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I Can't Change the World


The sun still peeked out behind the green hillsides, casting a hazy orange in the sky that mixed with the white fluffy clouds. A slight breeze blew across the crowd, but their screams and cheers still shot across the stadium, bold and impudent.

Country Thunder always attracts the rowdiest of folks, the beer drinkers, the skirt chasers, the not so innocent southern girls whose shorts showed too much and tops that came down to here.

Most of the time I would try to be one of the first acts to perform, that way I could get in and out in record time, start heading to the next venue, avoid the mess in the audience down below.

But this time I got the last slot, mostly because I forgot to tell Rick and Cheryl, was too heartsick to remember to remind them.

I literally felt ill. They wanted me to sing She Ain’t Mine, and I already knew that would be impossible. If I wasn’t able to get through it this morning, in a quiet setting, there would be no way I could get through it now in front of a bunch of screaming, drunken fans.

That alone sent my mind back to this morning. It made every fiber of my being hurt, throb with the ache of losing her all over again.

Nothing I said to her in the garden mattered, she still left, just shook her head at me and was gone.

“Tell me you’ll come with me.” I begged her. I was lost in her, I could feel the softness of her skin against my cheek, smell her sweet perfume. I thought for sure she was going to say yes, tell me she would be here tonight, maybe for Cheryl’s sake, if not mine.

But all she did was let out this tiny whimper, take a step back away from me. It was like a punch in the gut when she did that, tore the life right out of me. I was too choked up to say anything else to her, to tell her everything I was bottling up inside, and Jared and Cheryl showed up at that moment.

We didn’t have to do anything else for Jared. He was happy with what he had. He dismissed all the cameras and told us we were free for the rest of the day. Only I didn’t want to be free, being free would mean she would leave.

And that’s exactly what she did.

“We’re on let’s go!” Dustin gave me a quick shove with his shoulder and burst his way out to the middle of the stage.

The crowd’s roars grew louder, and I took a couple of reluctant steps out into the limelight.

My stomach turned and twisted with the first few glimpses of the drunken crowd. I tried to look past them, pretend they weren’t there, that there wasn’t girls spilling out of their tops stretching their hands out to me, or shirtless men with their beer flying crazily around their cups in their haste to get closer to the girls, but I could see it all, and it sickened me. How could I sing that song here? The song that showed everything I felt inside, every intimate part of me. It wasn’t supposed to be shared with strangers, it was only supposed to be shared with her.


“You don’t have to go Ara, I know you don’t.” Cheryl watched me steadily as I threw the last of my clothes in my carry on.

“I can’t stay.” the words got caught in my throat. I could still feel the warmth of Jackson’s skin next to mine, his breath on my ear, hear the want in his voice. It was too much for me, and I had to take a step back, try and put my heart rate in check. I knew I had to leave, this man was my weakness, and right now I needed to be strong.

“Please, please, just one more day? You don’t have to stay for him, stay for me. I haven’t talked to you for so long, we could hang out, do girl things together?” Cheryl moved around the room so that she was standing directly across from me. She sounded so sincere, and I did miss talking to her.

“You won’t tell him?” I was considering it, staying, but only if I didn’t have to face my temptation.

“I won’t tell him, he won’t know you’re here.” Cheryl’s eyes lit up at my words, “I have to be backstage for his performance but I’ll keep you well hidden, you can be in the audience.” Cheryl sounded far too excited about this, but to be honest, when she mentioned I could be in the audience, be able to watch Jackson without him even knowing, it sent a little shiver of anticipation shoot through me.

I gave her a small smile and only a half nod but that was more than enough for her, she jumped right up, giving me a quick hug and turned to my carry on. “You don’t need to be packed then, let’s find something for you to wear, it’s still warm enough for a dress but I think you’ll be more comfortable in some capris or something.”

The crowds were crazy. It was so loud and dusty out here, I couldn’t even think straight. People were pushing and bumping into each other, there was guffawing laughter and high pitched screams. I just tried to stand very still, keep out of everyone’s way, thankful I wasn’t in a dress.

Cheryl deposited me a few rows from the front, but more to the right side of the stage. It kept me out of center view where Jackson mostly played, and it was easier for me to exit since the gates were over by that side.

It was weird at first, and uncomfortable standing there by myself. I felt out of place almost, a lone girl amidst throngs of people. I tried to relax and enjoy the music. The girls next to me shrieked loudly every time someone new came onstage, waving their hands in the air, their bodies swaying unsteadily from all the alcohol they were consuming.

I could feel myself inching away from them, trying to squeeze myself between the crowds. I wasn’t enjoying it, didn’t matter who stepped onto that stage, I just stood there and watched, and waited.

I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t excited to see Jackson preform. He was all I really wanted to see. I missed hearing him sing live, the way he would wave and smile to the crowd, that adorable, mischievous smile that made it look like he was up to something, the way his eyes always lit up so.

I saw Dustin first.

He bounded right out heading for the middle, the shrill of all the girls screaming made me want to cover my ears, but I was to preoccupied at the moment. I craned my neck, trying to see past Dustin, anxiously waiting for his appearance, waiting for that gorgeous cowboy to set that stage on fire with his music.

Only it didn’t happen that way.

Jackson came out on stage, his steps halting and slow.

There was no smile.

No shine or light to his eyes, no crinkle of merriment.

There wasn’t happiness, or excitement, or even the tiniest bit of satisfaction to his expression.

I had to concentrate, my head tilting to the side unknowingly. I studied him carefully my eyebrows furrowing together in confusion, because the only thing I could see on his face, and in his eyes, was fear.

His usual hop to his step was gone; he walked slowly across the stage, his eyes down, not greeting the audience with the wave of his hand, or yelling out hello through his microphone. When he reached the middle he kept turning his head over his shoulder to look at Brett, or casting these worried glances to Dustin. It left me bewildered, made me push my way through two more screaming girls so I see him better. There was no denying his expression, his body language, and for the first time, I was really worried.

I knew he was scheduled to sing two songs tonight because Cheryl told me that back in my hotel room, she didn’t know which two he was going to choose, he hadn’t made up his mind, so I strained my ears to hear the beginning notes of the first number, and both he and Dustin began playing at the same time.

He sang Shine first, the music was perfect, he hit all the right chords, his fingers flying over the guitar strings, but something still wasn’t right. He kept his head tilted down, wouldn’t look up, out into the audience, and when he opened his mouth to sing, his voice, it trembled and shook.

The people around me didn’t seem to care. They still whooped and hollered, started dancing around to the music. I just stood still, I could feel my entire being stiffen in anxiety. I didn’t take my eyes off of him, tried to figure out what was wrong.

The shakiness to his voice didn’t fade, in fact the longer he sang, the more I could hear it, I could see him forcing his head up every now and then to look out into the masses of people, but his eyes would never meet anyone’s gaze, and he would quickly snap it back down again. There was no mistaking the fear, I could actually feel it radiating off of him, and by the time he was done with Shine I could feel myself on the edge of panic, something was very wrong.


The last line of Shine, it sounded so bad I thought for sure I was going to throw up. I fumbled through it like one of those drunken men in the audience, you couldn’t understand a word I was saying, fuck, I didn’t even know if I was singing the right words.

I already made up my mind I was going to walk off that stage the second Shine was done, no way in hell was I going to even attempt to sing She Ain’t Mine, no way I could get through it.

It didn’t even look like the audience noticed. I could be up there reciting the alphabet for all they seemed to care. I forced my eyes to glance down there, see if I could find a little kid to focus on, or a nice old couple or something, but all I would see was fire red finger painted nails, or beer cups waving crazily on outstretched hands.

My feet had a mind of their own, they kept inching their way to the right, knowing backstage was only a couple of feet away.

I kept glancing behind me at Brett who would give me an encouraging nod; or over at Dustin, who’s puzzling stare only caused me to fret more. I could see Cheryl standing near the end, shaking her head no at me, using both hands to wave me back into the center.

But nothing was going to make me go back to the middle, nothing was going to make me sing another song. I really thought I was done, for good.

I hesitated.

Just stood there in the spotlight for a couple of seconds, torn between acknowledging the roar of the audience or flying off the stage.

The noise quieted down as I just stood there, I could feel every set of eyes on me. They all seemed to be waiting, waiting for the music to start up again, to begin the chaos all over again.

I was looking down at my boots, there was scuff on my left boot, they needed a good polishing.

I forced my eyes to move upward, make eye contact with a few in the front row. I saw a couple of bright pink lips, some blonde hair, a white muscle shirt.

My throat tightened and my breathing grew shallow. There were thousands and thousands of faces down there, yet not one of them really knew me, really cared.

I turned my head to look away, my feet were ready to hightail it out of there when a pair of wide brown eyes caught my own. They were filled with concern, looking up at me. My eyes searched her face quickly, my body frozen in disbelief, there was no mistaking that soft brown hair, still stick straight, glistening under the lights, those beautiful features completely focused and tuned to me.

It stopped everything. The noise. The fear. Even my breathing stopped.

It threw me back in time, made me remember when I first saw her standing out there in the middle of a crowd watching me. I had to fight this uncontrollable urge to toss my guitar to the side and jump down from the stage to reach her.

One of the crew moved my mic from the center of the stage over to where I was standing, someone brought out a stool, placing it by my hip. I just kept watching those eyes, praying she was really out there, wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.

They were all waiting for me.

She was waiting for me.

Her expression never changed, she didn’t smile or frown, move her body in any way. She stayed completely still, wouldn’t look away, kept that spellbinding gaze on me, giving me a strength I never knew existed.

With a pounding heart, I found myself lowering down onto the stool, moved my guitar strap over my shoulder, got closer to my mic, all while keeping my eyes on her.

Looking into those eyes sent waves of emotion coursing through my veins, filled me with a want so badly that out of their own accord my fingers began a soft strum over my guitar.

There were so many things I didn’t get to say to her this morning, so many things I regretted not telling her, but I could do it now. I wanted to do it now.

My voice broke a little at first. I was still in shock from seeing her down there, but as the first few words of She Ain’t Mine tumbled out, I could see it in her eyes, something I missed seeing for so long, something I only ever saw from her.

I could tell she was listening, her lips parted and her eyes grew wider with every lyric. Her reaction made my voice stronger, filled it with more emotion. The words spilled out of me, it was everything I was feeling inside, everything I needed to say.

There was no mistaking the look in her eyes, the pride that made that beautiful face light up at my words. It’s what fueled me to keep going, made me realize how much I missed it, how much I needed that from her.

She didn’t tear her eyes away from my face, and I didn’t dare look away, didn’t even let myself blink for fear she would disappear. I didn’t want to lose what I was seeing, so I kept telling her through my song, through my voice, the hell I was living.

I told her all about the pain of loving her and knowing I couldn’t have her. I sang about the sweet sound of her laugh, the brown color of her eyes, the warmth of her palm when I held her hand.

But mostly I told her about the ache, the void that never went away. The hole I carried around in my heart.

And as my song continued, the noise of the crowd around me faded away. I could no longer hear the screams or cheers, or see the blur of drunken faces. All I could see was her, those beautiful eyes, the pride glowing all around her, delicate and luminous.

As long as I knew she was listening, I didn’t want to stop singing.


I heard that song a million times on the radio, but this was the first time I ever actually saw him sing it.

His entire being came to life singing that song.

I knew it was just wishful thinking but the second he lifted his head and looked out into the audience, I swore he was looking at me.

I knew that was impossible, he thought I was gone, back home by now. There was no way he could recognize me down here in this sea of cheering faces, no way I could stand out to him.

So knowing I was hidden, I could stand there and admire him all I wanted, study that handsome face, and look into those perfect green eyes. I didn’t have to hide my emotions from showing, and that was good because his words nearly tore me apart.

Grief and pride filled my entire soul as I watched him. My heart pounded with every line he sang. I felt every word, every sound, and all of it seemed like it was meant just for me.

I forgot I was standing in the middle of a crowd, for those brief moments I was wrapped up in his song, listened to him pour his heart out on that stage. Singing about loving a woman who could never be his.

His voice sounded so flawless now, filled with ache and longing, love and desire. I traveled the emotional journey with him as he sang, and even though I was overwhelmed with all those feelings, there was one feeling that never really left, one that I always carried around with me.

I was so proud of this man and everything he had accomplished. Proud of his generosity and kindness, his love for his bandmates and his children, of the man I knew he was inside and always would be.


As soon as the lights dimmed over the crowd and I couldn’t see her anymore, I pushed back on my guitar, not bothering to say goodbye to the audience and scrambled backstage in my hurry to find her, figure out why she stayed, why she was out there.

“Where is she?” My voice sounded harsher than normal but I couldn’t help it. The second I saw Cheryl; it was the first thing that came out of my mouth.

“What?” Cheryl wasn’t even looking at me, and my words caused her to jump back in surprise.

“Ara. Where is she?” I had these long complicated sentences racing through my head, but my words would only come out choppy and desperate.

“Ara?” Cheryl’s voice went high, “Ara must be back home by now.”

I narrowed my eyes at her, shaking my head. “She’s not home. I saw her, she was out there.” I half pointed behind me, indicating back towards the audience.

“Huh?” Cheryl frowned at me, “What are you talking about?”

I decided to ignore her, not sure if she was truly puzzled or trying to hide something, I just brushed past her, yanking my hat off my head and quickening my pace to my dressing room. If I could change quick enough, I could head down into that audience, find her myself.

“Jackson?” Cheryl hastily followed behind me, “What are you doing? What are you talking about?”

“Never mind. It’s nothing.” I tried to close my dressing room door on her, but she pushed back on it with one hand, shoving her foot in the doorway.

“It doesn’t matter then.” Her fingers tapped on the doorway as she talked, “I have to get you on the bus anyways, there’s no time for delays.”

“I’m not going anywhere, not yet. I have to do something first. I’ll find you back at the bus, give me an hour.” I didn’t bother to try and close the door again; I just walked backwards into my room, throwing out empty words to Cheryl, all while trying to find my ball cap and shades.

“An hour?” Cheryl looked up at me with alarm, moving away from the door, “There’s no way we can hang out here another hour without messing up our schedule.”

I didn’t answer her, she wasn’t going to win this one. “Take my hat and jacket back to the bus will you? If I miss our ride I’ll just fly down there, where are we going next?”

“That’s crazy. And you can’t fly, your pilot is already in New Mexico. I’m not going to make him fly all the way down here to pick you up because you missed your bus.”

I kept right on ignoring her, glancing quickly in the mirror before walking back out. My shades and cap would have to do the job tonight, no time to change anything else.

“Wait. Where are you going? You’re not going back out there are you?” Cheryl scurried out behind me, reaching for the back of my arm.

I spun around quickly, looking down at her, my patience wearing thin, “She’s out there Cheryl, I saw her, I have to find her.”

There was no denying the worry on Cheryl's face, she didn’t loosen her grip on my arm either, “You can’t go out there, it’s still obvious who you are, you’re wearing the same clothes you had on stage just five minutes ago, don’t go out there Jackson.”

I pulled away from her, leaving her behind, raising my hand as I walked away to let her know I heard her.

“Jackson!” She kept shouting, “Jackson wait! Don’t go out there, they’ll notice you.”

Her words were falling on deaf ears. I kept right on moving down the hallway.

“Wait Jackson, stop. I have Ara, Jackson! I know where Ara is.”

That’s what finally made me stop. Made me freeze in my tracks and turn around.

“I didn’t think you would see her down there, she’s with me.” Cheryl took a couple of steps, her voice filled with defeat.

“Where is she?” My voice went low, impatience flowing through my entire body.

“She doesn’t want to talk to you. I promised her she wouldn’t have to see you, that she could just hide in the audience, that’s the only way she would stay.” Cheryl shook her head at me, her eyes begging me to understand.

“Dammit Cheryl! Where is she!” I couldn’t stop the words from escaping. I heard everything Cheryl was saying, I understood every word about Ara not wanting to talk to me, but none of it mattered. Something inside of me was telling me that if I could find her, just talk to her, it would make a difference.

“She’s not out there anymore, she left through the side exit. She’s over by my trailer.” Cheryl threw her hands in the air in defeat, “But I promised her Jackson, are you sure you want to do this? I was hoping I could convince her to come to New Mexico with us. I know she has free time right now.”

But my fucking brain wouldn’t take that into consideration. I needed to see her, and I needed to see her now.


I was having the hardest time getting my emotions back in check. In fact when Jackson flew off the stage, I found myself leaving through the side exit just as quickly, somehow hoping we would bump into each other somewhere backstage.

But of course that didn’t happen. I lingered by Cheryl’s trailer for a few minutes, trying to calm myself down, trying to talk myself into believing that everything Jackson sang out there on stage was not for me, he didn’t even know I was listening.

The sun had already escaped behind the hills so everything was pretty dark. I leaned against the backside of the trailer letting the stillness fall over me. I wondered what Jackson was doing right now? Probably sitting in his dressing room enjoying something cold to drink with Dustin and Brett.

The images in my mind started to make me doubt that I should be out here, be here period, so when heard the scurrying of feet and low voices, it startled me.

I took a few seconds to focus in the darkness. My breath hitched when I realized it was Jackson heading my way with Cheryl at his heels. They seemed to be arguing with one another, Cheryl had her hands in the air and there was a growl like quality to Jackson’s voice.

I quickly ducked behind the opposite side of the trailer, my back pressed up against the side wall, I tried to hold my breath so he wouldn’t find me.

I could hear heavy footsteps as they entered the trailer, the door slamming behind them.

There was silence for a few seconds but then the commotion started all over again.

“Are you sure she knew this was where to find you?” Jackson sounded upset, and worried.

“Yes, she knew, I even showed it to her. I don’t know why she isn’t here yet.” There was a panicky tone to Cheryl’s voice, and slight relief.

“She probably got lost in the audience, it was a mob out there. It should be clearing out by now though.”

“Let’s just wait here Jackson. That crowd is drunk and out of control. Don’t go out there Jackson, just wait with me here.”

I frowned to myself listening quietly. It completely sounded like Jackson was going to head out into the audience by himself, to find me?

“That’s exactly why we need to find her. I can’t believe you left her alone out there with those people.” Jackson’s voice was fading. He must be walking away from Cheryl.

“Come back, come on, let me at least call our security guys so they can spot check you, Jackson? Jackson?” There was a long silence and then a curt, “Fuck.”

I moved slowly around the trailer, peeking out at first to see if anyone was still out there. I could see Cheryl standing by herself looking completely exasperated.

“Cheryl.” I whispered, moving around the trailer and into her view.

“Oh my god! Ara! I’m so glad you’re okay. Where were you? Were you hiding?” The worry didn’t leave Cheryl’s eyes, she looked glad to see me, but there was still something else lingering.

“I was. I’m sorry. I panicked when I heard Jackson. I wasn’t sure what to do.” I gave her an apologetic look hoping she wouldn’t be angry with me.

“I don’t blame you, he can be so stubborn and persistent sometimes.” She gave me a quick hug before releasing me and saying, “Now he’s going to get mobbed. He wouldn’t listen to me. This is his worst nightmare come true.”

I turned to Cheryl uncertainly, “He’s going out there?” She just nodded and I could feel my heart start hammering at the thought. “Why is he going out there Cheryl?”

“To find you.”

I already guessed it, her words flew recklessly through my brain and heart, and I instantly turned around on my heel and headed for the crowd. I wouldn’t let this happen to him, not because of me.

“Ara wait! Ugh! Not you too!” Cheryl was somewhere behind me, I could tell she was following me.

There were still lights blazing brightly all around the fairgrounds and the flood of people drinking and laughing was still going strong. I kept looking around me, trying to find him, trying to get to him before they could.

But there were just hordes of people everywhere, groups of them standing around, their beers spilling as they danced and flirted with one another. I kept looking for a sign, something that would stand out in that crowd to let me know where he might be.

I pushed my way through a circle of scantly clad older women, who called me a few names that should never pass a lady’s lips. I just ignored them and kept moving, my eyes trying to scan over the heads of people taller than me.

The squealing is what caught my attention first. My head whipped around to see where it was coming from. I couldn’t make out anything, there was just this mass of people all huddled tightly together, some trying to push their way into each other. It looked like chaos or some kind of fight, a few of the people passing by moved away, trying to avoid it.

But my gut told me I better check, and as soon as my eyes saw that familiar baseball cap, nothing could keep from getting to him.

He was immobile, no room to move. They surrounded him like vultures, grabbing at his arms, at his waist. They all had their phones and cameras out, trying to take pictures, screaming at him to notice them. Some of the girls were trying to touch his face, and when I finally focused on him, I could see the tension in his eyes and the apprehension that held his body stiff.

I literally had to push one girl to the side and use my shoulder to shove another out of the way as I fought my way to the center. There was a lot of protest against my movements but it didn’t burden me nor thwart me from forcing my way to Jackson.

His eyes were wide open; his jaw clenched tight, his hands were up near his chest as he tried to keep the girls at an arms length. It wasn’t working though; some of them were hugging him, their arms wrapped tightly around his arms and shoulders, they wouldn’t let go.

I wasn’t sure what to do, how to make it stop. I just kept pushing my way through until I was standing right up next to him.

He wouldn’t look at me, wouldn’t look at anybody really. Just kept shifting those green eyes from here to there, avoiding making eye contact with anyone.

“Hi Cowboy!” I tried to use my brightest, friendliest voice to attract his attention, “Hey Jackson!”

His head turned sharply at my words and his eyes locked to mine. His lips parted but he didn’t say anything, he just stood there, his eyes watching me with nothing but fear in them.

I slid my arm through his; still smiling brilliantly at him, giving him a slight squeeze to let him know it would be okay.

By now the crowd was beginning to realize who I was, they were recognizing Jackson Stone’s video girl. Some of the cameras began aiming at me. A few girls were asking for my autograph.

I used every ounce of energy and courage I had to entertain the crowd, to get them to shift their focus away from Jackson.

I smiled and laughed, chatted with a few of them. Let a couple of them take their picture with me, all while holding onto Jackson’s arm, not letting him go.

Whenever someone got to close to him I would step forward, placing my body slightly in their way, tried to distract them with a smile or a compliment.

And it worked. Kept the crowd at bay. Some offered me their beers, some wanted to talk about my clothes, others just kept repeating over and over how cool this was.

Cheryl found us just as I was signing the fifth napkin of the night. She brought the security officers who quickly broke up the huddle and formed a barrier for us to walk back out of the grounds.

Cheryl led us to Jackson’s bus, she hurriedly ushered both of us inside, telling us she was locking us in until it was safe to leave. I moved around Jackson, my hand still resting on his arm, and guided him over to one of the three sofas that seemed only to take up a tiny portion of the huge lounging area.

Jackson still hadn’t said a word; he sunk down into the sofa, lowering his head into his hands, covering his face.

“You’re okay now.” I sat down next to him, gently touching his arm. Right now it didn’t matter that I wasn’t supposed to be here, or that he had caused me so much pain, all that mattered was making sure he was okay, that nothing bad happened to him.

He finally made a sound, a short grunting sound that made his shoulders jerk as he did it.

“You’re on your bus, you’re safe.” I kept trying to reassure him, moving my hand up around his shoulder and across his back, rubbing softly to soothe him. I could feel him take a few shuddering breaths, his head still in his hands.

“They weren’t going to stop.” he mumbled, his voice sound distorted as it escaped through his fingers.

“They were just excited to see you, that’s all.” I spoke in a hushed tone, still rubbing his shoulders lightly.

“They were loud, they were drunk.” his voice got a little stronger now, and I was glad to hear it.

“But they were happy. Happy to be able to meet you in person.” My explanation seemed to fall short, made me move my hand away from him.

“They don’t know me. They don’t know anything about me.” He finally looked up sharply into my eyes, his words harsh.

I just watched him, wishing I knew how to take his struggle away, "They know you through your music, through your lyrics. That's more than enough."

He studied me quietly for a minute, his eyes closing for a brief second and when he opened them the hardness had left his eyes, “Thank you, Miss Ara, for rescuing me,” his voice lowered with a sigh, “You didn’t have to do that.”

I gave him brief smile, “It’s okay. You’re welcome.” My nervousness was returning, he was looking at me in that all too familiar way.

“Cheryl told me not to go out there. I didn’t listen to her.” He wouldn’t take his eyes off mine, he sat up straighter, his hands clasped together in his lap.

“Cheryl is usually right. You should listen to her more.” I tried to smile a little brighter at him, tried not to get lost in those eyes again. The color was returning to his face and he actually gave out a brief chuckle at my words.

“I should listen to her more.” He agreed, his eyes crinkling, he leaned just a little bit closer to me, “Because when I don’t, it just gets me into trouble.”

“Well I’m just glad I found you. Glad I could help.” I was acutely aware of his closeness and the faster pace of my breathing.

“I thought you went home.” his head tilted to the side waiting for me to answer him.

“I was going to, go home I mean, but Cheryl came to talk to me. She convinced me to stay, promised me…” I quickly stopped before the next words slipped out.

“Promised you what?” I don’t think he was looking in my eyes anymore, his gaze seemed to be focused on my lips, he seemed fascinated by them.

“Um…well nothing really, just promised me that we could hang out together, you know, girl time.” I was stuttering, he was way to close now, and for sure he was looking at my mouth.

“That’s all?” I could feel his warm breath tease me, “She didn’t promise you anything else?” His hand left his lap and slid up the smooth microfiber of the sofa, stopping right next to mine.

I could only half shake my head; my mind was sinking into him, my heart swimming at his nearness. I knew if I wanted to stay in control I better find Cheryl, and get off this bus. “Speaking of Cheryl,” my words came out all choppy and high pitched, “I better go find her. I mean, I need to find her.”

Before Jackson could even blink, I stood up, holding onto the back of the sofa so my knees wouldn’t give me away, “She’s probably at her trailer.” I tried to smile but I’m sure I failed miserably.

It was at that second that everything went bizarre. Jackson rose from his seat looking at me with confusion and alarm, he opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, the bus we were on gave out this steaming, hissing noise, then lurched forward sharply, throwing me directly into Jackson’s arms.

We both fell backwards, back onto the sofa. I landed on top him with a startled gasp and both his arms instantly wrapped themselves around my waist, clutching me to him.

“What the…” his words were cut off by another lurch and the phone hanging up near the white panel began ringing incessantly.

He sat us both up, keeping me from falling over again with his strong arms, trying to reach behind him for the phone. I reached out and gripped the armrest of the soft, I never been on his bus before, but it sure felt like it was going extremely fast.

“What the hell is going on?” Jackson barked into the phone. He cocked his head to the side as he listened, his eyes only briefly meeting mine before shifting upward over my head. “Are you sure?” He asked, but his voice had changed, the outrage was gone, “How long?” and his accent was back, thicker and stronger than ever.

When he hung up he didn’t say anything. Just placed the phone back on the wall and sat there quietly. You could hear the wheels rolling along the pavement, quick and steady, we were moving at an unwavering pace.

“What…what happened? Who was that?” I didn’t lessen my grip on the armrest; in fact it only grew tighter at his next words.

“That was Cheryl, the driver had to make an unexpected exit. It looks like we’re stuck here.” He still hadn’t looked me in the eyes; he paused, and then finally turned his head to me, “Until we reach New Mexico…”

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