Jaycee couldn’t help but laugh a little as Andy did his mad dash around the front of the truck. He really did not look like a man a little over thirty, no matter what his license said. And he was cute, really cute – not that she could have talked to Sarah about that with him sitting right there! He was also sweet, she mused, as her hand toyed with the zipper on the jacket he loaned her.
Still, she barely knew him, or he her, for that matter. After all, he’d only picked her up off the side of the road less than an hour ago! Besides, he was just taking her to Nashville, not out on a date.
Her reverie was cut short, however, as the object of her thoughts opened the driver’s side door and hurriedly got in. Oh my ... the look he flashed her as he hopped in! Gone was the shadow, replaced instead by a crooked boyish grin that took her breath away. She responded with a fleeting smile of her own but quickly turned away to fiddle with her seatbelt. She could feel her pulse start to race.
For just a moment she closed her eyes and thought about all she’d been through. “Please ... please, don’t be messing with me, okay?” she prayed again silently.
Looking back over, she watched as Andy laid the damp towels out on the back seat to dry. Spurred by this, she took her own soggy tennis shoes out of her pack. Pulling the laces all the way out, she flipped out the tongues and then put the sneakers by the heat vent at her feet. By the time she’d finished, Andy was already pulling the truck and trailer out onto the interstate yet again.
The rain was coming down in sheets but it was the wind she really noticed. She could feel the gusts pushing sideways on both the truck and the trailer. And judging from Andy’s expression, it was no fun for him in the driver’s seat. Looking out the passenger window, Jaycee grew nervous at the dark menacing clouds building to the west. It was late afternoon, but you couldn’t tell it by sky. It was more like twilight.
Desperate for something to do, her eyes wandered around the cab until they settled on the bag of things Andy had bought at the truck stop. “Would you mind if I... ?”
Andy glanced over and then back at the road. “Not at all,” he replied. “In fact, would you do me a favor?”
“Under the seat, there, are my compact disk holders. Could you take the wrappers off the new ones and put them in with the rest? There’s a small penknife in the glove compartment.”
“I would be glad to.”
To be honest, Jaycee was glad for something to do. Getting the cellophane and stickers off the new compact disks and collating them in with the old ones kept her mind off of the weather – at least a little bit. It was hard to ignore the wind pushing Andy’s truck and trailer all over the road. Still, there’s nothing like a little busy work to distract a person. Well, that and the fact that Andy had a really interesting music collection. From country to classical, pop to jazz, blues to rock, he seemed to have a bit of everything.
During a lull in the driving rain, she mentioned as much. “Did you want to listen to any of it?”
After a moment of thought, Andy let out a deep sigh and shook his head no. “Any other time I would say yes, especially since I bought that Don Edwards collection. But with this weather, I think not.” As he glanced over at her, Jaycee could see the tension in his face. “I don’t think either of us would be able to enjoy it properly.”
Jaycee nodded her head understandingly. Some of the first songs she ever learned to play on the guitar were cowboy songs from her Papa’s favorite Don Edwards album – well, him and Marty Robbins. She even learned to yodel imitating Don as he sang “Cattle Call.” But Andy was right; it would be tough to get into it all right now.
“I wouldn’t mind a little conversation, though,” he added after a couple minutes.
“Me? I’m not all that interesting, really. Why would you want to ... oh, shit, that’s right! You don’t really know anything about me. I had you give me your driver’s license so I could call Sarah. Did you want mine so you could call someone? Or maybe I could call someone for you?” It all came out in a rush again.
Andy shook his head but didn’t look over. Jaycee could see the corner of his mouth twitch, however.
“Are you sure? I mean, I could be a wacked out serial killer, for all you know!” she said with a broad grin.
That one brought a sudden burst of laughter from Andy. “No, that’s quite alright. I’d already thought through that scenario when I pulled over to pick you up.” He chuckled, glancing over at her with that twinkle in his eye again. “I figured if that were true, you couldn’t do too much more to me than my ... well, than already’s been done to me. And, besides that, I’ve always wanted to see Jesus in person.”
Now it was Jaycee’s turn to laugh. “I have to say, I’m in no hurry to do that just yet, so keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, mister!”
She liked his laugh. It was very natural and unforced, with an infectious quality to it. There was also a warmth to it, she thought. She shook her head, looking at her hands in her lap. “Get a grip, girl!” she silently berated herself. After a brief pause, she continued. “Well, before I start, why don’t you tell me what you already know?”
“Hmm, let’s see. Your name is Jaycee. You have a friend in Nashville named Sarah Gaines – who sounds very nice, by the way.”
Jaycee nodded in agreement. Sarah was awesome and she should have taken her up on this offer to move to Nashville with her a long time ago.
“What else? Let’s see. Sarah said you sing country music for a living. Judging from your accent, you’re obviously from the South – but I detect just a hint of Cajun, so I’m guessing you’re most likely from Louisiana or somewhere near there.” He paused. “Oh, and you like taking long walks in the rain ... ouch. Hey!”
The punch in the arm was pure instinct. “What else?”
“And because of a former boyfriend named Jimmy, the last 24 hours or so of your life have been a big steaming pile of crap. How am I doing so far?”
“Well, the last hour or so has been really good, actually,” Jaycee answered honestly. “But before that? Yeah, definitely a monstrously huge heaping of ‘poo, ‘ as Mike Rowe would say.” She turned in her seat and looked intently at her rescuer. “Thank you,” she said quietly.
It was pretty obvious he intended to say something flippant when he turned his head. He stopped short when he saw her face, however. His eyes softened and he gave her a slight nod instead. “You’re welcome.”
Jaycee could feel her eyes beginning to mist up, so she quickly looked back down at her hands. After a moment, when she had regained control, she continued. “Anyway, where were we?”
She could see the corner of his mouth twitch and his right eyebrow go up.
“Oh, right. You wanted to know about me.”
After a lengthy pause, Andy glanced over and met her gaze with a smirk.
“What? I’m not stalling!”
There went that eyebrow again.
“Okay, so maybe I am! I just don’t know where to start.”
Andy said nothing, his eyes focused on the road beyond the rhythmic flash of the windshield wipers.
“Fine!” Jaycee threw her hands up in mock disgust. “I’m pretty boring, really. First of all, my name isn’t actually Jaycee. Those are just my first and middle initials – J. C. My last name is Fontenot. Let’s see ... I will turn twenty-five next month on the fifteenth...”
Again with the eyebrow.
“What? How old did you think I was?”
At first, all Andy did was shrug his shoulders. When it became evident that Jaycee wanted an answer, he eventually conceded. “Well, actually, much younger than that,” was all that he would admit to, however.
She was just glad it wasn’t the reverse. Fidgeting, she tucked some strands of loose hair behind her right ear. Jaycee could only imagine how bad she looked when he first picked her up – taking pity on some waterlogged bag lady on the side of the road!
“Anyway,” she continued. “I have to say I’m impressed you picked up on my accent. I didn’t think it was that noticeable anymore. Not that I didn’t think I don’t have a southern accent anymore, because I did. I mean ... I do! Have a southern accent, that is. But you already knew that. Of course, you knew that! I mean, you can hear the accent whenever I speak. So, I suppose it’s pretty obvious that I have one. I just meant that...”
“Oh, crap!” She flashed him a concerned look. “I’m babbling, aren’t I?”
“Dang, that crooked grin of his!” she silently sulked to herself. “Anyway, you’re right. I was born and raised in St. Martinville, Louisiana.” Noticing his blank look, she added, “It’s a little south and east of Lafayette.”
The time just seemed to fly by as Jaycee talked and Andy listened. She explained what it was like to grow up in a larger family. One of six children, she was right in the middle with an older brother, Junior, two sisters, one older, Nicki, and one younger, Maggie, and two younger brothers, Chris and Mikey. Jaycee even got to laughing as she shared some her childhood memories. The most entertaining of which usually starred her younger brothers.
Once in a while, Andy would prompt her with a question or two – like when she mentioned her dad, Nick, dying when she was twelve. She’d been his little shadow and Jaycee was devastated when he died. To her it seemed that one day he was healthy as a horse, working as an auto mechanic, and the next he’d lost all his hair and was on oxygen all the time. Then, about nine months after he came home with the awful news, he was gone. Even though that was a little over twelve years ago, it still hurt – though the pain was more of a dull ache now, she mused to herself. About all she had left from him now was her guitar sitting in the back seat – well, that and the car Jimmey stole that morning.
Jaycee didn’t realize she’d stopped talking until she felt Andy’s hand gently touch her shoulder, as she silently watched the windshield wipers try to keep up with the driving rain.
“I’m so sorry you got stuck with such a boring passenger.” Horrified by her own behavior, she apologized to her host. “I’m usually not so depressing, either,” she said with a grimace.
Andy simply brushed it off with a sympathetic shake of his head. “That’s okay, you’ve had an unusually rough day,” came his quiet response as he returned his hand to the steering wheel and turned his eyes back to the road.
Jaycee was reaching down to check whether her shoes were dry or not, when he spoke again. Andy said it so softly – or was it because the wind had picked up? – but she didn’t quite make out what he said.
“I was just wondering,” he repeated, a little louder this time, “how your mother and family are doing now.”
Jaycee smiled gratefully at his helpful shift in the conversation. “They’re all doing pretty well now, but it didn’t start out that way, that’s for sure,” she remarked, as she began again.
Growing up, their family usually had very little but their folks somehow always managed to get by. That all stopped when her dad was force to quit working. Jaycee’s mom, Mary, did what she could but the little she brought home as a waitress was barely enough to put food on the table. By the time her dad died, the medical bills and other debt had gotten out of control.
It got so bad, they stopped answering the phone or the doorbell to avoid the bill collectors. When Junior graduated high school later that year, he took off for the oil fields and began to send most of his money home. And when Jaycee left five years later, she pretty much did the same – sending her mom money when she could.
Things were now much better for their mother, though. She still worked at the restaurant but as a hostess now. Maggie had moved back home with her two kids after her divorce, and Nicki lived a few blocks away with her brood, so the house was overrun again – this time with grandkids. As for her brother Chris, he was well on his way to being the first in the family to graduate college. He just had a year to go for his engineering degree at Louisiana Tech. Jaycee was so happy that she and Junior could help him make that possible. They didn’t have to do that for Mikey, however. Ranked as one of the top high school shortstops in the country, he’d been drafted by the Angels but decided to accept an athletic scholarship to LSU instead. Matching that with other financial aid, he was set.
“So how did you get into singing?”
“Hmm?” Jaycee glanced over at Andy, only to find him already looking at her with those warm brown eyes of his.
“Sarah said you were singing with a band back in Champaign before I picked you up,” he said as his attention returned to the road ahead. “I was just curious how you got into that.”
Jaycee smiled at his attention to detail and began to explain how she came to spend the last eight years or so of her life singing in bars and dance halls for a number of different country bands.
Truth be told, Sarah had been the one to get her started down this path. Best friends since the second grade, she had roped Jaycee – back when she was sixteen – into helping with her older brother Todd’s band. At first, it was just for the two of them to be backup singers when they opened at the state fair. When the lead singer was hospitalized just two days before the concert, though, Jaycee was asked to step up to the front microphone. That was all it took. She was hooked. After that, she started filling in for other area cover bands on the weekends.
By the time graduation came, Jaycee had been singing with one particular group, Plantation Rose, for about nine months. When they made plans to tour all over Louisiana, as well as east Texas and Arkansas, she jumped at the chance. Sadly, that band fell apart after a year, while they were in Dallas, of all places, which was how she ended up living there. She found an apartment, got a job as a receptionist for an insurance agency, and soon hooked up with another band, Lazy Crop Circles, that made the rounds through the local bar and dance hall circuit.
A year later, she got the opportunity to go on tour again, so she quit her job and hit the road for six months – traveling as far away as Denver, Minneapolis, and Chicago. When she got back, she signed up for occasional work through a temp agency while she worked toward the next tour. Unfortunately, that also fell apart. She would go through two other bands before she finally was approached back in November by a smooth talker she knew by the name of Jimmy Monroe. They had dated off and on, but now Jimmy needed her help.
Monroe’s group, Tailgunner Joe, was one of the top draw bar bands in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There were even rumors flying around that they were on the edge of signing a major record deal. Fortunately for her (or was that unfortunately?), there had been a falling out with their previous lead singer, so they needed a smooth transition at the mic in order not to mess it all up. At least, that was the song and dance she was given. Believing the big break she’d longed for had finally arrived, Jaycee let her apartment lease expire and hit the road with the band.
Of course, this was that same Jimmy who left her high and dry with maxed out credit cards, a drained checking account, no money, and no car, at a motel near the University of Illinois campus that morning. She’d talked to the police but they didn’t offer her much hope. And if it wasn’t for Sarah, and now Andy, she didn’t know what she would have done.
Darkness had fallen while she talked, but not because the sun had set. Judging by the clock in the truck, they should have a few more hours of daylight left. And yet, beyond the reach of the headlights, it was as dark as night. Neither the wind nor the rain had let up either, and Andy’s whole body had begun to show it. Their conversation had lapsed into silence as Andy fought to maintain control, but Jaycee could see it would eventually be a losing battle. He was just too exhausted. This was one storm they may need to ride out, at least for a little while.
Spotting lights at an upcoming exit, Jaycee gently touched Andy’s arm and then pointed in the direction of the off ramp.
Andy wearily nodded and then guided the truck and trailer toward a much needed rest.
“I’m going to pay you back!”
“No, you don’t need to.”
They were nowhere close to ordering, so Andy waved the waitress off ... again. He wearily ran his fingers through his hair and exhaled slowly. The drive had been exhausting but he was beginning to think that was nothing compared to his dining companion! He glanced across the table, only to see Jaycee still staring daggers at him.
“Why won’t you let me pay you back?” she asked angrily.
Andy looked down at the placemat in front of him and fiddled with the silverware still wrapped in a napkin. Good grief, she was obstinate! Helen had nothing on this girl! Not that he couldn’t understand where she was coming from ... he could.
“Why won’t you just let me help you?” he asked wearily.
“I am. I’m just going to repay you for all this when I get back on my feet,” she responded, with a look of fierce determination.
He met her gaze momentarily but then looked away. She sure was something! When Helen would get upset, her face would get all red and blotchy. He and the girls would joke about waiting to see the steam come out her ears like in the cartoons which, of course, only made the situation worse. He stifled a chuckle but couldn’t help smiling.
Jaycee’s look, on the other hand, was nothing to joke about. Her cheeks grew a deep rosy color and her eyes shone like brilliant sapphires, sparkling as if lit by an inner fire. Jaycee did not get “cute” when she was angry. She was downright mesmerizing.