand.

“No Jimmy, please.  Let me out.”

He swallowed whatever he would’ve said next, and slid out of the booth allowing me egress.

“Thanks,” I said once I was standing.  I kissed his cheek.  “For everything.”  I turned and left the bar.

Grateful for the darkness and people’s states of inebriation, I walked to my cabin in complete anonymity. I’d showered and cried all I could for one night, when a knock came at my door.

“Room service.”

“I didn’t order anything.”

“Yes ma’am.  It’s from a Mr. Lander.”

I opened the door in my Dirty Lilies tank top and a pair of ratty guy shorts allowing the steward to roll in a cart which held a covered dish, an open bottle of red wine, a glass, and two bottles of water.  Diagonally across the tray was a single white rose edged in pink.  The steward handed me a card and wished me a good night as he left.

Sitting on the bed I opened the card:

Dear Devyn, I’m sorry to have caused you so much pain.  I hope you know that was never my intention.  Try to eat something, okay?  The cucumbers are for your eyes, so you’re not all puffy for your reading tomorrow.  –Jimmy

A small cheese plate and crusty bread was under the cover along with a bowl filled with large rounds of sliced, fresh cucumber.  I picked up the rose and fell back onto the bed.

♪ ♫ ♪

 

                    Seven-ten?  What the hell?

The short knock came again.  “Devyn?  You awake?”

I moved to the door but didn’t open it.  “Go away, Jimmy.  Thanks for the food, but go away.”

“No.  We need to talk.  Let me in.”

“I can’t.”

“Please baby.  I’m kinda drawing a crowd out here in the hallway.”

“I don’t want you to see me like this.”

A soft thud had me picturing his head against the door.  “Sweetheart, that doesn’t matter because I know how beautiful you are when you smile.”

I looked through the peep-hole and there he was, people dodging him in the narrow corridor.  Some of them called him by name while others seemed to wonder what the commotion was about.  I opened the door.  He held a copy of my book.

Jimmy grinned when he saw me.  “Is this what you sleep in?”

“Sometimes,” I said, not able to stop my lips from responding to his humor.  “What are you doing here?”

“I see the cucumbers worked.  Your eyes look sleepy, but not puffy.  That’s good.”

I touched my fingertips to my eyes.  “Huh.”  I nodded.  “Thank you for the tray.  What are you doing here now?”

“I came to offer my services.”  He waved the book at me, but I was too sleepy, or just plain slow to get it.

“I think you’ve done quite enough, don’t you?”

“At least hear me out, okay?  I don’t know what section of the book you’re planning to read this afternoon at your event, but if it involves Wyatt, I thought I could do his voice for you.”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Sure.  As a friend.  I’ve got a pretty decent British accent too.  You know, from hanging out with Brits for thirty years or so.”

I stared at him, closed my mouth when I realized it was open.  His eagerness was impossible to deny, but I turned my back on him nevertheless.

“Devyn?”

“Wait,” I said.  “Let me think.” 

The pros were few but significant.  It would be nice to have a man voice Wyatt’s character.  Adding a decent British accent would be quite an enhancement as well.  And if both of us could do this—as friends, for fun—without him touching my arm or holding my hand, and without me delivering my heart to him, it could mean a possible friendship between us.

The cons were many, the most important of which left me with a broken heart.

I took a deep breath and faced Jimmy.  Now was as good a time as any to prove to myself I could be strong.  That I had grown up enough to take care of myself.  My heart.

Apparently looking like I needed more convincing, Jimmy, still grinning said, “We can do this.  I know we can.”

His confidence overcame my fears and I returned his smile.  “Okay,” I said.  “Let’s hear it.”

He started at the beginning where Wyatt introduces himself and a few other characters.  Jimmy’s accent was excellent. 

“That was really good.”  I stopped myself before I reached out to touch his arm.  Instead, I let my smile be the touchstone before I added, “Anybody who hasn’t read it hopefully will be enticed to start.”

“I can read another part if you’d rather.  Maybe a dialogue between Wyatt and Samantha?”

I thought about that for a moment.  “Yeah, that’d be great, if you have the time to practice a little.”

“I’ve got time.”  He bowed deeply and said in his thickest Brit, “Grateful for the chance t’serve m’lady.”

We both laughed, the attitude between us totally changed from that of the last few days.  This is where we should’ve started.  Relaxed.

“Come to breakfast with me?” he asked.

I indicated my state of undress.  “Really?  First of all, I don’t think it’s a good idea.  We made a lot of progress this morning, don’t you think?  I’d like to hang on to that vibe.  Secondly, the LG’s already have us married and settled down somewhere.  Let’s not feed them empty calories just now, okay?”

“Oh yeah,” he said.  “Susie said something to that effect the other night, like she was so happy I’d finally found someone.  So okay, I get it.”

We made plans to meet before the reading and I went back to sleep with a much better disposition than I had done the night before.


“I’m going snorkelling tomorrow,” Jimmy said as he helped me set up for the reading.  “You wanna come?”

I cut my eyes at him.  “No.  Here, set the books like this.”  I showed him how I wanted them.

“Yeah, that looks nice,” he said.  “Do you swim?”

“Yes, I swim,” I said with a laugh.  “I’ve not done any diving though.  Scuba or snorkelling.  I’ve wanted to learn—”

His eyes brightened, but I cut him off.  Speaking more quietly I said, “And I’d love for you to teach me, but no.  Not this time, okay?”

“Yeah okay,” he said.  “Friends, right?”

“Right.”

“Anyway, one of your pretty girls is going.  Russ and Laine are going too.”

“I’m sure more than one pretty girl will be there, just don’t talk about me, okay?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” he said.

I answered with a smile as we gathered up the now-empty book boxes.

“I never thought it’d be so difficult to get laid on a cruise.  I’ve never had this problem before.”

I laughed out loud and he joined me.  “Don’t let it get inside your head.  You’re plenty lay-able.  Setting your sights on young, single women might render better results.”

“Yeah, but on a cruise like this, most of the young, single women trying to hit on me are with their parents.  That kinda puts a damper on things, doesn’t it?”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

People began to filter into the pool stage area but he had one last thing to say and he made sure to capture my eyes for it.

“Besides, women closer to my age aren’t such . . . children.”

My barrier softened.  “You’re sweet.  Maybe there’ll be some older, single women there too,” I said.  “Just not me.  This time.”

He shot me a crooked grin.

“Oh, Ms. Campbell!”

We looked up to see a short, stout woman, unfortunately dressed in black Bermuda shorts and a too-tight black tank top.  Tattoos proclaiming her love of several bands on the cruise, sprouted from her clothing in all directions.  Calling her hair color dark auburn would’ve been generous.  It was nearly purple with a half inch stripe of grey along the part.  But her smile was ear-to-ear and her enthusiasm for the book could not be denied.

“I’ve fallen completely in love with Wyatt.”  She made eyes at the whole of Jimmy and said, “Is this who he’s based on?”

We laughed.  “No.  Actually it’s not,” I answered.  “But the gentleman has been kind enough to offer his services this afternoon.  He’ll be reading the part of Wyatt today.”

The woman nearly swooned, but I restrained my chuckle, and Jimmy played her perfectly.  He picked up her hand and in his flawless London accent, he said, “Jimmy Lander as Wyatt Flood.”  He kissed her hand.  “At your service.”

And then I thought she really would faint.  Fortunately she kept her feet and found a place to sit, glancing back at Jimmy every few steps.

By the time the reading was to start, nearly every folding chair was filled.  Many of the guests knew Jimmy by sight—it was a rock and roll cruise after all.  I took my place behind the podium and the crowd quieted.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” I said, “and thank you all for coming.  I’m humbled you chose this event over the myriad of other activities going on right now.  I’m gonna talk a bit about the book and then my friend here, Jimmy Lander—” I had to stop for loud cheering and hoots for Jimmy, but then resumed.  “Jimmy and I are going to read a couple of sections.  Then I’ll take questions if you have any.  After that, I’ve got books on hand to sell and sign, and if you brought your own, I’ll be glad to sign them as well.”

“Will Jimmy sign too?”

I turned that question to Jimmy.  He stepped to the microphone.

“Sure, I’ll sign, but only the books.  Landing Gear has a meet and greet starting at four o’clock at the Saturn Disco on Deck Six.  I’ll be glad to sign anything you like at that time.”

A loud, siren-like “oooOOOooo” sounded from the vivacious fans.

The reading went incredibly well.  Jimmy’s Wyatt was received with gusto and he took a bow.  The both of us read a section of dialogue between Wyatt and Samantha which was also well received, especially when the scene called for Wyatt to gaze longingly into Samantha’s eyes.

“That went well,” I said, packing the two remaining books into my tote bag.  “Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure.  You’ve got quite a lot of fans.  You’re the same person with them as you always are.”

“Well yeah,” I said with a chuckle.  “Who else would I be?”

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug.   “As members of a band, we have to project a persona onstage that we don’t necessarily live, ya’ know?”

“Yeah, I guess.  I am sort of amazed at how many sales I made.  But I think that had more to do with you than with my own talents.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.  It’s a good book.  Wanna come over to the meet and greet with me?”

I caught myself biting my lip which I totally didn’t want to do, so I let it go.  “Nah.  I’ve met the only one there I care about meeting.”

His sigh reached the bottom of his lungs, full of the sound of frustration.  Shaking his head, he said, “You’re killin’ me.”  He kissed my temple and disappeared around a column.

♪ ♫ ♪

My signing the next morning drew very few patrons.  With only two days left on the cruise, I supposed that just about everybody who wanted a book had already gotten one.  I was quite satisfied to have only a partial box of books that I’d have to take back with me.

Sitting at my table, as I worked on my newest story, a line of people walked by at the railing.  Each of them held flippers and a snorkelling mask.  Some of my fans waved at me as they went by. 

Jimmy passed with a pretty girl on his arm—not one of my pretty girls but still.  I felt a pang of jealousy until I realized I had no right.  

“I’m sorry,” he mouthed at me as the girl chattered on.

I pulled a soft, friendly face and mouthed back, “It’s okay,” with a shrug.  We’re only friends.  Russ, Landing Gear’s drummer and Laine, the guitar player waved at me as well.  My heart’s desire was to be with them too.

♪ ♫ ♪

I didn’t so much as lay eyes on Jimmy the next day.  The last day of the cruise.  We’d be docking in Ft. Lauderdale and disembarking just after breakfast the next morning and I knew it was for the best I didn’t see him.  It was best if I thought of the whole thing as a fantasy.  I needed to get back to reality.

I would have to endure a long layover in Atlanta which would make it nearly fourteen hours in order to get home.  Renting a car right off the cruise would get me home in ten if I drove straight through.

As I waited for the rental car to pick me up, I tried not to think of Jimmy, so of course, he was all that was on my mind.

Suddenly, there he was beside me.

“Hey,” he said.  “I couldn’t let you go without saying goodbye.”

All I could do was blink back tears and put my fingers over my mouth.  He took them into his hand.

“It’s been fun getting to know you better—as friends—but neither one of us can deny the chemistry between us.”

I nodded.  Words would only betray me.

Holding my left hand up, he tapped my wedding rings, but held my eyes with his.  “If you ever find a time and place to leave these behind, I want you to come and find me.  I’ll keep in touch and you’ll always know where I am.”

“I can’t ask you to—”

“Shhh . . . .”  He held both my hands now, between us.  “No one’s asking me to do anything.  You and I have a connection, Devyn.  I’ll think of you every day till I see you again, whether it’s next week or years in the future.  I wish you’d come with me now, but I know you won’t.”

He pulled me into his embrace.  He smelled incredible.  The scent of his personal masculinity mixed with soap in the warmth of the morning sun made me clench to curb my desire for him.  The muscles of his core under my fingers, the feel of his hands as they stroked my back gently, the sensuous tickle of his hair on my neck all together made me want to cling to him.  To chuck my life and leave with him.   I never wanted to forget anything about these moments.

All too soon Merv, the tour manager, interrupted us. 

“I’m sorry mate, but they’re waiting for us.”  To me, he said, “I’m sorry, Devyn.”

Jimmy held me a moment longer and whispered into my hair, “Wherever I am, I’ll be waiting for you.”  With a kiss on my forehead he followed Merv to a waiting limo.

Leaving his arms was like being ripped from a zone of safety and thrust into a world where nothing made sense.

♪ ♫ ♪

Ten hours later I pulled into my driveway in suburban Charleston, South Carolina.  As extraordinary as the cruise had been, it was good to be home.  I pulled into the garage next to Benny’s Lexus where my car would normally be and would be again when I exchanged the rental car for my own at the airport.

Something about being at home allowed me to breathe.  To relax after a week at sea, highs and lows as variable as the waves.

I left my luggage in the car and hung my handbag on the hook in the laundry room.  No dogs came to greet me but lights were on in the living room.

“Benny?” I said as I dropped my jacket and valise in the study.

The sound of wagging tails against cages made me smile.

“Hello, my sweets,” I said to the fully-grown dogs I still considered puppies, “I’ve missed you.  Where’s Daddy?”

It was then I heard . . . something coming from our bedroom. 

“Benny?” I said again.

As I moved down the hallway, I smelled a familiar perfume that reminded me of Casey, Ben’s paralegal who happened to be our younger, shapely neighbour from one street away.

It was no wonder Benny didn’t hear anything, his head fully ensconced within Casey’s ample thighs.  Not to mention Casey’s cries of ecstasy as she orgasmed.

Shocked, I froze in the doorway, but when one of the dogs emitted a sharp report, Casey’s eyes flew open and she saw me.

“Ben,” she said.  She grabbed his head and stiffened her posture.

He groaned.

“Benny!”  As tightly as she gripped his head with her thighs, I thought he might suffocate.

“Ben!”  She pulled his head by the ears and he finally came up for air.

“What?  I thought you liked—”

He found Casey trying to cover her breasts which were perkier and much larger than my own.  Wonder who paid for them?

He brought his face around to me, slick with Casey’s juices, and froze himself.

“Devyn,” he said.

I turned away and retreated to the study, letting the dogs out of their crates as I went.  They came with me.

I didn’t see her when Casey passed by.  She’d had enough time to hurriedly dress and she left by the front door.  The next door neighbor’s dogs were outside and alerted everyone as she walked home.

All I could think of was Jimmy, waiting for me in New York, where they would spend the night before leaving for Italy the next day.

“Devyn, sweetheart,” Benny said.

I turned to find him standing in the doorway, wrapped in a bathrobe I’d bought him for Christmas an age ago.  I’d seen him wear it—never.

“Get out,” I said.

He laughed.  “Get out?  You’re kidding me, right?  I bought this fucking house.  If anyone leaves, it’ll be you.”

I turned slowly toward him.  “I just drove ten hours to get home,” I said calmly.  “I came home to you.”

I tore my arm from his hand when he reached for me. 

“You were gone for a week.  What’d you expect me to do?”

“Get.  Out.”

He bitched and moaned and made excuses while he packed a bag, but eventually he was gone.

Not before the door closed behind him and I’d engaged the bolt lock did I break down.

♪ ♫ ♪

Still wrapped in the shock and the fog of betrayal, I left my attorney’s office the next afternoon.  Standing on the sidewalk in one of the first truly spring days we’d had in Charleston, I wished the warmth of the sun cooled by the breeze off the harbor could carry me back to the Skulls and Hearts Cruise and the blue waters of the Caribbean.  Or to Italy, where I knew the hour was late enough for Jimmy to be preparing for the stage.

Tears welled in my unfocused eyes.  He’d be in touch after the show, right around dinnertime in the Lowcountry.  What would I tell him?  What should I tell him?  I didn’t want him to know yet.  It was too soon.  I hadn’t really processed it myself.

A strong bump on my arm jostled me loose from the paralysis.

“Oh goodness,” she said.  “Are ya all right?  I didn’t even see ya there, so lost in me own thoughts, I was.”

As my mind clawed its way to the surface, I recognized the voice, but couldn’t quite get a name to go with it.

“Devyn?” she asked.  “Devyn, is that you, lass?”

The sound of my name returned me fully to Broad Street.

“Mrs. Sweeny,” I said, finally putting the name with my neighbor down the street.

“Well, I hardly knew ya’ without the dogs.  Are you all right?”

“Yeah.  I’m okay.  It was just a bump.  How about you?”

She ignored my question.  With worry in her eyes, she said, “Ya don’t look okay, dear.”

From walking my two dogs, I’d gotten to know almost everyone in my neighborhood, if not by name, by face.  Or by their dogs’ names, or by their vehicle.  Mrs. Sweeny was Irish, seventy-five and slight, but wiry.  Her beautiful white hair was always perfectly styled and I’d never seen her without makeup and nice clothes, even when she worked in her garden, which was nearly every day.  I saw her a lot.  She was recently widowed.

“No, really,” I said, trying to put a smile on my face.  “I’m all right.”  Changing the subject I said, “What are you doing downtown, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Just dropping off some papers with the Probate Court and picking up some others.  This business of death’ll smother ya’ in paperwork, it will.”

“How are you getting along?”

“Oh, as well as I can, I suppose.  I miss my Robert every day though.  He wouldn’t like me coming downtown by m’self.”

“Did you drive down here?” I asked.

“No, no,” she said with a laugh.  “I wouldn’t want the dear man to be rollin’ in his grave now, would I?  No, I hired a taxi.  Cost me twenty dollars, it did.”

“Are you finished with your business or do you still have it to do?” I asked, noting we were only a few doors down from the county courthouse where the Offices of Probate were located.

“Just got done.  I was trying to find a phone to call another taxi when I literally ran into you.”

She laughed and I, surprisingly, joined her. “You don’t have a cell phone?”

“Cell phone, schmell phone. Sure, it would only confuse an old lady like me.”

“Well, I’m finished too,” I said.  “Why don’t I give you a ride home?”

“Are ya’ sure, lass?  I wouldn’t want t’impose or keep you from your errands.”

“No, I’m going straight home.  I’d be happy for the company.”

She gave me a curious look, but then smiled.  “Well, then thank you.  A ride home would be lovely.”

Mrs. Sweeny took my arm as we navigated the broken and uneven sidewalks to my car in a parking lot nearby.  She entertained me with funny tales about adventures with her late-husband, Robert, which cheered me a bit.

Entering our subdivision, we passed Casey’s house.  Her car was not there, but her husband’s was in the driveway, injecting my mind with vengeful thoughts.

“Didn’t you just get back from a cruise?  To sell your books, wasn’t it?  How’d that go?”

My breath hitched, though I shouldn’t have been surprised at the question.  I’d talked excitedly about the cruise to anyone who’d listen for two months beforehand.

I controlled myself as I pulled into Mrs. Sweeny’s driveway.  “It was fine,” I said.

She placed her hand on my arm and said softly, “What’s happened, lass?”

Tears welled in my eyes as I said, “I met someone.”  Her eyes widened and I hurried to say, “Nothing happened, but . . .” Thoughts of Jimmy flooded my emotions and I burst into tears.

“It’s all right Devyn, dear.  Come inside.  I’ll make tea.”

“I really should get home for the dogs,” I choked out.

“Nonsense,” she said already getting out of the car.  “Those dogs will be fine for another little while, won’t they?  And you need someone to talk to.  Now shut off the car and come inside.  I’ve got a nice honey chamomile that’ll be just right.”

Inside Mrs. Sweeny’s immaculate house made me reconsider hiring someone to clean my own a couple of times a month.  It couldn’t hurt.  I wondered about Jimmy’s house out in Washington.  Of course he’d have a housekeeper.

“Here we go,” Mrs. Sweeny said, setting a proper teacup and saucer before me. 

As I lifted the cup to blow on the hot tea, I smelled the honey . . . and whiskey.  It made me smile.  “Mrs. Sweeny!”

She dismissed my shock with a wave of her hand.  “A little whiskey’s just what you need.”  She sat down next to me.  “Now, you met someone on the cruise, but that’s not all there is to those tears, is it?”

“No ma’am,” I answered.  I kept my voice steady, but swallowed my distaste for the news.  “You know Casey Collins?  From the neighborhood?”

“Who can miss her, the right trollop she is.  I thought Robert would have a stroke the first time we came around the bend and seen her pulling weeds in her bikini top and short shorts.”

“Yes, well.”  I sipped the tea, noting it did, indeed warm me all over.  “When I got back from Ft. Lauderdale last night, I found her with Benny in my bed.”

“Ah lass, I was afraid you were gonna say something like that.”

“Did you know?”  My eyes widened.

“’Course I didn’t know for sure, but I saw her walking toward her house earlier in the morning than I would’ve expected.  Saw her a couple’a times last week, I did.  At first, I thought she was out for a walk but when I saw her again, sure and she wasn’t wearing walking clothes, if ya know what I mean, nor walking shoes.  So I suspected something was going on with somebody close by, but I didn’t know it was your Ben.  I’m so sorry, dear.  Would ya like some more whiskey?”

I snickered.  “No, I expect not, but thank you.”

“Tell me about the young lad you met.  Might take some sting outta what’cha come home’ta.”

I thought of Jimmy and my smile was involuntary.  “He’s a musician.  Divorced.  He’s got kind eyes and a sweet smile he uses sparingly.  But he used it on me.  Oh!  I have a picture of him.”  I pulled my phone from my pocket and brought up a selfie we took right before he helped me with the reading.

“Ooh,” Mrs. Sweeny said with a gleam in her eye, “he’s a handsome devil, isn’t he?”  She studied the photo a moment longer and went on.  “He needs t’shave.  D’he forget his razor?”

I grinned, loving his stubble.  “It’s sorta the thing now, ya know?”

“Aye.  I know, but it don’t make it right.  I like the white streak in his hair though.  Shows he embraces his maturity.  Not too vain.  And see the way he looks’a you.”  She raised her eyes to mine.  “His heart’s full’a you, lass.”

I had to take a deep breath before I could answer, and even then, emotion threatened me.  “I know.  He told me he’d wait for me until I was ready.”

Mrs. Sweeny raised her eyebrow at me.  “Seems t’me ya might be ready.”

The tea—or rather the whiskey—urged me to confide in Mrs. Sweeny more than I might’ve done without it.  “Yeah, but I don’t want him to think I’d take advantage of his generosity.  It’s only been a few days.  And I’m afraid—I mean, you always hear about the rebound relationship.  I don’t want him to be a rebound.”

“Sure, and that’s a consideration, but ya know him as a friend as well.  Let me see that picture again.”

I gave her the phone and she studied the photo for a long time before she said, “It’s right there in his eyes, lass.  That’s love if ever I saw it.”

                                                                 ♪ ♫ ♪

Even though I’d been expecting it, the ring of my cell phone startled me.  I verified the caller but allowed it to ring.  Tears stung my nose and I answered it just before it went to voice mail.  There was no hiding my emotion and the hitch in my breath was the first sound Jimmy heard from me.

“You okay?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to answer.  What should I say?

“Jimmy.”  My voice sounded strangely, even to my own ears.

“What happened, Devyn?”

Even still, it took me a few moments to find my voice.  “How was your show?” I asked.

“It was fine.  What’s going on there?”  His concern bordered on panic.

Emotion grabbed my vocal chords.  “I’m fine,” I choked out.

“No, you’re not.  Sweetheart, what happened?  Did Benny find out about us?”

Tears ran down my cheeks as if they were creek-sized streams.  It was still long moments before I could answer.  Jimmy was patient.

“I caught him in bed with his paralegal,” I blubbered.  “I filed for divorce this morning.”

The sound of his smile came to me from across the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s not funny!”  My tears ran freely now.

“No.  No, baby.  It’s not funny.  It’s heartbreaking and I know that as well as anyone.  But it clears the way for us to be together, doesn’t it?”

It did, but I couldn’t say it.  He seemed to read my mind.

“I know you’ve got a lot of years invested in your marriage.  It’s not something to dispose of lightly.”  He stopped.  Listening to me trying to control myself, he sighed.  “I wish I could be there for you.  Hold you.  Comfort you.”

“I wish that too,” I said, wiping my nose on my hand.  “I wish that more than anything.”

We talked longer, the both of us helpless in our longing to be together.  Before we rang off, I promised to try to meet him in London for the last two shows of the European tour.

I sat cross-legged on the bed in the more comfortable of the two guest rooms where I would sleep until I found the gumption to go back to the master bedroom.  The dogs had been fed and played together in the backyard as was their evening routine.

It was almost eight o’clock before I thought about food.  Just as I reached the foyer on the way to the kitchen, the front door opened allowing Ben entrance.

An imposing figure at six-foot-four, his bulk consisted mostly of muscle he maintained by regular attendance at the gym.  Though his jacket was missing and his tie loosened, he was dressed for work in his trousers and white dress shirt.

“What’re you doing here?” I asked.  The small hairs on my arms rose to attention and I became defensive.

“I came to get a few things,” he said, throwing his keys into the bowl by the door.  “And to talk.  If you’ll just give me a chance to explain.  I can’t believe you filed for divorce.”

I smelled alcohol on his breath and I backed up a step.  “What can you possibly say to make up for what I saw?  If you tell me it was the first time, I don’t believe you.  I don’t even believe Casey’s the first one.”

His face reddened but expressed remorse.  I didn’t buy it. 

“It was the first time, I swear.  And you’ve seen Casey.  She flaunts those boobs in my face all day and what can I do?  I’m weak Devyn.”

I listened patiently as he pleaded to come back, it would never happen again, blah, blah, blah.  When he finally accepted my indifference, his anger surfaced.

“Goddammit, Devyn!  I paid for this house.  I paid to furnish this house the way you wanted to which, by the way, looks like the pieces could’ve been made by the high school shop class, but the money they cost me proved they saw you coming a mile away.  It doesn’t even feel like a home.  It feels like a damn post-modern museum.”

My eyes filled at this attack on my taste.  All of our rooms were comfortable.  None of them were showcases.  I tried to blink back my fragility but it was too late.

“I supported all your little hobbies through the years.  The gardening, the quilting, all the other arts and crafts that never got you anywhere, and now this writing thing.  Those conferences aren’t cheap you know.”

He took a step toward me, his face red and his fists clenching at his side.  I stepped back until I met the wall behind me.  One of the dogs scratched at the back door and I tried to side-step around Ben, but he grabbed my neck and backed me up again, lifting me slightly onto my toes.  I struggled for breath.

“And then this cruise.  I looked it up online.  I bet you were star-struck from the moment you boarded.  All those long haired musicians!  I bet you had a fling of your own on that boat.”

He let me go only to switch hands.  One quick breath had me on my toes again where he slapped me hard across the face.  I fought to push him away but only managed a good scratch to his face.

“God damn you!” he screamed.  “I’m bleeding!”

Blackness edged my line of sight and crept slowly to the center when his closed fist connected with my jawbone leaving me stunned.  Still screaming about the blood on his face he allowed me to crumple to the floor, where I wheezed for oxygen.  The ringing in my ears receded slightly and I heard the dogs barking frantically as their claws scratched the glass door.

“Shut up you fucking mutts!”  Ben returned to me, still gasping in the foyer.  My jaw felt unhinged and every movement sent searing pain throughout my face, head, and neck.  Ben pulled me up by the shoulders, his fingers digging so far into the soft tissue I thought they would meet.  “Now there’s blood on my shirt, you worthless bitch!  Get going!”

He pushed me toward the bedroom and kicked me when I fell, making me crawl the rest of the way.  I slumped into a pile.  Ben picked me up and threw me onto the same bed where just a day before he’d revelled in Casey’s delights.  I had no strength to resist.

The ringing in my ears had returned, but pain had taken over nearly my entire consciousness.  I knew from the tone of his voice, the expression on his face and the spittle off his words, Ben regaled me with all the ways I’d failed him.

Numb and tingling from the shoulder damage, my arms and hands could not help me from what was to come.  As I lay helpless on my back, Ben pulled my yoga pants off, my panties right along with them.  He ripped my tee shirt over my head and then my bra, scraping my swollen nose along the way. 

Then he raped me.

When he left the bedroom, I thought it was over.  The dogs still raised hell at the back door, but I left that place, retreating to the ship.  The place I felt safe and warm in Jimmy’s arms.

How long I was there, I had no way of knowing.  The sound of duct tape ripping brought me back to the horror.  Ben pulled off long strips in order to fasten me by the arms and legs to the posts of the bed.  I had no choice but to drift away again.

Ice water on my face brought me back with a sputter.  Ben continued to beat, slap, and punch my face and body.  I felt my skin tighten in its swelling.  Thinking about it later, I supposed his continued use of the ice water, which soaked my hair and dripped into my ears, was to prevent me from losing consciousness completely.  My only thought at the time was how soon death would take me.

Time lost all meaning and I couldn’t say how many times he raped me.  When he was on top of me, he blocked the draft of the ceiling fan.  When he climbed off of me, it chilled me till I shook from the cold.  My eyes had swollen shut and my ears could only hear ringing.  At some point, he inserted a large-bore foreign object into me, making all my other pain pale in comparison.  And then I slipped into the void.

                                                      ♪ ♫ ♪ 

I knew I was in the hospital before I even opened my eyes.  The antiseptic scent, the beeps of an IV pump, the white noise of multiple conversations at once outside the door—all of it indicated hospital.  I’d so hoped I’d died.

But I lived.

My eyes opened, but only as narrow slits.  Pain engulfed me and I closed them again.  Through the drug-induced fog, my thought was only for music.  Instrumental guitar rock would soothe me.  If not my body, at least my head.  My soul.

As if in answer to my request, I heard a voice.  A voice with a distinct British accent said quietly, “All right then.  Here we go.” 

Soft and sweet, individual guitar strings were picked in a familiar pattern that did, indeed soothe me.  Somehow my fictional Wyatt Flood had come to life.  Come to care for me.

“Mmm . . .” I moaned.

The music stopped.

“Aww, no,” I said, just then realizing I couldn’t move my jaw.  It didn’t matter, if the music would just start again.  “Please don’t let it stop.”

“Devyn?  Darling are you awake?”

I took a painfully deep breath and tried to look around but the pain was excruciating.  I groaned.

“Shh . . . .  Shh, shh,” the decidedly male voice said. 

He moved to the foot of the bed where I could see him through the slits of my eyes without moving.  Tall, with smooth, dark brown, longish hair, he was quite handsome.  He held a guitar by the neck and I thought I might recognize him, if only my brain would kick in.

“Don’t try to move, darling.  You’re all right.  You’re safe.  Just try to breathe.  No one can hurt you now.  Jimmy’s on his way.  He’ll be here soon.”

The Englishman had mentioned Jimmy and I felt safe without even knowing his name.

“You go back to sleep and I’ll keep playing okay?”

Whoever he was, he couldn’t have known the blanket of security his presence and his music brought me.  I didn’t just sleep.  I rested.

♪ ♫ ♪

I had no concept of time when Mrs. Sweeny’s voice reached me in my semi-consciousness, but I couldn’t focus enough to understand. 

When I next opened my eyes, grey light filtered through the blinds.  Pain had replaced my blood, it seemed, because every part of my body still hurt, and though the haze that had fogged my mind was still there, it had lessened to a certain degree.

“More or less,” I heard the Englishman say softly.  “The neighbor, Mrs. Sweeny, visited last night.  She’s who found her.”  A moment of quiet followed before the Englishman asked, “Are you sure you want to hear this?  Some of it’s quite gruesome.”

I heard someone’s breath catch.  “Yeah.  Go ahead.  I should probably know.”

Jimmy!  Jimmy’s here!

Every mechanism of my grin was out of order.  I imagined the effort looked macabre at best.  I tried to say his name, but the inability to open my jaw hindered me.  I groaned in frustration.

“Devyn?”  Jimmy came to my side.  His eyes softened when he looked at me.  “Ahh, love,” he said, his beautiful, bright blue eyes greyed with what he saw.  His fingers reached for my face but retreated in hesitation.  “I want to touch you, but I don’t want to hurt you.”

I closed my eyes and lifted my chin to him disregarding the pain in my head and neck.

So gentle was his touch on my face I longed to be inside it.  To live there.  To love there.  “I must look a fright,” I said through my teeth.

He spent a smile on me and caressed my face again.  “It doesn’t matter, sweetheart, because I know how beautiful you are when you smile.”

Those same words he’d used the morning after his concert on the cruise.

Still stroking my face gently with his thumb, he said, “Baby, I can’t stay.  I so wish I could, but we’ve got a show tomorrow night in Spain.”  He turned to the Englishman.  “God, I wish I could stay.”

“I know,” the Englishman said.

Back to me, Jimmy said, “In the meantime, this is Oliver Bishop.  He’s a bodyguard.”

“Bodyguard?”  I asked.

“An agent of personal protection.  And a private detective.  He’s asked your attorney to apply for a restraining order against Ben to keep him from coming no closer to you than . . .” Jimmy turned again to the Englishman.

“. . . five hundred yards.  He won’t be allowed here at hospital, or at your house once you’re released.  Or anywhere a’tall you might be.”

“Oliver’s presence will make me feel secure in the fact that you’re safe,” Jimmy said, then leaned in and gave me a mischievous grin.  “But watch out for him.  He’s a charmer.”

I returned my best impersonation of a grin.  To Oliver, I said, “You look familiar.  Have we met?”

“Actually, we have,” he said, coming back into my line of vision.  “I’ve been staying with my dad and step-mum at her house in Meadow Fields housing estate.  You walk the two big brown dogs, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Nicholas Trent’s son.  Caitlin Flynn’s my step-mum.  They live farther down on Clear Point Drive.  We spoke about the dogs once when I was jogging.”

My mind fully kicked into gear with the repeated mention of my dogs.

“Don’t worry,” Oliver said, reading my expression.  “Cait’s taken in your dogs. They’re having a grand time with her Leo and Lucy.”

The breath I stole was painful but satisfying.  “Thank you.  Thank Caitlin for me please.  Tell us what Mrs. Sweeny said.”

I caught Oliver and Jimmy sharing a glance, but Oliver said to me, “You don’t need to think about this now, darling. For now, just concentrate on getting better, okay?”

I thought for a second.  “I don’t remember a lot of it.  Shouldn’t I know?”

Oliver deferred to Jimmy, who came to my side.  “Baby, you can’t know how hard it is for me to hear this.  That I wasn’t here to protect for you.  That you ended up like this—in the hospital half a world away from me and I can’t stay.  Please do what Oliver suggested.  Get better and think of the life we’ll have together where I won’t let anything—ever—happen to you.”  He picked up my hand and pressed it against his mouth.  I may have felt tears travelling across my fingers, but I wasn’t sure because I was so close to sleep. I think I uttered a small sound, but I may have only imagined it.

Out in the distance I heard a phone ring.

“Okay, Mike, I’ll be down in five,” Jimmy said and was then leaning over me.  “Get some rest my love,” he said.  I felt his gentle breath against my face. I wanted to smile, but I’m not sure I was successful. “I’ll be in touch as often as I can, I promise.  I’ll be thinking of you every minute.”  He kissed my forehead.  “Take care of her, Oliver,” he said as his warmth and scent abandoned me.

“Count on it, mate.”

♪ ♫ ♪

I drifted in and out the rest of that day and the next.  Caitlin showed up the first night to bring Oliver some food.  She told me how my dogs were adjusting to life in the Trent household.  She said they played so long and hard with their two dogs that as soon as they were fed, the four of them crashed.  She expected that would only go so far in following days as they would wonder what was going on.

“We’ll work something out,” she said.

My attorney and a hospital social worker wanted to know what I remembered. 

Two separate sets of police officers came by to question me, but I wasn’t much help.  They took photos of me nevertheless and while they were doing that, Mrs. Sweeny showed up to give them a wealth of information, even though she’d given it all before.  But this time, I heard it too.

“I knew something was wrong when the dogs had been raising holy hell for over an hour.”  She looked at me kindly before she continued.  “Our Devyn never lets her dogs go on for any length of time.  So, I called Charley Canty—”

“The Team Four officer?”

Mrs. Sweeny gave him a curious look, but then had an epiphany. 

“Yes!  I think that’s what it says on his police car.  Team Four.  He lives in the neighborhood, don’t’cha know and I called him, ‘cause there was sure something wrong.  He met me at the front door.  We looked through the windows beside the door and both of us saw blood.  He tried the door but it was locked so we went around to the back where the dogs were about to go mad.  The back door was unlocked and after he called it in, we went inside.”

She stopped and said to me, “Ah, love, I don’t want’cha t’hear this, but I guess ya lived it.”  She sniffed and turned back to the officer.  “We found her in the bedroom, naked and taped to a bloody, soggy bed.  She was unconscious.  Probably for the best, lass.”

Oliver slid his arm around her shoulder and pulled her in to his side.  I closed my eyes and flashes teased my memory.  It frustrated me that I couldn’t remember more, but it probably was for the best that I didn’t.

Throughout the days I was hospitalized, Oliver was a calming force in the room.  His quiet guitar playing reduced my frustration to a certain extent and allowed me to rest between visitors.

The police found Ben the day after the attack, in his office on East Bay Street.  He’d denied everything at first, saying he hadn’t been home due to a criminal case he’d been preparing for trial, and hadn’t spoken to me because he was so busy, but he would need to come to the hospital right away to see me.  The police quietly gathered evidence against him, including the restraining order Judge Condon had issued the day after the attack.  Ben didn’t make it past hospital security.

I spent a total of ten days in the hospital and slowly began to heal.  My face went through several color changes before my own color returned in patches. 

Once I was released to go home, my life consisted of Oliver taking me to appointments with doctors, a psychologist and physical therapy.  Lots of physical therapy.

My happiest day came when they unwired my jaw.  I’d been without solid food for eight weeks and I’d dropped almost thirty pounds.  All my clothes were too big. 

At five months, they fast-tracked Ben to trial, the forensic evidence so strong, he finally pled guilty to assault and battery, rape, and attempted murder for which he was given a very long prison sentence.

After the sentencing, I felt strong. Oliver and I celebrated with a shopping trip on King Street, with plans for happy hour on Folly Road and dinner at my favourite Folly Beach hangout.

On the way to the beach, stopped at the Camp Road intersection, firemen were out collecting donations in their boots for their annual children’s charity drive.  I smiled at the handsome young man who passed my window but had no change for him.  As he passed, it occurred to me I did have something to give and I dug into the change purse of my wallet.  I held out my hand as he came back by and he stopped, holding his boot close to the car window.  I’d been meaning to take my three-diamond anniversary ring and gold wedding band to one of the local jewellery exchanges and get cash for them, but I’d never gotten around to it.  They were easily worth twenty-five thousand dollars.

The handsome young man’s eyes became large as saucers.  “Ma’am, you don’t want to do that.”

I looked at Oliver and smiled at the fireman.  “Yes.  I do.  It’s past time that I did,” I said, and dropped them into the boot.  The traffic signal changed and we drove off leaving the stunned fireman in our wake.

The gift made news for a few days, pleading for the donor to come forth.  I never did and no one figured it out, for which I was grateful.

I felt free.

♪ ♫ ♪

 

Six long months had passed since Jimmy had left me outside the cruise terminal in Ft. Lauderdale.  We’d kept in touch with FaceTime, text, phone, Twitter and Facebook, but I longed for—indeed dreamt of—losing myself in the depths of his eyes and our last embrace.

I had sent Oliver home once Ben was fully incarcerated, but the time we’d spent together had bonded us as good friends—best friends.  Caitlin and Nicholas, as well.  I frequently attended rehearsals at their house as the Nicholas Trent Band would soon join the autumn rock festival season in England. 

One evening, the dogs and I were still at their home as dinnertime rolled around.  Cait invited me to stay. 

“Aren’t you to meet Jimmy in London for Landing Gear’s final two European shows?” Nicholas asked me.

“That’s the plan, yeah.  I’m excited.”

“From what I hear, he’s pretty excited too,” Cait replied with a wide grin.

I blinked back unbidden tears, but not before Oliver saw them and squeezed my shoulder protectively.  I leaned into him.

“I can’t wait to see him.”

“Come with us to Manchester,” Oliver said.  “Surprise Jimmy at Rockfall.  Make the man happy.  Make both of you happy.”

“Doesn’t that give them two days before the shows in London?” Caitlin asked Nicholas.

“I believe so,” he answered.  His face brightened.  “Right, then. You could spend them at our house up in East Lancs.  Nice quiet place. Perfect for getting reacquainted.”

“Oh, I couldn’t . . .”

“Sure you could, darling,” Oliver said.  “We won’t be there a’tall.  That’s Landing Gear’s final festival, but only our first.  We’ll be in Ireland, then on to a few dates in Scotland.”

Nicholas nodded.  “Glasgow, Isle of Skye.”  He grinned.  “Gonna be cold.”

“Are you sure it’s okay?” I asked.  “I think it’s too generous.”

“It’s absolutely brilliant!” Oliver said as he shot up from the table.  “I’ll call my cousin Obie and make the arrangements.

“Wait!” I called.  But he was already in the other room. 

Cait placed her hand on my arm. 

“You know how he is,” she said with a laugh. “Really though, it’s no problem. We’ll be back once the dates are finished. We plan to spend Christmas there.  It’ll be nice for the both of you.  Then, after London—which you’ll adore, by the way—you can come home to your lives together.”

I looked at them, my mouth open as if to speak, but closed it when nothing vocalized.

Nicholas grinned.  “We have room for you on the plane, love.”

Through my excitement, I managed to say, “Yes.  Thank you.  I’d love to come with you.”

♪ ♫ ♪

 

We checked in with Artist Registration where all of us—Nicholas, Caitlin, Oliver and I, plus the band’s bass player Finn, and the drummer Senam, were issued all-access artist passes.  Groundwyre finished the first song of their encore.  Landing Gear waited on deck to play the next set.

“C’mon backstage with us,” Oliver encouraged me.

“I think I’ll stay back here for now.”

Oliver considered me, then grinned and hugged me.  “Darling, you know I wish you only happiness.  You’ll always be my best mate, no matter what.  You know that, don’t you?”

“I do,” I said and hugged him tightly around his neck before he followed his band backstage.  He winked at me as he headed off.

Laughing, I joined in at the back of the crowd while the stage crew changed over guitars, amps, effects boards and microphones from Groundwyre to the Landing Gear set.

Goosebumps rose on my arms when the spotlight illuminated Jimmy for the first song.  It had been months since I’d seen him in person and there he was with a sea of people between us.  I moved forward, a bit at a time, through every song till, by the last song of the set, I was just behind the front row.  The band left the stage but I knew they’d be back for their two-song encore.  I moved to the front and no one questioned my all-access pass.

The first song of the encore was “Baby, Don’t Make Me” but Jimmy hadn’t seen me and he didn’t point at anyone.  The last song started with a beautiful guitar lead-in by Laine.  Before Jimmy’s bass line began, Terry, the rhythm guitar player sidled up to him and said something into his ear.  Jimmy looked right at me making my smile encompass my entire face.  His gasp and surprise quickly turned into that rare smile of joy I’d only seen a few times. 

I tapped my empty ring finger. 

He moved to the front of the stage and mouthed at me, “I told you I’d wait.”

All the women around me screamed and cheered as if his eyes had landed only on them, but I knew they were for me.  He kissed his index and middle finger then pointed at me.  Again, an easily mistakable gesture and the women nearly went mad.  But when he tipped his head back and mouthed, “Come up here,” I made my way to stage right, leaving the other hopeful women wondering which of them he meant.

Merv, the tour manager, met me at the security line with a kiss on each cheek.

“Look’a you, lass.  You’re more beautiful than ever before. He led me by the hand through another throng of people.  “Ya’ sure ya’ don’t wanna see The Nicholas Trent Band?”

“I’ve seen their set,” I answered. “Several times.  I’ve got something more important to do.”

Merv looked back at me, his smile as crooked, but whiter than I remembered.  “That you do, lass.  That you do.”

 

THE END

5/1/14