So, real talk, I don’t like Marilla’s stage name. It’s actually the third version of her stage name, because the first two were a little too flowery. I’m still not happy with this one. I like La Sirène as a surname, but so far we’ve gone through Lorelei, Nereid, and now Nerissa, and I am still not happy. Willing to take suggestions.
Lightning on the Sea, cont.
The rain continued through the night and well into the next day. This was unsurprising for this time of year. The combination of the weather, and the fact that the shop was closed Sundays and Mondays during the winter, helped Rilla reach the conclusion that there was nothing she should be doing other than staying at home where it was warm and tea was plentiful. When work eventually forced her to venture back out into the world, the early week and no pressing engagements meant that she stuck remaining in a warm, tea rich environment. By Wednesday the rain had subsided long enough to give way to fog, but at least promised to remain dry.
The heavy fog outside the window was matched by a heavier blanket of fragrant steam inside. Rilla lounged in the scented pink waters of the old clawfoot bath, her hair pinned up and wrapped in a kerchief. A bathtub large enough to soak in had been the primary draw to this location, aside from the price. The bathroom in this older home had never been updated other than to replace some of the leaking pipes, and it was the first time Rilla could think of where that worked in her favor. The huge, ancient tub fit her not-precisely-tiny figure just fine, with room to wiggle and stretch out. The heavy, perfumed peace was interrupted by a knocking on the door.
“There’s a bathroom on every floor, you have to be able to use a different one,” Rilla called out with some irritation.
“It’s Karin,” came an amused voice through the door. “Can I come in? I wanted an opinion on what to wear tonight.”
“Sure, but I’m not decent.”
Opening the door, Karin ducked in quickly before too much heat and steam could escape. “I’m never decent, why should I expect you to be?”
Rilla grinned and sat up a little in the tub. The bath bomb she’d used to scent the water had long since lost its foam, and the water wasn’t cloudy enough to cover her, so she decided she’d rather be upright then looking like she was trying to hide herself in clear water. “Fair enough. So what is your burning dilemma?”
Pausing, Karin looked Rilla over. “Wow. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you really look good naked.”
Arching an eyebrow, Rilla smirked. “Oh? Was I giving the impression otherwise?”
Karin looked suitably embarrassed. “I’m sorry, it’s just that most of the women I’ve seen without clothing are in my profession and fit a certain, well, body type. I guess I wasn’t sure what to expect from someone who was, um –“
Looking mortified, Karin shrank back. “I’m so sorry.”
Rilla waved her hand. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I suddenly put on weight yesterday, I’ve heard far worse, and I know you weren’t trying to be mean. I’ll just tell myself you’re jealous because I have bigger breasts than you.”
Laughter burst out of Karin. “Well, you’re right, you do. I could get way better tips with your rack.”
“Try not to eat yourself away with longing. Now, what did you need?”
“Advice on what to wear,” Karin said as she put down the cover on the toilet and sat. “I want to make a good impression if you’ll be introducing me to the other girls. What would best show them that I’m a kindred spirit and good potential recruit?”
Leaning back in the tub again, Rilla considered. “Well, let me think. Do you have anything a little vintage or rockabilly? That’s a popular fashion genre. Other than that, I would say aim for sexy but not slutty and you’ll be fine.”
Karin nodded. “All right. What do you wear to these shows?”
“Satin swing dresses. I have three that are almost identical save for their color, and I change them up with different accessories. Sometimes they do themed shows, and I’ll have to come up with different costumes for those.”
Karin looked interested. “Really? Is tonight a themed show?”
“No,” Rilla replied, grinning. “But we’re part of a big superhero burlesque show next week if you really want to see one.”
Karin’s expression brightened. “That could be fun!”
Across the bathroom, perched on the counter, Rilla’s phone began to beep.
“Oh, that’s my cue,” Rilla said, sitting up again. “Out you go, I need to hurry up and get out of here and we both need to get dressed. Shoo.”
Standing up, Karin gave a quick mocking curtsey and scooted out the door. Rilla watched her go, then sighed and crossed her arms over herself. She knew Karin hadn’t been trying to insult her, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t stung a little. Rilla grimly wondered what type of lumpy horror Karin – and probably other people – was imaging lived under her clothes. Hours before a show was not a good time to suddenly doubt your appeal, but sometimes it just happened. Closing her eyes, she took several deep breaths, and reminded herself that whether she was feeling sexy or not didn’t matter. People were counting on her to put on a good show.
Rising up, she let the water stream off of her for a moment before stepping out onto the mat. A quick toweling off, and a few minutes with the blow dryer through the scarf to eliminate the damp but not disturb the curls. Setting down the dryer, she wiped her hand across the mirror to remove the condensation and looked at her softly distorted face for a moment.
“You’re pretty,” she whispered to her reflection, wishing she could say it with more conviction. “And even if you weren’t, you have an amazing voice,” she added with far more confidence. “The crowd will love you.”
Another pause, and Rilla pushed off from the counter and wrapped herself up in an oversized towel before heading out of the bathroom, flipping the fan on as she left. She shivered in the sharp cold of the hall and hurried to her room. It wouldn’t be much warmer there, but at least there would be clothing, and the rush of getting ready would help her warm up.
It took around an hour for Rilla to apply her make-up, wiggle into her old fashioned, open bottom girdle, and secure her stockings. She had a weakness for the combination of stockings and garters – it helped with that whole “feeling sexy” dilemma. She then slid into a button down a-line dress. The satin dress didn’t travel well without wrinkling, so she’d have to change after they got to the club. The bag of accessories she would need for the night, along with a couple different pairs of shoes and make-up for touching up between acts, was ready and waiting by her door. Taking the scarf off her head, she unpinned her curls and fluffed them out a bit, pinning up her bangs into a proper crest and leaving the rest to curl and frame her face. A rather liberal amount of hairspray later, she was ready to grab a coat and head downstairs.
“You’re wearing that,” Karin asked as Rilla came into the foyer, laden down with her coat and satchel, and her dress in a garment bag.
“No,” Rilla answered, somewhat exasperated. “I don’t want to wrinkle my stage dress! This is just to get me there, they’ll have a dressing area at the club where I can change. All right, are you ready? Sveta should be here in a minute.”
“Ready as I’ll ever be. Who’s Sveta?”
Smiling, Rilla pulled on her coat. “Marie, aka Sveta Onatop. She seems to be my self-appointed liaison. I get along with all the girls just fine, but in the beginning I was a little uncertain and somewhat shy. Sveta took it upon herself to make sure I found my comfort zone. She also has a car and lives nearby, so has been my ride to almost every show.”
“Will she be okay with me?”
“Oh, yeah, don’t worry. I told her you’d be with me, and so long as one of us pays parking she’s fine with as many people will fit in her car.”
As predicted, Sveta arrived in short order, her car cleaned out (for once) in anticipation of an extra passenger. Introductions were made, and everyone loaded in. The drive to LSC was a little bit slow going simply because of the time of day in which they were trying to make it. Too early for evening traffic, but still thickly congested with people trying to get home from work or on their way to dinner. Still, they got down there with time enough to spare and Rilla offered to pay for the parking at the more convenient but also more expensive lot.
Getting up to the club, they found the door had been left just slightly ajar, so they let themselves in. The stage was still being assembled and Tracy – or as the world better knew her, Sapphire Star – was gathering the girls and going over the night’s line-up.
“Hey, Sapphy,” Sveta called out as they walked in. “We’re here! Oh, and Nerissa brought a friend. If you’re short on stage fairies she might be able to stand in for you.”
Sapphire flipped her magnificent blue-black mane over her shoulder and smiled at the entering group. Rilla had, over the time of their association, slowly gotten over her deep depression rooted in the fact that she would never – barring severe plastic surgery and ocular implants – be the raging bombshell this woman was. Sapphire was close to forty, but you would never know it from looking at her. Aside from the magnificent Snow White worthy hair, she had large crystal blue eyes, full lips, flawless skin, and the most amazingly inked full back tattoo Rilla had ever seen or heard of. It was a pair of biomechanical wings, white and luminous against a swirling night sky illuminated by stars.
Shaking off this reflection – because further thoughts along this line would force her to admit that, maybe, she wasn’t over her jealousy entirely – Rilla smiled as they approached. “Hi, Sapphire. This is my friend Karin. She was interested in the troupe, so I brought her with me.”
Smiling, Sapphire waved them closer. “Fantastic! Get over here; we’re going over the night. Karin, nice to meet you – we don’t need any more fairies tonight, but if you want to get involved you could volunteer for our next show.”
Sapphire didn’t wait for an answer, but turned back to the rest of the group and finished walking through the night. It looked like Rilla would be on three times, possibly four if the belly dancer didn’t hurry up and get there. Thankfully, Rilla was well prepared, and would not be lacking for songs or music if called upon for more.
The meeting was declared adjourned, and everyone was shooed off to finish getting ready. Rilla placed all of her props and made sure she was set for the night. It didn’t take that long – compared to the dancers, Rilla’s gear took up a fraction of the room and was relatively simple. A faux fur jacket, a few ropes of pearls, an ostrich feather boa, a feathered fascinator with an attached veil that came down over the face, and a couple pairs of gloves. Some days she brought extra dresses, but tonight was a bit of a slower show, and they weren’t expecting a great turn out. One learned to save effort for the times it would be rewarded.
Once settled, she headed out of the changing area and sought out Karin, whom she found going through introductions with a couple of the girls who had gotten in earlier and were already set. Rilla smiled – Karin would probably insinuate herself pretty well into this group. She wasn’t the first woman to consider this transition in professions. The money wasn’t as good, but it was generally accepted as being more rewarding.
As she came in closer, Karin greeted Rilla with an excited smile. “Hi! You look great!”
Rilla returned the smile with a surprised but genuine one of her own. “Thank you! So, since you’re here and you’re not needed, we should scout you a table. One close to the stage but near the edge so that I can come and keep you company between sets.”
“And make sure Chris and his friend are enjoying themselves,” Karin asked archly, and Rilla froze.
“I forgot. Oh, icy hell, I forgot they were coming,” Rilla exclaimed, reaching up and almost running a nervous hand through her hair but catching herself before she messed up her careful coif. “I can’t believe I forgot. I’m about to give one of my most minimal-effort performances when people specifically wanted to come and see me perform.”
Wincing, Karin reached out and set her hand on Rilla’s arm in an attempt to be comforting. “It’ll be alright. You do look great, and I’m sure you’ll still put on a good show.”
Closing her eyes for a moment, Rilla sighed and shook her head. “I’m an idiot. And it’s too late to do anything about it now. All right, fine, let’s find a table that seats four.”
The task was easily and quickly accomplished, as there were really only a couple tables that would seat more than two. The doors to the club were opening now, and the bartenders were ready to take on customers, so Karin sauntered over to get herself a drink before the rush and Rilla said her goodbyes and made her still-embarrassed way to the backstage area to await the start of the show. Once she got away from the main area, Rilla tried to hide her encroaching misery by going over her accessories and confirming her song order for the show. She felt a grim certainty that the evening would completely destroy whatever favorable impressions she had made on Saturday. She was also capable of acknowledging that she was probably blowing things far out of proportion, but that didn’t help her current state of mind.