Josie had been paging through Rennie’s tablet, examining the particulars of their assignment from Nina, when she had a thought. The gathering at the Steigers’ food court pavilion had broken up and now Ren was driving her in one of the many glorified golf carts they had for shuttling people around. Their destination was the makeshift Camper/RV/Tour Bus campground south of the festival venue. Their current assignment was to coordinate with the expanding roster of prominent singers and musicians who’d arrived and wanted to participate, but Josie’s thoughts kept returning to her best friend.
“It’s got to be killing Sarah not to be here taking care of all this,” she remarked, peeking over at her rather handsome chauffer. “Why do you think they talked her into heading for the hospital right away?”
“If I had to guess,” Rennie answered, glancing her way, “they’re probably concerned Ross could weasel out of some of the charges coming against him if she takes too long to get treated. If she waited until tonight or even after the whole concert thing is over tomorrow, he could try to claim they weren’t injuries he’d caused but, instead, happened to her later.”
Just past Stage C, he paused as he slowed to turn. “Also, getting all the damage he did to her documented by a doctor will go a long ways, I imagine, should he try to sue her for the injuries he suffered.”
“You actually think he’d try to sue her?” Josie questioned but then realized how silly that sounded. “Never mind. That’s a stupid question, isn’t it?”
Rennie shook his head no. “Not a stupid question at all, just a sad one. We live in a sue-happy culture and you and I both know shit-for-brains is exactly the kind of asshole who would do that.”
“Hey, hey, hey! Watch the language!” she teased, poking her driver in the shoulder. “You’ve got an impressionable young woman in the cart with you!”
“My apologies, miss,” he said with a wink. “I shall endeavor to be far more considerate of your oh so tender ears in the future.”
“You do that!” she replied with a look that said she was not even remotely serious. “Though, I have to admit, your description of him as ‘shit-for-brains’ is pretty much spot on.” Glancing about, she returned to the previous topic. “I’m just glad Sarah’s got folks like the Thomases looking out for her.”
“You and me both,” Rennie added. “You and me both.”
As they drew close to their destination, Josie returned to examining the task Nina had assigned them. “I know we’ve got Reba, Jenna, and Josh here. How many more stars do you think we have to fit in?”
“I’m not sure,” Rennie replied, bringing the cart to a halt next to a large maple tree, “but I’m guessing four.”
“Four? Why four?” Josie started to ask. Once she looked up from the tablet, however, she had her answer. “Oh,” she murmured, as Rennie gestured to exactly that number of really nice recreational vehicles that were lined up just beyond Reba McEntire’s Tour Bus. “Maybe it’s good Sarah isn’t here,” she finally offered after a bit of silence. “Because I’m more than a little freaked out and I can only imagine what she’d be doing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ren, we’ve already got a full schedule! How are we going to fit all these guys in?”
“Well, for starters, both Josh and Jenna are already on the schedule,” he reminded her, “with him opening for us, and she’ll be singing her hit song with Ty and then another on her own.”
“Yes, but now we have Reba and four others to shoehorn in somewhere,” she explained nervously. “Are they all taking turns singing with Ty or will they be joining us? Will any of them want to do their own set, like Josh is doing? And how much later is that all going to push it tomorrow night?”
“All great questions,” Rennie responded, with a thoughtful nod, “and the only way we’ll get answers to them is to find out who’s here and what they want to do.”
Josie’s eyes suddenly grew big as she looked over his shoulder. “Well, it looks like one of them is Alison Krauss,” she said with amazement.
“Really?” Rennie asked, turning to look. The singer in question had just stepped out of the second motorhome. “That makes sense,” he quickly remarked. “She was born and raised a couple hours north of here, as I recall.”
It was clear Ms Krauss was talking to someone in the neighboring RV, but Josie couldn’t tell who until a woman leaned partway out a window. “Holy crap, is that... ?”
“Which means Keith is here somewhere,” Josie supposed out loud, only to see a third, shorter, dark-haired woman step out from her RV and approach the other two women. “And ... wait ... she looks familiar but I can’t place her.”
Josie took a second look at her, then glanced at Rennie. “Wait, you know her, don’t you?”
He met her eyes and nodded. “I was a roadie and fill-in musician for her the summer after my freshman year at Texas. Something one of my music profs set up for me. We’ve collaborated on a couple songs since,” Rennie explained, shifting his view from Josie back to Norah across the way. “I knew she was up in Chicago doing some music institute thing for kids, so I invited her to come down a week or so ago, but she didn’t think she could get away. I’m glad she changed her mind.”
Suddenly, Josie had a fearful thought. “You’re not going to give her my songs, are you?” she asked.
He looked back at her in confusion. “Your songs?”
Josie struggled with what to say or even how to explain what she felt. Try as she might to hold it back, it all came out in an anxious rush.
“Bella and Ty said you’ve written love songs, about me, that I was your muse. They got to see them but you’ve never shown any to me. They said they’re probably the best you’ve ever written. You always have others sing your really good stuff and I’m just worried you’re going to do the same with my songs before I ever get a chance to even see or hear them.”
Once it was all out, she peered at him with nervous eyes and released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.
Rennie let out a low chuckle, smiled, and then reached over and patted her on the thigh. “Your songs will always be yours and yours alone, to do with as you please. Okay?”
For a few moments, she gazed intently into his eyes, before finally relaxing and offering him a nod.
“Good,” he replied, gesturing to the waiting celebrities. “Now, how about we go greet our newest arrivals and find out what they’d like to do tomorrow?”
“Okay, but I wonder who’s in the last one.”
“Me, too,” Rennie agreed. “Let’s find out!”
“I still don’t see why we couldn’t take my car,” Sarah complained, as she scanned about the cab of Ty’s monster truck. Well, it wasn’t really a monster truck but it was still really big. It was so big that, with the brace and sling on, she had to have him help her get in the passenger side. “It was right up there behind the hospitality tents.”
Turning onto the highway from the state park, Ty let out an amused snort. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m somewhat on the larger size. And darlin’, there is no way on God’s green earth that I would ever fit comfortably behind the wheel of your Miata.”
“I could have driven myself,” she retorted, not willing to let it go. “You didn’t have to come with me.”
“There is no way we were going to let you take off on your own,” he replied, shaking his head. “It always best to have someone else along for things like this. Besides, you could have been stuck waiting for one of us to come get you if they hopped you up on any pain meds.”
“By why did you have to take me?” The question came out far more petulant than she intended.
“What, tired of me already?” the country superstar asked, giving her a troubled sideways glance. “We could have called for another ambulance.”
“No, that’s not what I... ,” Sarah sputtered but then stopped. She actually didn’t mind him taking her. Well, part of her did, but it was far more the whole situation than him that had her agitated. “Hell, I don’t know what I meant,” she finally admitted, staring down at her immobilized right arm.
“Just relax, Sarah,” he told her softly. “We’ll be there in no time.”
She nodded her head and then turned to watch the scenery fly by. Try as she might, she couldn’t keep from thinking of all that still remained to do back at the park. The list flitted through her mind, one thing after another without stop. Intending to call and talk with Nina about some of it, she cast around for her cell phone but came up empty. It wasn’t on her. Where was it? Her purse, but where was that? She didn’t see it. Panic gripped her.
“Wait! We’ve got to go back!”
“My purse!” she exclaimed, quickly slipping towards a panic attack. “It’s got my cell phone, my driver’s license, my medical information...”
“It’s in the back seat,” her companion quietly pointed out. “Remember, I took it from you and put it back there with the just-in-case overnight bag Josie put together for you?”
“Oh ... yeah, there it is,” Sarah answered, glancing back and feeling more than a little stupid. The anxiety that threatened to claim her began to subside. Not wanting to let on how close she came to a meltdown, she asked about something else. “Where’s my tablet?”
“It’s back there too, but I’m under strict orders not to let you have it unless you’re totally bored and will only play games on it. Same with the cell phone.”
“Sarah, you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met,” the singer interrupted her, taking his eyes off the road momentarily and meeting hers, “but it’s not a sin to need help every once in a while. Let us help you, okay?”
“Ty... ,” she started to plead but he stopped her.
“Look, Nina’s a sharp cookie and was already putting together a plan when we left. Trust her and that whole incredible team you assembled to do what needs to be done, okay? And we’ll check up on them when you’re all done at the hospital.”
Thinking through what he said, she finally relented. “Okay.”
“I surrender,” she offered wearily. “I can tell when I’m beaten.”
“Good, although I’m not so sure about that last part,” he questioned with a bit of a smirk. “It took us way too long for us to convince you to go to the hospital for that to be true.”
“What? ... Oh ... Ty!”
All the infuriating man did next was laugh.
Grant smiled as he walked away from the meeting. Lori and her producer, Howard, had things well in hand from their side, as did Aaron and Jackie from theirs. Amazingly just about all of the pre-concert video, from filler to interviews, had been shot. All that was left was an unexpected opportunity developing over at the RV Park that the GAC people were practically drooling over. Thankfully, one of Aaron’s guys was already there with a camera, but everyone else was packing to head over, regardless. Grant wanted to do the same but he had something else to take care of first.
He couldn’t help but chuckle as he passed by the various network affiliates from St. Louis, all lined up with their cameras facing Stage A. The crews and on-camera personalities were all setting up for live reporting in the nightly news slots, but word had obviously reached them about what they were missing. The grumbling that would silence as soon as they went live, was pretty loud at the moment.
Reaching the hospitality tent he and his wife had earlier commandeered, he could hear Anisha talking on the phone. Not wanting to interrupt or break her concentration, Grant waited outside until she was finished.
“So where are we at?” he asked as he stepped through the doorway.
“That was Associate Judge Clare Bryant,” Anisha replied, gesturing toward her phone now lying on the table in front of her. “She’s granting an emergency order of protection, based on the sheriff’s preliminary report and the video evidence.”
“Perfect,” Grant acknowledged. “That can be rolled over into a plenary one, once the idiot is aware enough to be served.”
“Good to know you actually paid attention in law school,” she teased.
“Ah, you know me,” he told her with a big smile and arms outstretched, “492nd in my class.”
“I think you mean fourth, you goof,” she answered back, with a grin of her own.
Grant found her playfulness curious but left it alone for the moment. Instead, he settled his large frame into a chair just opposite her at the corner of the table. Leaning in, he rested his chin on his hands with his eyes fixed on her. “So who did Blake recommend for Sarah?”
“A lawyer out of Decatur, Franklin Gibbs,” she responded, looking down to check her notes. “He’s already talked to her by phone on the way to the hospital, and will come down and meet with her on Monday – which means she’ll have to stick around a little longer than she intended.”
“That won’t be a problem as far as work is concerned,” Grant dismissed, shaking his head. “Lanci has no interest in losing someone as valuable as she’s shown herself to be, so much so he’s already talking about a generous settlement offer to get this Ross matter behind them.”
“Considering everything he’s either ignored or overlooked up to this point, that’s probably a really good idea,” Anisha observed, the disapproving tone in her voice being very apparent. “So, everything’s good on your end?” she asked, looking inquisitively up at him.
He nodded. “Everything’s going well. All the preliminary stuff’s done and the schedule and planning for tomorrow is pretty much fixed. Only one thing left for me to do.”
“Finally get an answer to an earlier question,” he replied, lifting his head and laying his hands on the table. “Your arrival couldn’t have come at a better time in regards to this situation with Sarah; and I appreciate everything you’ve done to help out. But I still find myself wondering ... Anisha, why are you here?”
“What, can’t a wife come looking for her wayward husband?”
The playfulness of her tone and expression was back and Grant did not know what to make of it. Wanting to probe a little deeper, he pitched her a provocative twist of her own question. “And just what would this wayward wife want with her wayward husband?”
“This ... wayward wife ... wants him to come home.”
He watched as she paused but then accepted the characterization. It honestly surprised him. He thought she’d just ignore it and plow ahead, but instead she conceded the point – that she was just as wayward as him, without ever leaving Memphis. Feeling the conversation slipping into something akin to a chess match, he decided to move another pawn in the hopes of drawing out the queen.
“I’m coming home on Sunday,” he replied matter-of-factly.
“No,” she answered quickly, shaking her head. “You would only be stopping in to pick up more clothes before heading back out. I want you to stay.”
Grant leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “You could have told me that when I showed up on Sunday,” he tossed back, pointing out the obvious. “Why come all the way up here?”
“Because a little bird told me that if I didn’t, I’d likely lose you for good.”
This was an interesting admission, one she did not appear she wanted to make – at least, not at this point. It was a hopeful development, but curious as to whom she might be referring (Sarah, perhaps?), he decided to chase the source reference. “A little bird?”
She nodded. “She said you’ve got a loneliness that occasionally peeks out and that, eventually, a determined woman would break through and ease it.”
The observation hit a little too close to home, forcing him to lean back closer again. “Anisha, I’ve never...”
She cut him off. “I know. That’s never been the issue.”
Puzzled by her latest foray, he peered at her in confusion. “Then what... ?”
“I was so mad at you,” she admitted and though her voice was soft, it was as hard as steel and clearly tinged with anger. “I tried for years to get your attention. Years! Nothing.” She paused with a shrug. “So I settled into my work and found my own life, since you obviously didn’t want one with me.”
He went to speak but Anisha stopped him again. The queen was on the move.
“Then, once the kids are grown and off to college, you realize we’re little more than strangers in the same house. Suddenly, you’re attentive, wanting to spend time with me? It made me so angry,” she veritably spat; her voice starting to rise. “I wondered how bad you might want it, so I gave you the same cold shoulder you gave me all those years ago ... and what did you do?” She paused, glaring at him. “You gave up after only a few months!”
Grant could only sit and watch as the king was placed in check.
“I hung in there for years and you? A couple months and you’re done,” she accused, tapping the table top forcefully with her index finger. “Now, you’ve found a place you can hide,” she remarked dismissively, waving her hand as an extension of that emotion. “All this time, I’ve been waiting for you to man up and challenge me, to fight for our marriage like I once did, and instead you give up and run.”
“You want to know why I came?” Anisha asked, leaning forward, her eyes blazing. “I came because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let another woman swoop in and take away what I’ve waited years for you to be – a good husband!” With that, she slapped the table and sat back in her chair, as daring him to challenge her.
On another occasion, he might have gotten angry and fired back, but not today. Instead, Grant felt content enough to let her words wash over him – to actually listen. He obviously didn’t agree with everything she’d said, but he finally had her perspective on how things in their marriage had gotten so bad. What struck him, though, was how badly he had misjudged her.
He spent a few moments in contemplation before speaking. “I have to say, I totally misread that one,” he admitted with a weary shake of his head. “I saw the coldness as indifference but I didn’t see the anger.”
He paused momentarily, seeking to correct what he’d just said. “Well, that’s not quite true. I noticed the anger, but it seemed to me to be more annoyance than anything; like I was a fly or mosquito that needing to be swatted, so that you could get back to more important things.”
Grant saw her start to speak but he gently gestured to her not to. He needed to move the king.
“Truthfully,” he continued, “I gave up not because you were somehow not worth the effort, but because it seemed to me – and it was closer to six months, by the way – that the damage I’d caused to our marriage over the years was irreversible.”
“Six months?” Anisha was surprised.
He nodded, a wry smile appearing on his face. “I suspect you were so used to my inattention, that you didn’t notice my earliest repair attempts. In all honesty, in the beginning I didn’t think things were as bad as they were. I was naïve. I figured I could come home a little earlier, do a few things around the house, and we would be back on an even keel.”
She snorted. “No wonder I didn’t notice.”
“Exactly,” he agreed. “You didn’t and it scared me, so much so that I tried to bring out the big guns.”
“Wait ... breakfast in bed!”
Grant recalled the event in question and could only shake his head in dismay at the memory. “That was a disaster.”
“It was,” Anisha agreed. “It was like you were blindly following some romance self-help book and totally ignored the fact that I hate eating in bed. I always have and you should have known that! It was like you didn’t even know me,” she remarked, nearly as troubled by the memory as him. “The whole thing pissed me off but, strangely enough, it also gave me a little hope. You at least cared enough to finally try to get my attention. Sadly, it didn’t last, though. Why?”
“What did I get you that year?”
She thought for a moment, looking at him for clues or a hint but he gave none. Finally, she shook her head in defeat.
“I wanted to do something personal for you, rather than just buy something,” he started to explain, remembering it as if it were yesterday. “In looking around for ideas, I came across an interesting article. Its author interviewed a number of husbands and compiled a list of the little things they loved the most about their wives. I like the idea so much, I thought I would come up with a list of my own.”
Anisha’s eyes widened in recognition, as a small gasp escaped her lips.