The sounds I was hearing – the soft "tink-tink" of silverware tapping on china, the murmur of the diners broken occasionally by laughter, and the jazz music coming from the stage - reminded me of one of the dinner clubs in an old movie.
The food was mostly Italian, and the music was a mix of pure jazz, blues and old big-band favorites. The five-piece band were all older black guys, and it was evident they'd played together for a while. It was also evident they played mostly for the fun of making music rather than for the money. There wasn't a sheet of music anywhere, and the sound was fantastic.
I was there because I needed someplace to eat dinner and didn't fancy the atmosphere of the restaurants in the hotel. I was staying there for the annual conference of suppliers of hand and power tools to industry and the hardware store trade. As head of marketing for my company, I had to attend, but I could at least enjoy my evenings as I saw fit. I told the desk clerk I liked jazz music, and she'd given me directions with the assurance the food was great.
I was halfway through my chicken alfredo when the sax player stepped up to the mike.
"We thank all you folks for comin' to hear us, and we'd like to try out somethin' iffen you don't mind. A while back, the owner of this here club said he'd like to hear some singin' when we play. Well, we went out and found us a singer. Her name's Jesse, and she's purty good. Come on out here, Honey, and show these folks whatcha got."
The bite of chicken breast fell off my fork somewhere between my plate and my mouth. I'm still not sure where. I was too busy looking at Jesse.
She wasn't the young, blonde, tight-bodied twenty-something singer I'd have expected to show up in a Nashville club. This woman had the smooth, full curves that grace only women who've lived through some of life. The black dress she wore reached almost to the floor, and when she stepped, one nylon-clad leg flashed from a slit that ran from the hem almost to her waist. What she was showing of her legs was balanced nicely by what she was showing of her generous cleavage. Waves of dark brown hair cascaded over the swell of her breasts and framed a face that showed some years, but wore those years with the confidence and grace only found in beautiful mature women.
When the first few words of "Sentimental Journey" left her lips, it became obvious to me that Jesse wasn't just another amateur. If I closed my eyes, I could see Peggy Lee, or Helen Forest or Doris Day singing. Jesse was that good.
The band did another six songs with Jesse and then announced they were taking a short break. Shortly they were all grouped around a table near the stage and placing their orders with a waitress.
That waitress had to pass my table on her way to the bar, so I called to her as she passed. Janet, as her nametag proclaimed, turned quickly and stepped to my table.
"Sir, I'm not your waitress, but I'll tell Lisa you need something."
"No, I just wanted to pay for the singer's drink, that's all. And if you'd tell her I think she's great, I'd appreciate it."
Janet bustled off, and a few minutes later came back to my table with a tray of drinks and sandwiches.
"She's drinking a club soda, so that'll be two-seventy-five."
I gave her a five, and said, "you won't forget to tell her I think she's great, will you?"
"Nope. Here's your change."
"You keep it for doing me this favor."
Janet grinned, picked up her tray and hurried off. I saw her say something to Jesse as she put the glass of club soda on the table. Jesse turned in the direction Janet was pointing and smiled when she saw me. I could not believe my eyes when she picked up the glass and started for my table, but before I could blink twice, there she was, standing in front of me. Even her voice was sensuous.
"Aren't you going to ask me to sit down?"
"Oh ... sorry, I'm just surprised that you came over. Yes, please, would you join me?"
"I will if you tell me who I'm joining."
"Oh ... yeah. I'm Jeff ... Jeff Wayne."
"Well, Jeff, I'm Jesse Fitzgerald. Thank you for the drink."
Her smile was intoxicating, and I couldn't look away. Then the smile disappeared.
"Am I that bad close up?"
"No, I ... I just ... well, you sing so well, and up close, you're a very beautiful woman."
She smiled again. "It sounds like you're trying to pick me up ... not that I'd mind that. Doesn't happen very often anymore."
"I wasn't trying to -"
"You don't have to come up with some explanation I'm not gonna believe anyway. I got over being upset at men picking up younger girls after I turned forty."
"Well, I bought you the drink because of your voice. You have to have a CD or two out, don't you? A woman with a voice like yours must be recorded by somebody."
Jesse laughed. "Where were you twenty-five years ago? I could have used a fan or two then. Yes, I came to Nashville to get rich and famous. What I got was broke and nowhere in the first year. I ended up getting a job just like ninety-nine percent of the other starry-eyed singers who come here. I do sing a little on the side, but I've never cut a record or a CD."
"Well, you should. You're as good as I've ever heard."
"I could sit here all night and listen to that kind of talk, but right now, I have to go sing again. This is our last set. Will you be here when I get done?"
It would have been easy to stay there for hours just listening to Jesse. Her voice had that quality, that richness, that purity that only comes along once in a while. I couldn't figure out why she was singing with a bunch of old jazz musicians, but I didn't care as long as I could listen to her.
The set ended, and Jesse walked back to my table. By now, I was over my initial infatuation and I could watch her. Her movement was so smooth it was almost as if she floated over the floor, except the motion of her hips left no doubt that under all that black satin was the body of a real woman. She slid into her chair just as the waitress brought another club soda to our table.
"Why, thank you again, Jeff. I could get used to this, not buying my own drinks I mean."
"Jesse, after what I just heard, you deserve a lot more than just a drink."
"No, the drink's enough. I do get paid for this, you know, and I have another job too."
"So, what's a pretty girl like you do when you're not singing here?"
"I work in the music business. They wouldn't let me cut an album, but they did give me a job."
Jesse took a sip of her club soda and then melted me with her smile again.
"So, what do you do when you're not sitting here listening to me?"
"I work for a power tool supplier as a marketing manager. We're having a convention this week at the Opryland Hotel."
I thought I saw just a flash of disappointment in Jesse's eyes, but she quickly smiled and said, "so you don't live around here then. Where's home?"
"Ah, Chicago. I grew up there ... McKinley Park's where we lived. I haven't been back there in ages though. Nashville's my home now. " Jesse looked at her watch. "I hate to drink and run, but I really have to leave. I have to be at work by eight tomorrow, and it's almost one now."
I walked her to her car and watched as she drove away. As soon as she was out of sight, I realized I missed her, that I wanted her to come back and stay with me for a while longer. At the time, I couldn't have described the feeling. It just hit me that I liked her and liked talking with her. It had been a long time since I'd had that feeling, and with luck, I'd be talking with her again tomorrow night. I'd already decided I liked the place.
As conferences go, this one was pretty good. There were lots of buyers in attendance, and I spent the afternoon demonstrating our tools and explaining how our order system worked. The afternoon went by pretty quickly. At six, I drove back to the jazz club for dinner.
I was expecting to see the band playing on the small stage, but the music playing in the background was coming from a CD player at the bar. I flagged down Janet, the waitress from last night.
"Hi, remember me? Where's the band?"
"Oh, they only play on Sunday night. The rest of the week Billy plays CD's."
"Their singer ... Jesse ... would you know how I could get in touch with her?"
Janet frowned and shook her head. "Sorry, I don't know her very well. Maybe the manager would know, but he's not here tonight. He always takes Monday off."
Janet mirrored my sad face, then beamed me a smile. "But he'll be here the rest of the week. Sorry. Can I get you anything else?"
The food was good, but I didn't have much of an appetite. It didn't take me long to finish and drive back to the hotel.
The next day of the conference was the same as the first. It just seemed to last longer. I went back to the club, partly to eat, but mostly to talk to the manager. I really wanted to see Jesse again.
He wasn't any help at all. All he could tell me was he'd hired the band through an agency and paid them in cash. He didn't have an address or a phone number for any of them. He did give me the number of the agency, though.
I took a break on Wednesday, and called the agency to asked about the band. The girl who answered the phone with "Monroe Entertainment. This is Jeannie. May I help you?", was polite but firm. If I wanted to hire the band, all communications would go through the agency. They didn't give out any personal information about any of their clients. She said she hoped I'd understand.
Well, I did, but this wasn't getting me any closer to finding Jesse again and my week was running out. I finished the conference sessions, but my mind wasn't really into power tools. I kept seeing a beautiful brunette walking away from me forever. The more I thought about it, the more I realized Jesse meant a lot to me. I didn't really even know her, but somehow, I didn't need to know her to know I needed her. If she felt the same way ... but it looked like I'd never find out.
When I got back to my room, the message light on my phone was blinking. The recorded voice said to call at the desk for a message.
On the envelope in printed letters was "Mr. Jeff Wayne". When I tore open the end, a business card fell out. On the front it said "Monroe Entertainment, Agents To The Stars Of Tomorrow. On the back, in a woman's hand was written, "Jesse will meet you at the club at seven".
She was there, sitting at a table and sipping her club soda. Her tight knit top and jeans were quite a change from the dress she'd worn, but the face was the same. So was the smile she flashed when I walked over and sat down.
She chuckled. "Jeannie said you were trying to get in touch with me."
"I was. I'm glad you found out, but how did you find me?"
"Jeannie's as good about relaying messages as she is about not giving out any information. There are a lot of crazy fans out there, so she screens everything to weed them out. She said she thought you were safe, and I agreed. I figured if the conference was at Opryland, that's where you'd be staying, so I drove by this afternoon to see."
She took a sip from her glass.
"So, what did you want me for?"
All the things I'd thought that afternoon came rushing into my head, but I wiped them away. It was too soon.
"I just wanted to buy you dinner. Remember I said you deserved more than just a drink? Hope you haven't eaten yet."
"No. I figured if you didn't show up, I'd eat here and then go home. The food's pretty good and I'm comfortable here."
We talked while we waited for our order. We talked while we ate. We talked while I waited for the check. Somewhere in all that, Jesse started touching my hand or arm to make a particular point. With every touch, I felt tingles rush up my spine.
I learned that like me, Jesse was divorced, although she'd been single twenty years to my two. Her singing career never really got off the ground. She loved the music of the forties; the record producers all loved rock and roll or country. After trying country for a while, she figured it was a lost cause and stopped. Her agent asked her to marry him, and she accepted. Four years later, after finding out he was bedding every new female singer he signed, she divorced him. She'd dated a little after the divorce, but never anything serious.
All too soon, we were standing at her car while she fished in her purse for the keys.
"Ah. There they are. Well, Jeff, it's been a pleasure meeting you again, and a pleasure having dinner with you. Thank you. It means a lot to me when a man buys me dinner."
I wasn't about to let her get lost again. I just hoped it wouldn't sound like I was begging.
"We could do the same tomorrow night, if you're not busy."
"Tomorrow night it is, then. Is this place OK?"
Dinner on Thursday was better. Jesse met me at the door, and it took me a moment to drink in the way she looked. Her blouse accented her breasts with the soft caress only silk can manage. The low-rise black jeans and strappy heels only served to transform her every step into a fantasy of feminine grace and sexuality. We were both more relaxed, and our conversation was as wonderful as the food.
Dinner came and went, and I walked her to her car again.
"So, I suppose you'll be flying home tomorrow?"
"Yes, the conference closes at noon, and my flight leaves at four."
"I'll miss you in the audience on Sunday. I'd have somebody to sing to if you were there. It's always more fun to sing if you're singing to someone special."
I couldn't believe she'd said that.
"You think I'm special?"
Jesse put her arms around my neck, looked at me with her sparkling eyes, and then put her lips softly to mine. I'd dreamed about kissing her over the last two days. What started as a soft kiss turned into a kiss that said more than either of us could have put to words.
Jesse pulled gently back. "Did you really mean what we just did?"
I kissed her again, then said, "Did you mean it that time, too?"
Jessee held me close and whispered in my ear, "I think your hotel room is closer than my house."
We didn't talk at all on the way to the hotel. I guess we didn't have to say anything to know what we were doing. Anything I said would have been only to cover the nervousness I was feeling. Jesse was a beautiful woman, a woman I'd grown to like a lot in a very short time, and I hoped I wasn't screwing things up.
Just before I slid the keycard in the lock, I turned to Jesse and looked into her eyes.
"Jesse, are you sure about this? I don't want you to think I'm pushing you into – '
"Jeff, I'm fifty-one. If I haven't figured out what's good and what's not good for me yet, there's no hope anyway. Now, please open the door. People will think something's wrong if we keep standing here."
As soon as the door closed, Jesse put her arms around my neck, smiled at me, and then kissed me again. When she pulled gently away, she whispered, "why don't you turn down the bed. I'll only be a minute.", then walked into the bathroom and shut the door.
She came out a little later carrying her black heels in one hand and her purse in the other.
"It's good to get out of these shoes. I love them, but a few hours in 'em is enough. I usually wear running shoes."
"So, are you a runner?"
"No. I'm more of a walker, but running shoes are –"
Jesse looked at me and started to giggle.
"Will you listen to us? We sound like a couple of teenagers on their first makeout session in dad's car – wanting to do it but afraid to start. Maybe you should just undress me. I think I'd like that."
When I opened her blouse and helped her shrug it from her shoulders, I had to whistle softly. Jesse wore a black net bra, and her small nipples made little bumps in the cups. When I brushed my thumb over one, Jesse sighed and closed her eyes.
She had to help with the jeans. I love women in jeans, but I'll never understand how they manage to get them on. It took a lot of very erotic hip wiggling before they were down to her thighs. Jesse sat down on the bed and held up her legs so I could pull them off.
Her thighs were creamy white and satin smooth, and the black thong panty she wore only made them more sensuous. Her calves were shapely, slender, and just as soft, and her small feet were accented by the red polish on her toenails.