Act One

Act One

A Chapter by avoria
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For some reason the hyphens in this have changed into speech quotation marks. I've tried to go through and edit them out, but if you feel I've missed one, I'd be appreciated if you told me!

"

The babble of chatter was so loud she could barely hear herself think. Silky music sashayed through the air in every direction, smoke clinging to its formless body like a whispering caress. Through the haze of stage smoke Clare Abbott watched the performer, a man in sunglasses seducing the entire room with the melody from his muted saxophone. One note after another drifted through the air, laying kisses on her tingling skin. She loved this club, more than she could ever say.


Should you really be here, C?”


She turned at the sound of the drawl, a smile already prepared on her thin lips. “Don’t be like that, Fran. Dad knows I’m here.”


Francesca, eloquent barmaid and Clare’s best friend of several years, raised a questioning eyebrow. “That wasn’t what I meant.”


It’s no big deal,” she sighed, turning to look towards the stage again. “I’m just here to sing, and then I’ll be on my way.”


So if I offered you a drink you wouldn’t take it?” There was a sparkle in Fran’s eyes, but Clare shook her head. “Bullshit, girl. Have one on the house.”


Fran, don’t. Your mum could have her license revoked!”


It’s just us, who the hell is going to give a damn? Besides.” Once again Fran’s eyes lit up and mischief danced in their darkened depths. “You wouldn’t care if it was any other place.”


Despite protestations, Clare soon found herself nursing a cool peach schnapps, the ice clinking gently against the glass and condensation running the outside. She sipped at it slowly, enjoying the flavours and the way the alcohol made her slightly light-headed.


Fran worked as a barmaid and a waitress in her mum’s club, Soul Blues. A year above Clare all the way through school, she had finished sixth form the previous summer sporting an A and two Cs. It hadn’t been enough to get her into the university she’d wanted, so she decided to take a gap year and apply again as a mature student in a year or so’s time. Clare couldn’t exactly complain; it kept her best friend around for another year at least.


Clare was really only here tonight as a favour to Fran’s mum. She hated singing at the best of times, but volunteering talent at the open mic nights had been whimsical at best recently and " as Fran pointed out " Clare owed them. And in fact, the drink loosened her up just enough to give her the courage she needed.


Finishing the cooling liquid, she replaced the glass to the bar and licked her lips. Already she could feel it burning through her veins, giving her artificial courage and a wicked glint in her eyes. Her friend grinned at her warmly, swiping the glass from the bar.


See?” Fran teased good naturedly. “Isn’t that better?”


You’re a menace, Francesca Bennett,” Clare retorted, waggling a finger and sliding off the bar stool as though she were made of liquid herself.


Fran eyed her glass suspiciously. “You sure there was just alcohol in this?”


Positive. I’ll see you later, Fran.”


Blow them away, C.”


Fran watched as her friend weaved her way between the tables dotted around the club, heading towards the backstage doors towards the corner of the room. ‘Backstage’ was a bit of a rich term " it was only storage for various important items the punters didn’t want just lying around, but in there was Clare’s backing music, the only way they could ever get Clare to perform.


She would be envious of her best friend’s talent if she didn’t suspect that it was a little smoke and mirrors. And in all honesty, it was such a joy to hear Clare’s honeyed voice sifting through all the impure sounds that were often heard at Soul Blues that Fran could hardly really mind.


Throwing a towel over her shoulder, she turned to one of her customers and took their order.


***


Sam Logan took another sip of his drink and checked his watch. Half past nine " probably time they should be making a move. He’d only come here on the insistence from Georgia that he needed something to relax him before his first day of work and, as happy as he had been to oblige, he really did need to get home and have a good night’s sleep. Seven o’ clock starts from now until whenever would be hard on his system.


However, looking up he spotted her coming towards their table, a drink in each hand and a devilish smile on her face.


For you,” she sang, placing another whiskey on the rocks in front of him. Looking up, she caught his eye, her own dark orbs twinkling with the beginning of lust. “My beautiful man and his beautiful new job.”


Sam chuckled, moving ice around in his nearly-empty glass. “You’re spoiling me, George. They’re really not going to like it if I turn up to my first day hungover.”


And you won’t,” she promised. “Of all the men I’ve met you are the best at handling your drink.”


She promptly hiccoughed, and Sam laughed. “Better than you, it would seem.”


Oh, shush, I’m just proud of you.”


Beaming, her smile suddenly withdrew to her eyes, where it settled and made a home. Leaning forward she draped a hand over his chest, tilting her head and letting her frizzy hair fall in his face. He inhaled deeply, the smell of shampoo hitting him like an aphrodisiac and, coiling his fingers in her hair, met her lips in a kiss.


From the stage behind them a smooth bass cello started up, the music enveloping them as though it was joining them I their own little world. Breaking away from the kiss Sam turned, casting his eyes to the lone figure on the stage. There stood a young woman dressed in ivory white and black, her auburn hair curled in ringlets and falling about her shoulders as though she’d just let it loose. She looked up and began to sway to the music, holding a microphone to her mouth as though she were trying to make love to it.


Blinking, Sam swallowed, reaching his arm around Georgia and pulling her into his side as the song began to weave its way towards them.


Never know how much I love you ... Never know how much I care ...


Her voice was deeper than her looks gave her credit for, as though it had been doused with molasses and set alight. He’d never usually been one for nightclub singing, but then again, this was hardly a nightclub.


She’s pretty good,” Sam murmured, turning in his seat as the song continued.


Careful,” Georgia purred in his ear, “I might get jealous.”


Don’t be silly,” her boyfriend reprimanded, tearing his eyes away from the sultry singer and back to his love. He gave her a warm smile, reaching to touch her face with his hand. “Nobody could ever draw me away from you.”


Their gaze held in the soft light for a moment or two, before finally Georgia pulled back with a smirk in her eyes. “Oh, Sam,” she said with an airy giggle, “you do make me laugh.”


His eyes drew together in a momentary frown, but he let it pass as the song continued to wash over him. He resisted the temptation to turn again. Instead he just listened to the words and wondered if it was possible to absorb music into your soul. Then, shaking his head, he stared accusingly at his drink: enough was enough, he decided.


Georgia, I really think it’s time we should-" ”


Hey! It’s the two love birds. Fancy seeing you here.”


Georgia and Sam looked up to the familiar voice, and Sam couldn’t help his grin. Getting to his feet he embraced the other man in a warm hug. “Peter,” he said, pulling away and giving him a small slap on the back. “It’s great to see you, mate. I had no idea you were out tonight.”


Oh, I’m always out,” grinned his friend slyly. “You guys are staying, right?”


Actually, we were just - ”


Sure.” Sam cut across Georgia without quite meaning to and gave her a guilty look. She pulled a smile at him but he could tell it was forced; she didn’t like Peter at the best of times and seeing him tonight had probably messed up her plans with Sam for later. Still ... He felt a longing tug towards his friend, whom he hadn’t spent a proper night out with in months.


Did you come here by yourself?” Sam asked in order to diffuse the tension he could feel mounting by his sides.


Peter gave a half-hearted shrug. “Yes. But that just means more fun for me.” He pulled up a chair at their table, straddling it backwards and leaning forward to catch Georgia’s eye. “You’re staying out with us tonight, aren’t you love?”


Actually, Sam, I think I’m going to go home.”


Once again Sam felt torn, but the temptation to stay out a little longer with his friend, if only to play catch up, was just too much. He would probably get in trouble for it when he crawled home but for once that bothered him less than it normally did. He acquiesced to Georgia’s excusing herself and walked her to the entrance of the club, where a lane of taxis waited hungrily for late-night passengers.


Do you mind, sweetheart?” Sam murmured as Georgia shrugged on her coat.


It’s fine,” she insisted, but her tone alone told him that it wasn’t. However, it wasn’t worth having an argument about right at that moment so he gave her a smile, kissed her on the cheek and promised he’d be home in an hour or so. Then he turned back to where Peter was waiting and, cupping his hand and tipping it, went to the bar for another drink.


***

Peter gulped at his drink as though he had been struggling with thirst for years. When he replaced the glass to the table, the ice rattled like beads in a cup and his eyes trailed the room, resting on the girl on the stage. Her set was nearly coming to a close, but she still managed to hold the audience in rapture.


Damn,” Peter groaned, sucking in a breath. “She’s gorgeous.”


Sam, who was on his fifth whiskey of the evening, nodded in agreement. “Stunning voice. Absolutely stunning. Makes you wonder what a girl like that is doing in a deadbeat place like this. She could be on the West End.”


Peter looked back to his friend, grinning wolfishly. “Makes you wish you were single again, huh?”


Sam snorted into his drink. “Please,” he chuckled, wiping his chin. “She wouldn’t look twice at me.”


Not with that stuff dribbling down your face, no.”


And I’m perfectly happy with George,” he added, running his tongue around his mouth to get all the fiery liquid out of it. “She’s perfect.”


Peter met him with a sceptical eyebrow raised and said, rather conspiratorially, “She may be a lot of things, Sam, but perfect ain’t one of them.”


Sam was about to defend her when the music stopped and the stage lights went out. The woman, whoever she was, had clearly finished her set; a large whooping went up from the room, claps and cheers and even a wolf whistle as she climbed off the stage. Her figure, illuminated now only by the candles on the tables, started making its towards the bar.


Looking up, Sam saw a look in Peter’s eye that always meant danger. Before he could stop him, his friend was on his feet and circling the tables, heading straight for the young woman. Sam groaned inwardly, massaging his face with his hands; this could only end badly. In a few moments Peter was back at their table, the girl in hand. Sam peeked at her through his fingers, before dropping his hands to the sheen wood and giving her a genuine smile.


That was fantastic,” he gushed before he could stop himself. “Really, your voice is quite, quite stunning.”


Even in the soft light he could see a blush rise to her cheeks as she thanked him. Peter encouraged her to sit, but she insisted that she needed to get away lest her overprotective friend wonder what had happened to her.


Come on,” Peter pleaded, pulling his best puppy dog expression; Sam could hardly bear to watch. “One drink. It’s the least we could do for how you sang tonight.”


He could see her hesitating, feel it in the way she held her breath and glanced between them. Finally she nodded and took a seat, much to Peter’s delight. He dashed off to the bar to get a drink, leaving the mystery woman alone with Sam. He let his eyes survey her slowly, feeling something awkward arise in him. Picking up his glass he took a swig to appease his dry mouth, wondering what the hell he could say. Even with all the alcohol in his system, there was nothing he could possibly say that wouldn’t make him sound foolish.


Fortunately she saved him any embarrassment by speaking instead, and he would always be eternally grateful for that.


So, you and your friend liked the set, then?”


Sam nodded emphatically, his eyes meeting hers. Up on the stage they had been a little shadowed, but now their bright green shone like marbled malachite in the candlelight. “Wow,” he breathed, almost inaudibly.


Not quietly enough, however. “What is it?”


You have the most incredible eyes I’ve ever seen,” he admitted, though the whiskey was hiding any shame he may have felt from uttering it. “Really, they’re quite beautiful.”


Oh.” There was that blush again, as she tucked some of her crimson hair behind her ear. “Thank you.”


Flirting already, are we?” came Peter’s voice from above them, and Sam jumped. He didn’t always like how his friend seemed to be able to sneak up on him without him realising.


We were just ... ”


Talking,” she finished with a smile, catching Sam’s eye. She took the drink that was offered her. “Thank you for this. But I really must go soon.”


Of course.” Peter took the seat between them, angling himself away from his friend and towards the pretty young woman who’d decided to join them. “I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”


Oh, I’m sorry, how silly of me.” She put down her drink and extended a slender arm. “I’m Clare. Pleased to meet you.”


Peter caught it almost instantly and Sam didn’t have to hear his voice to know he was already flirting to the maximum. “I’m Peter. And it is definitely a pleasure to meet you. This here is my friend Sam, but he’s uptight; we don’t talk about him.”


Nice to meet you,” she said, but her eyes flicked away from Peter and looked shyly to Sam. He swallowed and monetarily excused himself. Did Peter have to be so cruel? Scaring off his girlfriend then flaunting young, attractive women in front of him? Georgia was twenty-nine, and though by no means was she anywhere near ‘middle aged’, she had a good five years on Sam, a good five years’ worth of living and experience. Her confidence bloomed like an evergreen tree, and more often than not their spats would end up with him conceding to her.


Clare could have been at least twenty, was probably older, but still had that shining warmth of youth to guide her through the night. He envied his friend a little for the freedom of the single world, and wished he wouldn’t lay it out in front of him so readily.


Hard day, man?”


Sam looked up into the face of the smiling barmaid, who was also startlingly attractive with her deep black curls and amber eyes, and skin as fine as a porcelain doll. What, was the world throwing them at him today?


Shot of vodka please,” he rasped unsteadily. Yes, it was a very bad idea, especially given his job the following day, but in the particular moment Sam Logan was beyond caring.


One-forty,” said the barmaid as she went to get him his drink. “Unless you want to add a second at only half price.”


Sam looked up, feeling daring. “Call it two quid and you’ve got yourself a deal.”


The bar woman hesitated, pulling at her bottom lip with her front teeth in a way that was almost agony for him to watch. Then she just shrugged and agreed. Handing over the money, Sam took one full shot and then another, swallowing them down as thought they were poison and trying not to throw them immediately back up again.


Wow,” smiled the maid in teasing, “you really have had a bad day, haven’t you? What’s your name?”


Sam,” he said through a cough, wiping his mouth. “That stuff is vile.”


Yeah, it’s not the best in the world. Does its job, though.” She leaned forward, her hair falling in front of her shoulders. “Is it wise to leave your friend with her?”


She nodded her head in the direction of Peter and Clare, where he already her her hand clasped in his and she was laughing heartily at something he’d said. Sam shrugged, looking away.


Pete’s harmless.”


She quirked an eyebrow. “Maybe I should see for myself.”


Without waiting for protestations, she let herself out from behind the bar and started making her way over to their table. Leaving it a moment to regain his breath from the drink, Sam followed, wishing he hadn’t had quite as much whiskey as he’d allowed himself and wondering what kind of argument he would walk in on when he got home.


With the open mic night now finished, it was just music from the jukebox in the corner that stroked the walls and filled up the atmosphere in the place like a pan simmering on the heat.


This man bothering you, Clare?” asked the waitress plaintively as she approached the table, but there was something grinning in her eyes.


Clare looked up and gave a smile. “Not at all. He’s quite sweet, actually.”


Sweet?” Peter protested, removing his hand in mock offence. “You wound me, madam.”


Sam, taking his seat again, missed the look the two girls gave each other. However, he found what happened next to be a little startling.


How about,” said the maid, “you buy this tired old barmaid a drink? I’ve been working my arse off all evening and I could do with a little pick-me-up.”


Peter, who didn’t seem to know quite what to do in the face of choice, got to his feet. “I’d be more than happy to help a woman in need,” he said smoothly and Sam hid a sniggering smile behind his palm. He looked up to find Clare doing much the same.


I get off work in a few minutes.”


Oh really?” growled Peter flirtatiously and before Sam knew it was toddling off towards the bar with his arm around the waitress.


Clare let out a heavy sigh, with a smile curling at its corners. “I suppose that’s me forgotten about, then. Fran always does that; I should owe her.”


Sam reached for his glass again, his heart sinking slightly when he noticed only a few sips left in it. “Does what?” he enquired, draining the glass.


Rescues me, when it all gets a bit too much.”


He looked up, giving her a frown as he set the glass back slowly on the table. Clare was wearing a look that said she hadn’t exactly meant to say what she’d said and, for lack of anything better to do, she reached for her glass and took a long, slow gulp from it. When she replaced it to the table, Sam still hadn’t said anything. He was just watching her, carefully, his eyes drawn.


It’s getting late,” Clare supplied, her eyes meeting his. “And I have places to be tomorrow.”


So do I. You wouldn’t believe I was starting a new job tomorrow. It would have been a mistake coming out tonight if I hadn’t ... ”


He trailed off, knowing he shouldn’t say the end of his sentence but silently daring Clare to ask for it. Their gaze locked and something kept under barrel and cage within him started to stir.


What?” she asked quietly and, on the table, his hand slid towards her.


Heard you sing,” he finished, a little above a whisper.


No, you fool, what are you doing? said a more rational part of his brain. But it was late into the night, he was on his way to drunk and there was no harm in playing with a little fire, especially now that the watchful eye of Peter had found someone else to drool over. Pete may have been harmless, but this girl was far too good for him even as a one night stand.


You really liked it that much?” Clare breathed and Sam found himself wondering, suddenly, how they seemed to get so close, how their knees were touching, how his arm had ended up draped over the back of her chair.


It was wonderful,” he said softly, his gaze holding hers as though they were lovers. His heart beat furiously, somewhere in his head and as his hand started making its way to her cheek alarm bells began blaring in his head. “I should go,” he said, a mantra that was whirling around his mind like a hurricane. “I should really ... go.”


Just under his touch, Clare nodded silently. Her eyes were large, staring into his as though they could see right inside him. No one had ever looked at him like that before, not even Georgia, and - damn it, what was he doing?


His hand just barely grazed her jawbone before some form of sense got the better of him and he jerked away, breaking the connection between them like snipping a thread. He sat back and let out a heavy sigh, thanking whatever gods that might exist that he held on to his sanity. Grabbing his coat he barely hung around enough to apologise, let alone wish her a good evening. He left with barely another word, stopping just in time to grab Peter by the scruff of his neck and force him out into the cold autumn night.


Damn, man,” Peter complained, straightening out his coat. “What was that for? She was really hot.”


This night,” Sam snarled, surprising himself with his own ferocity, “never gets mentioned. All right?” He prodded his friend soundly in the chest. “All. Right?”


Peter nodded dumbly, like a child who had been reprimanded for something he didn’t understand. Sam let out a relieved sigh, making his way to one of the taxis. The only thing that comforted him in that moment was the fact that this entire night could be erased in the past and, if he didn’t come to Soul Blues, he didn’t have to worry about seeing that barmaid or Clare ever again. And good thing too, because she would have been very dangerous.


But then - these things have a way of bleeding through all the folds of your life, don’t they?



© 2010 avoria


Author's Note

avoria
I'm least pleased with this chapter overall and, alas, I am well aware of its clichés; if you have any advice to keep the 'feel' of it whilst chucking phrases or situations that bring it down please let me know. Constructive criticism is what helps (:

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Added on March 25, 2010
Last Updated on March 25, 2010


Author

avoria
avoria

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About
I've been an amateur writer for more than ten years. When I was fifteen I discovered fanfiction and, in my time writing it, explored my own creative writing style and and branched out significantly. S.. more..

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