“Guessing at Normal” by Gail Ward Olmsted
Blurb: Jill Griffin has mastered the art of being invisible, so when she falls in love with sexy rocker James Sheridan, at first she is content to live in his larger than life shadow. Building a ‘normal’ life together under the glare of the media is challenging and further complicated by constant touring, James’ partying and the mixed signals she gets from James’ twin brother Alex.
When her poems and journal ramblings become the songs on James’ best-selling album, Jill has to step out of her comfort zone and figure out how to live her life in a spotlight all her own. With no road map to follow, she struggles to navigate her way in her search for happiness. As her professional success threatens her relationship with James, Jill questions whether she can make a living writing love songs without the love of her life.
I met James Sheridan in a motel lobby almost twenty years ago. When I gave him change for cigarettes, I cautioned him about the perils of smoking, but I was just messing with him. What did I know? It was a fluke- I should have gone home almost an hour earlier, but the guy who was supposed to relieve me was late, so there you go. Those cigarettes changed the course of my whole life and James’ too! A few years later, his hit song Jericho Road (from the bestselling album Guessing at Normal) climbed the charts on its way to the #1 song on America’s Top 40 for a record 23 weeks. At the time, there was a great deal of speculation about the title of the song and its origin. I’m here to finally set the record straight, because I wrote the damn thing. Jericho Road is not a song about salvation. I’m sorry if the title was misleading. For some, ‘Jericho’ is where the Israelites returned from bondage in Egypt, but for me? It just happens to be the name of the street where I grew up and lived until I was eighteen years old. They say you can’t go home again, but I wouldn’t know. I never really tried.
Carly thinks I should share my story, so here goes.
Chapter 1 – What I Got
“Those things will kill you.” Those were the first words I ever spoke to James Sheridan. He was waving a five-dollar bill as he asked, “Can you change this? I need quarters to buy some smokes.”
I wasn’t surprised by his sudden appearance in the deserted motel lobby that night. I’d heard the hum of the elevator just moments before he appeared. I worked behind the front desk from 3:30 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday. I was supposed to get two fifteen-minute breaks and another half-hour for dinner, but there was rarely anyone to cover for me. It was a pretty boring job, with long periods of inactivity, punctuated by a flurry that would keep three people busy. When I wasn’t at work, I spent a lot of time reading and writing in my journal. I usually slept late on weekends and hung out with my best friend and her new baby. That was me, livin’ the dream!
So yeah, I heard this guy approaching before I looked up. We got some pretty sketchy folks most nights, and at first glance, he fit right in. Tall and lean, he had longish dark hair that looked like it could use a good washing. I pegged him to be in his mid-20s, but it was hard to be sure. He was barefoot (yew!!) and was decked out in a pair of baggy knee-length gym shorts and a black wifebeater. As he got closer, I could see a number of tattoos up and down his pale arms. He had a pair of bright blue eyes that were probably his best feature, but they were ringed in red and featured bluish shadows. He was a really good-looking guy, but probably a stoner. I was more attracted to the preppy types with short blonde hair and golden tans from days spent on the golf course or tennis court. The kind of guy who would never give me a second glance.
This guy was definitely glancing. From the corner of my eye, I could see him checking me out as I hit the buttons and rang a ‘no sale’ to get the cash register to open. That’s when I uttered my snappy line. I hadn’t said a single word out loud for more than two hours and I croaked it out, so I think all he might have heard was “kill you.” He held his hands up in protest.
“Hey, sorry. I can’t sleep and I’m out of cigarettes. So sue me.” Yikes, touchy! But something about him was vaguely familiar. I had heard that voice before. It was deep and rich and almost velvety. Maybe…
“It’s no problem,” I assured him. “I was just messing with you. Smoke all you want. I just want to get out of here.” I placed four singles and four quarters on the counter in front of him.
“What time do you get off?” the blue-eyed mystery man asked me.
“Gee, if I had a dollar for every time one of you guys asked me that,” I said with a smirk. He slid a dollar bill back towards me.
“You’re way too cheap,“ he told me with a grin and wandered off to the far corner of the lobby in search of his cigarettes. Moments later with his mission accomplished, he disappeared down the hall. It would bug me. I knew it would. I’m lousy with names, but faces and voices usually stick with me. Lost in thought, I jumped when Fran the night auditor came rushing up to the desk. He was in his early thirties, a big hulking guy who sounded more like a middle-school girl when he recounted his ongoing problems with his long-suffering girlfriend. I had never met Doreen, but she would have to be part saint to put up with Fran.
“Christ, Fran, you’re late,” I complained. “Again.”
“Come on. Don’t you bitch me out too,” he whined. I slipped into the adjoining office and opened the door that led out to the lobby. The damn thing locks automatically when it closes, and I can’t even count the number of times I had to shimmy over the counter to get back into the inner sanctum after sneaking out to the bathroom off the lobby. I can drop trou, pee and rinse off my hands in less than a minute, which was a good skill to have when nature called and I had to leave the registration desk unmanned.
“Oh, you big baby,” I volleyed back at Fran. “Are you two fighting again?”
“Yeah,“ he told me with a hangdog expression on his flushed face. “She’s really pissed that…”
“Save it for someone who cares, Fran. I’m off the clock.” I grabbed my car keys, my bag and the journal that I carried everywhere and took off through the lobby. Oh, wait. Don’t be such a bitch. “Good night, Fran,” I called out. “Full house tonight. See ya.”
“Jill, I’m sorry,” Fran called after me. “I’ll come in a half-hour early tomorrow night. I promise.”
“Make it forty-five minutes,” I hollered back and raced out the front door and smack into the blue-eyed smoker himself.
“Christ, you really do want to kill me,” he protested.
Oh man, I do not have time for this. Actually, I did have time as I had nowhere to be for the next fourteen hours or so until my next shift began. But still. “Sorry. I don’t really want to kill you,” I assured him.
“Well then, why don’t you come to my room and make it up to me somehow?” he teased.
“Now I do want to kill you. Hey, it’s been real. Got to go.” I race-walked across the parking lot towards my car. I was supposed to park out back and leave the prime spots for the paying guests, but I’d run late that afternoon and the back lot was pretty creepy in the early morning hours when I got off work. The mystery man quickly caught up to me, as his long strides easily outdistanced my short ones. “Do I have to call security?” I threatened, only half-seriously.
“No, I’m actually pretty secure,” he assured me. “But thanks, anyway.” Hmmm, cute and funny. “So do you have a name? Do you want a cigarette? Fresh pack.” He wiggled them at me.
“Yes, I have a name. No, I don’t want a cigarette. Any more questions?” I wiggled my car keys at him. “Good night, okay?” He dropped back and let me pass. I tried to unlock my car door, but the lock sometimes caught and you had to fiddle around with it. He came up from behind me and placed his hand over mine, steadying me long enough to actually accomplish the task.
“I’m James,” he told me. “I’m in a band.” Okay, loosen up, girl.
“I’m Jill. Wait, you’re James? James Sheridan from Nomad? Oh my God, I love you guys,” I gushed. I might have liked my guys preppy, but I like my rock music hard-core with a hint of grunge, just like Nomad delivered on their first album.
His eyes lit up. Maybe it was the well-lit parking lot, but they actually glittered.
“You like us, yeah, really?” He grinned at me, and I was finally able to place his good-looking face. It had been staring out at me from the cover of the album I’d purchased nearly six months before.
“You’re staying here?” I asked. “Well, of course you are. They never tell us anything.” Like management should have sent out a memo or something.
“Yeah, we played the Palace. Tonight was the first of three big nights,” he added sarcastically.
Hmmm. The Palace for three nights. That couldn’t be a good sign, touring to support a newly released LP, playing at a second-rate venue in a second-rate town like mine for not one, but three nights. I tried to work up to my earlier enthusiasm, but failed.
“Cool,” I responded weakly.
“Yeah, the tour has been pretty tough,” he admitted sadly. ”Ticket sales are slow and getting airplay is nearly impossible. We had to reschedule…”
I cut him off. He did not need to apologize or explain himself to me. He was a musician and a good one.
“Well, I bet you guys stormed the Palace tonight. Did you have them rockin’ out in the aisles?” I asked tentatively.
“Yeah. They liked us, I think. We got called back for an encore.”
“Oh, I love that one,” I told him.
He started humming the opening chords, and then broke into the chorus. “I’m already over you.” Oh my God! James Sheridan of Nomad is singing to me in the parking lot at one in the morning. Wait till I tell Beth! This is amazing. I could be in big trouble here, I realized, if I didn’t have a hard and fast rule about not fraternizing with motel guests.
* * * * *
Jill Griffin has her own playlist…everyone should!
What I Got by Sublime
Say My Name by Destiny’s Child
Friday, I’m in Love by The Cure
Got My Mind Set on You by George Harrison
I’ll Be Missing You by Puff Daddy
Baby, One More Time by Britney Spears
I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith
Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison
Two Princes by The Spin Doctors
Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve
Only Wanna Be with You by Hootie & the Blowfish
Torn by Natalie Imbruglia
Hard to Handle by The Black Crowes
Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.
Walking on the Sun by Smash Mouth
Right Here, Right Now by Jesus Jones
You Get What You Give by New Radicals
Linger by The Cranberries
Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews Band
Come As You Are by Nirvana
(Everything I Do) I Do It for You by Bryan Adams
Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Losing My Religion by R.E.M.
One Headlight by The Wallflowers
Something to Talk About by Bonnie Raitt
One Week by Barenaked Ladies
Un-Break My Heart by Toni Braxton
When I Come Around by Green Day
All I Wanna Do by Sheryl Crow
More Than Words by Extreme
You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette
The Boy is Mine by Brandy & Monica
I Try by Macy Gay
Give Me One Reason by Tracy Chapman
One by U2
Daughter by Pearl Jam
Killing Me Softly by The Fugees
Ray of Light by Madonna
I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly
What’s Up? by 4 Non-Blondes
Lose Yourself by Eminem
End of the Road by Boyz 2 Men
Closing Time by Semisonic
Truly Madly Deeply by Savage Garden
* * * * *
Gail Ward Olmsted is a professor in the School of Business & Information Technology at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, MA. She was the recipient of the Deliso Endowed Chair Award and was recently recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s Department of Higher Education as one of “29 Who Shine”.
Olmsted’s first visit to Sedona, AZ prompted her to start writing JEEP TOUR, her first novel. A few years later, her second visit provided the incentive to complete it. Her 2nd novel is Guessing at Normal, a rock and roll romance. She is currently working on a sequel to JEEP TOUR, which will be based in Ireland. A hopeless romantic, she is married to the love of her life, is mom to two young adults, and enjoys her three cats, reading, music and travel.