No matter how many years I spent on this Earth, I’d never get used to the cold. There was no reason I couldn’t relocate to a warmer area, but the thought rarely crossed my mind. The city streets of Philadelphia were the only place I wanted to be. It was the only place I’d ever really called home.
The light turned red and I made my way across the damp street. A homeless man lifted his head when I walked by, the night could not hide his darkly stained face. His name was Alan and he was as nice as he was dirty. We’d had conversations plenty of times but after ten o’clock on a Saturday night we kept our interactions to a brief head nod. He didn’t have the energy and I didn’t have the time.
On the other side of the road, I could hear a group of guys laughing and hollering amongst each other. In my peripheral vision glowed the ember of a cigarette. I had done nothing to catch their attention, but as I opened the door to The Midnight Tavern I heard them calling for me.
“Yo, why don’t you come waste some time with us,” one of the guys yelled. “Old drunk guys will take advantage of a pretty girl like you.”
I pointed to a sign promoting the band I was in, The Condemned. “Sorry, I have to sing tonight.”
His persistence was a cover for his embarrassment. “How about you sing to me one-on-one?”
A small laugh escaped my throat. “You really don’t want that.”
The tavern was foggy with smoke and customers surrounded the bar like newborn piglets getting ready to nurse.
“How’s it going Harper,” Vinny said from behind the bar.
“Good,” I answered competing with the loud voices. “You?”
“Could be better.”
“Could be worse,” I pointed out. “Where’s Cass?”
Vinny plucked the tops from two beer bottles. “Kitchen.”
Snaking through the tavern, I caught a glimpse of my band setting up. Zeke was routinely placing duct tape on the stage to section off where each of us would be performing. It had taken a year to get him to abide by my demands being the stubborn kid he was. The ear plugs were probably good enough, the tape was extra precaution.
Through the swinging door, I found my boyfriend showing the new cook where everything was. I remained silent, not wanting to distract them. Cassidy acknowledged me but never stopped his conversation.
“Hey,” Cassidy said. Sliding his hand against my back, he pulled me close and caressed his lips with my own.
“I wanted to let you know I was here before we went on.”
He kissed my cheek. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
Everything had already been set up by the time I reached the stage. Bishop twirled a drum stick between his index and middle finger, Gage strummed lightly on his bass, and Zeke held his guitar loosely attempting to woo the ladies with his weak rock star persona. I smiled at my friends and gave them a small salute, a sign that I was ready when they were.
Holding the microphone in my hands, I spoke out to those scarce few that were paying attention.
“Thanks for coming out. We are ‘The Condemned’ and this first song is called, ‘Sing Me to Sleep.’ Enjoy.”
Closing my eyes, I let the sound of the instruments flow through the room. My body was throbbing desperately for the energy of the audience. Itching for my voice to blanket the room.
My boys had absorbed enough of their music that my voice wouldn’t penetrate their ears and I began to sing. The words were sweet and soft against the beat of the drums. Like silk, the lyrics rolled off my tongue in perfect unison with the bass and guitar.
Slowly, I opened my eyes. It was a sight I had a hard time getting used to. The crowd so eager to raid the bar had been redirected by the sound of my voice. My song baiting their auras in an array of neon colors lingered just over their heads. The lights were intoxicating and it was hard to contain myself but I continued singing.
One song was all it took. As the music slowed and my voice grew quiet, the auras made their way to me. I let out one final note and with a deep breath, I drew in the energy. It was significantly more amazing every time I fed.
There was silence when I finished. The band was no longer playing, I was no longer singing, and the audience was in complete awe. Cassidy, who had been leaning against the back wall of the bar began to clap. The sharp sound snapped the rest of the room out of their hushed state and they soon joined in.
“You were amazing,” Cassidy said to me when I came off the stage.
I reached forward and pulled out the silicone rubber earplugs. “You couldn’t even hear me.”
He shrugged. “I don’t have to.”
The euphoria I was feeling ended within seconds. Cassidy immediately noticed a change.
He stepped in front of me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Put these back in.” I handed him the earplugs. “Go to the kitchen, lock the back door, and wait for me there.”
Instinctively, I rushed out of the bar and into the dark night. My body was on high alert. I could feel her - I could feel them. She never traveled alone. I searched the empty area for the face that gave me nightmares while I lay next to a peaceful Cassidy at night. She was my maker and I had thoroughly angered her when I left without notice to live a somewhat normal life.
“Looking for someone?” Her voice was like honey carrying an underlying hint of cyanide.
Turning around, I faced her for the first time in over a year. “Serena. What are you doing here?”