The bass musician's fingers moved expertly over the strings as he played. He and several other musicians stood in front of the raucous crowd at Taggerty's, bathed in the lights that illuminated the stage. Their rock instrumental rock filled the air, fighting against the hum of conversation and the subdued lighting scattered across the crowded room. People in that crowd held various glasses of liquor that refracted with color in the dim light. The windows looking out onto the street were filled with night. But inside everyone seemed to be having a good time, listening to the music and talking.
Frank was at the bar with a drink in his hand, resting his elbow on the rail as he watched the band play. Nodding to himself, he decided they weren't half bad. He sat there silently and enjoyed the music in that quiet, serene way he usually had. But suddenly Claire was at his side, coming slowly out from the crowd, and she was far, far less than serene. Both of her hands reached carefully out to grip the bar railing tightly as she glared at nothing in particular, trying to calm herself. Concerned, Frank reached over and stroked her arm, trying to comfort her.
"Claire? What's wrong?"
As he looked into Claire's face, he already had a pretty good idea what the answer to that question was. Mara and Claire had been bickering all day. He had noticed them talking across the bar only moments ago.
Claire sighed. "Oh, it's nothing," she answered softly. "Nothing at all really..."
Frank smiled in sympathy. "Arguing with your sister again?"
"Yeah," Claire nodded. "Like always. Same old Mara. Same old arguments."
Frank laced his fingers through hers, holding her hand and being quietly there for her. "Sisters..." he said as if that explained it all.
Claire looked at him with understanding in her eyes. "Yeah..."
There was very little else that needed to be said.
Trevor suddenly passed behind them both, working behind the bar with an apron tied around his waist. As he scrambled to make drinks for the crowd, he noticed Claire's expression. Still busy with his work, he nonetheless hovered close as he continued to fill his drink orders.
"Hey Sparky! What's wrong? You look a little more clenched than usual."
Claire was in no mood for Trevor's barbs. She was silent for a moment, until for some reason she decided to tell him. "Let me ask you something, Trevor. Why is it that when ever me an Mara get together we always have to fight? I mean, why is that?"
Trevor shook his head. "How should I know? I'm just the surprisingly handsome psychotic who's grist for your next book. Why would you put any stock in my opinion. You're the head shrinker. Umm... no offense Frank."
Frank's expression didn't change. "I don't understand why I should be offended..."
With a smile Claire looked over and moved into Frank's arms, falling down to sit on his lap. Trevor's lips tightened as he looked away from them, concentrating on making his orders.
Claire answered Frank's question. "Be glad you don't understand him. It's nice to see that at least you've outgrown puberty. I just wish Mara and I could do the same and get along for once."
With her face close to his, Frank gazed affectionately at her with a smile.
"Well at least I love you, Claire."
As she leaned in for a kiss, she smiled back, looking into his eyes. "Not nearly often enough..."
Slowly Frank and Claire began to kiss, tenderly, like a couple who knew each other well and were willing to take their time about it. From where he was, Trevor understood that exactly and said nothing, trying to concentrate on the drinks he was making and not on the implications of those kisses.
Finally Trevor leaned forward, wedging his way in between them.
"Hey Frank. If Claire's gettin' some frequency is a bit of a problem I could offer a few pointers. It's all in the positioning. See it's..." Trevor began to demonstrate with his hands, but stopped when Frank and Claire reluctantly broke their kiss and turned slowly towards him, annoyed by the interruption.
Feeling self conscious under both their glares, Trevor sputtered. "I, I mean... if you need the help, I could... I could always be a spotter. You know. For... some of the dismounts, or more advanced spatial...." Sensing he had said enough, Trevor stopped talking and nodded to himself. He quickly turned away to escape.
Once Trevor was finished, Frank and Claire turned back to each other and began to kiss again. Claire giggled under Frank's kiss, feeling him tease her. Trevor tried his best not to hear her subtle laughs.
Mara approached them from across the bar. She saw Frank and Claire kissing, and Trevor trying desperately not to notice. Mara blinked, offended. It seemed rude to her that Frank and Claire were ignoring Trevor's presence like that. Mara decided that two can play at that game. With a smile, she walked right past Frank and Claire and straight up to Trevor. She pressed her stomach against the edge of the bar as she leaned forward, touching Trevor's arm. His face brightened when he saw Mara. An unfamiliar thrill passed through him as her fingers pressed lightly on his arm.
Claire suddenly broke her kiss with Frank, turning to glance at Mara's hand on Trevor's arm, leaving Frank blinking in mid-air as he came out of their kiss slower than she did.
"Trevor..." Mara said flirtatiously as she slid her fingers up his forearm. "Umm, who runs this place anyway? I'd like to check with them. See if they'll let me get up there and sing. I mean, if there's no objection. The band's already said they wouldn't mind playing for me. Could you... see if it'll be okay?"
Trevor looked down at her hand, moving delicately on his skin. "Keep doing what you're doing and I'll do better than that. I'll give you all of Olympus..."
Mara smiled seductively. "See? Show a god a pretty face and he'll follow you anywhere. I'd really like you to watch me sing, Trevor. You don't have a break coming up, do you? "
Claire still listened to the two of them as she sat on Frank's lap. Frank finally noticed, seeing what it was that had distracted Claire from their kiss.
Walking behind the bar, Champ moved past Trevor as he stood there talking with Mara. He was on a long overdue break himself, and he knelt to grab a cold soda from the small fridge under the counter. Beside him, Trevor pulled back from Mara, undid his apron, and tossed it into Champ's surprised arms.
"Hey!" Champ responded. " Trevor, what are you doing?"
"Cover for me, Champ. I'm taking a break."
Champ started to protest as Trevor walked away. "But-- but, I just went on break... I-"
Trevor walked back and grabbed Champ's shoulders tightly. "My good friend Champ! A man of sterling quality. A man on the cusp of being lucky in love again. Hey, refresh my memory. How many roses does Jaclyn still have in her debt to you again?"
Champ knew what he was getting at. Sighing he reluctantly conceded. "Fine. I'll cover for you, Trevor. But this is ABSOLUTELY the last time! It's not like Jaclyn and I have even gone on a date yet. You can't keep holding this over me, just because you helped jump start me and Jaclyn. Not just every time you want something from me."
Trevor laughed as he walked out from behind the bar. "That's what Apollo's been saying for the last 3000 years. I wouldn't hold your breath, Champoo." Trevor walked over to Mara, smiling as he leaned in close to her. "I'll see if I can find Linda and get you on stage."
Mara snuck a quick glance at Claire out of the corner of her eye, before looking warmly into Trevor's face. Speaking in a soft voice, her lips parted softly. "Now I'm all a tingle..."
Trevor nodded as he stepped away, appreciating the implication. "Hey, don't get ahead of me..."
Once Trevor was gone, Mara turned and with a pleased expression on her face, she left, going back towards the band without looking at Claire at all. Still sitting on Frank's lap, Claire was silent and lost in her thoughts.
"Claire... what are you thinking?" Frank asked.
Claire snapped out of it and smiled at him weakly. "Oh. It's... it's nothing. Bygones, I guess."
Frank nodded. But deep down he thought he understood a little better than he would have liked.
Linda was on stage, and she reached up to grip the microphone and lower it slightly so she could talk into it. Bathed in the lights that illuminated the stage, she squinted into the shadows as she addressed the noisy crowd.
"OK everyone, listen up. We have a real treat tonight. I'm sure most of you know our own Dr. Claire Allen, Taggerty's regular and Chicago's pre-eminent relationship expert." There was a round of polite scattered applause from the crowd. Linda continued. "Well, Claire's sister Mara is in town visiting, and we're delighted to have her here tonight to sing for us. So without further introduction, here's the one and only, Mara Allen."
Claire took the seat beside Frank. The crowd applauded politely as Mara took the stage. Trevor jumped on to the seat on Claire's other side, smiling when Mara walked up to the microphone. Looking over, he noticed Claire's subdued expression.
"Hey, lighten up, Sparky." Trevor said. "Here's your chance to get along with your sister. Just sick back, enjoy her performance, and be supportive. Don't take everything so seriously. Have a little fun for once..."
Not looking at Trevor, Claire shook her head in annoyance, muttering to herself. "Now you're even starting to sound like her..."
Mara stepped up to the microphone, pushing her soft brown hair from her face. With a casual smile, she looked out over the crowd. "Hi. Umm, thanks. My only warning is that if you're not drunk enough to enjoy my singing yet, you have no one to blame but yourself. But I'm sure you'll be able to remedy the situation with the help of the many waitresses around you, who are always willing to provide a variety of elixirs that will make me sound... oh so much better. What I would like to sing tonight is... umm. Wait just a second."
Mara pulled away from the microphone, leaning back to whisper a question to the band behind her. Their lead man nodded, and Mara turned back around as the leader leaned in and spoke to the other musicians.
Mara's eyes glittered with excitement as she looked at everyone in the bar watching her. "Okay. The band knows the song I want to sing. So, before I start, I'd like to dedicate this song to my dear, sweet sister, Claire. I know we always seem to fight-" Mara smiled as an unseen member of the audience made a soft cat growl sound, "-but you're still my sister. So," Mara looked over at Claire. "This song's for you..."
One hand on the microphone, Mara turned and watched as behind her the band began to play. The music started, a blusey rock ballad from the sixties or so, beginning with a short musical intro. Mara turned back to the crowd and instantly began to sing in a clear, sultry, polished voice, right on her cue. She watched Claire with an amused expression, as she sang the song directly to her..
"I don't like you, but I love you. Seems that I'm always, thinking of you..."
Trevor smiled as he listened to Mara's voice. She was pretty good. There was a bit of scattered applause from the crowd when they recognized the song. They were all pleasantly surprised by Mara's voice, impressed. She was definitely a better singer than they had expected.
Mara unclipped the microphone from its stand. She stepped off the stage and began to walk slowly towards Claire, still singing to her.
"Oh oh, you treat me badly. But I love you madly, you really got a hold on me..."
Behind her, as the music continued to play, all the musicians began to sing in unison, backing her up. "You really got a hold on me...",
Their unexpected participation made Mara turn and smile back at them, surprised they knew the song that well. Standing in the crowd, she stood there and sang without fear, as if she did it everyday, comfortable in the spotlight. She was giving a captivating performance, every eye in the room was on her. Holding the microphone before her, Mara smiled at the attention, closing her eyes and continuing to sing, clearly in her element. The room seemed to spin slowly around her.
"You really got a hold on me..."
As the second verse began, Mara turned her gaze to Trevor as he sat beside Claire, and she got an idea. Giving him a long, seductive look, she walked playfully up to him, slowly slipping into his lap, placing one arm lazily across his shoulders. Envious catcalls erupted from across the bar, and Trevor smiled as Mara looked into his eyes, singing to him.
"I don't want you, but I need you. Don't want to kiss you, But I need to..."
Frank looked away from Mara and instead watched Claire carefully. He could feel Claire's shoulders tense under his arm as Mara sat on Trevor's lap, and Claire's expression hardened. Frank blinked at her reaction, looking away as he wondered exactly how much to make of it, beyond just the continuation of a sisterly argument.
Trevor blinked, enjoying it as Mara slowly leaned in even closer. For one intoxicating moment, her lips parted as if to kiss him, pausing less than an inch from his, before she playfully pushed his face away and rose from his lap, walking back through the crowd.
"Oh oh, You do me wrong now, my love is strong now. You really got a hold on me..."
The crowd continued to watch Mara sing. Champ was behind the bar with Trevor's apron tied around his waist, struggling to fill a backlog of drink orders. He had never been very good at bartending, and now he searched frantically through a small book of drink recipes. He clattered two glasses together, struggling. Trevor looked over for a second, before looking back at Mara, not wanting to miss her performance. As Mara sang, she only had eyes for Trevor, smiling at him from across the crowd. Trevor felt an excited warmth pass through him at the look she gave him. He hadn't felt that way in far too long. Bottles clattered once more behind him, and Trevor turned again. Champ was trying to negotiate several bottles of liquor into a single glass, but wasn't being very successful at it, wincing as he spilled most of it on the counter. With one last glance at Mara, Trevor quickly got up and and moved behind the bar to help Champ.
Champ looked over at Trevor, grateful for the help. As Trevor absently began to make the same drinks he had made dozens of times before, he watched Mara across the bar, where she continued to sing.
"Hey, Champ. Let me ask you something. What do you think of her?" Trevor nodded across the bar.
Champ looked up, considering her. "Her? Hmm. She's not bad. She's got a great voice."
Trevor nodded in agreement, still watching her as he filled drink orders. "Yeah. I really like her a lot."
Champ blinked at Trevor in surprise, looking over to where Claire sat next to Frank, out of hearing range. He lowered his voice as he leaned closer to Trevor. "Really? What about Claire?"
"What about her," Trevor said in a level tone.
"Come on, Trevor. Do I have to spell it out? Everyone knows how you feel about her. Well... everyone except Claire."
Trevor shook his head, pouring liquor into shot glasses. "Hey, it's time I realized that Claire and me are never going to happen, man. Bang your head against a wall long enough and eventually... " Trevor paused, until he laughed at the thought. "Eventually you find a different wall."
Champ gave Mara another look, considering her for Trevor. Mara was watching the two of them, a smile on her face as she sang. She winked at Trevor, and Trevor face lit up as he smiled back. Champ looked back and forth between them with a new understanding.
"Well, whoever she is, she's cute Trevor. And she seems to really be into you."
"Yeah, and to think she's Claire's sister."
Champ couldn't believe what he had just heard. "What did you just say? Claire's sister? You're interested in Claire's sister? Are you nuts?"
"That opinion varies..." Trevor was taken aback, not understanding Champ's reaction. "What's so nuts about it? I mean, Claire's with Frank. There will never be a future in the bones for Claire and me, so why not? Don't you think I should move on?"
Champ shook his head, placing finished drinks onto a tray. "Trying to come between two sisters-"
Trevor interrupted, waving a finger at him. "Hey, that only happened to me that one time when I got distracted..."
Champ paused in confusion, not understanding what the hell Trevor was talking about. He shook it off. "Trevor, it's a bad idea. It's a COLOSSALLY... bad idea. Don't do it. You're playing with fire. Don't get between sisters, Eros. But, on the other hand, it's your funeral...."
Champ turned and left, leaving Trevor there to think about it. He didn't know what to do. He looked up at Mara, saw her standing in the spotlight. It surprised him what he was feeling about her. And for the second time that he could remember since being stuck in Chicago, he wanted to see where those feelings would lead. He smiled to himself, genuinely attracted to her.
"Well at least these sisters don't share a single eye..."
Trevor turned, tying his apron around him and trying to catch up on the drink orders as behind him Mara continued to fill the bar with her accomplished voice.