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The cool evening air blared her arrival as fanfare before royalty. It gusted into the cozy café, chasing joyfully after the warmth and playing freeze-tag with the fire, interrupting it languid sway within the authentic wood-burning stove. The few, sparse inhabitants raised their faced to the source of this not entirely unwelcome intrusion, feeling the chill sweep across their cheeks.
“After you, darling,” he inclined his head as she entered, glancing up surreptitiously only after she waltzed past. He slipped inside once she had travelled an appropriate distance inside ahead of him, closing the door behind him with a soft click. She leaned against the stunted, spotless laminate counter with her pastel green pocketbook resting lightly beside her right elbow.
“Oughtn’t you to begin? We are late as it is; perhaps we shouldn’t stand around waiting.” The boyish man had slipped is hand onto her hip, threading through the two thin triangles her arms formed with the simmering support behind her.
“I was expecting to speak with Mr. Trexle on the matter, but he appears to be otherwise occupied.” Her escort ignored her head dip meant to guide his eyes to the problem. He was focused on her neck, laced with Mediterranean-blue. He gently applied pressure to her opposite side, pulling that neck ever nearer to himself.
“Leo,” she laid her hand against his chest gently. “Please; I’m so very nervous.” Her hand was clearly trembling as it splayed across his shirt. Leo kissed her cheek softly, lingering only a little.
“You’ll do beautifully,” he reassured in a wavering whisper.
“Ah, Miss Katherine, my apologies for keeping you waiting. You see, that poor man I was conversing with recently hit a spot of hard luck. He simply could not afford to buy and therefore, due to an unfortunately necessary rule of ours, could not afford a seat. When he expressed how only readings such as these provided reprieves from his worries, naturally I offered him a discounted coffee price and directed him straight to the table of a terribly kind patron I have come to know quite well over the years. I always have been particularly struck by the sufferings of the needy.” He paused for a brief moment, seeming lost in far away memories whose existence had never been proven. Katherine seized the chance to get a preliminary view of her audience.
A patchy, frank-looking man stretched forward to inspect his surroundings. Across from this thin weed a barge-like man had drifted in with the tide and anchored himself heavily with a petite wine glass filled with fine red wine. At the second of the three wooden tables an obviously practiced spectator reclined against the chair’s plain backrest. Despite the complete lack of silver within her hair or wrinkles across her face, her curvy figure and solemn eyes betrayed a great deal of experience within the world. In the far corner, only visible with the brightest flickers of the few, sparsely distributed lanterns, perched a shrewd, narrow-eyed thorn of a woman. She rotated lightly at the hip, winking one piercing green eye in Katherine’s direction.
“Lady Vanessa was amenable to the date change?” Katherine patted her auburn hair bun self-consciously.
“Yes, she wholly understood your problem. She asked me to inform you that she empathized completely, as she herself has had too many engagements to follow many times before. She also expressed her hope that your other appointment goes well,” Mr. Trexle had drawn himself back to the present.
“I’m so very grateful for your help in resolving my oversight. It would have been horribly disheartening to have missed such an opportunity.” The shopkeeper’s heavily rotund head bobbed impulsively.
“It was no problem at all, I’m sure. I would be loathe to lose either of my wonderful recitalists. Now, though, it is time! The stage is yours, my dear.” He stepped back behind the counter to prepare the impoverished twenty-some year-old his cut-rate coffee.
“Do well; I need to go sit.” Leo stroked his companion’s shoulder once, lightly, on his way to find a seat. Mr. Trexle hastily dropped the coffee in front of the indifferent diner, hurrying to scurry back and introduce Katherine as the night’s entertainment.
“So now here is Miss Katherine Dervish, with her piece Code of Honor; a true tale of Richard Dervish’s service in the army and how one man’s nobility can transform lives,” he concluded in a stumbling, breathless voice. He melted away to his post behind the counter to wait out the break in customer service.
“In full starched uniform
Marching flawlessly to the strict pace…”
Katherine launched into the reading, never once stuttering or skipping a word. As the last syllable died away, polite applause swept through the eatery. Blushing, Katherine curtsied delicately to their praise.
“You simply must give an encore!” the lady with the knowledgeable appearance gushed excitedly.
“Oh, no, I’m sure Miss. Katherine has had her fill of the spotlight tonight. Regardless, all things are best in moderation.” Vanessa glanced at Katherine, looking as though she had just protected her from some awful horror. Katherine smiled faintly to the other woman in hesitant thanks. Though she had an encore poem prepared for the chance to continue on that seductive stage had been granted, she had practiced it very little and doubted her ability to recite it with quality even similar to the first. Leo stood and took Katherine’s hand, leading her to the door. Behind them, the conversation swirled between the customers in eager review of the performance; one neon remark tumbling fearlessly in the brief draft.
“Oh, how dreadfully sinful.”