Everyone wanted Luke. I was always in black behind the scenes at all the school concerts he played at. I gazed at him from the sides; his head tilting at the microphone, his guitar strap cutting across his angular shoulders. His blonde fringe cut across his face and over his pale grey eyes. I longed for his hands on me as I looked at them caress the strings of his guitar. I dreamed of one day when we would sing together, as he looked lovingly into my eyes. They didn’t know I could sing. No one had ever asked. But I was helpful in other ways. After the Christmas concert the hall was strewn with discarded programmes I had helped to design. Slowly I went from seat to seat growing my pile. And then there it was right at the side of the stage- the unmistakeable red guitar case. Someone could have stolen, or worse, destroyed it, if I just left it there. So I took it home, and gave it back to him the next day at school.
“Thanks Doll.” He smiled, flicking his hair away from his face. “Do you want to go for coffee sometime?”
From then on, we were never seen apart. Oh, the way he smiled at me. The way we called and texted every night without fail; oh, the way he kissed me. I could feel all the other girls glare behind their false eyelashes and fake smiles because I was his “Doll.”
One night, he sang my favourite song to me- “Beneath Your Beautiful.” It’s a ballad by Emeli Sande and Labyrinth.
“Would you let me see beneath your beautiful?
Would you let me see beneath your perfect?
Take it off now girl, take it off now girl
I want to see you shine…”
When Luke sang, he looked right into my dark eyes as if he wanted to see beyond my appearance- red hair, petite frame- and beyond my shyness.
That night he asked me, “Do you like singing, Doll?”
“Yeah, but I’m not very good…”
“I’m sure you’re not that bad. Hey, maybe we could do a duet some time.”
Sigh, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.
Then, when we left school, he started getting bigger gigs. After a while, he got so busy it didn’t even cross his mind to have me there. He put off our dates a lot so he could practice and whenever I saw him, he seemed rushed. He didn’t even phone or text me for a full fortnight! Some dolts at my work were giggling about him picking girls as a finale duet. Audience participation, I think? So last night I thought I’d pop into one of his regular Friday gigs at The Red Lion and surprise him. It would’ve been a nice thing to do, and I thought he’d be delighted to see me. Maybe, this was my chance. I played our song on repeat, singing it quietly as I walked along. I will be good, no, I’ll be great! I thought.
I was lost in it. They always like people who sing with passion.
When I arrived, I found that the place was far smaller than I expected. The show was supposed to start at 8, but I arrived at ten past seven. A burly man in a black fleece and suit trousers stood defending the door.
“You’re a bit early.” He laughed dryly. “The groupies don’t arrive until quarter to 8.”
“Groupie? I’m Luke Wood’s girlfriend!”
But when I walked inside the stench of stale beer and armpits strangled my voice. I parked myself at a small table in a corner near the front, assailed all around by inconsequential chatter like interference. From here, I could see the bare stage. Luke was nowhere to be seen. So I went to the bathroom.
The corridor had the same sticky faded red carpet. The walls were covered with posters, overlapping silhouettes of irrelevant local musicians from days gone by, pieces of themselves torn off. You can always judge a place by its toilets. Inside, the floor tiles were split and cracked, the sinks spattered. Out of three doors, two don’t shut right and one says “Out Of Order”. Under the cubicle door, I heard a group of girls clatter across broken tiles towards the sinks. The only variation between them was the colour of their spiked heels and the room already reeked of hairspray.
“He is so fit. Fucking gorgeous!”
“Don’t get any ideas, Molly, he’s got a girlfriend!” Another interrupted her.
“And? I bet he’s got a different girl every night.” She laughed, cruelly. “What makes her so special?”
They all filed out, hooting. As I opened cubicle door, I snagged my finger on the lock. It throbbed a little, a tiny spot of blood welled up and then it was gone.
I clawed my way back to the table through heaving bodies. Just as I sat back down the house lights dimmed to whistles and jeers. I saw the girls then, a whole gaggle of them, making fools of themselves, cat calling and clapping. Luke made his way onto the stage, carrying his guitar. A smart new look, black jeans, white shirt and tie. His fringe was slicked back out of his face. He scarcely glanced in my direction. His mind was somewhere else tonight. He took the microphone with ease, thumbs up, waving, grinning at them all. The whole set he played cover songs while they pranced around.
Suddenly the music stopped and he stooped to the mike: “Alright guys, I’m going to need a beautiful woman to help me with this final song…”
The duet! This was it. I stood up and quickly smoothed my black dress. When I looked back up, I saw her smiling saccharinely beside him, her clown face and anyone-can-have-a-cleavage bra. Wolf whistles rang in my ears.
Luke sang the first verse, full of his own charm. Our song. My teeth clamped shut. She flicked back her blonde hair extensions and put her hand on her tiny waist. He was singing, “Take it off now, girl. Take it off now, girl.” She had a look of control about her as if Luke was hers and not mine. This can’t be happening. Her verse finally came, and she screeched the high notes. Honestly, it was laughable. Yet she was chosen to sing with him and I wasn’t? Why her? What made her so special?
Then it was over. She was taking a bow and the audience were drunk on her. I stood up, came out of the shadows to reclaim him. The clones had formed a ring, bleating with self-satisfaction. But I was determined. Luke was mine.
“Hey honey, can we talk?” I asked him nicely.
That startled him. He tried for a smile. “Sure, doll.”
Luke walked off to get his coat. The girls each glanced at me briefly a few times, laughing drunkenly among themselves. How much fun would they have had if they hadn’t poured so many cocktails down their throats? They got up from their seats and tumbled out the pub door. Then Luke came back. He looked at the empty table, a little crestfallen, as he put his jacket on.
The minute we stepped out, we were hit by a biting cold wind. We walked side by side along the high piers towards the harbour. He hid in his jacket collar, his hands in his pockets. My curls were blown about everywhere. I tried to make light of it, but in truth we didn’t say much, even when we stopped at the view point. A long way down, Peter’s point jutted up through boiling waves. I bent down to fix my shoe. He looked about, stamping a little, tapping a rhythm on his jeans. I gripped onto the white metal rail, lumps of rust digging into my skin. Underneath us, waves crashed.
“Why did you sing our song with her?”
He studied my face for a moment. “Doll, it’s just a song. It’s not like it means anything.”
“Do you still love me, Luke?”
He looked down at the pavement for a moment, before looking at me again.
“Sure I do, Doll.”
There was doubt in his eyes. How could he doubt us? He looked out onto the horizon, shallow in thought. But not thoughts about me.
Then, the railing snapped off in my hands, right in two. One part was still in my grip, the other bounced and scraped down into the black seas.
“Jesus! That was a close one!” He bent after the fallen piece, watching it sink, then began to pull up; “Are you ok?”
It all happened so quickly. The jagged railing in my hand smashed down on his skull. He dropped to his knees. My heels dug into his spine as I kicked him over the edge. I wobbled then steadied myself.
My grip loosened and I looked down at the bar. Then I threw it as far as I could after him.
I couldn’t cry or laugh. I felt nothing. A seagull howled overhead and in the distance rigging lashed against masts. So many people have fallen to their deaths here. I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life with him, but he spent the rest of his with me.
Copyright 2016 by Jen Hughes. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.
Featured Image by Sunshine Herbert