The Torch Singer Ch. 02

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Babe

Okay, my babies, here is Chapter 2. We’re picking up the tempo now. Hope you are enjoying it.

XO,

L

*****

SECOND MOVEMENT

[A section of a musical composition in which the progression of the piece continues to unfold…]

Jake paced around his swank hotel room, unable to sit still. It was easier when Frankie was just a distant fantasy – an idealized prototype of the woman he always wanted. Perfect and unattainable. That’s what he was used to.

But now, they were in the same city. And in less than an hour, he was going to be in the same room with her. He was going to actually talk with her for the first time in over ten years. He ran his fingers through his hair, unknowingly disheveling it quite fashionably.

Mint from his toothpaste made the inside of his mouth tingle. Through the leather soles of his boots and all the way through his fine-gauge knit socks, he could perceive the knap of the rug as he walked. The cool cotton of his untucked navy dress shirt felt smooth on his skin – like his senses were overly-sharp. Pressing his palm to his hard, flat stomach, Jake wondered if he should try to eat something, and then immediately dismissed the idea. He was too nervous.

He allowed his mind to wander back to the last time he’d seen her in person. Her graduation from college, three years ago. No one he knew had seen him, he’d made sure of that. But he had to be there – he had to see her accept her diploma. Arranging the scholarship had not been easy – but it was something he could do for her. After his lawyer set up the endowment, it was a simple matter of establishing eligibility criteria that fit Frankie’s situation – a female voice major, from the Massachusetts region, who had raw talent and great financial need.

He still remembered his lawyer’s comical expression when Jake decided to give four-year grants not only to Frankie but also to three other need-based music students who fit the criteria. Hell, it was a good idea and he was sure that it would be a good thing to do. A little nod to karma.

He remembered the bright sunshine of that June day in Boston. He sat far in the back of the audience, hiding behind Aviator sunglasses and a Red Sox baseball cap. Frankie practically glided when she walked. The sun turned her silky hair to white gold. The bell-sleeved gowns worn by all of the graduates seemed to billow mythically on her as she received her diploma and flipped the tassel to the other side of her cap. She glanced back over the crowd, a dazzling smile on her face, until she picked out her family. Frankie’s brothers were making ridiculous hooting sounds, and she laughed, tipping her head back, one graceful hand holding the cap in place. Jake felt dizzy just watching her.

How he’d wished that she’d remembered his letter and had chosen him – that she’d called him after turning eighteen, as he’d hoped. But Frankie had moved on, and he respected that. It didn’t mean that he stopped loving her. He promised to be there for her, so he was – whether she knew it or not. He’d have happily given her more than money, if she’d let him.

Jake was jerked back to the present when his phone chirped. His car was downstairs. He snatched up his smart, pinstriped jacket and shrugged into it, surveilling himself in the mirror one last time. He felt pale under his L.A. tan, but he mentally shrugged – this would have to do. His jeans were genuinely old and distressed, which made them look expensive. He didn’t really know how people dressed for jazz clubs in the lower east side, but he thought this would probably allow him to blend.

Slipping the key to his suite into his pocket alongside his phone, he headed to the elevators. It was all he could do to stop himself from running.

The back of the SUV was cool and quiet, and his driver was mercifully silent as they made their way across town. Lost in his memories, Jake was stunned to suddenly feel the vehicle pull to a stop outside of Strange Fruit. She was somewhere inside.

As the driver jumped out to walk around and open his door, Jake practiced his deep breathing trick. He had to calm down. She was a human being, after all, like everyone else. Maybe she’d be pleased to see him. His manners automatically kicked in, and he thanked his driver politely as he exited. The door to the club was discreet, and the sign was barely noticeable – as if it was an old time speakeasy.

The doorman straightened slightly when he entered, seeing the unmistakable signs of an affluent customer, but Jake never noticed. An attractive young woman with gorgeous coffee-colored skin, a mass of curls and startlingly pale amber eyes flirted with him lightly as she led him to a prime table toward the center of the room. Jake gently asked if he could sit a bit further back from the tiny stage, and without skipping a beat, she pushed back the seat she’d been holding for him, and led him a few tables back.

With a practiced air, she let her arm rest against the back of his seat as she leaned down for his drink order. He could smell her patchouli-based güvenilir bahis cologne. Jake ordered a single malt and a bottle of water, handing over a platinum card as he asked her to keep an open tab.

When the waitress had left, he glanced down at his watch. It was 8:55. He only had to wait five more minutes. Jake suppressed an impatient sigh and adjusted his posture, pushing the small shaded candle on his table a bit further away so it didn’t shine so directly in his line of sight. He decided to kill time thinking about what he would say to her.

‘Hey, there, Frankie. Long time no see…’ Well shit, that was just god-awful.

‘I bet you’re wondering why I’m here…’ Hell no.

‘I can see those Billie Holliday records paid off…’ Not the worst attempt, but still pitiful.

‘You look just the way I always imagined.’ JESUS!! Stalk much? No way.

Jake shook his head a bit, as if trying to clear it. He ran his fingers through his hair again. He really had to get a grip. The cute waitress brought him his Scotch and water. He smiled up at her gratefully.

Without thinking about it he asked: “Should I go ahead and order another one before the show starts?” The only thing betraying the woman’s thoughts was a quickly raised eyebrow, but she recovered immediately and gave him a smooth, professional smile.

“Good idea. We don’t like to create any distractions when my girl is singing. I’ll get that for you right away.” She winked at Jake before she sashayed back toward the bar. The rest of the tables were rapidly filling up, and the room seemed to be almost humming with anticipation.

Jake allowed the whiskey to coat his tongue, letting the burn dissipate, before he took a serious sip. The heat spread down his throat and hit his anxious stomach like a fist. It felt good. Alcohol didn’t usually have much of an effect on him, and he rarely drank very much. But it wouldn’t do to lose control tonight. Jake set down the Scotch and picked up the glass of water, knocking back half in one go.

His phone vibrated in his pocket. Frowning, he pulled it out and read the text. It was from Danny.

“ARE YOU SEEING HER TONIGHT?”

Jake typed back a simple “Y. AM AT THE CLUB NOW.”

“LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK ASAP. SEE IF YOU CAN GET HER TO COME FOR A TEST.”

Jake laughed a little at the director’s excitement. They’d been over this many times already.

“WE ALREADY DISCUSSED THIS. DON’T WORRY. I AM ON IT. GOTTA GO NOW> SHOW STARTING… TTYL”

Jake put his phone on airplane mode so he would not be disturbed further. As he slipped the phone back in his jacket pocket, the saucy waitress returned with his second drink.

Leaning close to his ear, she said: “This one is on the house, Mr. Garner. We’re big fans of your work.” Jake flushed a little, and leaned back to look at her. She smiled, and it had a slightly deferential look.

Dammit. The credit card. ‘What an idiot I am.’ He thought. He still wasn’t used to being recognized, so he never expected it. But in a music club – well, he should have thought more clearly. If he hadn’t been so distracted…

“Thank you so much. That is very nice of you.” He managed to say back. He could see she was noting his embarrassment. He wondered what she was thinking.

“My pleasure. Let me know if I can get you anything else.” She tilted her head to the side playfully, and winked at him yet again, this time more exaggeratedly.

Somehow, he suddenly knew she was just teasing – though he couldn’t say why. Jake laughed, and felt himself relax for the first time all night. She grinned and laughed with him, seemingly pleased and surprised that he was in on the joke.

“What’s your name?” he asked her. Just like that, she seemed to drop the flirty waitress façade and smiled at him like herself. This smile was genuine and full of wit and confidence.

“I’m Shari. It’s very nice to meet you. I better go – they’re about to come out now. Enjoy the show, Mr. Garner.” She gave his shoulder a friendly little pat before walking away.

Just then, the house lights slowly went down, and the audience – many of whom seemed to be regulars – began to applaud and whistle. The band members came out and bowed elegantly as they took their places. They wore white dinner jackets and black bow ties. In the grainy light of the white spot, against the dark velvet curtain behind them, the retro 1940s authenticity was dramatic. The last man to come out was the piano player, who was apparently also the band leader. The noise from the audience escalated as he appeared, and he waved to a few people as he took a bow, and then held his hands out for the rest of the band. He sat and allowed the applause to die down for a moment. Leaning close to the mic mounted on his baby grand, he said a very short “thank you”. The room went still, and the white spot on the stage dimmed slowly as he intoned:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present Miss Frankie Rose.” The stage went black. The only light in the club came from the flickering shaded candles türkçe bahis on each table.

Jake took another drink from his scotch glass, and closed his eyes as the heat exploded down his throat. ‘Here we go…’ he thought.

***

Frankie waited for the spot to go dark, and she stepped silently into place in front of the microphone stand. The tiny piece of glow-in-the-dark tape on the floor guided her into position.

She breathed out silently, then inhaled, dropping her head forward so her hair fell in front of the left side of her face like a silky curtain. The baby blue spot came on suddenly, silently, and all at once she was illuminated in a single column of light. Frankie could hear a few gasps in the crowd – many of the new comers did that. She loved hearing that, but maintained her poker face.

“Good morning heartache, you old gloomy sight.

Good morning heartache, thought we said goodbye last night.”

Harry on the sax blew a melancholy note. Frankie raised her head

“I turned and tossed, until it seemed you had gone…

But here you are, with the dawn.” She held out one gloved hand in a helpless gesture.

The white spot came back up and the entire band joined in. The crowd cheered again but quickly simmered down. Frankie slid one hand up the microphone stand, and she began to sway her hips from side to side in time with the beat.

“Wish I’d forget you, but you’re here to stay.

It seems I met you, when my love went away.

Now each day I start by saying to you:

Good morning heartache, what’s new?”

As the band played the bridge, Frankie looked out into the darkened room, aglow with dozens of tiny candles. Her eyes automatically sought out the phantom who haunted her dreams day and night. Maybe it was the excitable mood she was in, and maybe it was a trick of the darkness, but tonight she could see him more clearly than ever before.

His face was in shadow. It was always in shadow. But tonight she could perceive the line of his shoulders, the way his muscular arms strained the fabric of his jacket, the way the flickering light created blue highlights in his luxuriant hair. Though she couldn’t see his eyes, she could feel his gaze on her like a caress. It was like always, but also, like never before.

A strange tingling spread across her scalp and moved down her neck. She’d read about this once – it was called “autonomous sensory meridian response” – and it created a sense of euphoria. Frankie liked it. She felt alive and really awake.

“Stop haunting me now…” She ran her hands down the sides of her waist and over the curve of her hips.

“Can’t shake you, no how.” She waved one hand in front of her face, as if trying to brush something away in slow motion.

“Just leave me alone.

I’ve got those Monday blues, straight through Sunday blues…” Frankie slid one hand down the front of her throat, and all the way down the deep v-neck of her dress.

Her phantom Jake leaned forward slightly, his body seemed tense. Funny, this never happened before. She was really getting good at the fantasy mode, she thought.

“Good morning heartache, here we go again.

Good morning heartache, you’re the one who knew me when.

Might as well get used to you… hanging around.

Good morning heartache, sit down.” Frankie swept her open palm to the right, as if inviting heartache to actually sit.

This was the point when the band did a little musical interlude. Frankie glanced over at Chance, giving him a crooked grin. She was still on display so even that glance was choreographed.

She allowed the music to wash over her, closing her eyes and letting her body undulate slowly, hypnotically, as the crescendo built.

Opening her eyes again, a rueful expression on her face, she looked out to her phantom. It was nearly time for her cue. She began to act a little, an anguished frown appeared. Like always, a tiny glimmer of tears showed up of their own accord. This song really got to her.

“Stop haunting me now!

Can’t shake you, no how…

Just leave me alone.

I’ve got those Monday blues, straight through Sunday blues.” Frankie shook her head as if about to burst into tears.

“Good morning heartache, here we go again.

Good morning heartache, you’re the one who knew me when.

Might as well get used to you hanging around…”

The band paused and Frankie deliberately came in half a beat late to create tension. She wrapped her long arms around her body, as if she was cold.

“Good morning heartache…” She drew out the “ache” for eight beats. A tear slid down her cheek, and sparkled like a diamond under the lights. She caught her breathe and audibly sighed. The audience was breathless. There wasn’t a sound in the room. Frankie’s heart pounded in her ears. She allowed her arms to drop limply to her sides, as if defeated.

“Sit down…”

After holding “down” for another eight beats, the band came back in with the big climactic finish. The audience was on its feet and roaring before güvenilir bahis siteleri the music had stopped.

Frankie laughed happily, even though a few tears continued to fall down her face. The standing ovation lasted a while. She bowed elegantly. Chance stood up with a flourish and handed her a large white handkerchief so she could dry her eyes (all choreographed).

Frankie looked out across the crowd, her thanks were drowned out by the noise. Suddenly, she froze. Unless she was crazy, her phantom was not a phantom. She stared across the crowded room at none other than Jake Garner. In the flesh. He was here. He was standing up. He was clapping. He was looking straight into her eyes.

Frankie dropped the handkerchief, and Chance swooped to pick it up. She leaned down and whispered fervently:

“Please, Chance – I need a few minutes. Can you do an instrumental?”

Based on the look on her face, Chance knew better than to question this. He was concerned, though, because he’d never seen Frankie rattled in the entire time he’d known her.

“You okay, Princess?” He asked, his hand on her gloved elbow. She winced a little at the unfortunate endearment, but it made her laugh.

“I’m fine. Just have to go confront an old ghost.” They both thanked the crowd, and Frankie stepped back from the stage as Chance took the mic.

“How was that for an opener, huh?” The crowd hooted and clapped a bit again. Chance continued: “Do we have any Duke Ellington fans in the house tonight?” More cheering.

He moved back to the piano. “Good, then you’re gonna love this…” He counted off and they kicked off “In a sentimental mood”. Harry moved to the front of the stage, his sax sounding sweetly nostalgic.

As Frankie tried to unobtrusively make her way backstage, she paused to look over her shoulder toward Jake. A tiny thrill ran through her as she saw his eyes fixed on her. Not knowing how to read his look, she smiled nervously, one eyebrow raised. He smiled back, but it was still an enigmatic smile – a smile she didn’t remember. After a tiny hesitation, she made a beckoning gesture with her hand. He rose swiftly and quietly followed.

By the time Jake got behind the stage and curtain, and found himself in the corridor that snaked back to the dressing rooms, he saw Frankie some yards away, turning left and disappearing through a doorway. Hesitating for only a second, he mentally chastised himself for admiring – a tad too much – the view of her retreating figure. Running his hand nervously through his hair, he shot down the hall to join her.

When Jake walked into the small room, Frankie was standing with her back to her dressing table, facing him. He stepped just inside the door and stopped. They were barely five feet from each other, but it seemed like an interminable distance. He wondered whether he should shut the door. The music being played onstage was audible here, but not loud.

They stood opposite one another for a lingering moment, their eyes locked – but both were guarded. Frankie’s deep red lips curled up at the corners in a playful half smile.

She said, in a theatrically husky voice: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world… you walk into mine.”

They both laughed, and there was relief in it.

Jake tilted his head slightly, and smiled a slow, melancholy smile. “Hey Frankie Rose.”

Unshed tears shimmered in her eyes. “Hey Jake.”

He pointed back toward the stage, shaking his head a little. “Christ, Frankie, that performance was… it was simply amazing. You. Are. Amazing.”

She had trouble swallowing. How many times had she fantasized about this moment? But words failed her. “Thanks.” Her voice was just above a husky whisper. She cleared her throat in a remarkably lady-like way. “Coming from you, that really means something.” An errant tear ran down her cheek, and she laughed awkwardly as she swiped it away.

Jake took a large step toward her. Nervous, she straightened and their eyes locked. After a moment, he jammed a hand into his pocket and drew out a simple white handkerchief, reaching it toward her. Frankie didn’t drop her gaze from his eyes, and didn’t move for a few seconds, but then she moved a step closer and took the proffered bit of fine linen.

She only broke eye contact when she used it to dry her face. “You’re not here by accident, are you Jake?” She asked softly. She groaned inwardly at how wistful that line sounded in her own ears.

“No, no – I’m not… I – GOD, Frankie! It’s so good to see you! You have no idea…”

She looked up at his hand as it raked through his gorgeous hair. “Don’t I?” She asked softly. Her eyes traversed downward from his hair, to his eyes, and finally locked onto to his beautifully sculpted mouth.

As if sleepwalking, she spoke aloud without really meaning to. “I bet I imagined this moment about ten thousand times over the last ten years…”

Her words rang in his ears. Next to her singing voice, Jake thought they were the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard. The direction of her gaze was not lost on him. Jake’s body was on fire. He was clenching and unclenching his fists, trying to stop himself from grabbing her. His mind was reeling with his desire to touch her, to crush those velvety red lips with his own.

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