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“Hey, Madison!  You’ll never guess where I am right now.”  Even I didn’t believe the direction I was heading.  

What had been a mere speck on the map a few hours earlier became more concrete with every reflective mile marker. Cars whirred past me, filled with weary commuters returning home after another day of relentless monotony.  The repetitious light posts along the highway were like a thousand lighthouses, beacons leading me to my divinely inspired destination.

My sister’s exasperated voice blared through the receiver.  If her tone were any indication, she must have had another tough day at the office. 

“Well, it’s almost seven o’clock, so you’re probably at the bar down the street,” she said, disapproval evident in her tone.

I smiled, having anticipated her unimaginative response.  “Nope.  Guess again.”

“Okay.  Then you’re at the bar up the road.”

A valid, obvious second choice.  If I hadn’t had such a brilliant idea this morning then she would have been correct. 

One of my favorite bands, Traffic Jam, was playing at The Woodpile right at this moment. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to make it to their gig tonight even if I developed a case of cold feet, turned around, and headed back north.

“Nope. You’re never going to guess it. Try again.”

“Well, if I’m never going to get it right then what’s the point of trying for a third time?” she whined.

Madison was going to be so mad when she found out what I was doing.  That fact had briefly crossed my mind when I had first dialed her number; however, my desire to tell someone had won over my fear of the repercussions.  

My best friend, Megan, hadn’t answered her phone all day so my older, less spontaneous sister would be the first to hear the thrilling turn of events.

“Hey, hold on one second.” Her voice muffled as she spoke to someone in the background.  “Mom wants to know if you’ll be home for dinner.”

I snorted; there were bigger things in store for my future than a meal at Mom’s house.  “No, I won’t make it for dinner tonight.”  Or tomorrow night, or the next.

“Mom!  Evie says she’s not coming for food,” Madison yelled, too close to the telephone.  “Evie, where are you?” she finally asked outright, remembering the direction of the conversation before our mother had interrupted.

“Nashville!”  Just as I said the name, a sign appeared, welcoming me to Davidson County.  The muscles in my stomach tightened with sweet anticipation of the unknown.  

I had made it.

Nashville?” she repeated, disbelief plain in her blank tone.  “As in Tennessee?”

“Yup.”  The one and only, the Hollywood of country music, Nash Vegas, Music City…

“What in the world are you doing in Nashville, Evie?” she snapped in a harsh whisper.  

“I’m moving here.”  

I had to hold the phone away from my ear to avoid a ruptured eardrum.  How would I enjoy all of the live music if I were deaf? 

“Since when?” 

“Since I got into my car eight hours ago and decided to move to Nashville.” 

I was confident that this was going to be the best decision I had made in my life thus far—it already was. 

“What in the world possessed you to go to Nashville?  You have no musical talent whatsoever!”

I couldn’t fault her for her accuracy.  If anything, she was being uncharacteristically generous in her vague description. My singing voice sounded like a strangled cat’s cry for help and made anyone within earshot grimace in pain. 

“I didn’t come for a record deal, obviously.”

“Why else does a person go there?”

“For simple reasons.”

“Give me one,” she challenged.

“Like I’ve never been and I wanted to go.”  Nashville had been on my list of top-ten places to visit in the continental U.S., but the opportunity hadn’t crossed my path before this. 

“And I’ve never been to Australia, but you don’t see me abandoning my family, hopping on a plane, and flying across the world because I want to.”

“Maybe you should,” I said defiantly.  If she did something spontaneous then I wouldn’t look like the only bad egg in our family.

“And maybe I will—on a vacation, like a normal, responsible adult.  There are some places you live and some places you visit.  Nashville is the second one,” she chided.

“Not true.  It’s a city; lots of people live here.”

“Do you have Mongo with you?” she asked, gauging the sincerity behind my decision.  Madison knew that I would never dream of leaving Mongo behind for more than a day or two.

“Yes, of course.”  To my right, my dog smiled back at me, his eyes bright with eagerness… or was it hunger? 

It had been hours since we had stopped for dinner.  In my haste to get here I had made the decision to opt out of healthy meals for more mobile grub.  The problem with fast food—besides the negative effect on my waistline—was that the empty calories didn’t slate a person’s hunger for very long.

When my sister remained silent I checked the screen on my cell phone to make sure she was still on the line. 

“Madison?  Are you there?”

“Yes,” she clipped.

“What’s wrong?”  Everything felt just right.

“You’re really serious about all of this idiocy, aren’t you?”  Her tone was disapproving.  

“Yes, I’m really in Nashville.  I wish you could see this place, sis.” 

The city looked just like it had on the internet during the hour of condensed research conducted in preparation for my journey.  The AT&T office building rose from the horizon in comic-book-worthy  splendor.  

I turned off the highway onto Second Avenue and headed toward Broadway.  The wide streets were lined with three-story buildings and peppered with an occasional towering office complex or hotel.  Glowing, gaudy neon signs reflected off the sleek mirrored surfaces, allowing the lights to shine into infinity. 

“This is not funny, Evie.”

“Yeah, it kind of is.”

“It’s crazy, that’s what it is,” she corrected.

“I know.”

“And how long do you plan on living in Nashville?” she asked.

Because planning had never been a strength of mine, my sister wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I hadn’t thought that far ahead.  

“However long it works out.”  Or until the wind blew me in a different direction. I was open to anything and everything—besides going home. 

I may not have known where I was meant to be, but I knew the place I wanted to avoid.  My aspirations and dreams had outgrown the rural town where I had been raised.  Bigger and better things were in store for Evie Ryan.

“How do you expect to support yourself for any length of time?  Student loans come due in six months, and I’ve seen the balance in your joke-of-a-bank-account.”

“Were you going through my mail again, Madison?”

She didn’t dignify my question with a response. “The point is you won’t last a week down there on your own.”

Funding happened to be the single hitch in my random adventure.  “I just graduated from college, Madison.  I’m not supposed to have money yet.” 

That’s why they made credit cards, credit-limit extensions, over-draft forgiveness, and personal loans.

“Which means you’re not supposed to do something stupid like decide to move to Tennessee on a whim.”

“Sorry I don’t make seventy-grand a year as a lame engineer.  Maybe I should have chosen a more responsible major just like my predictable big sister.”

“Evie, you know that’s not what I meant.”

“Don’t worry about me, sis.  I have everything covered,” I lied smoothly. 

I would figure it out; I had to. Failure wasn’t an option, especially not when it was deemed imminent by those closest to me.

“Covered how?” she pushed arrogantly.

“I’m getting a job.” 

It couldn’t be that hard.  More businesses meant more help-wanted signs posted in gleaming windows.  All I really needed was something to get me on my feet, a stable start.

“A job?  You?” She giggled for the first time in our entire conversation.

“That’s generally the reason a person wastes all of those years in college to get a piece of glorified paper, isn’t it?”  Of course I couldn’t really think of what type of employment a person sought when her degree was in English. 

My chosen major had sounded good when I was eighteen.  Now, however, I could see why Madison and my parents had urged me toward a more practical field.  Little did they know, their attempt at persuasion had had the opposite effect; I didn’t deal well with coercion. 

“With what qualifications?”

“I have loads of great qualities.  Anyone would be lucky to have me working for them.”

Thankfully, she relented easily. “You’re right. It should be simple for you to get a job and survive on your own in a strange city.”

I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being sarcastic.  Even so, that was the nicest thing she had said to me during our exchange so I decided to take the statement at face value.  

“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking.  I imagine I’ll have rent or whatever.  And I’m going to have to eat eventually.”  My stomach growled; eventually couldn’t come soon enough.

“Evie…” Madison began, adopting the same tone my mom would undoubtedly subject me to when she heard the news of my impulsive relocation.  “Will you just come home and stop stressing me out?”

It was too late.  I loved this place already and I had yet to set foot outside of my vehicle.  The city held something my tiny hometown had been lacking: possibilities.

“You know what, Madison?  I don’t see why you’re so against me doing this.  You did something similar before, and I was totally supportive.  I would have gone with you if mom would’ve let me.”

“What the heck are you talking about?  When have I ever done anything even remotely close to what you’re doing?” she shot back.

“Have you forgotten about Florida three years ago?”

It took a few seconds for her to sift through the years of responsibility to recall a time when she had actually been fun—and bearable. 

“Are you talking about spring break?”

“Yeah.  You just dropped everything and went to Boca.”

“Evie, that was spring break.”

“Okay, I believe we’ve already established that.”  I wasn’t an idiot.

“Spring break lasts for a week.  One week.  Are you telling me that you think relocating to Tennessee is the same as me going to Florida for a week during spring break?”

And she thought I was the one who didn’t listen. 

“I didn’t say it was the same; I said it was similar.”

“In no way do the two events even remotely resemble one another, Evie!  I went for a week—”


Despite my protest, my sister wasn’t willing to stop there. “And there were three other girls with me.  And Mom knew about it.  And—”

“Okay, okay!  All I meant was that there used to be some spontaneity inside of you.”  I had always been the one with the crazy ideas, but there was a time when Madison had reluctantly played along.  “Can’t you just dredge up a little bit of empathy for what I’m going through?”

“You want me to show empathy for your selfish attempt at rebellion?”

Her accusation cut me worse than I had thought possible.  All I had wanted was for her to see things from my point of view, to be excited that I was finally doing something that I wanted to do, something daring.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t really mean that the way it came out.  All I’m saying is, please don’t do this.”

“Leave that contraction to the pregnant women, sister!  I am doing this.”

“Evie…” she warned once more, preparing for another irritating monologue.

“Love ya, Madison.  Tell Mom I’m fine.  I’ll talk to you soon.” 

There was no turning back.  This was something I had to do before I got too old and boring to enjoy it.

“Evie, wait!”

My sister was going to freak the next time I talked to her; Madison hated it when I ended a call before she was finished telling me what to do.  

I switched off my phone just in case she felt the need to continue the conversation tonight.  There was no point in talking the subject into the dirt; I was already here.

I drove my car into a dimly lit lot behind a bar that promised patrons live music and hot food; at this point in the night I’d settle for cold and leftover. 

Mongo stretched and followed me to a narrow patch of grass that outlined the street.  After he finished his business I put him back into the car and cracked the windows so he could breathe the sweet air of freedom.

There was a menu posted outside on the brick wall, convenient for those customers too scared of commitment to go inside and take a chance on the local cuisine.  I tried not to think of what my actions said about me as I read the list of house specials.

The door vibrated with an invisible beat, drawing me inside like a siren’s song.  The condensed interior was murky; there was just enough light for me to see where I was going without plowing anyone over.  

This place was different from the hole-in-the-wall establishments from back home.  No one bothered to look up from their drinks as I meandered through the mass of bodies blocking my way to the bar. 

In tourist destinations like this one it was nothing out of the ordinary for a stranger to show up for liquid relief at the end of the day.  This was a city full of imports just like me, all of us attempting to make our way in music city. 

Everyone’s attention was wholly focused on the plywood stage in the back of the open space.  When I caught a glimpse of the man behind the microphone it was obvious why the crowd was enthralled.  

He wore a backwards baseball cap, covering what looked like short, golden curls any girl would kill for.  It was only a mild disappointment that this was my first bar in Nashville and the entertainment wasn’t sporting a cowboy hat. 

At least he hadn’t forgotten his boots and belt buckle.  

The harsh red stage lighting cast a deep shadow from his brow to his high cheekbones, concealing his eyes in darkness. The color of his irises was lost in the space between us.    

It was irritating that I couldn’t see them clearly; you could tell a lot about a person from the look in his eyes. 

I took a couple steps to my right, and the performer’s head tilted to the left.  If I were more naive I would have thought he had been watching me walk across the room.

The singer finished his rendition of a George Strait classic and moved on to one I had never heard before.

“Excuse me,” I muttered as I collided with a burly man standing next to the bar.  

He nodded his acknowledgement of my apology and continued to his seat.  I wedged myself into his vacant spot and leaned over the age-dulled counter, attempting to get a better look at the stranger on the stage.  

Was he grinning at me?

“Do you need something?” a pretty bartender inquired, interrupting my ogling. 

She had frazzled red hair that surrounded her cherub-like face and a generous sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose.  Her black tank top was close-fitting, leaving little to her customers’ imaginations.  She wore distressed jeans and a sequined belt buckle that looked heavy enough to root her petite frame to where she stood.

“I’m sorry?”

“Do you need something?” she repeated her rushed request; the words were lost in the music. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m sorta busy here. Would you like a drink or not?”

“Sure.”  I peered toward the row of taps in the center of the bar.  

A tattered, stained flyer behind the equally dilapidated register sidetracked my order.

“You are hiring?”  And my sister thought I had no qualifications!  Since I had turned twenty-one I had practically lived in the bars back home.  Was it possible that fate had included this very establishment as a vital part of my destiny?

“Yeah, we are.  You interested?” she asked, assessing me closer now.

“Hey, Mags!  Can I get a beer down here sometime tonight or should I go across the street to Rippy’s?” a balding man shouted from the opposite end of the bar.

Mags didn’t bother pulling her eyes from my face as she loudly addressed the patron. “Just a sec, Rick.”

“I am very interested,” I confessed anxiously.

“When can you start?”

“Right away.”  The sooner I got a paycheck, the better.  I could only handle living out of my car for so long.  Mongo was a saint but he could really start to stink when in close proximity for any length of time.

“Good.  Get on back here.  Domestic drafts are two dollars until midnight.  And do you see the creepy man in the ten-gallon hat a few people down on your left?”

“Yeah?”  The stranger’s eyes weren’t quite focused on the scene unfolding around him.  

“Don’t serve him any more tonight.  If he asks for a drink give him a Coke on the rocks.”

“Wait… Really?  You’re hiring me?”  What kind of interview process was this?


“Shouldn’t you get permission from the manager or supervisor or something?” 

Mags raised an eyebrow at me in silent challenge.  “You’re talking to her.”

You’re the manager?”  She looked a bit young to be in charge of the place.

“Among other things.  Sweetheart, it’s your lucky day.  You’ve gone straight to the top of the food chain.  This is my place.”

I couldn’t tell if she was messing with me or being serious.  Then I realized it didn’t matter as long as she gave me a job. 

“Don’t you want to know my qualifications or whatever?”  Or, I don’t know, my name. 

Rick whistled from his spot.  Mags whipped toward the rude noise and shot him a warning glare. 

He winked at her, unfazed.  “I hear they’ve got great mixed drinks at that new place down the road, Mags.”

“And yet I still have to see your ugly mug every night, Rick.”  The bartender/owner turned back to me and her grin broadened.  “You twenty-one?”

“Yup.”  I had reached the age of legally having fun three months ago.

“Ever tended bar before?”

“Nope.  But I’ve frequented a lot of bars.”  How hard could it be?  My cousin Kelly was a bartender back home and she hadn’t even finished high school.

“Heya, Mags?  Can I get two more up here to the stage, sugar?” the man announced over the microphone.  His smooth timbre sent shivers down my spine like his words were tickling the fine hairs at the nape of my neck.  

From this distance he looked pretty hot, but most guys armed with a guitar and sultry singing voice were sexy, even when they weren’t.  Still, there was something magnetic about this one.

Mags held up her thumb, acknowledging his order, and chuckled.  “You’ll learn fast enough.”

I couldn’t call my new boss a liar.  By the end of my first shift I had been broken in like a well-worn pair of boots.  Luckily the patrons were mostly men and they had thoroughly enjoyed assisting me along the learning curve.

“Are you always this busy?”  I hadn’t even worked a full shift and I was beat.  

Mags snorted and continued loading the trays of empty glasses into the dishwasher.  “Busy?  This was the slowest Friday I’ve seen in the past six months.”

“Don’t you have any other help?”  How had she planned on surviving the shift without me—not that I had been that much assistance?

“I hired a new girl last week.”

“Did she need off tonight?” I assumed.  It seemed irresponsible to take time off after only being employed for a week—especially on a Friday.


“Oh,” I mumbled, pretending to understand what she was implying by her clipped response.

“You’re not quitting on me too, are ya?”

“No way!”  The night had been exhausting and hectic, but the hours had flown past in an alcohol-induced frenzy.  Much to my relief, I found that I had actually enjoyed the madness.

“Good.  That last girl I hired couldn’t hack it.  She left in tears midway through her first shift.  She didn’t even bother to bring her tips with her.”

“More room for me.”  It was impossible to feel sympathy for the faceless girl when her loss was my gain.

“Two waters, please, Mags,” a now-familiar voice called from my right.

“Did you just ask me for two waters?  I’m disappointed in you.”

“What can I say?  I’m a closet lightweight,” the man teased.

“I already knew that about you.  They’re comin’ right up, sugar,” my boss said, moving to fill two glasses from the tap. 

“Who’s the help?” the man asked.  He leaned heavily on the bar, looking like he owned the place.  “She doesn’t look like the one from last week.”

“That’s because she’s not.”

“You burned through another one already, Mags?” he assumed.  “How many does that make this month?”

“Like I have time to keep track,” she returned.  “This is the new girl.”

“This new girl have a name?”

It was obvious the pair of them were content to continue their conversation right over me unless I intervened.  

“Yeah, the new girl has a name,” I interrupted.  They both looked at me expectantly.  “It’s Evie.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’m not going to bother remembering your name until you’ve stuck it out for at least a month.  It’s part of my process, you see,” Mags explained. 

Process?  You’re flying by the seat of your pants, Mags.  Same as the rest of us.”

Mags smiled and winked at me.  “As if you haven’t already figured it out, I’m Mags, and this waster is Jaxon.  If you’re smart you’ll avoid him.  He has illusions of stardom, but he’s going nowhere.”

Avoiding the gorgeous guy standing beside me was the last thing on my mind.  I moved to defiantly shake the calloused hand Jaxon offered. 

“It’s nice to meet you, Jaxon.”

Jaxon grinned, revealing a hint of dimple in his right cheek.  “The pleasure’s all mine, Evie.”

His eyes were piercing, aware, and blue.

* * *

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