It started with a piano bar.
Well, really it started with a text from his sister. Sonny had been on his lunch break when Bella had sent the message, saying she needed a night out and she missed her big brother. There was a piano bar in Brooklyn she had gone to a few weeks ago with friends and was right up Sonny’s alley and would he meet her there around nine?
It was out of the blue, but Sonny thought nothing of it at the time when he agreed.
He was still none the wiser as he sat at a small table towards the front, nursing his second IPA. The place was a bit of a contradiction- its dim lighting and cozy atmosphere would normally cater to a slightly middle-aged crowd; there were several couples in the back booths. But it also seemed to draw a fair college crowd judging by the group of twenty-somethings that sat right up front against the stage. The music ranged from crooners to jazz to sugary pop but the crowd loved it all and Sonny couldn’t help but like it. Bella had known- right up his alley.
His phone chimed and Sonny took a pull of beer as he swiped it open, choking only a little when he read Bella’s text.
So sorry bro, something came up with the baby. Stay and have a couple rounds. Your tab is paid for…call me tomorrow? Enjoy the show ;)
Brow furrowed, Sonny started typing back. What the hell was Bella talking about and why had she invited him only to ditch him at the last minute? He was so distracted he didn’t hear the current performer finish or the clapping until the next performer stepped on stage and murmured into the microphone. “Good evening, everyone.”
Sonny froze mid-text. That voice. Only one voice in the world had the power to stop him in his tracks. To increase his heart rate. To make his palms sweat. But here? This is the last place Sonny would expect to hear it. And yet, when Sonny looked up there he was. Seated at the piano, his long, elegant fingers gliding over the keys, voice low and soft and singing a love song (a love song!) was Rafael Barba.
Sonny’s heart pounded as the sweet music reached his ears.
I can only give you love that lasts forever, And a promise to be near each time you call. And the only heart I own For you and you alone That's all, That's all...
Sonny felt like he was dreaming, or having an out of body experience watching himself watch Barba sing. This was why Bella had invited him here. He’d been set up. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to be resentful as he sat stunned, eyes fixed on the face he knew so well as the low voice accosted his senses.
If you're wondering what I'm asking in return, dear, You'll be glad to know that my demands are small. Say it's me that you'll adore, For now and evermore That's all, That's all.
The song was only slightly familiar to Sonny. Had he heard it in a movie? Had it been re-done by a new music icon? Sonny couldn’t think. He could only stare. Barba was wearing the same light gray suit pants he had had on earlier that day when Sonny had seen him at the precinct. His white shirt sleeves were rolled up, top buttons undone and the periwinkle tie was nowhere to be seen. The periwinkle suspenders, however, were in full view and with a slight curl falling over his forehead Barba looked like he’d just stepped out of the era the song was from. Sonny took it all in, warmth tingling low in his belly.
Barba’s gaze swept over the crowd, a slow smile spreading on his face until it landed on Sonny. His eyes widened slightly, but he didn’t miss a beat as looked away, playing the last few bars.
The crowd clapped, a few of the college kids whooped and Sonny snapped out of the trance as he watched Barba step off the stage and casually make his way over to him. Sonny straightened, phone forgotten on the table. He wiped his sweaty palms on his slacks as Barba slid into the seat across from him, one eyebrow raised though his eyes shifted in a way he probably thought was imperceptible.
Maybe to anyone else. Sonny smiled. “Bravo, Counselor.”
“So that was your sister I saw here a few weeks back.” Barba’s voice was even as he gestured to the waitress, who promptly placed a glass of scotch in front of him. “Bella, isn’t it?”
Sonny smiled, glancing at his phone and the text he hadn’t sent. “Yeah…she um…she was supposed to meet me but ditched at the last minute…” He trailed off, huffing a laugh and shrugged. “You’re really good…” he added quickly and nodded towards the stage. “The piano…your voice…” Sonny swallowed thickly, unable to finish.
Barba’s lips quirked up as he turned his glass between his fingers. He said nothing.
“Why?” Sonny asked and then thought better. “Why here?” He had so many more questions. When did you learn to play? How long have you been doing this? Why that song? He wanted to know it all.
Barba inclined his head towards the bar. “The owner, his wife is in my mother’s book club…” He looked back at Sonny knowingly. “It…helps relieve stress.”
Sonny gave him a small smile in understanding. Still, he couldn’t help himself as he took another pull of beer. “Does she come see you, your ma?”
Barba’s lips quirked again and again he didn’t answer. Instead he sighed and evaded.
“I suppose she thought you’d be interested…your sister…” Barba eyed him over the rim of his glass as he took a long sip. He swallowed, licking his lips and Sonny’s throat went suddenly dry. “Can’t imagine why…” It was said under his breath, his gaze flicking away but Sonny still heard it.
This was how it had been with them for months. Working long hours, trading quips and too long stares, dancing around each other…too afraid to make the leap and have to decide what it meant for them, for their careers, for the future…
Sonny looked at Barba not looking at him. The next performer was singing something upbeat and the college kids were clapping but Sonny only heard another love song. Here, tonight, there was no life and death in their hands. It was just them and when would they get another chance?
Heart in his throat, Sonny leapt. “Because I am.”
Barba turned back to him, eyes dark and eyebrows raised. “What?”
Sonny knew he had heard him, but he repeated himself anyway. “I am interested.”
There it was, laid out on the table. Sonny’s heart.
Barba’s face relaxed, his green eyes dark and boring into Sonny’s, his expression unreadable. He placed his hand down on the table, inches from Sonny’s. The world faded away to a gentle buzzing and Sonny’s fingers grazed Barba’s…
The waitress set another scotch glass in front of them and everything snapped back into focus. The performer on stage sang a last note and Barba stood, downing the fresh glass in one swallow, eyes never leaving Sonny’s. “My cue…” he murmured, turning slightly.
Sonny opened his mouth but Barba turned back to him. “Any requests?”
Sonny felt his cheeks heat and he ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck as he smiled stupidly at Barba. “Surprise me.”
Barba grinned back and nodded before climbing back on stage. He sat behind the piano and began playing. It took Sonny a minute to recognize the song before it came crashing around him in a wave.
I've got you under my skin. I've got you deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart that you're really a part of me. I've got you under my skin.
Barba eyes met Sonny’s and stayed.
I'd tried so not to give in. I said to myself: this affair never will go so well. But why should I try to resist when, baby, I know so well I've got you under my skin?
And there it was, laid out in a song. Barba’s heart.
Barba was smiling at him and Sonny was smiling back. Sonny could feel wetness in his eyes but he blinked it away. Barba would never let him live it down if he cried right now. Instead he sat and watched and listened, transfixed again by the man in front of him. He always had been.
Barba’s gaze never left his as he sang him that love song, even as he played the last keys. He stood with a small smile and waved at the clapping crowd before moving down the stage and toward the bar. He retrieved his jacket and tie from the bartender and turned back to Sonny. “Let’s get out of here.”
Sonny nodded and they made their way out into the warm night.
The street was empty. Barba toyed with his phone as Sonny stepped into his space. “Rafael…”
Barba looked up at him, green eyes glinting in the street light. His lips quirked as he brought his hand to the back of Sonny’s neck and pulled him down until their lips were barely touching. “Sonny.” Barba breathed a sigh against his lips and it sounded more like “Finally.”
A noise from the back of his throat escaped Sonny’s lips before he crowded Barba against the wall and pressed his lips hungrily to the other man’s. Barba hummed, gripping Sonny’s arm as his hand moved from Sonny’s neck to twist gently in his hair. Sonny’s heart hammered in his chest as he arms wrapped around Barba, his teeth grazing Barba’s bottom lip and sucking gently. Barba’s lips parted, his tongue seeking out Sonny’s and for moments that could have been hours the two were lost in the sensation of each other.
Until clapping and whistling broke them out of their daze and they broke apart to see the college kids leaving the bar, sending them thumbs ups and catcalling as they headed down the street. They looked at each other then, both feeling just as young and giddy. Sonny sank into Barba’s embrace, kissing him again before trailing his lips up his jawline and the shell of his ear. “Come home with me?”
Barba exhaled a happy sigh as he cupped Sonny’s face in his hands, thumbs grazing his cheeks as he smiled and kissed him softly. “Yes.”
Barba hummed the whole car ride, fingers lightly tapping a tune on Sonny’s arm and later down his spine until Sonny’s entire body buzzed with the melody.
Under his skin, indeed.