The only lights are on the stage, and you’re covered in pinks. I sit eighth row center, my hands folded on my denim skirt, and I watch you twist your fingers together, over and over. It makes me hold my hands tighter, my fingers beginning to ache. You sing without a mic. Brad plays, all in black; you sing all in black, knee high boots and slit skirt and a jacket buttoned all the way to the collar. You’ve been covering up more lately, and I wonder what you’re thinking about when you get dressed in the morning.
The song is Lover Man, except every time you should say ‘man’ you just let your voice hover. Lover becomes a long, aching word—Lover, oh now where can you be?
Earlier, you whispered against my mouth, No one knows this song, and you nudged me back into a curtain in the wings. You kept one of my wrists in your hands, and I left my fingers curled and slack. I can sing it however I want and no one’ll notice. I kissed you back. I could feel, off to the side on the stage, the deep pinks of the shadows the piano cast. And Brad, too, as he went to his bench and ignored us, no sheet music in sight.
I felt your lips and didn’t want to say anything, but I had to. I pressed my lips once more to yours, soft, trying to make the kiss mean sorry, then asked, What about the title? I put my free arm around your waist fast and a little too hard when I felt you tense, afraid you’d step back. Instead of kissing me you were looking at me then, from right up close. You shook your head, still almost touching my face, your eyes wide. And I still wanted to apologize, but I just kept speaking, as gently as I could. If it’s in the program, they’ll see.
Scales moved through the air and covered us like water. I rubbed my hand against the small of your back, the velvet giving under my fingers like the velvet of a leaf. You slid your hand from my wrist to lace your fingers through mine, and stepped us back so that I was mostly hidden in the heavy red curtain. You leaned in and rested your forehead against my cheek again, and I felt my body loosen.
Velvet around me, velvet of your jacket under my fingers, against my palm. Red covered up everything now; I couldn’t see anything but you and red. You spoke softly against my neck, and I kept my arm tight around you, keeping us steady.
I just want to sing you a song, Britt. Just one song. Not angry. Or scared. Just tired, like on a day you’ve been fighting with people all day in the halls, the reasons not making much sense.
The piano’s music soaked through the curtains like each hammer was wrapped in cloth before it hit the string. My voice getting all lost in the velvet, I told you, Sing it that way now. It’s just me now. Well, me and Brad. You laughed, your voice soft on my skin.
And I came out here to the long rows of seats, and you moved center stage, heels sharp on the boards, and Brad began something low and jazzy and so much clearer now, since we weren’t all wrapped up there in the wings.
And you’re singing to me now, and it’s an old song that almost nobody knows, but you do, because you love songs like this, and I do, because I love you, and I love your voice, and I love the way you sing sadness, like it’s the only thing you’ve ever felt but not the only thing you’ll ever feel. Like you know there’s something else.
And you look at me. Your fingers aren’t twisting together anymore. I can feel all of me relax as I watch. I can’t look away from you. I can’t hear anything else.