“How awesome was that?!”
The concluding chords to Hatchery Road’s last song, “Waiting for the Sunrise”, were still hanging in the air as Rachel Vargas-Steiger called out to the crowd and gestured to the band. “Hatchery Road, ladies and gentlemen!”
The audience responded wildly – clapping, screaming, and whistling their appreciation. Rennie, handing off his guitar to one of the stage crew, grinned at the response and waved back to show he heard them. He was hardly alone. Glancing around, he could see Josie and the rest were doing the same. Motioning to them, he had them follow him to the edge of the stage where they waved a bit more at the crowd, before bowing and heading off to go backstage.
No sooner had they made it there when Josie let out an exuberant squeal and jumped into Rennie’s arms. She proceeded to kiss him thoroughly before bouncing away to give hugs to all the other band members. Amused by her antics and thrilled it all went so well, he followed behind her to show his appreciation to them, as well.
Before he knew it, though, their little group of six swelled to three or four times that number, as many of the other singers and musicians waiting around backstage descended upon them. There were hugs, handshakes, and pats on the back but apart from Josie, no kisses. Reba teased with a bit of an eyebrow wiggle, but she settled for just giving him a warm hug and some encouraging advice.
“When you’re ready to record your first album, give me a call,” she told him with a big smile and an affectionate pat on his chest. ““I know a few folks.”
“I imagine you do,” Rennie replied, chuckling. “Thanks.”
Jumping in after her was one of his best friends. “That was absolutely killer, dude!” Ty enthused as he and Rennie exchanged a ‘bro hug’. “Y’all did great out there!”
“Thanks, man,” he offered back, just a bit overwhelmed now by everything. “So, are you all ready?” he asked, wanting to shift at least a little of the attention away from himself.
Ty let out a small snort. “Easy peasy, dude. We’ll give ‘em a good show,” he replied, dismissively waving his hand. A small expression of concern appeared on his face, however. “You’ve got your ukulele, right?”
Rennie nodded. Ty had already asked him a week or more ago to appear with him during his concert time and do a couple of songs “for old times’ sake.” But just that morning, Ty had made a change in which songs they would do – one of which, obviously, requiring his trusty ukulele.
“It’s safely stored in its case and waiting to be used,” he answered, pointing over to the aforementioned instrument.
“Terrific!” the country superstar exclaimed, patting him on the shoulder.
Rennie was about to go and look for Manny, the stage manager, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning, he could see it was Jenna Wells, who had a rather mischievous twinkle in her eye. “Yes, Jenna?”
“Wish me luck!” she exclaimed, before wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down for a surprise kiss. Totally caught flatfooted, all he could do was go with it. With a giggle, she released him, but before he could get his bearings another set of arms were around his neck.
“Wish me luck!” the actress told him, before fully imitating her co-conspirator. Moments later, she left him with a laugh of her own, headed out for the stage with Jenna.
“What in the... ?”
“Hey, you started it.”
Rennie turned, only to see the smirking face of Sarah Gaines smiling back at him. “Yeah, but not with them,” he retorted, shaking his head in a mix of confusion and amusement.
“That, my friend, is called the law of unintended consequences,” the pretty blonde said with just a hint of a giggle. Patting him on the back, she gestured out toward the stage with her chin. “And they’re just having a little fun with it.”
“But what are they doing?” Rennie asked, curious as to the whole ‘wishing them luck’ thing. He could see them and they hadn’t gone all the way out yet. They were waiting by the curtain, just out of sight of the audience.
“I would say, based on the time,” Sarah answered, glancing first at her watch and then back up at Ren, “that they are about to go out and introduce the next act.”
“Oh,” Rennie replied, nodding his head. Suddenly he stopped. He was part of the next act. “Oh, crap!”
“K –A – N – Y – R”, Manny called out from somewhere behind him, “you have three minutes.”
Rennie looked around with a hint of panic.
Sarah laughed. “Through there,” she chuckled, pointing to a curtained off area. “Josie’s waiting with baby wipes, towels, a hairbrush, and a change of clothes.”
Knowing time was off the essence, Rennie was off like a shot – totally ignoring Sarah’s teasing remarks chasing after him.
Grant was really glad he’d taken Lori up on her offer. GAC had a roped off area just a bit back and to the right of the sound and video guys, and it was proving to be the perfect spot for taking in the concert. Maybe it was his age showing, but he had no interest whatsoever in being down in front of the stage. Back here, the sound wasn’t too loud but it wasn’t too soft either – a bit of a Goldilocks spot, as someone else put it. The view was great and the lounge chairs he and Anisha had, were really comfortable. Then there was the food! A craft beer in one hand and plate of nibbles in the other, this was VIPing at its finest!
Walking back to where their chairs were, Grant offered the plate to his wife – who took a couple of the hors d’oeuvres – before setting it down on the small table between their seats. Hatchery Road had just finished up and now Rachel was presenting the next rescue story, so he had opted to head back to the buffet and get restocked.
Back in his seat, Grant glanced over at his wife and raised his glass of beer. She raised her glass of wine in return and they both clinked them together in an unspoken toast. Of course, they didn’t really “clink” since both cups were actually plastic, but still, it was nice.
“So, a sorority sister, huh?” Grant more commented than asked, after taking a sip of his beer.
Anisha looked over at him with a cute grin and nodded her head. “Yes.”
When nothing more was forthcoming, Grant let out with a laugh. “That’s it? You aren’t going to give me any more?”
“No,” she answered, laughing herself. “A woman’s got to have a few secrets.”
Grant was about to ask her another question when he both felt and heard a text come into his phone. Having a pretty good suspicion as to who it might be, he set his beer down and shifted in his seat to retrieve the phone from his pocket. Logging into the phone, Grant smiled when he saw who it was.
“Who is it?”
He handed her the phone.
“Oh, Mark ... he was the one from Arista, right?”
“He’s pretty interested, isn’t he?”
About to reply, Grant stopped when his phone chimed again and then, only moments later, a third followed by a fourth.
Anisha laughed. “Oh, man, this one’s Tim and he is super excited!” Scrolling down, she read off the others. “Next is Dennis. He’s wanting to talk to you. Big Machine, right?” she asked, glancing over. Seeing his nod, she looked back and continued. “And last ... whoops, not last,” she exclaimed as the phone chimed again.
Giggling, she handing him back his phone. “Here, you take it,” she told him.
He took it from her and just set it on the table between them, next to his beer.
“Aren’t you going to reply to any of them?” she asked, clearly curious.
He shook his head and looked back towards the stage. “Nope.”
When nothing more was forthcoming, it was now Anisha’s turn to laugh.
Grant turned back to her with an amused grin and, bringing the tease to an end, gestured to the phone with his eyes. “I’ll text them later tonight to let them know I got their texts, but anything else can wait until Monday.” Reaching over, he took her hand in his. “Right now, I’m on a date with my wife and that is far more important.”
She smiled proudly and squeezed his hand with affection. “Good answer.”
That was the best word Helen could come up with for what she was witnessing. How else might you describe watching another woman assist your husband take off his pants? The fact that she is both beautiful and the one he prefers to you – she’d seen the looks and the kiss she gave him – added another wrinkle. If it were an erotic scene, a few no doubt would find it arousing, while most wives would be somewhere between horrified and outraged, but it’s not – erotic, that is. The other woman is simply helping him change clothes. There is nothing apparently sexual about it at all. What there is, however, is a familiarity, as well as an intimacy, that is ... disconcerting.
“Here, take these.”
The other woman, Josie, had seen her standing there watching and tossed a package of something her way. Clumsily catching it, Helen glanced down to see she was now holding a package of baby wipes. Confused, she looked up.
Josie held up a bunch of wipes in her hand and motioned towards the package she’d just tossed. “Grab some and come on!” She then turned to Andy (Oh, how Helen loathed the name this woman called him!) who was now standing there in just his boxers, running a towel through his hair.
“All right, Ren, this is going to be a little cold,” she told him as she began to run the baby wipes across his chest. He flinched a bit and Helen couldn’t help but chuckle.
Obviously recognizing her voice, Andy pulled the towel away from his face and looked over at her. Unsure of what to do, she held up the wipes in her own hand as if asking permission. He gave it with a nod. Taking a position opposite of Josie, she likewise began to bathe him, in a sense, with the wipes – first, the chest and back, then the arms and legs.
Helen struggled mightily with the knowledge that this was likely the most intimate, physical contact she’d had with her husband in at least six months, if not a year or more. What had started out as definitely not erotic was starting to become so, at least for her. It didn’t last, however.
When they finished, Josie tossed her wipes in a pile on the floor and reached for an aerosol can. “Okay, Ren, arms up, close your eyes, and hold your breath.” She quickly sprayed Andy under the arm on her side and then handed the can to Helen. “Your turn,” she said with a grin.
Smiling back, however hesitatingly, Helen took the deodorant and did the same on her side. Of course, now the room was filled with overspray – causing all three of them to cough a bit and wave their hands.
Josie handed Andy a pair of longer dark brown shorts and he quickly put them on. Helen watched as he threaded his belt through its loops, her mind recalling just when and where she had bought those for him. She didn’t recognize the shirt Josie handed to him next, though. It was a long, cream-colored, button-down, short sleeve shirt, with some embroidery on the front, which was meant to be worn outside his pants. It looked light and comfortable and made her think of a tropical resort, for some reason.
“Go ahead and button him up,” Josie instructed her, while she pulled a chair over next to Andy and stood on it. “I’ll take care of his hair,” she said, waving a hair brush in her hand.
Helen’s fingers shook a bit as she worked the buttons, but she soon got that under control. Peeking up, she wanted to catch his eyes looking at her but he wasn’t. He was looking at Josie. It made sense, since she was brushing his hair, but it still hurt. She bit her lip and renewed her concentration on the buttons.
In short order they were done. His shirt was buttoned and the hair looked great. Andy took the chair once Josie stepped down, and sat on it so he could put some sandals on. As he was doing so, the stage manager’s voice rang out again. “K-A-N-Y-R, you go on in thirty seconds.”
“Another kiss for good luck?”
The question came from Josie, and she and Andy exchanged a look before he nodded his head in agreement. Quickly leaning over, he gently pecked her on the lips. It didn’t last long and no other part of their bodies touched, but, even so, Helen could sense that there was something more to it. Then they exchanged another look before Andy stepped over to her.
Helen had been taken by surprise the first time, but now she readied herself. She was going to throw her arms around his neck and kiss her husband for all she was worth. Unfortunately, Andy seemed to guess what she had planned, and, when he started to lean down, grabbed her hands with his own before she could do anything. Holding them gently in his own, he leaned the rest of the way and gave her a chaste kiss on the lips. Sadly, she could tell it was nothing like what he’d just given to the other woman.
“Thanks for helping,” he murmured as he stood back up. Releasing her hands, he smiled down at her and then walked out of the changing area.
Josie followed Rennie out, but for some reason Helen stayed behind. Judging by the look on the woman’s face when they left, Josie was pretty sure she knew what that reason was. It had been a rough day for her. Putting that out of her mind, though, Josie walked with Ren over to where the rest of the group was waiting to go out.
She noticed that Manny wasn’t counting down the seconds like he did before. Instead, Josie could hear Rachel announce that she, Nicole, and Jenna were going to introduce each member individually. First up was Keith, then, Alison, followed by Norah and Yo-Yo. For some reason, Rachel was having them all stay up at the front of the stage, so when Rennie’s name was finally called, they were all waiting for him.
It quickly became clear, as stools and handheld mics were brought up for everyone, that there was going to be a bit of an interview with the five performers. Surprised by this change in the program, Josie quickly glanced over at Sarah.
Her friend smiled back at her. “It was Ty’s idea, and at least four of the five thought it was a good one,” she said, gesturing toward the stage with her good hand. “I think you know who wasn’t so thrilled with it.”
Rachel’s voice boomed out, ending any possibility of conversing with Sarah, so Josie turned to watch the interview unfold.
“We’ve had an amazing array of talented performers all day today here, haven’t we?!” the rather pregnant woman remarked, mostly to the audience, who responded with clapping and cheering. “And look who we have with us now!” Turning back to the five, she asked them, “What was it that brought each of you here?”
Josie nearly burst out laughing when all four pointed at Rennie.
The model turned interviewer then gave each of the four an opportunity to speak more in depth, with Nicole and Jenna periodically chiming in questions of their own. Keith and Norah spoke of their own connections to Rennie, while Alison focused far more on her own personal ties to central Illinois. Yo-Yo, however, turned out to be the comedian of the bunch.
“It was all her idea,” he said, pointing to Norah. “She was all on fire to come down here and I was like, ‘Well, you should go.’ And she was like, ‘You’re coming with me.” And I was like, ‘Really?’ And she was like, ‘Oh yeah, get in the car!’ And I was like, “Okay, put down the gun.’ And so here I am.”
He had the audience laughing with that one. Of course, he went on to say he was kidding and waxed rather eloquently about the pleasure he had at being a part of such a wonderful event. But that first bit, with him mimicking teenage-speak, was truly memorable and laugh-out-loud funny.
Finally, it was Rennie’s turn. While not as surprisingly funny like the cellist, he held his own. He gave a very condensed run down of his life over the past couple weeks, helping out first with the shelters and then with all the NGO’s, and throwing in a few humorous observations that had the folks chuckling.
“Now Rennie,” Rachel teasingly began as soon as he finished. “It would seem you have been on a kissing spree as of late.”
“Oh, dear Lord!” he muttered, to the amusement of the crowd.
“And some of us have been feeling left out.”
“Well, it can’t be those two,” he playfully retorted, pointing to Nicole and Jenna, “because they ambushed me backstage.”
“You’re right; they did,” she agreed. Suddenly, Rachel’s image vanished from the screens behind them and the very moment Rennie had just referenced appeared in her place. Both Nicole and Jenna smirked and giggled as their successive “Wish me luck!” played on the screen. The audience roared with laughter.
Rennie just shook his head in amazement, then shielded his eyes with his hand and looked out toward the sound and video booth. “You guys are good,” he exclaimed, pointing out at them. “I never even saw that camera back there.”
Way off to her right and still on stage, Josie could see a girl with a camera smiling and waving to the crowd.
“That was you?” Rennie asked, seeing her. When she nodded her head yes, he hopped up off his stool and walked over to her. “I never even saw you, Jackie. Great job! High five!” Once she slapped his hand, he put his arm around her shoulders. “Now, you didn’t follow me in when I changed clothes, did you?” The crowd laughed as the camera girl paused momentarily with a sly smile, before shaking her head no.
“Whew, you had me worried for a moment there,” Rennie remarked, playful wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. “Have you met Keith Urban?” he asked her, pointing over to the singer.
She again shook her head no. When she did, Rennie lifted his arm from her shoulders and took her hand. “Here, come with me,” he told her and started walking back to the group.
Rachel was clearly confused by Rennie’s impromptu conversation, but Josie had already figured out what he was going to do and was a wee bit concerned. “Is he going to do what I think he’s going to do?”
“It would appear so,” Sarah replied, chuckling. “Don’t worry. Jackie is a huge Keith Urban fan and she’s about to live out one of her biggest fantasies.”
“Here, let me take that,” Rennie offered, taking Jackie’s camera from her as they drew close to where everyone else was. Lifting it so he could obviously start shooting, he motioned for her to go over by Nicole’s husband. “Jackie, this is Keith. Keith, this is Jackie,” he said, by way of introduction. They both smiled, shook hands, and said “hi” to each other.
“Just a few moments ago, Rachel said these folks up here were feeling left out, not being kissed by me. Now, I really don’t want to kiss Keith, so I was wondering if you would do it for me?”
Jackie’s wide-eyed stare back at him, caught by Ren with her own camera when she looked back at him, was broadcast by the video guys up on the screens – to the hoots, hollers, and cheers of the crowd.
“Just wish him good luck,” he encouraged her, motioning with his other hand for her to get closer.
Blushing furiously, Jackie turned back to Keith, who was being a good sport about it all. Just then, Nicole came over to her and whispered something in her ear. Jackie nodded back and then leaned in and gave Keith a lingering kiss on the lips. The crowd went wild!
“All right, one down, five to go.”
Rachel was now more curious than confused. “Rennie, what are you... ?”
“All in good time,” he replied. He motioned for Jackie to come back to him, which she did with an enormous smile on her face. “Here you go,” he told her as he handed her back her camera. “Stick around, though, because you just might want to use it.”
“Told you,” Sarah teased Josie, nudging her shoulder.
“I bet that smile is going to last at least a week,” the brunette remarked, knowing just how the girl felt.
“A month, easy,” the blonde replied with a rather knowing smile of her own.
Grabbing his stool, Rennie pulled it out a ways and sat on it. Looking back to the two female members of KANYR, he smiled and wiggled his eyebrows. “Ladies, would you mind coming over here and helping me out?”
Alison and Norah, both clearly amused by the turn of events, smiled at one another, stood up, and came over to him.
“If you would be so kind?” he said to them, tapping his cheeks with his fingers. Catching on to what he wanted, Norah stayed on his left while Alison went around to his right. Leaning in, they both kissed his cheeks at the same time. The image that Jackie was catching with her camera was being shown up on the screens and it was adorable.
Josie watched as Rennie thanked the ladies, then stood and motioned for Yo-Yo to come take his place on the stool. As the cellist acquiesced, Ren looked over at Jenna and Nicole and gestured to the clearly amused older man. “Do you think you ladies could... ?”
Jenna got a big smile on her face and cut him off before he could finish. “Absolutely!” she declared. Grabbing Nicole by the hand, they both came over and did for Yo-Yo what Alison and Norah had done for Rennie. The close up video on the screen was likewise adorable.
“It would seem, Rachel,” Rennie addressed the model, walking over toward her, “that you’re now the only one left.”
Rachel was laughing. Shaking her head a bit, her eyes twinkled as she met Rennie’s gaze. “And just what are you going to do about it?” she challenged.
Rennie stopped well short of her and looked over at Nicole’s husband. “Keith,” he said calmly, gesturing to Rachel. “Would you do the honors?”
The audience erupted with laughter as Keith Urban did as Rennie asked.