"Haven't you ever done anything on the spur of the moment, Mom?" Rachel gave her mother an exasperated look.
Jill looked over the top of her reading glasses at her daughter. "I'm sorry. I like to know where I'm going, who I'm going with, little things like that. And I certainly don't want to go somewhere by myself."
"Live a little, Mom, take some chances in life. Don't you get tired of being Mrs. Safe and Sound?" Rachel was attempting to get her mother go to Jazz in the Park by herself. The original plan had been for the both of them to attend, but Rachel's boss had called, and she was desperately needed at the store.
The barb made Jill wince a little. Mrs. Safe and Sound. Her seemingly perfect life had come to a crashing halt years ago when her husband had come home from work one day and announced that he wanted to live, but not with her or Rachel, and wanted a divorce. She wasn't Mrs. Safe and Sound now. She wasn't even a Mrs., not anymore.
Jill studied her daughter in silence. She was the one good thing left in her life. Rachel had inherited her auburn hair. She looked at her grey eyes and a smile crossed her face.
There had been a time, a long time ago, when she had done something on the spur of the moment. Almost twenty-one years ago, that memory always stayed fresh in her mind.
She told her parents she was spending the weekend with her roommate from college, Anne. When she called Anne on the phone that morning, she told Anne that she just needed a little time to herself.
"All the preparations have been made. The flowers have been picked out. The dresses are all ready. I just need to make sure I'm ready." Jill tried to explain her restlessness to Anne.
"Jill, if you're not ready, you shouldn't go through with it. You can cancel the whole thing." The concern in Anne's voice was evident, even over the scratchy phone connection.
"No, I really can't do that."
"Do you love him?" Anne asked.
"Yes," Jill replied, "and I have since he sat down beside me on that band trip back when we were just sophomores. I'm just not sure if I'm in love with him. There's a big difference, you know."
"I know. You do what you have to do." There was a brief silence over the line and then Anne asked, "Well, what do I tell Mark if he calls and wants to speak to you?"
"He won't. He's off fishing with his friends this weekend. I don't expect him to get back into town until Monday night at the earliest. So, I'm on my own for the next three days."
So, where are you going this weekend?"
I'm not sure. I think I'm just going to drive until a place looks good to me."
"Jill, if something's wrong, you'd tell me, right?" Anne asked, the concern evident in her voice even over the phone lines.
"Everything's fine. I just need time to clear my head."
The two friends ended the conversation. Jill hung up the phone, grabbed the overnight bag she'd packed with some clothes and walked out the door of her apartment into the afternoon sunshine. With the bag tossed in the back seat, Jill started her car and pulled out onto the highway heading south.
Jill tuned the radio to an oldies station and sang along with the songs. Songs she'd first listened to with Mark. Songs that had been playing during their first kiss, the first time they went parking, even the first time they'd made love on that ratty old blanket, spread out down by the creek. It had been a hot summer afternoon and they'd been skinny-dipping. She'd been in love then. Was she still in love? That was one of the things she hoped to sort out this weekend.
Hours later, she pulled up in front of a block of bars, all featuring live music. She parked her car in the lot across the street and walked up to the door of the first one. The diamond from her engagement ring caught the neon lights from the beer signs. She'd worn it proudly for over a year now, happy to be known as Mark's fiancée and then the bride-to-be, but now she wanted one last time to be just Jill, a girl listening to some music, maybe having a drink or two, spending the evening by herself. She tugged the ring off her finger, dropped it into her purse and zipped the side pocket firmly closed. Jill took a deep breath and opened the door to the bar.
She paused, waiting just inside the door out of the flow of traffic until her eyes adjusted to the dim light. Jill looked around for a table and found a small one, way in the back. There was only one chair, the other one obviously borrowed by the large crowd taking up a couple of tables. Jill didn't care. She wasn't planning on having anyone join her.
She sat down and pulled the chair around until she was facing the stage. Her view of the stage wasn't very good. She couldn't see much, just the far left corner and the guitar player, or more accurately, his hands. No wonder this table was empty. No matter. Jill really wasn't there for the music anyway. The band was pretty good, though. Not rock and roll as she'd expected, but blues and jazz and soul, all blended together. Melancholy music but with a vibrancy, a brightness around the edges of the melodies. Great music for just thinking, for just feeling.
She took a sip from her drink when the cocktail waitress brought it over, closed her eyes and thought about the first time she'd talked to Mark. They'd been riding a school bus, coming back from a band contest, so long ago.
She'd found a seat all to herself, as usual. She was the new kid and so shy. Most of her classmates mistook that for snobbery and didn't have much to do with her. The kids in band were friendlier, but tonight most of them had paired off already, leaving her with a seat all to herself.
"Would you mind if I sat here?"
She looked up and a boy, Mark, she thought that's what his name was, dropped into the seat beside her.
"Yes. I mean, no. You can sit there." Flustered, Jill didn't know how to respond. No one, especially a cute boy like Mark, ever asked to sit by her.
"Great," he said. "It was getting a little intense back there."
"Intense?" Jill asked, wondering what could be intense about a bus ride down the highway.
"Yeah, it's make-out city. So I moved up here."
"Oh." Jill didn't know what to say. She scooted over towards the window, but the springs in the bus seat were shot and soon she was right back beside him. Their fingers brushed against each other as the driver took a curve in the road.
"Sorry," she stammered and tried to pull her hand away.
"No, don't be sorry," Mark replied, his hand still over hers. "I like holding hands with a pretty girl."
Jill looked up at him and smiled. She could feel her cheeks turning pink. Her blush was probably neon even in the dark.
"And even prettier when you smile." Mark continued, moving his fingers until they were entwined with hers. "That's better."
Jill wished she knew something, anything to say, but no words came to her. They rode that way for a while, quiet, holding hands.
"Are you doing anything this Saturday?" he asked. "Would you like to go to the dance?"
"...dance?" A voice interrupted her thoughts.
"I'm sorry. What did you say?" Jill pulled her attention from that moment in her past and back to the present.
"I asked if you wanted to dance," the guy standing next to her table repeated
"Oh, no, thank you. I'm really not interested in dancing. I just want to sit here by myself and think this evening. Sorry."
The guy murmured something and walked away. Jill returned to her thoughts, sipping her drink and listening to the band.
"What kinda music do you boys play?" The old man had walked up to the stage as the band was setting up for their next set. "I shore hope you don't play none of that hippie shit music."
George chuckled as he opened his cases and set the guitars up on their respective stands.
Bo, the bass player, and leader of the group's voice boomed with laughter. "Not us, Pops. We only play loud music."
The old man rubbed the stubble on his chin. "Well, I guess I'll have to turn my hearing aid down if you're loud." He thought for a minute. "And the name's not Pops. Most people 'round here call me Billy."
The first set was going well. George felt it was going to be a good night. It felt like the band was in a groove. Bo was already in rare form. He wasn't much of a bass player, but he was an entertainer and he knew how to work a crowd.
As George played, he watched a girl walk in alone and sit down at the table in the corner. She was different than the rest of the crowd in the bar. Everyone else seemed to be in a party mood, but she seemed quiet and contemplative. Her attention seemed to be a million miles away.
His solo was coming up. Bo moved beside him and yelled in his ear, "Make her sing, George. Rip it up."
George hit the overdrive pedal on the floor and closed his eyes; he was lost in the music. The Les Paul howled and screamed at his touch. He could feel it. It was going to be a great night.
"Now, promise me that you will go." Rachel looked at her mother.
"I don't know, Rachel. I don't feel comfortable going by myself."
"But, you've already paid for the tickets, and you've been looking forward to this for weeks now."
Jill smiled at her daughter and watched her get ready for work. She reminded Jill of how she was at the same age. A soft sigh escaped as she thought how her daughter had her whole life ahead of her, and that her own life seemed to be in a bit of a shambles at the moment.
"I know. I'll think about it."
Rachel rolled her eyes at her mother. "I know what that means. It means you will sit here and think up excuses not to go. I'll make you a deal. I'll talk to Phil when I get to work, and ask him to put me down for first to go if it gets slow. I'll take my clothes with me, change there and meet you in the park. At the very worst, I'll be down there about dark."
Jill sighed and acquiesced. "Okay, I'll go."
"Good!" Rachel leaned over and kissed her mother on the cheek. "You'll enjoy yourself, and I will see you down there later."
After Rachel left, Jill had second thoughts about going. She looked at the ticket sitting on the table. One ticket. One ticket for one person. She was a single woman, but not by choice.
When Mark had told her he wanted a divorce, she wasn't surprised. The only surprise was that it had lasted as long as it had. She found herself often wondering if she had ever really been in love with Mark. She had loved him, but then she had loved Spanky, the mischievous Cocker Spaniel that Rachel had received for her fifth birthday. Jill had shed more tears when Spanky had passed away than she had for her failed marriage.
Jill looked at the ticket again. "I'm going to go."
She walked to her bedroom and looked in the closet. "What to wear?"
"There's a table of girls. Want to come and see if we can get lucky tonight?" Bo set his bass in its stand and looked over at George.
George shook his head. "No, I snapped an E string on the Les Paul; I'm going to restring it."
The first two sets had been fabulous. The crowd was into their music, and the whole band seemed to be in a groove tonight. It was nights like this that made all the traveling and truck stop meals worthwhile.
He sat down on the stool behind the PA stack and began to unstring the Les Paul with a speed winder. George reached into his bag, retrieved a new set of Dean Markley bronze strings, and set about restringing the guitar.
George paused briefly to look at the girl sitting alone at the table. He had seen several guys ask her to dance, only to be rebuffed. He wondered who she was, and if she was waiting for anyone. For the briefest of moments, he felt their eyes meet. He managed to flash a quick smile.
"Okay, gorgeous, let's get you in tune," George whispered to his guitar as he plugged the tuner in.
Jill had felt her pulse skip a beat when her eyes made contact with the guitar player. She was glad it was dark in the bar; he wouldn't be able to see the blush in her cheeks.
She watched his hands as he put the new strings on the guitar. His motions and movements seemed to be so precise. The way he held the guitar was almost sensuous.
After the guitar was tuned, George began to play. His amp was turned way down, and the sound guy had a tape running through the mains. What he was playing was only coming through the Marshall.
Jill could hear him. It wasn't a piece of music she recognized. It had a forlorn, haunting quality. She could feel sadness in the notes. She wished she had the nerve to get up and ask him what the song was.
"Still noodlin' around with that?" Bo had come back to the stage.
George turned and nodded. "Yeah, I dunno where it's going to go."
"If you can ever get some lyrics for it, let me know. We might be able to work it into the set list."
'It was strange, really', Jill thought. Of all the music she'd heard tonight, it was that little melody the guitar player was working on during the breaks that spoke the most to her. She guessed it was unfinished. It didn't seem to have any lyrics or even an ending and she never heard any other band members playing along. He was all alone up there, just like she was.
"When we get married, you'll never be alone again, Jill. I'll be there for you. Always." Mark's earnest voice promised, almost like the wedding vows they'd be saying in a year's time.
Jill smiled. Not being alone. She wondered if that could really be true. She loved Mark and spent all her free time with him, but sometimes she still felt so alone, even in his bed after they'd made love. When they were married, truly together, all that would change. She would belong. She would have somebody to love her. Somebody to love.
"...Somebody to Love. You know. That old Jefferson Airplane song. Grace Slick." The man standing beside her table leaned in to talk to her over the music. "Kinda jazzy for my taste, but it's not too bad. We could probably still dance to it, if you'd like."
Jill jumped a bit at the voice close to her ear. She'd been miles away. Years away from where she was this evening.
"Um. No thanks. I'm waiting for someone," Jill said, turning her attention back to the stage.
The man's gaze took in the single chair she was sitting in and shrugged. He'd been turned down before. Plenty of other girls in the bar tonight. Maybe he'd have better luck at the table full of babes down by the stage.
It really wasn't a lie. She was waiting for someone or something. She just didn't know who or what. Someone to tell her she was doing the right thing. A sign that she should leave and go back home or stay and maybe hear the rest of his song.
She would be getting married to Mark. Everything was all set. That little bit of doubt was just cold feet, wasn't it? Sure it was. She just needed a chance to think things through and be sure. Then everything would be fine. She'd... No. They'd have a great life together. Happily ever after. Wasn't that the way she'd always heard it should be?
Jill surprised herself when she backed the car out of the driveway and onto the street. The whole time she was getting ready, she was convinced that she would find some excuse to change her mind and stay home.
Several times, she had looked at the phone and thought about calling her daughter. A sudden headache, an upset stomach, she even thought about saying the car wouldn't start.
Even more unexpected was the rising feeling of excitement. The closer she got to the park, the more she was looking forward to spending the afternoon there, listening to live music.
The parking lot was already crowded. Jill looked at the sea of cars and began searching for a spot. A smile grew on her face when she saw a car pulling out. "Must be my lucky day," she said to herself as she pulled in and parked her car.
The sun felt good, and a gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the trees in the park. She set her lawn chair up under a large maple. She wished she could've found a spot closer to the stage. She enjoyed watching the musicians as much as she liked listening to the music.
The lights of the bar were bright now. She'd sat there all night, sipping on a few drinks, no closer to a decision than when she'd entered the place. Jill smiled. She had had a good time, though. The band was much better than she'd anticipated. And there was just something about that guitar player. 'Ah, well,' Jill thought. 'I'd better head out and find a place to stay for the night.'
Jill stepped out into the cool night air. That afternoon's sunshine had changed into a fine mist of rain and fog. The streets were deserted. Her car one of the few left in the lot. Jill's footsteps echoed as she crossed the road and went to her car. She slid behind the wheel and turned the key. Nothing. Complete silence. Not even a bit of that grinding noise. Just the quiet sounds of the city late at night.
Jill looked up and down the street. No traffic, no handy tow truck, or even a cab. She'd have settled for a police cruiser. Across the street, the last neon lights of the bar winked out. Maybe she could use the phone there. She grabbed her purse and locked the car, anxious to reach the bar before they locked the doors for the night. She ducked her head against the wind and ran across the street.
Jill turned the corner and bumped into something. She looked up and saw the smiling face and the grey eyes of the guitar player from the band she'd enjoyed watching all night. He took her arm to steady her, releasing her when she regained her footing.
"I'm so sorry. I wasn't watching where I was going. I was trying to get back here before everyone left." Jill looked over and saw the darkened bar, security screens firmly latched into place. "Oh. I guess I'm too late."
"Did you need something? Maybe I could help."
"I wanted to use the phone in the bar. My car won't start. I was hoping to get a jump or a tow or something."
"This late at night, I doubt anything's still open. Let me go look. Maybe it's something obvious."
"Thank you. If it's not too much trouble..." Jill's voice trailed off as she walked with the guitarist back to her car.
"No trouble. I can't leave Cinderella stranded after the ball," George answered.
"I still have both glass slippers. It's my pumpkin I'm worried about," Jill joked.
They reached the car and George did what to Jill's eyes could have been all sorts of magical incantations and gesturing under the hood to no avail. The car was really and truly DOA.
"Must be the battery. It probably just needs a jump in the morning." George answered, dropping the hood of the car into place.
"Well, thank you for trying anyway. I guess I'll just sleep in the car tonight and catch someone when that coffee shop across the street opens up."
"No. I can't let you do that. Why don't we walk over to my hotel - it's just around the block. I'll grab the van and drive you to where you were planning on staying the night."
"That's okay. I really hadn't even thought of where I was going to sleep tonight. I just stopped in for a drink and ended up staying." Jill protested.
"Yep, we're not very good, but we're loud," George said with a grin.
"I thought you were very good."
"Listen. Go ahead and take what you need for the night. I'm sure my hotel has a vacancy."
"That sounds good. I really wasn't looking forward to driving anymore tonight." Jill grabbed her small bag from the back seat and secured her car for the night.
The walk through the misting rain seemed to take no time at all. Jill and George walked mostly in silence, an occasional comment about the storefronts their only conversation. When they got to the hotel, the lobby was deserted. The sign on the desk instructed them to ring the bell and wait. They did both, but no one came. Jill began to shiver in her wet clothes.