Sunday, March 15, 2009

Someone to Watch Over Me by Savannah Stephens Smith

I was in the middle of Cry Me a River when I noticed him.

The set was going all right. But I was going through the motions and the audience knew it. They liked me okay, but they weren't in love with me. Some nights you're on, and some nights you're not, and by then, I didn't care all that much.

Until I saw him in the darkness. He sat alone and very still, his gaze following me around the stage. Most of the crowd doesn't really pay attention to the entertainment, but he was. And he wasn't impressed. He sat with his drink on the table before him and his face blank, watching me. I wasn't touching him at all.

You weren't trying to touch him, Sandy, I thought. You were just calling this one in over the phone.

Of course I was. I was singing jazz that year. Popular jazz, familiar tunes people knew or half-remembered, nothing too way out for the suburbanites. And, I was bored. Singing the same songs over and over, to an audience more interested in their highballs and balling later than in me. Still, I didn't like the way the man in the shadows before the stage watched me as if he knew something I didn't.

I was used to being assessed and judged. But more than an audience's usual dare--entertain me--came off him. There was a quiet arrogance, and something else that I figured I was the only one who felt. It made me a little angry, and so I sang the rest of the set to him. Sometimes I do that, pick out a face in the crowd and make them my only audience. Why not him? He was a good-looking man from what I could see, and that was all right, too. I didn't have much of a career, and I didn't have a steady man in my life. So I sang to him. I didn't figure it would be for the rest of the night though, because who'd stick around that long?

Even I knew I wasn't that good.

I sang to him, and I tried to turn it up a bit, raise the heat. Something about him challenged me. He didn't think I was better than mediocre and I wanted him to be wrong. I wanted to seduce him, win him over. I took a few chances with the melody, rediscovering a little bit of the magic in the familiar songs. I couldn't tell if it was working, but I started feeling good again. I started to care about the set. Damn it, I thought, closing my eyes, letting the feelings come out in my voice. I can be good.

I'd forgotten.

It was a good night. I forgot him for a bit, as I lost myself in the music for a while, moving around the small stage, making that space all mine. The stranger faded as I expanded the focus of who I was singing to, connecting with more people. I was getting into it again. I was charming them, the applause stronger after each song. I rode it higher and higher.

I expected him to be gone when I came back after my break for the second set, but he wasn't. He'd stayed, and he kept watching me. I couldn't tell if the level in his drink went down or not. I wondered why I cared.

At end of the night, after smiling to more clapping than I'd heard in a while, I walked into my dressing room, a grand name for a shabby, dark alcove with a bathroom, an old chesterfield and dressing table, and not much else. There were flowers waiting for me. Roses. That hadn't happened in a while. Had it ever? I couldn't remember. Trudy, the cocktail waitress who brought in my post-set scotch and soda, gestured to them over her shoulder with her thumb. "What, you got a real fan?" At last, she meant.

"I don't know," I said. I looked for a card, but there wasn't a small square with a name on it, or a phone number. I bent and inhaled the white roses. They were luminous in the low light, like moonlight caught in a bloom. They smelled like heaven. Pretty. Too pretty for the room.

Too pretty for me.


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