Helen pulled the curtains back, letting the morning light stream into the room.
A low groan broke the silence behind her. “What time is it?”
“Six o’clock,” she cheerfully informed her sister, as she turned to look at her.
“What the hell... ?” Heidi softly exclaimed, leaning up on one elbow with her eyes mere slits because of the sudden brightness.
Helen watched her glance over to the other bed where Katie and Lena were still sound asleep and then back to her. Confusion reigned in her sister’s face. Helen couldn’t help but smile. “I’ve got a plan!”
“You’ve got a... ,” Heidi started but then stopped. Lifting her hand to shield her eyes, she fixed her sister with a weary stare. “Did you even go to sleep?”
The younger sister shook her head. “Maybe an hour or two. I wasn’t really tired. Instead, I stayed up going over all the songs I could find that Andy wrote,” she explained, gesturing to her laptop lying open on the small table near the window. “I’ve got it all figured out.”
Clearly skeptical, Heidi shook her head in disbelief at her sister’s pronouncement. “When I went to bed, you were fuming and fussing over what you were reading. Now, you’re all bright-eyed and bushytailed and have got something all figured out and for some reason it can’t wait until like ... I don’t know ... eight or nine?”
“No, we’ve got to get going,” Helen replied, trying to relay the urgency she felt. “I need to find Andy as soon as I can!”
Heidi let out a sigh and laid back down, her forearm covering her eyes. “They’re not opening the park for the festival until 10. Close those drapes and come lie down. We’ve got plenty of time to be out there easily by 9:30.”
Helen adamantly refused. “I’m not tired.”
“Well, go take a shower,” Heidi told her, gesturing toward the bathroom with her other hand. “That should kill some time.”
“I already did.”
Her sister peeked at her from under her forearm and groaned again. “Shit, you did.” Sitting up with obvious reluctance, Heidi swung her legs off the bed. “Fine. The continental breakfast room should be open by now. Go get something to eat and I’ll be down in a little bit so you can tell me all about this plan of yours.” She gestured to the other bed. “We’ll let the girls sleep for a few more hours.”
Helen started to move toward the door but a look from her sister stopped her. Rather than say anything, the woman simply pointed at the window. Knowing what was demanded, Helen went back and closed the curtains and then made her way to the door, picking up her keycard on the way.
Heidi came down about fifteen minutes later in shorts and a t-shirt with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Helen was working on her second bowl of Cheerios. Her sister grabbed a bagel, some cream cheese, and a small cup of orange juice and sat across the small table from her.
“All right, what’s this grandiose plan you’ve come up with?” she asked sarcastically, followed by a bite of her bagel.
“I’m going to be the woman Andy’s always wanted me to be,” Helen declared with a huge grin.
“And you weren’t that before because... ?”
“Because I didn’t know what he wanted,” she tried to explain. “I do now. I’ve pored over all his songs. Yes, I was mad he put our life and marriage problems out there for the world to see, but he also gave me a roadmap back to him.” Her anger suddenly flared as her thoughts turned to the woman who was standing in her way. “And I’ve got to take it before that white trash bimbo steals him away from me!”
Heidi shook her head in dismay. “Where do I begin?” she asked skyward before focusing on her sister. “First, let’s clear up a few things about Josie. She is not stealing Andy from you; you practically gave him to her. Face it, Helen. She’s not your worst enemy. You are. If anything, I’d say Josie has helped you.”
Helen looked at her sister like she was crazy. “Bullshit!”
“Why do you think Andy was able to carry on a pleasant conversation and even share a laugh with you at the hospital? Do you think it was because you turned up unexpectedly and fell to pieces in front of him?” Heidi shook her head no rather emphatically. “Now that’s bullshit. No, it’s Josie. He’s less angry because of her. So if you want to reverse that and really get him pissed off at you again, by all means keep badmouthing her.”
“What? Are you saying I should like her?” Helen asked incredulously. “Try to be her friend? Thank her for stealing...” She paused when her sister gave her a nasty look. “Fine ... that bitch may not be stealing him but she is definitely taking him away from me!”
“Can you blame her?” Heidi immediately asked. “I know you don’t want to hear this but there is not one damn thing you can do about her and Andy, except make the situation between you and him worse.”
Clearly unhappy with having holes poked in her plan, Helen protested. “Why can’t you be helpful and supportive? I’m trying to get my husband back!”
“I am but it’s not what you want to hear,” her sister said with a shrug. “Fine, you’re going to do what you want regardless what I say, but here’s what you won’t do.” Heidi leaned in with an utterly serious look on her face. “You will not speak a word of this plan to the girls. If you even so much as utter a syllable about it, I will leave you here and you can find your own way to the park. They don’t need their hopes raised only to be dashed again if it doesn’t work.”
“But it will work!”
“And if it does, and Andy agrees to give the marriage another try,” Heidi conceded, “then you can tell them, but it’s about damn time you start putting their needs before your own.”
Helen was about to lay into her sister when she waved her off. Moments later, a family of four walked past their table on the way to the various pre-packaged breakfast foods.
Heidi stood up and gave Helen a firm look. “Not a word,” she mouthed before turning and heading back up to the room.
Josie mourned the loss of her hotel room. Sure, it was nice being out at the park and so close to everything – especially today of all days, but the room she and Sarah had turned over to Heidi, Helen, and the girls, had one amenity she was missing terribly at the moment. As she turned and knocked the shampoo bottle to the floor for the third time, Josie longed for the days of a decently-sized shower.
Reasonably confident she’d rinsed the majority of soap from her body, Josie turned off the low pressure water and attempted to towel off in the constricted quarters. With a deft twirl, she soon had her long raven locks wrapped in one towel and her body from breasts to mid-thigh encircled with another. Stepping out of the shower compartment, however, she was immediately confronted with Sarah trying to dress herself and making herself miserable in the process.
“I would ask why you didn’t wait for me to get done,” Josie commented out loud as she moved to help her friend, “but I’m sure I already know the answer to that question.”
“It’s this damned shirt sleeve,” Sarah muttered through gritted teeth. “It won’t go over the brace.”
“Well, of course it won’t,” Josie observed, starting to wonder about her friend’s thought processes. “Why are you even trying? You should wear that yellow sun dress you have. It will easily fit over that thing.”
“That’s what I said!” a muffled male voice declared from outside.
Sarah, clearly frustrated, gestured silently with her good hand toward the camper door – as if to say that was why she was frustrated.
Josie quickly covered her mouth to restrain a giggle.
Sarah was not amused.
“Sorry,” she whispered, as she tried and failed to hold back a smile. Turning toward the door, she called out, “Ty, you’re not helping!”
“I know,” came the muffled yet obviously playful reply. “I’m standing out here when I could be in there rendering assistance.”
“I don’t think so,” Josie shot back. “I just got out of the shower and I’m only wrapped in a towel.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I’m sure you don’t but Rennie might.”
“You might be right about that. He’s standing here biting his knuckles at the thought of you in that towel.”
“Rennie’s out there?”
“Oh crap, I dropped my towel.”
Ty’s loud chuckle could be heard through the door. “You should see the look on his face!”
Josie, still ensconced in her towel, made her way over to the window by the door and opened it. Glancing about, she could see her man. “Hi baby, I was just teasing,” she told him.
He just shook his head in mock disappointment, while Ty openly booed.
A myriad of playfully suggestive things she could say floated through Josie’s mind but she instinctively knew it wasn’t time for them ... yet. The moment needed to stay a light one, so she just smiled and wiggled her eyebrows. Everything else, she tucked away for later when she and Ren didn’t have an audience.
“It’s going to be a little bit before we’re ready,” she told them. “So, how about you boys go hunt us up some coffee and come back?”
With a nod, both men were off. Josie turned back to her friend, only to find her sitting on her bunk, clutching her braced arm to her chest.
Concerned, Josie quickly moved to her side. “Are you okay?”
Sarah sat there for a moment, but then looked up at her friend with worried eyes and shook her head no.
“What’s wrong?” Josie asked, sitting down next to her. “Is it your arm?”
Sarah shook her head no again. “I’m scared,” she finally let out in a small thin voice.
Suddenly, Josie understood what was troubling her friend. Wrapping an arm around Sarah’s shoulders, she pulled her closer and laid her towel-laden head against hers. “Just take baby steps right now,” she advised her. “Just focus on today and let tomorrow take care of itself, okay?”
“It’s not really tomorrow I’m worried about,” Sarah whispered, looking toward the door, but then changed her mind. “Well, it’s kind of about tomorrow.”
“It’s your heart,” Josie answered softly.
To which Sarah simply nodded her head.
“I can see why you might want to stay.”
Grant had just finished talking with Ike and Vera Kelly, a couple from Hazelton who had lost both their home and their hardware business, when he heard his wife speak.
The Kellys had walked away, leaving them standing there on what Grant had come to call the “Midway.” He glanced down at their conjoined hands and then back up to Anisha’s beautiful face. “Perhaps yesterday,” he agreed, with a bit of a smirk. “But not after last night!”
Her thoughtful look quickly morphed into an amused blush. She shook her head slightly and rolled her eyes. “No, I just meant that you’ve established relationships with so many people here in such a short time,” she responded, pointing about to the increasing numbers of people walking about them. “I can see why you would find that appealing.”
“It’s been rewarding, these past two weeks,” he agreed with a nod. “My skills could be put to effective use, but instead of helping a corporation protect its bottom line, it’s been helping hardworking folks get back on their feet again.”
A man at one of the nearby food vendors, Archie Hammond, waved at him. Grant smiled and waved back. He looked back to Anisha. “Like I said, it’s been rewarding.”
“I can see that,” she replied, her eyes taking on a bit more pensive look. “Now, I’m feeling a little guilty asking you walk away from all this.”
He shook his head no. “This versus you? I can walk away from it all without a single regret, if it means having you back again.” Grant leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. She reached up with her free hand and caressed his cheek as they kissed.
“Woohoo!” came the catcall from somewhere behind them. “Way to go, Mr. Thomas!”
The sentiment was echoed by several others, followed by sporadic clapping. Grant soon felt Anisha begin to laugh. The kiss ended and she momentarily buried her face in his shoulder. Giving her time to compose herself, he nodded and waved to their recent admirers – all to their amusement, of course. Before long, they all moved on and Grant and Anisha were back to walking hand in hand down the Midway.
“Besides,” Grant said, returning to their earlier conversation, “I don’t have to stay here to do this kind of work. I can just as easily seek out similar ways of helping people back home. It simply requires I get off my butt and look for ways I can live out my vocation.”
Anisha glanced up at him quizzically. “Live out your vocation? What do you mean?”
“It’s something Ren and I talked about recently,” the tall lawyer replied, gesturing to the man himself with his girls as they neared the petting zoo area. “He explained how God has given each of us multiple vocations or callings where we can be of service to others, but all too often we only use them to serve ourselves. Take me, for example,” he said, turning towards her. “One of my vocations is to be your husband, but for most of our time together I didn’t see it as an opportunity to serve you but rather to be served by you, as if it was my due – to take rather than to give. That’s something I want to change.”
She nodded as she thought about what he said. “That’s very insightful and I can see I’ve done the same thing with you – though maybe not to your extent,” she added with a sneaky grin.
Grant laughed. “Hey, when I do it wrong, I go all out!”
Anisha’s smiling countenance changed to one of puzzlement as she suddenly looked past him. “Is that Tim Lanci over there?”
“Where?” he asked, turning to look.
“Where all those kids are with those farm animals.”
Grant’s eyes moved to where his wife indicated and, sure enough, there was the head of Stone Mountain Records evidently helping out with the animals. The “Petting Zoo”, for lack of a better name, was the brainchild of Bella’s daughter, Gabriella, and the O’Malley’s son, Brandon. A lot of the kids in the area did 4-H, like Brandon, so they pulled together the ones with animal projects and came up with a common exhibit area where kids and adults could come in and see them. How Lanci came to be assisting with it, however, Grant hadn’t a clue. So, he decided to head that way to find out.
The music executive, however, saw him coming. “A little surprised to find me here, I see,” he remarked over the fence, as he placed a sizeable rabbit back in a cage.
Grant nodded, taking in all the human – critter interaction taking place within the rather spacious enclosure. “You could say that.”
Waving them through the gate, Tim shook their hands as they came through. “After yesterday’s debacle, I talked with Sarah this morning about I how I could help out and this is where I landed. My wife and I used to be heavily involved in 4-H when the kids were younger, so this seemed a pretty natural fit for me.”
“We haven’t seen her yet this morning,” Anisha chimed in. “How does she seem to you?”
“Resilient,” he replied, shaking his head in amazement. “If it weren’t for her arm in a sling, you wouldn’t know anything had happened yesterday. She is just go, go, go, this morning.” His smile slipped as he gave Anisha a much more somber look. “No matter the fallout from yesterday, I will absolutely do right by her. You have my word.”
Grant watched as the two stared at one another. Finally, his wife – evidently taking her measure of the man – nodded her head in approval. “Good.”
“We have with us this morning the Queen Bee of the Foster Park Music Festival herself, Sarah Gaines! Thanks for stopping by, Sarah.”
Sarah found herself, upon the recommendation of Rachel and Nina, seated at the guest mike of 93.7 The Bull – a major country radio station in St. Louis that sent three of their on-air personalities out to do live interviews and what not from the park. It was a pretty nice set up under a tent canopy with large speakers erected nearby so bystanders could hear the continuous radio feed. The format was a bit of a free-for-all with the three hosts, but since they’d agreed off air not to talk about why her arm was in a sling, Sarah felt pretty confident she could handle it. The “Queen Bee” thing, though, did not make her happy.
Despite that, she responded in a very cheerful voice. “It’s my pleasure, Danny.”
Danny, the station’s afternoon drive time host and a generally laid back guy, laughed at her facial expression. “What you did not hear, my friends,” he said, leaning in closer to the microphone, “but all of those gathered around could see, was Miss Gaines rolling her eyes at the Queen Bee moniker.”
“Oh, man, it was almost audible!” chimed in the only woman of the trio, their late morning host, Hilly.
“Clearly not happy with the title,” Danny continued.
“No she is not.”
“Nor, I’d imagine, with the well meaning friend of the station...”
Rounding out the trio was Boomer, the station’s evening host and a fan of the bad boy of country music, it would seem. He pointed over to the man himself, standing not far from the canopy but clearly listening to what was going on. Tyler waved and gave a wink to Sarah.
“ ... who gave it to her.”
There was no denying the fact that Ty unsettled her; left her feeling vulnerable. Not wanting him, or anyone for that matter, to see how he affected her, she narrowed her eyes and leaned into the microphone.
“I’m going to kill him.” Her tone was playful but the look she gave him across the way had more than a little menace in it.
“But you won’t do that right away, right?” Hilly asked, picking up on the tone right away. “Because that would, like, totally mess up tonight’s lineup.”
Sarah laughed. “Ooh, you’re right. Maybe I’ll just torture him a bit.”
“You better watch out, Ty. She’s coming for you!”
“He doesn’t seem scared,” Boomer added. Looking over, Sarah could see that he was right. Ty had his arms crossed and a huge grin on his face.
“He will be,” Sarah responded in a dramatic whispered voice. “He will be.”
Boomer swooned. “Oh my God, she’s gorgeous AND does a passable Yoda impression? I’m in love!”
Danny quickly settled things down after that, shifting into interview mode and covering some of the things Sarah had let them know she wanted to talk about. They chatted a bit about the devastation caused by the tornadoes, and the help that was coming to the area via the music festival. The fact that a DVD set of the festival concerts was in the works and that all the proceeds would go to help the victims really impressed them.
“I must say, you really have an incredible lineup of talent out here today. We’ve already had Ty stop by, as well as Reba McEntire and newcomer Josh Cannon. Any others we should expect to see?”
Sarah smiled and pointed. “Well, if you look up the hill a ways, off to your left, you can see someone who will be singing a couple songs with Ty later this evening.”
“Oh my goodness, it’s Jenna Wells!” Danny exclaimed, once he caught sight of the country superstar.
“In the flesh!” Hilly chimed in.
“And very nice looking flesh it is!”
“Hey, I’m just saying I totally would not mind being seen with her.”
“But would she want to be seen with you?” Sarah asked, joining in the mocking.
“Now that’s the question!” Hilly agreed. “He’s one ugly mug!”
Boomer, however, just ignored them. “Hey, Jenna! Call me!”
Jenna, hearing his shout out over the speakers, playfully gave him a thumbs down and shook her head no.
“That is so not going to happen,” Sarah noted with a chuckle.