Authors: Trisha Grace
To Jesus, whose love exceeds all the romance in the world.
To my darling husband who never fails to make me feel like a princess from a Disney story.
Christopher’s hands were cold, and his heart was racing. The suit he was wearing couldn’t stop the tingling chill creeping right into his heart.
Taking a deep breath, he walked out on stage.
Standing in the middle of the stage, he was momentarily blinded by the spotlights shining directly at him.
Before he was ready, the music started.
He’d worked hard for this audition. He had one shot, that was it.
He should focus on the music, but he couldn’t concentrate as he searched the audience for the one face.
His mother and younger brother were somewhere backstage, but Chloe wanted to sit in the audience. He knew she was doing it for him. She couldn’t stand to be in crowded, noisy places, but still she insisted.
He grinned when his eyes met Chloe’s.
She beamed back at him and stuck her thumbs up while mouthing, You can do it.
He nodded as the hard pounding in his chest slowed, and he concentrated on the words of the song.
It was a heartbreaking song, a song Chloe had chosen for him. She had told him that the song suited his voice perfectly, and all he had to do was put his heart into it.
He was only eighteen. He’d never had his heart broken, so he wasn’t sure how he should put his heart into such a sad song.
When Chloe realized he was struggling, she told him to close his eyes and imagine the love of his life walking away with another man. “She was everything to you, but she’ll be gone forever now,” she had said.
He opened his eyes and looked at Chloe. He imagined never seeing her again, imagined seeing her walk away hand-in-hand with someone else.
Just the thought of it made his heart ache.
That was when he heard the change in melody. It was time for him to sing, so he closed his eyes and allowed the words to flow out of him.
Three sentences in, the first judge spun around in the bright red chair. Christopher’s first instinct was to look at Chloe, but he closed his eyes before he did.
He couldn’t see her brilliant smile now. He’d forget all about the ache and the feelings he was supposed to put into the song.
Halfway through the song, all the judges had chosen to turn around, just as Chloe had predicted.
“You’ll win the competition. Once they hear your voice, all the judges will fight to have you on their team because all of them will know what I already know—you’ll win the competition.”
When he completed the song, he looked over at Chloe and grinned.
I told you so, she mouthed.
He wanted so much to go into the audience and pull her into his arms. After all, he was only here because of her.
“That was a brilliant performance. Tell us about yourself,” Scott Walker, the first judge who turned around, said.
“I’m …” His chin jerked a few times, and he struggled to say his name. “Chrisss …” He looked over at Chloe.
You can do it, she mouthed.
He nodded slowly, took a deep breath, and tried again. “I’m Christopher … Hunter.”
Scott Walker narrowed his eyes. “Christopher, something tells me you have an interesting story.”
He cast a brief glance at Chloe again and caught her nodding at him. “Since I could … speak, I’ve sss … struggled with … my stuttering.” Which was only getting worse with his nerves.
“Wow,” another judge said. “That didn’t affect your singing in any way.”
“That’s right,” the only female judge said. “You were truly amazing on stage. It was such a sincere performance. Were you singing to a particular someone?”
He laughed nervously. His chin jerked a few times as he tried to speak. “Not really.”
“So there’s a girl you imagined leaving you,” the female judge continued.
He laughed again, not knowing what to say.
“Oh, stop putting him on the spot already,” the last judge said. “Christopher, now you have a choice to make. Who will you choose to be your coach?”
He already knew. He’d discussed it with Chloe. “It means … a … lot to me that … all of you turned around. But since … I can … only choose one, I’d have to go … with Scott Walker.”
Cheers broke out from the crowd, and he took a step toward the front of the stage. He was tempted to go into the audience and get Chloe; he was worried about her.
He couldn’t, though; he was intercepted by Scott Walker, who had stepped onto the stage to give him a hug.
He relaxed and returned the hug after catching a glimpse of Chloe with her noise-canceling earphones on.
Chloe froze when she heard the song. Her hand lingered over the small cup of espresso while sugar continued pouring out through the metal spout.
Actually, she recognized the color emitted by the song before she recognized the voice. The unique shade of a blend of pink and yellow wafted into the air; the unique shade of color that belonged to him.
For a moment, she thought she was dreaming. Italy’s cafes didn’t have the habit of playing hits from the U.S.
She closed her eyes, simply so she didn’t have to look at his color floating around the cafe.
It was so strange to hear that voice and see that color again. She hadn’t heard that voice in years, but it still had the same effect on her. The voice captivated her and catapulted her back in time, back to when she first heard the song on stage.
“Chloe?” The cafe owner’s thick Italian accent pulled her from her thoughts, and she realized his fingers were over hers, tipping the sugar container back to an upright position.
She blinked and looked at him.
For a moment, both of their hands hovered before their faces, over the high glass counter that showcase the various sandwiches and fillings.
When she didn’t move, the owner pressed his lips into a sympathetic smile, took the sugar container from her hand, and grabbed the cup of espresso.
She blinked again and stared dazedly when he poured the smooth black liquid down the sink.
The aroma from the espresso hit her, waking her senses. She was about to ask him what he was doing when he knocked the shot glass several times against the stainless steel sink to loosen the large amount of sugar stuck to the bottom of the clear glass.
Without another look at her, he turned back to the black and silver machine before spinning around to wipe off the espresso that must have spilled from her glass.
” She apologized for the spilling and ruining the coffee.
” Bright yellowish-orange words floated from the cafe owner’s lips. She swallowed and forced herself to look at the owner instead of following the bubble of color expanding and floating away from him.
The words appeared like subtitles floating in mid-air. She didn’t need to read them to know what he was saying, but she was often tempted to gaze at the words.
Even after going through years of therapy, it still took serious concentration to keep herself from getting distracted by the colors emitted by sounds.
Now that she was older, she was better at controlling her reaction to the colors and words.
It was still obvious to the observant few, like the cafe owner who was trying his best not to stare at her, that she wasn’t normal.
At least now she knew she wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t imagining the colors or the words; they were as real for her as the sounds everyone heard. The only difference was people only heard the sounds while she was able to hear and see them. For her, sounds were accompanied by different shapes and colors.
Synesthesia, scientists called it.
” She smiled.
The cafe owner narrowed his eyes as he handed her the freshly-prepared espresso.
” She poured the sugar in, swirled the metal spoon around a couple of times, and downed the espresso right as the toaster beeped.
Grabbing the handle of the grill, he held the cover over her sandwich for another minute before slotting it into a white sandwich bag.
she said again and frowned at the purplish color that floated away from her. That was her usual color.
It suited her, she supposed. She was the melancholy sort, the sort who was unsociable and always trapped in her own mind. That was what her mother always said about her anyway.
She assured him that she was all right and there was nothing to worry about. “
She glanced over her shoulder and waved as she exited the small cafe, smiling ruefully at the yellowish-orange bubble floating toward her. Some people seemed naturally blessed with a cheerful disposition.
Behind the yellowish-orange was the color from the voice on the radio. The color caught up with her, swirling around the length of her body before bursting into glittering dust.
She shook her head, refusing to think about about him. He had forgotten all about her, and they had both moved on.
She sank her teeth into the crispy ciabatta bread and strode forward, keeping her eyes focused on the building ahead, on the classic off-white Roman columns and arches that characterized most buildings.
There weren’t any high-rise buildings with glistening glass panels. All around her were low buildings of stone and marble. Dark gray lines had found their way onto many of the surfaces, but they only added more character to the structures that went back hundreds and thousands of years.
The streets were quieter than usual, probably due to the chilling winter morning.
She turned the corner, and without having to look down, she stepped over a dent in the uneven brick sidewalk.
She ran her hand across a cool marble sculpture, one of the many in Rome. She loved all of them. Despite living in Rome for so many years, she still hadn’t gotten tired of them.
As she strode along, she breathed in deeply, closing her eyes as the refreshing air filled her lungs. She loved winter mornings and never understood why people hated it. The lack of people, and therefore noise, in the morning was a bonus for her.
She opened her eyes and reached into her bag as she felt her phone vibrating. Grinning at the screen, she took another bite of her sandwich and answered the call.
The cheerful, bubbly voice on her phone immediately made her smile. “Hi, Josh.” She blew at the bright yellow words that were right before her face, watching them warp and float away in the direction she’d blown in.
“I’m calling to remind you that my birthday is coming soon and to let you know what I want for my birthday.”
She hadn’t forgotten Josh’s birthday; she never did. He was like a brother to her. In many ways, he was the only family she had. “Your present is already on the way to your house.”
“I haven’t received it, so it doesn’t count.”
She laughed. “All right, so what do you want?”
“You, at my birthday party.”
“Are you having your party in Rome? Because you know that’s where I am.”
“Come back, then. I’m having my party at my mom’s place. And according to her, your mom’s house won’t have a tenant for another three months.”
She would rather stay in a hotel. “Why aren’t you having it at your own place?”
“A few of my friends haven’t experienced the life and adventure of a small town, so we’re heading up there this year,” he said. “If you don’t want to rent your mom’s place, you can always stay with us. I’ll let you have my room.”
She pinched her lips.
“It’ll only be a couple of days.”
“I’m sorry, Josh.”
“Come on, you haven’t been back here for, what? Ten years?”
“Eight. I’m not that old.” She had been back to the States; she just hadn’t gone back to the old neighborhood.
“Come on, I haven’t seen you for the longest time.”
She frowned at the gloomy blue bubble. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, why? Is my color all wrong again?”
She would’ve asked even if she didn’t have this quirk. Josh knew she didn’t go back to the States unless work required her to do so.
“It’s my birthday. You can’t deny my request.” Despite the lighthearted tone, a hint of blue remained in his voice.