Having been invited to Billy Farmer’s estate for Thanksgiving, Caitlin dedicated her morning to arranging a large flower display for the dinner table. I’d been in the United States long enough to know about their Thanksgiving, and I very much liked what it represented.
The weather was grey and damp, cool enough for a jacket, but not what I would call cold. Rather at loose ends, as I was saving my guitar time for playing at Billy’s new performance hall, I got dressed for a walk with Leo. If it turned into a run, so be it.
Leo was quite happy to go with me. The loss of his toe had slowed him down at first, but he’d adapted. He was back to chasing the grey squirrels off-lead in the yard and though he wanted badly to go after the cats in the neighbourhood, I had to keep him on a lead, because, unlike his late-brother Les, he let his nose take him into trouble.
Almost no traffic was about this time of the morning, which was unusual, but so much the better for us. Unfamiliar vehicles in many of the drives marked visitors for the holiday.
I started a slow jog which suited Leo. My muscles remembered this action and responded with glee, however, a twinge in my left shoulder made me aware I needed to tighten it up closer to my body and not allow it to swing.
When Leo and I returned home, Cait said, “Oh good, you’re back. Can you help me with this?” The centrepiece arrangement had made a remarkable transformation from flower stems, greenery, and ribbon, to a piece of floral art. “I’m almost done, but I need your finger, okay?”
I held my finger on the ribbon for her to complete the bow. “It looks wonderful,” I said. “Hannah should love it.”
“Hannah’s not the one I’m worried about. Bryan can be picky,” she said with a laugh. She finished the bow and stood back. “There. What do you think?”
“It’s lovely.” I folded her into my arms. “Just like my bride-to-be.”
* * *
Raymond showed up with the limo, which turned some heads in Cait’s neighbourhood, I can tell you. We secured my gear and the floral piece in the boot and we were away. We arrived at Billy’s compound by way of a rocky track which led to a coded wrought iron gate, masterfully crafted, featuring dolphins and waves. The paved drive beyond, circled in front of a two story antebellum-style home, white with black shutters, and shaded by ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss.
Billy, and the compound’s chief of operations and chef, Bryan Fox, met us as Raymond stopped the car in the portico of the main house.
“Here they are,” Billy said, opening the door of the limo. He extended his hand to Cait.
“You must be Caitlin,” he said, as he helped her to her feet.
“Hi Billy,” she said. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“It’s my pleasure,” he answered.
Bryan, having retrieved the floral centrepiece, called to Caitlin. “This is perfect, Cait! I love it. Hannah will love it.”
“Thanks, Bry. That means a lot coming from you.”
“Are you saying I’m difficult to please?” he teased her.
“No-o-o,” she said, laughing. “I’d never say that.”
Meanwhile, Raymond and I looked over the items remaining in the boot. “This is Dougie’s amp and effects box,” I said. “I should’ve given them back to him by now, but he hasn’t asked, so he must not need them too badly.”
“No problem,” Raymond said. “I’ll drive this stuff over to the hall. I told Dougie I’d come get them when you got here.”
“Them?” I mouthed at Billy.
Billy smiled and raised an eyebrow as a beat up Jeep 4X4 pulled in on the other side of the limousine. Colby and Penn.
“There are my youngsters,” Billy said, as they got out of the car. “Don’t bother getting out your gear, boys. You can drive it over after we eat.”
Bryan led Caitlin through the foyer and into the kitchen area where introductions began anew with Bryan’s partner, Scott, Raymond’s wife, Maddie, and Billy’s wife, Hannah. The noise level rose exponentially, including the “oohs and ahhs” over Cait’s ring.
Billy, Colby, Penn, and I were still in the foyer talking music when Raymond pulled the limo to the front of the house again. He opened the back door.
Our conversation stopped as high-heeled shoes grounded long shapely legs, which in turn supported a stunningly beautiful woman, curvaceous in a low-cut dress, which could’ve been painted on for all I could tell. I recognised my mouth hanging open and closed it.
“Wow, look,” Colby said, “it’s Adena. I’ve never seen her when she wasn’t in jeans.”
Billy and I turned to him.
Penn answered our unspoken question. “She’s Adena Angel.”
“I should say,” Billy remarked.
“No,” Colby laughed. “It’s her real name. She teaches voice at our music school.”
Dougie led her through the front door. His expression was one of innocent self-confidence—knowing full well what he had by the hand, but acting like he didn’t understand why we stared.
Dougie gave her a shrug and a grin. “Billy Farmer, Nicholas Trent, this is Adena Angel.”
I’m certain we greeted her, but I don’t recall the words we used. As well as having legs to the moon and a body a man could get lost in, her long, dark-blonde hair waved sexily onto her collar bones. If all four of us weren’t physically aroused, I’d’ve been surprised.
Billy and I recovered ourselves enough to converse briefly with Adena before we adjourned to the kitchen where more introductions were made and the women took away some of the pressure we men felt.
* * *
Set in harvest colours, with small pumpkins and autumn leaves, the formal dining room epitomized the holiday. I saw what Bryan had meant when he’d called Cait’s centrepiece perfect. It was long, narrow and low. One could hold a conversation or pass the potatoes across the table with ease.
Raymond remained standing and asked us all to take the hand of the person next to us. His prayer of thanks was a beautiful, lyrical acknowledgement, spoken in a soft but Raymond-commanding-bass with a lilt I didn’t recognise. As I listened, I thought of all the things I had to be thankful for in just the past year. It was a long list.
The end of the prayer was the end of the quiet. Conversations bloomed, plates and cutlery clattered, glasses were clinked in toasts. Bryan, Maddie, and Hannah surveyed the feast with happy eyes.
“Nicholas,” Hannah said above the din. “Dougie tells us you might spend Christmas in England.”
“We’re thinking about it,” I said. “Cait’s never been to England. I thought we might spend a few days around London, visit Taylor and some of the lads. Do some sightseeing. Head north to East Lancs and introduce Cait to Oliver’s family, the Bishops.”
“You should definitely go,” Hannah said, mostly to Caitlin. “Christmas in London is . . . incredible. I felt like a little girl again with the wonder of it all. Christmas lights are everywhere and no cost has been spared with the decorations. It’s like being in the middle of a fairy tale.”
“I’m getting excited,” Cait admitted to her. “I’m eager to meet the Bishops. Even though I understand Uncle James advised Nicholas to cut me loose, seeing as how I’m a Yank.”
“He’s an old softie, he is,” I said. “If you drink a cup of his home brewed Slugga with him, you’ll be in. And Auntie Bitsy will simply eat you up.”
Eventually, the banter came around to Adena. “Colby tells us you teach vocals at his music school,” Billy said. “How did you meet our Dougie?”
She set her knife and fork prissily against the sides of her plate, dabbed the corners of her mouth, and said, “He saw me singing at a bar downtown a couple of weeks ago. He introduced himself after the first set, said he worked for you to get my attention—which it did—and we started seeing each other.” She looked at Dougie with affection I hadn’t noticed during our first encounter.
Dougie could barely keep his eyes off her long enough to eat.
“Stunning, isn’t she?” he said, then looked horrified. “Did I say that out loud?”
“You did,” Billy said. “But it’s no less true. After we eat, we’ll head over to The Muses Hall to work off this meal. I wonder if you might sing for us,” Billy said to Adena.
“I’d love to,” she answered. “Colby, did you bring your guitar?”
“You know it. We both did.”
“Colby, Penn and I have performed together on a couple of songs showcasing our talents,” Adena explained. “We can play one of them, or do something different.”
“However the night leads us,” Billy said.
“So Billy,” I said. “What brought about a music hall?”
“Right. About a year ago, Dougie and I had a discussion with some of the bands and decided we needed a small concert venue. We renovated two of the studios and I think the hall came out brilliantly. We almost never had even three bands here to record at the same time, so the space was available. I’m anxious for you to see it.”
* * *
Cait and I chose to walk from the main house to the performance hall/studio. The view after dark was stunning. The paved walkway was lit softly, but adequately, and wound across the grounds. Two swimming pools, lit from within, provided centre points to accompany nicely-placed landscape lighting. Once the pavement ended, we followed a track of pine needles through a small thicket to another two story structure that might once have been a residence. A familiar sign proclaimed it “Rock House: Be Prepared.”
Raymond stood inside the door directing visitors to the left. A brass plaque beside the propped-open, heavy dark oak door read “The Muses Hall.”
The sight of this intimate room brought a smile to my face instantly and infused me with energy. The stage was much larger than many bars I’d played, with theatre-style seating for perhaps fifty people. Above us, in the centre of the wall, was a glass window into the room holding Dougie’s sound board and light controls.
Colby was already onstage tuning up while Penn went through sound check on the microphones with Dougie.
“Let’s give you the tour,” Billy said, coming up behind us.
“This is brilliant, who designed it?” I asked.
Billy laughed. “Just about everyone in the household had a say in some aspect of it. But the blueprints were drawn up by an architect-friend of Scott and Bryan’s. We think it came out pretty well.”
“I’m sure the acoustics are remarkable.”
“You’ll see,” Billy said with a grin.
Raymond already had my guitar unpacked and in a stand onstage.
As we approached, Colby and Penn claimed Caitlin’s attention and Billy continued to show me around. A multipurpose room underneath the stage held a Green Room and a commercial sized fridge, as well as a large movie-type screen being stored until needed above.
I laughed. “Handy, that.”
“What the hell? Gonna have a theatre, might as well have film capabilities, right? I thought I might invite promising film and graphics students who want to work in the rock industry.”
“By the time you’re done, you’ll be running a bloody university out here,” I laughed.
“Perhaps. Hannah’s always telling me to slow down and think about what I’m doing. I’m not impulsive or anything,” he said, laughing at himself. “Let me show you the control booth.”
Most of the dinner guests were seated when we walked back past the stage. Colby and Penn were both playing guitar as Penn sang a song I may have heard before. Bryan’s partner, Scott sat behind the extensive drum kit clearly enjoying himself and doing a splendid job keeping up with the boys. Raymond nodded at us as he strapped on a bass guitar.
Upon opening the door to the control booth, we caught Adena scrambling off Dougie’s lap, trying to straighten her dress. It wasn’t painted on, after all. Dougie’s face and neck were smeared with lipstick.
Billy and I burst into laughter.
“Sorry,” Adena said, “Sound check’s all done. I’ll go join the boys onstage.” She made a hasty retreat.
Once the door was closed, the three of us exploded into laughter again.
“Classic, Dougie,” I said, handing him a tissue from a nearby box. He didn’t seem to know what to do with it. I indicated the area around my lips and neck as the places he should clean himself. “And wherever else you might need it.” More laughter.
“Not like any of the three of us are complete strangers to a control booth shagging, are we?” Billy said.
Newly lipstick free, Dougie regained himself. He looked at me and said, “Jesus Christ, she’s hot! You either walked in at the right time, or just at the wrong time.”
“Did she have on her knickers?” I asked.
He held up a small, delicate piece of lingerie with his index finger answering the question.
Another fit of laughter from the three of us.
“After we’re done here,” Billy said, “you can take up where you left off.”
“I plan to.” Dougie blew out a forceful breath and turned to the sound board.
“Your new SG?” Billy asked me, turning his attention to the stage. “Dougie told me about it. Do you like it?”
“I absolutely love it.”
“Well, let’s go down and see what she’ll do for you, shall we?” Billy said. “Has it been sound checked?”
“Yeah,” Dougie said.
He saw me raise my eyebrows.
“I told Colby he could do it,” Dougie admitted. “He was very careful.”
Billy and I joined the others downstairs as the lads and Adena blistered out a Zeppelin song. I looked around and sat next to Caitlin.
“The acoustics are brilliant!”
Colby locked into the solo, which was intentionally not a note-for-note copy of Jimmy Page’s, but close enough you could recognise the song. Just enough improv to illustrate Colby’s own skills. The song ended to wild applause.
“Thank you,” Adena said, bowing. “Now, here’s a song the three of us worked on for a showcase a couple of years ago.”
The graceful opening notes of Eric Johnson’s, “Bristol Shore” sparkled like sun-kissed diamonds on gentle ocean waves leading into Adena’s vocals, a sweet voice for this song, punctuated by Penn’s harmonies. Colby’s use of the effects pedals showed he knew enough about them to turn them to his advantage, whether he needed distortion, a crystal clear sound, or the embellishment of harmonics.
“I love this song,” Caitlin said. “Penn’s harmonies are perfect.”
Toward the end of the song, Billy stood, nodded at me, and the two of us wandered to the stage. The applause at the end of the song was loud and enthusiastic. Billy stopped Colby, Penn, and Adena from leaving. Raymond stayed put, and Scott remained behind the drum kit showing off his drumstick twirling skills. Bryan hooted for him from the audience.
“Everybody,” Billy called into the mic, “let’s hear it for the kids. Whaddaya say?”
Bryan, Maddie, Cait, and Hannah stood, and cheered.
As Billy spoke with the band, I strapped on my SG and checked the tuning. It was perfect. I sidled up to Colby.
“Did you like it?”
“Oh man! It’s so sweet!” his eyes widened. “I hope you don’t mind. Dougie said it was okay and I was real careful.”
I laughed and ruffled his hair. “You did great. Thanks, mate.”
“All right,” Billy announced. “Now, we’re gonna hear a Nicholas Trent original or two, and we’ll do a few more including the whole band, then we’re kicking all of you out and going to bed.”
The guests laughed as I took the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, for my first one, I’ll do a song I wrote recently for the woman I love, the woman who takes care of me, the woman who holds my heart, Caitlin Flynn.”
I couldn’t look at her, as my focus would be lost. It started light and sweet, like a cream-filled pastry, the melody skipping like a happy child. The middle got a bit heavier with distortion, but echo kept it playful. I put the parts together for its natural end.
The smile on my face reflected back to me in my audience when I dared look up. The applause was fervent and keen.
I conferred with Colby about the next song. He knew the foundation of it and would be able to keep it going when I had to go off on my own. I took the mic.
“This next song, you might have run across on YouTube. Seems it has quite the following. Adena, do you know the words?”
She shook her head, “Not all of ‘em.”
I looked at Billy. He shook his head as well.
“I know the song,” Penn said.
Of course it was Taylor’s song, “Heartbeat,” which included “the solo.” Penn sang the song word for word, but he added and subtracted inflections to make it sound new. And the SG, with its lovely tone and a few different effects brought new emotion to it. Scott and Raymond became caught up in it as well, entertaining us with a drum and bass duel amazing everyone in the hall.
We took a bit of a break after that. Bryan provided beverages and I, at least, needed to sit down. Most of the others were glad to get up, walk around a bit, and chat.
“Hanging in there?” Cait asked when she brought me a bottle of water.
“I’m good. Having a brilliant time.”
Caught up in the moment, I asked, “Will you take my name when we marry?”
“Caitlin Trent. I like the sound of it,” she said with a grin.
To end the show, Billy pulled out three of his biggest hits and shared the stage with all the musicians. He traded off verses with Adena while Penn sang backup and added harmonies where none had existed previously. Colby and I went back and forth with our leads, punch and counterpunch, much to the enjoyment of the guests.
As the last song rang out, Hannah Farmer took the stage with us.
“Thank you for coming, everyone. I hope you’ve had a wonderful Thanksgiving. You joining us here, has made ours outstanding. Goodnight!” She waved as the house lights went up.
Raymond helped us get our gear stowed and ready for transport before we took our leave from the Family Farmer and retreated to the limo parked out front.
I leaned into Caitlin and yawned, “I’m exhausted,” I said.
“I know, sweetie. Me, too. I’m afraid Leo will have to walk himself tonight.”