"Wait in here," his father ordered, opening the door to one of the rooms. Felix sighed. He'd been in this room many, many times before while his father took care of business, and unfortunately, it was empty. No one sat on the sofas or at the table playing cards, and there was no smoke clouding the air. But his father seemed pleased by it. "Get your homework done," he ordered.
"Felix, if you ever want to get into the Academy and get off this rock-"
"All right, all right." Felix flung himself down on one of the sofas. "What's going on, anyway?"
"Nothing you want to know," his father said shortly. He unbuttoned his collar, and Felix caught sight of his favorite tattoo- the one his father had on his collarbone. There was something about that symbol that just meant comfort and safety to Felix, no matter what. But his father didn't notice- he seemed deep in thought. "It could be a while," he warned.
"And stay in here, no matter what."
"Is something going down?" Felix asked, alarmed.
"Oh, no. Nothing like that." His father shook his head. "But the Guatrau is coming, and-"
"The Guatrau?" Felix asked, sitting up excitedly. "The Guatrau?"
"Stay in here," his father ordered sharply. "I mean it, Felix."
"All right, all right. I heard you the first time," Felix muttered. "I'm thirteen already. I can take care of myself."
"And watch your tongue!"
With a final worried glance, his father left the room. Felix heaved a dramatic sigh, pulled a book out of his bag, and flung himself onto the sofa.
He was hanging upside down off the sofa trying to read a book for school when the door opened. Felix jerked to sitting, the blood rushing to his head.
"You okay?" The man who entered was older- older than his dad. He had gray hair and a large nose, and tattoos on his hands and neck. Felix sat up a little straighter.
"Yes, sir," he said.
The man smirked a little at the address, and then looked more closely at Felix. "You're Gaeta's kid, aren't you?" he asked. "You're the spitting image of him." Felix nodded, and the man looked at his book. "What are you reading?"
Felix held up the worn copy of Sunrise on the Tauron Front. "It's for school."
"Gods, they still make you read that crap?" The man chuckled. "I remember my nephew hating that book."
This cheered Felix greatly, because the book was immensely boring, but his teacher kept going on about what a piece of genius it was. "Did you read it?" he asked.
The man laughed. "Hardly. I had better things to do with my time. And so do you. Come here. Do you play cards?"
"Sometimes," Felix said. "With my dad."
"Your mom like that?"
Felix shrugged. "She's dead," he said simply.
"That's right." Something in the man's face softened. "I'd forgotten."
"Did you know her?"
"Yeah. I did. She was the best enfor... your mom was one hell of a lady, you know that? Come on. Sit down." He extended his hand. "I'm Sam, by the way."
"Well, Felix, let's play."
They played two hands, and Felix had the sense that Sam was watching him, weighing him. "So," Sam said, shuffling the cards after beating Felix soundly twice, "are you around the club a lot?"
"Not much," Felix admitted. "My dad doesn't like bringing me here."
"There are worse places you could be."
"Put some music on," Sam ordered. There was something about him that suggested he was used to giving commands. "Here." He handed Felix a disc.
Felix looked at the cover of the small disc curiously. Capricoperetica. "What is this?" he asked.
"Caprican opera," Sam said with a shrug. "You ever heard it?"
"Put it in."
Felix did, and the music flooded the room. He stood still for a minute, listening, eyes wide. "What is this?" he asked again, but this time his voice was full of wonder. It was instrumental, soaring, and nothing like the pounding drums he was so familiar with in Tauron music.
Sam began humming along, and waved Felix back to the table. Felix obeyed, his mind half on the cards and half on the music. They continued to play for a bit, but Felix found himself losing because he couldn't keep from concentrating on the music.
Sam was still humming, his long fingers flicking the cards. But when he began to sing along with one of the songs, Felix gave up all pretense of playing and put his cards down.
But wish no more
My life you can take
To have her please just one day wake
There was an intensity in both the singer's voice and Sam's voice that cut Felix to the core. He listened, his throat closing, until the strains faded away.
"Could we play that one again?" he asked quietly.
Sam startled out of his trance, and for a moment, Felix almost regretted his request. But then Sam nodded and waved his hand. "Go ahead."
Felix stood up and reset the player, but this time, he stood by the speaker and listened intently to the words. He'd never heard anything that spoke to him on such an emotional level. "It's beautiful," he said when it was done. "I wish I could learn it."
Sam glanced at him sharply. "Why couldn't you?"
Felix blushed. "My voice," he said. "I can't sing right now."
"That doesn't mean you can't learn the words and the melody. I'll teach you if you like."
"You don't have to-" Felix began awkwardly.
"I'd like to." Sam looked down at the cards. "It was my husband's favorite song," he admitted.
"Oh." Felix didn't know what to say to that.
"I'd like someone to learn it. If the song lives on... it's like he does, too."
"Oh. I'd like to learn it, then," Felix said. Sam smiled.
"Then sit back down, Felix. I was going to teach you to count cards, but I think this would suit you better."