Well, your daughter only turns eighteen once, was how he mollified himself stepping out of the car. Li comically threw herself onto the ground, but stopped short of kissing the ground.
“Oh dear God, I’m alive!” She exclaimed. Her brother scoffed as he slid out of the drivers seat. Charlie looked offended by her comment.
“I wasn’t that bad.” He muttered, even though Lucien had to wretch the wheel out of his hand no less than three times.
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched a boy in a fairly poor George Michael costume approach them. Charlie’s boyfriend, Danny. Compared to Charlie, who was wearing the same denim jacket he wore every day with the addition of one ‘I killed Laura Palmer’ badge (taken from the shed, from a box of things Mei Lin left behind and Charlie had decided were his).
“Good evening Doctor Blake!” Danny said, wrapping an arm around Charlie’s shoulders. The 1980s music pumping out of the pub is a song he recognizes but doesn’t know.
“Good evening, Danny.” He smiled.
“My driving isn’t that bad, is it?” Charlie asked as they went inside. Danny pulled an expression Lucien recognized from his own marriage that was a ‘you are, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.’ Expression.
“It is.” Lucien said, stepping inside.
“Yeah. I’m adding another song for almost killing us.” Li declared.
“It’s my birthday so you have to do as I say.” Li said. Charlie looked to Lucien for help but he put his hands up.
“Sorry son. She’s the birthday girl.” Lucien said, as the four of them wandered over to a large booth towards the back of the building. Charlie slid into one side of the booth, pulling Danny with him. He slid in across from him, Li slid in next to him.
It was on his first glance around the room that he noticed her. She was standing up on the stage, holding the microphone maybe a little tight in her hand. Her green drop waisted dress looked like it came directly from the decade in question, paired with a blazer that gave her shoulders rival to his own. He can imagine going to a nightclub in town and finding her at the bar, sipping an exotic cocktail from a glass with a tiny umbrella in it. And that wasn’t even getting him started on her voice.
“The goddess of beauty and love, and Venus was her name-“
She’s got it, yeah baby she’s got it, Lucien thought, the lyrics to the Bananarama song echoing around his head. He hadn’t even noticed her equally 80’s backup singers, equally coated in neon, tulle and poor choices. He tore his eyes away from the singing to look at Charlie, who was waving his hand in front of his face.
“Doc? Doc? Earth to doc!” In a comical fashion.
“Do you want something to drink?”
“We’re in a pub, Daddy.” Li said, “A place where people go to drink.” Charlie is holding his debit card, while Danny poured over a menu.
“Uh, I’ll just…Have a lemonade.” He said, and then produced his own card. “Put that away, use mine.” Charlie shrugged, and tucked his card into his pocket. “Drinks on me.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.” Danny said, blushing.
“My daughter will only turn eighteen once.” Lucien grinned, “So drinks are on me.” Danny conceded, and trailed after Charlie as he went to get drinks.
Green dress has gotten off stage, but he quickly spotted her sitting in a booth down near the stage with her friends. There’s quite a large group of them, and they’re all about her age.
“Are you going to sing a song?” She asked, looking at the man giving a rather disappointing rendition of Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
“Maybe.” He commented, as Li started combing through the enormous book of songs that the machine played. She’d come prepared with a note pad and paper to write down the ones that she wanted to sing, or force her brother into singing.
“Have you heard from your mother?” He asked, softly.
“She texted me this morning.” Li said, looking up from the notepad.
“How is she?”
“She’s fine. She likes Singapore a lot.” Li smiled, “Looking forward to when I come over for the holidays.” He nodded, and sat back in his chair. He was happy with the way custody was split, (or, had been split now she was eighteen) but that didn’t make saying goodbye to his daughter for months at a time any easier.
“I’ve got drinks!” Charlie said excitedly, coming around the table. He was holding a small pitcher of beer and a couple of glasses, and Danny was holding a can of Diet Coke, and a can of lemonade, as well as bowl of chips in his other hand.
“Wooo!” Li said, enthusiastically as Danny poured drinks. Charlie slid back into the booth and popped the top on his Diet Coke, and slid a can of Kirks across the table to him.
“They didn’t have any Sprite.” Charlie apologized, as Lucien took a long sip.
“It’s fine.” He smiled, as Danny and Li tapped their drinks together. His eyes drifted away through the crowd, and he spotted green dress laughing with her friends in front of the machine, clearly going up for another song.
“Looks like we might be fighting for control of the machine.” Danny said, draping an arm around Charlie’s shoulders. Charlie looked for a moment like he might shrug it off, and then thought better of it, squishing up closer to Danny’s side so he could see the book. He observed the interaction and smiled to himself. He liked Danny a lot, he thought it was good for Charlie to be with someone who was affectionate.
Not for the first time, he felt a tiny niggle of jealousy deep in his gut. He and Mei Lin had married young, he wanted to upset his father, and he thought she was going to be the love of his life. Li was born, and things got miserable. He’d been determined that his daughter wasn’t going to grow up in an unhappy home, and he and Mei Lin tried and tried to work it out, but it still ended in divorce. Of course, then Charlie fell into his life, and he’d become a full-time father again, not just the half of the year when Li was with him.
He’d been busy, with work and childrearing (and drinking). He hadn’t done much by way of dating when Charlie was young, and he hadn’t since he moved out, either. His eyes drifted out over the collection of people, and then came back to rest on Charlie and Danny. Maybe it was time to get back into the game.
Green dress was back up on stage, her metallic blue eyeshadow sparking in the light. She was alone this time, and her slightly drunk friends are cheering loudly by the stage.
´”You with the sad eyes, don't be discouraged-“
“True colours.” Charlie said, scribbling that down on Li’s notepad.
“Have you heard her new album? The country one?” Danny asked, to which Li shook her head. Lucien drowned their chatter out to pay attention to the veritable siren on the stage.
But I see your true colors, shining through. I see your true colors, and that's why I love you-“
“Don’t be afraid, to let them show…” He murmured under his breath. Oblivious to his heart eyes, the three young people at the end of the table pulled him back into conversation.
“Alright, Daddy-o.” Li started, “We’ve picked out some songs.” He tore his eyes away from her for the second time to look at them.
“Charlie is going to be singing Wake Me Up Before you Go Go-“
“Against my wil-“
“-Shut up Charlie, Danny will be singing Ice Ice Baby-“
“Which is actually from the 90-“
“Shut up, Charlie, I will be singing Cornflake Girl-“
“That is from the 90s, just like-“
“Shut up, Charlie, and you will be singing Mona.”
“Which is also from the 90s.”
“Which version of Mona?” He asked, ignoring Charlie.
“Well, since you keep saying you look like him, the Craig Mac version.”
“I think you mean Craig Mac and the Check 1 -2s.”
“Whatever. It’s in the book.” Lucien looked at Charlie, who was arms folded and nearly pouting.
“I’m lost, who’s Craig Mac?”
“Craig McLachlan, people always say Doc looks like him.” Charlie said, filling his boyfriend in on the situation.
“Remember when I took you to see Rocky Horror?”
“The main dude.” Danny tilted his head and examined the man.
“I can kinda see it.” Danny said, “Maybe if you were wearing lipstick.”
“I told you I look like him.” Lucien insisted, as Charlie rolled his eyes. “People mistake me for him all the time.”
“Sure they do.” Li said, rolling her eyes, too. Charlie is a terrible influence on her.
“Well, if they ever make a movie of my life, I know who they’ll cast.”
“Yes, Doc, they’ll make a movie of your life. Working at the clinic, driving Li to soccer practice and dragging your son to an 80s night and everyone decides to sing 90s songs.”
“You don’t know that. Maybe I’ll save the life of a famous person, or be in a really bad boating accident.”
“Yeah you don’t have to actually be good at anything, you just have to have lots of bad stuff happen to you.” Danny agreed.
“We’re not living in Scream, Danny.” Charlie scoffed, “And if Doc’s life was made into a movie, what kind of dinky d-lister are they going to get to play me? Some dude who people only remember from one appearance in a shitty kids film, probably.”
“Speak for yourself, I’m at least a B-lister.” Danny said, “Hopefully, some hot, young Home and Away alum.”
“With my luck,” Li said, “I won’t be played by anyone because it’ll happen when I was seeing Mum.” The three of them tittered, and Lucien, having had enough of his spawns bickering, rolled his eyes.
“I am going to que us up at the machine.” He declared, getting to his feet.
“Alright, then.” Charlie said, handing him the slip of paper. Li slid out of the booth, and after a moment, got right back into bickering with Charlie. Lucien rolled his eyes, and wandered down to the front of the pub. The karaoke machine sat at the bottom of a little stage, and it seemed to be a free for all when you were putting in your songs.
He cued up each of the songs Li had written down, and then looked over at the machine. He typed in each song so they were cued up, and paused to watch the women on stage, belting out ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ as if their lives depended on it. Green dress was standing in the crowd, mouthing the word. He could walk up, and talk to her, if he really wanted. There was nothing wrong with that. But he’s a coward, and she’s here with her friends, so instead he goes back to the table.
“Who’s up first?” Li asked, taking another sip of beer.
“Me.” Lucien scoffed, “Who else?”
“Your freshly legal daughter?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Eldest first.”
“Well, by that logic, I should be first.” Charlie counted, “Since I am in fact a one hundred and five-year-old alien.”
“Can you prove that?” Lucien asked.
“Can you disprove it?”
“You look good for your age.” Danny said, “I would have thought you were only eighty-five.”
“It’s not my fault I was blessed with beautiful skin.” He’s barely been sitting for five minutes when his song flashes on the machine.
“We’ll be here.” Li says, all but shoving him out of the booth.
He hurried to the stage, and took the microphone in both hands. The lights were so bright he could hardly see the crowd, but he did notice Green Dress watching him, interested. Lucien has never thought of himself as a shy person, but damn she was making it hard. Look at you, old fool. You don’t even know her and you’re acting like she’s your high school crush.
The music kicked in, and words danced along the screen suddenly. He hadn’t realized it, but he’d started to sing. He was already at the chorus when his mind kicked in. He’d been swept up in the memory of playing this on Charlie’s school guitar with him.
“Tell you Mona what I want to do!”
He sang, the crowd cheering him on. Suddenly, he’s struck with a devious idea. He moved to the front of the stage, keeping his voice steady as he reached out, drawing on his inner Craig McLachlan, he offered green dress a hand. To his surprise, she took it, and let him lead her to the stage.
In the bright lights, she looks all but angelic. Her hair is ridiculously back combed and it looks like a halo in the light. He can’t tell if her eyes are sparkling or if it’s the makeup, but either way it’s beautiful. She moved left, then right, her hands suspended in the air as she moved in time with the bouncy music. Her lipstick is pink, and has tiny sparkles suspended in it. She smells like a mix of perfume and cocktails. He wants to keep starring at her as she lets him take a hand, hers fits seamlessly into his, and turn her around.
The light catches on the metallic fabric of her dress, and she can’t help but give him the most beautiful smile he’s ever seen as the song finally comes to a close. The romantic lighting fades away, and they’re back to standing on a demountable stage in a slightly dodgy bar in a worse for wear part of town. Only three of the lights work, and behind him the neon lights are only half working. They stand for a moment, looking at each other, before laughing. They get the same clap as everyone else, polite but mostly disinterested.
The next song clicks onto the screen, and both of them scurried off to the tables in the front row. Deciding that the kids could wait, he sat across from her, and they both looked at one another, before laughing again.
“I must say, you’re a very talented singer, Mister?”
“Lucien. Lucien Blake. And you?”
“Nice to meet you, Jean.
“So what brings a lovely lady like you, to a place like this?” Okay not his smoothest move but it would do.
“A girls night. No better decade than the eighties.” She grinned. Her teeth are white and square. “You?”
“My kids birthday.” She looked at the stage where Danny was belting out Ice Ice Baby with enough enthusiasm for ten people.
“That’s one of yours?”
“He’s actually my future son in law.” Pause. “Should I be worried about my kid dating someone who looks like me?” Apparently, his dad humor amused her because she chuckles.
“Ahh, we all mess up our kids, comes with the territory.” There’s something sad under the laughter. He decides to take her mind off it.
“Well, children aside, can I buy you a drink?”
“Mighty forward of you, am I to assume there’s no Mrs Blake?”
“There is not.” Not anymore, not that she needed to know that. She contemplated, before she nodded. She checked her oversized watch.
“I’ll have a ginger ale.” Lucien grinned and made his way to the counter. He noticed Charlie is hiding his face, and Danny is now sitting on the opposite side of the table, and Li is all but skipping towards the stage. He grabbed a ginger ale, and a diet Coke for himself.
He returned to his seat, and delivered the lady her ginger ale.
“Is this one one of yours?” He doesn’t comment on her usage of one twice.
“My only and eldest daughter.” Li was singing off key, but what she lacked in nuance, she made up for with enthusiasm.
“I always wanted a daughter.” Jean said, “But God only saw fit to bless me with sons.”
“How many sons?”
“Two, Jack and Christoper Jr.”
“A family name?”
“After my late husband.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“This isn’t very good first meeting talk.” Jean observed.
“As old people, we are strictly limited to discussing our children, marriages and the weather.”
“And IKEA sales.”
“IKEA is having a sale?”
“Yeah it just finished, flat pack was half price.” He clicked his arms in front of him.
“Damn. Just missed it.” Jean laughed, and took a sip of her drink, her lipstick left a mark around the rim. Interestingly, she doesn’t use a straw. They lapse into a comfortable silence until Li finishes singing, and Lucien has to do his fatherly duty and ensure he’s clapping the loudest. Li flung herself off the stage, and ran over excitedly.
“Did you like it?”
“Of course I did.” He said, irrespective of if he actually did.
“It was great.” Jean said, as Li eyed her. Apparently, she passed the test, because Li grinned.
“I’m going to force Charlie onto the stage.” Lucien caught her arm.
“I know ribbing Charlie about his driving and bad attitude is all fun and games, but if he really doesn’t want to do it, don’t force him.” He warned her. “He’s allowed to bow out if he’s not comfortable.” Li nodded, and hurried back to the table.
“She seems like a nice young lady.” Lucien gave a wiry smile.
“You haven’t gotten to know her yet.”
“I haven’t decided yet.” He replied, “Would you like to?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
Lucien looked up as Charlie took the stage, his hands shaking hard as he tried to keep a tight hold on the microphone. Danny is already cheering, much to the annoyance of the other patrons, but they could all serve to lighten up a little. What Li had lacked in talent she made up for with gusto. Danny…Well Lucien doesn’t know; he’s pretty sure Ice Ice Baby isn’t even a real song, but he’d at least had enthusiasm. Charlie has neither skill, nor excitement, and his singing amounted to him mumbling into the microphone. But he gave it a shot and Lucien supposed that was the most important part
“One of yours?”
“Yep.” He replied, as Charlie slunk off stage before he could even begin to clap; Danny cheering as loudly as he dared. He slunk off stage and into the bathroom. Lucien watched as Danny followed after him and supposed he got it covered. Jean touched his arm lightly.
“He’s quite brave.”
“He always is.” He replied, “Can I buy you another drink?” He inquired, smiling. Charlie would be fine. Jean checked her watch again.
“No, but you can sing a little duet with me, if you’d like.” Jean said, swallowing the last of her drink. Lucien observed her for a moment, before nodding.
“Of course. What do you fancy singing?”
“I’ll surprise you.”
Lucien watched her walk away, and he noticed he’s smiling to himself. She keys in a song to be performed after the woman on stage finishes her (very enthusiastic) version of ’I Ran (so far away)’. While he waited, he wandered up to Jean, coming to a stop next to her. She smiled at him, and she looks like the sun has just risen for the first time.
When the woman gets off the stage, he joins her, there is only one microphone, so they have to stand very close. He can smell her breath: ginger ale and alcohol. Maybe a little bit of toothpaste. The song title flashes up on the screen, accompanied by an unfortunately fake sounding guitar:
‘More Than Words – Extreme’
Huh. He kind of remembers that song, but not too well. Not well enough he could sing it by heart, but It’ll do. Jean takes the opening verse, starting a fraction of a second before he can open his mouth.
“Saying "I love you" Is not the words I want to hear from you-“
Lucien is struck by the thought that her voice would sound beautiful up against a plain piano, maybe a metronome. It’s a beautiful voice, attached to a beautiful woman. He is ridiculously infatuated with her, despite having known her for less than an hour. Matthew was going to think this was a hilarious story when he shares it next time they meet for lunch.
That’s if he survives the teasing from his kids.
“What would you do? If my heart was torn in two?”
Lucien’s heart is already in two, but of course, he doesn’t say that out loud. It’s just a song, after all, it’s meant to be relatable. No one wants to listen to music they cannot relate to. It’s why teen pop sells so well, and also probably why Charlie used to have a wall full of Justin Bieber posters. Because people relate to having a crush, or being in love, or having whatever an Ennie Meanie Miney Mo lover is. And he, in his old age of fifty, can relate to having a heart torn in two. That’s just how it was.
Jean picks up for the Chorus, all but belting the lyrics in true karaoke style.
“Make things new, just by saying "I love you-"”
I love you. Lucien has said a lot of I love yous in his life.
To his mother. To his wife. To his daughter. To his son. To his close friends. To his dogs. He’s said a lot of I Love Yous and he is suddenly and shockingly struck by the fact that he would like, some day, to say I love you to Jean with no last name he met in a dodgy bar in a worn out neighborhood, like a fool. He is a fool. A hopeless romantic, sure, but still a fool. You don’t fall in love with someone you just met. Love takes time, and work, and effort, and he wants to do all that. But first, he just wants to get through this song.
“Touch me, hold me close, don't ever let me go. More than words is all I ever needed you to show-“
Could he have saved his other relationship? Potentially. Touch me. Hold me close. He wanted to hold someone close. He wanted to be held. He wanted romance, and love. Someone once told him, potentially Matthew, that he was built to love, that he had too much of it, and he was destined to be a bleeding heart. That has never felt more true than it did right now.
“La di da, da di da, di dai dai da-”
“More than words-“
Her perfume smells chemically floral. Her voice sounds like honey
The music fades out. Kiss her, you fool! Kiss her! Thankfully, Lucien is not a slave to his base urges, and he does not invade the woman’s space more than he needs to. They depart the stage, and she gathers her bag. Lucien casts an eye to his table. The kids are sitting and talking among themselves. Charlie seems to have recovered, and Danny is trotting to the stage. Lucien recognizes the opening to ‘I Love You, Always, Forever” if he’s ever heard it. Didn’t seem like Danny had much musical talent, either. Oh well, C’est La Vie.
Jean is speaking with her friends, he looks over at his one time companion. She’s holding a napkin in one hand, it has the logo of the bar in one corner and a stain that could be anything from grease to beer in the other. She passes it to him, and there is a note scrawled there in purple gel pen.
Hope you had as much fun as I did. Call me xx
P.S: You owe me a kiss for next time.’
Then her phone number, and a kiss imprint, complete with tiny pink sparkles. He looked up, Jean was nowhere to be seen. Neither were her friends. After a moment, he moved back to the table, and sat back down next to Li. He put an arm around her shoulders and looked at her list of potential songs. Your eldest daughter only turns eighteen once.