McNall’s Pub is crowded, even for a Saturday evening. I’ve had to disappoint Ryan again by turning down the waitressing position I formerly accepted, but he takes it pretty well all things considered.
Hunter and I share a table with Wynn and Natalia near the small raised platform that serves as a stage. Hunter shifts uncomfortably from time to time, and I can tell he feels awkward being unable to participate in conventional conversation. I brush his hand, reassuring him and reminding him how much it means to me that he’s here tonight.
Caelen slinks under one of the booths against the wall, his emerald eyes occasionally reflecting the light. I know that if Mirena were here he would be under her table, rubbing in and around her ankles. Instead he crouches, avoiding the feet of strangers.
I begin mentally listing the people who are missing, imagining where each might sit. Mr. Harris is across from Mirena at the booth. She grimaces at his bad jokes but her eyes are laughing. He drops scraps on the bench beside him, Caelen eagerly accepting his offerings.
Yagher winks at me, sitting with Brie and Grant at a small table. He lifts his beer in a silent toast. I imagine Brie and Grant leaning against one another, comfortable and confident. I hope that this isn’t far from the truth; they should be arriving at Gatwick airport within the hour. They have opted to escape rather than face the tribulations ahead. Hunter and I will be leaving tomorrow too, though we won’t be going as far. Just to Mr. Harris’ farm a few hours north, and only until we have time to heal. We are not running away. Besides, I’m betting Caelen will be bored by the end of the week.
There is an empty seat between Wynn and I. In my mind my mom sits here, swirling her drink to avoid accidental eye contact with my friends. She asks superficial questions about my life and about Hunter, but whenever she sees me glance nervously towards the microphone she pats my arm and smiles, proud of the life I’ve built.
I’m acutely aware of her absence, maybe because it is the closest to being reality. I leave the wound open and raw, preferring its sting to the numb finality of the scar that is sure to form if I permit it to heal.
I turn to the clock, checking the time and concealing the dampness around my eyes. Seven minutes to go. Five minutes. Three. Hunter notices my attention drifting back and forth between stage and clock.
He holds my hand. You’ll be fine.
I press my mouth against his ear so that he can hear me over the din, “I’m not sure if it’s right. I feel like it’s not fair somehow. To Harvey.”
He pulls his head back and kisses me. Unexpectedly, I’m thrown back into one of his memories.
I am standing beside Yagher outside of the hall. There are two cars in the lot so I’m assuming Marle is already inside. The real me hasn’t arrived yet.
“She doesn’t see it, but she’s brave. She just keeps going, no matter what gets thrown at her,” Yagher is speaking as he watches the road, probably for our car.
“Selene?” Hunter says smiling, “She’s invincible.”
“When this is over, tell her to sing. For me. I never got the chance to tell her how much I loved her voice that night.”
Hunter nods solemnly before Yagher turns and leads him into the hall.
I barely feel the return to my own body, I’ve become so accustomed to the transition. Hunter reaches up and wipes the tears from my eyes. He looks at me and I can tell he wants to ask if I’m okay.
“Thank you,” I say before taking one last drink and heading to the platform.
I take my time opening the guitar case I’ve left propped against the wall. I pull out the wooden body gently and cradle it in my arms as I seat myself on the tall stool in front of the microphone. I breathe in and the ambient noise drops to barely a whisper. All eyes are on me now. I look down at the silver band of the watch on my wrist before I close my eyes, and I know everything is going to be alright.
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