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About the Author
Other Books by Maggie Jaimeson
Preview of Healing Notes
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Balancing a career and a relationship is never easy, and it’s even harder when you are on the road and everyone wants a piece of you.
As a music major who sacrificed everything to become master of the upright bass, the last thing Michele Scott thought she’d be doing is touring with an Americana and Bluegrass band. But to tell the truth, she loves it.
Not so much David Blackstone. Even though he’s irresistible, the thought of balancing her career, life on the road, and a long-distance relationship isn’t for her. Her music gives her life, yet her heart yearns for something more. A girl just can’t have it all… or can she? Trusting David is a risk that may give her everything she wants or it will close her heart forever.
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Healing Notes - Rachel’s Story
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Copyright © 2011 by Maggie Lynch
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.
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Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author's imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Cover Art by Christy Caughie, Gilded Heart Design
Undertones / Maggie Jaimeson.
This one is for Michele Templer, who has read my
creative writing for years, remained my friend through love
and loss, and offered sunshine to my life just by being herself.
No matter how close or far we live from each other, I know she cares.
Michele, you rock!
No book is created alone and this is no exception. First, I have to thank the members of the Misty River Band in Oregon. They allowed me to travel with them to several gigs, and it was through them I learned what it is like to be a small local band and the process for building a following. Their music captured my heart, and their kindness will be forever remembered.
Second, I must acknowledge the editing of Babe King. Her extensive knowledge of music and its nuances helped to shape the scenes where the band is playing specific types of songs. Her careful reading and editing of those scenes made them so much stronger.
Finally, thanks to my critique partners, the Crit-Wits, who always kept me writing and ignored every excuse I made; and to my husband who continues to be my greatest cheerleader and an amazing cook. He keeps me fed when I’m on deadline, laughs when I’m forgetful, and still loves me even when I ignore him. I know I am so very fortunate to have him.
Michele Scott’s fingers flew over the strings as she plucked the last eight bars of “Black Mountain Rag” on her bass. The vigorous applause from the twenty or thirty people in the audience washed over her and she bowed with the rest of the band. The smell of beef barbecue wafted from the grill making her mouth water and her stomach grumble. Ten hours since that piece of toast and coffee was a long time. No wonder she was hungry.
The announcer bounded up the short flight of stairs to the stage. “Great set, everybody!” he whispered, then grabbed a microphone and turned to face the audience. “Ladies and gentleman, let’s hear it for the Ad Hoc Bluegrass Band. I hope they’ll come back and play again in Sandy real soon!”
Michele waved to the cheering crowd, her smile as tight as the knot in her stomach. She could make it through this. Just one more time to wave at the crowd. Just one more time to thank her band mates. Just one more time to pack up her bass and forget about her dreams. Then she could curl up at home with a triple scoop of Umpqua Chocolate Brownie Thunder and cry her eyes out watching Demi Moore try to reconnect with Patrick Swayze’s ghost.
As the crowd dispersed, Michele picked up her bass and followed the other players behind the stage where they’d stacked their instrument cases. A tight grip on the bass, she hurried to her gig bag and laid it inside. She flexed her hands, staring at them as if they weren’t her own.
This had been a good performance, definitely one to remember. The vocals and instrumental breaks had been tight and the sound system, thank God, had been high-quality —always an unknown factor for a pick-up band.
She sighed. Time was up.
Five years gone with nothing to show for it except harder calluses and a lot of miles on her car. Oh, but how she loved it. Maybe… No. She shook her head hard. A promise was a promise. Her time was up. She’d given herself exactly five years to make it in bluegrass and swore she'd find a “real job” if she couldn’t support herself by then. And here she was. Flat broke. It was time to face the truth. She dug her fingernails into her fist as she choked back tears. She could get through this. It’s not like she’d never play again, it would just become a hobby.
She forced herself to stand tall and paste on a smile as the other musicians exchanged praises and headed out. She shook hands with the mandolin player and wished him well, her eyes misting as he sauntered toward his family.
“Great playing with you again, Michele.” The lead guitarist barely got the words out before her boyfriend grabbed her around the waist. Her surprised squeal cut off when he dipped her dramatically for a passionate kiss. The banjo player rolled his eyes and waved goodbye as he strode off with his case. Michele discreetly turned back to her bass and finished zipping it in. She hadn’t told anyone her plans. She figured it was best to quietly slip away from playing professionally. It would be easier that way.
“We’re headin’ out for a beer,” her friend said when she finally came up for air. “Wanna come along?”
“No thanks. I think I’ll hang here at the festival.” She waved them off as they turned hand-in-hand, giggling at some intimate joke.
The last thing she needed was to be the third wheel with those two love birds. It would only remind her of her own nonexistent love life—another thing she’d given up while pursuing this ridiculous dream. She reattached the strap to the case with a resounding snap, then held her waist-length hair out of the way as she hefted the bass over her shoulder. All she wanted was to get home before she ran into anyone she knew and lost her emotional wall.
“Excuse me,” a voice behind her said.
Michele swallowed hard as she turned. A friendly face smiled at her, the grey-frosted, shoulder-length bob hinting at her age. Her light-brown eyes twinkled with approval as she held out her hand to Michele.
“Hi, I’m Theresa Mosier, and I just want to say ‘Wow!’ You not only play a mean bass but you can sing, too. You really belt it out! The timbre of your voice is definitely distinctive.”
“Thanks.” Michele smiled. Audiences were without fail surprised by the rich, husky voice booming from her slender, five-foot two-inch frame. Apparently, most people expected her to sound like Shirley Temple.
“You sparkle up there, so full of energy. And you’re not timid about involving yourself in the between-song banter. It was very entertaining.”
A fan’s praise was usually music to the soul, but not today. She wasn’t sure she could smile and be nice for long, knowing this was the last time she’d play professionally.
Theresa cleared her throat. “Uh…am I to understand from the name Ad Hoc Bluegrass Band that you’re not a full-time, fixed group of musicians?”
“That’s right,” Michele answered, her voice straining against the stone in her throat. She took a deep breath. “We’re a circle of friends, mostly fellow music majors I know from my days at Portland State. It’s pretty informal. The band members change from gig to gig, depending on who’s available.”
“And… is that your goal—as a musician?” Theresa asked, her head cocked to one side.
“Well, no…not really. I’ve always wanted to do this…as a career,” Michele stammered. “But I’ve recently decided…”
“Great! Here.” Theresa handed her a cream-colored business card with the name Sweetwater Canyon emblazoned in burgundy-red ink above an artistic rendition of Mt. Hood and a winding river. Below the drawing it read Music Americana. At the bottom right in smaller print were Theresa’s name, a phone number, website, an email and a P.O. Box address.
“There are five of us in the band—all women. We play a fusion of traditional music—bluegrass, country, folk, Celtic, and anything else that strikes our fancy. On occasion will take on a rock or jazz tune and mold it to our acoustic sound. We do covers of songs by artists we like, whatever the style—Mary Chapin Carpenter, Keb’ Mo’, Ry Cooder, Dr. John, it doesn’t matter—and each of us writes a little of our own music.”
Oh, man, was this for real? Playing with this type of band would be a dream come true. As much as she loved bluegrass, having the opportunity to work in related styles would be a joy and a challenge. She clasped her hands together, afraid she might be caught silently fingering the bass part to a Keb’ Mo’ tune.
“Most of our gigs are at smaller venues around Portland, down to Eugene, up as far as Seattle, sometimes across the mountains to Spokane, Yakima or Bend. We’re hoping to release our first CD toward the end of the year after a summer and early fall road trip. We’re looking to build our fan base.”
Michele didn’t trust herself to speak. Could be one of those waking dreams where everything seemed real but eventually she would realize she was still asleep in bed?
“We have a tour set to begin in six weeks, all across the Midwest with additional stops in Idaho, North Carolina, and Arizona.” Theresa paused and put her hands on her hips. “There’s only one problem.”
Michele’s fingers tightened on the card.
“We’ve lost our bass player.”
“You…you’ve lost your bass player?”
“Well, no…I guess that’s not literally true,” Theresa said with a laugh. “We know exactly where Denise is. It’s just that she’s no longer available.”
Michele held her breath. Could it be? She didn’t dare hope.
“Denise’s husband is a marketing executive for Nike. He was just offered a promotion and a transfer to Hong Kong. She’ll be gone for at least two years.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Michele blurted as the breath escaped from her lungs all at once. “That is, I mean I’m sorry for you…but happy for her…I mean, if that’s what she wants…or if…oh, hell!” She trailed off, thoroughly mortified. Way to make a great first impression.
Theresa’s lipped quirked up in a half smile as though she heard such jumbled thoughts and fractured sentences every day. “Let me get right to the point. We’re looking for a replacement to tour and record with us. You can certainly carry your weight on bass, and I assume someone with your talent can sing a cappella and harmonize in the lower ranges. The question is if you’re a good fit, personality-wise, with the rest of the band. Also if you’re cut out for life on the road—some people simply aren’t. It’s not the same as local gigs where you meet up for a couple of hours and then go your own way. On the road we’re together 24/7. You have to be able to get along when you’re on tour.”
Michele’s chest tightened as it filled with a breath she didn’t dare let go.
“One more thing, you’d have to give up your day job. This is a full-time commitment. If you’re at all interested, give me a call.” Theresa pointed at the number on the bottom of the card. “We’ll set up an audition and get-acquainted session with the rest of the band to see how it feels.”
The air rushed out all at once. “Of course I’m interested. I would love to audition.”
Theresa patted Michele’s hand. “No rush. Think it over a few days. I gave you a lot to take in. If you still want to do it, call me and I’ll give you directions to my house—that’s where we practice. I live up the mountain.”
Michele tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her right ear as she drove the last couple miles up Mt. Hood to Zig Zag. She sang several scales and arpeggios until she felt more relaxed. Then, just for fun she jumped into a couple of bawdy Irish drinking songs at the top of her lungs. They always lifted her spirits. She wondered what Theresa would think about that.
When she traveled this route in winter to reach the ski areas on the upper slopes, the mountain almost always hid behind a thick curtain of clouds. But on this delightful spring afternoon she had “lifted her skirts,” as the locals say, and was revealed in all her glory. She took it as a good omen.
Michele glanced over her shoulder for the twentieth time since leaving home to inspect her prized possession. Taking up most of the cargo space, even with the rear seat folded down, the outsized, ungainly case was still strapped down. Inside rested the Kay upright bass that had consumed every penny of Michele’s meager savings, plus two years of monthly payments, and had generated countless arguments with Jon—her ex. Her bass was her best friend, and Jon had said it was the only thing she truly loved. At least she could count on it to never judge her. That was more than she could say for any man.
She spotted the bright red mailbox and checked her watch. Right on time. Turning into the driveway, she could see nothing beyond the towering evergreens that lined the narrow track. Their interlocking branches created a green tunnel leading deeper into the forest. Michele emerged from the semi-darkness into a clearing shaded only by a scattering of massive Douglas Firs. Their lower limbs, starting perhaps fifty feet up the bare trunks, admitted plenty of filtered sunlight and gave the setting an airy feel quite different from the claustrophobic entrance.
The driveway terminated in a circular gravel parking area rimmed with large stones. Off to the left stood an open-sided carport under which rested a green, four-door sedan and a large RV. But her attention quickly focused on the house nestled among the old-growth trees.
The two-story log cabin was obviously old but solid. The dark brown logs matched the standing trees in color, and the cedar shake roof was weathered to a silvery grey and half-hidden under a pillowy blanket of green moss. A deep, covered porch, scattered with cushioned wicker furniture, wrapped around the front and sides. Sword ferns, trillium, lupine and rhododendron grew in profusion under the trees and around the cabin’s river rock foundation.
It didn’t look like it was built, but rather like it sprang from the earth. Beside the front door she noticed a carved wooden sign mounted on the wall. Abhainn fàrdach, it read. She had no idea what it meant, or even what the language was. She chuckled. Maybe elvish. Just another surreal touch in this mystical place.
Michele moved to the back of the car, lifted the cargo hatch and, with practiced motions, gently extracted the heavy case and lugged it up onto the porch to rest against a pillar. Squaring her shoulders, she took a deep breath, rang the doorbell and waited for her life to begin anew.
“No, Earl!” A teenaged girl in faded jeans and a baggy orange t-shirt balanced on one leg with her left hip against the frame while her right foot held back a grey-and-white cat poised to spring. She shook her leg at the cat. “Back up.” The cat meowed and still hunched in anticipation of escape. The girl stomped her bare foot directly in front of the cat’s face. He jumped straight up, turned one hundred eighty degrees in mid-air and scampered back to the darkened interior.
The girl giggled, showing a pronounced dimple on her left cheek. With a swing of her hip she pushed the door open wider. The loose posture, smooth healthy skin and voice indicated the girl might be about 14 or 15, but Michele wasn’t sure. Her height and brimming self-confidence suited someone a bit older. She held a red apple in her right hand with several bites missing.
“Hi, sorry about Earl,” the girl said, brushing the bangs of her shoulder length blond hair. “He’s our free spirit. Even though he’s a house cat, he still has a wild desire to explore. We have coyotes poking around up here, so it wouldn’t be good for his health.” The girl switched the apple to her left hand and began to offer her right to shake, then withdrew it. “Oops. Sorry. Snacking. All sticky. I’m always snacking,” she giggled again. “Just can’t seem to get enough to eat.”
Michele smiled. “Hi I’m…”
“I know. Michele,” the girl interrupted without taking a breath. “I’m Kathryn, but I go by Kat. My Mom is Theresa. I think you met her. Right? Yeah, right. That darn cat. I wonder where Doc…Oh, I play accordion…mostly. Also pick up on percussion…but then I’m trying to learn fiddle but it’s not cooperating.”
“Did you say accordion?” Michele asked.
“How long did it take you to grow your hair to your waist? Gosh, I hope Doc isn’t hiding. Hey,” Kat pointed to Michele’s case on the porch. “Do you like Kays? Or is that German?”
“Why yes, it’s a— ”
“Geez, where’s my manners? Mom always says I forget them. Come in, come in.” Kat gestured for Michele to enter. “Just watch your step. We have two more besides Earl, but they’re usually scaredy cats. I’ll show you where we set up. I think the others are coming…or is that later, I’m not sure.” She spread her fingers in front of her. “Darn! Why can’t I grow my nails like other girls?”
A little dazed, Michele lifted her bass over the threshold and followed Kat inside. Did the girl ever take a breath?
Kat continued her nonstop, one-sided conversation about the house, the cats, the members of the band, high school events, her current boyfriend, and countless other non sequiturs as Michele tried to absorb as much of the interior as possible.
Most of the main floor seemed to consist of one large room. She noticed wood everywhere. Over the entryway, dining room and kitchen, square-cut fir beams supported a ceiling of unstained pine planks. The ceiling stopped short of the living room and Michele’s eye followed the vaulted space upward perhaps twenty feet to the steeply-pitched roofline.
A sliding glass door in the exposed-log wall on the far side of the living room opened and Theresa appeared, laughing and holding out her hand. “Welcome. I see you’ve met my daughter. I hope she didn’t scare you away already.”
“Mom!” Kat drew out the word and let out a big sigh as she slumped with her hand on a hip.
Theresa pulled Kat to her side, with a warm one-armed hug. “You know we love you and we can’t survive without you. But you do talk and talk.”
“I know. I talk, talk, talk and eat, eat, eat.” Kat giggled. “But it’s important to be friendly. Hey, do you know …” and she was off again, walking toward the refrigerator in the kitchen while talking to the cat.
“Go ahead and take your bass in there,” Theresa pointed through the door. “The rest of the group will be here shortly. Kat, while you’re in there, turn the burner on under that pot on the stove. Be sure to set it on low.”
“Okay.” Kat waved fingers at Michele. “See ya later, don’t forget that I …” and she turned her, the rest of her sentence trailing behind her.
Michele drew in a breath as she saw the view from the bright, spacious room that was obviously an addition to the original cabin. The opposite wall consisted entirely of large picture windows. About a hundred yards from the house, an untamed river hurtled along its tree-lined channel, plunging over small cataracts and crashing against jumbled boulders. It mimicked the feeling in her stomach.
“It’s the Sandy—you crossed it just down the road,” Theresa said.
“It’s so beautiful! How can you ever leave?”
“Well, I don’t like to … but I’ve got to make a living. When I come home from a long week of traveling and gigs, I appreciate it all the more. You’ll see.”
“You can set up over there.” Theresa pointed to a space fitted like a stage—boom microphones, monitors, instrument stands, straight-backed chairs and a mixing board. The rest of the sparse furnishings crowded against one wall.
“Is the newbie here yet? I have some tricks up my sleeve.” An accented voice from inside the main house asked. What was it? Irish? Scottish? Definitely a soprano.
Theresa rolled her eyes. “That’s Rachel. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite.” She turned toward the door. “I’m sure Sarah isn’t far behind. Go ahead and warm up. I’ll try to calm the hordes before they descend on you.”
Now that the moment was almost upon her, Michele’s case of the jitters returned with a vengeance. Would she measure up? What if she wasn’t good enough? What if they just didn’t like her?
With shaking hands Michele stood her bass on its endpin and plucked each of the strings, listening carefully. She fingered the harmonics and tuned by ear, followed by practicing a couple of the more difficult riffs she’d worked out to play for one of the songs. She shook out her left hand after making the same mistake three times. Please, not now. I know this. I can do this. Her hours of practice would pay off as long as she didn’t let her nerves get the best of her.
She closed her eyes and plucked each note of the errant riff at a slower speed, concentrating on the deep tones. Her breathing slowed and she increased the speed back to the required time signature. Now, her fingers moved with ease and confidence up and down the neck as she let the resonance wash over her fear.
As she finished the piece for the second time, she heard a cacophony of voices coming from the front of the house, then Theresa, Kat and two other women swept into the room with a burst of color and talking. Theresa waved her arms in a palms-down motion. “Let me start the introductions. Michele, this is Rachel Cullen, our fiddler.”
“And mandolin virtuoso,” Kat added.
Rachel took Michele’s hand in a firm grip. “So, you’re the fresh meat…I mean talent,” she said in a charming brogue. Her face flashed a huge smile, but her deep-blue eyes flashed to the side, as though she were withholding judgment for the time being.
Stunning to behold, Rachel stood three to four inches taller than Michele, probably no older than thirty and built lean. She exuded confidence, as evidenced by her attire: tight white shorts and a lime-green, sleeveless tank top that rode just above her navel. Michele noted admiringly that she wore them very well. She also noticed the well-defined biceps as they shook hands.
Michele took pains to keep herself in shape but whereas she had the elfin body of a gymnast, Rachel looked more like a track and field athlete. Her most striking feature, however, had to be her long platinum blonde hair. Not dyed, Michele wagered, because her skin was also very pale. It certainly suited her confidence and slight rebellious streak.
“And this,” Theresa said, “is Sarah Cosgrave. She plays guitar, flute, and assorted other instruments.” Michele looked up into friendly, olive-green eyes.
“Welcome, Michele. Theresa has already raved about your singing,” Sarah said, both of her hands warmly covering Michele’s. Sarah’s melodious voice was as lithe as her physique. She moved with the willowy grace of a dancer. Thick, straight, chestnut-brown hair fell casually over and below her shoulders, perfectly complementing an elegant heart-shaped face. She suspected that Sarah easily held the attention of all the male audience members wherever Sweetwater Canyon played.
“What do you say we play a little first and chat later?” Theresa said, shepherding the group toward the stage. “Michele, you take the outside mike.” She pointed mid stage left where there were two mikes—one lower for her bass and another higher for her voice.
Her heart fluttering, Michele picked up her bass and stretched her fingers over the strings. She took a deep, calming breath as the four other women took their accustomed positions: Kat and Rachel stood to Michele’s right, and Sarah and Theresa stood to her left and slightly in front of the others. Like Michele, they each had two microphones. Sarah turned on the sound board, activating the mikes. Then each adjusted her own stage monitor.
“Okay, Kat, give us an ‘A’ on your accordion,” Theresa directed. When they were all satisfactorily tuned, Theresa said, “Let’s warm up our fingers to start with, then we’ll stretch our vocal chords. How about County Clare?
Michele nodded as she moved her fingers to the first position for the song, thankful to be starting with something she knew well before getting to the more difficult pieces.
Kat put down her accordion and stood ready with the bohdran—a Celtic drum.
Theresa kicked it off with an eight-measure banjo solo in the tempo of a classic Irish jig and then Rachel joined in for the next eight, matching her note-for-note on the fiddle. Sarah came in next, strumming chords on her dreadnought guitar and letting them ring while the banjo-fiddle duet continued to build.
Wow! They’re really tight. Michele noticed they were taking a New Grass Revival turn with this instrumental tune. It gave her a chance to show her stuff right off the bat.
At measure thirty-two, Michele added her bass line to the mix and Kat interwove a simple but persuasive beat on her bohdran. Michele recognized the break half-way through where the melody changed and the tempo accelerated to a lightning pace. Here, she really cut loose, her left hand flying up and down the neck while her right slapped the strings with controlled abandon. The tune concluded with the banjo and fiddle again matching licks and all the instruments sustaining a long, final note. She half expected to hear a spontaneous burst of applause.
“Not bad, everybody,” Theresa said. “Michele, you’ve got that bass line down pat.”
“Yeah, I think that was at least as good, if not better, than Denise,” Kat added, and the other two women voiced their agreement.
Michele warmed with pride.
Theresa leafed through several pages, then tapped one on her stand. “Okay, let’s try one of the vocal numbers I e-mailed to Michele. If I Needed You will give us a chance to use all five voices. Michele, would you prefer first or second tenor on this one?”
“I think second tenor would be the best fit,” Michele responded.
“Good.” Theresa rested her banjo on its stand and reached for a small-bodied nylon string guitar. “Kat, time to strap on the squeezebox.” She turned to Michele. “Sarah and I will do a four-bar intro on the guitars then we’ll all come in on vocals. Michele, you start laying down your bass line at the pickup to nine—the same time Kat comes in on the accordion.”
Michele knew this song by heart; the bass part was easy so she could concentrate on merging her voice into the blend.
Sarah sang solo lead on the verses in her sweet alto and Rachel put down a wistful fiddle break so silky that the bow seemed to float over the strings. Even Kat’s accordion added a nice smoothness to the instruments and the voices. They ended with all five women repeating the opening refrain by softly humming the melody.
“That sounded pretty seamless to me,” Sarah said in her soft voice.
Rachel nodded and turned to Michele. “Hey, not bad.”
Michele suspected that, coming from Rachel, this constituted high praise indeed.
“Way cool,” Kat said.
“Thanks.” Michele’s body pulsed with the rhythm and the notes still swirled in her head.
They ran through six more songs, mixing the tempos and alternating instrumentals with vocal numbers. Michele kept up, but just barely. The group was very, very tight. She could tell they’d spent many years together.
Finally, after the last song, Theresa said, “That’s enough for today.”
Michele took her time moving her bass to pack up. She still felt the flush of a great session. Whether they asked her to join them or not, she knew she had just done the best audition of her life—and she’d enjoyed every minute of it.
Theresa touched Michele’s shoulder. “Let’s go into the kitchen and chat. I’ve got a pot of chili on the stove.”
“I’ll get the bowls and spoons,” Kat piped up, practically dancing from one foot to the other. “Who wants what to drink? I think we’re out of…” and she disappeared through the door. The others followed at a much less frenzied pace.
Sarah, Rachel and Michele perched on high swivel-chairs around the kitchen island while Theresa stirred the chili and Kat busied herself in the cupboards, chattering to herself all the while.
“You’re good,” Sarah said, turning to Michele. “So tell me, why the bass? It’s pretty rare to find a woman playing bass.”
“Yeah, why not something a little…smaller?” Rachel smiled, looking her up and down.
“Well,” Michele paused determining how much to share. Ah, go for it. “That bass is probably my best friend. It’s stayed with me longer than any other relationship. It has the power to make me cry, to make me laugh and to warm my soul. In the last six years, it has shown me how to work hard and enjoy my path no matter what anyone else thinks of my choices. It has simply become the best part of me.”
Silence. Everyone looked down at their bowls, even Kat. Michele lifted a hand to cover her heart. Her breath stuttered. Whoa! Too deep…too heavy.
“Eerie…but cool,” Kat said. “Do, do, do, do,” she hummed the opening bars of the Twilight Zone theme and everyone laughed.
Smiling, Michele joined in the light hearted banter. She learned that Rachel came from Dunoon, a small town near Glasgow, and had immigrated to the States four years ago. Sarah had been a history teacher at Sandy High School until budget cuts and a lack of seniority forced her layoff. Since then she had worked the front desk at Timberline Lodge to make ends meet. Theresa mentioned a divorce and a mostly unsuccessful career as a real estate agent.
Michele loved the easy-going camaraderie of this group. She felt comfortable. They made it easy to talk, to share opinions and she now knew the teasing was without malice. “You know, I never would have pictured an accordion in a band like this,” she said, “or that it could possibly sound so good with this kind of music. In fact, the only time I’ve even heard one was at my grandparents’ house back in Montana where every…Sunday… afternoon” —she drew out each word dramatically—“they would play these old Lawrence Welk records on their phonograph.” Michele sighed. “Much as I loved my grandparents, I always felt that those visits qualified as cruel and unusual punishment.”
A dead quiet sucked out every bit of air. Each member of the band stared at her in disbelief with eyes wide and mouths agape.
Michele froze. Her heart beat so loud in her ears she was sure even the neighbors could hear it over the river. She panicked in silence, trying to think of a way to undo the damage. She’d been having such a good time. After things were going so well she had now completely blown her chance. Too shocked to even cry, Michele held her breath as the seconds of her life ticked away.
Then the room erupted in gales of laughter, startling the cats not half as much as Michele.
“Consider yourself initiated, newbie,” Rachel said, patting her on the back. Her voice was mischievous, but her eyes finally showed genuine acceptance.
The others got up from their chairs and gathered around Michele. “Sorry about that,” Sarah said sympathetically, “we just couldn’t resist. The whole accordion thing always comes up.”
Kat held her sides, almost doubled over. “We love to pull that on people, and you stepped right into the trap.”
Still laughing, Theresa gave her a hug. “Welcome to Sweetwater Canyon.”
"Do you mean?" Michele began, her eyes misting in surprise.
"Yes," Theresa said, hugging her again. “You're in.” She looked her straight in the eyes. “You’re talented, sweet, and a good sport. We’d love to have you join us.”
Michele stood and stepped away from the keyboard. With a heavy sigh she tore up the sheet of music she’d been trying to compose. The song just wasn’t coming together. Lifting her hands toward the ceiling, she stretched as tall as she could, then slowly twisted to the left and then to the right until she heard the comforting, crackling sound of her spine readjusting.
The past few weeks had been a heady blur as she worked hard to catch up with the other members of Sweetwater Canyon. She needed two original songs to include in their tour set. During a rehearsal last week she’d debuted Breaking the Bonds to a very enthusiastic reception. One down, but the second one was going nowhere. How could she possibly write a love song when her only experience with the subject had been the ruinous relationship with Jon? Perhaps she should start from scratch with a different theme.
Michele retrieved a half-finished glass of tomato juice from the fridge. Sipping it slowly, she stood in the middle of her tiny studio apartment and basked in the mid-day sunshine pouring in from the four large, east-facing windows. She rolled her head in a circle, working out the kinks in her neck. She needed a break. Thinking about her non-existent love life wasn’t helping at all.
Turning in a slow circle, she finished her tomato juice and took only a few steps to the kitchen—actually kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom, all in one. “Well, Michele,” she said with a touch of resignation, “you sure don’t have much to show for your twenty-eight years.”
Most of her friends were married and already had at least one child, a house in the burbs, and a career that was definitely on the upswing. But Michele had never been “most” people. From the day that Jon had walked out five years ago, no man had spent the night in her bed. Both sex and romance eluded her. Love? She figured that just wasn’t in the cards. And she was fine with that. Really. Now that her career dreams were coming to fruition, she had no time for a relationship anyway.
The antique clock on the credenza—an heirloom from her mother’s family—bonged twice and she looked up. She still had plenty of time to get the tickets. Rehearsal didn’t start until four today, and it was an hour’s drive up the mountain. She grabbed two twenty dollar bills from her wallet and stuffed them in the right front pocket of her jeans and ran out the door, locking it solidly behind her.
Sweetwater Canyon practiced six days a week, taking only Sundays off—and Michele had special plans for a concert next Sunday. Alison Krauss would be at the amphitheater in Bend. Even though Bend was a three-hour drive from Portland over the Cascades, it was Union Station’s only concert date in the Northwest and she wasn’t going to miss it.
Michele jogged the four blocks to the Ticketmaster office at Portland State and took her place at the end of a long line. Several teenage girls were ahead of her buying tickets six months in advance for a Brittany Spears concert at the Rose Garden. The line dwindled and Michele perked her ears listening to the middle-aged woman asking about symphony tickets for the upcoming season. Yes! No one was asking for Alison Kraus tickets. Just one more person to go—the tall man directly in front of her. His stylish Polo shirt and slightly mussed hair gave her confidence he wouldn’t want her tickets. Certainly not the Alison Krauss type. He looked more like an opera or Cirque du Soleil fan.
Standing behind him Michele came only to the top of his shoulder blades. Her eyes traveled down his broad back. Powerful, but not overly pumped like those muscle-bound types who live in the weight room. Hmmm…nice butt! It looked like he was poured into that pair of jeans. Embarrassed by her train of thought, she blushed and quickly looked away. Then the line moved forward and he bent to the window to order, his butt again sustaining her attention.
“I’d like two tickets for Alison Krauss,” he said.
“You’re very lucky, sir,” the woman behind the counter said. “The reserved seats are sold out. I’m afraid there’s only lawn seating, and I’ve got just two tickets left.”
Michele couldn't believe her ears! She squeezed next to him, her face cheek to cheek with his as she tried to talk through the same small speaker hole in the window.
“No! Wait! These can’t be the last two tickets. I have to go. This is my only chance to see her.”
The woman gave her a blank stare while the man turned toward her. The left corner of his mouth quirked up to form a bemused smile. Michele felt the heat rise to her cheeks as she blushed once again.
“I’m sooooooooo sorry,” she apologized to both of them. “I don’t know what got into me. I’m…oh gosh…” She quickly turned to leave, but the man reached out and laid a hand gently on her forearm.
“Wait. I’ll happily give up my tickets to someone who wants to go that badly.” His eyes followed hers as she looked down at her arm. “Sorry,” he said in a gentle tone, releasing his grip.
“Thank you, but I really couldn’t take yours.” She stared at her arm, wondering why it stayed stuck in midair as if it was no longer under her control. She forced it down to her side, focusing on letting it hang casually against her thigh.
“Please?” He held up his index finger. “Hold just a moment? Maybe we can work something out.”
She turned her face upward. His eyes. His blue-green eyes held her transfixed.
“Give me one minute,” he said, reaching for the wallet in his back pocket.
Unable to find any words or to move, Michele simply stared.
He turned to complete his transaction, his voice a distinct, rich baritone. He talked easily with the woman at the window, thanking her as he put the receipt and credit card back in his wallet. Michele studied his profile. A pronounced chin led to a chiseled cheekbone. Not a thin face, but well-defined and strong. The thick hair was cut just above the collar of his shirt, the style neat along the back with a natural curl that created waves. The muss she’d noticed earlier was closer to the crown, where it appeared he had deliberately made sure there was no part. The jet-black hair color captivated her almost as much as those mesmerizing eyes. She tried to guess his age, maybe twenty-eight or thirty. He definitely didn’t look older than thirty.
Then he turned to face her, a roguish smile lit up those deep-set eyes.
“Maybe there’s a way we can both come out ahead. How many tickets were you looking to buy?”
“Just one,” she barely choked out a whisper. Damn! Should I have told him that? I should have said two. Why didn’t I say two? She was too dazed to think straight.
“Excellent! Then you get what you want,” he said, holding out a ticket, “and I get what I want.”
“To take you to the concert.”
“No, no…I couldn’t,” she said, struggling to recover a semblance of self-control. “I don’t even know you.”
“Well, we can easily fix that. Let me buy you a cup of coffee?”
“No!” Michele blurted as panic set in. This was not at all what she wanted. She wanted nothing to do with men. She had a new career. She’d be traveling. She’d be unavailable. It didn’t matter that he was charming, gorgeous… maybe even nice. She’d sworn off men and she was going to keep her promise.
“No, thank you,” she repeated with more confidence. “I’m not in the habit of going off with strange men.”
“I’m not so strange, once you get to know me.” Those twinkling eyes chipped away at her resolve. “Just give me five minutes to make my case.”
She sighed and looked away. She’d hear him out and then that would be the end of it. She could be polite and then be on her way.
“Okay, five minutes. I’m heading down the Park Blocks. You’ll have to talk while I walk.” She started toward the main entrance of the student union building, not looking back to see if he followed. He reached the door first and held it open for her, still smiling broadly.
They emerged onto the busy sidewalk and she turned right toward her apartment then hesitated. She certainly didn’t want to lead him to her building.
“There’s an empty bench,” he said pointing to a shaded spot near a raised flower bed in the center of the park blocks. “Could we sit for just a couple of minutes?”
“Good idea.” She hurried toward the bench and took a seat, but he continued to stand, pacing up and down in front of her. He seemed to be gathering his thoughts. She didn’t dare look up and give those eyes power over her again. Instead, she focused on the low circular brick wall that outlined a bed of multi-colored pansies just behind him.
“Let me try this again,” he began in a serious tone augmented by his rich, deep voice. “Would you do me the honor of being my date for the Alison Krauss concert?”
Michele giggled. “You’ve got to be kidding. Who are you?” She tilted her face up to meet his gaze. “‘Do me the honor?’ No one talks like that anymore.”
“Okay. So, the chivalrous approach doesn’t work with you.” He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, then smiled and took a deep breath.
“How about this?” He put both hands in his front pockets, leaned back and thrust his hips forward slightly like a clichéd cowboy. Michele almost grinned, but held it back.
“Howdy, Miss,” he drawled. “I’ve got two tickets to this rip-snortin’ concert and I’ve heard tell you wanna go. I think you’re kinda decent lookin’ and it don’t seem that you got cooties, so I thought to myself ‘What the heck, I might could spend a day with this purty little filly.’”
He placed his hand over his heart. “I promise to shower and brush my teeth ‘forehand, and I swear I won’t put any moves on you…that is, unless you want me to.” He exaggerated a wink.
She couldn’t hold back her smile any longer. “I don’t know that your pick-up lines are getting any better. But at least you’re sounding more truthful.”
“Truth is stranger than fiction, Ma’am,” he replied, pursing his lips, furrowing his brow and rubbing his chin melodramatically in a passable Lieutenant Columbo impersonation.
Her smile widened.
“Or, how about ‘The truth shall set you free!’” he cried, raising his arms skyward in an exaggerated gesture. “Or,” he bent close to her and screwed up his face into a maniacal grin, “how about, ‘You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!’”
She laughed. “That was the worst Jack Nicholson I’ve ever seen.”
“Well, I do have other talents.” He paused and tilted his head as if waiting for her to ask about them.
She swallowed as her imagination filled in the blanks of all kinds of talents he might have. She couldn’t form a coherent thought beyond that.
“So? How about it?” he asked, sitting next to her on the bench, his voice back to normal.
“Look, you don’t have to do this,” she stammered. “It’s nice of you to be polite and all, but— ” Then she stood abruptly, feeling uncomfortable sitting so close to him. She walked over to the flower bed a few feet away. “It’s obvious you already had someone in mind. After all, you bought two tickets.” She took a deep breath and wondered if he was really single—really available. Stop it. It doesn’t matter if he’s single. You. Are. Not. Interested.
He didn’t say anything right away. Then he stood and let out a deep breath. The skin around his eyes crinkled as his mouth formed a half smile.
God, he’s tall! She wondered what it might be like to be with someone so tall. Geez, get your mind out of his pants, Michele. Is this what happens when you don’t get any for five years? The first guy who is nice to you has you ready to jump his bones?
She shook her head and pushed back her shoulders. He approached closer. She stepped up on the brick wall to extend her height and face him. Now eye-to-eye she could look directly at him. That was better. Maybe.
He raised an eyebrow, acknowledging her new height, and stepped forward again, now within inches of her face. He took her hands in his. She could have withdrawn them; he wasn’t holding tight, but she didn’t want to acknowledge how acutely he affected her.
Michele swallowed hard. At this distance she could see his long dark eyelashes. What would they feel like against her cheek? A spark kindled in her belly and moved a warming heat upward to her head. What’s the matter with me? Not even Jon, with all his sophisticated charm, had gotten to her so quickly and so dramatically. And she didn’t even know this guy’s name.
The smile started with a twitch at his mouth, then slowly went up his cheekbones and finally reached his eyes. Michele stared back at him, her chin slightly tilted.
His eyes fixed on hers. “Knowing how much you want to go, you are now the only person I have in mind.”
She pulled her gaze away from his lips. “I couldn’t possibly…I…I don’t even know you.”
He pulled out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. “I’m David. See?” He moved to Michele’s side, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her, barely touching as he pointed to his photograph. “It’s not my best picture, but at least you can see where I live.”
She noted the name exactly: David Michael Blackstone. The license listed an address only ten blocks from her in the Pearl District—definitely a part of town she loved but way out of her price range for renting, dining, or anything other than window shopping. She imagined him in a swanky loft in one of those refurbished warehouse buildings with windows overlooking the city. Maybe he lived above an upscale art gallery or antique store.
She drew her attention back to the license. Six-foot-one and 195 pounds. Hmmm. Hard to imagine dating someone almost a head taller. And she had guessed his age fairly well after all. He was thirty-two.
“Have you memorized it yet?” He smiled and stepped back in front of her.
She looked at him and smiled back. “Still working on it.”
“You can write it all down if you want.”
Michele lowered her head as the desire to attend the concert warred with her trepidation about going on an out-of-town first date with a man she had met just ten minutes ago. Especially a man who generated such unnatural lust in her. She handed the license back to him. “I’m sorry to have started all this. I can’t. I just can’t.”
He put it back in his wallet. “Why not? You now have my name and my address. Give the information to a friend and tell her exactly where you’re going and when. You can even include my license number. Tell her you’ll check in as soon as we get to Bend and when you get home.”
“I just don’t know. It’s really kind of you but—”
“At the very least you get to see Alison Krauss for free. At best, who knows? You might actually enjoy my company.”
She felt the heat rising to her face again.
“You do that a lot, don’t you?”
“I do not blush!” she said, gritting her teeth and raising her chin in defiance.
“Oh yes, you do,” he countered. “Either that or the sun has decided to set at three in the afternoon and the brilliant shades of pink are reflected on your skin.”
“Three o’clock? Oh, my god, I’m going to be late.” She took a step forward, forgetting the wall, and tumbled forward. Her arms automatically wrapped around him to stop her momentum.
David caught her with a strong arm around her waist, and slowly lowered her to the ground. She stood frozen, pressed against his chest, a little stunned. Neither of them spoke. She could feel his heart beating. A low, quiet, but steady beat—like the way she would set the tempo for a ballad on her bass.
“Thank you,” she barely whispered. She consciously removed her arms from around his waist and took a step back. “I…forgot…where I was standing.”
David gave her a little more space. “So, what time shall I pick you up Sunday? I thought we could get an early start, maybe take a picnic and stop somewhere for lunch along the way. If we leave in the morning, we can still get to the amphitheater with plenty of time to get a good spot on the lawn for the concert.”
Michele shook her head. “Look. I can’t be dating now. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I just didn’t think before. I’m late for an appointment. I’m…”
He stared straight at her, as if she were making it all up.
“All right. I get it. I’m not that dense. ” He clenched his teeth, which made his jawline more pronounced. He looked down to the ground. “You’re just not attracted to me.” Then he looked straight at Michele. “That’s okay. No problem. Nice meeting you.” He turned to leave.
“No, it’s not that. I find you very attrac…No. I mean…” She blushed again. David turned his face back toward her with renewed hope in his eyes. What was she thinking? She was about to admit how attracted she really was.
She heard the beginnings of his chuckle choke off. She really did want to see Alison Krauss and she had to admit she was intrigued by David Blackstone.
“How about we meet in Bend,” she offered. “There’s a deli with a striped awning on that street downtown that runs along the river and overlooks Mirror Pond. Do you know it?”
“You mean Freeman’s?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Oh, and my treat, since you bought the tickets.”
“Are you afraid you’ll feel beholden to me?” his voice elicited that teasing drawl again.
“Just want to keep everything in the right perspective.”
“And what perspective would that be?”
“I’m not interested in a relationship right now,” she said, making sure her voice sounded confident, matter-of-fact. “I’m far too busy and … well…I just can’t invest the time and energy a relationship takes.”
“Fine by me,” he answered without hesitation. “So, casual sex and no snuggling afterward works for you?”
“No! That’s not what I meant.” The heat rushed to her face before she heard his chuckle and knew he was teasing her again.
“Okay. We’ll do it your way then. I’ll meet you at Freeman’s. Just one more important detail we need to settle.”
“What’s your name?”
“Oh, god, what was I thinking? I just made a date and … oh my god!” She shifted her weight back and forth. “I’m just not used to agreeing to go somewhere with someone I just met. Okay. Let’s start over.” She stood tall and formally held out her right hand. “I’m Michele Scott.”
He shook her hand with a warm, affectionate grip, then said in a husky whisper, “I’m afraid that just won’t do, Michele.” He gently drew her to him and bent low as if to brush her lips with his. But then he hesitated. “Michele, I …”
She looked into those blue-green eyes and found her lips opening in invitation as her hand snaked around his neck and she stood on tiptoe to meet him.
He sighed and pulled her softly against him, his fingers working through her long, dark hair as he deepened the kiss, his mouth alternatively teasing and ravishing her lips. She held his head tight to hers not wanting him to stop.
Before she fully realized what had happened, he pulled away with a moan. He took a step back, brushing both hands through his hair and clearing his throat.
Michele looked down to get her balance, surprised she could still stand at all given that her legs had turned to rubber. Half expecting to find pieces of her clothing missing, she fingered each of the buttons on her shirt to make sure they hadn’t come open.
No man had ever gotten to her like this. She didn’t even know herself anymore. She had never been the one to make the first move—and in the middle of the Park Blocks, no less.