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Authors: Jade Goodmore

Winter Blues (3 page)

BOOK: Winter Blues
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I need to fix this.

 

 

 

5

Darlene

 

The heels of my boots pound rhythmically in unison with my
nervous heart as I walk toward
The Nest
. I can hear the sizzling bass of an upbeat song enticing me nearer and so I quicken my pace. It’s been so long since I’ve been out to experience live music and it’s only just dawning on me how much I’ve missed it.

As I reach the doors I am already smiling. I walk in to the voice of Janis Joplin and take a moment to absorb the room around me. It’s big, much bigger than it looks from outside because it stretches a long way down from the door. At the very end is a small stage, currently empty but no doubt waiting for its first participant. To the right is a lengthy bar, which is exactly where I head.

The whole place is slick with polished wood and glossy black surfaces. It oozes retro style with mirrored walls and low hanging light fittings. It is like nothing I have ever personally encountered before and yet I feel completely at ease here. The reason for that immediate comfort is that this place is clearly all about the music. Iconic images of famous bands and singers are plastered on the walls, eclectically ranging from Elvis to Maroon 5, from Sinatra to Led Zeplin, from Smokey Robinson to Michael Jackson. To the side of the bar sits an ancient jukebox but in every corner of the room hangs expensive, contemporary speakers; the reason behind the bass thumping invitingly outside.

Behind the bar is a collection of photographs. They’re all taken within this room, many aimed at the stage. I’m studying it profusely when I’m interrupted.

“Hey, looky here, it’s Pilgrim.”

“Excuse me?” I reply, looking immediately into the dark features of the guy in front of me and working hard not to drool. He’s absolutely breathtaking.

“I called you Pilgrim, because you were playing Soul Stirrers in the park, right?”

It’s him.

Dangerous eyes
.

He looks different, though. He’s not wearing a hat for a start, allowing me to see the black cropped hair previously hidden beneath it. I was right nonetheless, his beauty does withhold up close. Dark eyes engage me from the offset and a strong jaw, perfectly smooth, begs to be stroked. His rich
, mocha skin is flawless but for a faint dusting of freckles that sit atop his nose and sharp cheekbones. Totally endearing.

“No, I think you’ll find I was actually playing Johnny Cash in the park.”

“Oh, I see.” He smiles wickedly, permitting me a glimpse of his perfect teeth. “You’re country.”

“Yes...n
o...well, not anymore,” I stutter like an incompetent idiot.

“You certainly sound country.”

I can’t deny that. I have an undeniably southern twang to my accent, but for some reason it’s more prominent here. “I
was
country, but now I’m seeing how
city
feels.”

Squint
ing his eyes at me thoughtfully, he leans in. I inwardly wither under his appraisal. “You can be whatever you want in here, Pilgrim,” he whispers. An effortless smile breaks out across my face, and upon seeing it his own smile broadens. “Can I get you a drink?”

“Yeah, Corona
please. Oh, and a glass of water.”

He turns away to collec
t my drinks from a low fridge, flashing his denim covered ass in my direction. It’s perfect, just like the rest of his body. He’s long and athletic, with a wide chest and strong arms. He’s the embodiment of a Jackie Collins dream.

Oh my God, Darlene, snap out of it.

“I’m assuming from the guitar that you’re performing tonight?”

“You’re sharp,” I respond sarcastically
, but with humor, as I take the drinks and reach for my purse.

He shakes his head before I get chance to hand him th
e money. I cock my own head in confusion. “Performers drink free,” he explains. I don’t believe him, but I also don’t want to argue with him. I need all the friends I can get.

“Thanks.”

“Let me get your name down,” he says, reaching for a clipboard and pen. “There’s quite a few playing tonight, but no newbies, except for you.”

I smile. I think he’s trying to make me
feel nervous but it doesn’t work. I don’t feel the nerves until I’m up on the stage, and even then, I welcome them.

“So, what’s your name? Or should I just write
‘Pilgrim.’” He’s biting his bottom lip over another smile. It’s clear he’s enjoying the teasing. Or is he flirting? I can’t tell. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the receiving end of such games.

“Darlene.” I hold out a hand and he takes it, his huge hand engulfing mine and weakening me instantaneously.

“Darling?”

“Dar-leeen,” I sound out, exaggeratingly.

“I prefer Darling.”

Okay, he’s definitely flirting. I need to nip this in the bud.
He’s still holding my hand so I pull away with a jolt. I’ve seen him clock my wedding ring, so what gives?

“Do you? That’s a real shame.”

He chuckles at my attempt to be standoffish. “I’m Blue.”

“Blue?”

“Blue.”

“As in the color?” I ask, somewhat amused.

“As in the color, as in the music, as in the movies, as in sad, as in those big ass eyes you’re sporting, or as in the name. Blue.”

I can’t help b
ut smile. What an odd name. But then its quirkiness seems rather fitting for him. He naturally stands out from the crowd, more so than anyone I have ever known.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Blue.”

“Not yet it isn’t,” he mumbles.

“Sorry?”

“Take a seat. The shows about to start.”

I
do as I’m told, for a change, blame it on confusion. After pushing through the growing crowd I manage to find a tall barstool propped up against the wall. I take a seat, happily watching the music lovers as they become excitable. Blue is walking to the stage, slapping backs and rubbing heads as he moves through the obviously adoring people.

Is he the manager here? The owner? Everyone seems to know him and he certainly has that commanding presence about him.

Climbing up onto the stage he moves a few things around, allowing me further chance to study him. And from a distance this time. He won’t see me ogling him so casually, as if I haven’t got a husband or a conscience. Answering my devilish prayers he removes his shirt, revealing a black, skin-tight vest underneath, along with incredibly defined muscles.
He’s a God
. My private assessment only goes unnoticed for so long because as Blue takes the microphone in his hand he shoots a look straight at me. I hope I’m not drooling. He smiles and I return it, then he turns to address the heavy crowd between us.

“Ladies and gentlemen, guys and girls, welcome
to open mic night at your favorite, most welcoming, most talented and most downright happening bar in town! I’m going to kick off this evening with a little favorite of mine, and I do believe, a favorite of yours. Sing if you know it.”

I seriously hope that he isn’t going to sit at the upright piano behind him. I’m already struggling with these indecent thoughts without adding talent to the equation.

He doesn’t.

Instead he slips off stage and comes back with a guitar in his hand.

Just great
.

What I can only describe as his fans start whooping and clapping as the dazzling chords of
Sweet Home Chicago
play out, courtesy of his talented fingers. His voice is as equally bluesy as the chords as he sings passionately to this lively song. He’s playful and responsive with the crowd and it’s a dream to watch. My face hurts from the smile stretched across it and I find myself dancing a little in my seat. He catches my eye several times and tosses me confident smiles.

He knows he’s good.

How could he not?

He’s a complete showman.

At the bridge, he cuts the strumming and wills the crowd to join in. They do.
I do
. I’m caught up in the show, the experience, feeling myself falling in love with this place and how it makes me feel.

I’m home again.

As the song continues so does his hips, swaying in perfect harmony to the sultry rhythm of the blues. I can’t tear my eyes away. I know I should, but I feel invisible, hidden by the swell of the mob. It can’t hurt to look. I mean, I know it would never go any further than looking, so I can secretly appreciate, right?

The song grinds to a halt and the room goes wild, me included.
What a performance
! He takes a playful bow before hopping off the stage. Struggling through the crowd, addressing the same people he did on the way there, he detours to me. I sit up suddenly in my seat, weirdly feeling like a crazed fan after the way I just behaved and how he managed to extract said behavior from me. 

“You liked?” he says,
wiping his forehead with the back of his hand and leaning in a little too close to be considered merely friendly.

“I liked.”

“I could tell.”
Cocky bastard
. “I can’t wait much longer to watch you. You’re on soon.”

He walks away
, leaving me unusually anxious. How can anyone possibly follow that? Luckily I’m not the first one to attempt it. A timid guy with shoulder length hair is called to the stage by Blue behind the bar, and he sits at the piano. Everyone is watching but nobody seems overly keen to listen. He begins a song I’ve never heard, his fingers moving softly over the keys as his voice whispers into the microphone. He’s great, but too quiet for this crowd, who fall silent in response. They obviously appreciate good music though because he still gets a polite applause, but I can’t help imagine that he wants more. I know I would.

When Blue calls my name to the stage, I shake off the surprise and quickly make my way, feigning confidence until I can feel it. The previously quiet crowd chatter
s noisily while they inspect me,
a newbie,
but I don’t acknowledge them until I’m sitting on my stool with Cash on my lap. I strum once, letting the strings wailing silence the room. When I have their attention I feel a mammoth flurry of nerves in my gut. I breathe deep, forcing them out, before I introduce myself.

“Hi, gir
ls and boys, my name’s Darlene. I’m going to sing a little something and hope y’all enjoy it.”

What’s Up
by 4 Non Blondes has been loved by myself for many years and it always seems to be a crowd pleaser. It’s both soft and loud, both easy and poignant, and at this moment in my life, it’s perfectly fitting.

With a final flutter of butterflies I begin, singing gently about how stagnant I feel, lost here, but still hoping. I tell about my despair and how I’m coping...or not coping. But I c
an forget that despair while sitting here. The comfort I feel in performing comes instantly. The spotlight on my face is soothing, and the gentle hum of the audience an invitation.

The chorus comes and so does the echo of the crowd singing every word with me. It’s energi
zing. I feel a line of excitement course through me as every previously quiet hair on my body stands up and reminds me it’s there. God, I’ve missed this. I risk a glance toward the bar only to find, not only Blue watching me, but the other two bar staff. They aren’t serving because everyone is watching me, singing with me, enjoying me.

I pick up the intensity as the song fills my mind, tuning out the crowd as I feel myself in the music. At this point in my life I feel like I could have been the inspiration for this piece. Instead of succumbing to the upset that brings me I push the emotion into my set and with the returning chorus I give it my all.

Another round of ricocheted voices appear and I embrace them, I encourage them. As the passion of the song increases so does my volume and intensity. I play around with the arrangement and draw out the high notes, making it more my own. I’m totally feeling it and totally being reminded of why I love to perform, to be center of attention, especially when I am now so overlooked in my everyday life.

The second that the last note plays out the room erupts. I’m both embarrassed and ecstatic at the response. Encores are called for but I couldn’t. I saw the list of people wanting to play tonight. Instead, I wave gratefully and make my way to the edge of the stage on jelly legs and with a thumping heart. Blue is waiting for me,
taking Cash before helping me down from the stage. He pushes us through the congratulatory crowd and guides me to the bar. I smile and shake hands with random drinkers, feeling unusually shy in their praise.

When we reach the bar I am handed another Corona. I sit next to Blue on neighboring stools, still waiting for him to say something, anything. The silence is awkward, and the incessant smiling is distracting.

He really does have perfect teeth.

I stare at him, pointedly,
before resorting to poking him in the shoulder to force a response. He laughs and runs his hands down his face as if in disbelief. “I-I didn’t expect that. I knew you’d be good, but, God, you’re
good
. I just thought you’d be this timid little whisper of a singer and you’re, shit, y-you’re so good.” He’s stuttering, a complete contradiction to his previously cool self. It’s quite sweet. He’s not totally superior.

BOOK: Winter Blues
8.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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