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Two For Joy
by Lori B.

When Jill, lead singer of Tumbleweed, came to, she knew exactly where she was: slumped in the driver’s seat of Elvis, the van she and Jack had bought with hopes of going on tour someday. She recognized the worn steering wheel cover, the dusty dashboard, the chipped windshield, and Jack’s keys dangling from the ignition. She turned the power on, lowered her window, and looked outside. Then she gasped.

All she saw was corn. Rows and rows of it. And fog so thick she’d almost missed seeing the corn. A black, mottled sky, a sliver of a moon. No buildings. No street lights. No parking lot. She had no idea where she was, after all.

Snap out of it! She slapped herself hard, pinched her arm hard enough to cause a bruise, and jumped out of the van. Up the road, a forest. Behind her, some hills. On the opposite side of the road, more corn fields. Where am I? She felt a scream rising in her chest, but stifled it. There’s got to be a rational explanation. She climbed back into the van and locked the doors.

There’d been an incident at the Brew Moon – that much she remembered. She knew she hadn’t been drinking. Did someone slip me a pill? And … oh my God, something happened to Jack! 

She’d been lost before, but never like this. If only Jack were here! He could read the sky like a map. They were always taking wrong turns on the way home from shows that hadn’t even paid for their gas. Sometimes they weren’t even sure Elvis could handle the trips. He got all shook up whenever they tried pushing him over fifty.

But despite the hassle of booking gigs, lugging gear, and being on the road, it was worth it to Jill. She loved singing with Tumbleweed. And each time, after Jack had guided them back home by the North Star, she’d thanked her lucky stars for having him with her. He was everything – well, almost everything – she’d ever wanted.

Jill found her phone in her purse. Dead, dammit. She hurled it into the back seat and tried once more to bring the night into focus.

The bar had been packed. Tumbleweed (Jack, Jeremy, Pete, Felix, and Jill) had played a strong set and were performing their signature song, “Broken Crown.” The clock on the wall had just flipped to midnight when Jack’s telecaster began dueling with Felix’s violin. Standing only inches apart, the two men exchanged riffs, building intensity, heading into the climax.

But just seconds before the end, Felix moved closer to Jack and poked him with his bow. It looked like an accident, but when it happened again, Jack jumped away, landing too close to the high edge of the stage. Jill shouted a warning just as Jack fell backwards, landing on the floor below with a crash. The crowd was frozen, but Jill jumped down, followed by Jeremy and Pete. Felix was nowhere in sight.

Jack lay on his back. His eyes were closed, his face pale. As the three band members bent over him, Jill heard footsteps behind her, and something jabbed her between the shoulder blades. Collapsing, she fell on top of Jack. Turning her head, she saw Felix crouched on the stage, bow in hand. Then she must have fainted.

Felix, the newest member of Tumbleweed, was as quiet as he was handsome. He was an outstanding musician, with good looks that were a plus for the band. Lately, their fan base had exploded, their tip jar was always full, and they’d managed to land a regular gig at the popular Brew Moon.

Jill didn’t mind their new schedule, although she’d always dreamed of a more domestic life, one with kids. But after three years of trying to get pregnant, she’d given up that particular dream. The doctors said to give it more time, but she figured her version of happily-ever-after just wasn’t in the cards.

She’d been acting depressed, and Jack had noticed. He encouraged her to talk about it, but she couldn’t find the words. Then, when Tumbleweed decided to add a vocalist, Jack asked Jill to fill in while they auditioned singers. Jill guessed it was only his attempt to cheer her up, but her voice turned out to be the perfect fit. 

Watching her band mates writing songs encouraged Jill to try writing one. So, one sleepless night, she poured herself a glass of wine, sat down at the kitchen table with pencil and paper, and thought about her broken dream of motherhood. To her surprise, the words came easily.

The next night, she showed Jack what she’d written. “Hmm. ‘Broken Crown,’” he said. “Can I try something?” He took the paper into his studio. An hour later, he emerged with guitar in hand, led Jill onto the porch, and played their new song -- Jill’s words, his melody. They knew “Broken Crown” could be a hit. When they played it at the Brew Moon, people loved it; some even cried.

Broken Crown. The words she’d just spoken aloud in the van brought her back to reality. What am I doing here?

She didn’t feel safe on this lonely road. But which way to go? She looked for the North Star, but there wasn’t a star in sight. Jack, where are you?

They’d met in kindergarten. Their teacher, Miss Grimm (a thin woman with long black hair and green eyes) was thrilled to have them in her class. At least once a day, she’d make them sit next to each other while she recited the Jack and Jill rhyme. Whenever they’d ask to sit with other kids instead, she’d say it was their destiny to be together.

For the rest of the school year, Jack told everyone his name was John, and Jill refused to sit next to him. After kindergarten, they’d had different teachers, until seventh grade when they shared a homeroom. By then, Jack had begun calling himself Jack again, and Jill didn’t mind sitting next to him; in fact, homeroom was her favorite class.

One day, Jack sat next to her on the school bus.

“Do you remember Miss Grimm?” he joked.

“Green-Eyed Grimm?”

“Grimm the Reaper!”

“Grimm’s Hairy Tales!”

They’d had fun that day renaming Miss Grimm, and soon they’d become friends.

During college, they kept in touch. Soon after graduation, he appeared at her door with a bouquet. “You’re my North Star,” he said. “Marry me?” They’d tied the knot that autumn. He’d always been there for her. Why isn’t he here now?

A sudden buzz caught Jill’s attention. My phone! She grabbed it. Still dead. She lowered her window an inch. The noise was outside, up ahead. It sounded like a chainsaw.

Jill had read enough horror stories to know she might actually be in one. I’ve got to find help. She turned the ignition key, and Elvis started at once. That’s odd. It usually takes at least three tries. She put the van in gear, stepped on the gas, and headed toward the forest. People live near forests, right? Maybe the chainsaw belongs to a friendly lumberjack. Or is that an animal? Jill shuddered to think of what could be lurking in the woods.

She turned the radio on. Daylight Fading by Counting Crows was playing. Weird. What are the chances of hearing Jack’s favorite band? She changed the station.

Closer to You, also by Counting Crows, came on next. Is Jack close? Or is something else closer? She thought about jumping out of the van but decided against it. She might need Elvis for a quick getaway.

She turned off the radio. The buzzing was louder now. Well, she’d wanted to head toward something, so it seemed she’d picked the right direction – that is, if you could call a mysterious meetup with a lumberjack and a chainsaw the right direction. She drove on.

How long have I been driving? Jill couldn’t tell; the clock had been stuck on 12:01 the whole time she’d been driving. It began to drizzle. She switched on the wipers, and turned the radio on for a distraction. Sure enough, she heard another Counting Crows song -- Murder of One. Chills ran down her spine. Message received.

A purplish glow appeared on the horizon. That’d better be a gas station. The tank had been almost empty when they’d reached the Brew Moon earlier that evening, and Elvis didn’t get very far on fumes. Jill glanced at the fuel gauge. Full.

She focused on the purple light ahead. Please let that be a convenience store with a phone, or preferably, a time machine! She floored the gas pedal.

After a minute, Jill reached the violet glow and braked hard. She was not surprised to hear Round Here -- one of the Crows’ biggest hits -- blasting through the speakers, even though she hadn’t touched the dial. Would Big Yellow Taxi be next, along with the appearance of a not-so-friendly cab driver?

She threw Elvis into park and cut the engine. Now she could see the source of the light through the rain-splattered window: a crooked neon sign over a faded green door. The sign said NEW ROOM. Great. A seedy motel on a rainy night. I’ll bet the owner of this establishment is Norman Bates. But Jill had seen “Psycho” twice, and she figured she could outsmart Norman. She just wouldn’t take a shower here.

She exited the van and approached the building, her shoes crunching on stones. She now saw that one of the sign’s letters – a B – was burned out. Hey! This isn’t NEW ROOM. It’s NEW BROOM. What is this, a hardware store?

It was pouring now. As Jill stood there shivering, the front door was flung open, and a middle-aged woman greeted Jill, her face in shadows. She wore a black cocktail dress and held a glass of amber liquid. The woman beckoned to Jill with a wave of her bony hand.

So this is a bar? Jill wanted to get dry, but the chainsaw sound was even louder now, and it was coming from somewhere inside. Was she about to be carved into pieces, deep fried, and served on a platter, along with beer nuts and chicken wings?

An icy hand pulled her in, just as the door slammed shut behind her. Jill stood in a dark vestibule, shaking harder than Elvis ever had. As another door swung open before her, she prepared to meet her executioner.

What she saw instead was an exact replica of the Brew Moon’s floor plan – kitchen to the right, stage to the left, bar straight ahead. Everything else here at the New Broom was the opposite of the old dive.

At least fifty people occupied the space, all dressed in black. Some stood at a copper bar, enjoying drinks and appetizers. Others sat at tables decorated with candles and flowers. This place smelled like fresh grass and lavender -- a definite improvement over the essence of beer, sweat, and weed that emanated from the Brew Moon.

As Jill stepped into the room, the sound of the chainsaw transformed into the buzz of friendly conversation. This looks safe, and I sure could use a drink. She headed toward the bar.

The bartender, dressed in a tight black t-shirt and tighter jeans, had his back to her. He was turning to face her when she remembered she’d left her purse in the van. She retreated, only to bump into something. Spinning around, she saw the woman who’d let her in. She seemed taller now, and in the candlelight, Jill could see that her face was etched with wrinkles. But it was her glittering green eyes that caused Jill to gasp. Miss Grimm!

The woman handed Jill a bubbly golden drink and, pointing with a bony finger, she compelled Jill to face the bartender again. No, it can’t be. Felix! Jill took a swig from her glass, jumped over the bar, and grabbed him by the front of his skin-tight shirt.

“Where’s Jack?” she screamed.

In one swift motion, Felix reached behind his head and pulled his shirt off. As Jill stood there clutching his empty shirt, bar patrons moved in close to have a better view of Felix’s torso. Felix reached toward Jill and turned her around to face the stage. 

A man in a denim jacket was adjusting the microphone. Jack! she cried, her voice a whisper. She tried to run to him, but her arms and legs felt leaden. Felix flipped a switch under the bar, and the stage lights came on. Jack’s eyes darted up to meet Jill’s before he disappeared behind a heavy velvet curtain.

“Welcome to tonight’s poetry reading.” Miss Grimm had taken center stage and was speaking into the microphone. “First up is Mr. Horner.” Again, Jill tried to move but couldn’t. What was in that drink? She had no choice but to slide onto a stool and watch events unfold. She thought she felt someone reach into her back pocket, but when she twisted around to look, no one was there.

A stooped gentleman in a black beret and matching cape shuffled onto the stage, pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, and read a verse about a mouse running up and down a clock. The words made Jill dizzy. After a round of applause, the man ambled back to his table.

“Next, Ms. Muffet,” announced Miss Grimm.

A large woman in a black evening gown and purple feather boa glided to the front of the room. After whispering that she’d written about an unfortunate egg, she read a poem from a card – something about kings, horses, and a wall, but Jill could barely process the words. She was still dizzy, and this poem was making her feel even worse.

“Our next guest needs no introduction,” Miss Grimm intoned. Felix walked onstage amid whistles. He’d retrieved his t-shirt and put it on, much to everyone’s chagrin. He smoothly delivered a poem about a cow, a moon, a dog, and some kitchen utensils. Jill thought it was silly, but the rest of the audience seemed enthralled.

As Felix returned to the bar, all heads turned to watch him (including Jill’s). When she returned her attention to the stage, she saw Miss Grimm.

“Our last piece is my favorite,” Miss Grimm declared. Jill expected to hear the sing-song nursery rhyme from kindergarten days.

 “One for sorrow, two for joy,” chanted Miss Grimm.

“Three for a girl, four for a boy,” the audience chimed in.

The poem about magpies! I know this one!

“Five for silver, six for gold,” Miss Grimm trilled.

“Seven for a secret never to be told,” responded the crowd.

“Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss,” said Miss Grimm, blowing a kiss into the air. Felix materialized next to her. 

“And ten is a bird you must not miss,” he concluded. With that, his and Miss Grimm’s bodies began to change.

Their shoes split open. Their toes grew and became claws. Their clothing sprouted shiny blue, black, and white feathers, and their backs grew wings. When their noses had turned into long beaks, they flapped their wings and flew down the hall.

Jill’s arms and legs tingled. She could move them again! But before she could stand, Jack bounded out from behind the stage curtain and ran to her. After a long embrace and an even longer kiss, she’d fully regained her motor abilities. They rushed to the exit.

Outside, they watched in astonishment as a pair of magpies circled above and soared away, turning into blue-black points against the sky. Just before the birds disappeared, Jill saw a flash of green and heard the plaintive cry of a violin.

She looked around. There was the Brew Moon. They could hear the crowd calling for an encore. Somehow, they’d managed to find their way back from the New Broom without a scratch.

Jill stood still, reverberating with memories of the poetry reading, the magpies, and everything they’d just been through. Then she squeezed Jack’s hand. He stared at her, dumbfounded. “It’s okay,” Jill told him. “Just follow your North Star.” She led him back inside and up onto the Brew Moon’s stage. She’d grasped the meaning of Miss Grimm’s poem, and it was her turn to be Jack’s guide now.

One for sorrow, two for joy. Jill had felt funny all week. She’d bought a pregnancy test that morning and had planned to take it after the gig that night. But Miss Grimm had conjured up the results already: two birds had materialized, like the two intersecting lines that meant “positive” on a pregnancy test. Three for a girl, four for a boy. Would she have a girl? A boy? That didn’t matter to Jill. She was just glad she hadn’t ordered a drink from the bar earlier. And thinking back to the bubbly concoction Miss Grimm had handed her, she realized it was probably straight ginger ale.

The crowd was on its feet. Jill grabbed the mic and hummed the melody that had been in her head all day. Pete and Jeremy stepped on stage; Pete grabbed his brushes while Jeremy plugged in his bass. Finally, Felix appeared, winking at Jill as he picked up his violin.

Jill looked at Jack. “I have a surprise for you.”

She reached into her back pocket for the lyrics she’d scribbled that morning and felt something hard and rectangular. She pulled it out, along with her lyrics. It was her phone, fully charged, with a new green case. The time read 12:01. Jill smiled knowingly. She had a pretty good idea who’d put it there. In kindergarten, Miss Grimm had always been able to magically slip candy into her pockets while she was too busy coloring to notice.

Jill moved to the mic and sang her new song, Two for Joy, in a clear, strong a cappella voice. When she finished, there was a beat of silence, and then a deafening roar.

Jill turned to Jack and pointed toward the exit. They ran for it without looking back.

“What about our equipment?” Jack asked her as they jogged to the van.

“The rest of the band can lug the equipment home this time,” Jill answered. “And I hope Felix gets stuck with the heaviest amps.” Then she smiled at what she was thinking: God knows he has the biceps for it.

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