The concert started out loud and excited. Everyone was dancing, singing along, and having a good time. The girl from the cafe was at the very front and Gary’s eyes would glance down at her every few seconds just to watch her.
“Alright, everybody,” Gary said, adjusting his microphone. “Let’s slow it down a bit, guys.”
A piano played a soft slow melody. Couples grabbed each other and danced to the music. Gary watched as the girl looked around and noticed her eyes watched the couples and others who came with friends. She must be alone, he thought as her eyes looked at the floor and suddenly met with his.
Her eyes were soft and sad looking, but she gave him a smile that just melted his heart. As quickly as her smile came, he went away and a weird expression crossed her face. Gary continued to sing and looked over at Jay who had also noticed her strange behavior. Jay shrugged and the girl weaved her way through the crowd. Once she got to an opening she darted through the door. Gary couldn’t get his mind off of that moment the rest of the number.
“I wonder what happened to Cafe Girl,” Jay said, walking down the hall after two numbers were up and they were on break.
“I’m wondering the same thing,” Gary said. “I hope she’s okay. I need to get something from the bus, I’ll meet you guys later.”
As Gary opened the door and stepped outside, he looked over to his right and the girl was leaning against a wall, her arms hugging herself. He made his way over to her.
He gently put a hand on her shoulder and she gazed up at him through glossy tear stained eyes. His heart went out to her. Her soft sad eyes seemed to have a surrender behind them.
“Are you okay?” he asked, wiping tears from her cool cheeks.
She managed a small smile and nodded. “I’m okay… I just have anxiety attacks sometimes. I’ll be fine soon…”
She started breathing heavy and shaking uncontrollably. Gary looked around, not sure what to do next. A thought crossed his mind as he remembered the conversation he had with his friends earlier. What if God brought him a woman who was broken and scared to love?
“Come inside with me,” he said, wrapping his arm around her shivering shoulder. “Let’s get you out of the cold.”
“I… I’ll be okay, I just need time alone,” she tried to pull away but he had a firm yet gentle grip on her.
“I won’t leave you here alone, darlin’,” he said sternly.
She stopped fighting him and let him lead her inside the warm building. Gary ushered her through a long hallway lined with closed doors on both sides. At the end of the hall was an open door and talking was muffled but grew louder.
“And I’m telling you that’s not what happened,” Jay was saying when Gary and the girl came in.
Joe and Jay stared at them in disbelief.
“I see you found her,” Jay chuckled a little.
He quickly shut up when the girl started breathing heavy again and ended up lowering herself to the floor.
“Someone get me a bottle of water,” Gary ordered, kneeling beside her and holding her tightly as she suddenly just broke down in tears.
Jay acted and grabbed some water while Joe knelt in front of her and Gary and spoke softly to her.
“Honey, I don’t know what’s happened but you need to calm down, okay?” Joe said soothingly. “Count backwards from ten to one.”
Gary rubbed her arm as she counted with Joe and soon she stopped shaking. Jay returned with a glass of water and offered it to the poor girl. She grabbed it with a shaking hand but managed a smile.
“Are you okay?” Gary asked, helping her off the floor and on to a couch.
“I will be, thank you,” she said, taking a deep breath.
“You told me outside that you have anxiety attacks,” Gary said. “What triggered this one if you don’t mind me asking?”
She took a moment. “The large crowd. I suddenly became overwhelmed and had to get out of there.”
Gary sensed that there was something else that had caused her to go into a panic. Since he just met her, he knew it wasn’t polite in asking.
She took a sip of her water and sighed. “Thanks again. I’m sure you guys have to get ready for more singing.”
“I’ll be honest with you,” Jay said with a chuckle. “I forgot why we were here.”
Everyone laughed and Jay’s face went red. It was the first time Gary saw the girl give a genuine smile. He couldn’t help but stare at her.
“I don’t believe we got your name,” Gary said, ignoring his friends’ playful banter towards each other.
“Calla Carter. I’m from Ohio,” she said, taking another sip of her water.
“Really? So am I,” Gary smiled, looking at his two friends who were still bantering about something. “What part of Ohio?”
“Columbas,” she added, her gaze on Joe and Jay.
“That’s awesome,” Gary said, excitement in his voice. “What brings you to Memphis?”
“Our concert, of course,” Jay said, slapping Gary on the shoulder and smiling brightly at Calla.
Her honey brown eyes lit up a little with a smirk. “Of course… And other reasons.”
She got quiet and the room felt a little awkward. Joe was going to ask but Gary shook his head and stood up.
“Whatever the other reason is, I hope everything works out alright for you,” Gary said. “Are you feeling better?”
Calla tried to stand but lost her balance. “I think I will be. I know you guys have to get back to it so I’ll get out of your hair. Thank you for your kindness.”
While Joe and Jay were saying goodbye to Calla, thoughts were racing through Gary’s mind. If she was his future, he wanted to get to know her. Though it might’ve been the unexplainable feeling he had for her every time she looked at him with her sad honey brown eyes.
“Why don’t you stick around in this room and relax,” Gary said out loud, his friends staring at him. “If you’re feeling up to it, after the show we’re going to get some dinner and you can tag along if you want.”
“That’s a great idea,” Joe said, nodding.
Joe winked at Gary, realizing what he was up to. Jay was oblivious but nodded his agreement. Calla wished them good luck as they headed back to the stage. She took a seat and watched the TV Jay had set up for her to be able to watch the show from where she was.
Calla took her phone out and checked her messages. Her ex had called her and sent her a text that read, “I know you took my money and fled! I will find you!” She threw her hand to her mouth and a tear escaped and dropped on her open phone screen. That was the other reason she came to Tennessee, her abusive ex boyfriend.
She had taken a huge amount of loose cash from a hidden spot at his house. Calla had saved up that money so she could leave him. The day before she left him, they had a loud argument that turned into physical abuse. She had been in that relationship for over two years and finally had enough. Unfortunately Calla had no friends to turn to, so she bought her a bus ticket to Memphis and a Rascal Flatts ticket to get her mind off her abusive ex who seemed to have been stalking her. She was too afraid to find out what would happen if he found her.
“I want to tell the guys,” she sobbed to herself while watching them perform on the television. “But I don’t want to be a burden to them…”
She put her face in her hands and cried silently, not realizing the show was already over. Gary silenced the guys when they got close to the room and he heard her crying.
“What’s going on?” Joe whispered as Gary peeked through the doorway.
He shrugged and walked in, kneeling in front of her and taking her hand in his. Gary wiped a tear off of her cheek and moved a strand of loose brown hair off of her tear stained face. He could feel her tense up under his touch.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, the other two taking a seat and quietly watching.
“I don’t want to burden anyone,” she said trying to gather herself.
“If there is anything we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to ask,” Joe chimed in. “We want to help if we can.”
Calla looked into Gary’s eyes with sadness and fear and handed him her phone with the open text message. She watched his facial expression change from soft to firm in a matter of seconds after reading the messages from the moment she left home. Gary handed Joe the phone so he and Jay could see why the sudden change of attitude.
“Any man who raises a hand to a woman is no longer a man,” Gary said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Do you have a place to stay?”
Calla shook her head and grabbed her phone from Jay as he handed it back to her. “But I can find somewhere.”
Gary shook his head. “No, ma’am. I have a room conjoined with Joe. You can have his room and he will just sleep in mine. I have an extra bed.”
Calla was about to protest but Gary held up his hand and helped her stand up and wrapped her in his arms in a warm hug. He felt her body tense up from the embrace so he cut it short. He could tell she was not treated right at all and that angered him. He knew now that she was brought here to them for a reason. He could be the one to show her how she’s supposed to be treated.