“It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
'Cause he knows that it's me they've been comin' to see
To forget about life for a while ”
Billy Joel fills the walls of The Red Rum Tavern with a mellifluous atmosphere, putting its patrons into a trance as they enjoyed their alcoholic beverages and quick drags from cheap cigarettes. The stagnant stench of the smoke is concealed within a collaboration of noxious odours, twisted in an artistic way, forming curls in the gloom that are illuminated only by the age-speckled bar lights. It was dark and wood-paneled, so it had great small-town bar ambience, and it was never too crowded. Along the wall was every hue of amber liquid in their inverted bottles, illuminating a gorgeous gold by the glow of Colorado in the evening. Through the windows, the diamonds of lead panes, trickles the sallow light of street-lamps. A sharp smell of drink wafts throughout, like a thicket of black plumes bellowing from the windows of a burning house. There’s even a hint of sick tainting the fragrance of the room.
But that was the beauty of it all - It was always a den of debauchery. No one entered The Red Rum Tavern with anything wholesome in mind.
Except for the music.
It wasn’t just the highlights the jukebox offered for the old souls, for the crowd was typically young - university students for the most part. There was the occasional karaoke session, which would draw in the cute college girls. But none of these could compare to the music fresh new faces brought to the customers.
For this particular bar was a birthplace for aspiring musicians.
Rebecca Tucker was the mastermind behind the The Red Rum Tavern. Alongside her cousin Craig Tucker and his childhood friend Clyde Donovan, the trio set out to develop an environment dedicated for encouraging creative minds alike to share their talents with curious patrons, if not the whole world.
Rebecca (or “Red,” as everyone referred her) and Craig were currently chatting from opposite ends of the bar counter, with the male counterpart of the two cousins slouching in a bar stool while the redhead thumbed through their tips they collected throughout this moderately paced shift. Clyde emerged from the back with a tray of beverages, passing everyone a hefty glass of whiskey sour. The three coworkers simultaneously took a swig of the burning alcohol, continuing to enjoy the comforting atmosphere that was their tavern.
“This is, what, the fifth time someone played ‘Piano Man’ on the juke today?” Clyde piped in, interrupting the soothing silence they had established a moment ago.
Craig smirked, twirling side to side in his barstool as he raised an eyebrow in a cocky fashion. “Sick of the classics, Donovan?”
“You know damn well that isn’t true, Tucker!”
Red chuckled to herself, rolling her eyes as the two men took turns poking fun at one another. The redhead taps a perfectly manicured nail against the crystal clear ice bobbing in her beverage as she leans against the counter, her navy sequined dress hugging her figure as she stared at the duo.
Clyde had always been told he was a beautiful child, and that ventured over well into adulthood. His hair, dark and lustrous, is rich like mahogany and his hazel eyes are large and bold, framed with thick lashes. A shiny varnish catches merely light around his locks, but the depths of that deep chestnut brown reflected all the radiance of his smile. Everything about him is symmetrical, most obviously his cheekbones, but it extends to the way he smiles. It appeared some of his baby fat still lingered in his cheeks, but that adorable softness was what added so much emphasis on his jovial character - mostly that childish grin of his.
But if Clyde’s warm smile didn’t catch someone’s attention, then surely the gorgeous noirette next door would.
Craig was all looks. Sure, the man was a closed book, but damn if his cover wasn’t appealing. He had jet black hair, always combed back to reveal his flawless hairline. His eyes were a mesmerising deep ocean blue, flecks of silvery light glistening in those perfect orbs like constellations. His face was strong and defined, his features molded from granite. His smooth skin was an olive hue, sun-kissed despite residing in the frigid temperatures of Colorado. He had dark eyebrows, which always seem sloped downwards permanently in a serious expression. His usual deadpan face was now replaced by a playful smile, thin lips parted slightly to reveal his pearly whites.
Red nodded approvingly to herself as she admired her handiwork. The two contrasting men provided the perfect balance to her establishment. Clyde contributed to the heart and soul of the tavern with his personality, Craig attracted the customers with his pretty face, and Red herself was the brains behind it all.
The redhead slithered her way into the conversation with a smug grin knitted onto her matching scarlet lips. “Billy Joel, huh? I’ll be sure to request plenty of his songs once the next gig starts.”
Clyde choked on his drink, puffing his cheeks out towards the snickering cousins. “Jimmy? Doing a cover of ‘Piano Man?’ Please, Red, I’m in hell…”
Their boss tilted her head in confusion, taking another sip of her whiskey sour. “Jimmy isn’t booked for tonight.”
Now it was the men’s turn to flash questioning looks.
“Saturday, 7:30… Jimmy always comes in hopes of earning some shits and giggles from one of his skits, then finishes off with some acoustic covers. Right?” Craig rehearsed the schedule off the top of his head like it was part of his daily routine, to which Red only replied with a shrug of her shoulders.
“He booked a different gig somewhere big, ‘cuz apparently now he has an agent.” Red hummed, purring to herself like a proud mother. “Can you believe it? Our little Jimmy is off to the big leagues, and it all started in this bar.”
“Our first prodigy!” Clyde cheered, raising his drink. The other two followed suite, clinking their glasses together as their own celebration towards their first success. After downing the rest of their whiskey sour Craig was the first to initiate the previous topic once more.
“So who is doing the gig tonight?”
Red rolled her head back in contemplation, gesturing for Clyde to prepare more drinks. Once she recalled who was arriving she snapped her fingers. “Remember Kenny and Butters?”
“McCormick and Stotch?” Craig questioned, to which the redhead answered with a nod.
“Yeah! Turns out, the duo finally found the pianist they needed in order to dabble in jazz, and after a couple of months of practice, they’re ready to perform again!” Red sniffed, wiping away a fake tear from her copper-dusted eyes. “Honestly, I couldn’t feel more honored to be the first one they call to book a gig.”
Craig snorted. “Their third member wouldn’t happen to be blonde, would he?”
“You’re a sharp one, Tucker.” His boss chuckled, instantly snatching a drink off Clyde’s tray once he returned. “Blondes are your favorite, aren’t they?~”
The noirette rolled his eyes and flicked the snickering redhead’s wrist. “You got me there.”
He had to admit, he actually did find blondes attractive. Kenny and Butters were incredibly good looking, and he had been in a serious relationship with a dirty blonde a couple years back. Hell, Bradley Biggles, a random hookup from last night, was blonde! Craig would be lying if he said he wasn’t anticipating the arrival of this new pianist.
Red must have caught on to his pensive contemplation because the next moment she was leaning over the countertop to whisper into his ear. “You know, Kenny told me this guy is talented enough to become the next Elton John.”
The raven raised an eyebrow, taking a large gulp of his beverage. “What, a pianist legend?”
The redhead’s lips curled up into a sly grin. She began to lower her voice into a more sultry tone. “A gay pianist legend.”
Craig choked on his drink.
The wind pushes on Butters’ Honda CRV to no avail as the cheerful blonde maneuvered through Denver’s afternoon traffic. Tweek acknowledged that they were going forward, and nothing but a blessed tragedy can change that. The tires make their monotonous hiss over the rain-washed highway and the outside air that manages to snake its way through the filters is meadowsweet. All around and through the dirty tinted windows, there are endless rows of buildings towering above, casting an ominous shadow onto the bland city. Inside this tin box of a vehicle the world outside continues like some choreographed dance, but without the soul it should have.
Butters fiddles with the radio to fill the trio’s ears with the latest popular tunes, while Kenny smokes through a carton of American Spirits in the passenger seat. Tweek closes his eyes as he presses his cheek onto the cold surface of the window, feeling the gentle rise and fall of the road reverberate throughout the cabin. The anxious blonde preferred administering his imagination to calming his nerves, and it often transported him to a land brimming with promise.
Tweek bestowed his gaze to the far off horizon. The flaring hues of the sun melted into the California sky and ocean like a divine painting. The forever stretching sea is masked with an apricot colour, that beautiful umber flowing into turquoise.
Through narrowed eyes, he watches as each wave overlaps one another, sending the white bubbling crests descending and masking the shore with the transparent fading water. Meanwhile, music fills the air like the waves filling holes in the beach sand. Tweek’s hands dance effortlessly across the keys of his piano, crystal globes of sweat strolling down his temples as he performs for the festival before him. Some react to the melody, to his soothing voice, while others continue to chatter, but it always speaks to them in some manner. A lively tempo can lift them, elevate the spirit, or move them to dance, while a slow one can relax the mood. Before the notes filled the air every person was an island, with it they all feel the same tidal flows and the beginnings of togetherness feels warm.
Tweek snapped back to reality, jolting at the sudden touch on his knee. Kenny had yanked him out of his fantasy. Acknowledging his disturbance, he proceeded to flash the blonde an apologetic smile.
“Sorry for ruining your nap, but we’re here.” The rugged blonde clarified, grinning broadly towards the startled man behind him. When Tweek still appeared unenthusiastic Kenny proceeded to rub gentle circles into his knee before patting it encouragingly.
“Hey, tonight is gonna be a good night, alright? Without you our band would have no soul.” Kenny reassured. “I promised you a clean slate and I guarantee this fresh new start of yours is going to be incredible.”
Tweek couldn’t help but smile sheepishly, especially when Butters tilted his head towards the back to nod in agreement. He appreciated his partners’ motivation, he really did. They were the reason he finally agreed to play music in public.
He couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for intruding on the other two blondes’ band. Guilt pooled into his stomach at the thought of taking advantage of their kindness, and he vowed to make their performance worthwhile.
Tweek inhaled deeply as the three men stepped out of the car. He doesn’t dare to imagine what is in store, but it isn't as bad as things could be... have been. This ride, this band, this gig - they have found a use for Tweek and somewhere inside that bar is the answer to what that could be.
There was no denying it: Craig was a gay man.
Red was the one that confirmed these suspicions back in high school, having been acquaintances with the numerous lady flings her cousin dismissed without any interest. She wasn’t oblivious; she definitely caught onto Craig’s longing gazes at handsome men, that any straight man would direct towards an attractive woman. When their senior year crept to its closure, she finally convinced the raven to stop denying his sexuality and to finally commit to a relationship that wasn’t one-sided. After graduation Craig finally came out to his surprisingly accepting family and successfully developed a long lasting relationship throughout past college.
Although he had parted ways with his previous lover, Craig was ironically in a better position than he had ever been during his adult years. He had nothing planned for his future and he couldn’t honestly care less.
Craig swirled the whiskey in his glass, listening to the soft “clink” of the ice cubes. Already the worries of his day were beginning to fade, despite possessing none.
His entire existence just felt at ease.
Just watching its gentle vortex was hypnotizing enough. There was no midlife crisis controlling his emotions, no partner constantly fretting over his absence, no family . It was his one vice and he intended to make a virtue of it, savor it, not race to the bottom of the glass. Once the liquid settled, he brought it to his chapped lips and let the bitter taste sit in his mouth a while before swallowing. He closed his eyes, dwelling only on the flavor.
God, it was so good...
He retuned his ears to the classical tunes that had been playing from the jukebox a few moments ago, only this time there was saxophone in it; how that instrument arrived in his brain seeming to bypass his ears he didn't know, but suddenly it was there. Craig smiled widely when he spotted Butters capturing everyone’s attention with an adderley trill from his alto, and chuckled to himself when Kenny purposefully wedged a spare drumstick between the door to keep it propped open and attract any passerbys.
Craig could recognize the two blondes in a heartbeat, and differentiating the two wasn’t any more difficult. Butters’ lush hair was, no pun intended, a buttery gold, both the silky flow and soft consistency resembling the creamy substance. The top of his uppercut was like a bed of marigolds dancing in the breeze, loose strands of gold tickling the side of his face and barely concealing the cataract in his left eye. He adorned thick rimmed leopard print glasses, the mild brown brought out the vibrant hue in his baby blue eyes. They paired perfectly with his pastel pink sweatshirt and gray sweatpants that only further emphasized his innocent outlook - despite his aura resembling that of a sexpot saxophone player.
Next door to Butters’ sat his rugged doppelganger behind a burnt umber cladded drum set. Kenny possessed a messy mop of sandy blonde hair atop his head, his caramel tinted locks considered alluring despite being unkempt and greasy. There was a copper stud pierced into his nose, the shimmering jewel matching the sparse freckles that already painted his face. The blonde even wore a thin streak of eyeliner to bring out his deep blue eyes, the field of indigo trapped in those orbs enough to make anyone swoon. His notorious orange parka was tied around his waist with the green question mark tattoo on his arm now exposed.
However as Craig’s eyes drifted over towards Tweek, he couldn’t help but be intrigued. The new blonde member possessed the delicate features of Butters, yet retained the arduous sturdiness of Kenny. He was a perfect combination of the two, thus providing the perfect balance needed to complete the band. The raven couldn’t help but smile to himself, allowing the handsome stranger to sear himself deep into his mind’s eye. Closing his eyes Craig leaned back in his bar stool, allowing himself to become lost under saxophone notes and soft taps of the cymbals that jumped and danced in the murky cavern.
For Butters and Kenny their familiar faces earned them countless friendly slaps on the back as customers flowed in. But when Tweek entered the tavern, heads turned. He didn't just come to play. When Tweek listened to others, his troubles melted into the smoky haze of the lounge. For him, jazz had to be live; there had to be a whole bunch of people right there laughing, joking and dancing. Otherwise it was just music - nothing to keep him engaged in the moment.
About an hour passed when Butters’ and Kenny decided it was time to take a break. Heading over to the bar to treat themselves to refreshments. They were whispering discreetly to Red as they sipped on their share of aged scotch, casting sidewards glances to an unsuspecting Clyde. Craig rolled his eyes towards their evil scheming before allowing his eyes to rest on the third blonde.
Tweek however, didn’t budge. Glued to his seat as his gaze never left the piano before him. Craig noticed that the blonde refused to take a breather and furrowed his brow. Surely he was exhausted, wasn’t he?
When the two members returned to their positions, they proceeded to improvise with ease on stage, the music dancing out of their instruments in the swinging rhythm. Craig’s foot began to tap as his head involuntarily swayed. Man did he love that sax, deep as the soul, soothing, sweet as honey pie. It surged through him, purging his hidden blues and replacing them with a feeling of lightness. Like he could live in that moment. Live for the jazz.
Though, the moment came to an abrupt halt when Butters blasted another squeaky trill to capture everyone’s attention.
“Good evenin’, fellas! Glad you could have us!” The upbeat blonde cheered into the microphone on the stand before him, earning a couple of hollers from their mediocre audience. Red and Clyde in particular whistled loudly. Butters bowed, to which Kenny stood up and performed an overdramatic curtsy before making his way over the the microphone.
“While we’re more than delighted to be performing for you, tonight is not about us.” Kenny wrapped his arm around Butters’ shoulder and gestured towards the pianist next to them with his free hand. “Tonight is about the new addition to this team. Without him, there would be no heart, no soul… no sick jazz, for God’s sake!”
As the customers chuckled among one another, Kenny flashed Red a sly grin and winked. The redhead returned the wink and proceeded to turn her attention towards Clyde. The brunette narrowed his eyes at his boss, bracing himself for whatever silent contract had been signed against his will.
“Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for our piano man, Tweek Tweak!”
Applause erupted, drowning out the sound of Clyde’s head slamming against the bar countertop and Red’s uncontrollable laughter. Tweek took Butters’ nod of approval as a cue to begin. He inhaled sharply to calm the anxious tremors in his hands. Closing his eyes as he gradually exhaled out of his nose, his fingers instantly prancing along the correct keys on the grand piano before him. All conversation had been sucked clean from the air as soon as Tweek started playing, completely shocked by the sheer accuracy and talent the man possessed.
“It's nine o'clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There's an old man sitting next to me
Makin' love to his tonic and gin”
Butters had taken a moment after imitating the harmonica with his saxophone to take a quick swig of his scotch, choking on the drink briefly after as the specific “old man” verse was directed towards him. He elbowed the pianist playfully, to which Tweek replied by poking his tongue out - a sight that somehow managed to make Craig’s heart flutter.
At this point, those who were out on the streets began to pour into the bar, curious as to who the mysterious angel behind the keys is.
“Sing us a song, you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well, we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feelin' alright”
The bar was slammed at this point, so packed, in fact, that anyone outside gave up trying to get in and peered in through the windows. Kenny was thrilled to have attracted such an enormous crowd, cheering after the chorus as he twirled a drumstick in his hand and sang along with their audience.
Craig was breathless. This performance, this man - he was no ordinary musician. Before when it was just their jazz session, Tweek played the piano in hopes of evoking some sort of reaction to keep the atmosphere alive. He played the music to entertain others and thrived off of their enjoyment.
But this, this wasn’t just for the audience… Tweek was also playing for himself. The ecstatic smile plastered on his face, his nimble fingers dancing across the keys, the sweat staining his hairline as the lyrics slipped from his supple lips in a booming tone, it all spoke volume of the blonde’s own self gratification.
He wasn’t just singing Billy Joel… he was singing as though he had become Billy Joel.
And there was nothing more attractive to Craig than a man who learned to enlighten himself before others.
“Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free”
This verse was undoubtedly directed towards the trio by the bar. Tweek flashing a toothy grin as Red and Clyde raised their glasses with a whistle. Craig repeated the action with a snicker, his sights focused on the array of pearly whites that could disappear at any moment.
“And he's quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there's someplace that he'd rather be”
Craig could’ve sworn Tweek’s gaze shifted towards the noirette as soon as he sang those words. His suspicions were soon confirmed as the blonde’s gaze softened, his half lidded eyes casting a melancholy glow as a warm smile crept upon his lips. His expression was nothing more than a facade caked over his buried anguish and sorrow, and Craig couldn’t help but feel his heart swelling towards the next lines of the song. Tweek trying desperately not to crack his voice under the pressure of tears threatening to well up in his eyes.
“‘Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place’"
That one verse was enough to seal the deal for Craig. The glint of hope in Tweek’s eyes, his desperate act for approval and escape, was all confirmed in that one moment. The noirette couldn’t peel his eyes away from him, yearning so badly to stand up and drag the blonde away to wherever his lifelong dream awaited him; to bring him the happiness he painfully faked every aching moment.
Really, he was mannerly enough to avoid gawking at random strangers. But the man before him, radiating with nothing but grace, had put him in a trance.
Tweek was mesmerizing in every way. The faint glimmer of the afternoon sun ghosted over his pale skin, a creamy richness that was undoubtedly smooth to touch. His lush mother lode-gold hair was combed back into a loose, low rising man bun that extended down to the fair stubble outlining his narrow jawline and lucious lips. The Roman nose he sported complemented his prominent cheekbones, the structure of his face both androgynous and attractive. He was handsome in an understated way, his moss green cardigan loose yet hugging his form in a way that exaggerated how slim his waist is. His black jeans were comfortably tight (both for Tweek, and Craig’s viewing pleasure), outlining his long, slender legs as the red Vans on his feet tapped to the rhythm of the piano. The only blemish he possessed, which Craig protested shouldn’t even be qualified as one, were the thousands of freckles that dusted across his milky complexion.
But what truly mesmerized Craig were those gorgeous green eyes.
Tweek’s eyes were the glimmering color of a clean cut emerald, sparkling in the dim light of the bar like a fresh sheen of morning dew. They were the kind of green that pushed its way through the piles of gritty snow to remind you that spring was coming. That churning, passionate green that the ocean turns during a storm. The color of the forest after it rains. That green color that brings hope and life no matter what has happened.
And looking into those eyes, the raven could see it, and Tweek knew that he could.
Because when those very eyes shifted and finally acknowledged Craig’s presence, a surge of understanding had calmed and further mystified him at the same time. From the moment he first laid his eyes on him, he knew he could never be his.
But damn if the piano man didn’t ignite the flame in the noirette’s empty soul once more.