|Masahiro Sumori, Wikimedia Commons|
The bluesman's name was Billy Leeds. He was white and heavyset. He had white hair that peeked out from the Panama Jack hat he always wore, a pink unlined face, the dark glasses. He remained seated when he performed, probably because of his weight.
Daniel had introduced Natalie to him once. This was when Natalie had flown down to New Orleans for the extended Labor Day weekend. Daniel's wife had been away, visiting her mother in a nursing home in Kansas.
"I wouldn't have the guts to meet him alone, but I hear he likes the ladies," Daniel had said in the riverside tavern, where Billy Leeds had been doing a hometown show. Daniel had steered Natalie to the eminent bluesman, using Natalie as a sort of shield or badge.
Natalie had smiled kindly at Billy Leeds, with admiration but not with desire. Billy Leeds had asked her where she was from.
"Virginia," Natalie had chirped.
"Virginia..." Billy Leeds had said, not letting go of her small hand, holding it firmly in his meaty one. "I've played there. It's very lush."
Later, Natalie had said she wondered how Billy Leeds knew that Virginia was "lush" if he couldn't see. Then she'd said that he'd probably used the word "lush" as a double-entendre, because he'd been fondling her hand as he'd said it.
That was last year. Now here they all were again--Daniel, Natalie, and Billy Leeds--at that same tavern, another show. Only everything was different.
Daniel had a crisis of conscience and ended the affair. Natalie spent the next five months sending him sad poetry through e-mail, drunk-dialing him late at night, and boasting to Daniel about all the reckless casual sex she was having. "What? You're 'over' me, right? So I can tell you about this stuff. I can talk to you about it, as a 'friend.'"
Of course Daniel saw right through it.
For a while she'd seemed better. She'd gotten a new, high-paying job. She'd started doing yoga, got a stylish new haircut and dyed it auburn. She was volunteering at an elementary school.
He'd agreed to see her at the Billy Leeds show. Because she'd seemed so much better.
Now she was drunk and sitting on Billy Leeds's lap. They'd been invited to the after-party, thanks to Natalie's flirting.
She was loving this, his watching her.
Daniel was aware that she was putting on a show for him. Facing Daniel, her legs draped across Billy's expansive lap, Natalie coiled around the bluesman. Billy was touching her skin, his fingertips grazing her thighs, her bare arms. He was doing all this while talking to a group of fawning admirers.
Daniel saw Billy start to trace Natalie's face with the fingers of his left hand. When his finger rested on the plump pillow of her lower lip, Natalie promptly sucked on it, and Daniel took a deep swig of beer.
Sitting with his back against the wall of the dressing room, Daniel sipped his beer and thought of something. It was from last year. Natalie drunk and putting on a little show for him. In their hotel room--her hotel room; he'd returned each night to the house he shared with his wife; his wife was out of town but this was his way of staying loyal to her. Natalie had fumbled with the clock radio until she'd found a station playing classic rock. She'd done a striptease for him, twirling her T-shirt above her head before flinging it to the floor with a flourish. Normally shy Natalie, drunk.
He'd taken her to a strip club earlier that evening last year, and he'd known she hadn't liked it when his eyes were on the other girls instead of her.
In the hotel room, she'd had his attention all to herself. She'd revelled in it. It was the happiest he ever saw her.
She cackled and threw her arms around Billy's thick neck. Billy's fingers slithered underneath her shirt.
So what, was she planning to try to fuck him, or what? Was that the plan?
She knew Billy Leeds was his favorite. Was she trying to corrupt that, to take it away?
Natalie could be creatively evil. Maybe she'd thought beyond hooking up--maybe she'd even hoped Billy Leeds would write a song about her. That way, Daniel would have to hear it--Daniel bought all of Billy Leeds's albums--and think about what he'd lost.
Daniel would have to listen to the new Billy Leeds song about Natalie, the girl who slept with a blind man in order to be seen.