Saturday
Aug162014

October Bold - Chapter 1

They had come together for a brief, surprising moment, then gone their separate ways---to opposite sides of the country. Though the possibility of 'more' was intriguing, the challenges were even greater. Their wanting was constrained by mutual timidity---a stifling fear of the unknown coupled with a determined unwillingness to risk relational failure.

If the promise of that first moment, on a Music City dance floor, was to overcome their stubborn reluctance something new would be required---perhaps something as unlikely as a dost of October boldness.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

It was the second stop on their Saturday night tour of the downtown music clubs. Or perhaps it was the third. After a few drinks it was hard to remember. For two hours or more they had been swept along in the hectic crush of the Broadway and Second Avenue crowd, in the throbbing heart of Music City---Nashville, Tennessee. At each stop, for the price of a couple drinks, they joined the crowd listening to an energetic country music act, and watching more couples than the tiny dance floor could accommodate, effectively dancing cheek to cheek to cheek.

If the pair of them, David Larmer and Jason Benning, stood out at all in the milling throng that crowded the sidewalks and sampled the music offerings, it would have been their gray hair and slower step that gave them away. In that predominately youthful universe they were older, often by a factor of two or three times, than most everyone around them.

Not only was it their first experience as country music tourists, in truth neither of them considered himself a country music fan. As a result, the signs hanging over the entrance to each club, announcing the night’s performers, meant little to them. Instead, they paid more attention to the length of the line on the sidewalk outside a club---would-be customers waiting to enter a crowded venue when someone else left.

“Why should we stand in line to see someone we’ve never heard of?” Jason had asked earlier, as they considered where to start their country music tour. “When that place across the street has no line at all. We can go over there, walk right in, and see someone else we’ve never heard of. Hell, we won’t even know the difference.”

“Why don’t we check out that one over there,” David asked, nodding toward the brightly lit club across the street, where no one was waiting on the sidewalk. “Your ‘no-line’ strategy worked pretty well for the other two clubs. Let’s give it a third try.”

Rolling up his sleeves another turn David was reminding himself that he should have guessed the hot and humid feel of Nashville in late August. “Besides,” he continued. “Watching the people gawk at the guy on stage is more fun than watching most of the acts. These folks really get caught up in their country music, don’t they?”

“You bet they do.” Jason paused to listen to the upbeat music that leaked out to the street. Stepping closer he studied the posters and photos next to the entrance. “I don’t have a clue who this guy is. But he’s loud, and there’s no waiting line. Shall we give it a try?”

“I suppose there’s a reason why there’s no one waiting to get in. But what the heck, let’s do it.”

In a matter of seconds they would learn again that “no line outside” was not a foolproof indicator. As their eyes grew accustomed to the dim light they saw that the long, narrow room was full of noisy fans. In fact, it looked very much like a full house. 

A moment later, with an unsmiling nod, the overweight and underdressed waitress led them across the room to a bench seat at the end of a long, already crowded table. They placed their drink orders and Jason leaned closer so David could hear him. “Looks like private tables don’t work here. They’re packing folks in here like sardines.”

While David nodded his understanding, the woman sitting next to Jason must have heard his grumbling observation. She was grinning as she offered, “That’s the way they deal with tourists. Wedge them in and take their money. Seems like there’a always room for one or two more.”

“So you’re a tourist too?” Jason asked.

“I expect everyone here is. Though most of them are a lot younger than us. Music City is a famous place, you know. At least if you’re into country music. Is this your first time?” 

By then David was leaning closer, ready to join their conversation. “I come through Nashville every few months. But this is the first time I’ve stopped to see what all the fuss is about. If Jason hadn’t come with me this time I wouldn’t be here now.”

“How far did you come to get here? Sounds like you must have some business on the road, eh? I’m not sure that makes you a tourist.”

Pausing a moment, David handed the waitress a ten and a five to cover their drinks, then turned back to their table mate. “I’m David. David Larmer. My friend here is Jason Benning. We’re from a place you’ve never heard of---Indian Falls, Iowa. It’s a comfortable day’s drive from here.”

“Indian Falls? You mean like waterfalls?” she asked cautiously. “I didn’t know they had waterfalls in Iowa.”

That had Jason half-laughing. “There are a few,” he said. “Though sadly not at Indian Falls. Not anymore. Not since they put in the Conner Creek dam. The lake in back of the dam swallowed up the Indian Falls.

“The thing is, we’re not here on business. David’s mother lives in a retirement place down in Chattanooga. That’s where we’re heading. We’ve come all the way from beautiful Iowa, and made a stop in Music City. How about you---how far have you come to be a Nashville tourist?”

For the first time the woman looked across the table to acknowledge her friend. “I’m Angie. Marian and I have come from a lot further than Iowa. Actually, I am here on business, sort of. They call it a Curriculum Conference. I’m responsible for high school curriculum in our school district. So I’m here to learn what the rest of the country is doing.”

“And you’re learning about curriculum too?” David asked the woman sitting around the corner of the table from him, the one called Marian. “I’m not sure what that means. But it sounds important.”

“Heavens no,” Marian answered softly. “Angie is here for the conference. I’m just tagging along to keep her company.”

“Does that make you her chaperone?”

“Not at all.” Marian looked like she might be blushing. “She’s a big girl. She doesn’t need me looking after her.”

“So where is this place?” Jason asked. Turning back to Angie, he had a second question. “Where is this school district that is sending you all the way to Nashville to learn about curriculum---the one that’s even further away than Indian Falls?”

Angie raised a hand to buy a few seconds time as the applause for the band’s latest song died down. Then, with a head shaking grin she continued. “I’d never heard of Indian Falls. You were right about that. But what are the chances you’ve ever heard of Tanner, Oregon---unless you learned about state capitals in school?”

“Tanner, Oregon?” David repeated. “That’s way out west, by California. Isn’t it?”

“Well, Oregon is just north of California. But Tanner is a few hundred miles from the border.”

“I’ve watched the Portland Trailblazers on the tube. Portland is in Oregon, isn’t it?”

“That’s right.”

The waitress paused at the end of their table, silently asking David if he wanted another round. For reasons he would find hard to explain later, he decided to play the big spender.

“I don’t want to offend anyone,” he said. “But I’d like to buy our Oregon tourists a drink. If they’re willing, that is.”

That had Angie looking across the table to her friend. Marian’s non-committal shrug effectively returned the decision to Angie, who was more than ready to answer. “Sure. Why not? It’s not every day a gal runs into friendly fellows from Iowa.” For the first time she took a moment to study the mens’ hands in a not-so-subtle wedding ring inspection.

As the on-stage band launched into another number the four of them settled into more comfortable small talk---discussing the music, the plight of Music City tourists, and the hot and humid world of Nashville on an August night.

By then Marian must have noticed David’s timid, ill-disguised glances. A time or two their eyes met for an instant before each of them looked away. It was not a game he played with noticeable skill, but it seemed he could not help himself.  For reasons he made no effort to understand she had caught his eye.

For her part, Marian leaned closer to hear Angie and Jason, making a conspicuous effort to concentrate on their conversation. She might have made that work, except for the gentle pressure of his hand on her arm.

“So your friend leaves you sitting in your room while she’s off learning about curriculum,” David said, a bit embarrassed for not having thought of a better opening. “Is that how it works?”

Marian was clearly surprised by his unexpected attention. Looking up into his well worn face she blinked a time or two. For the first time she focused on his eyes---as if trying to read his timid, yet intense gaze and decipher his intent.

“It’s not like that at all,” she finally replied. “I’ve been seeing the sights. They have tours that take you to all the sights. Today I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Opryland Mall. Those are things I’d never do on my own, but with a group it was fine.”

Pausing, she was asking himself why she felt the need to explain. A moment later she was asking her own question. “How about you? Do you come here often? To Nashville, I mean.”

“Like Jason said, I come through town every so often---on the way to Chattanooga to see my mother. But I’ve never gone clubbing downtown like this.”

“It’s quite a place, isn’t it?” Marian noted. “The closest we have to this back home are a couple of casinos at the coast. I’ve been to those, but not to hear country music. I suppose it’s an acquired taste---something that has to grow on you.”

“I guess that’s right.”

“At first I thought it must be for the youngsters. But you look around and there are a few of us older people too.”

“You mean us old kids,” David nodded, smiling at thoughts he was surprised to find himself thinking. “My late wife......” He stopped short. For more than forty years Sally had been his “wife,” never his “late wife.” Why had she suddenly acquired a new title? “Anyway, she hated country music. She couldn’t stand anything with what she called a ‘twang.’ I guarantee, she wouldn’t have lasted three minutes in this place.”

That had Marian squirming a bit---hearing a stranger’s unsolicited explanation of his “late wife’s” musical tastes. Perhaps it called for a response. But what would be appropriate? After a few seconds she offered her own question. “Well, why shouldn’t she have had her own opinion? At our age it seems like we’ve earned the right to our own ideas. Haven’t we?”

At the rowdy Nashville club a new round of drinks arrived and their impromptu dialogue with absolute strangers was on hold for a minute or two. Then, setting his glass down, David looked up to study the intriguing woman sitting around the corner of the table from him, the one called Marian. Her roundish face was framed in short, white hair---a casual look that probably cost her more than he would have guessed. There was something different about her, about the way her eyes followed him---a kind of attention he had not noticed in a very long time. Though her tight-lipped, non-committal expression offered no hint of sociability, her dark eyes seemed to flash a subtle Mona Lisa smile.

Then, following her lead, David asked his unscripted question. “Does that mean I have the right to be a bit unorthodox?”

“What are your talking about?”

“You say we’ve earned the right to our own ideas. Well, I just had an idea, and I’d like to know what you think of it.” Could Marian tell that he was treading softly, doing his best not to frighten her? “Since they’re playing what sounds like a slow ballad, I’d like to ask you like to dance.”

“Dance? With me?”

Marian’s surprised frown had him laughing to himself. “Of course, you and me. We can do that, can’t we? I’m told we’ve earned the right.” Later, David would remind himself how easy and natural it had been, talking with that Tanner, Oregon lady, asking a favor he would never have asked anyone else.

The dance floor was small and crowded. Slow dancing had been reduced to dancing-in-place, which suited David’s minimal dance skills. They were swaying in a loose embrace when he asked. “So how long are you two staying in Music City?”

“We fly out tomorrow afternoon. We’ll be back in the real world by tomorrow night.”

“Is that what you call Tanner, Oregon---”the real world”? Makes me wonder what you’d call Indian Falls.”

Perhaps he should have known that slow dancing in the arms of a new and interesting friend could lead to unexpected possibilities. The idea that came to mind was worth considering. What were the chances Marian would agree? In any case, time was of the essence. Their dance floor rendezvous would end shortly. There was no time to waste.

Pulling her closer, he bent down to whisper in her ear. “Do you suppose I could interest you in having breakfast with me in the morning---just the two of us?”

He must have sensed her stiffening. A moment later her grim, squint-eyed glare had him pulling back, nursing second thoughts. But why? With no more than a few minutes to make his case, why run away from the possibilities?

“Angie said you two are staying at the Opryland Hotel,” David continued. “They have a couple nice restaurants. Jason and I are in a chain motel not far down the road. We’d have time for a quiet visit before you fly off to Oregon and we head south.”

Before Marian could reply the crowd broke into polite applause for the band. By then he had her arm, silently inviting her to stay there on the dance floor, while he waited for her answer.

“I suppose that would be okay,” she finally replied. “Just for breakfast? At the Opryland Coffee Shop?”

“Just for breakfast, at say nine o’clock. That would give you time to get to the airport, wouldn’t it?”

As she nodded her acceptance David had her hand. “Unless the next ballad turns out to be a polka I think I can dance to it. Want to try again?”

Marian never did not say “yes” or “no.” Instead, as the band began its next number she slipped back into his dance embrace. There, on the crowded floor, they were strangely quiet, as though there was nothing more to say.

A minute or so into the new tune she leaned back to look up into his face---perhaps wondering why he had turned so silent. Though he said nothing she could tell the wheels were turning. Then, with no preliminaries at all, he slipped a hand behind her head and bent down to kiss her. If she was shocked, or even surprised, it seemed not to show. An instant later his kiss had become their kiss---a very mutual thing.

Of course that special moment had to end. When it did David stepped back, biting his lip and wondering what to say---mired in his own flustered embarrassment.

“God, I’m sorry about that,” he said. “I don’t blame you for being shocked. I don’t know what came over me.” Looking away, he mumbled again, “I don’t know why I did that.”

“Who said I was shocked?”

“Well, you ought to be. Having an old fossil like me carrying on like that---right here in front of all these people. I’m just hoping your friend didn’t see it. I have a hunch she’d be all over my case.” Without another word he continued their dance, holding her away at a very respectable distance. 

Once back at their table small talk seemed to have wained. When Jason got to his feet, suggesting it was time they move on, David leaned over to Marian to offer his quiet reminder. “I’ll see you in the morning. At the Coffee Shop.” She nodded her silent understanding as the men started for the front door.

The next morning, while Jason waited in the motel room, David took the car to “run a special errand.” For half an hour he waited outside the Opreyland Coffee Shop, but there was no sign of Marian. Sadly, he had been stood up. For reasons of her own Marian had decided not to keep their appointment. Before he returned to the car David paused to wonder if the front desk would call her room. That possibility died as quickly as it was born. Who would he ask for? 

The room was likely in Angie’s name---a last name he did not know, any more than he knew Marian’s. Besides, if Marian had decided not to see him again why should he force the issue?

It had been a single night in Nashville---enjoyable and entertaining. Except for one surprising instant there was little else to dwell on. So why had that noisy Saturday night, a few boisterous hours spent being swept along by a tide of tourists, made such an impression?