Double Feature: Beside The Brook / Songs In The Key of J
This is an excerpt from Songs In The Key of JClick here to return to the book page
As soon as Jess walked into the club, she knew it had been a mistake to come. Things felt too familiar. The thick, smoke-filled air surrounded her, suffocating her like the bad memories that often woke her, breathless and bathed in sweat. The scar on her stomach throbbed, like an alarm bell ringing its warning.
Then she saw him.
He looked like heaven on two legs, clad in tight blue jeans that were ripped across one knee, the material fraying stylishly to white threads. He grasped his guitar as though it were a child, strong and guiding, but willing it to breathe a life of its own with gentle persuasion.
Jess knew he was trouble from that first moment.
“Please don’t tell me that’s James.” Her eyes never left him as she spoke to her best friend, Stephanie, who had dragged her there, despite her protesting. Or so she liked Stephanie to think. She would do anything for the woman who was like a sister to her, including stepping into a dingy bar to meet the cretin Stephanie claimed was the latest love of her life. After all, she’d known James a whole week.
Stephanie grinned, her platinum blond curls bobbing around her pretty face in Shirley Temple innocence as her eyes found their target.
“No, that’s James.”
Jess followed her gaze, inwardly groaning at the look Stephanie reserved for the bass player of the band.
James was tall and thin, his hair tousled with hair product, thick eyebrows crowning a pair of heartbreaking hazel eyes. He had thick, shapely lips, which were meant to be kissed, and an angular jaw.
“Not bad,” Jess teased her friend as they wandered to the bar. It was a Friday night and they had to shoulder through the crowd.
Stephanie glanced back over her bare shoulder and gave a shy grin. “Wait till you hear his accent. He’s oi-rish.”
Jess giggled at the attempt to imitate the thick accent. “Nice.”
She watched while Stephanie barked at the bartender above the noise, ordering them drinks, then as they waited she asked, “So, who’s the other guy?” A lump in her throat told her she shouldn’t be asking, let alone even thinking about the man with hair the colour of wet sand and a velvet voice that seemed to carry the band, but she had to know. Even if it was only to remind her of his kind, and keep his name in her head as a warning. She’d been there before. Remember how that ended, Jess, she reprimanded herself. You’re not going there again. Ever.
“That’s Robbie. Doesn’t he have a dreamy voice?”
Jess sniggered, screwing up her dainty nose. “You think everyone has a dreamy voice, girl.”
But she had to admit Stephanie was right. The boy could sing. He had a melodious voice, which seemed to come from somewhere deep down in the bowels of his soul. When he cracked a high note, Jess had to turn her head to make sure it came from him, convinced it couldn’t have been produced by the same person. Her breath caught in her throat and she swallowed the lump forming there, reminding herself she was not here for her own entertainment. She had to admit though, the last few months, with her being so busy, she’d missed going out like this with Stephanie.
Things had been so hectic with her work lately, and even now it was hard to push the thoughts aside of everything she had to organise over the next few weeks. But that was the bane of running her own business; everything fell on her shoulders. She had nobody else to blame if things didn’t get done.
As if reading her thoughts, Stephanie quipped, “You’re still at work, aren’t you?”
Jess giggled. “Yep. So much to do next week, Steph. I can’t believe the agency is so busy at the moment.”
“Well, that’s got to be good. Look where you were twelve months ago.” Stephanie gave her best friend a sad, but encouraging smile. “Now, you have a book full of girls, just itching to get out there and follow in your footsteps. You should be very proud of yourself.”
Jess felt a pinch in her stomach. She was proud. She’d picked herself up from the lowest point in her life, to put her time and effort into a modeling agency, which gave her just as much pleasure as the girls who came and went under her guidance.
She gave Stephanie a nonchalant shrug. “I guess I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s going well and I’m happy with it.”
Stephanie found a seat and slithered her tall, thin frame down behind the table. “Well, now that you’ve got it all under control, we need to get you back into the social scene.”
Jess gave her friend a warning glance, her eyebrows knitting together in concern. “Hey, don’t expect miracles. I said I’d come tonight, but don’t think this is going be a regular occurrence. I’m quite happy sitting at home on a Friday night, thank you very much.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes and muttered, “Nana,” playfully under her breath before she sipped on her drink.
Jess found her eyes roving to the stage once more. The band had the whole bar captivated. Their loud beat and soulful tune put Jess in a relaxed mood, and she let the music carry her away to somewhere she hadn’t been in a long time.
Conversation dwindled between the friends, as the music prevented a decent dialogue exchange. When the band stopped for a break Jess didn’t even have time to speak to her friend before James swooped down on their table.
Stephanie gave a tiny squeal as she jumped up and into his arms, her unabashed attraction apparent in the way she smiled and returned his kiss, her arms wrapped around his neck.
Jessica groaned. “Okay, get a room you two.”
“James, this is Jessica.” Stephanie grinned as she pulled away.
“Ah, finally,” James uttered with boyish enthusiasm. He turned to Jess, his eyes twinkling under the dim bar lights as he extended a leather clad arm. “I’ve heard so much about you already.”
Jessica could see straight away why Stephanie was so taken with the sexy, foreign, young man. He oozed charm with his smooth, chalky accent. He was the type of guy you’d want to take home to meet your mother – right after you put your clothes back on.
“Jess, please.” She took his hand and smiled.
“Jessica, the beautiful daughter of Shylock.” James grinned while Stephanie and Jess exchanged bemused glances. James feigned a shocked expression. “You don’t know where your own name comes from?”
Jess shook her mahogany locks. “Can’t say I’ve ever wondered about it. I think it’s English.” She dropped James’ hand and straightened her red shirt over her jeans, uneasy about how the focus of the conversation had turned to her.
James grinned at Stephanie, put his arm around her waist and pulled her close, then looked back at Jess. “To be sure,” James nodded with enthusiastic pride. “Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice. Jessica was the daughter of the Jewish protagonist, Shylock. It was the first recorded usage of the name. You didn’t know?”
Jess shook her head again, impressed by his knowledge. “Uh-uh.”
James grinned, obviously pleased with his show of intelligence. “Well, there you go. I’ve taught you something already, and we’ve only just met.” He winked at Jess, turned and placed a kiss on Stephanie’s lips with a quick smack.
Stephanie placed one hand on his chest and smiled at her best friend. “See, he’s smart too.”