J.T. McCall looked out over the crowd gathered at Jimmy’s bar. New Year’s Eve. A night for saying good-bye to the old and ushering in the new. For him, that meant bidding a fond farewell to his home away from home. He was passing the torch… with a little help from his friends.
“I wanna thank y’all for comin’ tonight.” He laughed, gripping the microphone when the whistles and shouts drowned out his voice. He loved every one of the people in this room tonight and he wanted them to know, but with emotions running high it wasn’t easy to find the right words. “It means a lot to me to have y’all here.”
“Where else would we be?” Trey Turner shouted out. “Everyone knows Jimmy’s hosts the best New Year’s Eve party in town.”
J.T.’s heart swelled with pride because he knew it was true. The old owner had entrusted him with the bar he’d built with his blood, sweat, and tears and J.T. hadn’t let him down. No matter how many nights he’d lost sleep fearing he might. “As y’all know, this’ll be my last big bash as the owner of Jimmy’s-”
A chorus of boos and good-natured moans rippled through the dozens of people filling the tables and crowding the dance floor. J.T. had closed the place to host his own private party tonight, limiting the guest list to family and friends who would understand how much this night meant to him.
“All good things must come to an end and all that,” he said, hoping his voice would hold out long enough to get through the next few minutes. “I just wanted to take a minute to thank you guys, all of you, for helping me make this happen.”
“Hell, you did all the work,” J.T.’s brother, Ty, shouted out. “All we did was drink the beer.”
“I don’t know about you,” J.T.’s other brother, Derek, yelled back, “But I didn’t even pay for it.”
Laughing, Ty said, “Hell, if he’d relied on us to pay the bills he would’ve gone bankrupt a long time ago.”
J.T. laughed. He was used to being upstaged by his brothers, the famous country singer and heroic police chief. Both were retired from their respective careers now, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t still command a room.
“Yeah, well, thankfully that didn’t happen. I did manage to keep the bills paid.” Pointing to the wait staff filtering through the crowd balancing trays, J.T. said, “I even managed to meet payroll most of the time.”
“Yeah, but I’m still waiting on my holiday bonus,” the bartender shouted out.
J.T.’s friends and family laughed at his expense, but he didn’t mind. His employees had always been more like family and they knew he wasn’t above laughing at himself when the situation warranted it. “Take it up with your new boss, kid.”
“That’s what I thought you’d say,” the bartender said, tossing the rag he’d been using to wipe down the bar in the direction of the stage.
It was the camaraderie J.T. knew he would miss the most. Customers were friends. Employees were like family and inside these walls he’d found the place he belonged.
Waiting until the laughter died down gave J.T. the time he needed to catch his breath and think about what he really wanted to say. “You guys know speeches aren’t my thing, but I just wanted to let you know how much it means to me to have you here tonight.”
The rowdy crowd fell silent and J.T. knew he had their undivided attention.
“When I took over from Jimmy, I didn’t know a damn thing about runnin’ a business, but he believed in me and that helped me to believe in myself.” Gripping the microphone, J.T. met his wife’s eyes and knew she would always give him the strength he needed to meet any challenge, just like she’d been doing for as long as he could remember. “I made a hell of a lot of mistakes along the way, but that’s to be expected, I guess.”
Lowering his head, he knew this would be the hardest part. “Not long before Jimmy passed away he called to thank me.” J.T. met Trey’s eyes, knowing he would understand how much it meant to him that he’d earned Jimmy’s admiration.
Jimmy was a good man, salt of the earth, and J.T. was happy he’d made him proud by carrying on the traditions he’d started. “There aren’t many things that have broken me in my life, but that sure was one of them.” He took a few steps back, taking the microphone off its stand. “Hearing Jimmy say the things he did that day…” He let the words die knowing he didn’t have to verbalize them. The people in this room would know how he felt because they knew his heart. They knew he worked hard to earn the respect of but a few people and Jimmy was one of them.
“I just want to ask y’all to take a minute to raise your glass to Jimmy. Without him we wouldn’t be here.” He looked at the picture of the bar’s founder hanging on the wall. “And we may not have found talent like Trey or my brother.”
“To Jimmy,” Trey said, lifting his glass and inviting everyone else to do the same. “May his memory always live on the bar that bears his name.”
“Thanks, Trey,” J.T. said, grateful his friend had done the honors. “I know this place has been home to a lot of great memories for all of us, but times are changing.” He grinned at his pregnant daughter and son-in-law. “A lot of us are parents and grandparents now and that means we get to make a whole lot of new memories. This place is and always will be a part of me and I know a lot of you feel the same way. I just wanna ask that you support the new owner by bein’ there for him the way you were there for me. He needs friends like y’all and he needs a break and I know you’re just the people to give him that.”
Pointing at Trey, he said, “I’m gonna ask you to raise your glass one more time… to change. May tomorrow be even better than yesterday.”
“Here, here,” Trey said, lifting his glass. As a recovering alcoholic, he hadn’t touched a drop in years, but that didn’t stop Trey from joining in the festivities. Jumping up, he said, “We’ve got a room full of musicians here tonight. How ‘bout we bring this new year in right? What do you say?”
The energy in the room shifted from somber to electric and J.T. was grateful for that as he made his way off the stage and gave Trey, who was making his way up the stairs to the stage, a back slapping hug. “Thanks, man,” he whispered.
“I should be thanking you for the things you said about Jimmy,” Trey said, only loud enough for J.T. to hear. “That man was like my own father. It would have meant the world to him to hear you talk about him that way.”
“I should have said something about Edna too,” J.T. said, wondering if it was too late to rectify his oversight.
“No need,” Trey said, slapping him on the back. “You can’t think of Jimmy without thinking of his better half. They were a package deal.”
“You’re right about that.” J.T. grinned. “Been a long time since you’ve been on stage, old timer. You sure you’ve still got what it takes?”
Trey scowled. “Hell, I could show that grandson of mine how it’s done.”
“Let’s not get crazy now,” J.T. said, trying to hide his smile. “Wouldn’t wanna see you fall and break a hip.”
“Are you kidding? I’m in better shape now than I was when I was forty,” he said, puffing his chest out. “Just ask my wife.”
“That’s okay, man. I’ll take your word for it.” J.T. loved rattling Trey’s chain. He knew if anyone could still work a stage, it was him. They’d called Trey the king of country music for a reason and legions of new performers who still paid tribute to him and his music were proof that he would always be a legend in Nashville.
Taking a seat beside Nikki, J.T. tried to focus on the performance. Trey was killing it, just like he knew he would, taking them back to a time when his music was the only sound the patrons of Jimmy’s bar cared to hear.
“Are you okay?” she whispered, sliding her chair closer so she could lay her head on his shoulder.
“Sure, baby.” He put his arm around her, drawing her close before he caught a glimpse of their daughter smiling at them out of the corner of his eye. Lauren was about to become a mama and soon enough she would know why he’d been trying so hard to protect her since the day she was born.
“What are you thinking about?” Nikki asked, linking her hand with his.
“I still can’t believe I’m gonna be a granddaddy. It just doesn’t seem possible. Hell, it feels like just yesterday I was ridin’ the rodeo, givin’ it all I had, chasin’ the big prize.”
“Not to mention chasin’ skirts,” Nikki said, poking him in the ribs.
He knew she was just teasing him. He’d never given Nikki reason to be jealous. From the moment he’d laid eyes on her all those years ago he’d never even thought about another woman. “The only skirt I was interestin’ in catchin’ was yours.”
Nikki laughed out loud, drawing the attention of her father, who was seated a few tables away. Luc winked at her before turning his attention back to his friend’s performance.
“Do you have any regrets?” Nikki asked suddenly, fixing her attention on Trey while she waited for her husband’s response. “I mean, I know we all have a regret or two… things we would’ve done differently, things we wouldn’t have done.”
“Not a one,” he said, kissing her hand. “I take that back. I do have one. I would’ve married you a hell of a lot sooner if I’d have known you were gonna be the best damn thing that ever happened to me.”
Nikki smiled wistfully. “I just don’t want you to have any regrets, honey.” Looking around the bar, she said, “I know how much you love this place and I can’t help but feel I’ve pressured you into selling before you’re ready.”
“I’m ready.” He knew whether it was a month from now or five years from now, handing the keys to someone else would be hard. Better to get it over with so the wound could start to heal. “I can kind of understand how you felt when you decided your last tour would be your last.”
“I know Lauren’s going to need me now,” she said, looking at their daughter fondly. “She may not realize it yet, but I remember how much I needed my mama when she was born. Thank God she was there to hold my hand those first few weeks.”
“Hey, I thought I did a pretty good job of that.”
“You did,” Nikki said, patting his shoulder. “But if I recall correctly you spoiled that child so rotten she cried every time you put her down. She wanted to be held all the time, rocked to sleep-”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he said, casting a glance at the stunningly beautiful woman his baby girl had grown in to. “You can’t love your kid too much, Nik. There’s no such thing.”
“I know.” She reached for a napkin to wipe the tears gathering in her eyes. “You ever regret only having one? I mean, you’re such an amazing dad. You came from a pretty big family. You ever wish we’d had a houseful?”
He didn’t want to make Nikki feel guilty for pursuing her other love: music. But he’d never lied to her before and wouldn’t start now. “There’s been a time or two when I wondered what it would be like, but who am I kidding? It’s not like our little princess would have wanted to share the stage with a brother or sister. She loved havin’ us all to herself.”
“That’s true.” Looking at their son-in-law, Nikki said, “I’m so glad she found a man like Tucker. Someone strong-willed who isn’t afraid to stand up to her.”
J.T. coughed in his hand to hide his amusement. “Who’re you kiddin’, lady? She’s got that man wrapped around her little finger. There isn’t a damn thing he wouldn’t do for her and we both know it.”
“Sort of like you and me,” Nikki said, tipping her head back to kiss him.
“Yeah, sort of.”
By the time Trey made his way back to the table so Nikki could claim the stage, his closest friends, daughter, and son-in-law were there to keep his wife company.
“Nicely done, Trey,” Liam said, slapping him on the back.
“Yeah, who knew he still had it?” Luc asked, grinning. “Hell, if I’d known that I would have told the boys to hold you to that last contract. We could have banked a few more mil before we put you out to pasture.”
Trey laughed. “You couldn’t pay me enough to keep up that pace now.” He still loved his time in the studio, writing music, but he loved his time with his wife and family more.
“I know what you mean, Trey,” Liam said. “There were times when I lived for my business. Hell, I spent three quarters of the year on the road, thought I could never live without the adrenaline rush that came with making the next big deal.”
“That’s before you realized there were other ways to get that same rush,” Alisa said sweetly as she slipped her arm through her husband’s.
“Do I really need to hear this?” Trey muttered. He may tease his daughter and son-in-law about public displays of affection almost as much as his grandson did, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t their biggest fan. Seeing how happy Liam had made his baby girl gave Trey the kind of peace of mind money couldn’t buy.
Sierra winked at him as she patted his thigh under the table. “Don’t you remember when we were like that?”
Luc laughed. “Hell, you’re still like that. You can’t keep your hands off each other and to quote your grandson…” Luc smirked as he made air quotes with his fingers, “That’s just wrong, man.”
The table erupted in laughter as they thought of Alisa and Liam’s pre-teen son making a gagging motion whenever he caught his parents or grandparents kissing.
“So you two are off on that cruise after the holidays?” Trey asked Luc and his sister when the laughter finally died down.
“That’s the plan,” Luc said, putting his arm around his wife.
Trey watched them, a smile teasing his lips. “Maybe it’s because we’re ushering in a new year here tonight, or maybe it’s because J.T. sold the place, but I’m feeling a little nostalgic. You know, thinkin’ about the past.” He chuckled. “I’ll never forget the first time my sister laid eyes on you, Luc. Man I thought she was gonna hog tie you and hold you in the barn against your will.”
“Oh shut up,” Marissa said, throwing a rolled up napkin at her brother. “I wasn’t that bad.”
“Like hell you weren’t,” Trey said, laughing as he caught the napkin and tossed it back at her. “I’d never seen anything so pathetic.”
“Leave her alone,” Luc said, kissing Marisa’s cheek. “She couldn’t help herself, I was pretty damn irresistible.”
“And modest too,” Marisa said, elbowing him in the stomach. “Let’s not forget modest.”
“Seriously,” Trey said, his smile slipping as he watched two of the people he loved most in the world exchange a smile they reserved for each other. “I’m really happy you guys finally managed to work it out. I couldn’t imagine either one of you with anyone else.”
“I am a pretty damn good brother-in-law,” Luc said, grinning at Trey.
“The best,” he concurred. It wasn’t often the two men exchanged compliments. They didn’t have to. Each knew how the other felt. “Jesus, who would’ve guessed back then we’d all end up here… together.”
“I could’ve told you we would,” Marisa said, winking at Sierra. The two women were still as close as sisters, often plotting to get their way with their stubborn husbands. “I knew Sierra was the only woman for you just as surely as I knew Luc was the only man for me. It’s just a good thing for us big brother, that Turners are known for their powers of persuasion.”
Luc laughed. “Hell, you’ve been a Spencer longer than you were a Turner,” he said to Marisa.
“Crazy, isn’t it?” she asked, tipping her head back as she looked up at Luc. “I’ve been married to you almost half my life, yet it seems to have gone to by too quickly.” Glancing at her niece with blue eyes shimmering with tears, Marisa said, “Treasure every moment with your guy, honey. There are never enough of them.”
“Okay,” Trey said, holding his hand up. “This is bringin’ me down. We’re here to party, so let’s stay focused on havin’ a good time, shall we?”
“I heard that,” Evan Spencer said, wrapping his arm around Trey’s neck from behind. “You were great up there, Uncle Trey.”
“Thanks, kid,” Trey said, reaching up to mess his nephew’s hair before he could duck. Evan was always put together, from his designer suits to his polished shoes, much like his old man, and Trey loved to taunt both of them whenever he had the chance.
Evan frowned as he swiped a hand over his hair, making his wife giggle. He rolled his eyes at her before wrapping an arm around her waist. “I was just telling Ryan and Erika we should think about putting together a reunion tour for Titan Records Alumni. You know, Trey, Ty, Nikki, a few of the other old headliners. What do you think of the idea, Uncle Trey?”
Trey glanced up at the stage. Nikki looked like she was having the time of her life entertaining the small crowd. He knew she was happy with her newfound freedom and looking forward to starting a new chapter in her life with her husband, but Trey couldn’t deny the idea of filling a stadium one last time held some appeal.
“I don’t know,” Trey said, glancing down at Sierra. “What do you think, baby? Would you be up for hittin’ the road with me one more time?”
“It might be kinda fun,” she said, twisting her wine glass between her fingers. “Just like it was when Alisa was young and we went out on the road with you.” Laughing, she said, “God, I remember those days.”
“I think you guys should do it, Dad,” Alisa said. “Think of what it would mean to your fans to see you in concert again.”
“You talk to Nikki and Ty about it,” Trey said. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good,” Evan said. Reaching for two champagne glasses from a passing waiter’s tray and handing one to his wife, he said, “Here’s to a tour country music fans will never forget.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Trey said, laughing as he watched everyone raise their glasses. “You haven’t even talked to Ty and Nikki about it yet. They may not wanna hit the road again.”
“Let’s find out what Ty thinks of the idea right now,” Evan said, raising a hand to get Ty’s attention.
Ty and Avery joined their table, pulling up two free chairs. “What’s up, guys?” Ty asked. “Y’all havin’ a good time?”
“We were just talking about how much fun you guys used to have out on the road,” Evan said. “Remember what that was like, Ty?”
“How could I forget?” Ty asked, looking a little nostalgic. “Those were some of the best times of my life.”
“How would you feel about doing it again?” Evan asked, looking hopeful. “You know, one more stadium tour?”
“You can’t be serious,” Ty said, chuckling. “Son, those days are behind me.”
“If I can do it, so can you,” Trey said.
“You?” Ty asked. “You’re seriously thinking about hitting the road again?”
“My nephew can be pretty persuasive when he wants something,” Trey said, nodding towards Evan. “He’s a lot like his old man, doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Evan said, holding Erika closer. “If I weren’t so persistent I’d probably still be single and miserable.”
“I don’t know about that,” Erika said, shaking her head. “Some other lucky lady would’ve snapped you up if I hadn’t.”
“Fine,” he said, brushing his lips across her cheek. “I’d have been married to the wrong woman and miserable.”
“Back to the business at hand,” Luc said, rubbing his hands together. “I think my son might be on to something here. Titan has never done anything like this, an Alumni tour with some of their biggest names. It could be huge. What do you say, boys? You game?” he asked, looking from Ty to Trey.
The two men exchanged a look before Trey shrugged and said, “I am if you are, Ty.”
Ty looked to his wife. “What do you think, hon?”
“I definitely think you should do it,” Avery said, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “We could all hit the road together one more time. It would be fun.”
The group paused to applaud Nikki’s performance before Evan caught her attention, beckoning her to join them.
“I forgot how much fun that was,” Nikki said, nudging her brother with her hip. “What do you think, have I still got it or am I getting rusty, little brother?”
“No question, you’ve still got what it takes to rock a crowd,” Evan said, wrapping his free arm around her neck. “In fact, that’s what we were just talking about. I know it hasn’t been all that long since you’ve been out on tour, but how would you feel about headlining a short tour with these guys?”
“Ty and Uncle Trey?” she asked, frowning.
“Yeah,” Evan said. “They’re game if you are.”
“Uh, I don’t know.” She stole a glance at J.T., who was behind the bar. “I talked J.T. into selling the bar so we could spend more time together. I can’t very well tell him I’ve decided to hit the road again before the ink on his contract is dry.”
“He could join us on the road,” Trey said. “It hasn’t been easy for him to pull that off before, because of the bar. Come on, kid,” he said, reaching for Nikki’s hand. “The more I think about it, the more excited I’m gettin’ about it. I can’t think of two people I’d rather share a stage with again.”
“What’re y’all looking so serious about?” J.T. asked, approaching from the opposite side of the table and gripping his brother’s shoulder.
“We were talking about taking your wife out on the road with us,” Ty said.
“Is that so?” J.T. asked. “You’re thinkin’ about doing another tour, Nik?”
Trey could sense the tension between them and wished they’d given Nikki the opportunity to pitch the idea to her husband without an audience. He didn’t want either one of them to feel pressured into going along with their idea if it wasn’t what they both wanted.
“Nothing’s been decided yet,” she said, quickly.
“Come on now, little brother,” Ty said, looking up at J.T. “You knew when you married her your wife’s talent was too big for this town. She needs to share it with the rest of the world.”
“I just thought you’d decided you were done with that,” J.T. said, looking at Nikki. “Was I wrong?”
“No.” She rounded the table, slipping her arms around her husband’s waist as she tipped her head back to look at him. “I know the timing sucks with you just selling the bar and all, but you could come with us, that is if I decide to do this tour.”
“Do you wanna do it?” J.T. asked.
Trey held his breath waiting for his niece’s reply. He had no idea he would want this so much until Evan pitched the idea. One more chance to get out there and do what he loved for tens of thousands of roaring fans sounded like a gift he didn’t want to send back.
“I have to admit, I’ve always wanted to share a stage with these guys again,” she said, smiling at Ty and Trey. “The one tour we all did together was probably the best of my career. Don’t get me wrong, my farewell tour was awesome, but being able to say good-bye with my family and friends there to share it with me would be amazing.”
“Then you should do it,” J.T. said, emphatically.
“Will you come with me?” she asked, looking hopeful. “It wouldn’t be the same without you there, J.T.”
“Of course, I will,” he said, grinning. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
“Hell, yeah,” Ty said, raising his glass. “Here’s to old friends, family, and our fans.”
Trey raised his soft drink to join in the toast. One thing was for sure… this would be a year they would never forget.