The sun is rising on the hills and farmlands of north Georgia. Another school day. Another workday. A school bus is making the rounds and breakfast is being put on the table.
“Waylon Beauregard Reed! Hurry up, breakfast is ready!” the feminine voice of Waylon’s sister hollered up the stairs.
“I’m comin’,” Waylon mumbled back as he trudged down the steps.
“Loretta, I think Leroy’s awake,” Loretta’s dad announced, hearing noise coming from his baby son’s room.
“I’ll go get him if you set the table, please Daddy?” Loretta asked sweetly.
“Sure, but all of y’all need to get a move on, the bus’ll be here any minute,” Daddy, also known as Wayne McClintock Reed, replied.
Loretta rushed up the stairs to help her baby brother, Leroy, get dressed for school. As their time flew by, everybody got ready for the day ahead, eating breakfast and making sure homework was done. The last details were taken care of right before the school bus pulled up in front of the driveway and tooted its horn. All four Reeds came rushing out of the door.
Wayne held Leroy’s tiny hand as he received a kiss from Loretta on the cheek. “Bye Daddy, don’t work too hard!”
“Just as long as you keep Waylon and yourself from thinking too hard!” Wayne yelled back with sarcasm.
“Like that’ll ever happen. See ya later Dad,” Waylon tossed over his shoulder as he walked towards the school bus.
Wayne looked down at Leroy and asked excitedly, “Ready to go to preschool Big Boy?” And thus the morning rituals were over.
“Hey Ruby, I heard you were gonna play the school dance that’s coming up?” John Robert Lee asked menacingly.
“We are,” Loretta replied coolly. Loretta’s nickname was Ruby due to her hair color, that perfect shade of Rock-n-Roll red.
“You mean were. Southpaw got the gig. Not Dixie Stomp,” John informed.
“What do you mean Southpaw got it? You can’t get something that ain’t there for the gettin’.”
“Ruby, Dixie Stomp wasn’t in the bag for the dance,” Loretta’s band mate, Dwight, who played piano for Dixie Stomp announced.
“You ain’t helpin’ Dwight,” Loretta replied through gritted teeth.
“Hey Ruby, I’ll give you a chance to catch up here,” John handed Loretta a flyer. It said “Battle of the Bands.” “You’ve got three months to learn how to play those instruments and become a real band. Not to mention, you gotta learn how to sing.”
“Why you-!” Loretta began to lunge but Waylon caught her.
“Hold up sis. Go sit down. Listen Johnny Lee, Dixie Stomp can play and my sister can sing dammit. So don’t count ya chickens before they hatch.”
“Oh I’m scared. Ruby get your dog on a leash, I tend to shoot strays.”
“Sit down Waylon,” Ruby said exhausted.
“Why? We’re here.” Waylon walked to the front of the bus shoving John back down and nearly starting a fight but his band members and hers kept the two boys separated while they unloaded in front of Stonewall High School.
John Robert Lee, also known as Johnny, was the leader of the Southern Rock band Southpaw and when he wasn’t working with the band, on his daddy’s farm, or in school, he was running shine. Moonshine. For an old black man who lived down the road from where he lived. Being and only child he had to entertain himself somehow.
Loretta Kate Reed, also known as Ruby, was the head of her hardcore honky tonk country band Dixie Stomp. Her mother died while giving birth to Leroy so she took her place by way of doing her chores while music being her dreams, and her future meal ticket out of town. After school the band would practice or play gigs at the local bars. She was trying to be the best for this was her last year of high school and after graduation she was leaving, with or without Dixie Stomp, to be successful for her Daddy and live her dream.
*** *** ***
At home that night Waylon knocked on Loretta’s door.
Waylon entered Loretta’s room and saw her sitting at her vanity table, getting ready. “Got a gig tonight?” he asked.
“Yeah the usual Friday night thing over at Margie’s. You should know that.”
“Hey Loretta, I’m sorry that Southpaw got the dance. That should’ve been y’alls.”
“Yeah well, shit happens.”
“I can sabotage it if you want.”
“Nah, once that start playing the kids at school’ll know they can’t play worth a crap,” Loretta stood up and spun around in a circle for her brother. “How do I look?”
“Better than Johnny Lee.”
“Gee thanks, that says a lot,” Loretta replied sarcastically.
“You better get going or you’ll be late.”
“Yeah, see ya in the morning,” Loretta grabbed her purse and her guitar then climbed out of the window where at the bottom Dwight waited for her. After making it to the van where the rest of the band waited they headed for town.
They arrived at the bar and started setting up their equipment. Arriving unnoticed with a shipment of shine, Johnny dealt with the transaction then settled down with a jar of his own as he had decided to watch Dixie Stomp. They opened up with and old Waylon Jennings favorite of theirs.
Loretta’s voice drifted out to the audience while she rocked up on the stage. Her red hair flashed while it was swung from side to side. She looked over the crowd through half closed eyes. When they were open they were big blue eyes with green rings around the pupils and they glinted like diamonds in the night. She looked the part of the rock star with her dark low ride jeans and Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt with silver hoops in her ears and a big dark brown leather bracelet on her wrist, all this enveloping her slender but filled-out-in-the-right-places physique.
She introduced the band after the first song was over for people who might have never seen them before. “On my left is Stephen on lead guitar. The feller next to him is Michael on rhythm. Behind me is Robby on the drums. We go over to Brandon on guitar. Dwight is pounding on the piano. Jeremy’s on bass. “After the crowd chuckled she introduced herself, “My name is Ruby, and I’ll let you guess why. And we are Dixie Stomp!” Then the music started up.
Johnny was still nursing his mason jar full of moonshine as he stared at her, hypnotized by the fluid movements of her body and the raw emotion of her voice that got into his system better than the shine.
“She’s a pretty little gal,” the bartender announced knocking Johnny from his thoughts.
“Yeah,” Johnny cleared his throat. “Yeah . . . she’s somethin’.”
*** *** ***
The set was over and the band was taking a break when Loretta saw him. Drunk and staring at her, “What’s the matter? Can’t handle ya shine?”
“Can’t seem to get a handle on you,” Johnny said with a slur.
The doors to the tavern burst open and a wiry man with a scraggly beard yelled. “Hey! Cops a comin’!”
“Shit. Kids, y’all better high tail it out of here and take Johnny here with ya.” The bartender ordered.
“What about our stuff?” Robby asked.
“It’ll be stashed in the usual place. Now git!” With that the band dragged Johnny out and raced around out of the back door while the patrons quickly stored away their equipment.
“Get me in my car!” Johnny yelled.
“You ain’t drivin’. As much as I despise you, you ain’t drivin’!” Brandon shot back.
“I’ve got to, I’ve got four more crates in there to deliver and if the cops see my car it’ll be worse than death for me!” They all looked at each other.
“I’ll take his car and drive him home,” Loretta informed.
“Are you sure?” Michael asked, concerned.
“Yea, don’t worry I’ll be all right.” They hefted Johnny in the passenger seat of his Trans Am while Loretta slammed the shifter in gear and peeled out of the parking lot, tearing down the back roads.
“Ruby, pull over. I’m going’ to be sick. Pull over!” Johnny groaned loudly a few miles down the road.
Loretta slammed on the brakes and yanked the car over to the shoulder. Johnny opened the door fiercely and rolled on the ground on all fours and vomited violently while Loretta sat in the car and waited impatiently. Then she realized that she hadn’t heard Johnny make any noise for a while and got out to see what was wrong. She found him passed out cold on the ground. “Oh shit! Johnny! Johnny!” Loretta rushed and knelt beside him. Leaning her face close to his she called his name some more.
He heard her voice but couldn’t get his eyes to open. He felt her hands on his chest and wondered if he was dreaming. Finally his eyes fluttered open to see those eyes sparkling at him. They were pain stricken and fearful.
“Am I in Heaven? Because you look like an angel to me,” Johnny gave a weak grin. He yelped as she smacked him across the mouth. Loretta got up and stalked around to the driver side and sat, fuming.
“I cannot believe you just said that to me. I bet you were just playin’ possum the whole time weren’t ya? Damn you!”
``Johnny slowly crawled back into his side of the car. Before he could slam the door however they were off like a shot. The jerk nearly had him falling out of the car again. “Damn, what are you trying to do? Kill me?”
“The thought had crossed my mind.”
“Look Ruby, I’m sorry. That was pretty lame of me, I’m usually better than that.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Would you like references?”
“No, I would like to get you home and out of this car. It smells like puke!”
“Dammit, so that’s why my back feels wet?!”
“Oh Johnny, that’s so gross!”
“What?! You think I’m gettin’ any joy in this? Oh man, if your drivin’ hadn’t gotten me sick.”
“My drivin’?! This is nothin’ compared to yours and don’t deny it because I’ve seen you blaze past my house like a scalded cat! Why don’t you blame it on the shine, that was quite a lot and I have it on good authority that the man you run it for makes it grade A too. So don’t blame me!”
”You’re cute when ya flustered,” Johnny replied through a toothy grin.
“Oh shut up!” Loretta spun into the driveway , slinging into a 180 degree turn as she parked. She opened her door and began the trek home by cutting across Johnny’s land. Johnny got to his senses and chased after her, “Ruby wait!”
Loretta kept right on walking but he had caught up to her and grabbed her arm, “Let me go!” She tried yanking her arm away but he had a firm grip.
“No. Look Ruby come see us at the dance tomorrow night. I wanna see you again, please?”
“No, now let me go!”
“Not until you say you’ll come see me.”
“Fine, now let me go.”
Johnny’s face cracked open into a grin and without thinking planted a kiss on her lips. Once again he was awarded with a smack. Loretta jerked her arm out of his grasp and ran up the hill towards her house. Johnny stood like a dummy until he realized where he was and ran into his house. His parents were still up.
“Where in the hell have you been John Robert Lee?” Ezra Malcolm Lee, Johnny’s father, stormed.
“Ezra, remember your blood pressure,” Savannah Rose cautioned. Savannah was Johnny’s mother and Ezra’s living wife.
“You’ve been runnin’ shine an’ drinkin’ it this time, ain’tchya boy?! Well answer me!” Ezra bellowed, completely ignoring his wife.
“Yessir, “Johnny mumbled.
“How many times have I told you to stop and yet you just keep right on doin’ it? Well now if you want to go anywhere you can walk because you can consider that car gone. That is, after your week of being grounded is over. Now, how do you like them apples?”
“But Dad the band has to pay at the school dance tomorrow night! I didn’t get the rest of the shine delivered either, what am I supposed to do about that?!”
“Shoulda stopped when I told you to I guess. Now get on up to bed.”
“Yessir,” Johnny trudged up the stairs to his bed room.
“Johnny hunny you didn’t drive home like that did you?” Savannah’s honey voice asked.
“No mama, a girl drove me home.”
“Oh great, now you’re out havin’ sex on top of drinkin’ and runnin’ shine. Well you just upped the ante on your being grounded son.”
“No Dad, it ain’t like that. This girl hates me.”
“So she just politely drove you home?”
“There was nothing polite about the drive home.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She slapped me twice and nearly tried to kill me the whole way home.”
“Do we know this girl Johnny?” Savannah asked calmly. Men, she thought, who needs’em?
“I don’t know. Her name’s Loretta Reed.”
“Oh yes, her mother died giving birth to the youngest boy. Leroy I think they named him. No Ezra, I don’t believe she’d let him have the time of day. She’s got her head screwed on too straight. Go on to bed hunny, good night and sleep tight!”
“Night mom,” Johnny replied as he went up to his room.
“Night son,” Ezra replied roughly.
Johnny didn’t respond but started to figure out how he was going to get to the school dance tomorrow night. He was worn out but he had to be there. Loretta was going to be there. All these years of competition and in one night it was like none of it ever existed.
Loretta had just slipped into bed when Waylon opened the door, “Hey sis, how’d it go?” Loretta made room for him to sit on the bed as she relayed the night’s events to him. “You’re not really goin’ to see him are you?”
“I think I will but I’ll go to see the band instead. You know, to get a feel of what Dixie Stomp is up against. To see if Southpaw’s got anything worth worryin’ about.”
“Need me to go with ya?”
“Nah, wait I thought you were goin’ anyhow with that Howard girl?”
“Yeah, but I told her never mind when I found out Southpaw was playin’ instead of y’all.”
“Waylon! Ok, I’ll let you go with me if you’ll find her and tell her you’re sorry and a jerk.”
“Hey! I will not!” Waylon playfully hit her with a pillow and laughed. “Night sis,” Waylon said as he got up to leave.
“Night Waylon.” With that Waylon left and Loretta drifted to sleep with her head dancing with dreams of Johnny. A faint smile spread over her lips as she snuggled under the covers. That kiss was replayed in her head like a broken record. The feeling of his hand holding her arm. This was definitely new dangerous territory for her. She liked it.
Loretta and Waylon entered the gym an hour before the dance was to be over. They had trouble getting their father’s consent but it had finally come. Waylon had put on a clean pair of jeans, a white button up shirt over his tall lean tanned frame. He had his jet black hair spiked up for the occasion. He started seeking out the girl he had expected to come with before. Loretta decided to wear a pale pink dress with a low V-neck; the hemline barely reached the tops of her knees. It had slits in the long sleeves that flowed on the other wise body hugging dress. She paired it with high light gold heels and dainty light gold jewelry to match along with a black clutch. Her hair had been pulled back in a French twist, looking the part of teen elegance.
“Ok Waylon, you see her?” Loretta asked while scanning the gym.
“Yeah but she’s with some guy. I can’t talk to her,” Waylon spoke while heading towards the entrance.
“Oh yes you will, now get over there and show her that you aren’t scared of a little competition,” Loretta shoved Waylon in the right direction. Loretta noticed that Johnny wasn’t on stage and walked up to the band, “Hey Daniel, where’s Johnny?
“At home, he’s been grounded,” Daniel replied while still playing away on the piano.
Loretta found a blank spot on the wall and began to occupy it. She wound up refusing a couple of invitations to dance while there. Instead Loretta let herself become engulfed in the music and decided that they were pretty good in their own way, genre speaking of course. Southpaw was good but Dixie Stomp was ultimately the best out of the two in her mind.
“Can we go home now Loretta?” Waylon came up rubbing his jaw.
“Why? What happened?” Loretta pulled herself away from her thoughts.
“The competition socked me a good one,” Waylon replied.
“Why, the nerve. I’ll handle him,” Loretta began to march over when Waylon grabbed her arm.
“Why? I’ll get’im back. I’ll get the girl too.”
Loretta entered her room and immediately sensed a presence there. She slowly reached up with a shivering hand to flip on the light. She nearly let out a scream when the figure clamped a manly hand over her mouth. “Ruby hunny, don’t scream,” the voice belonging to the hand requested.
“Johnny!” Loretta yelled in a whisper. “What in the world are you doin’ here? Ain’t you grounded?”
“I came to see you since I couldn’t make it to the dance. Saved all your dances just for me right?” Johnny replied.
“Please,” Loretta rolled her eyes. “Look, now you need to get on outta here before Daddy, Waylon, or Leroy comes bargin’ in here.”
“Why they can’t hear us.”
“Yes they can.”
“How, I can barely hear you?”
“Ok, come with me so I can talk to you. C’mon Ruby, please?” Johnny pleaded.
“No. I’m tired and I want to go to bed. Now leave!” Loretta replied firmly.
“Just for a few minutes? I’ll be on my best behavior.”
“Would it get you to leave me alone?”
“I didn’t say a word about that.”
“Johnny, what made, or is making you do this? Are you just playing one big joke on me or somethin’? What’s your game Johnny because I’ll tell you right now I ain’t playin’.”
Johnny had moved closer as Loretta spoke and had one hand cupped around her neck gently pulling her towards him. Gently his lips lay softly against hers and she yielded. Loretta’s arms came up to wrap around his neck, pulling him closer until their bodies were smothered with each other. Their kiss deepened, his hands roamed up and down the sides of her body. His thumbs brushed the sides of her breasts. She moaned while running her fingers over his shoulders and back. She felt the hard, lean muscles rippling beneath his t-shirt. Johnny’s hands came up to the neck of her dress and began to slide them down when she suddenly broke away.
“Whoa, stop!” Loretta panted, her head was reeling and her throat was clogged with the passion buried deep inside her.
“What?! What’s the matter Ruby?” Johnny asked softly.
“I can’t do it.”
“Can’t do it?”
“It. Whatever you were plannin’ on doin’, I can’t do.”
“I didn’t have anything planned but I was doin’ what felt right. I’m sorry if I scared you or hurt you,” Johnny replied sorrowfully.
“No Johnny. Don’t be sorry, it’s just that I’m not like that-“Loretta started.
“I know, look maybe I should just leave,” Johnny began moving towards the window.
“Yeah, good night Johnny,” Loretta said with a little regret in her voice.
“Good night Ruby,” Johnny replied then suddenly got excited. “What are you doin’ tomorrow? Maybe I can meet you somewhere?”
“I’m goin’ to church.”
“You wanna meet somewhere’s?”
“Where and when?”
“There’s that old broke down barn over to the left of our property, how about that?”
“Sounds all right, when?”
“When can you get home?”
“We should be back around two because we stay in town and eat lunch.”
“Ok, how about two-thirty then?”
“Make it three-ish and you’ve got a deal.”
“You drive a hard bargain but ok.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
“Yep. Goodnight Ruby,” Johnny replied as he stepped out of the window.
“Goodnight Johnny,” Loretta said as she walked towards him. She laid a short kiss on his lips before pulling back and placing her hands on the windowsill. They both grinned at each other and Johnny faded out of sight. Loretta got ready for bed but had trouble sleeping because her body kept yearning for Johnny.
Johnny got home and found his dad sitting on the bed in his room. The giant of a man looked at him through his glasses. It was a stare that Johnny always thought would scare the devil.
“Where in tarnation have you been? Have you forgotten so quickly that you have been grounded or do my orders not exactly register in that brain of yours?” Ezra began heatedly with plump cheeks reddening with anger.
“I had to get out Dad, there was somebody I had to see,” Johnny replied desperately.
Ezra had had his mind made up, “Johnny if you don’t start learnin’ to mind me your about to get shipped to military school.”
Johnny’s eyes widened, his heart felt like it might stop. “Dad! How could you do this? It’s my senior year and I’ll be outta here.”
“Maybe sooner than you think if your act don’t straighten up, you’ll get shipped out,” Ezra moved from the bed. “Goodnight son.”
Loretta had sat bored through Sunday school and goofed off in the back pews with the band who informed her that they had retrieved their equipment. They bought her guitar to her which fell on the floor during the invitation. After church the Reed family ate lunch over at Robby’s house. The whole band and their families gathered there as well. Loretta wasn’t very interested in any of the activities going on but kept watching the clock as it came closer to two o’clock.
Finally they had arrived home. Loretta quickly changed into a pair of old jeans and a t-shirt. She made a quick excuse to leave the house before running to the barn.
“Johnny! Are you here yet?” Loretta called out. When there was no response she glanced at her watch. Three o’clock. She decided that maybe he had trouble sneaking out of the house. She waited an hour before she returned to the house, holding back tears.
*** *** ***
The next day at school during the lunch period it became very uncomfortable for Loretta and Johnny. He sat there staring at the hurt she tried to mask behind forced laughter while gathered around her friends. Occasionally she would glance in his direction, send him an icy look then keep right on talking as if he never existed.
“Hey Johnny, what’s wrong? Worried about the competition?” Josh asked when he had to drag Johnny back to the conversation for the third time.
“No,” Johnny answered as he got up to walk over to Loretta. “Can I talk to you please?” Though she refused his request he pulled her up by the arm and led the way outside.
“What the hell are you doin’?” Loretta asked, exasperated.
“I wanted to explain about yesterday, why I couldn’t make it.”
“Ever thought that maybe I wasn’t interested? Besides, who died and made you king? I’m going back to lunch now.” Loretta started back towards the entrance.
“Ruby please, don’t go. Look, if I screw up one more time my Dad says he’ll send me to military school,” Johnny sighed and watched as Loretta stop to turn around. “That’s why I didn’t meet you because I didn’t want to lose you but I didn’t want to hurt you either. A fine job of that I did. Ruby, please forgive me?”
Loretta’s eyes were brimming over with tears, “Johnny I forgive you but Saturday when we kissed I believed we were starting something. A good something but Sunday when you didn’t show up I felt like a fool, like you had played a joke on me. I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions.”
“No Ruby baby you had every right,” Johnny consoled. He pulled her close into his embrace. The feel of her body against his was both comforting and arousing him. He may be flirting on the edge of danger but it was worth it.
“What are we gonna tell our families, or our friends?”
“I don’t know, I don’t think the band’ll approve. We are rivals you know.”
“Yeah I know but why should we care what they think? Real friends wouldn’t care, right?”
“Yeah,” Loretta replied with uncertainty.
“What about our families?”
“Your brother hates me.”
“But if I’m happy he’ll deal. I think.”
“I think we should wait till I get off my prison term then we could break it to them.”
“Sure, because then you could drive again.”
“No, Dad took the car away.”
“Well we’ll work something out.”
“I reckon. We should be gettin’ back before lunch is over.”
Johnny turned her face up to his and poured his soul into the kiss. When they could finally pull free of each other they headed back into the cafeteria. It was empty; lunch had long since been over. So they two of them walked to Loretta’s class before Johnny headed off to his own.
When Johnny found his seat he had to face a lecture from his teacher on tardiness. After threatening Johnny with detention he left when the bell rang only to face his band mates who tore into him. “So Johnny, what’d you, uh, want with Ruby?” Ephraim asked with his usual smart ass attitude.
“Yeah, you lay down the law that our band’s the best or somethin’?” D.J. questioned.
“Yeah, for a minute there we actually thought that you and she might be cozyin’ up with each other,” John put in. “She’s a nice lookin’ girl and all but she ain’t your type, know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout?” Josh sent Johnny a glare so he would know what he was talking about.
“Look, I just went outside to talk with her is all. I can talk to her if I want to,” Johnny rebutted. He shot a defensive look back at josh.
“Sure Johnny, no harm in talkin’ just don’t make no habit of it. Ok?” Josh warned.
“Hey fellas, cool it. Last time I checked it was still a free country,” Tom broke in.
“If Johnny wants to fuck Ruby he can, I mean c’mon she’s hot,” Nathan put it.
“Ok, let me lay this on ya, what if I was to start dating Ruby? What would y’all do?” Johnny asked.
“How ‘bout you save yourself the time and trouble of findin’ out,” Josh replied then gathered his books as the next bell rang.
*** *** ***
“Man, if I ever see Johnny yankin’ you around like that again I’m gonna kick his ass,” Dwight said as they walked to their next class.
“How could you let him get away with that ruby?” Stephen chimed in.
“What really happened that night you carried him home?” Brandon enquired.
“Y’all two ain’t bein’ sweet on one another are ya?” Jeremy asked.
“Boys, one question at a time!” Loretta exclaimed, “I already told y’all what happened that night. What would y’all say if I was to be sweet on Johnny and he on me?”
“I’d give ya a crown for bein’ the school’s biggest dumbass,” Robby smarted off.
“Gee, thanks a lot, “Loretta replied then turned to face all of them. “Is that what all of y’all think? Well, is it?”
Affirmatives were voiced and some were nodded in. Loretta thought desperately, well this relationship is doomed.
On both crowds went and as they passed each other Johnny’s and Loretta’s hands brushed and their eyes locked. Doomed reflected in their mirror image.
*** *** ***
A week had passed before Johnny was finally released from his bedroom prison. “Well John, you’re free. What are you gonna do tonight?” Ezra asked cynically.
“I wanna go see ruby,” Johnny replied excitedly as he got ready.
“Son, I hear that band of hers plays in bars.”
“So does Southpaw at times,” Johnny reminded, missing his Dad’s point.
“Yeah but I’ve always been there with you. Her Daddy don’t even come see her.”
“Her Daddy doesn’t know.”
“That she has a band?”
“No Dad that she plays there. He thinks that this band thing is just a phase she’s goin’ through. Her daddy thinks they just play at somebody’s house,” Johnny had turned around.
“How come he don’t know ‘bout them bars?”
“Because her Dad don’t like her playing there so she sneaks around so she can make a name for herself and the band.”
“Oh she’s makin’ a name for herself all right,” Ezra answered sarcastically.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Johnny asked, getting his back up.
“She goes by Ruby on stage right?”
“And at school. Why?”
“There’s a lot of talk goin’ ‘round ‘bout her and I’d just as soon you stay away from her. Your trouble enough, you don’t need no help.”
Johnny began to get puzzled and desperate but he had to know. “Dad whatever people ‘round here are sayin’ it ain’t true, I know her. Why? What have they been sayin’ about Ruby?”
Ezra’s job became harder as a father. “Well son, he found it hard to find the right words. “Well son, they say she’s a loose woman.”
“What?! Dad you had better not be jokin’ with me,” Johnny had begun seeing red.
“Watch your tone boy. I’m just givin’ you what you asked for. I know she seems like she’s nice and sweeter than milk an’ honey but she runs around all the time, all night with all them boys in all them bars. What’s the town supposed to think?”
“Dad she ain’t like that! She’s just playin’ with her band whenever an’ wherever she can. This whole town has got their perception of her completely wrong.”
“Just the same I’d rather you go do somethin’ else tonight than see her. Stay away from her.”
“Dad!” Johnny couldn’t believe his ears.
“Johnny, I said it and I mean it. Now go take the car and hang out with your band or whatever but you stay away from Loretta Reed or Ruby or whatever she’s called, you hear me Johnny?” Ezra asked sternly.
“What about what Mom said? Don’t that hold any water?”
“Your mama don’t know nothin’, not like I do. Stay away cause I find out you ain’t been a mindin’ me you are getting’ your butt shipped to military school, got me?” Ezra asked as he left Johnny sitting on his bed. Johnny wore a shocked and dazed expression on his face as his Dad walked out the door.
` “Ruby?...Hi, it’s Johnny…Look I’ve gotta see you tonight…It’s like an emergency…Can I meet you now?...Great, I’ll be over there soon…Bye Ruby,” Johnny hung up the phone, he had to let her know what was being said behind her back while folks were smiling in her face. Johnny grabbed the keys to the Trans Am then hopped down the stairs like nothing was wrong.
“Where ya goin’ Johnny?” Savannah asked cautiously.
“I called Nathan and all the guys are hangin’ out tonight, thought I’d tag along. Ok Mom?”
“Where will y’all be?”
“Don’t know where ever we wind up. See later ok Mom?”
“Sure Johnny, be careful,” Savannah replied, concern edging her voice.
Johnny fired up the Trans Am and threw gravel in the driveway as he left. He turned deliberately the wrong way in case his parents were watching, then backtracked towards Loretta’s house.
“”Who was that on the phone Loretta?”Wayne asked as he dried they last of the dishes.
“A boy,” Loretta replied coyly.
“Robby? Dwight? Let me see, Stephen or Michael?”
“No, no, no, and no.”
“Well I’ve called the roll haven’t I? Yep,” Wayne mumbled. “Well which boy is it?”
“You ever heard of John Lee?”
“You mean that other boy with the band? Comes blazin’ past here like a bat outta hell deliverin’ shine for that colored man?”
Loretta sighed, “Yes Daddy that’s the one.”
“What the hell is he doin’ callin’ here or callin’ you for that matter?”
“He’s comin’ to see me,” Loretta replied sweetly.
“Well he can unsee you, call him back and tell him to go somewhere’s else.”
“But Daddy he’s on his way over right now. Besides he had somethin’ important to tell me!”
By this time Waylon had entered into the room, hearing the whole conversation, “You mean Johnny’s comin’ here, now?!” Then a wicked smile began to cross his kips. “That may not be a bad idea, I could kick his butt.”
“Waylon!” Loretta cried.
“Loretta, when he gets here you go out there an’ tell him to go home, I don’t want him around here,” Wayne ordered.
Loretta’s eyes began brimming over with tears, “Daddy you don’t even know him! You won’t even give him a chance! Just give him a chance; he’s not as bad as you think, please Daddy!”
“I can’t believe you’d give him the time of day. Something happened that night you took him home drunk after your gig at Margie’s,” Waylon put in. Then realizing what he had done his eyes went wide.
“I’m so sorry sis, I didn’t mean to,” Waylon turned and ran upstairs to his room.
“What?! Margie’s?! You’re playin’ at bars?! Loretta Kate Reed how could you?” Wayne’s face turned blood red and his voice rose as he began to talk faster.
A horn blowed in the driveway, Loretta and Wayne turned their heads towards the door. “Daddy that him,” Loretta announced urgently.
“Do you actually think that I’ll let you see him now?!”
“No go up to your room and I’ll tell him where he can go.”
“No Loretta, I just found out my daughter’s been playin’ in bars, wants me to meet a hellion and expects me to be ok about it all!”
“You know I let you have your band, let you surround yourself with a bunch of boys, all in hoping this was just a phase, well now your phase is officially over. From now on I want to see a little more girls around here, but a girl Loretta! Please!”
“Daddy the band was never just a phase, the band was my ticket out of here. That’s my dream. I don’t wanna be stuck in this town for the rest of my life I wanna go around the world and let everybody know about me, the band. Please Daddy, don’t take my band away from me,” Loretta pleaded, her body shook all over, tears flowed freely.
Johnny had been watching through the window and had heard it all. His heart broke for her, he had known her all his life and had known that singing in her band was it for her. He slowly entered through the door. Loretta and Wayne’s heads jerked quickly in his direction. “Hello everybody,” Johnny greeted shakily. He felt like Daniel in the lion’s den.
“”John Lee,” Wayne began.
“Daddy. I’ll tell him,” Loretta said painfully.
“Ruby, I’m sorry, I’ll leave,” Johnny responded.
“Ruby? Ruby?” Wayne had heard that name before; people had asked him about her. Then the light clicked on, “Loretta, you’re Ruby?! My word, so that’s who those old geezers at Margie’s are talkin’ ‘bout!”
“Uh oh, sorry for that too,” Johnny apologized while looking straight at Loretta.
“Well now I know what the hell they’re talkin’ about! Why Ruby, what’s wrong with Loretta? What’s wrong with this town? Why do you have to play at bars?”
“Dad, Ruby is my nickname, has been for years and now it’s my stage name too. This town is fine Daddy but I just want a little more. I wanna see how far I am able to make it in this world. And I play at bars because as a band we play where we can, getting’ anybody who’s willin’ to listen.”
“Mr. Reed, your daughter is a very talented performer, her band’s incredible, “Johnny put in.
“John when I want your input I’ll ask for it until then I don’t need no shine runnin’ hellion comin’ ‘round my property or my daughter, now go home or jump off a cliff for all I care. Now git!” Wayne stormed, jerking a finger towards the door.
“Loretta, that’s her name by the way son, Loretta!” Wayne yelled giving Johnny an icy glare. “Loretta, I’ll give you a choice, you can have your band if you give up this notion of seeing Johnny, and don’t tell me y’all weren’t because I know better. Or you can give up this band stuff and have a terrible relationship with this heathen, who I might add, I don’t approve of. Now what’s it gonna be Loretta?” Wayne crossed his arms defiantly.
“Johnny,” Loretta turned towards him, her voice shaking.
“Hey, it wouldn’t have worked anyway,” Johnny answered coolly, trying to not let the hurt show. “Just try to turn that group you call a band into something decent before the battle of the bands. After all I want Southpaw to have some competition. See ya ‘round Ruby,” Johnny walked out the door and ran to the car. He jammed it in gear after cranking it. He had to go somewhere to get her out of his mind.
“Ok Daddy, you’ve gotten your way. Johnny’s out of the picture, so tomorrow the band and I’ll start practicin’ hard for the battle of the bands,” Loretta stated coldly.
“Great,” Wayne smirked. “From now on I want all band practices done here and notified of all, what’s that word musician’s use? Ah yes, gigs. I want to be told about all of them. Understand? I find out you’ve been playin’ bars again I’ll be pullin’ the plug. Got me?”
“Yessir,” Loretta answered. She hung her head down low.
“Look, I don’t like doin’ this, you gotta believe me but I also gotta look out for ya. This is your senior year and soon you’ll be goin’ off to college-“
“I’m not goin’ to college, not till I see how good I am in the real world. If I’m not any good then I’ll come back home and go to college, ok?”
“Please Dad? It sounds all right to me,” Waylon begged from atop the stairs.
“I gotta bone to pick with you boy, git down’ere, “Wayne demanded. Waylon slowly descended the stairs, head hanging down like a whipped pup. “So you knew about your sister all along? You didn’t go to any bars with her did you?”
“No sir,” Waylon replied, his body erect and stiff with nerves.
“Good, but you’re still not off the hook,” Wayne turned to Loretta. “Now, how come he gets to know and I don’t?” Wayne crossed his arms and tapped his foot.
“Because Dad, Waylon can keep a secret,” Loretta replied giggling. She knew now that the storm had blowed over and that now only the cleanup was left.
Wayne led the way into the living room and sat down in his recliner, “Loretta, I’m very glad you and Waylon have such a good relationship, not many parents can say that.” Loretta and Waylon sat there, staring, waiting for the but. “But,” Wayne continued as secret smiles went off in his children’s heads. “I do not like all this here sneakin’ ‘round behind my back an’ all. Loretta you could’ve gotten Waylon into mighty serious trouble as well as your own self. From now on, let me in on some of y’alls conspiracies ok?” Two heads bobbed up and down simultaneously. “Now, so you wanna get the hell outta Dodge huh Loretta?”
“Oh yes Dad, she wants it very much, Dixie Stomp’s super good at what they do too!” Waylon bragged,
“I don’t remember your name bein’ Loretta,” Wayne replied. A cry sounded from upstairs. “Waylon go check on Leroy and see what the matter with him is,” Wayne ordered. Waylon began climbing the stairs calling Leroy out.
“Ok Loretta, so Dixie Stomp’s good and you wanna find out how good from the world’s standard?”
“Yes Daddy, one way is by trying to win that band contest.”
“Are we gonna try bringin’ up John Lee? Because I ain’t budgin’ on that.”
Loretta’s heart sank but she put on a smile saying, “No, well except to say that Dixie Stomp will cream his band Southpaw.”
“That’s more like it,” Wayne smiled proudly while thinking he had stopped the romance before it’s too late.
“Loretta, Leroy ain’t calmin’ down, help!” Waylon yelled.
Loretta scurried up to the bedroom to help. Between brother and sister they managed to calm Leroy down finally. Afterwards she excused herself to her room to get ready for bed. Eventually everyone else headed to bed. Soon a knock came upon Loretta’s window. Finally a hand came up to shake her shoulder. Her sleepy eyes tried to focus on the dark figure outlined in the moonlight.
“Ruby, are you awake?”
“Yeah, I had to come see you.”
“Daddy’ll kill us both if he catches you in here.”
“Well, to be honest I don’t plan on doin’ much talkin’,” Johnny said as he bent his head down to hers.
Loretta’s lips yielded against his as he glided his mouth over hers. His hands tangled themselves in her hair as he moved his body over on top of hers. Loretta’s heart skipped a beat as she felt the pressure of his weight on top of her.
“Johnny,” she breathed heavily. “What are you doin’?”
Johnny looked into her eyes and became transfixed, “You have hillbilly eyes, they shine in the dark.”
“Johnny, I’m not havin’ sex.”
“Ok, can I kiss you?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” Loretta’s eyes closed as she found his lips again. Her hands came under the t-shirt he wore and massaged the tight muscles rippling there. Her hands kept coming up until Johnny had to break the kiss to take it off. A moan of pleasure escaped him as her teeth nipped at his shoulder. Loretta’s breath quickened as he slid the strap of her tank top down her arm and Johnny traced it with his mouth. While slipping the other strap off Loretta ran her hands down to the top of Johnny’s hips wondering what should happen if she were to take them off. Johnny’s had made his way in revealing one of her creamy olive breasts.
“Loretta!” a scream burst from out of nowhere.
“Oh shit!” Johnny replied thinking they had been caught.
“That’s Leroy; he’ll be in here in a few seconds so you had better leave.”
“I don’t wanna,” he answered pouting.
Reluctantly Johnny got up, grabbed his shirt and headed towards the window. Quickly she fixed her top, gave him a quick kiss before heading to check on Leroy. Just as she reached the doorknob Leroy burst in. He had tears streaming down his face and claimed he had a nightmare.
*** *** ***
The next day at school Johnny brushed hands against Loretta’s. A puzzled look came across her as she looked down and saw the folded piece of notebook paper. As she sat down in her seat, getting situated for the class she remembered the note. Looking around to make sure no one was paying attention she opened it up and read:
Try sneaking out after you read this. I have to see you. Now.
With a little smile she folded the note back into her pocket. She made up an excuse to leave the classroom. Jeremy and Brandon looked after her curiously, wondering who gave her the note and what was in it.
Loretta found Johnny standing outside the school in the courtyard. He was propped up against the flagpole. His spiked blonde highlights glinted against the sun. He was clad in an old Aerosmith t-shirt, loose fitting Wranglers, and his steel-toed boots. He looked so cool, so sexy, and with dark skin, dark features, and deep blue eyes, Loretta stopped walking. She was unable to move or breathe, he turned towards her and gave a quick grin as he came walking to her. His walk was determined but with a slight slothfulness like Robert Mitchum. His arms came around her waist as his lips met hers.
“Ruby, after last night I can’t do anything but think of you,” Johnny spoke after reluctantly ending the kiss.
“Johnny I’m sorry I treated you mean last night. I knew Leroy was comin’ any second.”
“That’s all right.” Johnny reached down and took Loretta’s hand in his own. He walked around to the side of the principal’s office, being sure to stay out of sight. The melody of Waylon Jenning’s “Waltz Me to Heaven” drifted out of the window like a boat on a lazy river on a summer’s day. Johnny’s arms came around her waist again; her own arms encircled his neck. Together they swayed to the beat of the music. Her head rested softly in the crook of his neck and shoulder. A soft sigh breezed through her lips while a gentle kiss was laid on top of her head.
Steely grey eyes peered out the window. A sneer had long spread across his mouth when he first saw the couple embrace. It was just as he suspected. Don’t they look so cute, he thought smugly, too bad it won’t last that long.
“Ruby try meetin’ me in the old barn this evenin’, I wanna see ya when the sun sets,” Johnny’s eyes glittered, “I bet you look mighty purdy in the colors of the evenin’ sun.”
“Sure Johnny, I’ll come ‘round when my chores are done and suppers over.”
Their lips met once more before they left for their own classes. As Johnny sat in his chair and faced the tail end of yet another lecture Josh turned his gray eyes towards him. Johnny looked back, slightly uneasy. “Peek a boo Johnny,” Josh spoke in a whisper with big eyes. “I saw you.”
Johnny’s face paled as his eyes looked outside at the spot where he and Loretta had been. Damn. The rest of the day Johnny kept quiet and avoided josh, avoiding Loretta’s gaze on the bus.
He wound up sitting on the floor of his room when he got home. His head in his hands and feeling desperate, all he could do was look forward to seeing Ruby later on that day. Until then he needed to get out. Grabbing his keys he ran down the stairs, out the door, and in a few seconds he was speeding down the back roads.
“Ruby, Josh knows,” Johnny announced later that evening when they were at the barn.
“How?” Loretta asked pulling out of his arms.
“He saw us this afternoon outside.”
“Well, was he ok about it?”
“It didn’t seem like it.”
“Don’t you know?”
“My friends don’t take too kindly to the notion of us bein’ sweet on each other,”
“Same here, think we outta quit before this blows up in our face?”
“Do you want to? I thought we could make it.” Johnny’s heart was beating rapidly.
“No Johnny I don’t wanna stop bein’ with you but I wish we could be together with our friends an’ family without a feud bustin’ out.”
Johnny lay in the loft of the old barn, the doors open and facing the setting sun. Loretta’s head lay on his chest, an ear listening to the steady rhythm of his heart beating. With the fading rays of the day slipping behind the distant horizon the two lover’s try to keep up with the million thoughts that ran around in their heads.
“Ruby, I want you to look at me. I wanna see if you’re as purdy as I think you are in the sunset. So look at me Ruby,” Johnny spoke softly, cupping his index finger under her chin and gently tilting it up, “Yep, just as I thought. Those hillbilly eyes are a sparklin’ an’ a twinklin’ like a million diamonds.”
“You’re sweet Johnny,” Loretta replied for lack of anything better to say.
Johnny sat up sharply, his blue eyes ablaze, “Sweet? What, you don’t want sweet?” He grabbed her arms before jerking her up in front of him. He shook her violently then forced his lips upon hers. Loretta tried to resist but couldn’t escape his fierce grasp.
“Johnny! Stop!” Loretta cried. Fighting his hold she managed to wiggle out of his hold.
“Well, what do you want?!” Johnny yelled back.
“Not that! What the hell got into you? You scared me! You hurt me!” Loretta had crawled into a darkened corner and began hugging herself. She stared at Johnny through frightened eyes. She was the scared animal hiding away from her manic predator.
“Ruby, I’m sorry,” his voice grew desperate.
“No Johnny, you don’t treat me like that and expect me to get over it,” Loretta spoke; she shook her head and stood up at the same time. Slowly she inched her way towards the door. “Good-bye Johnny.” Quickly she took off for the door and headed for home.
“Ruby!” Johnny cried after her.
The next night at Johnny’s house Josh and the band had come over to practice but things were tense between Josh and Johnny. The band noticed the tension. D.J., known as the crazy nut of the group spoke up first, “Hey guys, what’s going on between you two? Have a lover’s quarrel?
“Shut up D.J. and get ready,” Johnny replied as he threw the guitar strap over his head.
“Something’s goin’ on,” Nathan picked up the scent. Nathan was a good hunter and the resident historian on the Civil War. Or the War of Northern Aggression as is the proper title.
“Johnny doesn’t wanna talk,” Josh broke in. “So we’ll play.”
Tom, the mechanic of the group, couldn’t let the subject be dropped, “Are you sure there’s nothin’ wrong with y’all two?”
“Dammit, I don’t wanna talk about it!” Johnny yelled.
“Temper, temper. I’d say somethin’s more wrong with Johnny than anything,” Daniel put in. Daniel was dark of skin with the Indian in his blood and was often teased by being called the “Mexican.”
“Guys can we just start practicin’?” Johnny pleaded.
“What’s wrong with you dude?” Ephraim asked. Ephraim was the biggest one of the group. People called him Beaver.
“He misses his girlfriend,” Josh replied sneeringly, looking dead at Johnny.
“Girlfriend!” they all said in unison.
“Josh don’t start. We’re through ok. So can we please get on with practicin’?” Johnny begged.
“Sure,” Josh said casually.
“Who was she?” Nathan asked,
“Ruby,” Josh answered with a smirk. The guy’s jaws dropped at the revelation. Johnny moaned before he began to explain.
Loretta had just finished up the dishes when Leroy went running to the door where Stephen, Michael, Jeremy, Brandon, Robby, and Dwight walked through. “‘Retta, dey here! Dey here ‘Retta!” Leroy called as he came back in on Brandon’s shoulders.
“Thank you Leroy! Come here and-“Loretta started.
“I’ll take him, you go on an’ practice,” Wayne interrupted, “Come’ere Leroy.” Leroy jumped in Wayne’s arms and they headed off into the living room.
Waylon slipped into the kitchen and asked hopefully, “Can I come an’ sit in on y’all? I’ll be good an’ do wherever y’all tell me.”
Outside in the barn the band practiced. Waylon listened and made mental notes on what they could do better. But he kept quiet all the same. As the hard country sounds blared out of amps Wayne strolled out of the house to the corner of the barn and listened.
“They ain’t half bad, are they Leroy?” Wayne asked holding his young son in one arm, “Let’s go see them, You want to?” Leroy nodded his head excitedly. Wayne walked inside the door, standing next to Waylon.
Loretta was crooning out a song she had written months ago. Her eyes were closed and a raw voice full of emotion came out. Her body swinging in time with the music as the band played. Most of their heads hanging down or too lost in the music to care about the audience.
Wayne McClintock Reed had to admit, he was proud of his girl. And her band, they were all right. He wouldn’t be surprised if they did become successful.
Soon the song ended, the music stopped, and the band looked up to notice the three men standing there. Loretta blushed at her father’s presence, ignoring the proud smile on his face. Loretta began to apologize, “Sorry Daddy if we disturbed you. What time is it Waylon, I guess I need to put Leroy to bed huh? We’ll be through-“
Wayne had to step in, “Loretta darlin’ y’all ain’t botherin’ a thang. Leroy and I just came out here to hear y’all play. I’ll be the first to tell ya that y’all ain’t half bad. Keep it up an’ ya’ll’ll win that band contest.”
“Thank you Daddy,” Loretta ran and threw her arms around his neck tightly. Tears flowing happily down her cheeks. The band looked on with quiet smiles. Wayne had never taken any of the band seriously. Now after the compliment that had just been pain everybody was happy for Loretta. She had always wanted it the worst of all, for her Dad to take her seriously. Now she was floating on air.
Johnny sat in the living room at his house, flipping through the TV channels. His mom and dad had left earlier to attend a party with some their friends. He was all alone. The band was still mad at him about the whole Ruby thing. He had nowhere to go. On he flipped, and then feeling restless he decided to take a walk.
Coming closer to the property line of the Reed’s he heard music. Johnny knew that they must be practicing. “They’re gettin’ better,” Johnny talked to himself. The music got louder as he got closer to the barn, but being sure to stay out of sight. Peeking through a crack in the boards Johnny could see the band playing and Ruby’s body moving to the music. “Still as pretty as ever,” Johnny said aloud as if years had passed instead of days.
As he stood and heard the music end and listened to the conversation between Ruby and her dad he had to restrain himself from barging in and congratulating her. His heart swelled and pride made him smile. “She finally did it. She got him to listen and take her seriously. You did it Ruby,” Johnny whispered softly. Then the chuckled to himself as Waylon cut into the happy moment with a list of changes and adjustments that he felt needed to be made followed by a brief argument. After the band packed up and headed home so did Johnny, where he found his parents back.
Wayne sat at the bar at Margie’s after a head’s day’s work. Sipping a tall mug of beer he heard the conversation around him. “How’s Ruby doin’ these days, ain’t seen her in a while?” the bartender asked Wayne. “Been hard trying to find another act on the weekends.”
Wayne’s jaw muscles tightened, “Her name’s Loretta, my wife Beulah gave her that name. She ain’t Ruby, and I’ve forbidden her to play at bars, it ain’t ladylike. ‘Sides she’s just a teenager who don’t need to be playin’ in no bars anyhow,” Wayne mumbled in reply.
The bartender backed away slowly, “Ok Wayne whatever you say but I lost business when that band of your girl’s stopped playin’ here.”
One of the other patrons who had been listening turned around and put his thoughts into the conversation, “Wayne you should let Loretta play here again, wouldn’t do any harm. They’re really good.”
“I know they are!” Wayne yelled. “Don’t you think I know that? Look, ain’t a daughter of mine playin’ in a bar.”
“Ah c’mon Wayne, what’s so wrong with playin’ here? There’s just the regulars and everybody already knows everybody, what’s the harm in playin’ here?” another customer pleaded.
“No! “ Wayne exclaimed, standing up as he spoke. Knocking over the barstool, he stormed out the bar.
“Hey Johnny, how ya doin’?” the bartender greeted.
“All right I guess. Listen I gotta favor to ask ya,” he started as he reached the bar.
Johnny took a deep breath and began, “I’m kinda in a spot with my band mates and I figure if I want to get back in their good grace’s I’d try to snag the spot that Dixie Stomp use to play in.”
“So you’re tellin’ me you want to play the same time and day Ruby and her friends use to play?”
“Yeah, let Southpaw play and we might even bring in more business than they did.”
“I don’t know, you aint’ near as purdy as Ruby is.” A group of customers who had been hearing the conversation chuckled.
“Heh, heh, funny. Does Southpaw get the gig or not?”
“Let me think about it some. We’re tryin’ to convince Wayne to let her play in here again. I’d hate to give you the spot then turn ‘round and find out she can play here again. Know what I mean?”
“Look do I get the gig or what?” Johnny asked smartly. “If Dixie Stomp decides they wanna play here again then Southpaw’ll consider givin’ them there spot back, this’ll be between Ruby and me. Ok?”
The bartender had folded his arms in doubt, “Sounds like you think you can handle her. All right son, you can have the spot but if she comes back and starts breathing down my neck I’m sendin’ her to you. All right?”
“You just do that,” Johnny replied as he turned to leave. “What time you want us here Friday?”
“Seven o’clock, sharp.”
“See ya then,” he tossed over his shoulder putting on his sunglasses as he opened the door.
He walked in the door of Nathan’s house later on the evening. The whole band turned towards him. Glares and sneers were given in response to his presence. He braced for the reaction of his news, “Guys, guess where we’re playin’ on the weekends now?”
“We aren’t through decidin’ if we want you back in the band or not,” Josh spat.
“I got us the gig at Margie’s. The same spot that Dixie Stomp had,” Johnny continued, ignoring Josh.
“Wow! That would be great for us,” Daniel exclaimed.
Josh’s temper flared as the rest of his friends agreed, “He’s not part of the band dammit!”
This time Johnny became short fused, “What the hell do you mean ‘ I ain’t part of the band?’ Dammit I created this band or have you forgotten? I’m the one who got the idea to start one, I’m the one who thought of y’all to play in my band, hell I’m even the one who thought of the damn name.”
“You betrayed us Johnny,” Josh shot back,
“What, are you scared of the competition?”
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?”
“What I wanna know is what is so wrong with me bein’ attracted to Ruby?”
“She’s the enemy.”
“Dude, this ain’t a war we’re fightin’.”
“Yes it is. It’s the Battle of the Bands. We deserve to win not her. And we can’t do that when you two are sneakin’ ‘round behind our backs. Which reminds me, I wonder if her band knows?”
“Josh, her band is playin’ all the time,” Johnny saw the look in his eyes and stopped him before he could say anything. “And I know that because I can hear them from my house ok? Anyhow, they’re practicin’ all the time and they’re getting’ really good while y’all are over here sittin’ on y’alls thumbs pissed because I was interested in the lead singer of a rival band and we ain’t playin’. Now would like to win this competition or would you like to sit here and watch our chance go by?”
“Fine, get your guitar and let’s play,” Josh finally stated with a sigh.
Johnny grinned, “Knew you’d come around.”
*** *** ***
Sunday after church Loretta ran down the stairs with a book under her arm. She wanted to go to the barn for some solitude while she read. “Where ya goin’?” Wayne asked as he stepped out of the kitchen.
“I’m goin’ outside to read, ok Daddy?”
“Not meetin’ up with that Lee boy are ya?” he asked suspiciously.
“No Daddy, I can’t stand him. That was a phase and thankfully I’m over it,” Loretta replied dramatically, lying through her teeth.
“Yes, thank you. Ok Loretta I want you back home before dinner.”
“See ya later,” Loretta bounced down the steps and took off for the barn in hopes Johnny might show up there.
Loretta’s head was buried in her book when she heard the noises. It was like someone walking towards the barn. She poked her head out of the loft window and saw Johnny walking aimlessly towards the barn. She slipped her head back in and quietly hid in the shadows.
Johnny walked up to the barn and pondered as to whether he should go up or not. But the memories made their pulled him into the entrance. Slowly he began making his way up the ladder to the loft. Sitting down in front of the loft window tears began streaming slowly down his hollowed cheek bones. “It feels like just yesterday I was laying up here with them hillbilly eyes shinin’ up at me,” her reminisced aloud. His mind drifted back. “Shit! What did I do wrong?! Why can’t I ever do anything right?!” Johnny slammed his fists down hard one good time.
“I lost Ruby, ha. Who am I kiddin’? I couldn’t have her even if I wanted to. She’s too good for a guy like me. I nearly lost my band, nearly got my butt shipped to military school. I nearly fucked up my whole life, and all for what? For a girl that I can’t have,” Johnny continued talking to himself.
Loretta kept sitting there quietly. Silently she cried, trying not to give her presence away. Inside, she didn’t know what to do.
Johnny looked up into the evening sky. With a sun that was just beginning to set. His hands were on his knees, clenched into fists, subtlety shaking his head right to left. “I can’t let her go. I just can’t. I don’t care if everyone is against us. Dammit I love her! I love her! I’m not going to let her go.”
With his declaration of love hanging in the air, he got up and began heading towards the ladder. “I’ve gotta go find her. Maybe she’ll be at home,” Johnny spoke, thinking aloud.
“You won’t find her there,” Loretta replied as she stood up.
Johnny jerked his head in the direction of the voice, “Ruby?”
Loretta walked out of the shadows as she spoke, “Yeah Johnny, it’s me.”
Johnny walked towards her slowly.
“I was hoping you’d show up. And sure enough you did,” Loretta replied while trying to get rid of the tears. “Did you really mean what you said Johnny? About lovin’ me and all?”
Johnny, with his hands shoved deep into his pockets, looked at Loretta with embarrassment showing. “Yeah Ruby, I really meant it. Every word of it, I know the last time we were together I treated you a little rough and I’m sorry. That’s no way to treat you. If you’ll let me I’d like to make it up to you. I’d like to be with you. I’ll try to be the man your Dad wants for you. I’ll try to stay out of trouble. I’ll do whatever it takes to be with you. Ruby, just give me a chance. I-I love you Ruby. Please gimme a chance?”
Loretta wrapped her arms around his neck. Pulling his head close to hers, “I thought you’d never ask.”
Johnny wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her body next to his. Nudging her head to look up to his, he touched his lips to her. Loretta yielded and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss. Johnny’s hands roamed over her blue jean clad bottom, staying there to grip firmly, and then sliding his hands under her shirt to slide up her back. Loretta moved her hands over Johnny’s lean chest, then pulling his shirt over his head she let herself roam further. Johnny’s hand slid up and down her sides, barely brushing the sides of her breasts. Loretta let out a moan, unbuttoning Johnny’s jeans her eager hands quickly unzipped and yank them down, revealing Johnny’s erection, as she also pulled down his boxer’s.
“Whoa Ruby, are you sure you wanna go this far?” Johnny pulled back.
“Johnny, I’ll tell you when to stop, just kiss me.” With that she jerked Johnny’s neck to her and began ravishing. Johnny succumbed to Loretta’s hunger and submitted to his own. Moaning as Loretta stroked him. He quickly rid her of her t-shirt and bra. Suckling on her nipple hardened breasts. His hands slid down to the tops of her jeans and began unfastening. He found her mouth while he began to pull them down. They lay on the floor of the loft, devouring and tasting as quick as they could. Rolling around, grabbing and stroking. Moans escaped them both as they tried to get as much from each other as possible.
“Loretta? Loretta?! Where are you?!” Waylon called.
Johnny moaned as his head fell against Loretta’s neck. “Shit,” she cursed before searching for her clothes after jumping up, quickly knocking Johnny off her.
“I’m beginning to dislike your family,” he groaned, holding up her bra and casually swinging it around.
Loretta yanked her bra from his grasp and hurriedly put it on, “Well, I’m supposed to be home before supper. Dad probably sent him out to look for me.”
“Loretta, where are you?!” Waylon hollered again.
“I’m comin’ Waylon, now go on back home!” she yelled back, slipping on her shirt.
“Where are you at?!” Waylon questioned.
“Right behind you, now go on!” Loretta zipped up her jeans.
“I ain’t leavin’ ‘til I see you!”
“Fine then hang on!”
“Can I see you tonight?” Johnny whispered as he finally began to get dressed,
“I don’t know, it depends on how much trouble I’m in.”
“I wanna see you Ruby.”
“I know. Look, knock on my window tonight. If it’s safe I’ll let you in if it is.”
“I gotta go. Bye,” Loretta leaned down and laid a casual kiss on Johnny’s lips.
He held her hand firmly to keep her from leaving, “I love you Ruby.”
“I love you too Johnny.”
Johnny let go of her hand and she began down the ladder. Waylon was waiting near the barn outside. “What were you doing?” Waylon asked as they began walking back towards the house.
“You interrupted me right in the middle of a good part; I had to finish it up.”
“Good part of what?”
“My book genius.”
“Where’s it at?”
Loretta looked puzzled, then noticed her hands were empty, “Oh no! I forgot it!”
“Wanna go back for it?”
“Nah, I’ll wait till tomorrow and get it then.”
Waylon knocked softly on Loretta’s door and entered when she told him to come in. Loretta sat on her bed, pen in hand, that little frown line between her eyes was showing as she stared down at the loose piece of notebook paper. “Workin’ on a new song?”
“Yeah, but the beat I have in my mind and the lyrics ain’t comin’ together.”
“Loretta?” Waylon asked nervously.
“What hun?” she looked up. Noticing the look in his eyes, “Waylon, what’s the matter?”
“I saw you and Johnny today,” he stuttered. “I thought you didn’t like him anymore?”
“Shit!” Loretta threw the pen down. “Look Waylon, I love Johnny and he loves me.”
“You didn’t tell Daddy, did ya?” she gave her brother a suspicious look.
“No!” Waylon started quickly. “No, no, no. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Good,” Loretta picked her pen back up when a thought occurred to her. “What all exactly did you see today?”
“Nuthin’ much, just ya’ll standin’ there a kissin’.”
“Are you sure that’s all you saw?”
“Yeah Loretta that’s it, I just heard noises comin’ up from the loft so I went to go check it out. Next thing I know I saw ya’ll swappin’ spit.”
“Well forget you ever saw it and don’t tell Daddy.”
“How can I forget? I’ve been traumatized.”
“Oh Loretta,” he mimicked.
“Get outta here an’ let me finish this song. I gotta have it ready so we can practice it tomorrow night.”
Later as Loretta continued to struggle with the lyrics of the song she heard a soft knock on her window. Looking up she saw Johnny’s face outlined in the shadow. Running over to her window she excitedly opened her it for him. “Fancy meetin’ you here pretty lady,” Johnny greeted with a goofy grin, still propped up on the windowsill.
“Get in here before someone sees you,” Loretta whispered, chuckling. Tugging Johnny up he began looking around.
“Who’s gonna see me?!” he whispered back loudly. “Damn peeping Tom’s.”
Laughing Loretta pulled Johnny out of the window. He pushed her down on the bed, falling down on top of her. “You’re a lot heavier than you look,” Loretta replied.
“Sorry,” Johnny began rolling off her. “I’ll let you breathe.”
“No,” she grabbed his shoulders to keep him on top of her. “I like the feel of your weight on me.”
“I just don’t like having to heft your big ass in my window.”
“But I have such a nice ass.”
“You have no ass.”
“Oh yea, you’re the one with the fabulous ass.” As she began to laugh again Johnny’s lips came down on hers, his fingers reached up to entwine them in her hair. Her hand came up to caress the side of his face, the other braced on his shoulder. Moving his mouth over to her ear, the breath rushed out of her, suddenly bucking under him as sensations raced over her. She moved her own lips to his shoulder and breathe in his scent of Stetson cologne.
“Loretta!” Wayne yelled through the door.
“Oh shit!” Loretta whispered. “Quick, get under the bed.”
As Johnny shimmied under the bed the door opened. “Loretta, you need to go to bed, ya got school in the mornin’ kiddo.”
“Yessir, I was just fixin’ to. I thought you were already asleep?”
“I was but I saw your light still on after I came out of the bathroom.”
“Oh, well I’ll be goin’ to bed now.”
“Good. Night Loretta.”
“Night Daddy.” After the door clicked shut she began getting undressed to change into her night clothes. Johnny came out from under the bed and stared at her. His eyes roamed over the exposed skin. Loretta looked up, blushing.
“You’re beautiful,” he spoke quietly. She finished undressing and began to put on her nightshirt when Johnny stopped her. “Don’t, please?” Loretta yielded, putting the shirt down she sat back on the bed in nothing but her panties.
Sensing her uneasiness he had an idea. “Here, lemme make you feel more comfortable,” Johnny whispered softly, he began undressing. Soon he had stripped down to his boxers. “Does this make you feel more comfortable?”
“Loretta, go to bed!” Wayne yelled from his room. She took Johnny’s hand in hers and pulled him on the bed then turned off the light.
“I’m comfortable Johnny but I’m nervous that’s all.”
“How ‘bout I just hold you for a bit?” he asked.
As Loretta settle into his open arms she asked with playfulness in her voice, “Can I get kisses?”
“And touched?” her voice turned serious as she found his mouth with her own in the darkness.
“Mmm hmm,” Johnny moaned in response.
Loretta turned towards him, her breasts rubbing his bare skin making his hunger for her more maddening. Johnny pulled her on top of him, running his hands up and down her sides barely brushing her nipples with this thumbs. “I like the feel of you on top of me,” Johnny whispered in a hoarse tone. Wrapping his arms around her he pulled her closer to him.
“I noticed,” Loretta replied sarcastically as her mouth touched his.
In response she wiggled her lower body, making his erection grow bigger. Johnny groaned, “Well you’ve heard of the tell tell heart, meet the tell tell part.” Loretta laughed and slowly slid her hand over his boxers, just toughing his shart. “Ruby, are you sure you know what you’er doing?” he warned.
“Johnny, I’m now as innocent as you think. i know what I’m doing so shutup. And kiss me.”
“Yes ma’am,” he replied obediently. But a thought popped into his head. “What do you mean you ain’t that innocent?”
Rolling off him she began to explain, “Now Johnny, you really thought I was as pure as the driven snow?”
“Well no. just how far have you gone and with how many guys?” he asked as he rolled over on his side to face her.
“Last summer I went to my Grandma’s to help her and I met a boy-“
“A summer fling,” Johnny quipped.
“Yeah and as for your question to how far I went , did it all.”
“So I got me an experienced girl?”
“-Except I didn’t go all the way.”
“Oh, so you’re still a virgin?”
“Yes, is that a problem?”
“Nuh-uh suga, ain’t no problem a t’all,” Johnny answered with an exaggerated drawl. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her up against him and his lips on hers. “In fact, I’m glad you are.”
“Yeah, cause you wanna know somethin’?”
“I’m one too.”
“What?!” Loretta replied loudly.
“Shhh, you’ll get that family of yours in here if you don’t watch it.”
“Well I guess you better find a way to keep me quiet.”
“My pleasure,” Johnny obliged. He brought her mouth to his once again, this time placing one hand on her breast, massaging its fullness while teasing the nipple into a hard pebble. He soon broke the kiss to suckle on her other breast. Her hand roamed down and found a firm grip on his erection, setting a pace she stroked it up and down. Johnny sensed the urgency. He broke away from the pleasure she was causing him as he rolled over on top of her. He straddled himself over her from the foot of the bed; bending low he slid his tongue in her warmth.
“Oh yes,” Loretta moaned. She twisted herself until his shaft hung down in front her while Johnny kept teasing her womanhood. She took him into her mouth, sucking hard. Taking one of his testicles in her mouth her hand continued where it had left off. With Loretta’s legs spread wide Johnny continued to taste her sweetness, though with difficulty due to the enormous pleasure she was giving him.
“Put it in, put it in,” Loretta begged breathlessly when she could no longer take it.
“Are you sure?” Johnny asked when he came up, concern and joy in his voice.
“Yes. Please Johnny, hurry!” Johnny turned around to look into her eyes, they were clouded with passion. Slowly he slid himself into her. She muffled a scream as the bittersweet pain yet pleasure coursed throughout her body. Sliding her arms around his neck she pulled him closer and sought out his mouth. “I love you Johnny,“ she whispered in his ear.
“I love you too.”
Johnny kept pumping as both of them climbed higher to their climax. Soon he pulled out as his release came. Loretta pulled him to her to bury her head in his shoulder as she peaked. Her teeth clamped down on his flesh to keep from crying out. Johnny collapsed on top of her, chest heaving, face buried in her hair. Loretta looked at the clock. It was two in the morning. Both of them would be like zombie’s tomorrow at school but she wrapped her arms around him instead.
At four-thirty Johnny awoke to a rooster crowing. He turned his head to Loretta who was still sleeping peacefully. “So that’s your damn rooster crowin’,” Johnny mumbled groggily. When he rose to get dressed he woke Loretta with the noise and movement.
“Good mornin’ sunshine,” Loretta greeted sleepily.
“You know that your damn rooster has been wakin’ me up at four-thirty in the damn morning for the past seventeen years?”
Loretta turned her head to the side as if she were talking to someone, “Good mornin’ Loretta, how are you? I’m fine; it’s nice of you to ask.” After talking to the air she turned back to Johnny, giving him a playfully mean look.
Johnny slipped on his t-shirt then crawled over to her on the bed, planting a quick kiss on her forehead he replied “Good mornin’ beautiful, how was your night?”
“Geez, you can’t even be original can you?”
“Nothin’, come here,” Loretta pulled him on top of her. A meeting of lips and tongues engulfed themselves in a mixture of arousing playfulness and passion.
“Mmm Ruby, if you don’t quit that darlin’ I’m afraid we’re gonna be in some deep shit. I regretfully have to leave and sneak back into my own room.”
“Oh ok,” she pouted as he got off the bed.
“I’ll see you in a few hours,” Johnny consoled as he headed towards the window.
“Are ya gonna kiss me good-bye or sit there and pout all day naked?” Loretta looked at him with big eyes. “Come’ere and give me somethin’ to remember you by.” She hopped out of bed and ran into his arms, pressing her nude body into him.
“Mmm, hunny, you keep that up and I may never leave,” Johnny spoke while wrapping his arms tighter around Loretta’s waist.
“”That’s what I’m aimin’ for,” Loretta reached up and found his lips with her own and pressed her body even harder against him.
“Ok suga, I’m leavin’ now while I still got the will to,” Johnny pulled away reluctantly and climbed out of the window beginning his trek back to his house. Loretta watched him till he faded out of sight then crossing back to the middle of the room she began dressing in her night clothes. Settling back in her bed, alone, she drifted off in a contented sleep.
“What time did you go to bed last night Loretta?” Wayne asked.
“Not too long after you told me to Daddy,” she replied innocently while fixing breakfast.
“I thought I heard voices comin’ from there.”
“Oh, that was my radio. I was workin’ on a song last night I just felt like listenin’ to some music.”
“I didn’t hear much music. I heard people talkin’.”
“Maybe we have ghosts,” Waylon jumped in, hoping to change the subject.
“We ain’t got no ghosts son,” Wayne argued.
“I don’t know, it was advertising and that’s the last thing I remember, guess the lights went out for me.”
“Hmmm.” Wayne considered as he drank his coffee.
“Where were you last night Johnny?” Savannah questioned when he came down for breakfast.
“With who and doin’ what?”
“The guys and I were hangin’ out. Is that ok?”
“No,” Ezra broke in. “You could’ve told us. And stayin’ out all night and with you havin’ to go to school in the mornin’. Boy, I’m gonna jerk a knot in your butt if you don’t straighten up. You understand me?”
“Yessir,” Johnny answered. Grabbing a biscuit he rushed out the door when the bus pulled up and honked its horn.
“That boy,” Ezra sighed as he watched his son get on the bus.
Savannah gave her husband an annoyed look, “Ezra hush.” He whipped his head in her direction. “I fondly remember a boy that was the spittin’ image of Johnny and you know what? I married him and he didn’t turn out half bad. He’s a bit of a tight ass every now and then but we’re workin’ on that.”
Ezra got up from the table and walked around to his wife, “Come here woman of mine.” He grabbed her tightly in his arms. “I’ll show you who has the tight ass around here.” Sliding his hands down and over Savannah’s butt he firmly kneaded the flesh, passion in his eyes as it rushed to his loins.
“Ezra,” Savannah spoke breathlessly. He still got to her, making her feel as if they hadn’t been married for nearly twenty years but as if they were still on their honeymoon.
As Johnny boarded the bus he didn’t take his usual seat next to Josh but sat in a vacant seat. “Hey, what the matter with you?” D.J. asked.
“Y’all’ll soon see.”
As Loretta boarded the bus with Waylon she saw Johnny sitting by himself. With a heart beating wildly from love and fear she stopped in front of him and asked, “Anyone sitting here?” With a shaky voice and weak knees she awaited his answer.
“You,” Johnny simply stated as he slid over for her. She sat and looked at him. His arms came around her. Holding her tight he found her lips gently reassuring that things were going to be all right. Johnny looked ahead at his band mates, judging their reactions. Then looking at her band he saw the same mixture of expressions, hatred and bewilderment.
“Do they look mad?” Loretta asked, head laid on Johnny’s shoulder with her eyes shut tightly.
“Yeah but we’ll get though this together, ok?”
“Ok, but what about our parents? Can’t wait till we break it to them.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Now just relax and let’s make it through the day.” Johnny looked over at Waylon, “Why isn’t your brother chomping at the bit to kill me?”
“He saw us yesterday in the hayloft. I think he’s learnin’ to adjust. Though, he more than likely wants to kill you.”
“At least he’s practicin’ restraint.”
In their classes together with their bands Johnny and Loretta continued to face cold unbelieving stares. “How could you Loretta?” Robby asked.
She turned around and let her thoughts flow unrestrained, “Because I love him. He loves me. We are together. Y’all got that? And can y’all tell me why in the world y’all hate him so much? It was foolish to carry on the way we did but now y’all are just plain childish. And for all I care y’all can learn to like it or lump it. Now is that understood?”
Johnny was given a similar question by Josh, “Man I thought you were over her? And didn’t I tell you to get over her?”
“What’s your problem?” Johnny snapped. “Who the hell said you were my father? Look we love each other and I ain’t leavin her just ‘cause you tell me to. Now get over it. I don’t know why you’re so pissed about all this anyways, it all seems kinda stupid to me but then again I guess I was over estimating your intelligence.”
With a sneer Josh turned away. At lunch Johnny and Loretta stood in line together, their band mates looked on scornfully. Waylon arrived and saw a pack of lions about to pounce on his sister and he bristled. “Hey Loretta what’s cookin’?” Waylon came up, trying to break the tension.
“Nothin’,” she looked at him with tear filled eyes.
Waylon couldn’t take it anymore. “Well Johnny you dumbass you did it again. You made my sister cry. Again. You went and fell in love with her. Now I’m ok with you and all I just don’t like anybody makin’ her cry.”
“Anybody,” Waylon warned as he scanned the crowd. “Y’all are pathetic ya know that? Getting’ all ready to rip them apart just ‘cause they fell for each other.” Stepping over to the band members of Dixie Stomp he looked each of them in the face and began speaking again. “How long have y’all been friends with my sister? Since forever right?”
Waylon waiting for them to respond before speaking, “Well y’all have known her that long and yet y’all treat her like this when she fell in love? Yea sis, you picked real good friends here.” Then he moved over to the guys of Southpaw and glared at them. “Y’all just suck.”
And with that being all he had to say he stepped back and addressed them all, “I know y’all are rival bands and all but this is taking it a little too far. Now I’d hate to kick all y’alls asses for hurtin’ my sister but if need be I will. Now everyone kiss and make up like y’all got some brains, ok?”
Josh stepped out of line towards Waylon, “I don’t think so, I’d much rather see if you could kick my ass.”
Johnny put a hand on Josh’s shoulder,” Trust me, you don’t wanna do that.”
With a warning look Josh turned it into a challenge, “Oh really? Why don’t you just show me why then?” Josh turned and planted himself defiantly.
“I’m not gonna fight you-“
“No, I’ve got better things to do with my time than beat your brains out.”
“Like what? Fuck your bitch?” Josh sneered.
Johnny, Waylon, and Dixie Stomp took a step forward ready to fight. Ephraim put a strong hand on Josh’s arm and pulled him towards him, he cautioned him by saying, “Think you better calm down. You and I both know that you can’t risk getting into another fight. So shut up and get your food.” With the hand still firmly gripped on Josh’s arm Ephraim spun him around and shoved a tray at him.
Dwight looked at Waylon, “You know I’ve always thought you were a dumbass now you’re a just a dumbass I want to hurt, badly.”
“Now why is that?” Johnny asked as he stepped beside Waylon.
“Ain’t none of your business.”
Loretta had had it and stepped right into Dwight’s Face, “Waylon is my brother, I’d say it was his business. Get the broomstick dislodged from your ass and get the hell over it. But if you touch my brother or my boyfriend I will personally kick your ass. Got me? Good.” Loretta walked over and took Johnny by one arm and Waylon by the other, she led them away from the lunch line and towards an empty table.
“Hey sis, I hate to mess up your get away but the girl I fought for is waiting on me.”
“Ok Waylon, go to her,” Loretta laughingly ushered. But she grabbed his arm, “Thank you Waylon.”
Reflecting the seriousness in her eyes he placed a hand over hers, “No problem Loretta,” With that he left.
“Well if we thought today is rough wait till we meet each other’s parents,” Johnny spoke, trying to alleviate the tension but to no avail.
“How are you gonna get in his good graces?”
“Don’t know yet,” he answered looking at his band mates eating their lunch while in deep distraction. “Wing it I guess.” Johnny turned to Loretta, worry in her face. “Ruby, don’t worry we’ll get through it.” Placing a hand on her face he gently turned her to face his.
“I know Johnny, I know,” she replied. The bell rung and they walked to her class together. When there he kissed her quickly and headed to his own after promising to meet her after class.
On the bus it was silent except for the roar of the engine. You could cut the tension with a knife and even though she hated leaving Johnny’s arms she breathed a sigh of relief when she walked up the driveway.
“So Loretta, where’s your band at? Ain’t y’all got to practice?” Wayne asked after dinner.
“I don’t know Dad. Tonight will be touch and go if people show up to practice,” Loretta answered.
“Why? What’s wrong with them?” He questioned, suspecting that there was more than what she was telling him.
“They have other things going on,” she lied though she knew that her dad knew it too.
After supper and her father’s interrogation Loretta went up to her room to finish the song she started the night before. Her eyes couldn’t focus on the page through the tears as her heart broke while thinking she might have lost her fest friends.
A firm knock came on her door, quickly brushing away the tears she said, “Come in.”
Wayne stood in the door frame, “Some of the guys and I are going out for a drink, you know the drill.”
“Yessir, if you’re not home by ten, start worryin’. If you’re not home by eleven then start fetchin’.”
Wayne chuckled, “Ok take care of Leroy for me. See y’all later.”
“Ok, but Daddy, try to be home at ten. Ok?”
“Yes ma’am,” Wayne replied then closed the door.
Waylon opened her door and asked, “Where’s Dad goin’?”
“Out for a beer with the boys.”
“Look. It’s not like he drinks a lot all the time, just when he’s with his friends.”
“I know but I wish he didn’t do it at all. He gets mean when he does.”
“Yeah, but he could get meaner. He hasn’t ever hit any of us.”
“But the things he says-“
“It’s nothing, don’t take it personally you know he ain’t thinkin’ straight.”
“Fine whatever,“ Waylon gave up disgusted and closed the door.
Later a knock on the front door broke Loretta from her thoughts. Going downstairs she was startled to find her band on the other side of the door. Humbly and solemnly she greeted them, “Hello guys. “ She opened the door wider to allow them to pass through. “Would y’all care to come in?
Dwight, as usual, led the group inside. Making themselves comfortable on the couch as Waylon came downstairs with Leroy. Loretta looked at him nervously before she returned her attention back to the band. Dwight started the conversation, “Look Loretta, the guys and I got together after school and talked this whole thing over. Now we know today at school a lot of things were said that weren’t meant but now that things have calmed down I think it’s time we talk about this. Rationally, like adults.”
Resigning she sat in a chair, “Fine. Let’s talk.” By the time the band left, all was talked out and they had even helped finish Loretta’s song. In the end, the result was that the band decided to support her decision to be with Johnny.
As the time passed Waylon realized that it was after ten and Wayne still hadn’t come home so naturally he began to worry. “Loretta, Dad ain’t home and it’s after ten, “Waylon reported in am uneasy voice.
“I noticed. I was hoping he’d be home by now. If it’s eleven we’ll have to go get him. Don’t worry Waylon he’ll be fine.” Loretta continued playing the new song she’d written with Dixie Stomp all the while worrying herself.
Loretta and Waylon were sitting in the living room watching the clock instead of television when Wayne stumbled through the front door at a quarter till eleven. Drunk and a little mean he plopped into his recliner and stared hard at his two children. “Loretta,” Wayne began with a slur. “I saw your boyfriend tonight at Margie’s.”
After the blood had drained from her face and was able to talk again she asked, “Boyfriend? Daddy, what boyfriend?”
“You know damn good and well who I’m talkin’ about, John Lee,” Wayne answered. “The very same John Lee, in fact, who I told you to have nothing to do with. Well anyhow, I saw him tonight at the bar. Seems he took your ol’ gig there. Did he tell you that?”
With a reeling head Loretta managed to speak somehow, “No Daddy, Johnny didn’t tell me that.”
“Well he did but tonight he came there to give it up when I told him that you and your band was gonna start playin’ there again.”
“We are?”” she asked unenthused. She never got her hopes up when Wayne made promises to her in his drunken condition, he’d forget in the clear light of day.
“Yes ma’am, that is after I got it out of him that you two were still seeing each other.”
“Oh,” was all Loretta could say.
“I told him that I’d let the two of you date with a few rules if he’d give up the gig so Dixie Stomp could play. Naturally he accepted my offer, he couldn’t refuse.”
“Thanks Daddy,” Loretta responded. Looking at Waylon she asked, “Well brother of mind I guess it’s time we went to bed ain’t it?”
“Yeah,” he agreed. His body waiting for his Dad to get mean with them. “Yeah sis, I guess so.”
Starting to get up, Wayne looked out of one eye at his children, “What’s the matter don’t wanna stay up and talk to pop?”
“No, we just wanna go to bed,” Loretta stood poised at the bottom of the staircase.
“Maybe I want the two of y’all down here with me?”
“We all need hit the hay since we all got to get up in the mornin’,” Waylon answered, knowing things were about to get ugly.
Wayne leaned forward and placed a painful gripping hand on Waylon’s knee, “No son we’re not going to bed now. We’re gonna stay up a while and talk. And you know what were gonna talk about?”
Wincing from the pain Waylon inquired, “No Dad I don’t.”
“Daddy, you’re hurting Waylon, stop it,” Loretta broke in calmly.
Ignoring her Wayne continued, “We’re gonna talk about how Loretta here specifically disobeyed me!” Wayne grabbed Loretta by the arm, as she came to help Waylon, and yanked her up to stand trembling in front of him.
“Daddy now you’re hurtin’ me, please let me go,” she begged, her voice shaking.
Wayne only shook her while Waylon looked on scared and helpless, “What do you think you’re doing Loretta?! Huh?! Thought you could have the best of both worlds? Thought you could have your band and that Lee boy without me knowin’ it? Guess what little girl? You were wrong. I should beat your butt so hard till you can’t even sit on it for all the shit you do. Lettin’ people call you Ruby, sounds like a Jezebel whore name, you ain’t no whore are you?”
When he didn’t receive an answer he shook her again. “You ain’t a whore are you?!”
“No Daddy!” she cried.
“Better not be. Then I find out you’ve been playin’ at bars all night long. Probably gettin’ free beer ain’t ya? You been drinkin’ Loretta?!”
“No sir!” She replied quickly.
“Good. Then you hang around with them boys all the time and I never see you hangin’ around with any girls. Then you go and see that Lee boy behind my back. You ain’t nothin’ but a lyin’, drinkin’, whore. You know that?!” Shaking her again making Loretta’s sobs louder wakened Leroy who cried out. Everyone looked up to the stairs; Loretta turned her had back to Wayne.
“Daddy, lemme go and get him back to sleep. Please?” Big red, wet, swollen eyes looked up at glazed over, mean, hard eyes for permission. Wayne, in drunken disgustedness flung her away from him. Waylon caught her and led her towards the stairs.
“Where you goin’ boy?” Wayne asked firmly.
Waylon turned defiantly to his father, “I am goin’ to help my sister up the stairs you drunk. You gotta problem with that?”
Wayne stormed over to Waylon, laying the back of his hand hard across Waylon’s mouth making him fall to the floor.
“Daddy!” Loretta cried, falling to the floor alongside her brother to check his wound.
“Y’all get up there and make that baby shut up before I do it myself, understand?” Wayne ordered.
“Yessir,” Loretta answered quickly dragging Waylon to his feet. “C’mon Waylon let’s go.”
After getting Leroy back to sleep and tending to Waylon’s mouth she stood at the top of the stairs and saw her father there in his recliner, passed out cold. She began to cry, silently. Her Dad has a problem and she can’t do anything about it, she’s tried before to no avail. This was the first time wayne had ever caused any physical harm and now is the time to try again to get him to stop drinking. Off to bed Loretta went, rubbing her bruised arm she cried herself to sleep. Thinking of Johnny and wondering how to tell her father that he needs help.
The next morning was silent and awkward as the family got ready to leave. Wayne held his pounding head in his hands but silent tears were flowing as he saw the bruises on Loretta’s arms and the bruise and cut on Waylon’s mouth where his wedding ring had make contact. The burden and humiliation of what he did, not to mention the pain he’d caused, couldn’t stay inside him. He had to do something about it, “Guys, I’m-“
But he was too late; the school bus honked its horn and out Loretta and Waylon went to get on it.
“-sorry,” Wayne finished helplessly.
Loretta and Waylon got on the bus and met puzzled looks as the other kids saw their bruises. When she sat next to Johnny he gently took her arm and examined the marks then looked at Waylon’s mouth. “What happened?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“Nothing Johnny,” Loretta replied while pulling her arm out of his grip.
“Ruby, this doesn’t look like nothin’. Who did this to you?”
“Dad,” Waylon answered.
“Waylon!” she cried.
“What?! You can’t expect me to keep quiet about all this can you?” Waylon shot back. Johnny got up and rushed to the front of the bus.
It was too late; Johnny got off and ran up to Loretta’s house. Loretta and Waylon ran behind him. Bursting through the door he found Wayne still sitting in the kitchen. Johnny rushed towards him, pushing his out of this chair. Loretta and Waylon stood there, watching and waiting.
“Boy, you’re gonna pay for that,” Wayne spoke in dangerous warning tones.
“Oh like your children did? Huh? You gonna beat up on me like you did them? I might deserve it now but what did they do, huh? What did Loretta and Waylon do to get theirs?”
Wayne hung his head in defeat, knowing he had a point and he couldn’t argue with him about it. Looking up with big, watery eyes, looking past Johnny to Waylon and then Loretta. “I’m sorry y’all, I know that’s not good enough but I don’t know what else to say or do.”
Loretta crossed over to Wayne, wrapping her arms around his neck tightly she said as she laid her head against his chest, “Daddy, I forgive you, just promise not to do it again. Ok?” She looked up into his face with pleading eyes.
“I promise baby. No more drinking,” Wayne hugged her tight then looked over her head to Waylon.
“I ain’t gonna forgive and forget as easily as Loretta, Dad. I want to see some proof first. I wanna know for a fact that ain’t ever gonna happen again,” Waylon stated firmly. Moving away from Loretta who moved beside Johnny she watched her brother and father tensely.
Wayne thought it over then replied, “All right I guess you deserve that. You want proof I’ll give you proof. The last thing I wanna do is lose my son because of my stupidity.”
A long awkward silence followed before Johnny decided to break it, “I doubt the school bus is still around.”
“Yeah, the bus is probably at school by now,” Waylon put in.
“If it’s all right Mr. Reed I can give them a ride and one home too?” Johnny asked.
“Fine but don’t expect to make it a habit,” Wayne replied.
“No sir I won’t. Let’s go y’all,” he ordered and headed out the door, Waylon following. Loretta turned to give her father a quick hug and kiss on the cheek then ran out the door.
At lunch when everyone had a chance to talk, they did. Loretta and Johnny relayed to both their bands the event that took place earlier that morning. Though Johnny’s band still didn’t care for him dating her they listened to the two of them with interest. As Johnny and Loretta related their story they knew things were going to be ok. Their friends were learning to accept their relationship now it seems like family was their only hurdle left to jump.
When Johnny got home from school after dropping off Loretta and Waylon his Dad was waiting for him on the back porch. “Hey Dad,” Johnny greeted as he hopped on the porch, he knew was about to get torn into.
“Son, what are you doin’ drivin’ your car to school? You know you’re supposed to ride the bus,” Ezra spoke calmly and quietly.
“I had to get Loretta and Waylon Reed a ride,” Johnny explained.
Ezra sighed heavily, “Your no supposed to be associatin’ with them Reeds’. “
Johnny braced himself further, “I’m in love with her and she’s not the girl you and Mom think she is. I’ll invite her and her family for Sunday dinner after I get out of church. I need to ask Mom…” Johnny’s mind then began to think out loud what all he needed to do for Sunday.
Ezra’s eyes bugged out as he couldn’t believe what his ears heard, “You’re goin’ to church? Since when do you want to go to church?”
“Since I met the girl I wanna spend the rest of my life with. I figure that I’d get the best of both worlds. I’d see Ruby and get my religion. Dad is it ok if the Reed’s come over for Sunday dinner?”
When Savannah came home from work Ezra was still digesting his son’s news. “Ezra darling’, what’s the matter?”
He looked up in proud amazement at his puzzled wife’s face, “Our boy’s gonna go get some religion on Sunday. And he’s inviting Wayne Reed and his family over for Sunday dinner.”
Savannah remained un-phased, “Ezra is that all? We don’t even go to church anymore why should you be so awestruck? ‘Sides he’s only goin’ to see that Reed girl. And ain’t we done told him he couldn’t hang around her?” She lifted an eyebrow at her husband.
Ezra sighed at the practicality of his beautiful wife, “Darlin’.” He put a hand around her waist and pulled her down on his lap. “Let’s give the Reed’s a chance. Our son’s in love with the Reed girl and you know what? He looks the same way I did when I was his age talkin’ about you.”
“What do you look like now? All grimaced?” Savannah teased as she ran her fingers lovingly through his thinning hair.
Ezra gave out a little chuckle, “No darlin’ I still look the same only I smile a little bigger now.”
“’Cause you’re still with me.”
“Well the better offers haven’t come my way as of yet.”
Ezra gathered her close to him, rocking a little and laughing. “I love you Savannah. What did I ever do to deserve such a girl like you?”
“I don’t know but just keep it up; I don’t wanna stop lovin’ you.”
Johnny watched the heartwarming scene quietly from the hall. He hoped he and Loretta would be as happy as his parents were. Johnny left his thoughts as the phone rang. “Hello?” he answered.
“Hey Johnny, wanna practice tonight?” Nathan asked from the other end of the line.
“Sure, y’all come on over,” he replied before hanging up. He walked back out onto the porch while his parents still embraced. “Hey Mom, Dad, the guys are comin’ over to practice.”
“Y’all behave. Your mother and I are goin’ out tonight,” Ezra informed. Then patting his wife on the bottom said, “Now go make yourself look purdy.”
“Don’t I already?” Savannah asked as she primped her hair up smartly.
“You look beautiful baby but I smudged some of that woman’s war paint you got on. You might wanna fix that.” Savannah jumped up obligingly. When she was out of earshot Ezra turned back around to Johnny. “We may spend the night somewhere in town if you know what I mean. So, um, behave and have a good practice and we’ll see you when you get home from school tomorrow ok?”
“Yeah ok Dad.”
A few minutes later Johnny’s parents were out door as his band walked through. Greetings and hello’s aside Johnny and Southpaw headed for the kitchen before practice, and they raided the fridge. “I still can’t get over you dating that Reed girl,” Nathan stated, breaking the silence. Everyone nodded in agreement as they stood hanging around in the kitchen. They remained quiet as they ate and drank.
“Well I am, take it or leave it guys,” Johnny returned. He gave each a quick but firm look that said it he meant business. He lingered on Josh until he looked away. “Have you got that Josh?”
Josh turned back, anger flashing in his eyes, “Yeah, I got it, happy? Can we go practice now?”
Without a word Johnny led them out to the garage where they kept their equipment. When everything sounded good Johnny began leading them in a song with his guitar. It wasn’t long before all the guys joined in on their own instrument. As the evening wore on the tension between the band mates disappeared. At the end of the session Johnny thanked everyone for doing a good job. “What are you doin’ this weekend Johnny?” Nathan asked as he packed up his guitar.
“Saturday is still up in the air. Sunday after church Ruby and her family’s comin’ over for dinner,” Johnny answered. He started thinking about Sunday, not noticing that all the guys looked at him in disbelief, before he realized something. “Oh man I haven’t asked Loretta and them yet! Dang and I need to find out where they go on Sundays.”
“What are you talking about Johnny?” Tom asked for everyone.
“It’s time Loretta’s Dad met my parents to see how we really are and vice versa,” he explained. “Besides all our families know about us is the town gossip and most of that are exaggerated lies.”
“Ok, that part’s something we can handle,” Tom replied.
“It’s the church things we ain’t graspin’ at,” Daniel threw out there.
“Oh,” Johnny realized. “I thought it’d be nice if I went with them to church.”
“You’ll be set aflame before you ever set foot in that lobby,” Ephraim put in.
Johnny cast a glare at him, “Ha ha very funny Ephraim.”
All the guys laughed at the thought of Johnny dressed up for church sitting in between Loretta and her daddy. The pictured how awkward it would be, if the whole church would gasp at his appearance there. After more ribbing and joking though Johnny said good-byes as everyone left for home.
Loretta sat in the living room with the family, watching TV before bed. Everyone’s homework was done. Supper was over. The dishes were washed. Leroy had had his bath and was put to bed. She was missing Johnny and wondering if he would sneak into her room tonight. She couldn’t wait to go upstairs and find out but the sound of the phone ringing brought her away from her giddiness. Loretta excused herself to go answer it, “Hello?”
“Yeah babe, the one and only.”
“Wow, this is a first. It’s a rarity for us, talking on the phone, I mean,” Loretta giggled a little.
“Well I’d come over but I’m tired,” he remarked with a yawn.
“I can tell,” she said, a little disappointed. “So what can I do for you?”
“I know what you can do to me,“ Johnny teased.
“Johnny!” she exclaimed in a whisper. “You’re not here so keep dreamin’.”
“Oh I will, trust me. You just think of all those times we were alone together while you sleep tonight baby and all the things I can, and want, to do you still.”
“Mmm hmm,” Loretta answered, un-amused. “Is that all you wanted to say to me Johnny or did this phone call have a point?” She had to admit, the images in her head had her yearning for him even more. The thoughts about what they could do to each other if given the time would make her squirm in her sleep as they haunted her dreams later that night.
“Calm down woman, I’m getting around to it. Which church do you go to?”
The question caught her off guard, “Do what?”
“Which church do you go to?”
“There’s a one-eighty.”
“Never heard of that one.”
“Yes I am.”
“We go to the only Baptist one in town. Why?”
“Save me a seat, I’ll see y’all Sunday.”
“Huh?” Loretta was stunned.
“I’ll see y’all Sunday morning and then afterwards your family will come over to my house and everyone can meet and get to know the real person. Not just the person created by town gossip.”
“I don’t know if Dad’ll do it.”
“Loretta, I won’t take no for an answer. You need to get to working on it sweetie. I’m going to bed, good night.”
“Night Johnny,” she said before hanging up the phone.
“Who was that hunny?” Wayne asked as his daughter came back into the room.
“It was Johnny.”
“What’d he want?” he asked with disdain in his voice.
“He’s coming to church Sunday so he told me to save him a seat. Afterwards we’re invited to his house for a meet and greet of sorts with his parents.”
“I don’t think so,” Wayne shot down angrily.
“He didn’t ask Dad,” Loretta stated. “He told us.”
“No young hot shot is going to tell me what to do.”
“Dad what harm is there in going over there to meet Johnny and his family?”
“I got better things to do.”
“Fine you stay here and be hard headed while the boys and I go over there. You can fix your own Sunday dinner!” “Loretta stormed out of the living room to head upstairs.
“Loretta!” Wayne yelled as he shot up out of his chair to chase after her. “Young lady don’t you ever talk to me like that, you hear me?!” He grabbed her by the arm to yank her around to face him.
She flinched at the pain, “Thanks Daddy, now I’ll have another bruise to hide.”
Wayne quickly dropped her arm, “I’m sorry baby girl.” After looking back up he got the firmness back in his eyes. “Loretta I don’t know what’s gotten into you but you are not going to talk to me like that, do you understand me?”
“Then why can’t we just go over there and be sociable then?!” She cried out through the tears. “Why can’t anyone just accept that Johnny and I are together and that we’re happy that way?! I feel like I’m in Romeo and Juliet, would everyone like to end that way too?”
“Loretta no hunny, come here,” Wayne reached up to console her. “Baby, it’s just hard to let you go running around with someone like Johnny who has a reputation like he does.”
She looked up into her daddy’s eyes, “Well if you’d come to Sunday dinner then you’d get to know the real Johnny and his family.”
Wayne threw his hands up in playful surrender, “Ok, I give up. We’ll all go over there Sunday after church.”
Smiling Loretta hugged her father before going upstairs, “Good night Daddy, I love you,”
“Night Loretta, I love you too.”
“Nice job,” Waylon said, standing out of sight, scaring his sister.
“Waylon!” she exclaimed in a whisper. “Don’t scare me like that!”
He laughed, “Eh it was too funny to pass up.”
Loretta continued walking to her room, “Good night brother.”
“Hey sis, wait,“ he caught up to her. “Do we really have to go over to Johnny’s Sunday after church?”
“But I kinda had plans with my girl.”
“Waylon this would really mean a lot to me if you came too.”
Waylon thought it over for a minute before agreeing to go. After saying goodnight to one another Loretta closed the door to her room and turned on the light. She jumped slightly when she saw roses lying on the bed. She smiled at the note lying on top of her pillow before picking it up to read it.
Hey baby. I thought you deserved a little something for putting up with
me. And all the crap you put up with. You deserve a whole lot more but
this is all I can give for now.
Quickly she found a jar to fill up with water and placed the roses in it. She tucked the note away in the nightstand beside her bed. Loretta got ready for bed then grabbed some pen and paper to write down lyrics that began flowing through her head. His romantic gesture had inspired her.
*** *** ***
Saturday came with everyone waking up and doing the house cleaning among other chores. Loretta hurried through her usual routine and kept Leroy while her father and Waylon went outside to work. This afternoon the boys were coming over for band practice and she debated on telling them about Sunday dinner over at Johnny’s tomorrow. She thought about all the flak she’d gotten from them so far about the whole thing. She knew she would get more if she told them about tomorrow so she decided against it.
Johnny spent his Saturday morning sleeping in. Languishing in the dreams of him and Ruby and all the possible ways his subconscious could manipulate the two subjects. With his parents gone he had no one yelling at him to wake up. They were having such a good time together they had decided to stay in town after work on Friday. He couldn’t help but procrastinate about all he had to do in preparation for tomorrow. Maybe he should tidy the place up a little, he thought. He needed to see if he had any clothes decent enough to wear to church. What was Mom going to cook? Were the Reed’s allergic to anything? His mind whirled with questions and a growing to-do list.
“Hey Loretta you ready to practice or what?” Brandon asked. The band all stood outside the screened in front door.
“Hang on!” Loretta yelled out her window. “Go ahead and set up, I’m almost finished!”
The band moved over to the barn to set up their equipment. Loretta hurriedly finished cleaning her room so she could join them. She needed to tell Waylon not to mention anything about tomorrow. But since he was still out in the fields with their dad she would just have to risk it. “Hey y’all!” she called out as she walked through the barn’s doorway.
“’Bout time you got here woman,” Brandon chided.
Loretta gave him a sneer, “I’m here ain’t I?”
“I thought I was goin’ to have to check myself into a nursin’ home,” Robby remarked.
“Oh shut up, all of ya,” Loretta ordered, rolling her eyes before picking up her guitar and stepping up to the microphone.
“What?” Jeremy asked in faked innocence. “We were just playin’.”
She smiled, “I know that. Now are we ready to go or what?”
With that the practice session began. One by one they warmed up their instruments. Feeling the beat, striking the chords, making sure to work out notes, scales, they all were slowly getting into the mindset. Tweaking parts of different songs until a level of agreed upon perfection was reached. Moving slowly but steady down the line of music until she introduced the latest lyrics she wrote last night.
“Hey Loretta,” Waylon stood at the barn door freshly showered and shaved. He was dressed in blue jeans and a polo shirt. That clean look was out of the ordinary for him.
“Wow, you’re dressed up,” Loretta remarked.
“He he thanks. Since you won’t let me be with my girl tomorrow I’m goin’ out with her tonight. Dad wants you to end practice early to help him watch Leroy.”
“Ok, tell him I’ll be there in a minute.”
“How come you ain’t lettin’ him go out tomorrow Ruby?” Brandon asked suspiciously.
Loretta had hoped the band hadn’t been paying attention when Waylon mentioned tomorrow. Her hopes burst and she thought of the reaction she was about to get. “Because tomorrow after church we’re all goin’ over to Johnny’s house for Sunday dinner to meet his family,” she said in one breath. She winced and waited for the repercussions to come.
“Do what?!” Dwight exclaimed.
“You can’t be serious,” Robby remarked.
After a few more exclamations were heard Loretta had finally had enough. “Shut up!” she yelled, stomping her feet and pounding her fists in the air. “Now look, Johnny and I are a couple whether anyone likes it or not. Y’all might as well get over it though because if we’ve made it this far without our family and friends tearing us apart then I see it lasting a while longer. Now tomorrow my family and his family are going to meet and get to know each other. All they know about one another is the town gossip. Now if they can wind up getting along so can y’all and his friends. Am I making myself perfectly clear?” she asked sternly, making eye contact with all the guys.
They all began laughing while she looked on, getting angrier with them. Finally Stephen came up to her, placing a hand on her shoulder, while the other held his side. “You’re still one fiery red head, you know that Ruby?” he asked while trying to regain his composure.
“Get away from me moron,” she slapped his hand away.
“Ah don’t be like that hun,” Michael came up. “No we don’t like Johnny or the thought of you dating him but give us all some time to accept it. Ok?”
“All I can say is that all y’all need to be acceptin’ it faster. Because the shit that everyone’s puttin’ us through is gettin’ old,” Loretta replied heatedly. “Now I’ll see y’all later.”
Everyone exchanged their good-byes and goodnights while they packed up. The guys wondered aloud at the possibilities of what might happen tomorrow to one another. Some of those thoughts ranged wildly in their vivid imagination. After everything was packed up in their cars the guys left, making jokes at Waylon quickly before he left to go pick up his date.
The next morning was chaos as everyone got ready for church in the Reed household. Loretta was busy dressing, helping Leroy, checking on her father and brother, and making a pie for dessert. She was anxious about how today would go but felt optimistic with the outcome. Before they loaded up the truck she slipped on her best and prettiest dress to make herself look more attractive. On their way to church she wondered if Johnny would really be coming to the service. The four of them sat in the usual spot while members of the congregation came up to chat. Loretta’s eyes kept coming back to the door up until the service started. She figured that maybe he’d forgotten about coming or decided not to. A sliver of sadness ran through her before focusing her attention back to the man in the pulpit.
“Sorry I’m late,” a male’s voice whispered in Loretta’s ear.
She turned, smiling, “’Bout time.”
Johnny sat next to her, looking at each of her family members in turn as a silent hello. He received a stern look from Wayne before looking back at Loretta. He wasn’t sure if the heat was on but he felt, then smiled to himself at what that meant thinking about what Ephraim said a couple days ago. After they finished singing he slowly took Loretta’s hand in his. Johnny held on tightly and saw her smile sweetly from the corner of his eye.
After the service Johnny and Loretta walked outside, hand in hand. Her father looked on in between talking to the fellow church goers. Wayne wasn’t looking forward to this dinner and hoped Johnny’s father wasn’t opposed to drinking on Sundays. Then he remembered his promise to his kids about not drinking anymore and sighed grudgingly. Waylon came up to him after picking up Leroy from children church. Johnny told them to follow him on the way to his house before giving Loretta a quick kiss then heading to his car.
“Hello and welcome,” Savannah greeted warmly as the crowd stepped inside the front door.
“Mom, Dad,” Johnny began. “This is Loretta. Her brothers Waylon and Leroy a nd her dad, Wayne.”
“Nice to meet you,” Ezra greeted.
“Nice to meet you too,” Loretta replied shaking Ezra and Savannah’s hands in turn.
“Dinner’s on the table so let’s go ahead and have a seat,” Savannah ushered after everyone exchanged greetings and handshakes.
Soon the tension and nervousness everyone had slipped away. Getting to know one another as the gossip and rumors were brought up then soon dispelled. The feelings the parents had against one another and the kids changed. When dinner was over they moved into the living room. Johnny and Loretta excused themselves to go sit outside on the front porch swing to have some time alone. Waylon followed them with Leroy in tow but soon they walked off by themselves in the field.
“I think everything’s gone great so far. What do you think?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, it turned out like nothin’ I imagined.”
“How did you imagine it’d turn out?”
“Oh I don’t know. I reckon I pictured everyone screamin’ and yellin’, kinda like a countrified version of Romeo and Juliet,” Loretta answered.
They both laughed. “Well I’m glad that it wasn’t that bad,” Johnny remarked.
Later that afternoon Loretta said good-bye to Johnny and his family before heading home with her own. When she walked through the front door she just had to ask the burning question that kept nagging at her. “Dad, what did you think of Johnny and his family?” she blurted out.
Wayne thought about it while grabbing a beer out of the fridge. Sitting down at the kitchen table he kept Loretta in suspense by taking a few more moments to answer. The look in her eyes almost made him laugh but he refrained. “Well Dad?” she asked anxiously.
Wayne let out a sigh, “They’re all right I suppose.”
“Good grief,” she griped. “All that time we spent with them and that’s all you got to say?”
“Loretta, would you rather me say I don’t like them I don’t trust Johnny and I don’t think you should have anything to with him?” Wayne asked firmly.
She backed down, “No sir, I’ll leave you alone now.” With her head down Loretta left the kitchen. On her way up the stairs she ran into Waylon who was on his way down. “Don’t go in the kitchen and leave Daddy alone,” she warned. Without a word Waylon turned around and headed back to his room with Loretta to follow until she reached her own room.
“So Mom, Dad, what’d you think about Loretta and her family?” Johnny asked while cleaning up the kitchen.
“They seemed nice,” Savannah replied.
“I reckon they’re all right,” Ezra agreed.
Johnny rolled his eyes, “Gee try not to show too much enthusiasm y’all.”
“Don’t get smart boy,” Ezra warned.
“So how did yesterday go Ruby?” Brandon asked before class Monday morning.
“Yeah, was it anything like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s?” Robby questioned smartly.
“I bet shotguns were ready to be aimed the whole time,” Michael put in.
Loretta smiled, “No y’all, it was quite nice and civilized, thank you very much.”
“What’d ya daddy think of Johnny and his parents?” Stephen asked.
“He said they were all right.”
“That it?” Robby pushed.
“Hmm, that’s not saying much,” Dwight thought aloud.
Loretta walked on quietly without stopping. Waylon joined them; he asked what they had been talking about. “He started drinkin’ so that’s why he didn’t say much,” he answered after the guys wondered about Wayne’s short reply. “So she left him alone before he started to get mean again.”
Silence fell over the guys at Waylon’s words. Growing up with Loretta they knew Wayne’s drinking habits and what alcohol did to him. A couple of the guy’s parents where very similar, if not worse, when drinking. It was a subject they all decided to edge around if possible. When they reached their lockers she saw Johnny and his friends standing there. Loretta smiled at the sight of him and felt her heart skip a beat. “Good mornin’ my lady,” Johnny greeted sweetly after walking up to her.
She laughed, “Mornin’.”
“Ok, I have to ask because my Mom’s been buggin’ me about it. What did your Dad think of my family?” he asked grudgingly.
“He just said y’all seemed all right,” Loretta replied as she opened her locker.
“Hmm,” Johnny grunted. “He said about as much of us as my parents said of y’all.”
“Y’all seemed nice.”
“Oh good grief,” Loretta rolled her eyes.
“Ha yeah,” Johnny chuckled. “Hey um, would you be my date to the prom Ruby? I know it’s not for a few more weeks but I wanted to ask now. You know, in case someone else came and asked you.” He looked on nervously as he awaited her answer.
She was shocked by the question and surprised by his reaction. She hadn’t given a single thought about the prom, especially since being with Johnny. She didn’t think he would want to go to one, ever. A whole new set of worries began overloading her thoughts. Where would she get the money for the dress, shoes, and accessories? How would she do her hair? Would her Dad let her go? Oh boy, Loretta thought, I don’t know.
“Ruby, gonna answer me sweetie?” he asked a little worry in his voice.
She broke out of her daze, “Um yea.” Looking around Loretta saw all the guys staring at her. Some had expressions of shock on their faces while other’s had amusement. “Yes, Johnny, of course I’ll be your prom date.”
With a grin and a kiss Johnny left for class. The rest of the day went by in a blurred flash. She couldn’t wait to get home and break the news to her dad. Loretta smiled at the thought; she knew he would be just so thrilled. The corners of her mouth were not longer held high, they shaped a frown. Oh no, Loretta thought, Daddy may get mean without the bottle if she told him about prom.
*** *** ***
Days passed on into weeks for everyone. The end of the year was bringing with it the prom, Battle of the Bands, and graduation. Loretta and Johnny grew in their relationship, eventually winning each other’s parents approval. The bands kept practicing and playing gigs at the local bars, birthdays, and anywhere else they could find. They all took it one day at a time but at times Loretta couldn’t help by wonder where her life would go after graduation. Now that she was with Johnny and they had grown so close she wasn’t sure what to do. Her plans had been to leave and try to make a career out of her music but being with Johnny meant another heart she’d break with her leaving.
Johnny watched his girlfriend day after day. He saw something seemed to be nagging at her. Every time he tried asking her to talk about it she’d just change the subject. He wouldn’t worry about it so much if it didn’t seem to bother her so. He continued on though, practicing with Southpaw when he wasn’t spending time with her. His feelings toward her were growing every day. He wondered what the future would hold for the two of them. He never thought to ask what Loretta’s plans were after high school, he knew she’d plan on making a career out of her music but he didn’t know when or if her band would be with her. He himself wasn’t sure; maybe go to community college or something. Johnny’s band mates were going in separate directions after graduation so plans to continue on playing together were put away. That left him pondering his future but nothing seemed worth going for.
Prom night finally arrived. Johnny showed up at Loretta’s door in a black Sunday suit and green tie. He had a pale pink rose boutonniere fashioned to the lapel of his jacket. His parents followed him after taking pictures back at the house to take more here with Loretta. Johnny couldn’t wait to get his girl and head to the town just to get away from the flashing bulbs and his gushing parents. He almost thought twice about backing out of this event but it seemed to mean the world to Ruby and so he stuck it out.
She stunned everybody in the house as she walked downstairs in her prom gown. Her red hair flowed down around her shoulders in curly flames. Make up accented her eyes in a coordinating smoky look and her mouth was a deep shade of red. Emerald green silk fashioned in a simple yet elegant design with a sweetheart neckline while the waist was cut in an empire style, letting the skirt flow languidly down the length of her legs and draped her body while simple inch wide straps that showed off her shoulder’s early tan and flat gold strappy heels raised her height to complete the look.
“Baby girl, you look absolutely beautiful,” Wayne spoke with emotion in his voice. It hit him, taking her in like this that his little girl really was growing up.
“Wow,” was all Johnny and Waylon could say. Quickly photos were taken with each other, parents, and siblings. Good-byes and be good were said, warnings issued along with a curfew. Finally Johnny got to pin on Loretta her matching corsage to the strap of her gown. Then in anticipation they took off down the road, heading to town, to the school gym. Going to the prom, going together.
When they arrived to see that all their friends were there Johnny and Loretta were surprised. Everyone piled in the gym with some dancing with their dates and the others standing around talking. Loretta couldn’t believe it, her friends were getting along with Johnny’s and everyone looked so nice all dressed up. Especially Johnny he looked so good dressed up in black.
“Ruby, you look beautiful,” Johnny whispered in her ear as they slow danced on the gym floor.
“Thank you,” she replied meekly. “You look quite handsome yourself.”
“Hey Ruby, let’s get our picture taken!” Dwight called out.
“Good idea, you and I can get one together too, if you want,” Johnny suggested.
“Sure,” Loretta grabbed his hand and went over to the photographer.
Johnny rounded up his band to get a group shot of them as well. Their dates waited patiently by. Loretta and the rest of Dixie Stomp went up first for their picture. She stood in the center while the guys surrounded her. After a little playing around they all finally settled down to take a decent smiling picture, Johnny and his band did the same but settled on having a funny picture taken. Johnny and Loretta wrapped their arms around each other as the flash went off. While they were lost in each other both bands came up to pose with them.
Nathan tapped her on the shoulder, “Ruby, y’all look at the camera.”
Smiling Johnny and Loretta looked towards the camera and were blinded once again by the flash. After everyone placed their picture order they went back to the dance floor. On they all danced until the party was over.
On the way home most of the guys stopped at the local all night diner. Loretta was too awake and enjoying the moment to want to go home. She didn’t want the night to end.
“What are you doing after graduation Ruby?” Johnny asked as they sat eating fries.
“I don’t know,” she hated to answer this question. “I might go and try my hand in the music business.”
He was surprised, “Really? So you’re music is important to you?”
“Um yeah,” she scoffed. “Why else do you think I work so hard at it?”
He tried making peace before war broke out, “Sorry hun I guess I just didn’t realize.”
She backed down, not wanting to spoil the evening. “It’s ok, but my music is what I hope gets me out of here and in the big time.”
“You want out here?” Johnny asked, not believing her.
“Yes, I want it badly.”
“But you seem to enjoy it here too much to want to leave.”
“Look Johnny,” she began. “I love it here, I really do. I have my family and friends, everyone I care about, but I want something more, I can’t find what I want here, I have to leave in order to get it.”
“I see,” he observed, slightly annoyed.
“I’m feeling as if I might be wasting my time here.”
Loretta became angry but restrained it, “How so?”
“Why put in so much time and energy into someone and a relationship if it won’t last? Not to mention a piece of my heart.”
She sat there debating in her head before speaking, “You don’t think we can make it?”
“We both want different things Ruby. What about Dixie Stomp? What do the guys in your band want? Are they planning to follow you while you search for fame? Hell, the guys and I know that after Battle of the Bands we’re splittin’ off to do our own thing. What about you?”
Loretta looked around at the faces staring back at her. She saw questioning eyes in the faces of Stephen, Michael, Jeremy, Brandon, Dwight, and Robby. Her boys. Her band. Her dearest friends. “If y’all want to come with me then everyone’s welcomed. I just have dreams. I want to live those dreams out in the real world. Did I ever expect you to come with me? Not really. Robby, you’re busy helpin’ your brother take care of the farm. Dwight, I know you plan on getting on the rodeo circuit. Michael, Jeremy, you two was thinking of going into the military. Brandon, you were telling me about getting your CDL’s to earn the money to marry your girlfriend one day. And Stephen you have plans to go to college, “she finished out of breath.
“Wow you left no room for changes,” Michael commented.
Loretta laid her head in her hands and fought back the sting of tears. “What do you want me to say?” she cried out in desperation. “Why in the hell am I explaining my decision to the people who have known me and known what I’ve wanted most of my life?!”
She had had it. Loretta stormed out with a groan. The breezy spring air hit her wet cheekbones and she felt cold on the inside. Not caring where she went or how she got there Loretta walked off in a random direction, hugging herself closely. She heard Johnny call her name; she thought she heard her friends running after her. But Loretta wouldn’t stop. Instead she kept on walking until she heard Waylon’s voice.
“Loretta!” Wayne called. “What are you going walking alone in the night?! Get in here!”
Thankful for her relative knights in shining armor she dove for the truck’s door handle. Jumping in the cab she barely escaped before “the ties that bind” caught up to her.
“What’s wrong Sweetheart?” Wayne asked.
“Nothin’ Daddy,” Loretta lied. “I just wanna go home.“ She struggled to hide the tears from Waylon and her father.
Studying his daughter carefully Wayne decided to let the matter drop, for now. “Ok baby girl. Home we go.”
That night Loretta avoided everyone. Holding herself in the dark she sat there on the bad. Thinking. She ignored the knock on the door that she knew was her Daddy from the heavy footfalls. She turned away and refused to answer Waylon’s barrage of questions. He finally gave up and left, much to her relief. Loretta clamped down on her restraint not to leave the confines of her room when Leroy called out for her time and time again. Someone had finally came to little Leroy’s rescue.
Loretta thought of her life, evaluated the consequences her future would hold. How could Johnny put her on the chopping block like that? she thought. To call her out in front of everyone?
Then another thought struck her. Wait! What was everyone looking down on her for? Her whole band knew she had wanted to leave town to make it on her own. Hell that’s the whole point of starting a band in the first place.
And Johnny should have been able to guess that, that had been her dream. That’s why she fought so hard for gigs and to even practice. Maybe Southpaw wasn’t serious enough to make a professional go of it but she intended to do otherwise. Yeah, maybe the members of Dixie Stomp hadn’t planned to make a career out of it either but they did it for her. For that Loretta was grateful.
Then she heard something at her window. “Johnny,” she whispered. Quickly she scrambled into the dark of her room. She waited until his face appeared at her window.
He knocked gently yet with urgency. “Loretta?!” he called quietly. “Ruby?!”
Tears slid silently down her cheeks. Inside her a war was raging. Among other things one of the battles being fought was whether or not to run to Johnny. Wounded pride told her not to while her heart urged her to go forward.
Johnny’s head lowered in defeat before rising up again. “Loretta, I know you’re in there,” Johnny spoke.
Loretta remained silent.
“Remember when I said your eyes shine in the dark? Well there shinin’ like diamonds right now.”
Still Loretta stood still and quiet.
“Ruby, you’re standin’ at the head of your bed in the corner.”
Defeated, Loretta moved towards the window but didn’t bother to lift it open. She simply sat on the sill, still and stiff as a board. Now she waited.
“Ruby, please open the window,” he pleaded.
She didn’t budge.
“We need to talk. I’m sorry about tonight. Open the window baby.”
She remained in place, unwavering resolve on the outside. Inwardly a war continued to rage on.
Accepting her stance Johnny carried on. “Loretta, I’m sorry. I was a complete jerk tonight. I know you had plans on leaving here after graduation. I knew it but for some reason I couldn’t help callin’ you out in front of everyone.”
Tears streaming down her face Loretta finally broke the silence, “You hurt me. Because of you my friends, my band, is against me. You turned everyone I love and care about away from me. You’ve hurt me for the last time. It’s over. For good. You are just another reason I want out of this town. To leave and never come back to these memories.”
“You can’t mean that,” Johnny said, unbelieving her words. “Ruby, please don’t.”
“Goodnight Johnny,” Loretta ended, drawing the curtains closed. Crawling into bed she listened as Johnny descended the steps of the ladder. That night she cried herself unto a fitful sleep.
Monday morning broke with the dawn and for Loretta, dread. She spent the morning helping Wayne get Leroy ready for daycare. Then made breakfast, avoided Waylon’s questions concerning the other night, and getting ready for school.
The bus ride was awkward. She sat next to the window with Waylon by her side since they had stepped onto that yellow rumbling monster and the noise level dropped. Her eyes had involuntarily sought out Johnny. He wasn’t there. The members of Southpaw were clustered together, mixed emotions on their faces. Her friends, Dixie Stomp, avoided her gaze. Biting her lip she sat on the front seat. Waylon, being the ever fateful brother sat down beside her.
At school during every break between classes Loretta used it as time to search for Johnny but with no luck. She didn’t know why she continued to look for him. Since it was over by her own words. On the way home her band mates continued to huddle together. They did talk to Waylon though. Once again, thanks to her, Southpaw and Dixie Stomp would be rivals, enemies even. It was a flame that burned all too quickly. And died way too soon.
The thoughts running through her head gave her inspiration. Quickly she grabbed her journal that kept all the lyrics she’d ever written and began penning down everything that swirled around inside of her. She wrote in a flurry. Soon Waylon was dragging her out of her seat and up to their house. Running to the barn, climbing up to the loft she kept writing.
“Hey Loretta,” a voice called up.
Loretta peered over. Staring back up at her were Jeremy, Stephen, Michael, Brandon, Dwight, and Robby. Dixie Stomp. Her band. Her friends. “Guys, what are y’all doin’ here?”
“Um, its practice night, remember?”
She climbed down the ladder to face them. “Guys, I’m so sorry. I thought-“
“Stop Ruby,” Jeremy interrupted. “Look, we know you. We’ve known about your plans for years. I don’t know why, I personally, reacted the way I did.”
“I think,” Robby stepped in. “It’s because we have all been friends for so long. Knowing that graduation is around the corner and then we start living separate lives. Growing apart, never knowing when we’ll see one another again. I think that all the talk about the future was just that, talk. Now that talk is all becoming a fast approaching reality that we’re not ready for.”
“You have so much talent and we know it won’t be long before we start hearing you sing on the radio,” Dwight encouraged. “We’ll achieve our goals one way or another. Sure, our plans may change but life will keep going and we’ll still be friends.”
Stephen began laughing to himself. When he looked up and saw that everyone was staring. Clearing his throat he explained, “Oh I was just thinking that we’d have a reunion. All of our families would be there, our wives, and children too. Then there’d be Miss Ruby strutting in with the paparazzi on her tail. After signing autographs we’d all just jump up on a makeshift stage and rock out like the good ol’ days. We were rusty of course but we finally got back into the rhythm of things.” Stephen looked around; no one saw the humor in his vision. “Ok, it was funnier in my head.”
“That was stupid,” Michael criticized. “Ruby, showing up with the paparazzi?”
“Or signing autographs?” Brandon questioned, “She wouldn’t be that superficial.”
Loretta couldn’t help but laugh. “Guys how ‘bout we cross that bridge when we get there, huh?” she laughed. “Let’s get to practicin’.”
After a round of agreements Brandon laid a hand on her shoulder, “Hey, what were you doing up there?”
Loretta looked down at the journal in her hands, “You’ll find out soon enough.” With a smirk she sauntered off towards the guys.
* * *
The days turned into weeks. Graduation grew closer. Further realization about the future dawned on them. Loretta kept her distance from Johnny and his fruitless attempts to talk to her. He had even become so desperate as to send Josh in to talk to her. She had decided it would be best to focus on the now, which was pass classes, save up the money from gigs, and get ready for graduation.
Loretta had also been detaching herself from her father and brothers. She showed Wayne and Waylon her routine, how to calm Leroy after a nightmare, and the like for starters. She practiced even harder because before graduation was “Battle of the Bands” and the song she had been working on was almost finished to her liking. And in the midst of all the excitement she began looking for places to live and work until her dreams came true.
Johnny on the other hand, was floundering. His grades were spiraling towards failure. The heart that beat in his chest broke and cracked a little more every day Ruby ignored him. He wondered at how he could still be alive. Relations with his parents grew strained as they pressured him about life after high school.
Johnny didn’t know. Hell, he barely cared about the future. Who knew love could hurt this bad? Who knew all it took to weaken him was some hillbilly siren whose eyes glittered so much in the moon light you’d swear they were glowing.
He looked towards his friends, his band mates, gathered around the project Mr. Felkey had assigned them in auto shop. Some of the guys already had a path in motion for after high school. D.J.’s uncle owned a liquor store two counties over. With some training and a few papers to sign, D.J. might be the owner one day. Daniel would probably work at the local grocery store. Nathan and Josh would go into business together, Johnny thought. They’d run a top notch auto shop. Tom seemed interested the military. I feel sorry for the enemies and local women, Johnny thought to himself. Lastly, there’s Ephraim. He’s been talking about moving back up North where his Mom’s family lives in Kentucky.
For Johnny however, the future didn’t interest him. Hell, he was barely aware of the present. His mind just wandered and lingered in the past. When all seemed right in his world.
* * *
The day had finally arrived. The “Battle of the Bands” was tonight. Loretta felt so nervous she couldn’t keep focused on the music. All the bands competing were scattered around backstage. She knew her Dad, Waylon, and Leroy were out in the audience. The members of Dixie Stomp were doing last minute sessions. Loretta could tell they were just as nervous as she was.
“Ruby?” a quiet voice came from behind her. A hand rested lightly on her shoulder.
Despite the calm gesture Loretta still tried to jump out of her skin. Whirling around she stared into Johnny’s pleading eyes. “Johnny you scared me! What do you want?”
He could tell that what he truly wanted to say would fall on deaf ears. So, he settled on Plan B, “Um, nothing. I- I just wanted to wish you and your band good luck today. That’s all.”
Loretta pushed down her feelings, swallowing hard, “Thanks Johnny. You too.” With that she hurriedly made her way to the bathroom.
Dwight came up to Johnny, “What’d you say to her?”
“Oh,” Dwight backed down. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out between y’all. Her pride keeps her from showing how much she’s really hurting.”
“Eh, it’s my fault. I just wanted her to include me in her future so bad. Oh well, time marches on. See ya.”
* * *
“And next is the local band, Dixie Stomp! Let’s give it up and make some noise!” the emcee announced.
Ruby and the band walked up to their places. Clad in t-shirts and blue jeans, they strapped on their guitars. Ruby looked down at her lucky Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt before shooting the crowd a dazzling smile.
Jeremy counted off the rhythm to her song filled the silence. She joined in the medium temp with her lyrics starting with the chorus:
“I just want to be free
Shake off these heavy chains
To let my wings guide me
And tell the world my name
I long to touch the sun
Give my love to everyone”
Then the first verse:
“I’ve ran wild in these mountains
Spending my time just a-countin’
Down the days when I could leave
And start chasing all my dreams”
Then band led her back to the chorus before settling down to sing the second verse:
“For my family I’ve been blessed
And my friends bring me happiness
Love has come and it has gone
Now it’s time for me to be moving on”
This time the band played an instrumental bit before Loretta sang the third verse:
“The road I seek may bring pain and sorrow
But I’ll try over again on the morrow
The smile on my face from the love in my heart
Reminds me of home and why we’re apart”
One last time she sang the chorus with all her heart and soul put into it. Repeating the first and last line the band slowly faded out. The auditorium filled with cheers, whistles, and clapping while the band bowed repeatedly grinning from ear to ear at the reception they received. Out of the corner she saw Johnny peeking on the side of the stage. He seemed to be her biggest fan.
Back stage her family waited for her. They surrounded her in hugs and congratulations. Even Leroy seemed to be proud of her.
“If you don’t win,” Wayne began. “I demand a recount!”
“Dad,” Ruby blushed. “You can’t do that.”
“And it wasn’t just Loretta up there,” Waylon cut in. “It was all of Dixie Stomp!”
“I know kiddo. Can I just have a selfish prideful father moment?”
“Sure Dad,” Loretta answered.
Nathan, from Johnny’s band Southpaw, wandered over towards them. “Hey Ruby, I just told your band this. Y’all played pretty good out there. Not as good as us when we get up there.” At this Nathan cracked a grin. “But pretty close.”
Loretta smiled, “Whatever you say Nathan.”
“Johnny wanted me to tell you how great and how at home you looked up there on the stage.”
“Thank you Nathan, I wish y’all good luck. Those lights are hot and blinding.”
After putting away their instruments Dixie Stomp sat out in the audience with Loretta’s family. Though their excuse was to see how all the other bands were. It was really to see how Southpaw performed. And unless there was a change in the lineup they would find out soon enough.
“Where’d she go?” Johnny asked. He was frantically looking for Loretta. “Where is Ruby? Surely they wouldn’t leave without staying for the judges decision. They should still be here!”
“Hey,” Josh interrupted. “Chill out. Maybe they left to grab something to eat.”
D.J. came running up to them, out of breath. “They definitely aren’t backstage and she’s not in the bathroom.”
“Dude, what happened to your face?” Nathan asked.
“I found out where she ain’t the hard way.”
The guys laughed, everyone except Johnny. “Guys this isn’t funny. If she’s not here to listen to the song then there’s no point competing.”
“Oh no,” Tom broke in. “We have not practiced this hard, played for lousy tips in shitty bars, and put everything else in our lives on a backburner for us to quit now.”
“Besides,” Daniel stepped in. “We’re not even playing our type of music because of this girl.”
“We’ve changed everything we once were into something completely different all for a girl. A girl who’s made it perfectly clear she is moving and getting over you!” Ephraim vented.
“Hey!” Waylon shouted. When all eyes were directed his way his bravado weakened. “Um, I came back here to wish y’all good luck. Ruby and the rest of Dixie Stomp do as well.”
Johnny strode towards Waylon, “So Ruby’s still here then?”
“Yeah, everyone’s sittin’ with my Dad and me.”
Johnny expelled the breath he had been holding. “Great. Look, make sure she stays and listen to the song. Don’t let her get up for anything. Not even to pee. Okay?”
Waylon was confused and taken aback, “I’ll try, but no promises okay?”
“No, it’s all or nothing.”
*** *** ***
As Waylon sat back down Loretta asked, “So what’d he say?”
“You can’t get up for any reason until they’re done.”
“Nothing. Just sit back, relax, enjoy the show, and cross your legs.”
*** *** ***
“Hello everyone, “Johnny greeted while the band got ready. “Um, right now the song we’re about to perform is different. It’s not our usual style of music but it means something, to me at least. And I hope it gets through to the right person out there among you.”
“Oh crap,” Loretta said aloud. “The song’s about me.”
“Loretta,” Waylon said sternly. “Stay seated and listen.”
“Those hillbilly eyes a shinin’
In the moonlight you’re smilin’
Filling my head with sweet dreams
Dreams that didn’t include me.”
“He expects me to stick around for this?!” Loretta yelled.
“All those memories we shared
Are lost back in the past
It’s like you never really cared
No. You never looked back.”
“Let me out, I’m leaving,” Loretta stood up.
“No,” Waylon tugged her back down. “Sit down and listen.”
“I thought loving you was easy
I never thought you’d leave me
I reckon I was wrong
Missin’ you is killin’ me
I need you back my Ruby
But you’re long gone.”
“Loretta!” Waylon yelled after chasing his sister who had quickly hopped over the back of the seat. “Come back here!”
She whirled around, “No. How dare he think I’ll sit around while he bashes me!”
“Just hear the rest of the song. Please?!”
“Ruby, take your time
Chase your dreams baby
But put your hand back in mine
And we’ll ride the storm baby
Of all life’s ups and downs
I’ll always be there to catch you, should you hit the ground.”
Ruby had reached the very top step before the exit. She turned around towards the stage. Tears filled her eyes. The ache there bloomed again. What had she done?
“I though lovin’ you was easy
I never thought you’d leave me
I reckon I was wrong
I need you back my Ruby
But you’re long gone…”
“My word he sounds like Vern Gosdin,” Loretta observed aloud.
“I love you Ruby
Please come back home.”
The music faded. Johnny looked at Ruby who seemed to be frozen on the aisle steps. His heart, mind, and soul longed for her to come running towards him. This time though he didn’t hold his breath. But he waited.
Loretta simply didn’t know what she wanted to do.
“He’s waiting on you,” Wayne spoke while holding a sleeping Leroy in his arms.
“No. I won’t go to him now,” Loretta replied, tears falling. She turned and ran for the exit door that opened towards the lobby.
“Ruby, wait!” Dwight called. He and everyone from Dixie Stomp had followed her out. Her dad and Waylon were pulling up the rear.
“What?” she called.
“Why are you leaving?”
“I need some fresh air.”
“Uh-huh,” Stephen muttered.
“That why you’re crying?” Jeremy asked.
“That’s a lie,” Stephen commented.
“Shut up Stephen!” Loretta yelled. “It’s none of y’alls business why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
“He never stopped loving you Ruby,” Michael observed. “Go to him.”
“No. He hurt me and soon I’ll be outta here. I’ll be able to forget him and move on.”
“That’s not what you really want though, is it?” Brandon asked, though he already knew the answer.
“Yes it is, and every single one of y’all know it too.”
“Not about leaving. We’re talking about Johnny.”
“Ugh. I’m taking a walk. No one follow me!” Loretta ordered.
“Fine,” Wayne answered. “Just be back in time to hear the judge’s decision.”
When she was out of sight Loretta took off around the back off the building. It was a madhouse with everyone loading up their gear. At last, she saw his head of light blond hair. Her heart beat in fear and apprehension as she rushed towards him. “Johnny!” Loretta called out.
His head whipped around at the sound of his name. “Ruby?”
“Johnny,” she nearly whispered. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”
His heart sank. “Sure.” Maybe the song hadn’t worked like he thought it would after all, he thought to himself.
“Johnny,” Loretta didn’t know what she really wanted to tell him. So much was racing through her mind.
“I’m sorry Ruby,” Johnny started. “I’m sorry about calling you out like that. I’m sorry for hounding you so much trying to get you to talk to me. And most importantly I’m sorry about the song. I shouldn’t have aired our dirty laundry like that and-“
“You sound like “The Voice”.” Ruby blurted.
Stunned, Johnny asked, “You mean Vern Gosdin?”
“Yeah, when you sing like that. I love the song. Besides, if people didn’t air their dirty laundry Taylor Swift would be out of a job.” The two had a laugh at that.
“Man, I can’t stand her,” Johnny griped.
“Me neither,” Loretta agreed. “Look I’m over what happened the night of the dance. I guess I kept my distance because we’ll be graduating soon. I figured I might as well cut ties now. Soon I’ll be chasing and livin’ the dreams I’ve had since I was a little girl. I knew what my band planned on doing. I don’t know what your plans are.”
“Ever thought of asking?” Johnny broke in. He shoved his hands in his pockets, rocking on his heels while he waited.
Ruby hung her head, “No.”
“I started Southpaw as a means to rebel. Then I slowly began to realize that this is what I want. When we were together and you talked about your dreams I thought there was a place in those dreams for me. But there wasn’t, was there?”
“No. Not then.”
Johnny paused before asking, “How ‘bout now? Am I a part of your dreams now?”
Loretta looked up into his eyes slowly, “Maybe. You sure you want to be?”
A wide grin broke across Johnny’s face, “More than anything Ruby. You should know that by now.”
“Hey guys!” D.J. called. “They’re about to announce the winners! C’mon, get in here!”
Johnny grabbed Ruby’s hand, took one last look before running in the back of the building to make his way towards the stage. All is right in the world, he thought. Now he had his girl back. He now had a plan for the future. He just had to graduate.
“And tonight’s winners for this year’s “Battle of the Bands” are-,” the announcer paused while reading the names. “In first place is Dixie Stomp!”
Loretta felt hands grab her, lifting her high. Noise all around her was buzzing in her ears. All it once it came to her, “We won?”
“Ruby, we won!” Robby confirmed.
“I can’t believe it!” Loretta screamed. “We won!!”
“In second place,” the announcer continued. “Southpaw!”
“Holy shit!” Nathan cursed.
“Dammit,” Josh grumbled.
“And in third place is Train Wreck Echoes!”
More cheers rose up from the other band whose genre was heavy metal jumped around in celebration though one member seemed put off by the decision. The audience cheered loudly, whoops and yells rising up over the ruckus before wandering their way out. Some of the audience made their way down towards the stage to congratulate the bands.
“Miss. Loretta Reed?” a man spoke with an old Southern accent and wore a suit. “The leader of Dixie Stomp, am I right?”
“I’m she and you are correct.”
“Hello Miss. Reed, I’m Louis Gavendale of Speak Easy Records. You probably haven’t heard of us yet. We’re a new start up label located in the city. We’ve managed to gather local talent but we’re looking for more. How would you like for you and your band to become a part of our little family?”
“Wow,” Stephen stepped up. “You just throw it all out there on the table don’t you?”
“I believe in being up front and honest.”
“We’d have to think about it,” Loretta replied.
“Well then,” Mr. Gavendale backed up, taken aback by the hesitancy in what he had been betting on was a sure thing. Looking down his nose he pulled out a card and handed Loretta his business card with a flamboyant air. “Here’s my card. Call me when your little band here has thought it over.” The last was spoken with such a condescending distaste he didn’t notice the band’s temper flare.
Loretta took the card but Michael snatched it from her grasp before tearing it to pieces. With a malicious smile he watched Mr. Gavendale’s utter look of disgust as the pieces fluttered to the ground. “Well…I never! Such insolence…” the alleged record exec stormed.
“You don’t talk down to Ruby or us,” Jeremy stood up.
Brandon squared up to the man, “We ain’t just some little band. And we wouldn’t work for your scam company. We know what game you’re trying to play on us. You should know that we are not fallin’ for it either!”
“So go peddle your wares elsewhere,” Dwight warned.
“Ruby’s got bigger dreams to chase and she ain’t gonna go sellin’ her soul to the likes of you,” Robby commented.
Taking a few steps back in an effort to compose himself Mr. Gavendale calmly replied, “I see boys, y’alls loss.” He turned his attention to Loretta and nodded his head slightly. “G’day to you Miss. Reed.”
Loretta turned back towards her band shocked, “What a jerk. Thanks guys for sticking up for me and all.”
“No problem,” Michael responded.
*** *** ***
“Mr. John Lee?” Mr. Gavendale asked.
“It’s Johnny,” he replied coldly.
“Well son,” Gavendale began. “I’m from Speak Easy Records-“
“Can it,” D.J. broke in.
“I have an offer you shouldn’t refuse boy.”
“I ain’t no boy,” Johnny retorted. “We all heard your spill to my girlfriend.”
“We heard how you spoke to them when they didn’t readily jump at your shady deal,” Nathan spoke.
“And to that we already have an answer for you,” Tom joined in.
“And what’s that son?” Gavendale asked coolly though he already anticipated the answer.
“Hell no,” Josh replied.
“I figured as much,” Gavendale answered. “You damn young’uns are so predictable.”
“Get on outta here!” Daniel yelled. “Old man.”
“Maybe those punks who one third will fall for your offer,” Ephraim suggested.
With that Mr. Louis Gavendale of Speak Easy Records sauntered away across the stage and began to presumably pitch his spill. After a few minutes of discussion he looked back towards Dixie Stomp and Southpaw, and winked. He then proceeded with the leader under his arm towards the door. One out of the three ain’t bad. I reckon. Even if it is punk.
*** *** ***
That evening everyone gathered at Margie’s bar for a celebration. Family and friends gathered around the first and second place winners. The leaders, however, were nowhere to be found. No one noticed. Sitting in Johnny’s hot rod, he held her hand, “Ruby-“He was nervous. “I love you.”
“I love you too Johnny.”
“We’re really back together?”
“Pick up where we left off or starting over from scratch?”
Loretta thought carefully, “I reckon a little bit of both.”
“Pickin’ up where we left off wouldn’t be good. We left off in a bad way.”
“We could pick up before that,”
“No,” Loretta contradicted. “The fight is part of our past. If we pick up that includes the fight.”
“Then how do we start over?”
Loretta twisted around in her seat to face Johnny hard and straight in the eyes. “Let’s pick up where we left off as friends.”
“We were never friends,” Johnny broke in. “We’ve always been rivals and at each other’s throats.”
“But we worked well together.”
Frustrated Loretta groaned, “Would you please let me finish my thought?!”
“Yes ma’am,” Johnny conceded.
“As I was saying,” Loretta continued. “We’ll pick up where we left off as friends. We’ll start from the beginning in our relationship with one another. We know so much about one another. Let’s try though. What do ya say?”
Johnny breathed hard, taking in what she said, “Um, I have no idea. I honestly can’t follow you. I just want to love you again, hold you, and kiss you. Plan the future together.”
“What do you mean,” Loretta interrupted. “Plan our future?”
Johnny cleared his throat, “When you leave to go be a star I was thinking I could join you. I could be part of your band.”
“And if life treated us right maybe we could be more than just a duet.”
“Like?” Loretta’s heart beat in her throat with the anxiety she felt.
“You know what I’m getting around to,” Johnny rushed.
“Say it like I don’t have a clue.”
“Are you askin’ or finishin’ your thoughts?”
“You want the truth or an answer?”
“Marry me Ruby?” Johnny took hold of both her hands tightly. “I haven’t gotten my senior ring yet but when I do I’ll size it to fit on your finger.”
Silence filled the car. Loretta didn’t know what to say. Johnny held his breath, waiting for Loretta to say anything. Except no. Both sat there shocked and waiting looking into one another’s eyes.
“Ruby?” Johnny finally asked. He could bare the silence no longer.
Just then a knock sounded on the rear passenger glass. “Hey Johnny?” It was Josh. “You in there?”
“Don’t move,” he warned before getting out of the car with a sigh. “I’m here Josh. What do you want?”
“Sorry to interrupt your fun but everyone inside wants to hear us all play.”
“Yeah. Each band playing the song we played at the competition.”
Loretta quickly got out after hearing the exchange.
“Hey Ruby! Where you running off to?” Johnny asked incredulous.
“To go play!” Loretta threw over her shoulder as she half ran, half walked towards the door.
“To be honest,” Josh spoke out the side of his mouth. “I think her Dad just wanted her back where he could keep an eye on her.”
Resigning himself he sauntered back into the bar behind Josh. I guess she’ll think it over a bit before telling me her answer, he thought to himself. Oh crap, I can’t believe I just asked Ruby to marry me!
That night passed by in a blur. After replaying their winning performances people started leaving one by one. Loretta had to go home with her Dad and Waylon in order to get Leroy asleep. She needed to wind down to sleep because there was church tomorrow. This time next week however, she’d be a high school graduate. Things were suddenly moving too fast for anyone to comprehend.
*** *** ***
That morning Loretta dressed in her Sunday best. There was going to be a special part where all the graduates would receive a Bible. What she wasn’t expecting though is to see her band mates, Johnny, his parents, and his band. All there under one roof. After the service it was announced that there would be lunch afterwards in honor of the graduates. Loretta was hoping her Dad would say no to staying for it but to her surprise he encouraged it. Johnny kept giving her questioning glances which she tried to ignore. Members kept coming up and asking the same questions to her over and over again. In all, the whole ordeal was rather straining. She couldn’t wait to be on her own.
*** *** ***
Monday morning came. There was really no point in going to school. Maybe today Ruby would answer his question finally, Johnny thought. He hadn’t told anyone about asking Ruby to marry him. There would be no point unless she said yes. There was no point in being heartbroken and humiliated. His senor ring had come in; he had already talked to the jeweler about resizing it for her. It wouldn’t cost much, thankfully.
“Penny for your thoughts,” a sweet voice spoke beside him.
Nervous and relieved he laid an arm around her shoulders, “Hey Ruby, don’t you waste your money on me.”
“I’ll waste my money on who and how I want” she retorted with superiority.
“Yes ma’am,” Johnny resigned. “Hey, I gotta question.”
“Have you got an answer from Saturday?”
Distracted Loretta kept looking through the yearbook she’d just gotten and all the signatures, “What about Saturday Johnny?”
“Remember what I asked you Saturday? At Margie’s? In my car?” Johnny waited for a reply but she still wasn’t to listening. “Ruby? Please put the yearbook down. What I’m asking is important; it’s killing me not knowing the answer.”
Loretta closed the yearbook and settled it in her lap. “Ok Johnny, I’m listening. What is this important question that I just have to answer?” She spoke in an exaggerated, mocking tone.
He had to gather up his nerve to relive this moment. “Saturday night in my car at Margie’s, I asked you to marry me. You weren’t able to give your answer then. Now, while it’s just you and me, I’d like to know your answer. Will you marry me Ruby?”
Just like that the weight and pressure of what he was asking came bearing back down on her. Even though she loved him she wasn’t sure she wanted this right now. “First you want to come with me and now you want me to marry you? What part of me having my freedom don’t you get? I had a plan. An idea of how I wanted things to go in my life and you want me to change it all.”
“Ruby I want to be there for you when you leave, to protect and help you in any way I can. I want to marry you because I love you. It doesn’t have to happen right now. I just want the one I love to be mine. Is that so bad?”
Before Loretta could reply Waylon came running towards them. “Senor prank! The senor prank has been executed! Y’all gotta see this!”
And that’s how the rest of the week played out. Loretta never gave Johnny an answer. One distraction or another kept them from finishing their conversation. Though they may have not been able to finish it did give each of them a chance to think. They thought long and hard about what they would be doing if they left together. It needed to be solved as to whether they left their home to make it in the world as a boyfriend and girlfriend or a couple. A couple more committed and devoted to one another, engaged. Johnny was in no hurry to get married, he just wanted to prove his love for Ruby by marriage.
When Loretta thought about it, it really would not be that bad. She would have someone there to love and encourage her. A lover would be there to support and protect her. No, the idea of saying yes to Johnny’s proposal and then leaving home to explore the world together felt right. The only problem is when and how to tell him she was on the bandwagon. Suddenly an idea formed and she could not help but smile.
*** *** ***
This was it. Finally, graduation was upon them. In a sea black and gold Loretta searched for Johnny. She first saw Nathan and made her way towards him. Laughing at the fact that he was wearing his old, felt, black cowboy hat instead of the graduation cap, he directed her towards where Johnny was standing.
“Ruby!” Johnny hollered. “Hey baby, shouldn’t you be getting lined up?”
“Yeah,” she paused. “But I had to tell you something first.”
“Yes!” she cried before turning around to run back to her place in line.
“Huh?” Johnny was left dumbfounded. Until, that is, he finally connected the dots. Letting out a rebel yell he hollered, “Hot damn!”
Despite having everyone around him he whistled, danced a little jig, and smiled like the cat that’d eaten the canary. That is until a teacher reprimanded him and told him to get in line. Life had laid out a plan before him and he would take it.
The graduation ceremony itself went on in typical fashion. People gave speeches. Family and friends clapped and cheered in the heat of an early summer morning. When Johnny’s name was called he sauntered on up to the stage, accepted his diploma while shaking hands then ran to the microphone. “I’m getting married!” he yelled. Then ran to avoid before he could be apprehended by the rent-a-cops back to where those who had already been called sat waiting.
Loretta laughed then groaned. Gasps could be heard. Johnny’s parents flew into an almost hysteric frenzy amongst themselves. Waylon laughed though Wayne worried, the members of Dixie Stomp and Southpaw were heard whooping and cheering from both sides of the football field.
*** *** ***
“Oh baby girl, do you have to leave so soon?” Wayne pleaded teary eyed.
“Yes Daddy,” Loretta answered solemnly.
Johnny and Loretta stood on either side of the car. Surrounded by their friends and family, saying goodbye seemed to be the hardest part so far. Johnny’s car was packed out with clothes, gear, and as much of home as they could fit.
“We’ll try to be back when we can afford it,” Johnny joked.
“Good luck out there,” Josh wished.
“Take care of her,” Waylon put in.
Once they were down the road a bit Johnny pulled out a box, “Here.”
“What’s this?” Loretta asked. She opened it before he could answer. It was his senior ring with a ruby on it.
“Now, it’s official.”