Trouble in Tennessee
For Jen, with five years’ worth of gratitude. Thank you for everything you’ve taught me, for laughing at my jokes, for helping me find the right home for this story and for your uncanny ability to always pick the perfect restaurant.
“Please?” The word was simple and dignified. As if it hadn’t been preceded by twenty minutes of cajoling.
Even though they were on the phone, Treble James could picture the earnest expression in her half sister’s big blue eyes. “Charity, you know I’ll make time to visit after the baby is born, but—”
“How would I know that? You’ve been back home to Joyous all of, let me think, once in the past decade.”
Maybe that was because Joyous, Tennessee, had never quite lived up to its name for Treble. Stifling, Tennessee. That would have been appropriate.
“I was there for your wedding,” Treble pointed out, keeping a wary eye on the digital clock atop her bedroom nightstand. “You don’t think I’d make the trip for you again?”
“Then make it now,” her sister begged. It was unlike Charity to request favors, particularly those that inconvenienced other people. “I’m scared. The books say placenta previa isn’t all that uncommon, and my OB says mine isn’t a severe case and that panicking is no good for me or the baby…but I’m a first-time mommy. Having my big sister here would make me feel better. Besides, being on bed rest is driving me nuts! Come tell me dirty jokes or something, keep me from killing my poor husband.”
Charity doing harm to any living creature was laughable, but to Bill Sumner? They’d been smitten with each other since high school, as evidenced by their marrying shortly after Charity’s graduation. It blew Treble’s mind that her sister, at twenty-two, was expecting a child and had already been married four years. She hadn’t even been old enough to drink champagne at her own wedding! Treble had taken it upon herself to imbibe enough for both of them.
It had been the best way to cope with being in Joyous two weeks after a bad breakup with the boyfriend who was supposed to have been her date. Twenty-nine-year-old Treble’s relationship record—in contrast to Bill and Charity’s seven years together—was about six months.
“Charity, I don’t want to cut you off, but I need to leave for work, so—”
“You know what being pregnant makes you think about? Motherhood. I’m about to have my own little girl, and I wish Mom…Even though you’ve never been pregnant, you’re my closest female relative. It would mean the world to me if you were here right now. Mom would have wanted that, her two girls together.”
Treble did a double take, actually staring at the receiver. “I thought you were the good sister. Since when do you use emotional blackmail?”
“Is it working?”
Yes. “I really do have to leave for the station.” Charity’s soft-spoken barb had found its mark, though. Despite Treble’s cynical shell, she retained weak spots for her late mother and younger sister.
“All right.” Charity sighed. “I’m sorry to dump this on you. I know you have a career, a life in Georgia beyond all of us, but I miss you, Treb. And I love you.”
“Love you, too, brat.” The epithet had become a term of endearment over the years, but this evening it seemed particularly applicable. Didn’t her sister know what she was asking? To go to Tennessee early and just wait around for Charity’s due date in July…
Few citizens of Joyous would welcome Treble with open arms. More like the sign of the cross. She’d been a somewhat, ah, spirited youth, and folks in small towns had long memories.
Treble hung up, catching sight of herself in the oval mirror on the wall. “Don’t give me that look,” she chastised her reflection. “You don’t want to go back any more than I do.”
Talking to herself? Never a good sign. But Treble, a weeknight DJ for an Atlanta pop station, was used to addressing an audience. An audience she’d be late for if she didn’t get moving.
Although she would be in-studio tonight and not doing a remote broadcast at one of the clubs she occasionally visited, she stopped long enough to run a brush through the dark ringlets that spilled past her shoulder blades and to apply her favorite dark red lip gloss. Even if her listeners couldn’t see her, it helped her get into character for “Trouble J,” one of the most popular noncommuting show hosts in the city. While the best airtime was in the mornings and afternoons, when most of the working crowd was stuck in gridlock on I-75, I-85 or the 285 loop around Atlanta, Treble held damn good ratings for her period and liked the late hours that allowed her to sleep in on weekdays and leave her weekend free for a social life. Not, she reflected as she headed toward the parking garage, that she’d had much of one lately.
The last guy to ask her out had been a producer on one of the station’s other shows, and she wasn’t interested in merging her professional life with her personal life. The producer aside, she’d been subtly discouraging men for several months. She had been busy booking extra personal appearances for her off-hours, making the most of her minor celebrity status. The additional funds deposited into her savings account were the start of a down payment. Maybe it was the almost-thirty part of her, but when spring had bloomed, she’d actually been sorry she didn’t have a real house to subject to seasonal cleaning, and a yard to enjoy instead of a railed-in concrete balcony.
It was time she found a home of her own—a paradoxically domestic wish for a woman who would be on the air from seven-thirty to midnight playing rock songs interspersed with risqué commentary. Well, risqué within proper FCC guidelines, of course. No matter how grown up she was or where she moved, there was always someone who’d disapprove of her.
And in Joyous, Tennessee? Possibly hundreds of someones.
So what? Outside of ratings, she never cared what strangers thought. Witness “Trusty,” the eyesore of a car parked among other residents’ vehicles. If cars were status symbols, what did the hatchback say about her? That you take risks. It had been used when she purchased it during college, and couldn’t possibly have much life left in it. Still, now that it was paid off, she wanted to get her financing approved for a house before taking on new monthly bills.
But her rebellious attitude and antistatus-symbol car aside, opinions in Joyous would carry more weight than most. Maybe she was sensitive because some of the criticism from the town’s citizens would be deserved. After all, she had been something of a hellion, sneaking out to meet Rich Danner her sophomore year, trying to use a fake ID to get into Duke’s bar and “borrowing” her stepfather’s car to attend a rock concert two counties over after Harrison had refused to let her go with friends. The fall of her junior year, there had also been that period of indiscriminate and outrageous flirting. Everyone