Call of Water, Madame Tan's Freakshow, book 1

Chapter 3

 

 He opened with Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me) this time—one of the saddest songs I’d ever heard. Zeph’s performance nearly wrenched my heart out of my chest and shattered my soul.

  In the song, Zeph was pleading with the woman he loved more than life not to leave him.

My eyes swelled with tears as he repeated the title of the song four time as the refrain,

  “Ne Me Quitte Pas…”

   His voice plunged lower, trailing off into a whisper only to surge back up with the music as he sang about all the glorious, wonderful things he would do for her if she only stayed with him.

  Long after the last note of the song faded into silence, the room finally exploded into applause. People rose from their seats, clapping and screaming.

  I glanced around, noting that it wasn’t just me who was left emotionally wrecked by Zeph’s singing. Tears stained most women’s faces; men’s expressions were unguarded, moved, and vulnerable.

  Zeph found me sitting at the table. Fleur and her new acquaintance stayed on the dance floor, his arms wrapped around my friend’s waist.

  “Would you like another drink?” Zeph asked cheerfully, sinking down on the chair opposite of mine. Then he must have spotted my tear-streaked cheeks. “Are you okay?”

  I gazed at him, not hiding my tear-swollen eyes. “Tell me, Zeph, who was that woman whom you loved so much?” I crushed the tear-soaked napkin in my hands, my heart overflowing with emotions.

  I didn’t care that the question was way too personal coming from someone he’d just met. He had invaded my very soul with his singing, and I believed I’d earned the right to get a glimpse into his. No one could sing like that without having experienced the torment of love and loss. There must be a magnificent love story there, and I yearned to hear it.

  “Oh.” He lifted an eyebrow in understanding, then leaned over the table toward me. “Can I tell you a secret, Ivy?” He threw a glance over his shoulder, as if making sure that no one else was listening.

  “Yes,” I urged. “Please.”

  “I’ve never been in love.” He gave me a lop-sided grin.

  “Never?” I breathed out in disbelief.

  “Not even close.”

  Neither had I.

  Once, I almost believed I had fallen in love with a guy I’d known in college, but it turned out it was just friendship and, possibly, some sense of camaraderie we shared as the last two remaining virgins in our class and—it often seemed—in the whole Universe. Whatever feelings we’d had for each other quickly faded after an awkward night we spent together, having decided to get rid of our mutual virginity.

  But Zeph…

  “How can you possibly sing like that, then?” I sniffed, blinking the tears away. “Emotions like that… They are too real.”

  “I’m not saying it’s all an act.” His expression grew more serious—the smile retreated to the corners of his mouth. “I love singing. When I’m on stage, it’s like the music radiates through me, and I merge with it in a song.” His eyebrows moved together, the focus in his eyes sharpened as he explained, “So, I guess, even as the woman is not real, the love is still there. My love for music and the song, that is.”

  I let his words sink in, oddly glad there was no actual woman. That fact still seemed unbelievable, maybe because Zeph had made her seem so real through his singing.

  “Your voice is simply magical, Zeph,” I half-whispered, in genuine awe of his talent.

  “Magic!” He laughed—a deep, cheerful sound. “There you go. Magic is the real explanation.”

  The music changed on stage.

  “Rumba!” he exclaimed. “Ivy, we need to dance to this.”

  “Oh no! Not again,” I protested, even as the prospect of Zeph holding me in his arms again enticed me.

  “Come on.” He got up, tugging me out of my seat. “You’re a great student.” Both of his arms wound around my waist. “And I am a good teacher. Together, we make a perfect pair.”

  “We do?” I put my hands on his shoulders. His talking about us as a pair, even if just a dance pair, pleasantly warmed my heart.

  “Are you in a hurry to get to bed tonight?” he asked suddenly, his eyes searching mine.

  The “bed” would be my sleeping bag on the floor of Fleur’s room. Both seemed so far from Le Loup Solitaire right now, as if in another dimension.

  “I wasn’t thinking about that yet.”

  “Good. Because I’m not, either. How about a small adventure?” He arched an eyebrow. Teasing? Tempting? Both?

  “Adventure?”

  “Yes. Isn’t that what people all over the world come to Paris for?”

  Well, I came to visit a friend and to research possibly moving to this city next year. One of Fleur’s three roommates was moving out, and Fleur got the idea of me moving into the vacant room after New Year’s.    

 This trip, I was not merely a tourist. My goal was to assess this city as a potential place to live.

  Tonight, however, it could be all about an adventure with Zeph.

  I couldn’t believe how easily he got me to agree to anything. And maybe that should have concerned me. But every minute spent with Zeph was rich and delicious, and I simply wanted more.

  “What kind of adventure?” I felt compelled to clarify.

  “Oh, nothing crazy.” The playful smile returned to his handsome face. “Maybe we’ll get some ice cream?”

  “Sounds wild.” I laughed.

  “Right.” He joined me, laughing merrily and openly. “I’m taking you on a wild ice-cream-eating adventure.”

  His enthusiasm was just as contagious as his smile.

  “I’d love that,” I agreed, once again.

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