“Why bring me here?” Jess asked her brother. “I don’t understand.”
“I’ve sort of fallen for someone.” Kai answered. “It’s complicated.”
“It’s always complicated with you.” Jess answered. She looked around the dingy bar with the stained tables and dated chairs. The evening sunlight was slanting through the worn blinds but it showed little except the tired houseplants. The place was clean – mercilessly, relentlessly clean, and the glass of house red she was nursing was okay, but it was nothing special. Kai, who knew his wines, had a glass of beer in front of him. “How did you find this place?”
“Jim told me.” Kai said briefly. “See how it’s filling up? Aren’t you glad that you came early?”
Jess looked around the bar and it was indeed filling up. All the chairs were taken and the bar was ringed by young men. There was a hush of expectancy hanging in the air and conversation was falling away. “What is going on? Is this why you are moping around?”
“Shush.” Kai said impatiently and then silence fell.
Jess stared at the woman who came self consciously from behind the bar. Her hair was scraped back and the unflattering dress hung loose around her spare frame and the work roughened hands that brushed down over her skirt were unadorned by rings and her nails were plain. The thin face that looked anxiously around was scrubbed clean and angular. Jess glanced around the bar. Every man there, and it was almost all men, were leaning forward slightly, fixed on the youngish woman who sat at the scarred piano.
“She’s called Cecily.” Kai whispered to Jess, earning him a glare from the nearest men.
Cecily managed a forced, nervous smile and then started to play. Everything changed. Suddenly there was a glow in the air, a sense of wonder. Her unremarkable hands suddenly were enchanted. They danced gracefully over the battered keys, coaxing music that called to the soul. Arpeggios soared over a sublime rhythm, while the themes and counterthemes entwined and raced along the compelling song. Jess was caught, entranced, as Cecily coaxed the music of the gods to ring around the battered bar. You could almost see a golden haze hanging in the room as the glorious performance held everyone in its magical grasp. And in the haze of the music, she was gloriously, wondrously, goddess-like and beyond beautiful, lit from within by the inspiration of her playing.
Then she stopped. Cecily stood, pushed a strand of mousey hair from her face, smiled awkwardly and then scuttled behind the bar, where she started washing glasses. It seemed almost sacrilege to break the spell and clap over the last echoes of the ringing notes, but first one, then several, then the entire bar clapped wildly as Cecily blushed awkwardly and racked up the glasses.
“That’s why we come here.” Kai said, placing another glass of unremarkable red in front of Jess. “She plays most nights. And we are all a little in love with her.”
And Jess understood.