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I'm a weirdo

Chapter Text

Carol heard her before seeing her. She heard a woman sing, voice full of longing.

 

It was a warm Saturday night. She and her best friend Abby were walking by the waterfront, enjoying the light breeze from the sea. It was late, but the waterfront was busy. People leaving restaurants and cafes, preparing for a night out in some high end night club, shouting and talking drunkenly.

Abby was smoking, Carol had quitted a while ago. They talked about nothing and then about everything, giggling, as old friends who had long time to catch up.  They sat on bench, neither of them wanting to go home yet.

”Carol, listen. I think I’m happy. I have Alexandra and you in my life. I have evenings like this.” Abby motioned to their surroundings. ”I like this. ”

”Oh yes” Carol answered and a took a deep breath. She closed her eyes and leaned against the backrest of the bench. ”After everything, I think my life is finally beginning to be actually nice. I enjoy it too. ”

”And you deserve that.” Both sat in silence, enjoying the moment of carefree happiness. 

After a while Abby cleared her throat. ”There is no lady you would like to introduce into your life?”

”Tell me Abigail, when you think I would have time to date?”

”I don’t know. I think that is something you make time for if you really want that.”

”Um, I guess you are right. But after Harge, I worked so hard to live on my own, to be happy in silence and alone in my apartment. I’m not sure if I can give up that control. To fall in love.”

After a moment of silence, Carol continued. ”It’s different. To lure some sweet girl, take her to my apartment, make her feel desired and fuck her. Make her breakfast in the morning and send her away. I don’t give up anything, but I get everything.”

”Everything, really?” A hint of mocking was evident in Abby’s voice.

”Yes, I mean it. Really. What else would I need?”

Abby didn’t answer. They continued to sit in silence. Someone was playing guitar somewhere. Carol new she had heard that song, but couldn’t place it. The song was gentle but strong, Carol felt like someone had enveloped her in warm arms. Singing voice was full, deep and mysterious.  Beautifull, nonetheless. She wondered who would come there to sing like that.

Carol stood up abruptly. Abby looked surprised. ”Feeling like going home already?”

”No, not actually. I thought we could walk a little, find out who is that angel singing? Would you join me? ”

 

------

 

For Therese it was a Saturday like every else. She had slept in. Friday had been a long night. She had gone to see her friends’ gig. They had some new songs and hoped for breakthrough to the music world. Future felt promising and so the celebratory mood didn’t leave them until early hours of the morning. However, she wasn’t hungover. She never was, because she never drank.

She spent morning doing chores that had piled up. She did laundry, washed dishes and cleaned up her tiny studio apartment. After having something for lunch, she pulled up her favorite skinny jeans and dark green flannel shirt, applied simple but dark make up and mussed her hair with some wax.

”Rock star, indeed” she thought. Someone somewhere had said that, referring to her style. ”I wish.” Therese grabbed her guitar and hat and went out.

Therese had given up the thought of a career in music long time ago.  She loved music, every aspect of it. But making music for living was something different. For doing that, you needed a persona, to have trust in yourself. To be someone special, and Therese wasn’t.

Not believing in herself, she had packed her dreams in a box and thrown them into the ocean. Dreaming wasn’t for her. She was an orphan and had to take care of herself, to make a stable living. So, after graduating from high school, she  had said goodbye to her friends from music school and enrolled to a college to become an accountant. Her friends studied music, had their bands and waited for their success, loaning money and fighting for gigs. Therese tried to act oblivious to this drama; she was on her path every step closer to a boring job but steady income.

For most of the time, Therese felt happy for her choice. She had her job which gave her enough time to do what she wanted in her free time. And that was music. She didn’t feel like being famous was something she desired. But there were those sleepless nights when she questioned every decision, when her friends were drunk calling her for from parties telling her about their success, when Therese laid alone in her bed in her apartment just counting hours for the moment she would have to leave for her dull work.

Today was different. Sun was shining and life felt good. She walked to the park, around the zoo and some tall old trees. She sat on the grass, enjoyed the sun on her skin and played few of her favourite tunes and some of her own songs. She read a book one of her friends had given her.

When it was getting dark she stopped by her favourite place for burrito and continued to the waterfront. The sun was setting and colouring the sky. Lights from the restaurants and boats by the waterfront reflected off the water. Therese found her spot on a small opening and started to play.

Playing was easy. Therese let her mind wander, fingers moved on the strings, lyrics came up somewhere deep from her memory. She had started to come by the waterfront to play in college, to collect few dollars from tourists and others passing by. That time, she had needed that income. However, now when she had a job, it had become a habit she was just too sentimental to give up. It felt good to be around people, to see people laughing and talking, to have something to do.

Therese got lost in music and her thoughts. Her fingers kept gently strumming and the sound coupled with her singing voice. She closed her eyes and let her mind become totally engrossed in the lyrics.

But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo

She felt some had stopped to listen, someone threw her few coins. Therese nodded smiling, not paying attention to her surroundings.

Therese opened her eyes and glanced at the people that had stopped around her. There were all kind of people, most of them were wearing something that Therese could straight away tell they were tourists. But that was okay, after these years playing here Therese had learned that tourists were the most generous crowd.

What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here

Behind the group of tourists Therese saw someone who definitely wasn’t one. A woman, maybe in her mid-thirties. She wore a well-cut light brown suit looking like she just stepped out of some fancy office making business for millions. Her blonde hair was weaving in the slight breeze that came from the ocean. Fuck, she is gorgeous, Therese thought, Is she staring at me?

She was. They locked eyes over the crowd and somehow Therese felt she couldn’t look anywhere else.

Therese snapped back to reality when she realized she had missed the chord. She tore her eyes from the woman and tried to mask her mistake and focus on the song the she was playing. Fortunately, this was one on those she could play in her sleep.

Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special

But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
I don't belong here

The crowd started applauding right after she managed to play the last chord. Therese felt flustered and embarrassed, her cheeks red.  Her tried to smile and nod to people that came to give her small bills, still avoiding looking to the direction she had seen the blonde.  She decided it was time to pack up and reached for her guitar case she had left behind her.

“I think you are fucking special.” Low female voice said behind Therese. Her shoulders jumped a little at the unpredicted sound.  How someone got so close to her? She turned around. It was the blonde, standing only few feet behind her, so close Therese could smell her intoxicating perfume.

Therese was dumbfounded. She stared at the blonde. “What?”

“I said I think you are special. Fucking special, as you said. Not a weirdo.”

Therese’s mind was on override. Her thoughts were like carts in that amusement park attraction, going on full speed but then crashing to each other without any actual progress. After a moment that felt like eternity, she caught the reference to the song she had been playing. Therese chucked and tried to brush the compliment aside.

The blonde wasn’t contented. “I mean it. Your singing sent shivers over my back. And I know what I am saying, believe me.”  She stared at Therese and Therese felt like she was undressed there at the spot by the gaze of this woman. She felt her cheeks got even hotter. She adverted her eyes to the ground and tried to busy herself.

“Are you leaving?  That’s a pity. I came to ask for a song. Would you play something for me? Something older, to surprise me, something you would like to play?” The blonde  looked for an eye contact and then winked, holding a $50 note between her fingers.

Therese nodded, unable to speak.  She knew she her cheeks couldn’t get any redder and embarrassment had found a new form in heat between her thighs. In that moment she was sure that she would do everything for this woman and to get her praise. Therese tried to collect her thoughts.

The blonde smiled softly, clearly happy with reaction from the younger woman. “Would you do that for me, darling?

Therese suddenly got back her ability to speak. “Yes, I think I know a perfect song, just let me check the lyrics.”  She had got back her boldness too, and knew a perfect song for the situation. She grabbed her phone to do the search. “And I don’t want your money.”

“Thank you, darling, you are a good girl. But take the money, I insist.” She sent Therese her gaze Therese couldn’t resist and pressed the note to Therese’s palm. “I borrowed it from my friend for you.” She winked again and turned to leave.

Therese watched as the woman walked  away in swift movement to the spot she saw her the first time. The blonde was greeted by another woman that must have been the “friend” the blonde was referencing. The friend laughed at something the blonde said and tapped her arm. Everything about her screamed “gay” to Therese. She turned back to her task the blonde goddess had given her.

From the first tone that left her guitar, Therese felt an intense gaze on her. This time the blonde wouldn’t win, she decided and stared boldly back.

You don't own me
I'm not just one of your many toys
You don't own me
Don't say I can't go out with -  boys

The blonde changed from foot to foot and crossed her arms. Accepting the challenge Therese had thrown at her. Therese kept singing.

I'm young and I love to be young

I'm free and I love to be free

To live my life the way I want

To say and do whatever I please

 

Therese sang under the intensive, challenging gaze. And although the lyrics said the opposite, she knew she would do anything that women would ask her. She raised her chin an kept the eye contact intact.

The song ended but still Therese couldn’t see anyone else. The blonde looked for something in her handbag and bantered with her friend, apparently borrowing a pen. She wrote something on a piece of paper, folded it delicately and looked at Therese. Then she put the piece of paper between two planks of a nearby bench and walked away with her friend, laughing at something she had just said.

Chapter Text

On Sunday night, Therese found herself pacing around her apartment. The next day would be first day of her new job. She had spent some time working for different companies for shorter terms, but this was going to be her first, long-term job. She wasn’t nervous for the work itself; she knew how to do it sufficiently enough. The problem was the meeting of new people, and the stress of making a good first impression.

Therese had spent all afternoon getting ready. She had picked clothes, ironed a white button up shirt and practiced introducing herself in the front of the narrow mirror in the bathroom.  She even had written down a few questions and lines for small talk.

Now there was nothing to be done, only to hope the Monday would be bearable and she wouldn’t make a fool of herself. She would stick to her strategy from college and previous jobs. To be invisible and blend in and to avoid everything that would draw attention to her. That was her way of surviving.

Therese warmed some leftovers and sat on the couch. A piece of paper from the day before was left next to the couch on a coffee table.  Therese smiled when it caught her attention.  It read in a neat handwriting:

A little feminist you are?

I hoped you could sing for me sometime soon.

Call me.

 

And on the last line a phone number.

Seeing the note took Therese back to the night before. What had happened there? She didn’t understand, Therese didn’t know she had that amount of boldness inside her.

After the blonde and her friend had walked away, she had run to grab the folded paper. She had tried not to draw attention to what she was doing, but there were few amused faces that gave away that at least some had noticed her exchange with the mysterious blonde. Therese had showed the paper to her pocket and run home. Only in the safety of her apartment she had had the courage to unfold it see what it was about.

In present, Therese felt small butterflies flying in her stomach.  Who was this C? Hurriedly, she but the note away. Now it wasn’t time to dream. The next day was an important one; she would address the note after her first day at her new job. She would call. But not now, not today.

She opened her laptop to see the email for the details of the upcoming day.  9 am, ask for Mrs  Robichek, accounting.  Therese added the address even though she knew the place.  She had been there for the job interview. It was closer than the places she had worked before, sparing her 15 minutes every morning. Absent-mindedly, she clicked on a link at the bottom of the email that redirected her to the company’s webpage. She scrolled through to catch some idea what kind of company she was about to work for. Even it didn’t matter much, basic accounting was always the same.

Something caught Therese’s attention and stopped chewing the rice she had just showed into her mouth. She stared at the laptop screen. On a page called People, there were pictures and introductions to some important people of the firm. But it was the third one that Therese recognized. It was the mysterious blonde woman from the previous night, looking even more business-like with her stern smile for the camera. Therese read:

Carol Aird, PhD

Chair of the Board

Head of Research & Development

Founder of A. Technologies

On media page Therese found links to some articles from few years back. All were business and tech magazines with headlines of the type The Most Promising Clean Tech Company of the Year. Therese immersed herself in reading all the information she could find about this woman. Apparently, she had studied chemical engineering and founded a company some years ago. This company, A. Technologies had used technology that Dr. Aird had developed during her studies that was, according to the articles, groundbreaking. It was about recycling of some elements that were not possible to recycle before.  

It was long after midnight when Therese climbed to her bed with her head spinning with all the words she had just read. It felt like a chant that kept repeating in her mind. Neodymium, dysprosium, praseodymium.

Her name is Carol. She runs an extremely successful business that is trying to make its own share in saving the environment. And she is hot, extremely hot.

Neodymium, dysprosium, praseodymium…

 

 

 

Therese stirred. The familiar sound of her phone had disturbed her from sleep. It had been three months since she had started working at A. Technologies. She reached for her phone. “Hello? Can you explain why you are calling me at this time on Saturday morning?” she asked, bit irritated. It was her friend Dannie.

In those three months, she had got a grasp of what people wanted from her at work and she had become less tense with in communications with her colleagues. They were just regular people with families and their own problems. Great people to exchange few words during a coffee break, but nothing more. Which was just fine.

Dr. Aird was not either clouding her thoughts anymore. After a week at her job, it had become apparent, for Therese’s relieve, that she wouldn’t have to cross paths with her in her worktime. It was a large company, and everyone had their own job to do. Accounting on the second floor and R&D on the third floor were two separate worlds. Few times Therese had spotted her from a far, crossing the lobby area or in a close-by coffee shop, but always paying attention to keep unnoticed. Sometimes Therese debated herself. Was it necessary anymore? She doubted Dr. Aird would recognize or remember her anyway.

Because it was now Dr. Aird to her. Her boss. Well, not practically. Yet, did it make any difference? No C. - nor Carol. On Friday night of the first week at her new job, she had made a list of reasons to call and not to call. On a yes side: incredibly intense sex. On a no side: She is your boss. That would be awkward. You know you can’t lie. You would have to tell the truth.  And depending on the moment, if it would be before or after sex, the situation would change. Or if it was only about the sex, it might not come up at all? But that would be a slight chance. And what if she would meet her accidentally the next day at work? Therese wouldn’t survive that.

So, from that night on, it had been Dr. Aird, her boss. Founder of the company she was working at. A respectable person. At least in the daylight. In the night, she kept thinking what this woman could do to her. Therese’s own, untouchable crush. She had saved some pictures she found on the internet in a folder on her laptop, named simply C. Some nights she touched herself in the quiet solemnity of her apartment, her laptop – cast aside – illuminating a small corned of the otherwise dim room.

Evidence from last night was apparent around her bed. Therese chucked to herself at the sight. Dannie had said something, but she hadn’t the slightest idea what it was about. She asked him to repeat.

“Um, Terry, I’m sorry to wake you up. But there is this... “ a small pause. Therese was sure he was going through his hair, a nervous habit. “…situation. Could you step in for Em tonight?”

“Why, what, where?”

“It’s just a regular Christmas party gig for The Dragons. Some tunes for the merry holiday mood for the background - or for getting drunk. In some restaurant downtown. You know the drill, the gigs Dragons mostly do.”

Therese did. She nodded, even Dannie couldn’t see her. Dannie had his life had a lot of ambition, but things didn’t go the way he had planned. For now, he had taken part as a pianist in a party band The Dragons. The band was doing gigs like weddings and other parties playing covers of anything ranging from smooth jazz to up-to-date hits. Therese had covered for Emily, their lead singer, on a few small gigs in the past.

“It’s just a lot of money for us Therese. They have asked for a full band. Would you come, please?”

Therese could feel the edge of urgency in Dannie’s voice. Of course she would help Dannie and his bandmates.

“Yes, I think I can do that.”

Dannie started to shout excitedly at the other end of the phone. She glanced around the room and saw a black dress she had chosen the day before.

For the A. Technologies Christmas party. It was today. “No, no, no”

Her phone went silent. “What it is?

“I can’t come, it’s my work’s Christmas party too. I promised my colleagues to go.”

But the more Therese thought about it and more Dannie pushed, the less she felt inclined to go to the work-related party. By the time the call ended, Dannie was happily exclaiming again, and had promised they would together come up for the good excuse. He would come by in an hour.

Therese felt relieved. She would avoid awkward chit-chat with co-workers she didn’t know that well and a possible meeting with Dr. Aird. She even felt a bit exited for the evening. It was a long time since she had been on a stage.

Two hours later, Dannie and Therese were sitting with mugs of coffee and some donuts and going through the set list for the evening. Therese was a bit anxious – she didn’t realize the gig was going to be so big. There were some extra brass players joining the usual band and the set list longer than she had expected. However, the songs on the list were mainly well-known jazz standards and other older music. Some of it she had sung with the band before. It will be alright, she told herself. And somehow, like it many times happened to her when it was about music, she started to feel confident.

“Um and after I Can’t Get Eyes off You” They both turned pages with notes on the songs they were going to play – Therese on Emily’s folder and Dannie in his – “I’m Here, I’m Strong from Marie” Dannie grimaced. “I didn’t remember it was here, but of course, Emily loves it. I know I said we can’t change much anymore, but we can ditch this and make up some excuse.”.

Therese stopped staring at the page, filled with lyrics she knew too well, and some scribbles Emily had made. She looked at her friend. Memories swirled in her head, but she wouldn’t let them get her today. She smiled weakly at Dannie, to show him she was okay and took a deep breath. “No. I can be professional. It’s not like I wouldn’t know the song. Do you have any changes to the original?”

They didn’t and after a moment of convincing that she was alright, they moved through the rest of the songs.

Mid-day rolled around and they both found they were hungry. They moved to Therese’s small kitchen to find something to eat, loudly singing some songs they talked about earlier.

“And then, there will be this trombone solo” Dannie explained, hands moving in the air like playing an invisible instrument and making incoherent sounds “It takes sixteen bars and then goes back to bridge and chorus” They sang and giggled, and decided to make some pasta.

 

Water was boiling, and it was time to add some spaghetti. Dannie got some, he knew Therese’s kitchen like his own. “You know, you could still go to your party. After the gig. We will finish at eleven, latest. Where it is?”

“Um, I don’t remember. I wrote it on a post-it and left it there. Place I didn’t recognize. Rose Garden or something” Therese motioned with her elbow to the general direction of the living room part of her apartment. She was in the middle of cutting an onion.

“Rose Garden, are you sure?” Therese heard Dannie take few steps from the kitchen. Her fingers felt sticky and her vision was starting to get blurry. “I think it is on the cabinet” She shouted after him.

“Hey, it’s here! Oh, that definitely isn’t your handwriting…oh here, this blue one!” An ice-cold feeling poured over Therese. She remembered the other note she had left on the cabinet. The one from the night at the waterfront. She hadn’t known what to do with it. Water filled her eyes and she hoped the chopping would be finally done.

It took her a while to process that Dannie had went quiet too.  She heard him come back to the kitchen. She finished the onion and turned her eyes from the countertop towards Dannie. Through the tears she couldn’t figure out Dannie’s expression.

“Terry. I found two notes. Tonight, we are going to play at your work’s Christmas party. It might sound terrifying, but you will do it. You will amaze everyone.”

“And the other note. Who the hell is C.?”

Water spilled from Therese’s eyes on her cheeks. She tried to make sense of what he had just said.

Chapter Text

 The stage at the back of the restaurant was empty. Carol’s thoughts went to the young artist at the waterfront she had challenged few months ago. A wave of irritation filled her, she didn’t want to spare any thoughts to it anymore. Why did she dwell so much on that encounter? Why did the thought of  that gentle smile on those lips make her feel urgent need to claim them?

Carol had been defeated, that it was. She hadn’t call her. Carol had been sure she had had the girl hooked – that girl was blushing so hard she didn’t know it was possible - when she had turned around and walked away with Abby. But no. And Carol didn’t like losing.

She was pulled out of her thoughts when someone called her name. Elegant, tall lady in her sixties. It was Julie, walking hurriedly towards Carol. They kissed on both cheeks.

The two women begun chatting, filling each other in on their respective lives. The talk was easy, as they had known each other for years. They had met first time in a jazz club in New York many years ago on a night that had been one of the turning points of Carol’s life. After that night of good music and good wine, Julie had become her mentor and a dear friend. Julie was the one that had listened to Carol’s plans and had taken her seriously, talked her to leave academia and pursue her dreams in the corporate world.

The crowd fell quiet when Matt, the CEO of A. Technologies, approached the stage and tested a microphone. From the back of the room, Carol observed the people that had gathered. There was something like two hundred people and they all worked for a company that once was only a dream of hers. She couldn’t recognize everyone anymore. That had been possible still few years ago, when there were only few dozens of them at the Christmas party. Carol was still in her thoughts when Matt left the stage and invited everyone to enjoy the music and the evening.

Chatter filled the room again. Matt and some more people joined their small group. Musicians appeared on the stage doing their last-minute preparations. Carol figured she had zoned out for an unacceptable long time and tried to listen and engage in the conversation. The topic had changed to holiday plans. As Carol was about to open her mouth, first tones of a song that Carol instantly recognized as Rocking around the Christmas tree filled the air. Conversation died and everyone looked at the stage.

In the spot for lead singer stood a woman that looked familiar. Was she the one from the waterfront? Or was her mind just doing tricks to her? Carol was quite sure it was her, but she looked different. The flannel and dark make-up were away, replaced with bright red 60’s style dress, a funny furry-lined Christmas hat and matching red lipstick. Carol couldn’t care less about the people around her; her eyes were fixed at this adorable creature as the song turned into a medley of Christmas songs.

Carol’s suspicions were confirmed when the singer caught her stare. For a split of a second their eyes locked, and the singer smiled. As if she was expecting to see Carol. Carol couldn’t stand that. She averted her eyes and swiftly approached the bar at the side of the room.

 

Carol had worked on autopilot the whole evening. She smiled, talked to people and tried to look interested in what they had to say. The truth was quite the contrary. She couldn’t care less about Matt’s children or his new training plans for the city marathon. She tried hard to make conversation with new faces and remember the names of the people she should have known. Usually she enjoyed it, but today was exhausting. 

Her only real interest was the woman on the stage.  The way she was moving on the stage, the way that her eyes shone when she sang, the way Carol felt a cold breeze in her neck about the honey sound of her voice. She had taken off the hat after the first – and only – Christmas song. The song that was playing ended and Therese – Carol had learnt her name from the many speaks with which the keyboardist had tried to lighten the mood – turned to drink from a water bottle. Even she wouldn’t say it, she tried to drink in all small gestures and thighs this talented and beatutiful artist was.

Therese had been sending her smiles and winks all evening and Carol felt like a teenage fangirl. Therese was flirty with the audience and Carol tried not to feel jealous. Why didn’t she call me?, crossed her mind too many times.

The band started a new song and Carol recognized it immediately. It was from that hit musical that was popular at the time she was studying.  She remembered going to see it with Harge and how the melody had haunted her in the nights she spent studying for her fexams. It was a movie and a song about catching your dreams. For university Carol those were dreams of prospecting career, saving the world, family. I should have known I can’t have everything. Carol thought bitterly. But I am happy like this, aren’t I?

Therese nailed the song, as every other. She worked skillfully with her voice, laced it with emotion. But when the last chord of the song filled the air, Therese turned hastily to grab her small towel and a water bottle. Did her eyes shine with tears?

At some point of the evening, the band was reduced for few song to an intimate jazz quartet. They played melodically, a way that caused shivers to run on Carol’s back. She knew something about jazz and was surprised that a regular party band could be this good.

When the keyboardist began a free falling interlude, that started to form as a jazz version of Radiohead’s Creep, and Therese joined in with chords from electric guitar in her hand, looking straight in her eyes, Carol knew, that somehow, for some reason this song was there because of her.

 

…I’m a weirdo….

...You’re so fucking special…

-----

 

Therese leaned on the wooden top of the bar and sighed. Her feet felt heavy and she was tired after the all the adrenalin from the gig had dissipated. The rest of the band, including Dannie, had packed their stuff, vanished and left Therese to cope with their newly founded “fan club” that consisted her co-workers from accounting. She would give herself a few more minutes before dragging herself to them. A bit more time. To get her a coke and hope for the sugar in it to cheer her up for the last task of the day. Her head felt heavy and she pressed her forehead on the cold surface of the wood. Now it was over. But at least she managed to pull out the “extra number” Dannie had talked her into after she had spilled out the story of the note he had found.  The effort had been worth it, she just had to hope Carol remembered.

“You know, I’ve never heard better version of that song.”  She felt a presence of another person next to her.  She found herself to stare into the blue eyes of Carol Aird. Carol was so close to Therese that she could smell a hint of her perfume. Therese couldn’t say a word, just look into those eyes.  She wasn’t ready to hear a confirmation to her thoughts just yet.

Carol had an amused smirk on her face, clearly not sorry for startling Therese. ” You know, that same song you sang by the waterfront few months ago. You sang today. It was beautiful. Carol leaned even closer, inspected something on Therese’s cheek and wiped it off with a gentle touch of her thumb. Therese found her concentrated frown adorable. She couldn’t breathe, but she couldn’t care less in the presence of this woman.

“There, better” Carols face relaxed and her mouth turned to smile. “You had a bit of mascara on your cheek.”

“Oh, thanks. You..,  you remembered.” Therese answered quietly. She lowered her gaze down to the uneven lines of the wooden bar top.

“You wanted to order something?” This time it was a low, impatient voice behind her. Therese turned away from Carol to place her order. As she watched the bartender to get her drink ready, she felt a hand on her shoulder and a warm breath in her ear. “I’ll be at the terrace if you want to find me.”.

 

It was a half an hour later when Therese had chance to slip to the terrace. Her colleagues had noticed her and were all warm hugs and adoration. Just the opposite of what Therese would have wanted. Now she approached the terrace glass doors with a fear that she had just lost her only chance to make a move in this odd game they were playing. She opened the door to the chill night air.

At first glance, terrace looked empty. The only light came through the doors and the windows of the neighboring buildings. The music from inside was muffed as the door closed. She could hear distant sounds of traffic from the street below.

When her eyes got used to the absence of light, Therese could discern a dark figure at the right side of the terrace, facing towards the view on the city and ocean behind. Therese took few steps towards her.

The figure turned and with a few long strides, she was next to Therese. Therese felt cold fingers at the bare back of her neck, tickle her slightly just before the other hand was pressed on her hip and cold lips claimed her own. The kiss was forward and aggressive. Therese felt her knees to buckle and heat pool in her stomach. Carol’s right hand pushed her head up to meet her lips and left pressed her to flush their bodies together. After the initial shock, Therese reciprocated the kiss and let her hands roam on the backside of the Carol’s body.

Carol let her hands to drop.  She took a step away from Therese. “Why didn’t you call me? “ she spat.

“I couldn’t. “ Therese felt small and rejected. She couldn’t understand the mood swing and her body ached for the contact she just lost.

“What, why?”

“Because I didn’t want to give the impression that I was fucking my way to the top.”

“What?”

Therese for getting furious. Why was this woman so arrogant, acting like Therese was something she possessed?

 “Because I didn’t want to be my boss’ booty call. And it looks like the right choice”

“What?”

“What what? I’m sorry I kept you waiting. I’m sorry I couldn’t get rid of my colleagues by telling them I was in a hurry to have a heated make up session with our boss.”

Carol looked perplexed, her cocky stare had melted in a second. “Wait, what? Say that again.”

“ I work for A. Technologies! I work for you! I guess you didn’t know that! You didn’t think there was a valid reason why I didn’t come to you! Therese voice rose with frustration.

“Oh…I’m sorry.”

And again in an instant, Carol was totally different than before. She fiddled with a small chain on her neck.

“I’m sorry. I really didn’t know. “ She continued.

Therese’s fury was gone too. Seeing Carol vulnerable was something she wasn’t expecting. Instinctively, she reached to hug her. However, she thought it might be weird, so she patted Carol’s bare arm instead. It was ice cold.

“You know, if the situation had been different, I would’ve called you.” Therese confessed. She hated herself for it the moment that cocky smirk returned to Carol’s face. She had won the upper hand. Again.

“You would’ve? “

Yes, I think so. No, I’m sure of it, Therese thought to herself. I have only little inhibitions when it comes to you, even you are arrogant and think you can bed every woman you lay your eyes on. Wait, is this only about that?

“So, you don’t worry your ego being bruised. You had me, but I saved your career by not letting your sleep with your subordinate. You should thank me.” Therese blurted.

“No, you are right. I usually get what I want.” Carol grabbed Therese’s wrist and pulled her closer to whisper in her ear. “And I want you. And you want me. No one will complain if no one knows, right? Just you and me. Do you understand? “

Therese nodded. Carol’s commanding tone did things to her.

“Good. I want to take you home and fuck you. I want fuck hard until you scream. Would you like that?”

Therese inhaled sharply at the words and nodded again.

Carol told her to meet her in an hour in a bar few blocks from the restaurant.

“Therese” Carol turned back as she was holding the handle of the terrace door. “You know you are not obliged to do anything. I just think both of us would enjoy it. “

And again, she was away with a wink.

Chapter Text

Carol left her eyes linger on the familiar city view from the large windows of her apartment. It was Sunday morning, the usual fuss of a weekday was gone.  Warm voice of Genevieve Cranell flowed from her high-end speaker system. She loved this album; usually she felt the calming effects of the music after only few bars. Now she was three songs into the album, but her thoughts swirling in her head didn’t show any signs of slowing down.

She had waited for Therese until 3 am. There had been women and men who had tried to talk to her, but she had shown down every one of them. Carol sipped her black coffee. She grabbed her phone with a thought of calling Abby, then she remembered Abby had mentioned something about visiting her wife’s friends this weekend. She tossed the phone away. She took another sip and tried to concentrate on the music.

Why? Was I too much?

---

A few miles to the east from Carol’s apartment, Therese stirred in her bed. She kept her eyes closed and yawned. Slowly, she remembered the previous night.

After Carol had disappeared from the terrace, Therese went back to her colleagues, with a bright thought of leaving the party in time to meet Carol at the bar. But as the time drew closer, Therese begun to be more nervous. A thousand of what if’s clouded her mind. Time ran faster than Therese felt possible, and everyone called for her attention. She was intrigued and scared and angry to Carol but at the same time something drew her to that woman. It was 12.30 am, the time they had agreed upon. If she would just say goodbye, get her coat and run to the bar, she would probably still catch Carol…

Therese was about to open her mouth to excuse herself with some imaginary early morning plans, when someone gently patted her arm.

” Are you Therese, the star of the evening?” Therese groaned internally. No any more of these people. I need to leave. Now.

She turned to face the woman. Oh no, she couldn’t leave. Not right now. For Dannie’s sake.

 

Therese rose from the bead and stumbled to the bathroom. She smiled at her friends antics.

 

”Oh, did you see who was in the audience?” Dannie exclaimed on the first break between their sets earlier that evening.

Before anyone could muster an answer, he answered himself. ”You know, that woman, what’s her name,  the wife of Stanley McVeigh!”

A collective ”Ooh” echoed in a small backstage room.

 

“So , have you ever sent an entry to Moonlight Serenade? My husband usually lets me see the entries, but I don’t think I have seen you there.”  Julie asked Therese casually after few minutes of talk.

“Um, no. Even I’m very passionate about music, it is something I do in my free time. I wouldn’t dare. I haven’t ever thought about sending an entry myself.” Therese wanted to say some word for her friends who had, but shyly kept silent. What could she even say?

“Hmm, don’t be so humble. I think you should consider sending an entry this year.”

 

Moonlight Serenade. Stanley McVeigh owned a nationally known jazz club in the city, with visiting jazz stars from around the world. Once a year he held a special evening portraying “rising stars” of the scene, Staley’s handpicked selection from the waist number of demos he received every year. And the scene listened to Stanley’s ear. Many names Stanley had put up had came later with records and gigs on scenes of jazz festivals.

Therese had been truthful to Julie; she really had never thought of this jazz music as something else than a pastime. But now that Julie had let the thought in, she couldn’t suppress it. But I am not good enough, am I? she thought scrubbing her teeth. Her mouth felt disgusting, she hadn’t had energy to use the toothbrush in the night.

The note from Carol laid on the kitchen counter where Dannie had left it the previous day. Therese took it and tore it smallest pieces possible and threw it away. She just played you, Therese reminded herself. She has a husband and a kid. Another words that Julie had said came into her mind.

“I’m not proud of it, but I’m the reason that Carol moved to the west. I convinced her that it would be better for the company to be here. And Carol is a strong woman. She talked her husband to move, started a company and had her child here without the support of loving grandparents….”

She is a bitch. Forget her.

--

January was cold that year. Carol had spent the Christmas with Harge, Rindy and Rindy’s grandparents in New Jersey. It had been lovely, as always with those people she loved.  Carol shivered as she stepped inside the building with a lunch salad in her hand. She crossed the reception hall and, as usual, opted for the stairs. She heard someone coming down and looked up to avoid bumping into them in the narrow staircase.

The petite brunette looked for a second like a deer caught in the headlight, but swiftly her face turned to a different emotion. Anger, disappointment? Carol couldn’t say. She was momentarily shocked by the unexpected beauty clad in smart office clothes. How can she look so good in every style of clothes she wears?

“Hi, Therese. How are you?” Therese didn’t react, her face unreadable. She had stopped at the top of the stairs, leaving space for Carol to pass.

“Could we, eh, forget last time, and … try again?” Carol stammered.

Therese didn’t even blink.  “I am sorry Therese – so sorry. Let me try a different way” Carol begged.

“No, Carol, stop it” Therese said coldly. “I’m not angry about the ways you tried to charm me. I am angry that you had the nerve to try charm me at all, you with a husband and a kid.” Therese took a deep breath.  Now, excuse me, I need to go.” Therese stormed down the stairs, bumping into Carol with her shoulder in the process.

Another wave of disappointment washed through Carol. When she begun to beg for attention? She was pathetic. Woman, get your shit together. But the mention of the husband? Where did the girl get that information?

Chapter Text

Therese felt small jolts of electricity dancing in the air. The Moonlight was packed, and the anticipation of the crowds could be felt even in the small backstage room. Their band, called in the posters as Therese Belivet Quartet, laid in one heap of limbs on a small couch. Therese tried to take deep breaths and focus on what was to come, but Dannie’s elbow was uncomfortably under her arm.

She jumped up, causing Dannie to mutter something unintelligent. Brothers Brandon and Chris looked at them with a smile. A small moment Therese wondered, how it was possible that they always stayed so cool. The brothers were good musicians, exceptional, but quiet and only talked when it was something important.

A thousand thoughts circled in her mind. She thought about those moments leading to this. That one evening, when Dannie had introduced her to the brothers, their first jam session – and countless more, just for the joy of playing together. Over the years they had found ease with one and another – space to express solos, ideas, and songs. What was odd, was that they had never performed together.

 

“You know, I never thought I would actually be here” Brandon started. “Playing in Moonlight. I didn’t think that your jam sessions would ever lead to this.”

“But it’s good, I have always thought Terry’s ideas were too brilliant to not to be shared with the world.” Added Chris.

“I think it is our music, not mine. I don’t know why I agreed with that terrible name. I should be thanking you, guys.” Therese tried to reason.

 

The stage was bright and the audience was in the dark. A sea of bodies, faces unrecognizable, was just waiting for them to play. A chatter set when Therese grabbed the microphone, glanced to everyone that had taken their places on the stage, giving her a reassuring smile. Without any additional introductions, Therese nodded to Brandon behind the drums, to start their first song and dive headfirst into their own world.

 

--------

 

Therese Belivet Quartet was on stage. It was a moment Carol had been waiting for weeks, from the second Julie had whispered her the unpublished news. The thoughts of Therese hadn’t left her, however hard she tried. Working late, having random night guests from bars or date sites, listening to her favourite music… Everything she had enjoyed in her life had turned dull.

You go to my head

And you linger like a haunting refrain

And I find you spinning round in my brain

Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne

Carol felt unable to concentrate properly. It wasn’t that the music would be anything but brilliant – it was the words that had made her uncomfortable. The words that that woman had spoken minutes ago rang in her head. “… incredible. You are a role model for the young girls. You should embrace that more, stand up to be that model – to show that women can handle technology, business, and family.”

If you only knew how badly I messed up my family situation… Carol thought. I’m not sure I am a mother anymore, definitely not a role model.

A familiar sense of guilt flashed painfully through her body, and a sweet image of her daughter filled her memory. Rindy jumping around the Christmas tree, Rindy sitting on her lap with a storybook. It was two months since she had seen her precious daughter, and two more months until she would be able to see her again.

That woman had come to talk to her while she was waiting with Julie for the Quartet. She had introduced herself as Anne, and straightforwardly asked if she could interview her for one of the leading independent women’s magazines she worked for. Apparently, she had seen her talk at the Women in Tech Forum the previous year.

She had refused. Of course. But that had caused the words that now stung in her ears.

The song ended with a technically incredible double bass solo and the crowd erupted in a great applause and cheering. It pulled Carol out of her thoughts. She fixed her gaze on that unreal creature on the stage, to drink in every moment of her. Just to have something to remember in her dark, lonely apartment.

“This song” Therese spoke from the stage, tuning her electric guitar “Was modified from the original for someone, I thought was special. That someone made me feel special by only looking at me – made me feel worthy even if I didn’t myself. But it was just an illusion, and I came back being just that – a weirdo. “

 

---

 

Therese fought, Dannie in tow, her way through the crowd. Luckily Phil was tall and easy to spot. She attacked him hugging him from the back. He exclaimed and turned to greet Therese.

“Girl, you did great! I’m so proud of you!” Therese hold to his frame happily. It was long time she had met him last time. Phil was Dannie’s brother, older son of the McElroy’s family.

Therese turned to greet Anne, Phil’s wife, but was lost in tracks. Next to Anne stood a familiar blonde.

Therese didn’t hear what Anne said when she hugged her. She was filled with anger she felt towards that woman. Luckily Anne didn’t notice how distracted Therese was.

Therese, this is …  Anne was rudely interrupted.

“Therese, it is so nice to meet you again. I really enjoyed your set. It is always a wonder to hear you perform.”

Liked a scared animal, Therese tried to find a way to escape. There was none.  The only way seemed to play along.

“Thank you…. Doctor Aird.” She shot a fake smile.

“Please, call me Carol.”

The small talk was awkward. Julie joined them to congratulate and short moment Therese felt at ease discussing music and the choices they had made. She was surprised to learn how much Carol knew about music.

 

“Harge moved to New York three years ago. He took our daughter with him.  We talked about divorcing then, but there was so much going on that it didn’t seem important. It’s also difficult because of the firm, Harge but a lot of his family money into it.”

Therese glanced at her side and saw Carol standing there, leaning on the wall of the narrow corridor, eyes cast at the tips of her oxford shoes. She played with a tip of that shoe with the loose strand lost from the carpet.

“And the firm’s PR said it’s looks better for the investors if we are married. So, we kept married on paper.” Carol continued in low voice. She rose her eyes from the floor and for a moment Therese met them. They seemed to ask for understanding.

Bathroom door slammed loudly as someone stepped out. That pulled Therese from her reverie and she hurried to get in. Carol’s word played in her head as she tried to make some sense into them.

 

It was time for the last performer of the night. The mood had changed from a sophisticated jazz scene more to a party place. Therese happily joined her friends. Phil and Anne were clearly enjoying their night out and were sufficiently drunk – not too much, but enough to them to see only each other and not caring about showing others their stolen kisses and caresses. Dannie was talking with Julie, clearly trying to give a good impression. Julie shook hands with him and give Therese a wave for goodbye, just before the next band claimed the stage.

Compared to the other bands, this one was already quite famous for they music. They combined electronic sounds and samples to the classical swing and organic sounds of their instruments. Not a typical party music, but something Therese thoroughly enjoyed. And tonight, she knew she would try to enjoy herself. Carol be damned.  She bumped into Dannie to get his attention, and for some time, they were crazily jumping, grinning and making faces at each other. All anxiousness from the night gone.

Dannie tucked her with his elbow, and by raising his brows made These to look at something behind her. It was Carol, eyes closed, clearly lost in the beat and rhythms of the music. Therese would have laughed at the sight – a lonely woman in her 30’s dressed in a fitting wine-coloured suit moving to the beat – if it all wasn’t so genuine. So uninhibited. Therese was transfixed.

 

Carol opened her eyes; for a split second she looked fazed by the two pair of eyes that were fixed on her. In a next moment it was gone. In few confident strides and a wink sent at Therese she was joining their party. Dannie leaned to say something to her, and Carol answered, but Therese didn’t have any clue what it was about.

They danced for a while; Therese was surprised that she enjoyed it. She knew she would have fun with Dannie, but fooling on the impromptu dancefloor with Carol was unexpected. Flirting came easy and natural – a provocative move or wink was sent back with a challenge. It was not about the skills; it was more about letting go and enjoying the music. Dannie played along at first, but soon he left to see some friend he saw in the crowd. Or that he at least told Therese.

Carol grabbed Therese’s hand and spun her under their joined hands. And a second, third and fourth time. Therese felt light-headed from all the spinning and took an unplanned step to the side in try to keep her balance. Strong arms hold her upright and her senses were filled with Carol. She closed her eyes to stop the room from spinning and even her hurried breath – things caused more by the proximity of the woman than the previous movement.

They stood like that for a moment. Therese’s body was reacting to the warmth radiating from the body so close but her brain was screaming.

“Are you okay?

Therese nodded. She felt Carols hands wandering on her hips and her breath hitched. Hands untucked her shirt and draw small circles on her bare skin. Carol shifted so she was standing behind Therese and they were both facing the stage. Her touches continued.

“Is this too much? Do you want me to stop?”

Carol swayed slightly to the music, her front time to time jerking into Therese’s back. Therese suppressed a moan. It was too much, they were in public, in a club where anyone could see them. Somehow Therese was unable to tell her to stop. She was not ready to give up the sweet feel of the fingers brushing her hot skin. She pushed her back to Carol.

Carol hummed approvingly. Her front came even closer and Therese found herself nudging against Carol. Together they moved in their own peculiar dance. Carol made small advances; Therese responded. Carol praised in soft voice; Therese felt more aroused every time. People around didn’t seem to pay much attention on what was happening. Phil and Anne were happily lost in each other and Dannie had disappeared somewhere.

“Be good, you don’t want anyone to notice, do you?" Carol's fingers brushed lightly the skin under the waistband and her other hand followed the lines of her jeans' back pocket. 

Therese had no idea how much time had passed. The last song drew to its melodramatic end. On the last few beats, Therese felt a soft kiss on the back of her neck, and with that, Carol was gone. All that was left was elevated heart rate, throbbing in her lower abdomen and a faint hint of a perfume Therese couldn’t describe. Later came the anger. Once again she had let herself been played by Carol Aird.

 

Thought I’m certain that this heart of mine

Hasn’t ghost of a chance in this crazy romance

You go to my head

You go to my head