God laughs when parents make plans.
Melody, aka Merlot, decided to leave Southern California less than a week later. The social order was falling apart at a rate that accelerated daily. She was lucky to get a plane ticket for Chicago.
Leslie asked Jarrell to pick her up. Jarrell was the most recent person to have traveled “outside”.
One of Leslie’s neighbors had a 2014, VW Jetta with the turbo-diesel. That, a full tank and twenty gallons of diesel in the trunk had plenty of range to make the trip to O’Hare and back.
Jarrell stayed off of freeways. Limited access roads means limited ways on and limited ways off. Options are good.
He got to the airport before the plane landed. Armed troops were patrolling in three, concentric rings. Jarrell had to show ID to get through each ring. Planes had one approach in and one approved path after take-off.
He was waiting with a cardboard sign with MELODY written on it in six inch tall letters.
He watched the passengers as they streamed to the luggage area. No Melody.
One sun-kissed California goddess seemed to think it was funny to move in front of him and obstruct his view as he craned his neck trying to get a good look at the last few stragglers. Normally, Jarrell would enjoyed the eyeful he was getting. She was tanned, very fit and her clothing (although technically modest) were almost as revealing as a wet tee-shirt. And, boy-howdy, what a set of assets she had. From the sun-bleached highlights in her hair to her almond-shaped eyes, her electric smile and everything south of that. *
Of course it was Melody. Jarrell learned on the trip back that she was wearing one of her rock-climbing outfits. Functional, yes. But very tough and very flexible. They were a second skin for Melody.
This was not the same Melody who had graduated from Eaton Rapids High School a scant five-and-a-half years ago.
That Melody Spalding hid her figure in baggy, shapeless clothing. The reasons were complicated. To this day she had not completely untangled them but for the most part it was a way to slow the headlong rush toward the hypersexuality of adulthood. Like most coping strategies it came with a cost. In Melody’s case it was a poverty of interactions with boys; interactions that would have brought her joy and helped ease her toward adulthood.
Five years in California had gone a long way toward making her comfortable in her own skin but she still harbored anger and resentment toward Eaton Rapids boys for ignoring her. In spite of her mother’s glowing opinion of Jarrell and the fact that he braved over 650 miles of chaos to pick her up...she was still very much undecided about him.
The seven hour trip home did much to put that at ease. She talked. For the most part Jarrell listened except to ask questions.
About half way through, Melody asked about Jarrell’s life. Jarrell didn’t candy-coat his fall(s) from grace. It is easy to be modest when you went from rock-star to fifth-assistant gaffer over the course of a month. What stood out was Jarrell’s owning the parts he, himself played in his downfall. He was not bitter. If anything, he realized that he had risen too quickly, had achieved greatness too soon.
Should God bless him with another chance he would handle things differently. Not because he had a burning desire to be alpha-dog but because he had more perspective.
Something about the monotony of driving. Something about not looking at your listener’s eyes while talking and feeling judged. Jarrell’s frank admission about the parts he played in “non-optimal outcomes” freed Melody to do the same.
The younger Melody had contrived tests for the young, clueless boys around her. Tests she had never informed them about but they were somehow supposed to magically know. The younger Melody wanted to be loved for ‘who she was’, not what she was.
It took five years and five hours of driving with Jarrell for her to see that her physical self was every bit as much of who-she-was as her sensibilities and values.
Leslie had moved Jarrell’s things to the garden shed. Jarrell’s buddy was not able to give him a room until the end of the month.
Jarrell and Merle moved out to the shed, a small building with many windows. The weather was moderating and a kerosene lantern and a couple of sleeping bags were plenty to keep him warm.
And starting the second night Melody was back, Jarrell was not sleeping alone. More accurately, Jarrell was not sleeping (much) and he was not alone. Staying warm was not an issue.
*All similarities between "Melody" and Mrs ERJ are coincidences necessitated by the story and the fact that writers write best when they write about what they know best.