Tyler Dawson grimaced at the news. “Seriously, Ren, I would not have predicted that. I just figured she’d spend her life bouncing you like a yoyo on a string. Have to say, though, I didn’t see that one coming ... not at all.”
“Still, you have to admit ... with all the crap she’s put you through over the years, she turned you into one hell of a songwriter. And for that I’m not complaining!”
Gazing around the brew pub they were in while waiting for the girls, the comment caught him by surprise. Rennie rolled his eyes and wryly shook his head. “Asshole.”
His friend grinned briefly but then grew serious. “By the way, how did you find out she was running around on you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“At the doctor’s office.”
“What do you mean?” Suddenly Ty’s confused look shifted to one of clarity. “No! Really?”
Rennie just nodded. “Yep, she gave me a gift that kept on giving. Fortunately it was treatable with a round of antibiotics.”
“Oh, man, Ren. I’m sorry I asked.” He’d had the glass to his lips but set it down without drinking from it. “I can only imagine how bad that must have been – I mean, you being a pastor and all.”
“It was,” he agreed somberly, “more than you know. The pharmacist who filled the prescription for me was one of my members.”
“Exactly.” Rennie lifted the draft to his lips, took a long pull, and then, with a look of determination, set it down. “Okay, no more sad talk. I’ve wasted enough time on her. Let’s focus on something pleasant for a change.”
“Sure.” Ty nodded sympathetically and then finally took a drink from his beer. A puzzled expression clouded his face, however, as he set the bottle down. “Just one last question, though, if you don’t mind.”
Rennie rolled his eyes a bit and motioned with his hands for his friend to hit him with his best shot.
“I have to ask,” came the eventual question. “Why in the world did you stick it out?” Ty just shook his head, as if in disbelief. “I mean, if it was me, I would have just packed up and left after the doctor’s visit.”
“It was mostly for the girls. They deserved better from us and I didn’t want to lose seeing them every day.”
Rennie shrugged. “It was also the path of least resistance,” he admitted as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “Helen actually became a lot more bearable to live with and I could continue doing what I’d been trained to do. I knew once we pulled the plug on the marriage, life was going to radically change for all of us, the church included, and very little of it for the better.”
“Makes sense,” the singer replied, nodding thoughtfully. “Still had to suck, though.”
The chatter of the lightly filled pub was interrupted momentarily by a flash of light and the sudden blare of street noise. Rennie watched as Ty glanced past him to see who’d just come in the door.
“Hey, speaking of pleasant,” he quickly blurted out, a huge, admiring smirk on his face, “check out the legs on the chick that just walked in! I must say, I wouldn’t mind getting to know her better! She could wrap them around me anytime.”
“No, seriously, you’ve got to see this girl! What I wouldn’t...” He suddenly paused, with a surprised look on his face, when the door opened again. “Wait a minute, Sarah just walked in behind her. Holy crap, that’s Josie, isn’t it?”
Turning briefly to look, Rennie couldn’t help but smile at the shocked expression on his friend’s face. “Yep.”
Ty laughed out loud, slapping the table with his open hand. “Damn, bro, you sure landed on your feet! That is one hot little number! She’s quite a bit smaller up top than I prefer but my goodness...”
“What? Oh right, you’re attracted to her for her mind.” He snickered. “Yeah, right, and guys buy Playboy for the articles.”
“Oh, don’t worry, man. I’ll be good. Besides, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Once she saw you, that was it. Probably doesn’t even realize someone else is sitting at this table right now.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about her at all,” he shot back with a teasing grin. “It’s you that has me concerned. You’ve got all the couth and manners of a stray dog in heat.”
Ty laughed out loud again. “Yeah, I probably had that coming.”
Rennie stood as Josie and a trailing Sarah approached the table.
“Hi, honey,” she greeted as she leaned in for a quick peck on the lips. “Where’s your trailer?” Josie asked with an expression of concern. “When I stopped over at the hotel this afternoon, I noticed it’s wasn’t parked in its usual spot at the end anymore.”
“I’ll tell you about that in a moment,” he replied, “but first, there’s someone here I want you to meet.”
Josie’s eyes became as large as saucers. “Oh my goodness, Ty!” she gushed excitedly as she shook his hand. “But it’s Monday! You’re not supposed to be here for another couple days.” She turned back to Rennie and lightly pushed him on the shoulder. “How come you didn’t tell me he was here?”
“Don’t blame him. I snuck out and came up here early,” Ty jumped in with a chuckle. “Of course, he’s trying to put me to work now.”
Sarah snorted derisively. “What, no entourage?”
Tyler glanced over at the familiar blonde with a clear expression of amusement and opened his arms wide, as if to embrace her. “Hi, Sarah. Don’t I get a hug?”
“Nope,” she replied quickly, taking a step back, her palms up in a defensive posture. “Last time you grabbed my butt.”
“Aw, it was just a friendly squeeze between friends,” he teased.
“Friendly squeeze, nothing,” she retorted. “I was manhandled! So keep your distance, mister!” Sarah’s small smile, however, took most of the sting from her words.
Josie, though, gaped back at her friend in surprise. “Hey, since when have you known Ty and how come you didn’t tell me?”
“Oh, come on, girl,” Sarah dismissed the question with a wave of her hand, “he’s just one of the talent signed to our label. Of course I know him, along with eighteen other current or up and coming stars. But he’s a player, so he’s never been worth mentioning.” The last part she tossed in with an exaggerated eye roll, as the four of them took their seats.
The object of her disdain, however, matched her exaggeration with a loud sigh and hand to the chest. “You wound me, Sarah. I’m hurt you think so poorly of me.”
“Oh, hush up, Ty. Taylor said a whole lot worse about you on her last album, so I think you’ll survive.”
“Oh, man!” He exclaimed, launching into a personal rant. “On the outside that wench puts on this whole ‘I’m so innocent and sweet’ routine but inside she’s nothing but a bona fide, top of the line, grade A bi...”
“Ty!” The reprimand came from both Sarah and Rennie at the same time, while Josie merely sat back and giggled.
“So, what’s up with the trailer?” Josie asked, after the waitress left with her and Sarah’s drink orders.
“Darren and his crew needed it and the truck to move a bunch of stuff this afternoon,” Rennie answered. “He tried to explain it to me but, in all honesty, I was a bit distracted at the time. They should be back soon, however.”
“Your truck’s gone, too? I must have missed that.” She smile briefly but then a look of confusion swept over her. “Wait a minute, what about all your stuff in the trailer?”
“Almost all gone now. Let me see ... the Ellisons got the dining room table and chairs, Diane Kovak got the couch and recliner, while...” Rennie struggled for the couple’s name, snapping his fingers a couple times and eventually looking over to Ty for help.
“Rick and Deb... , “ his friend quickly interjected.
“Right, Rick and Deb Matthias took the girls’ bedroom set.” Rennie thought for a moment more before he remembered what he’d missed. “Oh, and they all got autographed copies of Ty’s latest cd, too.”
“You actually helped?”
Rennie was coming to the realization that Sarah didn’t have a high opinion of his old friend.
Ty, however, seemed unfazed. “Surprised?”
“A little,” she remarked with a slight nod.
“Actually, today was just a warm up.” Rennie tossed in. “Tomorrow I’ve got him all set to go with Darren, Shelley and their crew.”
“Wow, I’m impressed,” Sarah responded. “Be prepared to get dirty, though. Want me to stop by and take pictures?”
Ty laughed. “No, that won’t be necessary. I’m off the handler reservation right now and would just as soon keep it that way, at least for a few more days.”
The free flowing conversation came to a temporary halt, however, when a noisy rabble of college kids flew in through the door, followed up by the Burkes. Darren tossed a set of keys to Rennie, while Shelley claimed a seat next to the country superstar and across from Josie.
“Thanks, Ren,” he offered, as his crew began to drag some tables together for the now larger group. “That really helped out a lot with all the drywall, plywood and lumber we were hauling today. Oh, and all the stuff you wanted to keep is piled neatly in Sean and Lindsey’s garage.”
“Glad I could help.” Rennie smiled and then nodded back toward the door. “Are you going to need it again, tomorrow?”
“Only if you’re coming, too. Those AmeriCorps kids they’ve assigned to us mean well,” he grimaced apologetically, “but George could really use an experienced hand with chainsaw certification.”
“Chainsaw certification? What’s that?” Ty asked while signing an autograph for a star struck Shelley.
Rennie was about to answer when Josie jumped in. “The rules are that only certified trained volunteers may operate chainsaws or be within six feet of a running saw.”
“You have to be certified before you can use a chainsaw?” He asked with a fair amount of irritation. “That seems kind of silly. I mean, what about me? I’ve been around them since I was a kid growing up in Texas. So, what, I’m not allowed to use one just because I haven’t gone through some class?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Rennie answered with a shrug. “It’s a thing that’s been in place with FEMA and all the various emergency response organizations around the country for a few years now. Mainly because there have been a number of clueless volunteers over the years who seriously hurt themselves in chainsaw accidents. They’ve also got a bunch of certification programs for other things, like tarping roofs and mucking out houses, all for the same reason.”
“Don’t worry about it, though. There’s still plenty enough to do without the power tools.” Darren offered reassuringly. “Hi, I’m Darren, by the way,” he added, offering his hand to the singer. “I hear you’ll be coming out with us tomorrow.”
Ty nodded. “Yeah, Ren seems to think that it’ll help me develop some character and keep me out of trouble at the same time.”
Darren chuckled and then looked back over at Rennie. “So, what about it? Are you going to be able to come out and help tomorrow, too?”
Rennie reluctantly shook his head. “Unfortunately, no. We’re finally closing down the other two shelters. And then I’ve got a boat load of phone calls to make. But you could take Josie with you,” he added, glancing over at her and affectionately patting her on the thigh. “She’s all wrapped up at the main shelter now and we finally got the last of her certifications taken care of yesterday.”
Josie beamed with pride at the accomplishment.
“Oh, that’ll be great!” Shelley interjected excitedly. “Bella’s going to come out, too, along with Rod and their daughter, Gabby. It’ll be so nice to have some real people to talk to, rather than just these yahoos.”
“Hey!” came the response from several of the boys.
“Oh, you know what I mean,” she teased.
“So, what exactly have you been doing here lately, anyway?” Ty’s expression was one of open curiosity as he looked across the table at Rennie.
“Well, initially, I was put in charge of setting up the shelters at this end of the destruction zone,” he replied with a somewhat bemused expression on his face. “After a couple days, the Red Cross was able to get a team of their folks in from Denver to take over for me. I still help with the shelters a bit, but now I’m tasked mostly with coordinating relief efforts with all the faith based NGOs.”
“So, all the mess I saw coming up here, stretching from Carbondale to Mt. Vernon – you’re saying what you’re doing covers them, too?”
“Absolutely, the scope is incredibly huge right now,” Rennie answered, his hands held far apart as if to accentuate the size. “Much of southern Illinois got pounded by that storm, with a few places down there hit really hard – though, thankfully, not as bad as Hazelton. Fortunately, there’s a lot of good folks mobilized and on top of all of it now. I just have to make sure we don’t duplicate any relief efforts in the process.”
“So, what was it like meeting the President?” The question was tossed in eagerly by one of the college kids at the far end of the table.
Ren winced and dropped his hands to the table. “Just one big photo op, really. At least, that’s how it seemed to me, anyway. Oh, I’m sure he’s a nice enough person, even if I didn’t vote for him. Overall, it was a huge waste of time for me but not for him, I suppose.”
“I heard you got offered a job out of it, though.” Darren had finally taken a seat at the end of the table but had obviously been following the conversation.
“Really?” An indecipherable look passed over Josie’s face as she registered her surprise.
“Yeah,” he admitted with a shrug, “but it’s just to do what I’m doing right now, only at the national level.”
“You’d still write songs for me from D. C., though, right?”
Rennie laughed. “Nice, that’s real nice, Ty. And, no, I’m not taking the job after I’m done here but thanks for asking.”
“Now that you mention it, just what are your plans for when you finish up here?”
“Well, I should have all my stuff wrapped up and turned over to the state folks by Thursday. After that, it’s the concert. And then, come Sunday or Monday, we’re finally off to Nashville.”
“You staying with your sister?”
“For the time being, yes. No real major plans, though – just finishing up my Ph.D., getting my Tennessee residency established, and spending time with Josie.” He felt an arm wrap around his, as Josie laid her head against his shoulder. It amazed him how such a small gesture could make him feel so good.
“Cool. Well, we’re headed into the studio in August. So, if you’re around,” his friend offered, “maybe you could come in and do a little session work with us? Makes sense, since four of the songs on the new album are yours.”
Rennie smiled. “I’d like that.”
“Guys! Hey, guys!”