“I wonder if he’s in there?” Margaret said in a whisper.
“If we don’t know he’s in there, why are we just standing here looking at the door?” Shirley said in a rebellion of good sense. “Why don’t we just knock and find out?”
The women moved out of Shirley’s way as she barreled up to the wooden door in the back of the big red barn. There were very few people who had ever gotten in the path of Shirley Wooten and none of the women present had the guts to be on that list.
“Mr. Fresno? Are you in there? Well…” Shirley said politely but forcibly, “I’m not sure if that’s what you want to be called but we just want to make sure you’re okay and you have everything you need.” More light knocking. “Mr. Fresno?”
Fresno, the celebrated crooner was rumored to be in the small town of Cyprus, not for any singing engagement or fan signing but because his unlucky tour bus had broken down right in front of the CyprusMart gas station. The station was owned by Tessie Hall, who also owned this red barn. The rumor was that Tessie, who was too sneaky for her own good, had put Mr. Fresno up in the extra bedroom she built out in her barn, simply to hide him from the scrutiny of the press and his fans. Considering how the two hotels were filling up in Cyprus at the news of his sudden detour, it was a good idea. Unfortunately, the locals knew it was the only place Tessie would keep a guest and so an investigation seemed necessary.
No reason to let Tessie keep Mr. Fresno all to herself.
There was no answer. It was not for lack of patience. The ladies stood there for a good long while, but the only sound they could here was the latent whoop whoop of the news helicopter from the nearby and much larger town of Saddle Creek. It seemed like everyone was waiting for an appearance.
“Everyone’s going to be so disappointed if he doesn’t never come out,” Phyllis piped in. “I mean what do we do if he stays in there forever?”
“Oh my goodness Phyllis,” Shirley said in an annoyed voice. “Please don’t confuse things with your nonsense. Of course he has to come out. He has to eat, don’t he?” She began to knock again.
“Unless Tessie stocked him up before he went in there. I mean she does own the Mart. And I think she had a bathroom built in there, so I bet he don’t come out for a long time,” Patty said quietly.
The four ladies stood around for a while before they decided they needed a new plan of action.
“Well I think it’s ungrateful for him to leave his fans out here without even a hello,” Margaret said. She brushed her fire red hair out of her eyes. “Don’t he like his fans?”
“I’m sure he does, but maybe he just hates the press. I’m sure there’s probably somebody in the bushes right now trying to take pictures of who goes in and out of here,” Shirley answered. “We need to get some backup.”
Shirley wasn’t sure exactly what backup would do, but she pulled out her phone and called Danielle, her boss at Family Dentistry and the only dentist in town. Danielle didn’t answer so she left a message full of detail about where she was and what was happening. Shirley made several calls like that, unaware of the consequences of her actions.
“I think if we have enough local people here, he’ll have to come out,” she said with extreme hubris. She looked at the other three ladies for effect and raised her chin. “We’ll make him come out.”
None of the ladies really knew what they wanted from him when and if he did come out, or if that was even a good idea. Fresno was a confirmed bachelor and had been for years. That did not stop the world’s female population—and a small portion of the male population as well—from hounding him everywhere he went. He was handsome and rich and charming and talented. And single. That was the most important part. Single. Cyprus had a limited amount of male inventory.
In twenty minutes the small crowd lounging outside of the Tessie’s guest bedroom in the barn began to grow larger. Danielle showed up, bringing with her a teenage daughter, Tracy, who was also a huge fan of Fresno. The singer was twice her age, but that made little difference judging by her enthusiasm.
“Oh my God,” Tracy squealed as she ran towards the big brown door. “Where is he?”
“Locked up inside,” Shirley said, waving her hand in the air.
“We can’t get him out, Phyllis said. “I think he’s stuck.”
Nobody bothered to tell Phyllis she was talking nonsense. It was generally understood.
“Does anybody know if he’s in there?” Danielle asked. “How do we know he’s not out at the garage with his bus? I imagine he doesn’t want to stay here any longer than necessary.”
“Oh but he has to!” Tracy squealed. She squealed a lot. “I have to see him! I already put it online. He can’t let me down!”
The secret was out. Before long the crowd included dozens of reporters from all the surrounding towns and cities, the remaining staffs from Family Dentistry and CyprusMart, half of the high school’s football team, which were only in attendance because the cheerleaders were there in full uniform waiting to sing Fresno’s hit song “Property” in a saucy cheer rendition. Most of the police were there along with the police chief, for obvious reasons, and the mayor showed up. Mayor Trindale made it clear he was only there in a professional capacity to make sure things did not get out of hand, but it was also easy to see the photos of Fresno he carried under his arm for autographs. He, too, had teenage daughters at home. He quickly shoved the pictures up his sleeve.
Mayor Trindale waved his arms in the air and stepped in front of the crowd. The police chief handed him a megaphone. “Now everyone,” he began. “This is not the proper way to do this. I am sure everyone is excited about the prospect of meeting Mr. Fresno, but I think I would be better if we all disbursed and let the man alone.”
There was a collective groan from the crowd and a squeal from Tracy, that seemed to say politicians knew how to ruin everything. Just at that moment, however, Fresno’s photos that the mayor tried to hide fell out of his sleeve, and frustration suddenly turned into rebellion.
Shirley piped in. “I am certainly not going to miss my chance to meet Mr. Fresno just so some stuffed pompous know it all can get autographs for himself!”
“Now Shirley,” the mayor began. “This is already a sticky situation. I am sure…”
“I am sure you better order him out of there so it doesn’t get even stickier!” Shirley replied and grabbed the megaphone. “I think we out to find Tessie and get the key!”
There was a roar from the crowd, and in unison, everyone turned away from the big door in the back of the red barn and charged outdoors towards Tessie’s house.
Tessie had been watching the commotion from the safety of her kitchen. Why she had not interceded before this moment was a secret known only to her. Fear was a good guess; Shirley Wooten was a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps Tessie felt Fresno was entitled to his privacy just like anyone else. In any case, she met the crowd halfway up the hill to prevent them from coming straight to her front door.
“He’s not here,” she said.
“What do you mean he’s not here!” Tracy squealed. “Mom! What are we going to do now?”
“I guess we’ll all have to die,” Danielle said sarcastically. Tracy did not find anything funny about her mom’s humor.
“Now wait a moment,” Shirley said through the microphone. “Where is he Tessie?”
There had been a bit of history between Shirley and Tessie. Shirley had been trying to buy the CyprusMart for years, and had waited patiently for old Mr. Deckland, the previous owner, to go to the nursing home before she put in her bid. Tessie outbid Shirley, a fact not known to anyone until the reopening when Tessie stepped out to put up the Open for Business sign. Things had been insufferable between them ever since. Things were about to get a lot stickier.
“I said he’s not here,” Tessie said shrugging. “He was here briefly but he’s not here now.”
“That’s not my question,” Shirley said, her brown eyes blazing. “I asked where he is now.”
“I think he might be looking about his bus…at the garage,” Tessie said.
Predictable squeals from Tracy preceded the unified turning of the crowd, presumedly to head to the garage across the street from CyprusMart, but then Tessie continued.
“Or…maybe he’s somewhere else. He might be eating at the diner…he might already be gone. Who knows?” Tessie said.
Shirley made a sound through the megaphone that not only stopped everyone in their tracks but spooked the police chief, who knew a sound of violence when he heard one. In a flash Shirley lunged at Tessie, both of them tumbling to the ground along with the megaphone. The hill caused the predictable backward motion and the two ladies ended up in the small pond at the bottom, ducks flying to the bank to move out of the way.
“Ladies! Ladies!” Mayor Trindale yelled, more to feel useful than to stop the fight.
The police moved swiftly to break up the commotion, with the football players yelling “fight! fight” and laughing at the delight of watching two middle-aged women battle it out.
Just as things seemed to calm down, Tessie and Shirley sitting on the ground giving each other withering looks, a great big tour bus pulled up on the main road. FRESNO, it said on the side, with a large picture of the star looking his most devastating. The crowd immediately quieted.
A window opened and a hand emerged, then a beautiful, smiling face. “Thanks, Tessie…for everything,” the handsome face said before ducking back inside. The bus pulled off amid screams of ecstasy, mostly from Tracy, and the cheerleaders went immediately into their cheer, even as the bus pulled away down the road.
“You stupid cow,” Shirley yelled over the noise and threw a handful of mud at Tessie. The fight began again.
“Three more years before I retire,” Mayor Tindale said to no one in particular.
About the author
I refuse to talk about myself in third person, so to make a long story short, I was born, did not become a famous writer as planned but learned lots of delicious things along the way. Writer, photographer, cook, caregiver, and dog mom.