Authors: Robyn Carr
“My dress,” Winnie said. “You’ll want my dress!”
Grace shook her head. “It’s not necessary. I’ll find something much simpler.”
“My dress is simple. We can take off the train and pitch the head gear. I hated that head gear anyway. My mother insisted on that. You need something more your style. But the dress is one of a kind.”
“I wouldn’t want to get sand and sea all over it...”
Winnie laughed, and her face looked bright. “Why not? Did you think I was going to use it again? Now, if it’s the matter that you don’t really like it...of course we’ll alter it. I don’t care what you do to it, but if it can work for you in any incarnation, it’s yours. Before you decide, look at it. I’ll have it sent.” She looked around. “This is a nice little house, Grace,” she said.
“We have the downstairs,” Grace said. “It’s large enough for me, Troy and a baby. And the top floor—two bedrooms and a small bath—perfect for Mikhail.”
“Excellent,” he said. “I might stay day or two.”
“Maybe we should get the luggage inside and then toast the new house,” Troy suggested.
“Excellent,” Mikhail said.
“Troy, darling,” Winnie said. “Before you do all that, is there a chair on that deck out there that could accommodate me? If it’s warm enough, of course. Could you take me out there first?”
“Of course,” he said. “Gracie, can you pull the cover off that chaise?”
“Absolutely,” she said. Then she added, “Troy, darling.”
Troy scooped Winnie up in his arms and carried her to the deck, gently placing her on the chaise.
“My daughter was definitely thinking of me when she let herself love you,” Winnie said. “I think I’ll be very happy while you’re around.”
Troy winked at Grace.
Grace mouthed back.
“And my phone,” Winnie demanded. “Who has my phone?”
Mikhail took it out of his pocket and handed it to her.
“Virginia still works for me, doesn’t she? Because I have things for her to do.”
“You know she still works for you, Mama.”
The luggage was brought in, unpacking was accomplished, drinks and tapas were served. The sun was beginning to set, making the beach and the deck bright. Troy put out the awning to provide a little shade. Winnie tried the soup Grace had on hand but though she claimed it was delicious, her trembling made it a messy dish. Grace made her a new plate—very small portions of roasted chicken, scalloped potatoes, steamed asparagus—just a few bites of each. The others loaded up their plates and enjoyed chocolate cheesecake from Carrie’s deli. Troy, Grace and Mikhail carried their plates to the table outside while Winnie balanced a tray on her lap and enjoyed the sound of the waves and the sinking of the sun. Troy showed her the corner where an outdoor hearth would be built and described the activity on the beach in the summer and fall. He explained all the neighbors and his job three doors down at Cooper’s beach bar.
“I’ve asked Virginia to send my dress,” Winnie said. “You can do anything you want to it—it’s yours. Rip it up or store it away and forget about it, I don’t care. And I asked Virginia to make arrangements to reserve that condo in Bandon for your family. It’s the least I can do—I’ve contributed nothing to my only daughter’s wedding. Shall I send a jet for them?”
“Oh, Jesus, no!” Troy said in a panic. Then more calmly he took Winnie’s hand in both of his and said, “Winnie, best not to flash too much around here. People won’t know how to act. My family in particular—they aren’t used to a lot of material wealth. It might make them nervous. It might make them not themselves.”
“Is the condo all right?” she asked, suddenly concerned.
“It’s not necessary,” he said. “Thank you. But we have room for them in town. My parents and brother will be fine in Grace’s loft and my sister and her family will be very comfortable in my apartment. They’ll be close to the beach and this house. But I promise I won’t let them overrun you or tire you out.”
“I’m such a burden,” Winnie said. “I hate being a burden!”
“You’re no trouble at all, Winnie. I don’t want you to worry. It’s a real pleasure having you here. We’re living in your house, after all.”
Winnie turned her eyes to Grace. She smiled. “I think you did all right for yourself here, Grace. This boy is just what we need.”
It was still early when Winnie was settled in bed. Since there was no staff or nursing help, she had her cell phone handy and could call Grace’s cell phone if she needed water, or to get up to use the facilities, anything that required assistance. Winnie thanked Troy a hundred times. And Mikhail retired to a room that boasted a very fine flat-screen with a satellite connection and access to all sorts of entertainment.
The house fell quiet before nine and Grace crawled into bed, content that she’d done a good job. She placed her cell phone beside the bed so she could hear if her mother called. Then her fiancé crawled in beside her. Naked.
“Winnie thinks you’re a nice boy,” Grace said, laughter in her voice.
He pulled her close. “That’s good. Let her think that. That will make life easier on you than if she knows the truth.”
“That you’re just a dirty bad boy?”
“Excellent,” he said, affecting a Russian accent. “We toast that!”
* * *
Matt’s curiosity was piqued. He’d never heard the name Mick Cantrell, but that didn’t mean anything. He wasn’t into music to that degree. Now, if you asked him the name of the head of the Arizona State University Research Farm, he had that. Or even the name of the PhD in Australia studying and publishing on biological farming. And of course he probably knew every Oregon botany PhD publishing in the state. And he was up to speed on environmental policy, growing sustainable food in the US and many other subjects.
He was not up-to-date on rock stars.
He researched Mick Cantrell and found a website and many hits on Google. It appeared he was a minor star. He had a lot of pictures posted on his website and Facebook page, a few showing him on stage with a huge audience, but on his events schedule there weren’t too many listings. His bio made him sound like Bruce Springsteen—he played to thousands, had several CDs, wrote songs for major stars... Matt had heard of the stars but not the songs. But what had Ginger said? He did sell some songs but they never made the charts.
It appeared his gigs were mostly around the Pacific Northwest and he happened to be playing in a Portland nightclub in a week. On a Saturday night.
“What are you up to this weekend?” Matt asked Ginger during one of their phone conversations.
“I’m going to be busy with the shop,” she said. “Grace’s mother has arrived, there’s a fever in the air as they try to pull together a wedding in just over a week. Troy’s family will descend on the town and everyone will be busy. I’m going to do as much as I can to free Grace.”
“I bet she’s so grateful you stumbled into her life,” Matt said.
“That makes two of us. I love her flower shop. What will you do this weekend?”
“Me?” he asked. “Oh. There’s stuff to do. I’m needed on the farm.”
inger had to string together a series of lies in order to have the weekend she planned, a weekend that could bring disastrous results. But she had to do it, had to. There were things she had to know.
She was driving to Portland where she would stay one night with her parents. She planned to have an early dinner with them on Saturday night then, she told them, she was going to meet a couple of girlfriends she hadn’t seen in a very long time. She said she probably wouldn’t be late. She cringed to see how happy her parents were to hear this! She looked better, said she felt better and now she was putting her life back together with old friends. Her mother’s eyes got teary and her chin quivered.
Ginger wasn’t meeting girlfriends. The idea actually appealed and she made a mental note to pursue that in the not-too-distant future. She’d get in touch with those few friends who had nothing to do with Mick or with the baby. She might have to reach all the way back to high school or maybe even junior high, but it was a worthy notion.
But on Saturday night she dressed to go to Roy’s Theater. It was part club, part dance hall, part theater. For big acts they could open the whole place up and seat more than a thousand. For popular dance bands, they could accommodate a couple hundred and a large dance floor. And for entertainers somewhere in between, especially those with a strong local grassroots following like tonight’s act, it could be as many as three hundred in their nightclub.
Mick was performing. Roy’s had always been one of his favorite venues. He was bringing a backup band and singers. Ginger knew that was not a traveling band. It was made up of friends he jammed with and he’d give them a couple hundred bucks each. That meant his set list would be deep, including songs he was known for twenty years ago. And of course his own songs, which were only appreciated by his die-hard fans. His most popular performances were the classic artists—James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Nilsson. He even had a Josh Groban piece with a guitar accompaniment that she had heard on the radio from time to time. It was actually cleverly done.
She had seen him twice since the divorce. Once when the baby was born, once after the baby died, but not for the funeral. Mick had had a gig on the day of the funeral. When he showed up a few weeks after the funeral there was nearly a brawl when her brothers, outraged by the fact that he’d played the dead baby card at his last several concerts, threatened to beat him to death. A long time, then. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him that things were good between them. Sometime before she was pregnant.
She probably should’ve worn baggy jeans and a paint-splattered shirt. She didn’t. She wore the purple dress with gold piping.
“You look so beautiful,” her mother said. “I should get Ray Anne to take me shopping, she’s that good.”
“I really love this dress,” Ginger said.
Do I hope to make him notice me?
she asked herself. Because it was unlikely he would even know she was there. She’d find a secluded place away from the house lights. She was in no way reaching out to him. She just had to know one thing—after all they’d endured, did she still feel anything at all for him?
There was a line to get into the theater. It wasn’t long, but there were some people who wanted to get there early for Mick so they could have seats close to the stage. She even recognized some of them; she’d seen them over the years. They weren’t exactly friends, though some had shown up at her house when there was partying or jamming going on. She’d see them at various concerts. It had been a long time and thankfully no one spoke to her. It was possible she wasn’t recognizable. Also possible she’d only blended into the background of his celebrity, no more important than part of his crew, a mostly volunteer crew. She caught a whiff of marijuana. Several people held beers and since the club wasn’t open yet, they were obviously brought from home.
Once inside there were lots of options and she knew each one. There was theater seating in front of the stage for those dedicated enthusiasts. Then there were booths and tables for general music aficionados. And at the back of the room, a couple of long bars, for those live music fans who had nothing better to do on this Saturday night.
She found a small table for two at the far left end of one of the bars. It was a dark little table and when someone asked if she needed that extra chair, she gave it up happily. She ordered a glass of white wine and one ice water. Then she blew out the candle on her table. The waitress relit it and when she was gone, Ginger blew it out again.
It seemed to be a very long time before that rush ran through the crowd, the anticipation of his appearance when the house lights went down. Her wine was half-gone. She couldn’t even summon a memory of the way it had felt years ago when she’d drive for hours to be one of many, heart fluttering in excitement because he was going to sing! Then afterward they’d party with some of the superfans. He’d like to smoke a little pot, and after a long, long night he’d take her to bed and make love to her. She never failed to feel like she’d gone to heaven in his arms.
Where was it? The rush? The thrill? She expected to at least feel some nostalgia. Instead she felt only embarrassment, but she wasn’t sure for what. For being caught up in his charisma? Hell, she was hardly the only one—he had quite a following of young women. Sadly for Mick, he didn’t have quite enough charisma to make him famous.
He finally strode onto the darkened stage to the roaring applause of his audience, especially those down front. One lone spotlight shone on him. He carried his guitar and sat on an ordinary wooden stool, his microphone wired to him. He looked good in his signature jeans, ordinary T-shirt, suede vest. He wore cowboy boots but no hat—he wasn’t a country singer, though he had some great country numbers and his biggest sale of original songs had actually been to a country artist. But he was too vain to cover up that silky, thick, honey-colored hair. He wore it just a little long, but he always said he wasn’t the hippy-dippy type—no ponytail. He’d chosen blue eyes from the optometrist. Startling blue eyes that were, without the contacts, ordinary hazel. He was damn fine-looking, she could admit with complete objectivity.
He began to sing one of his old selections, a Harry Nilsson award-winner with a lot of fancy guitar work. It was a whole two seconds before the crowd recognized it and burst into applause. In his casual way, he didn’t even look up; he concentrated on the music. Or at least appeared to.
There was a time when her love for him was so overwhelming it felt like a great balloon had been expanded in her chest and left her aching when it was ripped out. Then there was the profound sadness of not having enough of him; it hurt so much. That was followed by the crushing pain of being rejected, retreating to the safety of her mother’s house to give birth alone. Then briefly, the euphoria of holding a part of him in her arms. She had accepted that she couldn’t have him in her life, but she’d found a certain peace. He had been the love of her life, she’d never get over him or find another but she didn’t have any more sacrifice in her. She had to find a way to move on. With her son.
Then, not long after little Josh died, the hurt and anger rose up in her. Not so much at Mick but at herself because look at what her romantic delusion had cost her! Years of her life gone trying to find ways to finally deserve his love and devotion. And then a baby ripped from her life and no father to grieve him.
She shook her head. What a profound waste. She sat in the darkened club, hands folded in her lap, and listened to his sweet, melancholy voice, heard the women cry out in adulation and, no doubt, powerful desire. And she just shook her head.
, she thought.
He’s not real, can’t you see that? He’ll never give anyone anything. He’ll suck the life out of anyone who dares love him.
And she felt nothing.
* * *
Matt purposely stayed in the back of the crowd entering Roy’s. Of course he’d been there before—he’d grown up in the area, and this was a popular hangout; Natalie had loved it. He only wanted a glimpse of this Mick, this mediocre guy who could screw up so many lives and then just trot into the sunset strumming his guitar. Who was this dude? The Rhinestone Cowboy? So it was his plan to stand in the back, maybe just inside the door. He might have a drink, listen to two or three songs, take a look at how much people appreciated his modest talent, then get the hell out of there.
If only life could cooperate with him for once. He stood at the end of the bar, ordered a Cutty on ice and before the house lights dimmed, he saw Natalie with two of her girlfriends at one of the tables near the front. So it might be only one drink. At least she was far away. And then, because he supposed he deserved to be punished for something, there was Lucy in the theater seating down front. There were so many females down there he wasn’t sure if she was with anyone.
Well, they were both so far away and the house lights went down, so he was safe. But he wasn’t going to stay long. It was too risky.
But then he saw Ginger. She sat at a table alone, her hands primly folded in her lap, watching Mick walk onto the stage. She was wearing that dress, that sexy dress. He frowned considering this—how a dress with a high, mandarin collar could be so damn sexy. Her sleek and soft blond hair moved gracefully as she shook her head while watching Mick. Just a little thigh and knee were visible, her calf shapely in her ordinary heels. There she sat with a half glass of wine, pretty much covered up, not dolled up in spike heels with ankle straps, no boobage on display, and he just wanted to grab her into his arms on the spot. Really, she wasn’t as beautiful as Natalie on the surface. Why she seemed ten times more so completely confused him.
He turned to find Lucy standing in front of him. “Well,” he said uncomfortably. “Hey.”
“You a fan?” she asked.
“Me? Hell, no. I mean, I just wanted a drink and I thought I’d see if there was any talent here. You? You’re a fan of this guy?”
“I like him, yeah.” She shook her auburn curls. “Not huge, but my girlfriend is really into him.”
“Well, I’m not staying so you should get back to your girlfriend...” Then he winced. He could be such a rude bastard.
“You could stay long enough to buy me a drink,” she said.
See, this was the problem
, he found himself thinking. Lucy should tell him to just go fuck himself instead of calling him, asking him to buy her a drink. He wasn’t worth her time. She shouldn’t waste her time on a guy who wasn’t treating her right. “What would you like, Lucy?”
“Just a chardonnay,” she said, and smiled.
He waved to the bartender. He ordered and fished out his wallet. He put a hand on her upper arm and gave her a soft stroke. “Listen, Lucy, I want you to be careful tonight, okay? Don’t drink too much, don’t take chances around here. Lot of hungry wolves here tonight and I can’t hang around to look out for you.”
“That’s so sweet,” she said.
“No, it’s not—”
“Well, at least you’re not sitting on the farm, drowning your sorrows,” a familiar voice said.
Right beside him stood Natalie. She must have grown attached to the ebony hair, short and spiky. Now, here was boobage—Natalie’s top was cut down almost to her navel, outlining her small breasts perfectly. Since he’d been married to her, he now knew the tricks—a little fashion glue would keep the silky fabric from sliding or gaping and exposing her. The outline of her nipples was intentional, as was the slit up the thigh. Her eyes were huge and lashes thick—thanks to the augmenting of a few extra lashes and the artwork of liner and shadow. The shoes were attention-getting—four inches, ankle straps, pointy toes. Hell on her feet, though.
“Isn’t this an interesting reunion. Lucy, this is my ex-wife, Natalie. Nat, meet Lucy, a friend of mine. In fact, I met Lucy in a place a lot like this, didn’t I, Luce?”
“Rosewood Ballroom,” she supplied with a smile.
He could see by the expression on Natalie’s face, the narrowing of her eyes, that information speared her in the heart. He was always too tired to party when married to her, but after the divorce he’d been to clubs and dance halls? And here he’d been trying to stay away from Natalie. Even though little Lucy couldn’t hold a candle to his ex in the looks department, it felt good to have her know he wasn’t lonely. Or bored. “Can I get you something, Nat?” he asked, playing off her momentary jealousy.
“Cosmo,” she said, her voice crisp.
He hailed the bartender again, fished out money again. He wasn’t going to hang around waiting for a bill.
“It was a friendly parting, I take it?” Lucy asked.
“Actually, it was acrimonious,” Natalie said frostily.
“But, as you can see, we’re working through that,” Matt said, passing the drink.
“And what do you do, Lucy?” Natalie asked.
“Dental assistant. I work for a local periodontist. And you?”
“I’m a model,” Natalie said, stretching to her full five-eleven in four-inch heels. Then she stared daggers at Matt, daring him to point out that she’d had only about a dozen jobs for catalogs and ad brochures. There had been nothing with national exposure.
The uncomfortable chitchat and buying of drinks lasted through two songs and then the lights went up and Mick Cantrell started working the crowd, coming down from the stage while the lights revealed his backup musicians. He shook some hands, kissed a few cheeks, asked people where they were from. He wore his guitar on his back and microphone hooked around one ear and hovering over his lips. He was so happy to see them all. Who came the farthest? he asked. Ah, there was a pretty young woman who’d come all the way from Chicago!