Apologies for there being no episode posted on Wednesday — to make up for that, there will be two posted today. One now and the second a little later this evening. Without further ado… let’s continue on!
It’s almost nine. The karaoke started an hour ago. I’m sitting near the bar with my sister, nursing a bottle of beer and wondering if he’ll show up. The last three days have been exhausting. Sam keeps ringing me at all hours, demanding I listen to his side of the story. Rebekah, my roommate, has turned up at Andi’s house twice, begging to see me. I’m just not ready to hear from either of them, but neither will listen when I ask them to give me time, space to think.
It had been Andi’s suggestion to come out tonight and I’d used that excuse as a reason to head back to the Lodge, to see Shaun again. We had only spent a couple of hours together, but there was something about him, something that calmed my frazzled nerves. He’d been kind to me, a stranger who had turned up in his home. Instead of demanding I leave, he’d realised I needed a distraction and had offered his time.
My eyes shift to the door again. Did he agree to come just to get me out of his home?
“Cassie,” Andi nudges me and nods toward the other end of the bar.
Sam is standing there with Rebekah, their heads close together as they talk. Sam looks angry and Rebekah is standing stiffly beside him, clearly unhappy. I shouldn’t care, but I do.
“Staring is only going to make him think you’ll take him back.” The voice, close to my ear, is deep, husky and definitely amused. I twist my head around and come face to face with Shaun.
He’s leaning forward, his face level with mine. He’s so close, I can feel his breath on my cheek and smell his cologne – which, I have to admit, is very nice. Not too strong or overpowering – an interesting blend that makes me want to shift closer.
He catches the bartender’s attention and points at my bottle, then raises two fingers in some kind of universal bar sign-language that I can never make work. Two bottles of beer arrive shortly after and Shaun pays.
He sits on the stool next to me and twists around so he’s facing me. His fingers curl around the bottle of beer and he takes a long drink. I can’t help but watch his throat move as he swallows and I lick suddenly dry lips.
“What song did you put your name down for?” he asks, as he places the bottle back on the bar.
“Me? Oh hell no, I don’t sing. I just come to laugh at everyone else.”
Shaun laughs. “One of the cruel types who sits in the corner and mocks everyone around them, are you?”
I pretend to consider his description, then nod. “That’s exactly right.”
“Will you make fun of me if I get up and sing?”
“Can you sing?” He looks surprised by my question, almost like I should know the answer to that already, then the expression has gone and his easy smile is back.
“I can hold a note,” he replies, takes another pull of beer then nods toward the stage. “Want to pick a song for me?”
“Anything I want?”
He shrugs. “Sure.”
I don’t give him a chance to reconsider. I hop down from the stool and almost run over to the stage and start flicking through the song list. At first, I think about picking something silly, one that would be embarrassing to sing, but the longer I stand looking the more I think about how good he’d been to me, so I look for something I think he might be able to sing. My eyes fall upon a song and I smile and write his name next to it.
His eyebrow quirks up when I return to the bar. “Find one?”
“Should I worry?”
“That depends on if you can sing like you claim.”
He snorts a laugh and takes another drink. “Why did you invite me tonight?” I watch as he leans back against the bar, his elbows resting on the bartop and his bottle held loosely between fingertips.
Why did I invite him? It’s a fair question and, in truth, I don’t really have a good answer for it. I take a drink from my own bottle.
“Nothing? No answer? Not even a lie?” he says, when I don’t reply. “Did you hope it’d make Sam over there jealous?”
I choke on my beer. That hadn’t even crossed my mind. “No!” I gasp out. “I just thought … I thought maybe … Look, I don’t know! It just seemed like a good idea, okay?”
He gazes at me for a long silent minute, eyes assessing. He straightens suddenly. “You should, you know.”
“Should what?” It’s hard to keep up with his rapid topic changes.
“Prove to him what he’s done doesn’t matter. He keeps looking over here, you know. Probably wondering who I am and why I’m talking to you.” His smile is the only warning I get before he’s reaching over to grab my hand and pull me off my stool to stand between his legs.
I look at him quizzically. I can feel his thumb rubbing across the sensitive skin of my inner wrist and I can’t contain a shiver. His smile widens and he tugs my hand again until I’m closer, almost pressed against his chest.
His head moves forward until his mouth is mere centimetres from mine. Is he going to kiss me? I can feel my heartbeat speeding up at the thought.
“What song did you pick for me?” he whispers, and I blink, surprised by the question.
I’m saved from replying by the guy in charge of the karaoke calling out Shaun’s name. He still has hold of my hand as he rises to his feet, bringing him flush against me.
He tips his head down and I find myself holding my breath as his face comes closer.
“Guess I’m about to find out.” He murmurs and walks toward the stage.
I follow him and stand in front of the stage as he looks to see what song I’ve picked. A smile pulls his lips up and he approaches the mic, lifting it up and fiddling with its placement, then looks directly at me and winks.
“I don’t need the music playing for this one,” he says to the guy in charge of the machine. “I’ll take the mic over to the piano there.” He disconnects the mic from the stand and strides over to the old battered piano in the corner, catching my hand and pulling me along with him as he goes.
“Sit next to me,” he invites and pats the long bench seat, waits for me to settle then places the mic on top of the piano and rests his fingers on the keys. “Ready?” he asks me.
I nod and he starts to play the opening to This is Gospel by Panic! At The Disco, leans forward and starts to sing.
My jaw drops and after no more than a few lines, the bar has fallen silent. Everyone stops what they’re doing – talking, playing pool, darts, drinking – and turns toward where he and I sit at the piano.
His voice … oh my god … his voice!
As smooth as caramel, it soars through the notes effortlessly. The atmosphere in the bar has changed from amused resignation as people wail through various songs to an electric anticipation as he pauses between verses, then launches into the chorus a final time.
As the sounds of the piano fade into silence, nobody moves. Everyone is frozen in place, staring at him and that’s when he surprises me again.
He turns slightly on the seat, lifts a hand to cup the side of my face and covers my lips with his.
For anyone curious — this is the song Shaun is singing.