1 | Rhiannon
Instead of spending my Friday evening starting an essay that was due first thing Monday morning, I agreed to go bar hopping with a group of friends.
I do not feel the decision is worth it. All my friends are more wasted than I am and I have been given the job of acting as everyone’s babysitter. I have enough time to sober up between drinks and haven’t been lucky enough to catch anything above a slight buzz. It sucks being the only one who isn’t seeing double. My whole intention was to forget about my upcoming assignment.
It’s a hot autumn night and everybody I pass on the street is sweating buckets and stumbling to their next destination. My friends are bickering over which place we should hit next: a hookah lounge, a brewhouse, and a karaoke club are among the places mentioned. They ask me for my opinion and I shrug. They tell me I’m no fun.
“Well, I want to karaoke!” one of my friends shouts, slurring over her words. “Someone should do a duet with me!”
Someone agrees to sing a duet with her. Karaoke club it is. The bouncer standing outside looks unimpressed, already done with the night that is only beginning for most. He asks to see our IDs and watches wryly as everyone struggles to pluck them from their wallets. It’s hard not to be amused at how much effort it takes for them to complete a simple task. I suppose these are the details you miss when you’re inebriated with the masses.
It’s packed in the club. A guy is singing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean drunk as a skunk. The dance floor is full of people who have rhythm but only in their own heads. There are prolific displays of grinding, twerking, and demons fleeing from bodies. This might not be so bad after all. There’s no shortage of entertainment and I know more people will be passing through as the night lags on. I’m not sure how long we’re staying for.
We find a large table for the half-dozen of us. Once we’re seated a waitress comes to take our order. Shots for everyone!
Except for me. I’ll just have a spiced rum and coke, please.
The waitress smiles at me flirtatiously. She is beautiful, no doubt, but not really my type. I sweep my eyes across the room. This seems like the type of place you come to only after you’ve been drinking for a while. No one wants to sing karaoke in a bar without some liquid courage already in their system.
The waitress brings our table a round of shots and my cocktail. Before she leaves everyone orders their sipping drinks that they’ll probably chug anyway. In secret, I ask her to bring a pitcher of water for the empty glasses in the center of the table. Again she smiles at me flirtatiously. This time, I smile back. To hell with it. Why not.
Once everyone does their shots, my two friends who made a pact to karaoke stand and make their way to the bar. One of the bartenders shows them the music catalogue and they flip through a couple pages before finding the song they like. The stage is empty. They stagger to the karaoke machine, plug in their song, and prepare to sing for everyone. There’s a large screen adjacent to the stage that allows the vocalists and audience to read the lyrics simultaneously.
I groan and roll my eyes at the song they choose. I should have known they’d choose Madonna. Neither of them are virgins, however, so I guess I can appreciate the irony. What I cannot appreciate is how horrible they sound. My friends at the table are dying of laughter and it’s impossible for me to hold in my snickers. Holy shit. Is this...talent? People still let loose on the dance floor and others shout with sardonic approval.
Do you have to be extremely good at something to be talented? Or can you also be extremely bad? What is the criteria?
Whatever it is, I think they check out all the boxes. The room seems to love them—or, rather, love how entertaining they are. On stage they attempt to gyrate enticingly, as if trying to capture the essence of Madonna herself. It’s a valiant effort attempted in vain. It looks like they’re trying to hump the air. They better hope they don’t remember this tomorrow morning. This is quite the legacy to leave behind. What’s worse is I’m certain they aren’t and won’t be the worst performers tonight.
A group of girls walk around our table. I overhear one say to her friend that she’ll meet them at the table; she first wants to check out the music catalogue and choose a song. Her voice is striking; silvery, breathy, dulcet. Undeniably sober, too. It makes her seem incongruous with a rough-and-tumble place like this.
I turn to look at the girl I heard speak as she walks away. She’s a redhead, flaming waves barely grazing her protruding shoulders. She flaunts her thin frame with tight jeans and a tube top that’s tied in the back. I can’t help but wonder what her face is like; she’s probably very pretty. I ponder this possibility as the waitress brings us our drinks and water and removes the empty shot glasses.
The same bartender who dealt with my friends greets the redhead enthusiastically—she’s definitely made her appearance here before, I note. I see them chatting as she browses through the selections and she says something that makes him laugh. I don’t notice that my friends have finished singing until they’re joining us at the table, bragging about how good they were and how many high fives they got on the journey here. I contribute to the effort of hyping them up for a brief second, enough to satisfy them, before glancing back at the bar. The girl is no longer there.
I catch her bee-lining for the stage. Once in front of the karaoke machine she plugs in the song she wants and stands in front of the microphone. I lean back in my chair, taking a sip of my drink, curious and intrigued. She taps her hand against her thigh, waiting for the song to start playing. She seems almost nervous but I know that isn’t the right word. Anxious, maybe. Anxious to begin.
The song starts playing and I raise my eyebrows. It’s Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac, a bold choice with all the high notes the redhead will have to hit. She nods her head along to the intro, biting her bottom lip, smoothing her thick bangs that obstruct her forehead. It looks like she has curly hair that she brushes out to create a wild, careless effect.
As soon as she begins singing I take her seriously. I have goosebumps. She’s a vision, an effortless soprano, staring into the distance at no one in particular; bright lights reflecting in what appears to be dark, enigmatic eyes. Her hair, flaming, is on fire. People who were dancing suddenly stop and stare at her. A hush falls over the room, my friends silent for the first time in hours. My heart is racing.
Her face changes when she starts singing the chorus and she hits the high notes with ease, locking eyes with members of her audience. She’s no longer tapping her thigh, hands elevated in the air with her fingers pressed into her palms. She sways, face full of determination, embracing the crowd, singing to them as if she anticipates a response. It’s appears that she’s imploring although I cannot say what for.
She sings the second verse in a similar fashion to the first, staring into a realm only she is allowed to enter. Everyone is caught in her web except for the waitress who brushes against me as she makes her way to the table of girls the redhead arrived with. I pay no mind to her, under the singer’s spell.
The second round of chorus seems more powerful than the first; she is completely unrestrained. Her voice cracks when she hits the second high note but I know it’s on purpose; the ghost of a smirk tilts her lips.
Will you ever win? She sings, extending her hand to the audience, asking us a question we have no idea how to answer yet.
She closes her eyes when she sings the refrain, shoulders hunching as she reverberates with the force of a choir. Her voice is like chimes and bells. I have never heard anything like it before. It’s angelic, chilling, almost innocent. I imagine this is the kind of voice that inspired those myths about seamen being lured to their deaths by ethereal creatures.
Once the refrain is over her eyes are open again; they meet mine for a fraction of a second but it’s enough to get my palms clammy. She performs the rest of the song with same fervency she started with; the same subtle disconnect followed by pleas for intimacy. Her charisma is nothing short of disarming. She plays a character as she sings and she plays it well.
Her voice quivers as she sings the outro and she twists her hips carefully back and forth, hands blooming open and her expression softening. I feel like I’m dreaming, too scared to blink and wake up in a different reality. I know I have to speak to her before I leave here tonight.
Before she is finished fading out the final line of Rhiannon the bar erupts in hollers, whistles and applause. People stand to show their admiration and the redhead smiles, blushing, before covering her mouth with her hands. She takes a mock bow, ignoring demands that she sing another tune, and thanks everyone before taking her leave. She’s flooded with praise as she makes her way to her table, trying to seek shelter with her friends, giving me the back of her head. The waitress comes to her table with shots at the perfect time.
A few minutes pass and the clamor has not died down but no one is brave enough to tackle karaoke after watching the redhead knock it out of the park. I am still star-struck. People walk by just to tap her on the shoulder and speak to her, elevating her to celebrity status. Her body language from my view is shy and humble but also casual and relaxed. She knows she set a standard.
After a while of no one tapping her shoulder she gets up and begins making her way to the bar. I stand, preparing to make my move when one of my friends grabs my wrist and drunkenly tells me he’s ready to leave. Everyone else agrees, eager to move onto the next place.
“Go ahead,” I say dismissively. I’m done playing babysitter. “But I’m not leaving until I talk to that girl who sang.”
“Dude, I bet she’s not interested—” the friend who grabbed my wrist comments.
“Worth a shot,” I mumble. He lets my wrist go.
“Fine, we’ll wait!” he groans. “But we’re ordering another round of shots.”
I roll my eyes, leaving them to their vices as I approach the redhead sitting at the bar. She’s once again chatting it up with the bartender but I can tell it’s completely platonic. They’re friends. She is definitely not a new face here.
“Hi,” I say, coming up behind her. She sits up straight and looks at me with wide eyes the color of coffee without any cream. I’m speechless, only able to speak again after clearing my throat. “I just wanted to say you sounded incredible up there tonight. Truly, I’ve never heard anyone like you before.”
She smiles without any teeth.
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
“How long have you been singing?” I ask, then point to the chair beside her. “And may I sit?”
“Be my guest,” she holds her hand out in welcome then rests it on the counter. She spins to face me, crossing her legs. She’s receptive of me. “I’ve sung since I was little. I’ve always had an inclination towards it.”
The bartender passes her a beer, a Heineken. She takes a few large gulps then sets the bottle down, wiping a stray drop from her chin. I lick my lips, struck by a whiff of what smells like vanilla perfume. She’s an attractive woman in an unconventional way.
“Do you perform here often?” I ask. She nods, verifying what I already predicted. “Do you always get this kind of reaction?”
“I’ve never disappointed a crowd,” she says cheekily. “But tonight was unexpected. I’ve never gotten this kind of reaction before.”
“I was a bit skeptical when I heard what song you chose,” I confess. “But you killed it. You absolutely killed it. You were flawless.”
“Oh, thank you,” she blushes, running a hand through her hair. “How rude of me! I never caught your name. I’m Felicity, but you can call me Fliss.”
“Lachlan,” I respond, holding out my hand for her to shake. Her grip is firm, confident. She is very sure of herself. It’s quite sexy. “So how often do you perform here?”
“Every Friday evening I try to make my way here. Sometimes work or school gets in the way, however, but at the minimum once or twice a month. Is this your first time here?”
“Yes, and I’m glad it is because you you made it a first experience I’ll look back on fondly,” she smiles with teeth this time. She’s got a stunning smile. I like how it makes her nose crinkle and flashes her gums. “What are you going to school for and where?”
“I’m going in for English, aiming for journalism in the future,” she tells me where she goes to school and I can’t hide my look of surprise. She asks if we go to the same university and we do; same year and everything. I can’t help but wonder how many times I’ve passed her in the hallway but never noticed her. Certainly after tonight I’ll be actively seeking her out. “What do you study?”
“Psychology major, music minor,” she takes a sip of beer, quirking a brow.
“What instrument do you specialize in?”
“Guitar. Electric guitar,” she gives me a thoughtful look, glancing at my hands. I grin at her but she doesn’t see it. “What are you thinking?”
“I would like to hear you play one day,” she says, straight to the point. “I bet you’re good. Really good.”
“My dad taught me everything I know. I may be good but he’s great,” I take a peek at my table. They’re all staring at me but as soon as I catch them they pretend that they’re minding their own business. I notice my glass of rum and coke is empty. Whatever. “Any musicians in your family or are you the first?”
“I’m the first but I wouldn’t call myself a musician, really. It’s more of a hobby or a way to blow off some steam, you know? I’ve never taken it seriously, but I know I would go crazy if I could never sing again,” She rests her elbow on the table, leaning her cheek into her palm. It feels so natural talking to her. Nothing is forced. “What are you hoping to do with your education? You have an interesting combination going on there.”
“Shit, I have no clue,” I admit. “I have a year left of school and I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Hell, maybe I’ll just start a band or something.”
She laughs politely. She already knows what she wants to do with her life so I don’t expect her to sympathize with my uncertainties. She takes another sip of beer, watching me intently. Something about her makes me feel very aware of myself. She doesn’t just look at me, she sees me.
“I’ve written a few songs in my spare time,” she confesses, licking her lips. “Maybe one day you can play guitar and I can sing. Just for fun. Just to see what kind of chemistry we have.”
“Yes,” I respond without considering any alternative answer. “Yes, I would enjoy that.”
“Good,” she beams, sitting up and grabbing her beer. She turns to the bartender and asks for a pen and napkin after passing him a ten dollar bill and telling him to keep the change. He complies and I can’t help but feel excited when I see her write her number on the napkin before sliding it in front of me. I fold it and put it in my jeans pocket. “I should get back to my table. It is really nice to meet you, Lachlan. Hopefully I’ll see you around at school and we can meet for a coffee or study in the library.”
“All of the above,” I agree. “Until next time, Fliss.”
She smiles and turns around, walking back to her table. I don’t know why I expect her to give me one final look over her shoulder but she doesn’t. Once I’m out of sight, I’m out of mind. I know I will not be able to stop thinking about her. It will be her name that comes to mind and her face that I picture as I suffer through my essay this weekend. She’s left her mark on me. Fliss will definitely be seeing me on campus. I will make sure of it.
When I return to my table I am asked for details but I find myself not willing to give too many of them away. I want to keep Fliss to myself as if she’s a secret. Once everyone realizes they’re not going to get anything from me they tell me they are for sure ready to leave and this time they’re not going to wait for me. Feeling generous, I offer to cover the bill. It isn’t a big deal—I have some spare money from my student loans for this semester burning a hole in my pocket. The waitress is curt when dealing with me. She doesn’t thank me for the large tip.
I stay a little behind the group when we’re leaving. Some new guy prepares to karaoke, a new song I haven’t heard before. Fliss is watching intently, humored, laughing with a friend who whispers something in her ear. She clasps her hands together and faces her to respond when her eyes land on me. She gives me a small smile and waves.
I wave back before stepping into the hot night.
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