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Piano Black

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Now Cullen Rutherford was a man who would say he’s reasonably acquainted with Serah Heartbreak.

His dog died when he was 8 years old. His best and only friend at that age (big sisters and little brothers and littler sisters do not count I don’t care what you say Mom!) succumbed to the ravages of old age and too many pieces of ham snuck under the table.

Then at 16 the absolute love of his life Solona Amell the prettiest™ girl in all of Gallows High broke his heart by rejecting his application to be her boyfriend (she was handing out applications okay, when you’re the prettiest™ girl in the school you’ve earned that right). His father tried to console him by offering up the advice that any girl who has applications for boyfriends isn’t really worth your time, but again–didn’t count.

There were other, darker heartbreaks too. Shoved under a ratty and tattered rug in his brain, ones that resurfaced at a moment’s weakness or a moments pain. He knew those too.

Acutely.

Nigh on constantly.

But even after all that, no gift bestowed by Serah Heartbreak hurt the worst than when he clicked on the “Buy Tickets” button to see a big banner in red italicized script: “Sold Out”.

He refreshed the page, praying for a miracle that Serah Heartbreak denied.

The one time only, special, one night engagement with B Trevelyan was sold out, and now there was no way he’d ever see the greatest jazz artist to come out of the Free Marches since Lyles Avis.

“A jazz artist?” Dorian sipped his mocha casting all kinds of aspersions with his glance. “And you call me the hipster.”

“Liking jazz does not make me a hipster Dorian.” Cullen defended, sipping his straight black drip coffee. No shots, no milk, no foam, no sugar, as though the bitter black acidity of the brew somehow reinforced his argument.

Dorian said nothing with his mouth and everything with this cocked eyebrows. “Well, what’s so great about her anyway?”

Cullen snorted, aspirating half of his mouthful of hot coffee and swallowing the other half.

“Well first.”

Dorian groaned. “An annotated list? Really? Where’s this passion for your chess game, I could respect you for that at least.”

First. She’s the best jazz artist of the age hands down. Second, she’s on par with Lyles Avis and if I have to tell you why that’s important, I don’t think we can be friends anymore. Third she’s a triple threat. Plays sax, piano, and trumpet.”

“I’m not quite sure that’s what triple…”

Cullen barreled forward, reciting this list of talents he’d practiced and memorized in hopes (now dashed by that damned “sold out” button) of ever meeting her.

“Fourth, she studied at the Val Royeaux Conservatory of Music.”

Dorian nodded at that one, admitting its impressiveness. “Okay okay, she’s a badass. Tell me more.”

The grin on Cullen’s face cut it neatly in half. Dorian groaned, preparing himself for another dissertation but it was rare to see his friend so hyped about something or someone that wasn’t his dog. The poor man had been in a downward spiral, hadn’t smiled with any honesty in a good while.

“So her second album was the one that really gave her the mainstream exposure and appeal. Working with a lot of pop artists–that new song by Leli.”

“Herald?” Dorian wasn’t much for pop music, preferring the more mellow stylings Calpurnia and the Magisters.

“Yeah, that sax riff you hear. That’s her. But never mind that stuff, which is admittedly inspired considering most jazz these days is the stuff they play in elevators and for a laugh during chase sequences–”

“Oh like in Heart of Darkness where the two heroines are chasing down the corrupt magister and the chase takes them through an old folks’ home! I love that part, stitches every time.”

“Right, most jazz sounds like that now and for her to put such a modern edge on it is revolutionary.” Cullen sighed, pushing away the last few sips of his coffee. “Damn I really wanted to see her.”

Dorian made a face, deciding how much a smile from Cullen Rutherford was worth to him. Figuring the price adequate, he asked an innocuous question. “You still work at that nightclub, a bouncer right?”

Cullen shrugged, embarrassed flush reddening his face at having to admit to the Senator’s son that his best friend is a bouncer at the local 30 something nightclub. “I don’t really have the patience for much else. They won’t let me be a cop. And I won’t go back to the army no matter how much they beg. I’m not good for much else.”

“I beg to differ on that tip. Still pounding away at that drumset?”

“Helps with the stress.” And the aggression he added ruefully to himself, reaching back for that now cold and bitter coffee, hoping the tall paper cup concealed the second blush. “Why?”

“You’re my best friend in Thedas and we don’t get to see each other as often as either of us would like. Having coffee dates every other month like a pair of old married women with high powered executive jobs.”

“Except neither of us are married and you’re the only one here who’s a high powered executive.”

“Well,” Dorian tossed his empty cup away. “Not for lack of trying.”

**

Four months later

He stared at the flyer, mouth hopelessly wide, attracting all kinds of flies, birds, and tiny mammals into his gaping and surprised slackened jaw.

“She’s…she’s coming here!”

“Yes my dear for one night only. One of those Unplugged sets or some such.” Blue smoke curled from the end of her lit cigarette. Vivienne took a deep puff and exhaled. If this were a noir film, Cullen thought with a half smirk, she might actually blow rings. “I receive a call asking if we’ve the space for her accommodations and I reply ‘Well for her I’ll get my boys to knock down a wall or two if it’s not enough.’ Bull, how’s our stocks?”

Bull coughed, expelling the last bit of his excitement, replacing it with his usually cool demeanor. “I got my distributor coming tomorrow. If I lean on Krem hard enough I can have what we need by the big night.”

“See it done. Commander?” 

Cullen normally growled at his nickname, a good natured but unfortunate reminder of his past life, but he was too damned excited about B Trevelyan being here to protest its use. “Security’s set. Checked all the fire exits, alarms, Samson’s working on getting a few extra bouncers for the night of.”

Vivienne nodded, pleased.

“Well done gentleman, this will be the biggest night White Spire has ever seen!”

**

He straightened his tie, one he had to have Dorian tie for him (and tailor his suit jacket that fit fine no matter what Dorian said!). He paused in front of the dressing room, a brightly lit star on the door indicating that B Trevelyan was just behind this door Maker’s breath! Fist hovering to knock and give the 15 minute warning. He hadn’t the chance to meet her in person yet, far too busy double and triple and quadruple checking security, the bar, the dressing room, the bathrooms, and the CD he tucked into his pocket meaning to have signed.

**

“What the flying fuck do you mean you can’t find him?”

“Viney, hey, don’t get too riled up you’ve got a performance in,” The best friend cum manager checked his watch. “15 minutes. You know you don’t blow so hard if you’re crying, and you can’t tickle any ivories if your hands shake.”

“A performance, my dear Varric, that will not. happen. If my piece of shit drummer flakes on me again. This is the third time in as many months. There is a packed house out there. People paid good money to see my ass and I can’t give them a half assed show.”

“Nobody cares about the drummer. They care about you.”

“They care about the music Varric, not me.”

“You too, you know.” he muttered.

B scoffed, boot heels clicking with her nervous pacing. “Can we change the set? Pick songs that don’t rely so much on a drummer?”

Sera, her bassist, made a sour face. “That digleberry kept the time, not a like we really need him for that but still…Look Quizzie just cancel it, say you got sick or summat, nobody’d blame you.”

“Ugh! I’m not cancelling I made my bread and butter with shows like this and the Senator asked really nicely so–”

A loud knock followed by a softer curse (one offered because the knock was indeed so loud Maker I probably startled her!) interrupted this come to Andraste moment.

“Watcha want!” Sera threw open the door and a black tie’d bouncer appeared, quite possibly redder than the lobster, crab, and rare steaks they were serving outside.

“I…I uh…”

He was supposed to say ‘You have 15 minutes Ms. Trevelyan.”

He wanted to say “You have 15 minutes Ms. Trevelyan and excuse me for being forward but I wanted to let you know that Andraste’s Favorite Mabari off your first album Earth and Sun is quite possibly the most inspired piece of jazz art I’ve heard. And that it is nothing short of a travesty that the song doesn’t get the critical acclaim it rightfully deserves and, I know I’m only the bouncer and that there are people who paid 200 royals extra for the chance to meet you but if you wouldn’t mind signing my copy of Earth and Sun, I’d be forever grateful.”

He was supposed to remember her discography song by song in chronological order of release. He remembered that her favorite note was G sharp on the sax. B flat on the trumpet, and that her favorite meter was 5/4 time. He made it a point of pride to know her favorite saxophone was a silver plated Adolphe Alto and her favorite song was Take Nine.

Yet all that knowledge, lovingly and painstakingly acquired, fled from him the moment he set eyes upon her because for all his prolific memory

He forgot

How stunningly gorgeous she was.

So instead of offering the lady her 15 minute stage call.

Or asking her to sign his CD.

He said the only thing that came to mind when brought face to face with the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in the most acute distress.

“I can play the drums.”