It was like Christmas on steroids and it was only Tuesday.
Josie couldn’t help but laugh at the chaotic scene unfolding before her. But the noise – the noise made her want to cover her ears. It was hard to hear, what with all the talking, chattering, laughing and screaming going on. Well, that, and all the boisterous kids trying out their new instruments all at once. There were trumpets and cellos, saxophones and guitars, and even a drum set.
But try as she might, she couldn’t feel the least bit Grinch-like about the cacophony. Perhaps because standing in the midst of everything was the biggest kid of all and happier than she’d seen him in the short time they’d been together.
Sarah was also buzzing around the musical mayhem, snapping away pictures like the talented shutterbug she was. She was there, however, strictly as a favor to Rennie. He’d somehow matched a couple anonymous donors with a major music foundation to replace all the children’s instruments lost in the tornado. But he needed someone to take all the PR photos that the foundation wanted. And since it was partly the kind of thing she did for a living anyway, Sarah said she was more than happy to help out.
Josie was so absorbed watching Rennie as he interacted with the kids, that she didn’t notice her camera happy friend sidle up next to her. Mesmerized by his infectious joy, it took a firm hip check to bring her back to earth.
“You’re pathetic, Twink. You know that, right?”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Yes, you, you obsessed love-struck groupie.” She chuckled and then nodded in his direction. “But I’m sure he’ll give you an autograph if you ask him nicely.”
In a move reminiscent of grade school, her best friend scrunched up her nose and stuck out her tongue. And then with a giggle and a wiggle she was gone, weaving in and out of the mayhem capturing slices of time on her memory card.
For her part, Josie just clutched the clipboard with its completed checklist to her chest and watched the magic unfold before her eyes. She’d thought she knew what to expect when she met the delivery driver a couple hours earlier but was totally blown away by the sheer number of boxes waiting to be unloaded on his truck. And then she thought she knew what to expect when the kids and the parents lined up outside the choir room – especially as they began to fidget and chatter from all the pent up excitement. But the amazing mix of tears and joy she witnessed when they were finally let inside was almost overwhelming.
Here were kids, many of whom had absolutely nothing left of their own except the clothes they were wearing, cradling brand new instruments in their arms that were likely far better than what they previously owned. And then there was Rennie, the mastermind behind it all, helping assemble a trombone one moment, showing how to string an acoustic guitar the next. Her heart swelled with the thought that this was exactly what he needed, too. The kids weren’t the only ones getting a gift.
Josie couldn’t help but smile when little six year old Annalise came up behind Rennie and tugged on his shirt. She was such a cutie! Gripping her brand new violin and bow in one hand, she tugged on the shirt again when he turned around. It was clear what she wanted. With a sweet smile on his own face, he squatted down until he was at the level of hers. Once there, it clearly became a moment of show and tell and Rennie, for his part, graciously played along. Josie’s heart just about melted, however, when the precious little girl wrapped her free arm around his neck for a hug and then kissed him on his cheek.
She was surreptitiously wiping away moisture from her eyes, when Josie felt the familiar jarring of her right hip yet again. This time, however, the display screen of her friend’s rather pricy digital camera was being held out right in front of her. Taking it in her own hands, she could feel her eyes mist up yet again as an emotion-filled sigh escaped her throat. The close up image of Rennie nose to nose with an exuberant Annalise stirred an unexpected longing.
“You two will have really cute kids.”
Disconcerted she was so transparent, Josie paused momentarily and then quickly sought to change the subject. “I thought Rennie said you weren’t supposed to take any pictures of him?”
With a self-satisfied smirk that left no doubt her attempted diversion was recognized, Sarah glanced over quickly at a preoccupied Rennie and back. Obviously not wanting to respond where they were, the striking blonde covertly gestured that they head out into the hall.
“Technically, he only prohibited me from giving the foundation folks any promotional pictures with him in it,” she explained, once they were there. “He never actually said I couldn’t take any pictures of him at all.” Sarah then paused, looking down at the digital display of the camera in her hands. “Though, in all honesty, he may have to release me from that promise because this photo is exactly the kind of thing they’re looking for.”
They were deeply engaged in the merits and composition of that and a few other pictures, when a rather tinny version of the Imperial March from Star Wars began to echo in the hallway. Clearly coming from a cell phone, the two women initially struggled to locate the source. Their attention, however, quickly turned to Rennie’s backpack that Josie had been holding for him. A quick perusal of the bag’s pockets located the offending phone but upon viewing the name visible on the display, Josie got a rather devilish look in her eye.
“Is that... ?” Sarah began to giggle, no doubt at Rennie’s choice of ringtones for his estranged wife.
Josie simply nodded her head and then shushed her friend with a finger to her own lips, as she tapped the phone open. Time to yank a well deserved chain.
Other than a quick inhalation of breath on the other end, there was no actual response. Josie smiled at the good start. Helen was probably double checking to make sure she’d called the right number.
“Hello?” She spoke again.
“Uhm, yes, hello,” came the rather confused female voice. “Who is this?”
“Josie. Who’s this?”
The reply was followed by a long, pregnant pause. “Why do you have Andy’s phone?”
It was not lost on her that Helen didn’t answer the question. On top of that, the woman was already starting to sound a bit irritated. Josie’s smile grew. Her impromptu plan was working perfectly, though she did get a twinge of concern at the thought of handing the phone to Rennie at the end of her little game. But it wasn’t time to stop yet.
“He left it with me,” she tossed in, albeit deliberately with a bit of an attitude.
“Oh, I see.” It was clear she didn’t. “Well, I must speak with him. Is he around?”
“Yes, but now’s not a good time. Perhaps you could call back later.”
Josie had almost said that a bit seductively, suggesting perhaps that the phone call was interrupting something of a romantic nature, but thought better of it at the last moment. It didn’t really matter, though. Helen was clearly getting angry, which was Josie’s intent all along.
“I am not going to call back later,” she hissed. “And I didn’t call to speak to you either. So put Andy on right now!”
“Actually, he is very busy right now. Maybe I could give him a message for you?” The last bit was said with such syrupy sweetness that Sarah couldn’t help but begin to laugh. Josie tried to shield the phone but the damage was done.
“No!” Helen shouted. “I know what you’re doing and I won’t put up with it!” She paused, and then continued in a much more controlled, yet still hostile, tone. “He’s avoided my calls long enough. I’m through leaving messages. Give him the phone and do it now.”
The reference to having left messages caught Josie by surprise. It didn’t sound right and gave her a bad feeling. “Ma’am, you don’t understand, he’s...”
“No, you don’t understand!” The other woman fiercely interrupted. “I don’t care what he’s doing! He is going to speak to me ... now!”
Josie let out a long, exaggerated sigh. “Fine. Whom shall I say is calling?”
“You know good and well who’s calling!” She screamed. “Now give Andy the friggin’ phone!”
“Okay, okay,” Josie replied, the smirk on her face belaying the sour tone of her voice. “But it will take a bit so don’t get your panties all in a bunch.”
She could hear unhappy noises and rather colorful language emanating from the cell as she pulled it away from her ear. The call hadn’t gone exactly as she’d hoped but she still had a few more tricks up her sleeve. With a knowing glance over at Sarah, she turned back toward the classroom door. It was time to get Rennie.
With an additional bit of pressure, the snare finally tilted into place. Quickly tightening the knob, Rennie looked over the rim at the new owner. “There you go,” he shouted, a cheerful smile still plastered on his face. “Next time wait until I’m done adjusting it, though.” He laughed as he handed Jordan his drumsticks back. The pre-teen’s eyes lit up with mischief while he shrugged his shoulders apologetically.
Rennie stopped to look around at the organized chaos swirling about him. His ears were ringing, but he figured that had more to do with Jordan than the ambient noise level currently in the room. He knew he’d pay for it later with a splitting migraine, but for now it was all good. The kids and their folks were having a blast and that was what really mattered.
Just as he was about to walk over to help Laurie with her saxophone – she was still struggling with the new reed – Rennie caught sight of exaggerated movement out of the corner of his eye. Standing inside the doorway, Josie and Sarah were clearly doing their level best to get his attention. Actually, all Josie really had to do to get his attention most of the time was just smile the way she did. But he had to admit, her dancing around like that was equally eye catching.
He couldn’t seem to figure out what she and Sarah wanted this time, however. He could see their lips moving but with how loud things were at the moment, hearing them was an impossibility. Rennie couldn’t help but chuckle at the look of frustration on Josie’s face, especially when the now thoroughly frustrated young lady who had been not-so-patiently waiting, finally just handed him her sax mouthpiece to fix.
After a few attempts at primitive sign language on their part, while he corrected the reed alignment and handed it back to the girl, however, he caught on. Turned out he had a phone call. He’d forgotten he’d left his cell phone in the backpack, not that he would have ever heard it had it been in his pocket. Walking toward them, he lifted his hands and shoulders non-verbally asking who it was. Rennie nearly stopped dead in his tracks when Sarah put her index fingers up to either side of her head. He had no doubt those were meant to be horns and that could only mean one thing. Helen had finally called.
It had taken him a couple days to finally track her and the girls to her parents’ house in Arkansas after she’d left but even then she refused to come to the phone. Fortunately, he’d been able to arrange a call schedule with his in-laws so he could talk to Katie and Lena at least twice a week. Rennie let out a frustrated sigh. He could feel his previous good mood deflate like a balloon with a fast leak. It had been a bit over three months and nary a peep. What could she possibly want now?
Just as he drew closer, however, Rennie watched as Josie, with a rather impish gleam in her eyes, mysteriously handed the phone to her compatriot and then stepped forward to take his hand. Clearly baffled, he allowed himself be led out into the hallway while Sarah stepped past him and into the room.
“Well, I figured that much out but why... ?” He started to ask, gesturing back with his thumb toward Sarah as they walked further away from the door.
“To give us a couple minutes,” she quickly answered. “Besides, the bitch was being really snotty and didn’t believe me when I said you were busy,” she continued, her impishness breaking out into a full-fledged grin, “so I figured we’d give her the full tour.”
Rennie couldn’t help but smile, especially when Josie stopped and wrapped her arms around his waist.