“So how does it look?” Josie asked, firmly tucking the cell phone into the crook of her neck as she quickly gathered up completed paperwork from a new client and shifted it to the appropriate tote container.
“I think it’s exactly what we want, girl. We’ve got several big open fields to choose from for the stage, plenty of places for parking and portable toilets, and even an indoor horse arena if it looks like it’s going to rain. There might be issues with electricity, so I’ll have Rance Steiger or one of his buddies out here either tomorrow or Saturday to check that out. But other than that, I believe we now have our site. By the way, what’s Rennie up to?” Sarah asked, shifting gears. “I tried to reach him but it keeps going to voicemail.”
Josie looked up at the clock with a grimace. “Capriati pulled him into a meeting around ten this morning. Evidently the Governor, the FEMA Director, and some other big wigs from D.C. are showing up on Saturday for the grand tour. So he’s likely going to be tied up the rest of the day.” Turning to the seating area to her right, she quietly waved the next person in line to come up. “Tomorrow probably won’t be any better, either.”
“Ouch. I can’t imagine that’ll be fun.” Sarah laughed. “Well, you can pass along my condolences when you see him next. Oh, and let him know the foundation loved the promotional pics I took back on Tuesday, too.”
“Will do. Say, when can we expect you back?”
With a practiced eye, Josie hurriedly scanned the young man’s paperwork. After making a few necessary notes of her own, she handed it back and pointed down the adjacent corridor, silently mouthing “Room 301” along with indicating the numbers with her fingers.
“Hard to say. I’m off for St. Louis right now. Grant’s got a meeting with a likely sponsor that he wants me to sit in on. So, it’ll probably be late. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, it’s nothing major,” she responded nonchalantly, as she handed a clipboard containing blank forms to an older woman who just walked in with who she guessed were her two grandchildren. “Bella, her husband, Rodney, and their daughter, Gabby, are expected to roll in with all Rennie’s instruments tonight around six. So, we’re all gathering out at the O’Malley’s for dinner. Plus the good Father is picking up pizza and then Megan has some surprise she wants to show us. But if you can’t make it, that’s okay.”
“Yeah, I don’t see me making it back before nine, at the earliest. Maybe later if it’s the schmooze-fest I’m thinking it could be.”
“Think you may have bit off more than you can chew with this one?” Josie asked with a chuckle, as another family walked into the school foyer. The waiting area was starting to fill up and the delaying nature of the present phone call was beginning to make her somewhat uncomfortable.
“Absolutely! Which is why I delayed it for a week and got all you guys to help me. Speaking of which, I think I’ve got your problem solved now.”
“What problem?” Josie stopped suddenly, a confused expression on her face, not that Sarah could see it.
“Your band problem.”
“Exactly. You and Rennie don’t have one. Well, that’s not entirely true. You didn’t have one but you do now.”
“Actually,” the brunette replied quickly, holding up a hand to momentarily silence someone approaching her station to evidently ask her a question, “we were just going to use Ty’s. So what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you two having your own band. So I made a few phone calls.”
“Sarah...” The concern was palpable in her voice.
“Relax, girl, and have a little faith,” the proficient meddler replied brightly. “First off, I happen to know a really good Dobro player who’s just sitting around back in Nashville doing studio work right now. He’s no Jerry Douglas but who is, right? Well, except for Jerry Douglas, of course. Still, he should arrive there sometime tomorrow if not tonight.”
“Todd’s coming to help? That’s totally awesome, Sarah! Is Cindy coming, too?”
“Not right away. Something about my niece and nephew having swim lessons. But the whole family should be up by the beginning of next week.”
“Okay, now I’m excited!” She’d always thought the world of Sarah’s brother, especially after he gave Josie her first shot at singing. “You know what, Sarah? You’re alright. I don’t care what anyone else says about you.”
“Ha ha, you’re a regular comedian,” came the sarcastic retort but then her tone suddenly changed. “Now, how long are you going to be at the shelter volunteering today?”
“Probably for at least a couple more hours. Why?” she asked, after locating the necessary paperwork for the older gentleman who had been waiting on her so patiently. She let out a small sigh when another substantial group of people began coming through the glass doors. A shuttle from one of the other two shelters they were slowly shutting down had most likely dropped them off.
“Well,” Sarah continued, unaware of the sudden influx of people needing directions or other assistance from Josie, “I also happen to know a drummer and a bass player that are both currently looking for work. They should be showing up to see you sometime today.”
“Wait a minute, do I know these two musi... ?”
Toward the back, just coming through the doors, were two very familiar figures – ones she’d assumed she’d seen the last of about a week before.
“Sarah, you didn’t.”
“Just hear them out when they come, okay? They’re really sorry.”
Josie’s eyes narrowed as they met those of the taller of the two men. She mentally noted that Jake at least had the good sense to appear apologetic. His compatriot, on the other hand, simply looked like he was going to be sick.
“They didn’t mean to leave you there high and dry. They were just angry at the situation. And by the time they’d calmed down and come back, you’d already taken off.”
For a moment, Josie wondered if they might lose their nerve. But then she saw the shorter and stouter of the two, Tanner, take a deep breath, push his wire frame glasses back up his nose, and begin to walk towards her table, followed quickly by the tall bass player.
“And when they found out what had happened to you with the motel and then your car, they felt even worse.”
In short order they were standing directly in front of Josie, waiting patiently for her to finish her phone conversation and, in the meantime, having the saddest hang dog expressions on their faces she’d ever seen.
“Pretty please, Josie, for me?”
Josie shot each of them a fierce glare and they each wisely averted their eyes downward toward their feet as a result.
“Oh. Do they look sufficiently sad?” she asked with a bit of a snicker.
“More scared than anything, it would appear, and they should be,” she replied, making a big deal of giving them the once over. “Seems they’re pretty aware they majorly screwed up and that I am not all that happy with either of them.”
They both visibly blanched.
Sarah’s snicker morphed into a laugh. “So what’s the plan?”
“Well, I think I’m going to rake them over the coals quite a bit first before I forgive them. I might even plant a few prints of my size eights on their hind ends, as well. Is that okay with you?”
The relief on Jake’s face was almost comical. Tanner’s audible sigh nearly brought a smile to Josie’s lips.
“Whatever you want, girlfriend. Whatever you want.” Sarah tossed back, laughingly. “Look, you’ve got some folks to talk to and I need to pay better attention to where I’m driving. I know you’ll do the right thing and I’ll see you when I get back.”
“Alright, but one of these days we’re going to have a little chat about your really annoying habit of meddling. You know that, right?”
“Sorry, girl, I can’t hear you. You’re breaking up. Talk to you later. Bye.”
Josie couldn’t help but shake her head as she shuttered her cell phone. With a glance up at her former and soon-to-be-again band mates, she began to wag her finger.
They just smiled.
It had been a long twenty minutes, especially for her. Never much good at waiting and marveling how she’d held off this long; Josie quietly stepped away from the noise, music and laughter of the gathering. She had a pretty good idea where he went.
Listening to the catchy acoustic rendition of Little Big Town’s “Boondocks” waft out of the open doorway, Josie had to admit that Megan’s surprise was a good one. She and her siblings clearing out the old barn on their parents’ property north of St. John, so everyone would have a place to practice, was incredibly thoughtful. She couldn’t help but think how this was going to be a major relief off Sarah’s mind. With all that’d been going on at the high school, especially now with all the new instruments being temporarily stored in the choir and band rooms, there was no way anyone could prepare for the concert there.
Their initial unveiling of the new practice space, however, rapidly morphed into a jam session or better yet, a hoedown. It also seemed like everyone came out of the woodwork, so to speak. Some were expected, like Bella and her family with Rennie’s previously shipped out instruments loaded up in their RV. But then there were guys like Jake and Tanner from her former band, and even Todd surprised everyone by showing up a day early. Not to mention the entire O’Malley clan, along with a fair number of other folks drawn in to work on the planning for the impending concert. By the time Sean finally showed up with the pizzas – and fortunately he’d brought enough! – the party was in full swing.
And swing it did, especially now that Rennie had more than just his beat up old Martin to play. Josie had to admit, she was a bit jealous. Sitting in stands along the far wall were a couple spruce top Martins, one a six string and the other a twelve, a pretty pricy Koa wood Taylor, along with a vintage red and white Fender Stratocaster. She could only shake her head in wonder at all his other instruments sitting nearby, still unopened and neatly stacked in their cases. His beauties weren’t alone, however. Before long, the one end of the barn hosting the impromptu stage was dotted with a plethora of additional instruments.
But, truthfully, the sight of them all lined up was nothing compared to the sound of them being played ... together. Josie had to admit Sarah was right about her and Rennie needing a band, even if it was just a temporary one for the concert. “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to actually tell her that, though,” she mused to herself with a somewhat annoyed grin.
Still, the resulting sound was hard to ignore. For her, Tanner on drums and Jake on bass were known quantities. While Sarah’s brother, Todd, with his versatility and skill on the Dobro was a huge upgrade over Jimmy. Then there was the intriguing addition of Megan, primarily on violin but also on keyboard and vocals. But as good as the five of them sounded together, it was clearly Rennie who proved to be the decisive factor.
So there they were, Tanner and Jake laying down the foundation, Josie on rhythm guitar trading lead with Rennie, punching out vocals with Jake and Megan backing them up, and Todd singing on the strings. They started with some classic country covers, like Johnny and June Carter Cash’s “If I Were a Carpenter” and Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” but soon launched into a series of familiar toe tapping numbers sung by the likes of Brooks & Dunn, George Strait and Reba McEntire.
Initially rough, the six of them quickly found their groove. But it wasn’t until the introduction of an original piece of music following a break, however, that they truly found their sound. Josie set her acoustic guitar down and stepped up to the lead mic, grinning in anticipation, while Megan traded her keyboard back for a fiddle, plucking the strings to check the tune. Switching his vintage Stratocaster for the Taylor, Rennie cued Tanner for the count off. Four quick clicks of his sticks later and “Waiting for the Sunrise” was off and running. On its heels, came a couple of country ballads, a rollicking line dance number, and a smoky blues piece that snuck up on everyone – all of them from the mind and heart of one Soren Anders Martin Erickson.
But now, at least for Josie anyway, it was well past time to go in search of the talented songsmith. She glanced up at the clear evening sky. The rapidly setting sun, throwing its lengthening light unimpeded by clouds, caused the trees and shrubbery to cast strange and eerie shadows in the approaching twilight. Still, she wasn’t spooked by any of it. Instead, she confidently yet quietly made her way around the large lilac hedge, breathing in the aromatic fragrance, and over toward the huge oak on the far side of the house.
Coming past a large pine, she could actually hear him before she saw him. Not that she could make out the words. Rennie was speaking too softly for that. But there he was, sitting in the shadows on the old porch swing suspended from one of the tree’s massive limbs.
For a moment or two, Josie hung back and watched. Well, to be honest, watched and worried. Her talk with the Reynolds earlier in the day had left her terribly unsettled. Oh, Bella had been more than gracious but, in her view, answering Rennie’s phone the day before yesterday was problematic at best. Helen’s chain really needed to be yanked, so Josie didn’t feel bad about that. But now the woman was in a near panic, evidently calling anyone she could think of – including her sister-in-law Bella – all in an effort to physically locate her estranged husband.