Bye, Bye, Love
Darlin' Tommy J
The first time she'd heard his voice, sweet and clear, coming through the wire on this new thing called FM, Sally Alder had been totally, utterly gone. Gone, gone, gone, from the moment she'd stood in the record store, looking for the album with the hit song, "Last Night," and found herself staring open-mouthed at the photograph of Stone Jackson on the front. His penetrating, wounded blue eyes conjured a fantasy of passion and intelligence, a vision ignited again and again as she wore out the vinyl, reveling in his songs of warm whimsy and earthy blues, invitation and anguish, loss, love.
Like there'd been this instant connection between them. Fate. Destiny. Please. His debut album had gone platinum. American females by the millions had paid their -- what? $3.50? -- had mooned over that album cover, had fantasized the moment when they'd give him the comfort he so clearly needed. And by the millions, the women of America had managed to grow up and get over it.
Truly it was embarrassing to admit it, but through albums, tapes, CDs, and live concerts, she'd followed the heady highs and desperate downs of his story. She'd dreamed, vividly, of hearing him say the words:
"I need you to help me, Sally."
The precise words Thomas "Stone" Jackson was saying this very minute, sitting in her cluttered office at the top of Hoyt Hall, at the University of Wyoming, in the glory of the last fine day of September. The voice was the same: gentle, mellow, pure, hinting at irony. The long, graceful, string-bean body was just as she'd admired so many times on stage, slung with a guitar, swaying with soul, bopping with the beat, rocking out.
The face, however, had a whole lot more miles on it than the one on that long-ago album cover. It was as if every sign of innocence had been burned away, leaving sharp bones, arched brows, wry mouth. Crow's-feet winged at the corners of those everremarkable eyes. His forehead was deeply etched, and there was a whole lot more of it.
Which mattered to her not a whit. She, too, was on the dark side of forty. Guys who managed to keep up appearances in the middle of the long strange trip suited her just fine.
Still, experience had taught her to be wary of appealing men. Here came Jackson, saying he needed her help. Over the years, she'd extended aid and comfort to enough guys to remember to check her wallet.
"Why me?" she asked Thomas Jackson, keeping her voice low, trying to sound neither eager nor suspicious. "Where'd you get my name?"
"Our mutual friend, Pete," Jackson explained, naming an old boyfriend of Sally's who'd had his own ups and downs, but was currently riding high in the upper echelons of a southern California multimedia empire. "I've just bought a little place outside Cody," Jackson continued. "When Pete found out I planned to spend time in Wyoming, he suggested that I look you up."
A little place! Everyone in the state had heard about Thomas Jackson's purchase of a prime property he called the Busted Heart Ranch. The brand? What else? Two offset halves of a heart. Next to Harrison Ford, Thomas Jackson was pretty much the biggest Hollywood rancher in Wyoming. "Oh yeah?" she said. "That was nice of Pete. We keep in touch, from time to time."
Thomas Jackson grinned faintly. "Pete says you're a nag and a bit of a diva, but that you're brilliant, sexy, and can sing some. And that he's had reason, in tight situations, to find you trustworthy."
"Pete's definition of trustworthy isn't most people's," she replied, trying to ignore the fact that Jackson had blithely announced that he'd casually discussed her sexuality with one of her old lovers. What was that, some kind of blasé Hollywood move? She went for Wyoming blasé. "So what's the problem?"
Jackson leaned back in the dilapidated easy chair usually occupied by students whining for grade changes. "You know Nina Cruz, of course."
Of course. Angelina Cruz, known as Nina: his ex-wife, folk singer icon. Nina had retired from the fast lane in L.A. to seek peace of mind in a gracious, but relatively modest, log house on eighty pretty acres west of Laramie, a spread she called Shady Grove, near the town of Albany, Wyoming. Nina was an ardent wilderness lover, animal-rights activist, and feminist. She drove a Range Rover with bumper stickers that said, MY OTHER CAR IS A BROOM and FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS WEAR FUR. She had once told Sally she believed that, at the deepest level, plutonium, the endangerment of species, and professional football all came from the root toxin of patriarchy.
Who in hell would leave la vida buena in southern California for la vida blizzard in southern Wyoming? Nina for one, evidently; Sally for another. Sally had left UCLA to direct the Dunwoodie Center for Women's History at the University of Wyoming. She and Nina had feminism in common, though Nina was the type of feminist who believed that all women were extensions of the earth goddess, and Sally was more inclined to the view that women and men were all too human, equally capable of Nobel Prizes and bonehead moves on a planet ruled less by goddesses than by chance and choice.
But Nina was also the kind of feminist who wrote big checks. Sally was the kind who cashed them. When Nina's first substantial donation to the Dunwoodie Center had arrived, Sally had called Nina to say thanks and invite her to dinner at the Yippie I O Café, the only place in Laramie one dared take a vegetarian to dine. They'd since had several cordial dinners together, and, happily, more checks had followed. "Nina has been a very generous contributor to the Dunwoodie Center," Sally said carefully ... Bye, Bye, Love
. Copyright © by Virginia Swift. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.