Insomnia

He’s a visiting musician, she’s lived in the city her whole life. He has millions of adoring fans, she has none. He can’t sleep at night and neither can she. In the city that never sleeps, neither do they.

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4. // part iv

{ a longer chapter. this one is kind of rough and all over the place, so sorry lol. favourite, comment and enjoy. }   the songs featured in this chapter: As We Are Now // Saint Raymond Silent // Tori Kelly Right There // Ariana Grande (acoustic verison)

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shawn // part iv

She is waiting for me in front of a dark and narrow building, leaning against a graffitied wall with her guitar case slung over one shoulder. She wears a black skirt which exposes her long, slender legs, a pair of black pumps and scalloped tux top. My stomach churns at the sight of her.

“I thought you’d bailed on me for a moment,” she greets me with a grin.

“Never,” I scoff, shooting one back at her.

She beckons for me to follow her up the steps towards the dark building. It looks like a warehouse from the outside, but as I step through the door I’m surprised to be greeted with a large space scattered with small tables and stools instead of chairs, a bar along one side of it and a small stage at the far end.

“Welcome to The Ice House. One of the only bars in New York that permits underage drinking and live music,” she introduces me, making a vague gesture around the room. “The party doesn’t start for another half-hour, but performers get free drinks and I thought we could take advantage of that.”

“You drink?” I raise an eyebrow at her. Her petite frame and innocent features don’t hint that she’s the kind of girl who spends her Saturday evenings drinking alcohol. “How old are you?”

She shrugs in way that probably means yes, but could also mean no. “Sixteen.”

I gulp. I hadn’t assumed that she was older than me. Nor that she drinks. This girl is full of surprises. She saunters over to the bar and slips onto one of the stools. A bartender approaches her immediately, flicking her bleached blonde locks over her shoulder with a manicured hand. She greets Jasmine with a bright smile. “The usual?”

Jasmine nods. “And whatever he wants.”

The bartender looks at me expectantly and I fumble over my words. “Er...a lemonade please.”

“Coming right up,” the bartender replies.

I sink onto the stool beside Jasmine and glance at her uncertainly. She answers my question without me having to verbalize it. “You know, I find a tiny bit of alcohol helps with the nerves,” she explains. “It’s kind of become a habit.”

“How long have you been performing here?”

“For about six months – two months before my dad-” she cuts herself off and stares at the floor, her brown hair shadowing her face. I don’t push her to continue. Instead, an uncomfortable silence stretches between us, so thick it could suffocate me.

The bartender nudges two glasses across the counter and I smile to thank her. Jasmine’s glass contains a clear liquid identical to mine, with a lemon floating above a generous portion of ice. She sips it tentatively and glances at me, her eyes suddenly much brighter and her expression clearer and more open.

I’m still kind of confused. I wandered into an insignificant music shop yesterday afternoon in order to purchase some guitar picks but ended up meeting this small but deeply intriguing girl and agreeing to accompany her to a gig the following evening. Spontaneous isn’t one of my most predominant characteristics, but I like it.

“So, tell me. What possessed the famous  Shawn Mendes to go to a bar with a random and quite boring girl from New York?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” I grin at her. She nudges my knee with hers playfully and my stomach churns – a feeling I’ve been experiencing often in these past two days. It’s the same feeling I get before I go on stage. Almost like the feeling of just jumping off something and hoping that the ground would be there when I land. But if it’s both terrifying and amazing, you should definitely pursue it.

She gulps back the rest of her drink and jumps off the bar stool, hitching her guitar over her shoulder. “I’ve got to go...warm-up my voice and tune my guitar, you know. The show will be starting in fifteen minutes. I’ll...um...see you later.”

I bite my lip as she walks off before calling out, “Good luck!”

She stops and spins around. “Shawn, I thought you were in show-business. You should know that ‘good luck’ is  not the right phrase.”

“Oh, damn,” I curse, chuckling slightly. “I mean, break a leg!”

She grins and trots off, leaving me sitting on my own on the barstool. I take a swig from my drink and check my phone, sending a quick message to Calum telling him I’ll be out tonight and not to worry. Not that he would; he’s probably too busy partying in a stranger’s penthouse apartment or something. The difference between me and Calum is that whilst I would rather be jamming with a few friends, he would sooner be out partying. Whilst I’m looking forward to the future, Calum’s biggest fear is growing old; he’s only good at being young.

People start rolling in steadily, filling up The Ice House. There are people of all ages mulling around and squeezing onto the small stools scattered around the room – not just reckless teenagers taking advantage of the underage drinking policy. I sit alone, not saying a word to anybody and doing my best to melt into the crowd; immersing myself in the muffled sound of conversation which fills the room and waiting for Jasmine to appear on stage.

A few minutes later, though, a lanky boy waddles onto the stage cradling a guitar that is too big for his skinny arms. He sits down on a chair in the centre of the stage and starts to play a song which barely carries out over the lull of conversation and the clinking of glasses. The song seems to wear on for too long and I fiddle with my phone, spinning it between my fingers lazily.

The boy finishes his song, clears his throat and shuffles off stage. Moments later, Jasmine marches onto the platform and immediately the crowd directs their attention at her. For a small girl, she has a lot of presence. She angles the microphone closer to her face and scans the room, her gaze falling on me. She offers me a small smile and trails her fingers along the strings, tentatively at first, like she is afraid to let the sound go. But gradually she lets each note grow and shrink, the tune morphing into something smooth and certain.

The second the first note falls from her lips, my stomach contorts and my heart leaps in a way that feels like all the parts of my heart that have ever been shattered are being bound back together again. This small, fleeting moment contains more enormity than any other moment of my life ever will. I feel like the universe is telling me something. And it doesn't even matter if it's true or not. What matters is that I feel it, and believe it. The sound of her voice lulls me into a warm embrace, the lyrics cradling me. I crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to reality.

She’s bathed in the soft glow of a faint spotlight, her fingers plucking at the strings with fluency and effortlessly. Her voice is smoky, featherlight and agile all at once – resonant, versatile and well supported throughout the vocal registers. It’s high and sweet and haunting with an elastic chest voice. Her hushed croon eclipses the dull sound of the instrument in her arms. I cling onto the lyrics as she sings, my eyes focused only on Jasmine. The rest of the room becomes distracted, the steady drone of conversation falling on the backdrop of Jasmine’s voice. But the rest falls away and I listen not only to her enchanting vocals, but also the words which spill past her soft pink lips.

“And we'll never be as young as we are now, the faces in the crowd are thinning out,” she croons. "And I'm not saying stick around, but stick around."

It seems like the lyrics are meant for me; intended to fall on my ears. Everything else seems to fall away. The world, right now, is just us.

The song finishes too quickly, before I have the chance to fully digest the power of the fluttering love track and its intimate lyrics. The fleeting thought crosses my mind – accompanied by a sharp ache – that Jasmine’s set is finished and I will never get to hear her beautiful voice again.  Then she starts strumming the fraying nylon strings of her guitar again, in a different rhythm and a mixture of relief and excitement floods through me.

This time, the lyrics speak out to me in a different way. I can relate to them, but not in an emotional way like the last song. Instead, every line relates to how I feel about chasing my dreams. Although the lyrics aren’t her own, Jasmine has a way of singing them which stirs an emotion deep inside of me, one I didn’t realize was there until just now.

She has a voice which would make Calum Styles’ sugary, manufactured vocals jealous. What I love most, though, is that it’s just about her voice and the words she is singing. No strings attached or silly hair or costumes, just a young lady singing her heart out.

“Wake up in a new day but it don't feel that new,” she sings. “But my heart won't be quiet, I feel a change.”

She has an innocence and quiet ambition mixed with steely determination and maturity which ultimately makes her irresistible. She seemed quiet and shy when I met her yesterday, but today she appears to be more confident.

"No more black and white, this life's too colorful, beautiful...don't know what lies ahead but..."  The song rushes ahead and I tap my fingers vaguely in time to the beat, my eyes fixated on her. “My dreams are loud and my heart's wide awake and all I know is I'm not meant to be silent..." she sings.

Her voice climbs a few octaves, belting out a powerful high note which steals not only my heart, but the attention of the formerly distracted audience. I blink at her, surprised she carries such talent.

The song starts to fade out, and Jasmine opens her eyes which have been closed for the duration of the performance. She blinks in the harsh glare of the lights, strums the last note to the song and stands up.

“Do you guys wanna hear one more?” she calls out. The audience lets out a muted cheer in response and she smiles, scurrying off stage for half a second and returning without her guitar and the lanky boy from before. She throws a few jokes, banter bouncing from the crowd to the stage, placing the microphone back on its stand. “Okay, Will is going to help me out on this one. Here we go.”

The boy, Will, smiles at Jasmine and starts strumming a complex rhythm along to Jasmine’s smoky croon which arises straight away. Then, she breaks into a powerful, charming throwback tune. The song sounds vaguely familiar, but it’s only when she belts out the chorus that I identify it as Right There, by Ariana Grande.

“And if you never change, I’m gonna stay right there,” she croons. “I’ll always be right there. You got it, you got it babe. I get butterflies just thinking, about you boy you’re on my mind.”

She stands up, taking the microphone with her and strutting across the stage likes it belongs to her. She’s not just singing anymore, she’s performing. The movement catches the audience’s attention and the conversation dials down to nothing as they watch intently.

Then Will breaks into a jagged rap and the crowd start cheering. I can’t help but smile. At first, I’d been under the impression that the teenagers who come to perform here provide more of background noise than entertainment, but as Will boasts about his sexual prowess, Jasmine parades across the stage flaunting impressive melismas and the crowd whistle and cheer in appreciation, I realize that I was wrong.

“Five course meals even though you don’t mind a drive-thru, that’s why I got you,” Will raps, before Jasmine belts out a note nearing the top of her range. The sheer power echoes through the room and the audience cheer again. She ratchets up the emotion for the finale, her voice soaring above the mellow acoustic accompaniment before she huskily croons the last few lines alongside the instrument.

“You got it, got it babe.”

The crowd erupts into a chorus of cheers, applause filling the room. Jasmine stands on the centre of the stage, clasping the microphone in her hands with a big beam on her face.

“Thank you everybody! I hope you have a good evening,” she says and scuttles off stage, closely followed by Will. Conversation resumes, but this time I can swear it gravitates towards Jasmine’s performance.

Jasmine reappears just moments later. As I spot her approaching, I feel a sudden wave of nervousness wash through me. Knowing the talent she harbours makes her presence stronger and makes me admire her in a way I didn’t previously.

“I...” I start, before trailing off. Words have escaped my grasp.

“Was I that bad?” she asks, pouting melodramatically and clasping a hand over her chest in fake heartbreak.

“What? No. Hell no,” I clarify firmly. “You were...amazing. Truly brilliant.”

She stops acting and blinks at me uncertainly, as if she’s unsure that I’m being serious. Colour rushes to her cheek and she looks down, thanking me shyly. But the shyness disappears almost immediately. “So I lived up to your high expectations.”

“Oh, they weren’t set that high,” I joke, grinning at her playfully.

She shoves my shoulder light-heartedly. “Come on, Shawn. I’m parched. Let’s go get a drink.”

This time, she orders a lemonade and we take our drinks to a small, secluded booth in the corner of the room, bathed in the dim, flickering light of a few candles. My legs glide against the sticky red upholstery as we sink into the seats and iced lemonade threatens to spill over the sides of my glass.

There’s a few more young artists playing acoustic songs up on the stage and the crowd has returned to their conversation. I watch them distantly, my mind swarming with questions. How the hell did I end up in this dark, secluded bar in the middle of New York with a girl I only met yesterday? Why does the thought of this talented, beautiful girl make my stomach churn and my heart flutter? What’s going to happen after we finished our drinks and I have to return to the stuffy hotel room to be greeted with an inevitably intoxicated Calum? If there’s one thing for sure, I don’t want to say goodbye to this girl. Also, I’m quite content with not knowing the answers to my many questions. Answer-less questions can destroy you.

“You’re not from around here, right?” Jasmine asks, raising her glass to her lips.

I shake my head. “Nope. I’m from Canada.”

“Oh, I love Canada!” she says enthusiastically.

“You do?” I raise my eyebrows at her.

“Yeah, we go once a year to visit my Grandma,” she nods genuinely. “Why, don’t you?”

I shrug. “It’s okay, I suppose. I prefer New York, though.”

She smiles. “Trust me, after living in it all your life it doesn’t seem quite so amazing anymore. Well, besides The Farmery.”

“The Farmery?” I counter.

“Mm. Me and my father used to go there all the time before,” she cuts herself off again, the same numb expression taking over her features that appears every time she has mentioned her father so far. I don’t push her to tell me, but I want to know what is causing her pain. I want to take it away from her. Jasmine sighs and forces a watery smile. “It’s the best frozen yoghurt place in the whole world, I swear. You  have to try it.”

“I’ll take you up on that offer,” I wink at her.

Something unidentifiable flickers over her eyes and she smirks. “How long are you here for?”

“Only for two more days,” I frown, pursing my lips.

The weekend suddenly seems a lot shorter. I glance up at her. She’s sipping her drink thoughtfully, something I trace as mischief clouding her deep brown irises. It seems impossible that this initially shy and innocent girl has another side to her; a charming, spontaneous, determined. She carries herself about with an air of easy confidence that wasn’t there when I first met her in a small, insignificant music shop yesterday.

“Well, let’s make the most of it then,” she says lowly, so soft I can barely hear her. But the second I register her words, I realize that I want to take her up on her offer. I want to take a leaf out of Calum’s book; trust my instincts, let curiosity be my guide, sleep with unfamiliar stars and let the journey unfold before me. No regrets, no second-thoughts, just memories. We have so much to lose and so much to gain. She sung the lyrics herself; we’re never going to be as young as we are tonight.

I glance over to the rest of the bar. People dressed completely in black appear from nowhere and start to push the tables and stools back against the walls, creating an empty space in the middle of the room which makes the whole bar seem so much bigger – and even less like a bar. More people begin to spill is; girls staggering in heels and guys with broad shoulders and deep frowns. The air around us becomes thick.

“What’s going on?” I ask Jasmine.

She frowns. “Oh. I forgot about this. My father and I used to go straight to The Farmery after my act, so I never really saw this part of the show. But The Ice House is a bar and talent show by day and a nightclub by...well, night.”

“Nightclub?” I repeat uncertainly.

She nods, her teeth cruising over her bottom lip. “Look, I wouldn’t normally do this. But have you got a night to spare?”

My stomach churns and I stare down at my almost empty glass. “I suppose...”

“Good. Because the party is only just getting started.”

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