by Teresa Cain
"You want another drink, honey?" the waitress asked sympathetically, picking up several empty glasses from the small, scarred table. The young woman sighed and nodded.
"Another Bacardi please."
Celeste sighed and leaned her chin on the heel of her hand, curling her fingers over her bright red mouth. Stood up on a night when she had turned out incredible. What a waste. Her fine, flaxen hair was bound up in a knot on the back of her head, her wispy bangs curling just right over her forehead. Her make-up was flawless over porcelain skin: eyeliner and mascara just right, her blush for once not too heavy on her high cheekbones, the three shades of gray eyeshadow perfectly applied and blended. She had a new little black dress of Chinese design: short and tight, with little cap sleeves, a mandarin color, and frog closures, and was wearing sheer lace top stockings with a sexy seam up the back. Black heels with an ankle strap shod her small feet. Teardrop pearl earrings hung from her lobes. Beneath the new dress she wore brand new satin undergarments.
Celeste felt beautiful and desirable, surely capable of turning Jeff into a drooling horndog - and he'd stood her up. Bastard! Now her good all-over night was being wasted on a bunch of college kids and white-collar workers hiding from their wives.
The waitress came back, setting another glass of rum in front of her. Part of her was glad the jerk stood her up. Now she could have her favorite drink. Jeff was of the mind that delicate little blondes should only drink white wine or frou-frou cocktails. Celeste really enjoyed the taste of rum, however - always had. She put it off to pirate ancestors.
Picking up the glass, she heaved another sigh and wondered what she should do with the rest of her evening. The brightest course of action would be to get a cab home and prepare for the next day's hangover. She was too drunk to try anything else. If she went out on the town tonight, she would more than likely have a ton of regrets tomorrow.
Especially feeling as revenge-minded towards her arrogant jerk of a boyfriend as she did right now.
And why had she agreed to meet him in a karaoke bar? If she heard one more drunk engineering student trying to belt out "I Will Survive", she would take off a stocking and hang herself in a bathroom stall. It seemed that it was the truly tone deaf who signed up over and over to try their hand at the mike.
Someone get me a gun, she thought wearily to herself, swirling the drink around in its glass while glaring at the cute little brunette butchering Aretha Franklin's "Respect". Wait, why the hell am I still here? Jeff's a no show, so I just sit here drowning in self-pity and Bacardi? What the fuck is that? Screw that, I'm outta here.
Yet some perverted twist of her soul had her walking over to the sign-up for the karaoke machine and jotting down her name and choice of song. Then she sat back down at her table to finish her final drink and wait her turn. All too soon she heard her name being called and drifted up to the mike, acknowledging the smattering of polite applause and a couple of catcalls.
She had a moment of panic when the first strains of Paula Abdul's "Blowing Kisses in the Wind" poured out of the speakers, but she simply closed her eyes, opened her mouth, and began to sing.
Genetics partly, plus training almost since she could speak lent a strength and purity to her voice that silenced the bar. They all listened raptly to the crystal tones amplified by the cheap microphone, their silence a sucking void that demanded to be filled. And so she filled it. She poured her heart into the lyrics, saying her good-byes to her absent lover.
So tell baby tell
Celeste felt eyes on her and gave an inward sigh. Here she was some beautiful goddess only worshipped when she opened her mouth and let the music come. Where were these enthralled stares earlier when she had sat posed at the table, practically begging for someone - anyone - to come and comfort her? No, as always, she was overshadowed by the damn voice forced on her by Fate and an unsatisfied mother.
It's like I'm...
Now she was really depressed - really drunk and really depressed. Would someone please just shoot her? Of course, there was bound to be a better swan song than one of Paula Abdul's old pop wonders...
So please baby, please
But through all the stares of the bar crowd, one lay with an oppressing heaviness against her skin. She opened her eyes, scanning the faces before her while a near separate piece of her went on singing. She looked at the university students watching her with wistful expressions, knowing none of them would be able to follow this act. She looked at the businessmen with their loosened ties, which sat there with whiskey or beer in hand wondering how to get this blond nightingale into the nearest motel room. There were other couples and some singles wanting to become coupled, but none were watching her with anything more than a mere longing or jealousy for her voice.
And then she spotted him tucked away in a corner near the door, leaning against the wall. A tiny frown creased his brow as he studied her with an intensity that left its psychological mark, making her more than a little uneasy. But yet she was a sucker for a pretty face - Jeff the Jerk was proof of that - and it took away some of the trepidation.
She couldn't see much of him in the dimness of the corner, but he had long dark hair unbound over his shoulders and pushed back away from an almost delicate face that just barely clung to any kind of masculinity. The shadows and the long black coat hid whatever he wore beneath them. Prettily handsome, yes, but she was just dumping one boyfriend. The last thing she needed was to jump right into someone else's bed.
Celeste was halfway through the chorus when an overwhelming wave of hopelessness and despair crashed over her, cracking her flawless voice and loosening her grip on the mike. Groans of disappointment and curious whispers broke out around her as she dashed from the stage, pausing only long enough to grab her purse before stumbling out into the night air. She gulped in the fetid, polluted city air as tears began to glitter in her eyes. Falling back against the front of the bar, she closed her eyes and let them spill over her cheeks.
"Liebling, whatever is the matter?"
She jerked in surprise at the soft voice speaking so close and opened her eyes to stare at the man who had been watching her so intently while she sang. Under the street lamp's light she could see his hair was actually a deep auburn, and his eyes were a dark storm gray. He wore a black silk shirt and buttoned vest beneath the long wool coat, and his pants and shoes looked very expensive. But what startled her was the seemingly genuine concern in those storm cloud eyes.
"Oh, n-nothing," she hiccuped, opening her purse to look for a Kleenex. Of course the elusive piece of tissue wouldn't be in there. A square of fine cotton was suddenly under her nose, which she took gratefully. "Th-thank you. I'm not usually this bad, but I'm just really drunk."
"Alcohol poisons not only the body and mind but the soul as well," he admonished gently as she wiped at her eyes.
"I know, but so do jerk-ass boyfriends," she snuffled into the handkerchief. "I'm sorry... I shouldn't have said that."
"It's not the truth?"
She had to smile at the amusement in his voice. "Well, yeah... but it's no fair to unload on strangers."
Celeste unfolded and folded the soggy cotton, looking for another dry spot. "I think I've ruined your hankie here. Sorry about that."
"I doubt it could have been sacrificed to a greater cause, liebling, than to wipe away unnecessary tears."
"That's very sweet." She sniffled again and handed the handkerchief back to him. "Thank you."
He made no move to take it back, but stood there with a faintly puzzled expression on his lovely face. "Your voice... it is an odd thing."
She blinked, then shook her head and started to look for her cellphone to call a cab. "I've heard it called many things over the years, but odd is a new one on me."
"You sing with perfect clarity and tone and pitch, yet while I listened to this miracle being wasted on American pop, I realized it had only one flaw. Did you know that you keep your voice and your soul as two very separate things?"
"Do I?" she asked stiffly, locating the small phone. She found the number for the cab company and hit SEND. "Imagine that."
He fell quiet as she gave her location and received an estimate on how long she would have to wait. Then she hung up, tucked the phone back into her purse, and swung around to glare at the intrusive bastard.
"It's none of your business, but my voice has been a source of constant misery for me ever since I was old enough to realize that my mother didn't give a damn about me as a person, but as a voice. She caught me with a cigarette when I was thirteen and took a switch to me with such violence that I was unable to sit for nearly a week." She paused to brush her bangs away from her eyes and stared hard across the street. "It's the main reason I chose to be an accountant. No one gives a damn whether or not you can carry a tune when you're an accountant. As long as you can add, subtract, multiply and divide, they're perfectly happy with you as a human being."
The rum was making her babble. Rum always made her babble.
"I want to hear you sing again."
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, then returned to staring at nothing in particular. "I hope you're not waiting for an encore, buddy. Celeste here has left the building."
A gloved hand touched her chin, turning her face towards him. Furious at his gall, she opened her mouth to tell him to get his hands the fuck off of her - but the angry comment died as his eyes locked with hers in the flickering light of the street lamp. The rest of the world seemed to fall away, as he became the most beautiful and important part of it. Perhaps he became even more important. She felt an overpowering urge to snuggle into his chest like a little child and was very surprised to find herself doing just that. One hand stroked over her cheek, and she shivered at the touch.
"Come along, liebling," he said, and slid the long coat around her. She pulled it closed and looked up at him quietly, trustingly, waiting. He smiled and put an arm around her shoulders, gently guiding her along the sidewalk. "Let us be off."
She never turned around to look behind, content as she was to be wrapped in his warmth and the faint smell of expensive cologne. But had she looked, she might have seen their departure being watched carefully by a shape in the shadows. Their exit was well marked by the shrouded figure before it slowly withdrew into the darkness of the alley by the bar.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Euphony ©2001 by Teresa Cain
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