Hi again! After my genre experiments, I decided to write something more like what I'm more accustomed to writing!
The song in this story is "Rainy Night in Georgia" by… a lot of people. I don't own the lyrics.
This story is dedicated to two of my fellow authors (and good friends): Rosemary and Frap. Enjoy it, fellows :)
Hoverin' by my suitcase, tryin' to find a warm place to spend the night
Heavy rain fallin', seems I hear your voice callin' "It's all right."
A rainy night in Georgia, a rainy night in Georgia
It seems like it's rainin' all over the world
Jessie Overton stared out his plane window into the blackness below, punctuated only by the gleaming string of red-and-white lights, stretching across the darkness, glinting like a diamond on black velvet. The lights stretched as far as the eye could see, but Jessie didn't need to see the end of the line. He knew exactly where it was. It was where he was going, figuratively, of course.
The pilot's voice, as soothing as an almost disembodied voice could be, crackled over the P.A. system. "Ladies and gentlemen, we'll be landing at the Alamedas airstrip in about thirty minutes. Please return to your seats and keep your seat belts fastened."
Jessie bent over to buckle his seat belt, and as he did so, he grabbed the worn brown leather knapsack with the broken strap that lay under his seat. Jessie clutched the bag to his chest with a death grip, as if he was holding his heart inside of him, and he basically was. Inside the knapsack were the only three possessions Jessie really cared about. If it were necessary, Jessie knew he would even be willing to die to protect what sat inside the worn, stained brown leather. They were his life.
Neon signs a-flashin', taxi cabs and buses passin' through the night
A distant moanin' of a train seems to play a sad refrain to the night
A rainy night in Georgia, such a rainy night in Georgia
Lord, I believe it's rainin' all over the world
The rain started as Jessie left the airport. It was a big, huge package of rain, oversized, just as Jessie had heard everything was out West. Jessie had always heard that rain was cleansing, and most rain was, but not this rain. It was a dirty rain, a corrupting rain, one that sheeted and pelted the landscape, making everything grungy and unfriendly. Jessie quickly shifted his knapsack under his threadbare gray jacket and started walking.
There was a faint light emanating from the horizon, and Jessie could see humongous buttes, mesas, and mountains, natural wonders that Jessie had seen in movies and in books but had never dreamed really existed, silhouetted against the dim glow. Jessie walked past dim hulks of gas stations and roadside diners, windows darkened, screen doors creaking in the wind, faint humming of neon signs as they warmed up for the day and night ahead. This was a quiet world, a world that was asleep, a world that, at any other time, Jessie would have found peaceful, if not magical in a way. Jessie couldn't feel that way about anything now, not when there was so much sadness in his heart. Out in the distance, Jessie could hear a train's whistle moan sadly, as if had sounded specifically to accentuate his mood.
I find me a place in a box car, so I take my guitar to pass some time
Late at night when it's hard to rest I hold your picture to my chest andI feel fine
But it's a rainy night in Georgia, baby, it's a rainy nightin Georgia
Ifeel it's rainin' all over the world
It was about one in the morning when Jessie saw the first sign of life, a neon sign, blue and green and pink, shining through the rain and over the desert floor like a shining beacon, a colorful guiding light, a modern-day pillar of fire enticing weary travelers and leading them to the welcomed comforts of a warm, soft bed, hot food and the good company of some friendly fellow travelers. Jessie was ready to partake of such comforts, so he picked up his speed, making his way toward the neon sign. As Jessie drew nearer, he was able to read the neon beacon's message of hope: PELONI'S GAS AND GRILL. GOOD FOOD. Under the sign, on a lit marquee, were the magic words, BEST BBQ SAUCE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA! LIVE ENTERTAINMENT FRIDAYS AND SATURDAYS! WARM, CLEAN ROOMS AVAILABLE FOR REASONABLE RATES, RENTABLE BY THE NIGHT.
Feeling confident in the friendliness radiating off of the sign, Jessie made his way up to the two-story, siding-and-stone combination convenience store and restaurant. Once safe from the rain under the green-and-white striped awning that fronted the building, Jessie took the time to smooth back his wavy brown hair. As he did so, he let his eyes skim over the faded, some hand-written, signs hanging in the windows: BUY YOUR LOTTERY TICKETS HERE, WE ALWAYS HAVE THE WINNERS! FRESH BEEF, EGGS, AND WINE, IMPORTED FROM PRIME LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT THE STATE! PLANNING A PARTY? BUY YOUR SPIRITS HERE FOR LOW PRICES! ASK ABOUT OUR PRIVATE ROOMS FOR MEETINGS AND LARGE GROUPS! With each sign, Jessie felt a little better; each sign seemed to add to the down-home, friendly, you're-family-here vibe of the place. Jessie pushed open the door and entered the store.
Joseph Peloni, a short, plump man with a crooked nose that looked like it had been broken in some fistfight decades ago, looked up and smiled at the young man in his twenties approaching the counter.
"Ah, hello!" Peloni said in a warm, hearty, friendly voice nicely seasoned with traces of an Italian accent. "What can I do for you this fine evening?"
Jessie smiled, turned and looked out the windows at the rain that was assaulting the landscape outside. "Fine evening?"
Peloni smiled. He liked this kid already. "Okay, maybe not so fine. Fine or not fine, what can I do for you?"
"I'd like a room for a few nights," Jessie said. "Any vacancies?"
"Ah, you've come at just the right time!" Peloni beamed. He was always happy when he pleased his customers, and Peloni could see that he had the golden opportunity to please another. "We just had a man leave earlier this evening!"
"Good," Jessie said. "What are the rates?"
"Ah, very low, very low. Seven bucks a night."
"Sounds like it's right up my alley," Jessie said as he pulled a battered wallet from a coat pocket. Jessie pulled a twenty and a one-dollar bill from the depths of the wallet and placed them on the counter.
Peloni smoothed the bills and then put them in the register. He then reached under the counter and grabbed a small brass key.
"Room 2C," Peloni smiled as he slapped the key on the counter. "Right up the back stairs, second door on the right. Can't miss it."
"Thanks," Jessie said, taking the key. He walked toward the back of the store and made his way up the rickety, frightening-looking, almost-rotting wooden stairs that stood at the back of the store.
The room wasn't Buckingham Palace, but it was good for what it was, a nice hideaway, a nook for weary drifters and travelers of every ilk to curl up in and take refuge from the hustle and bustle of the mean streets for a while. It was lovely in its simplicity: a twin-sized brass bed, the metal polished until it glinted in the yellow light cast from the simple fixture above; a colorful, patchwork homemade comforter spread on the bed; an oak dresser and a nightstand that also looked handmade, and not well; two pictures hanging in cheap dollar frames on the wall: one Norman Rockwell print of a family sitting down to a turkey dinner and a winter scene, a black-and-white sketch that looked like it had been torn from a Currier & Ives art book. A Persian rug, fraying and threadbare and faded, lay over a hardwood floor that badly needed re-staining and a fresh coat of varnish.
Jessie took off his jacket ant threw it on the dresser. He kicked off his shoes and climbed onto the bed, sprawling out on top of the comforter, still holding his knapsack. Jessie stared at the bag for the second, letting his eyes soak in the sight of the worn, stained, dirty leather, before opening the bag and taking out three papers.
The first paper was a Polaroid of a young redhead with green eyes and a warm smile, gazing right into the camera, her eyes twinkling with love and a good humor that one rarely finds anywhere, let alone right next door, where Jessie had found it. Jessie let his eyes wander from the beaming face to the handwriting on the white frame of the photo: I'll love you, forever and ever, my darling. Becky. Jessie swallowed the lump that had been forming in his throat and put down the photo.
Jessie then picked up the two lined pieces of paper that sat next to the photo and read the words on them for what seemed like, and what must have been, the thousandth time. There, in the same handwriting, were the most beautiful words Jessie had ever read, a proclamation of a love so deep, so rooted, so true in every wonderful sense of the word that it would never die, not even if the stars fell to the earth or if the waters of the sea evaporated or if the world was to end the next day. It was the kind of love that usually existed in old standards of the kind Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald used to sing, and it brought a tear to Jessie's eye to know that it had been his once, but a man in Portland, Oregon, a businessman seated behind a desk, had inadvertently, through a raise to Becky's father, had ruined Jessie's life forever and taken that love away forever.
Jessie then picked up the final slip of paper, a copy of a boarding pass for a plane, headed from Albany, New York to Portland, Oregon. On the back of the paper was a note, in that same lovely handwriting: I'm so sorry. I love you, darling, with all my heart. That's never going to change. I'll always love you. Always, always, always. Jessie read and re-read the words, his eyes getting more and more watery each time. Eventually, he put the slip of paper down and sprawled out on the bed.
Jessie reached for the radio on the nightstand and switched it on. The sad, mournful strains of Lenny Welch singing "Since I Fell for You" filled the room. Jessie crossed the room and turned off the light. He then returned to the bed, alone with Mr. Welch's music, the sound of the rain on the roof, and his loneliness.
Oh, have you ever been lonely, people?
And you feel that it was rainin' all over this man's world
You're talking 'bout rainin', rainin', rainin'…