Emery Dallos. There she is, appearing from behind the curtains to take her place on the stage. I take a sip from my martini glass, seeing that none of my friends surrounding the circular table have halted their conversation or taken notice of her upcoming performance. Currently, they seem to be engrossed in a conversation regarding suit fabrics and forbidden affairs. For all the times I’ve questioned why they got married in the first place only to have their head turned by every woman they pass, they’ve laughed in my face as if I asked the most blatantly ridiculous question.
Miss Dallos pulls my attention back to the stage with the sway of golden satin cascading down her legs, those which are visible only through the modest slit beginning mid-thigh. I’m debating if it’s her physical beauty that snags my interest or if it’s the anticipation of everything her voice makes me feel.
As soon as her mouth opens and the notes begin to flow, I have no doubt it’s the latter. At the very least, it’s the uniqueness with which she sings that sets her apart from any other woman I’ve met. It’s the emotion her voice fills me with that has me creating excuse after excuse to drag my friends to this particular location at this very specific time.
Nathan jabs me in the shoulder to grab my attention. “What are you doing, man? That’s just background noise.” A part of me grows furious when he references Emery Dallos like she’s nothing more than a song over the speaker. If we ran in the same circles, both showered with wealth, no one would think to ignore her presence for even a moment. Even though being in the same room as her has something ticking in me–this feeling of rightness.
Attempting to participate in some conversation, I fail to completely ignore her, stealing glances over the rim of my glass whenever I can. When her eyes finally yet unexpectedly connect with mine, they widen then crinkle at the corners, seeming to spark with familiarity. For what feels like hours but is most likely seconds, we hold each others’ gazes like we’re the only two in the room.
Too bad a world fails to exist where I could approach her. Or her me.
As I put my whole heart and soul into this song, expressing every emotion through words I personally wrote, the customers at Drapel & James refuse to lay their eyes upon me. God forbid they praise the talents of someone on the opposite end of the wealth spectrum. The dark aura within the luxury club that shines light only on the most expensive bottles of alcohol seems to perfectly match their personalities– discriminatory.
Except for that one man. It’s not difficult to recognize his attention on me since his eyes are the only set resting upon the stage.
This is not the first time I’ve seen him here; in fact, his subtle reactions and the knowledge that my talents affect someone is the one thing that allows me to swallow my pride and continue to perform here.
The first time I saw him, I rolled my eyes, assuming that his gaze was nothing more than predatory. I may be disadvantaged, but I’m confident enough to accept my own beauty. However, my assumptions were far from correct, and I’m not too self-assured to admit my fault. I can see sincerity in the way he watches with a slight tilt to his head and reacts with a raise of his brows at each note or lyric that resonates with him.
Tonight, when I catch his watchful gaze, it’s impossible to look away. It takes every cell in my body to remember the words to my own song, the pitch to my own voice.
But before I know it, my set has finished and I’m disappearing once again behind the curtain. I dip into a changing room, which is really just a room separating apparatus, and strip from the satin gold gown I could never afford and am lucky to have borrowed.
“And we welcome to the stage, our very own Grayson Astor!” The applause and shouts that follow have me rolling my eyes so far back I’m afraid they might get stuck. Pulling on my nicest pair of trousers and a blouse I reserve solely for these performances, I carry the gold dress back to the rack where it had been waiting for me.
As the applause dies down, the only sound I can hear is the clack of (probably shiny) Oxfords across the stage. I make myself busy, eager to hear the mediocre performance by some rich man that receives a myriad more attention than me.
The pride I have in my opinions is appreciably humbled. Needless to say, I’m ashamed to have ever thought so lowly of what I may possibly describe as the best pianist I have heard to this day. My heart gallops at the suspense he brings in the crescendo, and my chest is filled with a warmth of emotion I cannot deny. I imagine the man’s delicate fingers playing across the keys, connecting with each new note as if his feelings stream directly from his heart and out the tips of his fingers. Hand still clasped on the gold fabric of my borrowed dress, I realize that I’m swaying with my eyes closed, resonating with the sound that seems to envelop the space.
I open them immediately, shuffling to retrieve my belongings when the stage director peels the curtain open just slightly and I still once again, realizing just who Grayson Astor is.
The man from the audience.
As my hands glide from left to right, fingers dancing across the keys, I become so lost in the violent release of emotions that every thought except for that of Emery Dallos escapes my mind. The last glimpse I saw of her was the sudden disappearance through the curtains to the backstage, where she may be changing clothing, scheduling another gig, talking with a manager… All I have are educated guesses, considering I come dressed in a suit and have unlimited opportunity at the club.
I cringe as shame fills me that a talent such as mine, one that pales in comparison to the mysterious woman, is so celebrated.
Focus, Grayson. For some reason, the only argument motivating me to continue playing before chasing after her is the sliver of hope that she regards my music the way I do hers. And that respect will certainly be crushed if I make a scene.
Reaching the coda and completing the last note of the piece, I stand and smile, bowing and accepting the applause. A lifetime in the ring of wealth teaches you a lot about putting on a “show.” To sum it up, I’ve spent my life learning to act genuine in situations when I am, in fact, not.
What a shameful thought. But a necessary one as I part the curtains and enter the backstage, whipping my head on a swivel to glimpse Miss Dallos.
And fail to do so.
A door to the fresh air outside is cracked open, and with no small drop in my stomach, I realize she must be forced to use that exit, so as not to be mixed up with the sea of luxury in the audience.
What a sordid class of people my usual company seems to be.
Before I can consider the consequences, I’m out the door.
“Miss Dallos!” I’m not used to situations like this, so I’m not entirely sure how to act. The shouting of my name grows closer and closer at a rapid rate, something that would send me running if not for the polite way in which the stranger addresses me.
I take a deep breath and stop mid-step, turning to see him running toward me.
He slows to a walk, his hair so dark that the moonlight casts blue highlights among the tousled strands and his eyes so bright I can tell they’re green even in the blackness of night. The smile spreading across his face, exposing one crooked tooth, makes him seem real, even in the face of deceitful perfection that all upper class seem to display.
When I meet his eyes, I can feel the emotion of his music all over again.
“Hi,” I breathe.
“Miss Dallos. I’m-”
“Grayson, yes?” His quick breathing halts, a dimple appearing just to the right of his lips. I find it rather unfortunate that I can’t seem to look away from them.
“You know my name,” he says.
“I do. You played the piano tonight.”
Grayson cringes. “So you heard.” I never find myself comfortable with those I don’t know, especially not with the patrons of Drapel & James, who are more likely to ignore my voice than pay me any heed. So you could imagine my shock when I chuckle softly at his surprising display of embarrassment.
“Hmm,” I observe. “Humility is not a trait I often witness with men of your type.” Though every cell in my body buzzes with interest, I turn slowly to continue my walk home.
“Wait,” he calls. I turn back to him, pleased that I’ve grabbed his attention. “Men of my type? And what type of man am I?”
“What type of man are you?” I throw his question back at him, aware of the way that pulls a man in. Not that I’m trying to do that.
“Well, for starters. I would consider myself a curious man.” His smirk didn’t go unnoticed. I took a step toward him.
“You can call me Emery, by the way,” I said, tugging at the color of his blazer.
“I’d rather call you beautiful.” I burst out laughing. “Too cheesy?”
“Way too cheesy.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do this.”
“Do what?” I coaxed.
“Explain to you with some kind of grace and charm that I’ve never met someone as captivating as you with a voice that I can’t seem to get out of my head.” I put on a display of nonchalance, but my heart thumps so loudly I can barely focus on the words spilling from his lips.
“Well, I think you did a pretty good job,” I admit, leaning toward him.
“I was trying to sound a bit more subtle.” The corner of his lips turned downward. Knowing that he was as nervous as I was put me at ease. After all, before even speaking with him, Grayson Astor had filled me with more emotion than I had ever felt before.
A moment of silence passed that only became awkward when I opened my mouth. Dammit.
“You’re staring at me.”
“I suddenly feel much more comfortable. As it appears, you are just as terrible at subtlety as I.” When I smile at him, his responding laugh feels like velvet against my skin. I shiver at the feeling, but he must misinterpret this as a cold chill.
“Do you need a ride home?” Grayson offers.
I raise my eyebrows at him. “I may not be dressed in a thousand dollar suit, but I’m not a charity case.”
“I would never think to imply that you are.” I’m not sure what to think about this mysterious man and his socially unacceptable interest in me, but my feet are sore. Well, that’s the lie I tell myself when I slide into his car and hope this isn’t the last time I see the man whose every note is a yearn for love.
I don’t know what I expected from Miss Emery Dallos, but somehow, I think it was exactly that. I failed to ask if I would ever hear her voice again, my courage faltering in the presence of someone I held in such high regard.
I watch her steps as she strolls up the walkway leading to the cottage door, the loose waves of her brunette hair bouncing against her back. As I sink into the memory of her music’s spellbinding effect and the way in which her conversation kept me thirsting for more, I finally bury any bit of dignity and wind down the window.
Holy hell. When she turns, the teasing smile playing across her lips nearly causes me to lose my words.
“I was wondering if maybe you’d like to go out to lunch sometime?”
“Like a date?” She knows damn well what I mean.
“What did I say about entertaining my subtlety?”
“Not to do it?”
“Oh, Emery, you will be the end of me.”
“So a date?” She rubs her chin in consideration. “I told you already I’m not a charity case.” Exasperation hits me.
“Consider me the charity case. I can’t seem to stay away, after all.”
A moment of silence passes, Emery ten feet up the sidewalk, me in the driver’s seat of my car, before she finally responds.
“Fine. You did say you were a curious man. I’ll do it to entertain your curiosity.” The way she's teasing me right now feels evil. Luckily for me, her actions are quite contradictory to her words as she traipses back to the door of my car and slips into the passenger seat.
“What about dinner?” she suggests.
“Sure, Miss Emery Dallos," I acquiesce.