[I wrote this story a few years ago. While my writing has evolved quite a bit since then, this continues to be one of my favorite stories that I’ve done.]
I stood in front of the Lindherst Concert House, where my name was up in lights. It said in big, shining letters, “Tonight, Cindy Kale, Live Performance: The Hottest Ticket in Town.” So, this is what it feels like to see your dreams come true, I thought. I stood outside in the cloak of night as strangers passed me by in the street. I wondered, would any of them see my show tonight? Would any of them see the mountains I’d climbed, the desperation, the hard work, and the tears that led me to this very moment? When they heard me, would they remember my voice, or would it only be another insignificant moment in their memory bank, stored away only to be forgotten? I shook the thoughts away as I held my coat closed over my chest, took a breath of the cool night air, and made my way into the building for my sound check.
My heals clicked softly as I walked across the stage. I sang my “do re mi’s” and my “mi fa sol’s” as the sound guy cued me and the stage lights gleamed into my eyes. Then, I sang the first few bars of my opening song. “Keep me here, don’t let me go, if you really loved me, then you’d stay. Our hearts, they still can beat as one, even if we’re miles away…”
“Okay, you’re good.” The sound guy told me. I smiled a charming smile and thanked him for his time, and then let the owner of the fine establishment show me to my dressing room. I took in the sight of the white walls, the mirrors lined with lights, and the neat display of make-up brushes paired with eyeliner and face powder. There was a table with bottled water, flowers and fruit, and beside that was the clothing rack that contained all of my costumes. I scanned the rack for the blue, glittery, strapless dress that I’d be wearing for my show tonight. When I spotted it, my heart leaped in my chest, and that’s when it all began to feel real. I was performing tonight, and people were coming from all over town to see me. I looked back at the manager to see that a golden plaque hung from the dressing room door, and engraved on it was my name: “Cindy S. Kale.”
“You’ll be on in forty-five minutes, Miss Kale.” The manager told me. I thanked him and he went on his way, closing the door behind him. I pulled out a stool and sat down in front of a mirror, and looked back at the painted smile and pretty red curls that stared back at me. My lips have learned to smile on command, but my blue eyes couldn’t lie, and they told me the whole, sad-hearted truth. I made myself busy with placing my make-up in front of me. I pulled out all of my brushes, shadow, highlight, and lipstick; my make-up sponges, powder, mascara, and eyeliner. Then, just as the pressure began to build, I let the tears fall, cool and salty, down my cheeks, just missing the corners of my quivering lips. I felt a lot of things in that moment.
I felt the things I knew I should feel: the excitement, the fulfillment, the sense of joy and achievement. But mostly, I felt empty, because there was someone I missed. Someone I left behind in pursuit of this life. And even though I knew I was about to embrace the stage lights and the audience and the piano keys, I knew there was another love I wished to embrace. Someone who I ran away from, someone who I was afraid to love in return, someone I pushed away when I needed to let the music in. And I knew that he hated me for it. I knew that he wouldn’t come to my show, even though all I wanted was to see him there, sitting in the front row, hearing me sing, that way, I would know that we weren’t completely lost. That way, I wouldn’t feel forgotten.
I wiped the tears away with my hands. I dabbed my face with a cloth and began applying my eye makeup. I applied my shadow and blush, my lipstick and my false lashes. I applied powder and smacked my lips together, and then smiled, my blue eyes bright this time with the adrenaline of getting ready to perform.
“Break a leg,” he said. My memory brought me back to a time when my love was still with me. We stood outside of Coffee and Jazz, a hole in the wall café in a secluded location. It had an open-mic night and the best cheesecake you’ve ever tasted. I was there to sing, and he was there to watch me. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and held my hands in his.
“You’re going to watch me sing, aren’t you Brian?” I’d asked him. Light snow flurries had begun to fall, and I watched his sweater collect the glimmering crystals.
“Are you kidding? I’ll be in the front row, cheering you on. And afterwards, I’ll take you out to celebrate, anywhere you want to go,” he told me. I told him that sounded wonderful and he gave me a gentle kiss for luck. He walked me inside, and later that evening, I got up on stage and I sang. Brian kept his word, and he sat right there, in the front row. It didn’t matter that there weren’t many other people there. I was really only singing to him, anyway.
“You’re on in five minutes Miss Kale.” The manager called through the door, pulling me out of my memory. A tinge of sadness was left behind as I realized it would be only that, a memory. I slipped out of my jeans and into my dress and my heals. Shimmering, dolled up, and pretty as a sunset, I took one last look in the mirror.
“I’m living my dream, I’m living my dream, I’m living my dream,” I told myself. The manager knocked on my door and I opened it up, my smile easy and natural, and my body energized. I told him I was ready to go on, and he led me to my entrance onto the stage. He walked out to greet the audience and to introduce me, and I felt my heart pounding, accompanied by sweaty palms.
“Ladies and gentleman, now, the moment you have all been waiting for. I present to you, Miss Cindy Kale, the hottest ticket in town.” The audience clapped as I walked out, showered by the love of their applause. The piano keys started playing on cue, and I started singing my song. I didn’t need to do much of an acting job. The feelings I needed were already there.
“Keep me here, don’t let me go, if you really loved me, then you’d stay. Our hearts, they still can beat as one, even if we’re—“ And I stopped. I couldn’t continue. Confused, the piano keys dwindled to silence, and all I could do was stare. I knew it was unprofessional, but I couldn’t help it. I only did it because I saw a familiar face sitting in the front row. When I saw Brian, I was caught off guard, and all I wanted was to step off the stage and into his arms. I wanted to touch his face, to see if he was real. I wanted to say his name. But instead, I remembered where I was, and decided to sing another song.
“Sorry about that, but if you all don’t mind, I’d uh, I’d like to start off with something a little different.” I cued the piano man to switch to song number three, and when he was there, he gave me the okay.
“This song is for all of the couples out there tonight. This song is for anyone who’s ever been in love.” The piano came back to life and I started to sing.
“You held me, that’s how I knew that you loved me. You kissed me, that’s how I knew that you loved me. You told me, that’s how I knew that you loved me…You held me, that’s how I knew that you loved me. You kissed me, that’s how I knew that you loved me. You loved me, that’s how I knew you were mine…” When I finished my number, everyone whistled and clapped, but the only person I saw was Brian. He clapped in his calm, yet enthusiastic way, and when I smiled he winked at me. I did the rest of my show, just as I had rehearsed.
And I don’t know if everyone thought it was great, and I don’t know if everyone really believed that I was the hottest ticket in town. But it didn’t matter, because Brian did. And he told me so after the show when he presented me with a kiss and a bouquet of roses. I gave him apologies and he gave me forgetfulness. He asked if he could take me to dinner, and I said yes in a thousand languages. A lot of people came to see me sing that night, and that was a dream come true. But being there with Brian, with his roses and his kisses, for the first time that night, my dream felt complete. For the first time, my heart lacked nothing, and I truly believed that I could spread my wings and fly.