“I sleep. I dream. I make up things that I would never say. I say them very quietly.”
- Richard Siken
Quinn notices him the second the band starts their first set on a rainy Thursday. He has those eyes his ma used to call fey eyes: endlessly shifting colors of the sea in October, brimming with mischief.
He plays the fiddle. Naturally.
Quinn notices his beauty the same way the hiker notices a lithe young buck in the misty morning field; self-sufficient and unattainable.
They might just have that something Tabia has been looking for. The singer, a white-haired boy, oozes aggressive confidence and flirtation. The guitarist has an easy smile, broad shoulders and nimble fingers. The drummer is a demure young girl until she sits down behind her instrument and lights up like dried birchbark. And the fiddler… he casts one look at the audience over his violin and everybody certainly pays attention to him .
They’re good, a perfect blend of tradition and modern, and they know how to get and hold the audience’s attention.
Quinn goes back to wiping glasses.
“Can I borrow your lighter?”
The fiddler’s ginger stubble stands out in the light of the street lamp. Quinn starts, lost in his own head during the break.
Fey-eyes has dimples too, and he knows how to use them. Quinn hands him the lighter, makes sure their hands don’t touch.
“Thanks. I’ve got few moments. Garen is playing his solo pieces.”
Quinn grunts as an answer, not sure what he is supposed to do with this information. Two smoke trails mingle above their heads.
“You’re Tabia’s bartender, aren’t you? God bless that woman, we needed some stability, you know. You’re gonna see us once a month or so.” Fey-eyes brushes a copper strand behind his ear and Quinn doesn’t know what to do with his hands, his eyes, his lungs. He lets his cigarette fall down to ground. He could go back inside.
“Yeah. Almost three years now. When I moved back here, she took me in.” Why is he telling him this?
“You’re one of her strays, like us.” Fey-eyes blows smoke and tilts his head, a cat-like gesture. “What does it mean? The ink?” He points at Quinn’s right arm.
“Something I used to believe in.” Did his cigs get mixed with Micah’s this evening? He hasn’t talked this much in weeks.
Dimples reappear. The younger man looks a tad sheepish. “Pry and get your nose pinched, my gran always warned. No offence. I’m Oberon - don’t roll your eyes, granny was the Bard enthusiast - but everyone calls me Obes.” He offers his hand. Quinn knows he stares at it too long. There are freckles on the back of the hand, against the cream. When he takes it, he can feel the musician’s calluses on the tips of his fingers.
“None taken. I’m Quinn.” They shake hands.
Obes flicks his cigarette at the exact same time the audience erupts into whoops and whistles inside the bar. “That’s my cue. Just, you know, why keep it around when you don’t have faith in it anymore?” It could be a cruel, young remark, except that the sea in Obes’ eyes looks kind. He turns his back without waiting for an answer and goes back inside. Quinn’s lungs suddenly remember what they’re supposed to do, how they are supposed to need all the time. Oxygen, connection, touch, beauty; same symptoms, really.
The audience is larger this evening. It’s the eve of the public holiday, and the band is starting to make a name of themselves. This crowd is more raucous than their usual regulars; Quinn and Micah are soaked in sweat and it’s not even ten yet. Tabia has taken over the counter. Between her regal presence, Quinn’s height and Micah’s biceps, things seem to be under control, but Quinn has a running bet going on in his head on how many fights he has to stop in their tracks before the night is over.
Quinn notices - he’s not sure how he notices, when this evening doesn’t allow room even for his own thoughts - that the fiddler never closes eyes as he plays. He flirts, he winks, he provokes, he urges over his instrument with a half-hidden smile. He steers the audience, as easily as if they were weathervanes and he an impish spring breeze. Even during a slower, more melancholic piece, when the violin laments and the audience listens enraptured, he doesn’t get carried away, but stares over their heads and meets Quinn’s eyes in passing.
It has been over five weeks and Quinn is leaning on the rear wall next to the kitchen door, catching his breath. Something flashes in the younger man’s eyes, a recognition. And Quinn’s lungs need again, but it’s not enough anymore, no, now his too-big hands need too. Then the piece is over, and so is Quinn’s respite, and he loses the eye contact.
His revived yearning follows him through the rest of the evening like an aching joint.
Tabia is starting to suspect something - when you’ve got as much history with someone as they have, you’re bound to. Also, there’s the fact that all of a sudden Quinn walks like he expects himself to limp. Quinn avoids taking breaks for the next two hours.
Afterwards, he’ll go home and quelch this. With whiskey.
“Surely you have an open tab for us by now?”
Quinn turns back from the liquor cabinet, a tart answer on his tongue for yet another smart-ass in this evening, and faces a pair of twinkling eyes. Behind Obes, the rest of the band seems to be in good spirits, arguing lively over darts. The guitarist has the singer in a headlock. Obes cocks his head and smiles, and Quinn doesn’t want to acknowledge this, the warning signs, the ache, any of it.
“I’ll consider it, if you sing for your keep,” slips from Quinn’s tongue before his brains catch up. The sea in Obes’ eyes dances with laughter.
“I thought we just did that for almost two hours straight,” he counters.
“That was for them,” Quinn points at the merrily inebriated crowd and lowers his voice. “This one’s for me.”
“Oh,” a faint blush creeps to younger man’s cheeks. He quiets his voice, unconsciously following Quinn’s lead. “You want me to sing for you? For… for free drinks?”
Quinn nods in a hopefully offhand manner, not trusting his voice anymore. Though the younger man is a fiddler, it doesn’t necessarily mean he likes to sing, much less in public. Once in a blue moon, it would be nice to plan things ahead and not follow in the spur of the moment.
Obes, honest to God, twirls around, eyes gleaming as he accepts the challenge, and stands on the fucking stool. His band mates realize something is going on. The guitarist releases the singer and the drummer girl hollers to Obes questioningly.
The fey-eyed man demands the attention of the bar and asks them for a beat using his feet. He gets a few dirty whistles and crude suggestions at first, but the mob soon recognizes one of the musicians from the earlier evening, gets excited and follows Obes’ lead.
Obes has a clear, if unfocused, tenor. Quinn could have that voice playing on record for a week in his small apartment, and his self-imposed exile would be that much easier to bear. It could fill the dark corners and dusty cupboards the same way it fills his throat. His hands suddenly feel heavy.
It occurs to Quinn only well into the morning, when he replays the image in his head - the way the lights painted Obes as otherworldly yet sensuous, the way the heartbeat thrummed in a strong vein on his neck - that the younger man had closed his eyes in concentration.
It also occurs him too late, when his head has already fallen back against the headboard and he is moaning aloud, that he wants to lick that pulsepoint, wants to see that control, that concentration, that performance undone for him.