Where the Railroad Ends

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In the morning, Adeline and Rowan ate breakfast with the family, and Adeline tried to ignore how Bailey wore his shirt now. Why should she care? The pair definitely weren’t a couple, so what did it matter that he had random sex? That was probably what he’d been doing so far, and far be it from Adeline to stop his gypsy soul. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and fruit, a meal quick enough for them to eat before the family headed back home, to Nashville.

“You’re more than welcome to catch a ride,” Reece said as he broke down his and his wife’s tent. “We can get ya into the city, but then we’ve gotta head on home. Work can only wait so long before ya gotta come back.”

“Thank you,” Adeline said, taking down her tent, slowly but surely. “But we’ve already intruded enough on you folks, we can’t ask you to give us a ride on top of it.”

“Nonsense. You’re good people, I can tell. Besides, if you don’t get a ride, you could be walkin’ for days before you get to the city. Let us do you this favor,” He told her, making her smile.

“You’re a good person, you know that? I never knew people were so kind,” She mused, folding up the tent poles. “I mean, back home, everyone knew everybody but… there was never a sense of… community. It more just felt like you knew people because you gossiped about them behind their backs.”

“There’s fake people like that everywhere you go. Just gotta learn which ones are worth the time to dig into.”

Reece’s truck was loaded up with their supplies, as well as him and his wife. Fiona and her husband had their three boys, which left Rowan and Adeline to ride with Bailey. She drove a small blue bug and rode with the windows down, her and Rowan in the front. Adeline tried to ignore how much like a child she felt sitting in the backseat.

“So, you two are headed to California?” Bailey asked as they got on the highway.

“Yep, coast to coast,” Rowan told her, sunglasses on his nose, wearing a different, beat up shirt with a nearly indecipherable logo.

“I wish I could do that,” She sighed dreamily. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents, but sometimes, I wish I could just drop everythin’ and go. It’d be one hell of an adventure, wouldn’t it?”

“I’d say so. It’s been an adventure for us so far.” His glasses looked in the rearview mirror, and Adeline didn’t meet his gaze, eyes focused on her lap. She wished she had something, like Rowan’s guitar or notebook, right now. “And we’re just barely getting started.”

“Well, no one says you’ve gotta move on so soon. Nashville’s beautiful, I’m sure you’d love it, with that guitar of yours,” She gasped as if she had an idea. “Why don’t you stay awhile? We’ve got a spare room, you could get to know the city a little. I’ll be your tour guide.”

Part of Adeline wanted to scream, tell her no, they really didn’t need that. But Rowan’s low chuckle stopped her in her tracks.

“That’s very sweet of you, but we wouldn’t want to overstay our welcome. Plus, drifters can’t stay still for too long. Makes us ansty,” He turned to look at Adeline. “Isn’t that right, cupcake?”

The nickname brought a flush to her face. “Right…”

“Oh…” Bailey sounded a little downtrodden now. She turned up her radio and let them ride in silence. Adeline couldn’t help but feel a little vindicated. So Rowan hadn’t forgotten she existed. Good to know that even though he had random sex- and had probably had a lot of random sex -he wouldn’t ditch her behind for a pretty face or a nice pair of breasts. Wait, why did she even care? God, what was wrong with her?

Bailey dropped them off on a main road, saying goodbye as she followed the rest of her family home. Adeline looked up at the skyline, fascinated with how big and bustling Nashville really was. Rowan bumped her arm with his own.

“Want to explore?”

Walking the streets brought them across many interesting places. Tattoo parlors with loud music and bars with smoky entrances lined the busy road. People honked at one another in traffic, and they crossed the street at a jog to avoid being plowed down by a tour bus. Everything was loud and fast, and so terribly different that it made her head spin. But she liked it.

“Hey, I wanna stop for another tattoo,” He told her, opening the door to one of the parlors. “It probably won’t be very long.”

Inside, the buzz of tattoo guns instantly set her on edge. Music played over the television mounted on the wall, and the walls boasted many pieces of art, as well as a display case of different piercing jewelry. Looking over at Rowan, he looked at home. It relaxed her, but only until a heavily inked woman with orange hair approached them.

“What can I do for ya?” She asked.

“Do you accept walk-ins?” He asked, giving her a smile. She raised a brow.

“Depends, what’re you wantin’ done?”

Adeline had walked over to the display of jewelry, more than a bit curious. Some of the things looked intense, with photos of bars through people’s ears, as well as the bridges of their noses pierced. But some of the others, like a small stud in the nose, looked nice. Pretty, almost. She touched the side of her nose, wondering how a simple stud would look there.

“Alright, I guess I can get you in a chair,” The woman told Rowan, looking over at Adeline. “And what about her?”

“Oh, she doesn’t want-”

“How much for a nose piercing?” She cut him off.

The chair she was in was laid nearly flat, and a paper apron was laid over her chest. Rowan hovered next to her, looking a little bit like a nervous bird. Her piercer marked where the stud would go and put on plastic gloves, laying out the jewelry Adeline had chosen on her little table.

“You’re sure you wanna do this, cupcake? It’s going to hurt,” He told Adeline, making her nod.

“I want to. Experiences and tryin’ new things and all that. I’ll be alright,” She told him, seeing the piercer pick up a needle and wow, that was a big needle. Her fingers twitched nervously. “I think.”

“Alright, you’re probably gonna want to close your eyes,” The piercer told her. “Better if you can’t see when it’s coming.”

Nervously, she held her hand out to Rowan, who laced his fingers in hers. She closed her eyes, praying to God that she would be okay, that everything would be okay, that she would not bleed to death on this table because she made a dumb choice.

“Okay, here we go,” The piercer said.

“You got this cupcake,” He squeezed her hand, making her sigh slowly.

“Three… two… one.”

“I think you look hot,” Rowan told her over lunch, making her chuckle softly. Her nose was sore and a little tender, but she liked it. The small rose gold stud shone against her pale skin and made her feel just a little bit more like she should be hanging out with her companion. Sure, it was no belly piercing like Bailey had, but she was working her way close.

“Thanks,” She said, popping the tail off another of her shrimp. “This place is cool. I didn’t know there were places like this.”

“A buffet?” He laughed. “This is one of the closest places I can call home. Good prices and food as far as the eye can see. And I bet Nashville is chock-full of them.”

Thinking back to how Bailey offered to be their guide, she bit the inside of her lip. “Hey… why didn’t you let Bailey show us around? I mean, you liked her.”

“Like is a strong word,” He drank from his cup. “Was she hot? Yeah. Would I have wanted to spend more than a night with her? No. She wasn’t really my type, you know?”

Confused, she furrowed her brows. “But you had sex with her.”

“Having sex doesn’t mean anything,” He waved his hand. “At least, not to me. We shared a night together, and now I move on.”

“I don’t get it.” She said plainly.

“The way I see it; we met one another, and shared a few common interests. There was a chemical attraction, so we had a nice night together. Now, we’ve got the initial attraction out of our systems. If we had spent any more time together, we would have found how very incompatible we are, and it would have soiled the memory of the night we had.” He explained. “A lot of the people you’ll meet out here are that way, an initial attraction and a one night stand are all you’ll need to know you don’t want to see them again.”

“That sounds kind of shifty,” She mumbled, making him sigh.

“Call me what you will, but I’d rather have the memory of a great girl who I spent the night with, than an annoying shallow one I spent a week with. Sometimes, it’s better to not know people.”

She looked at him, trying to understand that. He was attracted to her, so he slept with her, and never wants to see her again. So… he hooked up with her. That she could get, she knew people who only hooked all throughout high school, and never really dated anyone. Very casual people. Maybe that’s just who Rowan was as a person, not the type to be tied down to one person. She couldn’t see him ever married, with a house and kids. It made sense.

“I get that, I guess,” She said, picking up her fork. “Casual sex is part of the journey sometimes.”

“Exactly. If you don’t enjoy yourself along the way, are you really living?”

That made her shake her head. She’d only ever had sex with one person, Jackson. In her mind, casual sex didn’t make sense because she’d never… done much. With him, it had always been calm, sweet lovemaking in their bed. Not dirty things done in a tent with a virtual stranger. She couldn’t see herself ever doing that, but… she’d also never seen herself with a nose piercing. Stranger things had happened.

After lunch, Rowan took Adeline to a huge, purple building, with music already pouring out of its many windows. They slipped inside the glass doors and were ushered down a dark hall by excited people, all of them filing into a dark room. Before she could ask what they were doing, lights exploded onto the stage, revealing a band in the center of the room. The crowd screamed in excitement as the lead singer, a man with long black hair grabbed the microphone, voice almost as excited as the crowd’s screams.

“We are Witches and Sundays, how’s everybody feelin’ tonight?” He asked, making the crowd light up even more. He was kind of cute, Adeline thought. He chuckled, pushing some of his hair from his face. “Ah, I love you Nashville. This is Midnight Crazy.”

He stepped back and the crowd lost it again, confusing Adeline. What had Rowan dragged her into? A loud chord was struck on the guitar and it rocked her to her core, making her stand up straighter when the drummer counted them in. The song began, fast and folksy, and made her bounce a little on her toes. They were good, the singer’s voice growling on all the right notes. Girls around her jumped and screamed, telling the band members they loved them. It was pretty awesome getting to be a part of it.

One song bled into another and soon she was dancing, jumping in time with the music and tossing her hair around, actually enjoying herself. God, if her mother could see her now, she’d be so disappointed. Seeing her screaming like an animal when the lead tossed his hair back, kneeling on the ground as he played his guitar like a pro, would have caused her mother to drag her out by her hair.

After about the fifth song, Full Moon Memories, the lead spoke into the microphone again.

“Alright, we’re gonna slow things down a bit,” His electric guitar was swapped out for an acoustic, and a stool was brought forward for him. “This is She’s Good For You.”

The song was slower, plucked out on the acoustic and accompanied by a piano. Rowan’s hand rested on her waist and she looked up at him, a smile on her face. She was a little winded, so the change of pace was nice. Resting her head on his chest, they swayed together, everyone around them singing the lyrics of the song. It was amazing, they were all so in sync, lighters and glow sticks out, waving in time with the slow music. Rowan hummed along with the music, low in his chest. It made her smile.

The next song was slow too, called Without You I’m Nothing, and it was so mournful, it nearly made Adeline cry. It was beautiful, the story of how the singer fell in love with a girl he’d met on the road, but he’d had to leave behind. Every time he went back to her city, he looked for her, only to found out she’d married and settled down. It made her want to hug the singer and tell him everything would be okay.

“Thank you,” He said when the song came to a close and everyone cheered. “It’s nice to be back home in Nashville! For those of you who don’t know, I’m Marley Walker, and this is my band. We started right here, 5 years ago. It’s been a wild five years, but it’s so great to be back home on the first stage we ever performed on, at the Orchid Lounge! Nashville, this song’s for you.”

Back to the upbeat music, Adeline broke free of Rowan’s arms and got back into her dancing, loving almost every single song the band played. When they finally drew to a close with their final song, Stars, Adeline wished they had more to play. She didn’t want this to end. But, the drums roared to a close and the crowd screamed when the band bid them goodnight, and the lights went off.

The air was electric walking out, and Adeline couldn’t stop moving, adrenaline coursing through her blood. Rowan laughed as they entered the lobby.

“You okay?” He asked.

“That was awesome! What was that?”

“That?” He laughed. “That was a concert. What, have you never been to one before?”

“No!” She shouted.

“Well, now you have. It was awesome, wasn’t it?” He patted her head, making her grin.

“It was,” She agreed. “Thank you for bringin’ me here. I loved it.”

They left the Orchid Lounge after Adeline had bought one of the band’s t-shirts. It was black in color, with the band’s logo of a beautiful occult looking woman leaning against a church smoking, on it, as well as the band’s name blast across the top in white. She loved it, and didn’t care if it “wasn’t necessary”. Rowan picked up a bumper sticker, which went on the cover of his notebook.

“That was awesome,” She repeated as they stepped out onto the darkening streets. Yellow lamps were flicking on, and neon lights glowed on top of almost every building. “I like Nashville.”

“Me too. Probably one of my favorite cities thus far,” He told her, walking past loud bars and other venues blasting music. “Are you ready to turn in for the night? We can grab another motel room.”

“No,” She didn’t want this day to end yet. “Not yet.”

“Well, I think there’s only one thing we can do this late at night.”

The bar they ended up at had two stories and blared country music, but it had a friendly atmosphere, with people two-stepping in impressive unison on the dance floor. Grabbing two stools at the bar, a bartender in a cowboy hat approached them.

“What can I get for you two?” He asked, accent heavy.

“I’ll have a Blue Moon,” Rowan told him, looking to Adeline. This was one thing she understood, the bars back home were an anyone goes situation. There had more than one night where she and Jackson, dressed down, had been in a honky-tonk.

“Gimme a Berry Moonbounce,” She told the man, who nodded and walked off.

“You’ve done this before?” Rowan asked, making her laugh.

“I was the queen of the mechanical bull back home,” She told him. “But don’t tell my mama that.”

“Damn,” He whistled. “I couldn’t see you on a mechanical bull.”

“Why is that?” She laughed as she got her drink. “Too dainty?”

“Just doesn’t seem like your scene.” He shrugged, making her narrow her eyes.

“I’ll show you. You can take the girl out of Georgia, but you can’t take Georgia outta the girl. I wasn’t all prim and proper. My husband and I had some adventures. Small ones, compared to yours, but adventures nonetheless.”

“Prove it then.” He pointed across the room to where a man was riding a mechanical bull. Setting down her drink, she got up and walked over to the crowd, who were oohing as the man was thrown off.

“And down he goes, with only 8 seconds!” The announcer called, looking out into the crowd. “Right now, the time to beat is 12 seconds, can anyone top 12 seconds?”

“Sign me up,” Adeline called, stepping up and paying her fee. The announcer laughed a little.

“Alright little lady, jump on up there, and let’s see how you do.”

The crowd whistled and hollered as she climbed onto the bull. She grabbed on and put one arm up as the machine started moving. It was pretty gentle for a minute until she was spun. Still, she clung to the hold, legs tightening around the bull’s sides. Cheers rang up from the crowd as she was flung around and bucked up, making her laugh and swing her arm.

Looking across the bar, she saw Rowan watching her, a smile on his face. He looked intensely at her, with an emotion she couldn’t really place. Then, he winked at her, and she went red.

A rough buck caught her and she went tumbling off, hitting the mat with a groan. Still, the crowd cheered and the announcer helped her up.

“Well, I’ll be damned! We have a new honky-tonk record at 21 seconds! What’s your name doll? We’ll put it up on the leaderboard.”

“Adeline,” She said, laughter in her tone. As she stepped down, the announcer wrote her name up. Making her way to Rowan, she plopped down beside him, taking her drink back. “Told you.”

“You sure did.” He laughed, bumping her arm. “That was impressive, cupcake.”

“And that’s just the beginning. Come on, I’ll show you how to really party at a honky tonk.”

She showed him how to line dance, which he stumbled through for a while, much to her enjoyment. Her pool skills went up against him and she came out victorious. They drunk like mad and took shots with a few college students, making friends with one of them. They were told stories of Nashville when country music was just beginning, and how it had changed over the years. One of the older men even offered up his couch to them for the night, telling them how they were good kids worth trusting.

Riding in the back of a truck felt comfortable now, and Adeline let her hair down to really enjoy it. Shaking out her ponytail, she leaned over the bed of the truck and watched the pink neon flash by her eyes, a smile on her face. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Rowan watching her. Looking over, she laughed.

“What?” She asked, turning to face him.

“Nothing,” He said, but she shook her head.

“No, share! We’re a no secrets pair, remember?” She laughed, moving closer to him. “Tell me.”

“You just,” He shrugged. “You look really pretty when you’re happy.”

Blushing, she sat back. He looked so nice under the nighttime sky, eyes sharp and green, calloused hands comforting. Sighing, she sat next to him and laid her head on his shoulder. He tensed a little, then relaxed, his arm wrapping around her small waist.

“You are happy, right?” He asked quietly.

“Yeah,” She whispered. “For the first time… I think I really am.”

The house they arrived at was a small brick cottage, and they were let in by the man, who showed them to an old pull out couch.

“It’s not much, but it beats sleepin’ outside,” The man told them, patting Rowan on the back. “Bathroom’s down the hallway, help yourself to whatever you can find in the kitchen. Have a good night, now.”

“Thank you, sir,” Rowan said as Adeline laid out on the couch, sighing happily. The man chuckled at her actions and mumbled something to Rowan before heading down the hall, no doubt to his bedroom. The bed shifted and her companion laid out next to her, resting an arm behind his head. “Good night, cupcake. Sleep well.”

“Mm. You too.”

That night, she slept much better.

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