The Bountiful Garden

Jamison’s alarm clock had been squawking intermittently for a good fifteen minutes before he could rouse himself enough to reach across the bed and turn it off with a grumble. God he felt like shit. He’d spent Sunday with his buddies down at the bar watching the football game and the post game festivities – too many bloodies with beer chasers – were taking their toll on him this morning. Oh well, he thought, this too will pass. Nothing a hot shower and strong cup of coffee couldn’t cure. He looked at the clock – 7:15 – he’d have to put a move on it. He had a 9 am, conference call with 16 hungry sales managers to lead. With sales down, he had a few asses to chew and some hefty sales quotas to impose and his boss was going to be expecting him to be on his game.

Pulling his gym shorts on, he made his way through the living room of his high-rise condo and drew the blinds to reveal a gorgeous view of the city skyline. It was overcast – typical for late November in Nashville and the sun was bleeding through in pinks and purples. Probably not cold enough to snow but it wasn’t likely to warm up much either; the weather, he thought sort of matched his mood.

At 46, Jamison Lucas was on the right side of the fast track to success. Even with sales down, his year-end bonus should put him over $150,000 in earnings. And, his 401K was solid even if his marriage had unraveled three years earlier. He made his child support payments on time, had a small mortgage on his condo and his car was leased but he had a decent nest egg going and could afford impromptu weekend getaways now and then. He wasn’t drop dead gorgeous but still good looking enough to get dates pretty much anytime he wanted one. His relationship with Lily, his 14-year old daughter was mostly good when he was able to catch up with her. As a busy teenager, their every-other-weekend and every Tuesday/Wednesday schedule wasn’t something they could count on these days but his relationship with her mother, Jen, was definitely getting easier – especially since she’d recently remarried. He was glad that Jen had found someone special. He liked Jeff, her new husband. He could see that they were much better suited for each other and, he was pleased that he was so accepting of Lily.

Jen and Jamison had married young, when they were both just 22. At the time, they believed they were in love, and they probably were, but a good marriage counselor might have predicted that it wasn’t going to be a good or lasting fit. In the end, it seemed the traits that had drawn them to each other – her shyness and quiet demeanor, attention to detail and love of “making a home” and his type-A personality, easy way of being able to socialize – he actually enjoyed meeting new people — and his love of the outdoors — were precisely what they came to dislike most about each other. The fact that there wasn’t an ugly affair helped to keep things peaceful but he’d never forget her telling the counselor how it pissed her off when he breathed. “If he’d just quit breathing,” she had said, “she’d be fine.” Aw well, he thought, everything’s worked out in the end and it’s all good.

Pushed for time, he rushed through his shower, grabbed a freshly pressed white shirt and tie and threw on his favorite Monday morning suit; leaving just enough time to drop by the coffee shop on his way to the office. He was glad to see Maggie, her unruly curls wrapped in a bandana and eyes smiling brightly, was working the morning shift – there was something about Maggie that always set his mood right.

“Morning Mags,” he said, flashing a smile, “You’re looking beautiful as ever this morning. How was your weekend? How’d the show go?”

“Thank ya darlin’, the show was amazing,” she replied with extra emphasis on ‘amazing’, Wish you could have made it. There weren’t a ton of people there but after the show we all stayed and jammed a bit – it was cool.”

Like so many waitresses, waiters, bartenders, cooks and clerks in and around Nashville, Maggie worked her day job so that she could pursue her dream of being a singer/songwriter. At 38, she knew that she had probably passed the time when she would “make it big” as a singer but that didn’t seem to squelch her desire to make music. She wrote music for a small music publishing company – even had a couple of songs “on hold” with Martina — played every chance she got at smaller coffee shops, restaurants and bars around town and did what she had to do to make ends meet in between. Maggie didn’t own much; her car wasn’t exactly reliable but she was able to support herself and had all she really needed. And, she often told Jamison, being able to make music was worth the sacrifice.

Jamie understood the music part but not the sacrifice. He had moved to Nashville fresh out of college for the same reason as Maggie – the music – his parents, especially his Dad thought he was foolish and told him so often, “Trust me son, you don’t want to live the life of a starving artist – and most artists are starving.”

Most of the time Jamison argued the point, believing that there was a way to make music his life, but when Jen got pregnant with Lily and with his father’s words resonating in his ear, his dream of being a professional musician was soon forgotten. Within months of Lily’s birth he took a job in medical equipment sales that he knew could support his family.

At first, he had tried to continue playing gigs, but his job and the new baby required a lot of time and focus and it wasn’t long before he quit playing altogether. Now, more than a decade later, he still enjoyed catching live music now and then but he was so out of practice that he had to have several beers in him before he’d pick a guitar in public.

“Here’s your latte, Jamie,” Maggie said, stepping into his daydream with a tall coffee to go. “There’s a few of us getting together to jam – 7ish this Wednesday at Gardener’s in Franklin if the spirit moves you,” she said, “You should join us.”

“Cool,” said Jamie, “I’ll try to make it,” but they both knew the chances of him being there were slim to none. Seventeen minutes later; a quick commute down I-65 and Jamison was at his office and sorting through a mountain of emails – worlds removed from music, Maggie and Wednesday’s jam session.

***

Monday sailed by and the conference call was soon behind him, by afternoon Jamison was making his way through a long list of client calls, following up on last week’s proposals, scheduling meetings and working with his A team on Wednesday’s presentation to secure a multimillion dollar contract with, Standsell Heath Services, his company’s largest client.

He was immersed in reading through a 35-page competitive market analysis when Darrel, his immediate boss stopped by. “Hey, James,” he said, “how’s the presentation going?”

“Good,” Jamison said, “I’m feeling pretty confident – spoke with our contact, Sue, at Standsell this morning and she said we’re pretty much a shoe-in for renewal.”

Darrel slid into the cushy chair opposite Jamison’s and stared out at the dreary sky, “Perfect,” he said. “I don’t need to tell you how important this contract is but I just got word on year-end profit/loss projections and it’s worse than we thought – not getting this contract could cost both of us our jobs buddy. Pull out all stops – do whatever you need to do to make certain this one comes in solid,” he said.

The two sat in silence for a minute when Darrel lowered his voice and said, “I gotta admit, Jamie, this year’s about got me down. I’ve got 10 years on you, Julie’s heading to college and Steven’s right behind her – I can’t afford for this to crumble now. Keep up the full court press and let me know if you need me to do anything. I’ll look forward to seeing the final package on my desk by Wednesday morning,” he said slapping his hand tiredly on Jamison’s desk for emphasis and heading out the door. “Hopefully we’ll be celebrating with a few shots by Friday afternoon.”

“Yeah,” thought Jamie to himself, “from your lips to God’s ears.”

***

By Tuesday morning the entire office was scrambling to get the Standsell pitch finalized. The tension was palpable and worry seemed to be on everyone’s face. Jamie called his team into the conference room for a working lunch. Chicken salad sandwiches and lots of coffee, caffeine-infused energy drinks and water flowed as Jamison reviewed the final power point presentation for the group.

There was the day when Jamie remembered getting excited with pitches and presentations – like getting ready for a big game. But something had changed. The pressure maybe; the desperate state of their business; it didn’t feel much like a game any longer, he thought. Everyone seemed on edge and tempers were short – especially his.

“Hey Diane,” he said to one of his lead sales reps, “were you able to get those figures from last year that we needed?”

“I’m still waiting on them to come up from accounting,” she said. “They promised I’d have them by 2 pm. today.”

“OK,” Jamison said, “but make certain you have them at two o’clock – no later — we can’t be messing around with this shit. Darrel wants the final proposal on his desk by first thing tomorrow morning which means we have to have everything wrapped up by end of day today. All y’all better plan on putting in a late night tonight,” he said affecting a southern drawl. “No one leaves until it’s wrapped up with a pretty bow on top.”

As the meeting broke up, Jamison remembered that tonight was his night with Lily. “Shit,” he said under his breath and dialed her cell phone.

“Hey Popi,” she answered breaking into her usual breathless cadence, “What’s happening? We still on for Sushi tonight? Please don’t tell me you’re gonna cancel. You promised,” she whined. “And I really need for you to take me to get that coat I found. I’d rather go without than have to wear last year’s jacket even one more day.”

“Ahh Lil, I’m so sorry,” he said, imagining the disappointment on her face. “We’re finishing up a major proposal and it doesn’t look like I’ll get out of here until after 9 tonight. This isn’t a choice, baby, it’s a command performance – our ski trip to Winter Park is resting on this win sweetie. Listen, I’ll make it up to you. Let me get through this presentation. We’ll do sushi at 6 on Thursday. We can stop by the mall for your coat after we eat — I’ll even throw in a new pair of jeans, just to make it up to you,” he promised.

There was silence for a moment before she replied, “Sure Popi,” in a way that let him know she had half expected him to cancel. “That’ll work. I’ll see you Thursday then. Good luck on your presentation. Love you too,” she said quickly before hanging up – before giving him a chance to say it first or even reply.

***

As he expected, Jamison and his team worked well into the night to wrap up the Standsell presentation. It was 11 pm. before he found his way home and into his bed for a fitful night of sleep. Waking to his alarm sounding at 6 am, Jamie wasted no time getting ready.

With Thanksgiving just a week away, the Standsell deal was the last and largest of many contracts he’d had to close before the end of the year. It had been a rough couple of months and he made mental note of how relieved he’d be to have this finished. He could feel the game day tension rising inside him. “Shit,” he thought silently, “where’s my confidence? When did this stop being fun?”

He made quick detour to his favorite coffee shop for a latte and thought again how pleased he was to see Maggie there. Though he’d never even considered asking her out – with her artsy, Bohemian style, she’d be like a fish out of water in his corporate world – he usually tried to make an appearance when she performed and he sometimes wondered whether the coffee stop was part of his morning routine because of Maggie more than the coffee. She must have noticed the worry on his face because she didn’t waste time with small talk. “Man, Jamison, you look rough. Bad night?” she asked.

“Thanks for the compliment Mags,” he said. “We pulled a late-nighter getting ready for a big presentation. I think I worried more than I slept. Jesus,” he laughed, “I’m sounding like a rookie, like I haven’t done hundreds of these before. Make that coffee extra strong, Maggie,” he said, I think I’m getting too old for this.”

He paid for his coffee and as he was leaving Maggie said, “Good luck on your presentation and don’t forget Gardener’s tonight – 7 o’clock – I promise, you’ll have a good time. Just stop by even if it’s just for a bit.”

He assured her once again that he would and headed down the interstate to his office, already in an uproar.

***

When Jamie arrived at his office, Darrel and many of his team were already huddled around the conference room table. The looks on their faces weren’t good. “Thank God you’re here,” said Darrel, as he took his place beside him. “Those numbers that Diane got you were incomplete,” he said.

From the corner of his eye, Jamie could see Diane’s head drop slightly and she shifted her weight nervously.

“The proposal won’t work as it is,” Darrel continued. We’ve got a call into a couple of suppliers to see if we can shave a little off the deal but we’re going to go down to the wire with this.”

The room fell silent as they waited for Jamison, notoriously even-tempered, to take it all in. When he spoke, his voice was one of controlled anger, “Damn it Diane,” he said. “This is bullshit. This is exactly why we needed those numbers in earlier. I had faith in you — you better hope this doesn’t cost us the deal.”

Diane stood in silence until Jamison turned and retreated to his office and then she slumped into the chair behind her. Everyone in the room knew Jamie well enough to know that he was more pissed at himself than he was at her. She was still sitting there when Jamison returned a few minutes later, both of them looking beaten down – anything but ready for a winning presentation.

Jamison didn’t like surprises and this was one of the worst he could have received but he wasn’t going to let it get them down. Jamison had always been well liked by his co-workers but lately he been acting like an ass – most of the time he didn’t even like himself. It was time to rise to the occasion and be a leader. It was time for a Hail Mary. He took a deep breath before speaking.

“Look guys,” we’ve got to pull ourselves together. This isn’t just about being the cheapest and we need to remember that. Diane, get on the phone and make certain we get those numbers sooner rather than later. The rest of you, let’s focus on making certain that your parts are seamless. Remember, we’ve got history with the client on our side. He quickly fell into his familiar role of coach – rallying his team. They had just four hours before lunch and their meeting. Something deep in his stomach was telling him he was finished but he knew it was up to him to make certain they were ready to go and he wasn’t going to let them down.

Spurred on by his renewed burst of enthusiasm and leadership, his team rallied, arriving at Standsell’s downtown Nashville office ten minutes ahead of time. And, it wasn’t until after 5 pm when they emerged en masse – a positive sign to the imminent success of their presentation – and they were ready to celebrate. Though the contracts wouldn’t be signed and, in fact, they wouldn’t get official confirmation until after the Thanksgiving holiday, the clients assured them that theirs was the best proposal they’d seen and they were confident that the two companies would be partnering again in the coming year.

“Come on y’all,” said Darrel, “let’s stop by for a drink to celebrate – it’s on me.” The Standsell offices were just down the street from Nashville’s famous Wildhorse Saloon and with happy hour picking up steam, the after work crowd was starting to mingle with the tourists – enjoying the vibe that was unique to this famous music city.

With the presentation and the pressure behind them, Jamison’s team was easing back into their familiar, relaxed, friendly manner. Telling jokes, rehashing positive and negative moments in the presentation; their spirits were high. By 7 pm., with two drinks each under their belts, one-by-one they began to disperse. Last to leave, Jamison waited for Darrel to pay the bill and the pair walked to the front of the bar, squeezing past the now crowded entry way. Nashville at night was just getting started and within two hours it would be mayhem. A rock-a-billy band was starting their set on stage and the music reminded Jamison of his promise to Maggie.

“Want to have just one more at Rippy’s?” suggested Darrel. “I think Townsend and O’Donnell are playing there tonight and I wouldn’t mind catching a song or two plus, we could grab a bar-b-cue sandwich.”

“Nah,” said Jamie, Thanks but I promised a friend I’d drop by her show down in Franklin. I better leave it at two if I’m going to make that drive even in this light snow.”

“OK,” said Darrel, “You and your team did a terrific job pulling this together. You deserve a celebration – enjoy yourself and I’ll see you tomorrow. Come in a little late if you like.”

They parted ways with the slightest wisps of snow coming down in the crisp night air; Darrel making his way home to his wife and kids; Jamison heading to Gardener’s Pickin’ Parlor in the quaint little town of Franklin down I-65.

***

As one who have lived in Nashville for more than a decade, Jamie was familiar with prosperous Williamson County, Franklin, and neighboring Leipers Fork, as home to celebrities the likes of Nicole and Keith, Sheryl, Faith, Tim and Wynnona, just to name a few. It was, he knew, a desirable address for celebrities because they could mostly enjoy anonymity and even get lost in dusty little establishments like Gardener’s.

He’d been to Gardener’s on a handful of occasions; usually to attend one of Maggie’s gigs. He always felt immediately comfortable there as a place best suited for blue jeans and flip flops or cowboy boots. Though he didn’t know him well, Jamie had been introduced to the owner and founder, Miles Gardener, a singer/songwriter from rural Illinois who had migrated to Nashville, nearly three decades earlier, to follow his dream of being a professional musician. Gardener was, from Jamie’s perspective, a character of the first degree, with wispy gray hair and a, usually unlit, cigar clinched between his teeth.

Jamie had heard that Gardner had written more than 2,000 songs and that he had had several published, but he, like most other musicians, knew Gardner best for his position as bartender at the legendary Brown’s Diner in Nashville. Like many of his fellow musicians, Jamie had spent some time in Brown’s especially in the earlier years when he was trying to get his foot in the music business. Brown’s had and still has a reputation as a popular hideaway where musicians, returning from tour, could mingle with friends without being bothered by well meaning fans but curiously, since his career change, Jamie had hardly stepped foot in the place.

Just three years earlier, Miles opened the doors to Gardener’s Café in Franklin’s antique district just past the intersection of Third and Margin. Still bartending at Brown’s several nights each week, Miles quickly earned Gardener’s a local following and the reputation for being “the place” for anyone who plays, sings, writes or simply enjoys listening to live music of every genre.

Jamie liked the vibe at Gardener’s with its cozy dining room that showcases live music five nights a week, and a tiny bar with an attached front porch with chairs and tables that, more often than not – particularly since the indoor smoking ban – was the place of choice for pickers to gather and take turns sharing their songs.

Jamie was also drawn to the open invitation that the guitars, hanging from Gardener’s walls seemed to send, beckoning anyone willing, to grab a guitar and play. Jamie had been there on more than one occasion when regulars would congregate with guitars, banjos, mandolins, even keyboards and a case of harmonicas in tow. He was pleased that Maggie and her friends had been able to book the gig and he found himself looking forward to seeing Maggie and hearing her sweet voice again.

Jamison approached the front door and, stepping onto the porch, was greeting by several of the regulars, bundled up in winter coats and seated at the outdoor tables – Gardener’s smoking section. “Hey,” they said in turn, “How ‘ya doin?” But their conversation didn’t miss a beat and Jamison didn’t either as he returned their greetings and followed the sweet, familiar sounds of Maggie’s voice into the dining room.

Maggie spotted Jamison almost immediately. Fewer than 20 people had braved the cold to catch her show and the ambiance was one of an easy gathering of friends. “Hey, Jamison,” Maggie called out upon finishing her song. “Welcome to Gardener’s.”

Jamison nodded with a smile and took his seat at the back of the room. The three on stage talked for a moment and then Maggie started in on an original bluegrass tune, ripe with harmony – one-by-one they joined in the chorus. Jamison ordered a Guinness and relaxed into his chair. Closing his eyes, he listened intently to the performance and was struck by the contrast of the pre-presentation tension he’d felt earlier in the day and the feeling of complete peace that he was enjoying at present. “Wow. It was good to be back in the midst of the music,” he thought.

Thirty minutes and several songs later, Maggie closed out her set and invited Jamison to join her for a smoke. As they made their way onto the front porch, they were pleasantly surprised to see that the snowfall had picked up and was coming down in great wet flakes – a winter wonderland – and an unusual occurrence this early in the winter season in middle Tennessee.

Protected from the snowfall by the tiny porch awning and warmed by the presence of a kerosene heat lamp, one of the regulars had a guitar in hand and was picking his way through a lick of a song he’d recently written. Miles Gardener, joining the group, allowed himself to be badgered by one of the regulars to play one of his own original tunes. Before long they were passing the guitar around and soon Jamison had it in hand.

“It seems like a hundred years since I’ve played,” he said. “I’m not certain I can even remember how.” But within minutes he was picking out a tune that sounded a bit like an old time gospel song. “This is one I wrote when I first came to town;” said Jamison, “back when I still thought I could make it in music.”

“Hell,” laughed Gardener, “we’re all still trying to make it in music – it’s kind of like trying to get pregnant; trying is the fun part.”

Jamison smiled, thinking again how easy this Gardener character was to like, and continued, “Whenever anyone experienced tough times, my grandmother had a saying, ‘the birds always sing after the rain.’ It was her way of telling us to look for the silver lining when anything happened that we thought was bad. Grandma was an amazing woman who had suffered some real losses. She’d lost her farm, been homeless for a time and eventually buried two of her children and yet, she always seemed to make the best of them – you know the lemonade from lemons thing. Anyway, I wrote this for her funeral when she died nearly 10 years ago. It went something like this,” Jamison fumbled through the chords for several minutes, trying unsuccessfully to remember the words before giving the guitar up and passing it along to an accomplished guitar player named Matt.

“That was cool,” Matt said, “I really dig that part that goes. . .” and he finished the lick with a variation of what Jamison had started. Jamison joined in with some of the words he’d written while others filled in the blanks when he couldn’t come up with what was missing. Several hours later, the roads covered in a thin blanket of white snow and many songs, stories and laughs between them, Jamison rose to leave. He’d switched to coffee earlier in the evening but his face was flush with excitement. He said his good-byes and gave Maggie a hug saying, “Thanks so much Maggie. I don’t remember when I have felt so much pure joy – I’d forgotten how much I missed making and having music in my life.”

With the fall of the snow on the ground, Jamison decided to avoid the interstate and chose to follow Hwy 31, better known as Franklin Road, north to his Nashville condo instead. A two lane paved road, Franklin Road is a direct shot into Nashville lined with a mix of pastures, barns, a few shopping centers and, typical for Tennessee, a church on nearly every corner and several in between.

There aren’t many turns along Hwy 31 and Jamison, quickly fell into a zone, humming softly and basking in the memory of his evening. Quietly he said out loud, “Man, I wish I could find a way to make a living making music.”

The words had barely left his lips when a small buck dashed out into his headlights; startling him into action. Turning the wheel sharply to the right, he sighed with relief as he missed the deer but wasn’t able to re-center his car before it collided with a concrete railing and careened headfirst across a deep embankment. His airbag burst open as the car went airborne turning three somersaults before colliding headfirst into an old, broad oak tree.

Maggie, following behind on her way to her own apartment, was dialing 911 before the car came to rest. She’d never witnessed an accident as bad as the one she’d just seen and she was sick with certainty that he wouldn’t make it out alive.

She rushed to the driver’s side door to find glass shattered and blood streaming down his face. “Oh God, Jamison,” she called, “can you hear me?” His head moved slightly and he tried to reply but he could only muster a mumble. “You’re going to be OK,” she said. “I’m here with you. I’ve called for help; the ambulance is on its way.”

The high-pitched sirens of an ambulance in the distance, mixed with what he thought was the sound of Maggie’s voice crooning softly was the last thing he remembered before he slipped into darkness.

***

When he woke, Jamison opened his eyes only to be blinded by the brightest, whitest light he had ever experienced. Somewhere in the distance was a faint sound of the strumming of a guitar and he strained into the light to see where the sound was coming from. “Hey buddy,” said a voice to his right. Jamison turned his head toward the voice, still blinded a bit — unable to get a clear view with the light shining so brightly. “Man you took a bad one,” said the voice.

Jamison recognized the voice but couldn’t place it. Where had he heard that southern, country drawl before? He squinted harder and could see the faint outline of a tall, thin, middle-aged man sitting on a straight backed chair, his leg cocked over his left knee, cigar clenched between his teeth and a guitar resting in his lap. “Miles?” he said. “Miles Gardener? What are you doing here? Shit,” said Jamison, “What am I doing here and,” he hesitated, “and where exactly is here?”

Gardener laughed, “Hell bud, here is where we are and you asked me to come.”

“What do you mean, I asked you to come”? said Jamison.

“Look,” Miles replied, “let’s ease up on the questions for a bit. Everything will be clear soon enough.”

“Will be clear?” Repeated Jamison, “Am I dead?”

“Well,” said Gardener, “that’s a good question. There are lots of kinds of dead. Dead tired, dead drunk, dead as in a marriage is dead and then of course, there’s dead – dead as in your life is over. I guess all forms of dead kinda share the same quality in that they’re lacking spirit but man, if you’re asking if you’re dead dead and this is heaven, then I’d have to say that the answer is no – at least,” he paused, “not yet.”

(c) All Rights Reserved 2009

Denise Fayhee Wolf

One Response to “Sample Chapters”

  1. Virginie Jordam Says:

    I love it. I am not as good with words as you are to express how wonderful the story is. I can’t wait to read the full version.


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