Story Description: This is a short story about a musician named Laken and a conversation one night in a bar. It grew from listening to the song "Sylvia Hotel" by Cheryl Wheeler.
Disclaimers: Ummmm.... no violence, no bad language, no sex (Sorry about that). It does contain references to a relationship of a sexual nature between two consenting adult women. If that bothers you, there's lots of other great stuff out there to read. The characters are mine, but kind of based on certain warrior princess/bardic archetypes. A certain amount of angst. <bg>
THIS IS A LONELY LIFE
by Auntie Beth
This is a lonely life
as I know you know too well
I'm thinking of you tonight
here in the Sylvia Hotel
Toking a cigarette,
drinking a glass of beer,
catching a conversation
I am trying not to hear.
One more? Why not - ok.
Guess I'm glad I came
at English Bay
under all the rain.
There's a cat in this bar right now,
twitching his tail away.
I called with a soft meow
maybe he only speaks francais.
You must be safe in bed
down in your cowboy home.
I don't wonder why you left -
I wonder why you stayed so long
One more? Why not - ok.
I'm glad I came
to English Bay
in the lovely rain
I found some matches from Durango
in my pocket.
And if I let my heart get sad
then I can't stop it.
And this is a lonely life
Though I think it suits me well
and everything's fine tonight
here in the Sylvia Hotel
- "Sylvia Hotel" - Cheryl Wheeler copyright 1999 ********************
Laken MacLain sat on her stool in the nearly empty hotel bar sipping her beer and studying the end of her cigarette. She watched the red of the ember, the way the paper sparked, the way the smoke drifted in a lazy not quite line up to the ceiling.
She could feel that she was being watched by the man at the end of the bar but she was neither flattered by it, nor embarassed - she just acknowledged it's presence.
Laken knew that she was attractive. Perhaps not beautiful in an exotic kind of way, but attractive - one of those women who got better looking as they got older. She smirked and shook her head remembering the days when she had been "cute". Well into her 20's she had kept some of her baby fat, but she didn't do anything about getting into shape.
Until about 7 years ago. Then she had wanted to be beautiful.
So she started working out, etching out her abs, defining her shoulders, thighs and calves. Her face lost it's roundness and her cheekbones gained definition bringing focus to her intelligent, green eyes.
She cut her shoulder length red-blond hair into a short shag and dyed it blonder. She thought herself "Attractive, but not beautiful". Outside eyes considered her absolutely stunning.
Shaking her head slightly again, knocking the ash off of her cigarette, she thought: "Come on, already, buddy. Just do it."
As if on cue, the man rose from his barstool and walked over to her. He stood beside her awkwardly, holding his drink with the red paper coaster still stuck to the bottom. Laken didn't look up at him or acknowledge him in any way except that her small smile got a little tighter.
The man cleared his throat and asked "Excuse me? Are you Laken MacLain?"
Raising her head, Laken raked him with her eyes, bottom to top, taking in his neat blue suit, crisp white shirt, blue-green tie and lush black hair. He looked to be somewhere between 12 and 15 years younger than she was, putting him in his early 20's.
"God, look at him! He's such a baby," she thought. "When did I get so freakin' old?" She blew cigarette smoke from between her lips in a slim stream and looked into his inquiring blue eyes. "That depends entirely on who you are and what you want".
"I'm a big fan, Ms. MacLain. I was wondering... well, I was wondering if I could maybe get an autograph and perhaps buy you a drink?"
Laken studied him for a bit longer, watching him awkwardly shift his weight from foot to foot. She knocked ash off her cigarette again and came to the conclusion that she really didn't want to go back to that sterile, cookie cutter hotel room by herself just yet.
"Why not? I'm good for one more." Patting the barstool next to her she invited, "Have a seat. What's your name?" Laken held out her hand to shake his.
He grasped her hand firmly in his. "Jim. My name's Jim. I'm a banker."
"A banker, huh? Didn't know bankers listened to my music," she teased.
Jim blushed. "Actually, my sister introduced it to me. I fell in love with your second CD "Right Way" and then I went out and bought everything I could find. I've heard you in concert a few times and I love it more every time. Your songs seem to say exactly what I would say if - well, if I could sing or write poetry or stuff like that." His words tripped and tumbled over each other in their haste to make their way to her before she should diappear.
"Thank you very much, Jim. Thatës nice of you to say. Iëm just gald that anyone likes what it is that Iëm doing."
"I don't mean to pry and you can tell me to screw off if you want, but I was just wondering..." Jim trailed off expectantly.
"Well, your last album... it was a lot different from the other ones. The whole tone of it was different. The first ones were pretty upbeat stuff for the most part and this last one was more... melancholy, I guess."
Laken grinned at Jim. "Jim, my boy, you are absolutely correct." She saluted him with her beer glass and took a deep swallow. Putting the glass down, she took another deep drag off of her cigarette. "Abso-freakin'-lutely," she blew out quietly with the smoke from her lungs.
Hurriedly, Jim said, "Not that I didn't like it. I mean, I loved it. It just seemed really.... different," he finished lamely.
"Well, Jim. The publicity line is that I was branching out... you know, trying to stretch myself as an artist." Laken took the last drag from her cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray. "But you see, each album is basically a reflection of where you are at that point in your life. And for that last CD, I wasn't in a real good place. I just lost the love of my life, you see. Hence the marked presence of melacholia in those tracks." She grinned grimly.
"Oh! I'm sorry!" he exclaimed. "I didn't mean to bring up a painful subject. We can talk about something else..." he trailed off.
"No, it's ok. It was a year ago, so I should be over it, right?" She drained the last of her beer and signalled the bartender for another.
Immediately, Jim reached into his pocket for his wallet. "I think I said that I'd get this one." he smiled. He motioned at the bartender to bring him another drink as well.
The bartender brought a beer for Laken and another drink for Jim then wandered back to do whatever it is that bartenders do when there are only 2 people left in your establishment and you just want to go home.
"So what happened? How long were you together?" Jim asked quietly. "Unless you'd rather not talk about it."
"No problem. It's probably a cliche anyway." she smiled tightly. "We were together for 6 years. I always toured a lot, so I wasnët home much and then my record company had decided that they didn't want to renew my contract. I couldn't get another one. I was angry and frustrated and I took it out on her."
"Her?" Jim raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah. Her." Laken grinned at him. "Surprised?"
"Well, a little. There go my plans for the rest of the night." he smiled slyly.
Laken smiled back at him. "Sorry, pal. Besides, you're a baby. I can just see the headlines for that one."
Jim attmepted a glare. "A baby? I'm 23!"
Laken laughed. "Yep. You're a baby."
"Laugh it up, grandma. I know that you're only 35."
"Yeah, well... So, do you want me to pay for my own drink?"
"Nah, that's ok. I didnët figure on getting lucky anyway," Jim grinned. "So what happened? With your girlfriend, I mean."
"Ex-girlfriend. Her name's Stephanie." Laken gulped at her beer. "What happened? Well, I didn't have a record contract but I had to make money, so I went out on tour. While I was gone, she heard rumours about me and another singer that I was touring with. She didn't take them seriously at first, even joked with me on the phone about them." Laken smiled bitterly. "But then I stopped denying them. To her, anyway." She shook her head. "I don't know why. It was stupid. I just... I don't know why" she whispered.
"We had this big fight on the phone. She was tired and fed up. She didn't want to be on her own so much. Wanted me to cut back touring - be home with her more." Laken sighed. "And then there were the rumours. It wasn't the first time that she'd heard rumours about me, but it was the first time that I didn't outright deny them."
"So why didn't you cut back on the touring? Or take her with you?" Jim asked taking a sip of his drink.
"We have... well, I guess *she* has a cattle ranch. She couldn't just pick up and go with me every time I was on the road."
"If you were together that long, shouldn't she have known what it was like? Been ok with it and all?"
"Look," Laken sighed. "I don't blame her in the least. I'm actually surprised that we made it last as long as we did. She is an absolutely wonderful woman - bright, sensitive, supportive, gorgeous. And funny. She could make me laugh for hours." Laken smiled. "It was the absolute best time in my life. And I miss her - especially on nights like tonight."
She sighed. "But it was hurting her too much. The uncertainty, the loneliness. It was just - fairer, I guess, to let her go. Let her be free. So, she gave me her ultimatum and I chose the road."
"Like I said, I don't blame her. Believe it or not," Laken said, grinning at the man beside her, "I'm not the easiest person to live with."
Laken drained the last of her beer and put the glass on the bar.
Jim stared down at the bar in front of him. He swallowed the rest of the liquid in his glass and put it back on the polished surface. "I feel like I want to say ëI'm sorry'", Jim smiled sadly looking at Laken sideways.
"Well, thank you, Jim. That's the nicest thing that anybody's said to me today. Got a pen?"
"For the autograph. You still want it? Or are you totally disillusioned with me now?"
"No, no, I still want it. But could you do two? One for me and one for my sister?"
"Sure, not a problem." Laken leaned over the bar and grabbed two of the white paper napkins. She took Jim's pen and clicked it a couple of times while she thought of what to write. Finally she decided and wrote quickly on both pieces of paper.
She handed Jim back his pen and when he reached for the napkins, put her hand on his arm, stopping him. "I want to thank you for listening to me." Laken smiled softly. "I don't often get morose like this. If you came back tomorrow you'd see a whole new me and you wouldn't even realize that I was the same person."
Jim grinned and covered her hand with his. "I have no doubt that you're a real firecracker when you get going. Hey, would you like me to come back in the morning and take you to breakfast? I know a place just around the corner that makes a really great breakfast omelet?"
"Thanks, but I've got an early morning flight. Gotta be in Seattle tomorrow night."
They both got up off of their respective bar stools. Laken stuck her hand out to him and he took it in his much larger one.
"It was very nice to meet you, Jim." Laken said sincerely, shaking his hand. "Thanks for listening to me."
"It was nice to meet you, too. I'm looking forward to your next CD."
Laken smiled at him and then reached up and kissed his cheek.
"Goodbye," she said.
Looking down at the bar, Jim saw his two autographed napkins and picked them up to read them as Laken walked out.
On one napkin Laken had written:
Thank you for listening. You're an amazing guy and I'm sorry I didn't get to know you better.
You made my night.
On the second she'd written:
Jim is an amazing brother. Take care of him. And I'm sorry.
I will love you always.
Jim's head snapped up to see Laken smiling sadly at him from the entrance to the bar. She raised her hand to her lips and blew him a kiss. And then walked up to her room to cry herself to sleep for the first time in a year.