(A/N: A middle(?) segment to a new short story? See also: Ravenlight)
The last chord of the song faded into applause, the crowd whooping and cheering. Dan glanced back at the band—they really should have put together a set list, but they’d never made a set list before. Why would they start now? Logan caught his eye with a slight jerk of his head in Esther’s direction. Dan raised his eyebrows, as if to ask, Now? Logan nodded.
Dan turned back to the audience, feeling how the whole room had settled after that last song. Not in a bad way—settling was a good sign. It wasn’t the awkward bustle of boredom; it was the lull of contemplation, the aftermath of a good song. He let his guitar swing loose in front of him and flipped the pick over the fingers of his right hand.
“So,” he began, stepping back up to the microphone, “some of you might not know this, but Esther and I go to boarding school together.” He turned to look at her, his mouth still against the microphone—he wanted to watch her expression. “And something I learned about her, that I did not know before, is that this girl can sing.”
He grinned half at her, half at the audience. Esther looked ready to kill. A wide smile was trapped on her face, but her eyes threw daggers at him.
“So we’re going to get Esther up here to sing a little something for you…”
The audience broke into applause as he stepped back from the microphone. A small pocket in the back corner by the counter started cheering her name, but Esther stood still by the bass amplifier, staring at him and laughing softly in disbelief. He nodded his encouragement to her, even unslinging his guitar and holding out his hand for the bass. She shook her head slightly and mouthed, “I’m going to kill you,” before giving up and handing him the bass guitar.
Dan watched as she stepped up to the microphone. She was being the quiet, indie, a little bit fragile girl in the rock cover band, not the girl she’d become at boarding school. He’d forgotten how vulnerable she could be, how soft and gentle compared to the strong, capable girl she was growing into. So what was this, an act? Or just slipping into habit? He watched her shake back the bracelets on her left wrist and lay her delicate fingers on the microphone for a moment.
“Well,” she said to the settled room. “I’m going to kill Dan later.” Rob and Logan chuckled a bit at that, and she glanced back at them. “I know you guys were behind this too, but Rob, I’m about to get my revenge.” He smiled and shrugged while some people whooped. She turned back to the audience.
“So I know we usually play alternative rock stuff, but I’m going to switch it up a little bit here. Rob’s going to go play keys on this song—” She looked at him pointedly here, waiting as he theatrically shuffled over to the keyboard. “And Rob, I know you know this song because your mom says you sing it in the shower.” The audience laughed. “This is a beautiful song by Sara Bareilles, and I really hope I can do it justice. This is ‘Gravity.’”
Rob started off with the first few notes, and Dan sat back on the amplifier as Esther began to sing. God, he loved the sound of her voice. Even after a year with Ravenlight, she never so much as hummed a backup vocal, so that late night in the Academy’s piano lounge with their friend Meg had been a revelation. The first thing he ever heard her sing was an old Simon and Garfunkel song, her voice strong and perfect as it rose and fell over the notes rising out of the grand piano. He thought of that moment now, remembering the way she smiled while her voice harmonized over Meg’s. He watched her rest her hands on the microphone, eyes closed as she pushed the rise and fall of the chorus. She had a light, effortless control over her voice that Dan had never quite learned, and her voice had just enough quaver to sound a little less than polished, making it sound and feel so real.
He caught Logan watching him stare at Esther, so he looked down at his guitar and dedicated himself to adjusting a knob. Logan knew, he was pretty sure, about him and Esther. Well, maybe he wasn’t that sure, but there was no sense in helping Logan along by staring at her if he only suspected it. He chanced a look back at Logan, and found him raising his eyebrows, impressed, as Esther nailed the bridge—a long, drawn out high note that wandered up higher without a breath. Dan smiled. Yeah, try not staring at that amazing girl.
She sang the last few lines of the song and stepped back from the microphone to tumultuous applause. She was smiling, her shy, hesitant smile that meant she was embarrassed and a little pleased. Dan straightened and met her near center stage, handing the bass to her as he pulled her into a quick hug.
“I’m proud of you,” he said into her ear.
“I’m still going to kill you,” she said softly.
He held her at arm’s length for a moment. “If I kissed you, would that make it better?” he asked, hoping the audience was loud enough that Logan and Rob wouldn’t overhear.
“Right now? I’d beat you to the ground—and you know I can.”
He laughed and wrinkled his nose at her. She wrinkled hers back and retreated to her corner of the stage while Dan took his place again at the microphone.
“Let’s hear it,” he called, and threw in some flourish, “for the lovely Esther Lynde.” The crowd roared back. Dan glanced back at the rest of the band and mouthed, “Ramp up?” They nodded. He turned back to the microphone, riding Logan’s drumbeat into the next song.