"Glory," He whispered.
"Glory," I repeated. That'll be my name from now on, he told me. His stare was piercing and his hand pressed above mine. I could tell his determination from the weight of his hand across the table. The candlelights flickered between us. There was a great silence that enveloped a room full of couples in their fancy dresses and elegant suits. The strings of a cello echoed through the spaces we didn't occupy. It was a tinge of flat note escaping through the transition of one swing to another. No one noticed. But I did.
All honor. Praise. Of great value. Splendor. That's what my new name meant, he said. Fitting to the direction he promised he would give me. Gone is the little Maria playing at Open Mic Nights on a fleeting Thursday. Gone is that naïve girl in her Sunday dress begging for a spot at the setlist. He told me she doesn't exist anymore. And I believed him. I believed him.
His words. They felt like the hands of a thief, snatching my consciousness from my own control. He was mesmerizing. Magnificent. Extraordinaire. His eyes were as green as the highest grade of emeralds and his voice soothing. It was maddening. Enticing. Addictive. I long for us to stay like this everlasting. But he has made a path for me. This was my dream. And he's making them come true.
I've always dreamed of a life outside of that box. That shelter my mother gave me. It was too secure. Too safe. I hated it with my 19 years of existence. I don't ever want to come back. Music became my escape. I didn't know it will lure me out of that hole. So glad I met music in that basement. It started with the faint whistle the small window gave me. It was beautiful. In my depression, I found that little sound speaking to me. It was then that I knew music. I trusted its voice and it has brought me to this day. A few moments from now, I'll be signing a contract. An agreement I have to sign with a piece of my being.
In a few days, I'll be in LA, next in Malibu, and then Paris. He said he will take me to places I never imagined I would set my feet on. In him, I put my entire trust. I could feel the slight brush his thumb did on my hand. It was as comforting as blanket on the coldest of nights. Don't know why I feel such security enveloping me every single time his skin touches mine. What he is to me is more than the manager to my fledgling career. He rescued me. From that void of failure and disappointment in myself. He believed in me, he said.
Why me? There were many other girls out there trying to get their voice heard. With calloused palms, they would try to get anyone's attention. But the guests only want to be entertained. They paid to see us bathe in our misery, crying of hunger for attention. We are artists, we claim. Most of us do. Just like me, they believed they can change the world with one song. Deep inside, all they had was a longing to be free. I was handpicked. Was I the lucky one? No, he contested. "I was the one who was lucky, to have found you," he told me. I could still remember his smile that night.
Maybe he saw something in me, all others didn't have. All I had was the voice. He said it was talent. I had the makings of a legend. The people that surrounded me didn't think the same. One look at me and they knew I was a waste of time. But not him. Surely, not him.
He let go of my hand and prepared the piece of white cloth on his lap. A man in a fine suit came with a bottle of wine. Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. It was the most expensive on the menu. I, for one, never liked the taste of wine. But I could like it for him. A little sip from time to time will do me just fine. The way he stared at me while taking his own sip from his cup left me feeling uneasy.
I should get used to this he said. The bright lights. Small chitchats and a whole lot of fake laughter. People will try to find fault in you as if you owe them an explanation. There will be thousands of knives pointed at your back but I got you covered, he quipped. They will want what you have but you'll only give it when I tell you. Hand it freely as I say. Do only what I say.
You are the American dream. Bringing unity in a song. I will be the voice that will represent humanity. The chattering of the couples around tables surrounding us overpowered our presence. They were happy I could see. Laughter, it is one of the sweetest things to my ears. It makes me happy to see such display of joy in a rather cozy restaurant.
"You listen to me carefully," his voice in command. "I want you to remember this day, Glory. This will be the last time you'll be at peace while having dinner in a restaurant. Three days from now, everything will be different. Three days from this moment, everyone will know you. You won't be able to sit down in a crowd without people recognizing you. You won't be able to go out without flashes of light blinding your way. You won't be able to sleep like you used to. And I want you to remember this day as you would remember your own funeral."
Heart pounding. It was as if the earth held me fast to the ground. I could not speak. One swallow and it will mean me choking to my death.
"I have something for you" he stood with a smile on his face. Smoothly he encircled his arms around me, raised them to my shoulders. I felt coldness tracing my chest. It was a necklace. A small vial containing two clipped wings of a butterfly hung at the end. I could hear the lock fastening from the back of my neck. My hand clasped the vial not wanting to let go.
Tell me you're mine. He whispered behind my ear. Only mine.
My voice broke, "But… Lucian."