Paris, 2009.

If she hadn’t strayed so endlessly far from home, she thought and introduced the final song of the night with a small, glued-on smile and a throw of her head, she’d naturally never have seen her name written in gold letters beneath the great Edith Piaf’s on the posters that Yvette had spread out over all of the 9th arrondissement to announce their weekly events. She’d never have sung a single song in French, she’d never have known how you can long so horribly for the sound of your native language and she’d never have learned to hate her own hodgepodge of accent and difficulty when she sang Milord or Padam Padam. Shiori’s French was still, after almost two years in the city of light and love, a mostly moderate affair. She could sing the words and she might even understand the meaning of each one, but the feeling was gone - and sound without feeling was, when all came down to it, just sound. Her voice wasn’t grander or more unique than that.

At L’Ombre de Palais, however, they regularly failed to care about her accent or her artistic reservations. The club which had become the golden age band’s usual venue was a pseudo-authentic hotpot, they harvested from the popularity of the location and most of the guests were tourists, as to be expected, who themselves spoke a pronounced tourist-French, if they spoke the language at all. Shiori had taught herself to care for their pretentious manner, but she sometimes did miss the guys from London and the UK’s darker grit. Not that she ever regretted her move, it had been time.

The final number of the evening was an extended version of La Foule which Shiori herself had worked on, for months actually, woven fragments of her own Japanese translation into the original lyrics and put their trumpeter to work with a riff or two, depending on how the audience responded. It was one of the few songs in their repertoire that she felt 100 percent comfortable singing, that she knew she could squeeze every single drop out of and at the same time, it had proven surprisingly popular. Tonight was no exception, it received the biggest applause of the evening. Maybe people simply clapped, because the show was finally over, she was past the point of preventing herself from thinking in a fortunately brief, but still cold moment, before the spotlight flickered back in her face and she almost felt too hot in her little, black dress.

Usually the bar was open another couple of hours after the end of their concerts, so Shiori descended the round stage, left the cleaning-up for the others with a vague promise of returning in a moment and sat down at the first, free barstool she could find. Ordered a coke on the rocks.

“I liked you better in London,” a woman’s voice sounded behind her and the words were in English, British English. The voice was slightly hoarse and slightly dark, reminded her of marzipan coated in chocolate, offhand. She didn’t even have time to turn around, before the stranger slid into the seat next to her, as if the stool were a throne. She wedged her needle sharp stiletto into place against the foot rest’s metal. Shiori observed her curiously. She couldn't recall ever having seen her before and that hair… Oh, it was beautiful, that hair she wouldn’t forget so easily. Orange-golden, the exact same color as the sunset, just as shiny, just as nuanced.

“I think I might have liked me better in London, too,” she laughed in reply, likewise in English. Her stomach fluttered and she wasn’t sure it was a welcome sensation. Either it was too old or she herself was. Too old. Now. A bit uneasily, she pushed forward in her seat and disturbed the ice cubes in her glass with her straw.

“My name is Michelle Adkins,” the woman introduced herself finally and smiled. She had narrow lips, but completely white teeth. A true Colgate smile. “I play the piano and might be on the hunt for vocals just like yours, Shiori Enomoto.”

She pronounced Shiori’s family name in a wonderfully cute manner, where the E almost disappeared, sounding instead like a deep, elongated I-sound. Shiori couldn’t help smiling, she’d never in this very special way been headhunted before. So focused. So direct. With Yvette’s band, she was still in a sort of test period. She’d been so for a year already and the result never seemed to change, it felt. They played, she sang, but she remained a foreign element. In reality, she probably missed the feeling of being part of something. Of someone.

“Shiori, are you coming,” someone yelled from up on the stage and Shiori sighed. Searched through her purse in the hunt for a pen, while Michelle tore a piece of paper out of her calendar to scribble her number down on and as such, they exchanged their info in an efficient silence.

“You’ll hear from me,” Michelle promised and leaned in to kiss her airily by each cheek in a truly French fashion. Her perfume clung to Shiori’s hair in the waves of their brief intimacy, held a heavy and sharp scent. Their intimacy, their… Quickly, she stopped herself and instead stood up, even when Michelle remained seated next to the sad remains of Shiori’s coke, although Shiori straightened up to her fullest height, Michelle was almost taller than her. Almost.

“I’d appreciate that,” she answered and managed just barely to smile, just as she managed just barely to avoid stumbling, when she turned away and walked back towards the stage and her work, however much of a foreign worker she really was, when all came down to it.

And as such, they met each other both as strangers and as two familiar with each other, did Michelle and Shiori, because Shiori would no doubt have remembered Michelle’s red hair wherever she went afterwards, had she noticed her back in good old London Town - who knew, maybe she’d never have left for Paris in the first place, had she met Michelle back then. Later, on her way home along Boulevard des Capucines, it was Michelle’s hair she remembered most clearly, as well as her marzipan-darkened voice and her words. Her words… Maybe she was on the hunt for someone exactly like Shiori, she’d said. Maybe she was on the hunt. Maybe Shiori was once more desired and in demand. Wouldn’t it be for the first time in a decade?

Time was up. Maybe she could be daring. Again.

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