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Tom tugged on the collar of his coat in a vain attempt to thwart the relentless wind. He braced himself to turn the corner and head directly into it. Once he did the ice crystals hiding in the snow bit him like razors. Since he had to hold his hat on his head anyway, he was able to use his arms to help protect his face. The roads were basically deserted. The few brave souls that were out competed for space along the walls. Tom wondered if anyone would be in O’Malley’s.
As soon as he opened the outer door to the alcove, he was greeted with sweet heat and raucous cheers. “You can’t let a little thing like a nor’easter keep an Irishman away from a bar on a Friday night,” he mused. He shook the ice and snow off his coat and stamped his feet before walking through the inner door.
“Birdman!” screamed Jimmy Barnes. Several of the guys crowded around the bar ran over to greet Tom, slapping him on the back and ushering him to a seat of honor in front of the main plasma screen behind the bar.
The previous evening, the championship basketball game of the Boston Pub League was held, pitting O’Malley’s against their arch from the Emerald Grill. With two seconds to go in overtime, Tom launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key that settled softly into the net just as the buzzer sounded: O’Malley’s 57 — Emerald Grill 56. The nickname Birdman was bestowed on Tom in honor of Larry Bird of their beloved Celtics.
“Anything he wants, Kelly!” yelled Dave England.
“You got it!” answered the bartender, winking at Tom.
“Tommy! Give your uncle a hug,” yelled Matty above the din.
Matthew Colin O’Malley owned the bar and became Tom’s substitute father when his own dad died ten years earlier fighting one of the worst fires in Boston in the last fifty years. Tom smiled and hugged his gregarious uncle.
“Did you see the faces on those fuckers when that ball sailed through the hoop? I thought they were gonna cry like babies!” he said laughing.
“Lucky shot,” Tom replied humbly.
“Luck, huh? That’s why you’re Irish, laddie!” Matty answered. He looked up just in time to see LeBron slash to the basket and get fouled. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”
Tom shook his head and turned back toward the TV.
Almost everyone’s attention was focused on the game showing on four of the five screens in the bar. The Celtics were leading the Cavaliers 93 to 92 with four and a half minutes to go. LeBron James was unstoppable, but so was Paul Pierce for the Celts. On the far right of the bar was the fùtbol TV, the only conventional television in the bar. It was reserved for soccer, tennis and any other sport that didn’t involve the Celtics, Red Sox or Bruins. According to Matty, those were the only real Boston teams. He considered the Patriots nothing more than suburban yuppie wannabees and no protest, no matter how loud could convince him otherwise. He very reluctantly allowed the Patriots on his main screens ONLY if none of the other real teams were playing.
During a commercial break, the noise subsided just enough so that Tom picked up what sounded like piano music coming from the rear of the bar. O’Malley’s had a small stage at the back that was occasionally used for karaoke. There was a somewhat dilapidated piano on the stage, but it was usually out of tune and was generally only used by wandering drunkards hammering out some horrid ballad. Whoever was playing was no barfly. Tom was stunned to hear a skilled and soulful rendition of Memphis Slim Chatman’s, “Whiskey Drinking Blues.”
Tom was a pretty fair amateur musician. He earned his way through Boston University playing in garage bands on the weekends and picking up any wedding or bar mitzvah that would have him. He played keyboards and sang, and occasionally his old group would get together and rock O’Malley’s until the wee hours of the morning.
“Hey, Tommy! Great game last night, man,” said a smiling Jack Minton, grabbing Tom’s hand and pulling him into a hug.
Tom gave Jack a half smile and excused himself to fight through the crowd to find out who the dude was that was making love to the piano. The crowd was packed pretty tight, and it took him a couple of minutes to break through the wall of humanity. When he did, he was stunned to see the back of a petite young woman with long brown hair sitting at the keyboard.
Matty walked over to Tom with a huge, proud grin on his face. “Ain’t she something?”
“Who is she?” Tom asked, spellbound by both the music and the woman.
“It’s the damnedest thing,” Matty answered. “Right after I unlocked the doors this morning, this sainted vision of loveliness comes in, finds me and asks if she can rent the piano. I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. I thought she wanted to take it to a party or something. Then, she explains that she used to work clubs where the owner would rent her the piano so she could keep all the tips. I asked her to sit and play something. She took off her coat, Tommy, and began playing the tenderest version of “Danny Boy” that I heard in all my life. I get choked up now just thinking about it. When she finished, she turned to look at me with these big brown eyes and this shy smile. Son, bahis şirketleri my heart just melted away. I told her that not only would I pay her to play but that she could keep all the tips and all her food and drink would be comped. Then, I called up ol’ Billy Sullivan and told him that if he didn’t haul his sorry butt over here today and tune this piano, I was calling in his entire tab to be paid at once.” Matty chuckled and added, “Needless to say, he figured it was easier to drive through the storm than it was to try and scrape together enough dough to pay his overdue bar bill!” Matty looked over at Tom and saw the wide-eyed look on his nephew’s face, shook his head and went back to work.
Tom walked over to the table nearest the piano, sat down and rested his chin on hand, totally enthralled. The woman turned her head when he sat down and looked at him through the tawny bangs that fell into her eyes. Only one other table with an older married couple was paying attention to the music. To Tom, the entire rest of the world just fell away.
Her repertoire was astonishing. She moved so easily from the blues to jazz to rock that Tom was envious of her talent. He noticed she was playing the pedals barefoot. He also noticed the slinky navy floral print dress rode two-thirds the way up her willowy thighs as she played.
When she stopped to take a break, Tom and the other couple applauded enthusiastically, and she flashed them a smile that was both grateful and unsure that she deserved the praise. Tom’s heart started racing when she began walking straight toward him. She stopped at the other side of the table and picked up her glass to sip what looked like sparkling water through a straw. He hadn’t noticed either the glass or her purse resting on the opposite chair.
“Bravo! Bravo!” Matty cried as he approached the table. “Well, I see you met my nephew.”
The woman stopped sipping and smiled warmly at Matty, easily accepting Matty’s hug. Her unblinking gaze returned to Tom as she said, “No, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”
“Well, then, Tommy Callahan meet Laura Schlesinger.”
She extended her hand, and Tom grabbed it and kissed. “It is an honor to meet the owner of these gifted fingers.” Laura smiled as she sat.
“You know, Laura, Tommy’s a musician too, so you two have a lot in common.” She merely held her gaze. “Hey! Knock that shit off!” Matty yelled to a couple of soccer fans getting into each other’s face and screaming. “How come you have to be an asshole to be a soccer fan?” Matty asked as he ran off to prevent a fight from breaking out.
“So, you’re a musician, huh?”
Tom squinted his eyes and answered, “I used to think so … until I heard you play. Tonight, I have been seriously humbled. Where did you study? Longy? The Conservatory?”
“No,” she answered chuckling.
Tom looked confused. “What’s so funny?”
“I’m … self-taught,” she said with a self-conscious grin.
“Self-taught!” Tom said, sitting back in his chair. “I’m confused. How does someone with no formal training play like that?”
Laura set her glass down and answered, “It’s hard to explain really. When I hear the music, I just know what to do. I … just play.”
Tom’s eyes grew wide. “Like that? Laura, I’ve known really good musicians who studied and practiced for years who couldn’t even dream about doing what you just did.”
She was never comfortable being in the spotlight, and Tom’s admiration was making her uneasy. She rose suddenly and said, “Well, break’s over. I guess I better get back to work.”
Tom wrinkled his brow. “I’m sorry, Laura. Did I embarrass you?”
She looked at the floor and answered, “No. I, uh, just need to … uh …”
Tom stood up and grabbed her hands. “Please accept my apology. I shouldn’t have been so nosy.” She looked up at him and gave him a reticent smile. “Believe me; I’ll be very happy keeping my trap shut and listening to you play.” Her smile widened, and the look between them lingered as she edged her way back to the stage. Tom stretched out his long legs, folded his arms, sat back in his chair, and smiled the rest of the night listening to Laura play.
As Laura slowly learned to relax around Tom, he got to know a little bit more about her over the next couple of weeks. She didn’t play every night. Laura was a computer programming consultant, and she often had to go out of town on assignments. But, whenever she was there, Tom seated himself front row center. O’Malley’s became an oasis for Laura. Matty was crazy about her, and the crowds slowly grew on the night she played. Tom was becoming more enchanted by the day.
“I loved what you did with ‘Tumbling Dice,'” Tom said with a smile when Laura sat at what had become their table during a break. She smiled broadly having learned to accept Tom’s many compliments with grace. “I would never have thought of making those changes in the bridge.”
They talked as usual during the break, but as Laura made her way make to the stage, she stopped and turned to Tom. “You want to join me?”
“Yes,” she said chuckling. “You see any other keyboard players hanging around?”
“I bahis firmalar don’t see ANY other keyboard players when you’re in the room.”
Laura rolled her eyes and walked back to him. She grabbed his hand and started hauling him toward the stage. “Something tells me you’re way better than you pretend.”
Tom thought for a minute and then went over to turn on the amplifier. He adjusted the microphone so it hung over the piano bench. He sat down, and Laura joined him on the side of the bench. Tom began whistling into the microphone, and the crowd applauded at the familiar introduction to Billy Joel’s, “The Stranger.” Those watching might not have noticed, but Tom was very intimidated at playing in front of Laura. He chose this song because it had been one of the staples of his garage band days, and he’d played it about a 1,000 times.
Laura was fascinated at how the crowd reacted to the combination of his playing and his singing. When he got to the end of the song, he got an enthusiastic reaction. “You seem to have a fan club,” she said to him as she smiled.
Tom shrugged. He was embarrassed that he got a bigger applause than had been given to Laura. “I basically live here,” he explained. “They’re just being polite so Matty won’t throw them out.”
She continued to smile at him with the wheels rolling in her head. “No, it’s more than that. You’re good. They know it, and they like it.” Now, it was Tom’s turn to stare at the floor and mumble.
Her eyes swept from the crowd and back to him. She arched one eyebrow and, with a devilish grin, asked, “They like Billy Joel, huh?” She asked Tom if he would mind moving, and she stood shoving the bench back hard with her leg to get it out of her way. Then, she launched into the lightening-quick prelude of “Angry Young Man,” playing to absolute perfection. The crowd near the piano exploded into such a mammoth roar that everyone in the bar stopped what they were doing and focused on the music blazing from the piano at the rear of the bar. One die-hard Celtic fan yelled when the Paul Pierce threw down a monster dunk and was nearly assaulted when half the bar angrily screamed at him to shut the hell up.
While she worked her way through the prelude, Tom reached up to unhook the microphone from the stand. As soon as she got to the verse, Tom began belting out the song. She’d been concentrating so hard on her playing that she was unaware he had grabbed the mike. She threw back her head howling in delight when he started singing, and she got even more into the song. The blending of Tom’s vocals and the stunning brunette virtuoso’s playing brought the whole bar to its feet. The crowd rocked and stamped and swayed to the pulse of the music. By the time Laura got to the blinding staccato finale, the audience gave them a deafening ovation worthy of Billy Joel himself. Tom and Laura looked at each with wall-to-wall grins. He bowed, Laura curtseyed, and they hugged each other with both of them laughing uproariously. After that, no one in O’Malley’s gave a rat’s ass about the Celtics. The crowd shouted song requests at them all night until Matty came down, took the mike from Tom and exonerated them. “Don’t any of you have homes? Now, get the hell outa here … until tomorrow, that is!” he added with a hearty laugh. The crowd gave Tom and Laura one more zealous ovation. Tom and Laura put their arms around each other’s shoulders and bowed a final time before applauding the audience in return to thank them for their enthusiasm.
Laura turned to Tom with a smile that looked like a kid’s on Christmas morning. “That was so much fun! You have an incredible voice!”
“My best concerts are usually in the shower … at least until my neighbor bangs his shoe on the wall and screams at me to give him some fucking peace,” Tom said laughing.
Matty rushed over to them, gushing, and said, “Thanks, kids! Laura, I’ve owned this bar for 35 years, and I’ve never seen a crowd respond to music like that!” He looked at the goblet that was overflowing with so many bills they were spilling onto the floor. “That pretty much says it all. Tommy, you need to make sure this lovely lass gets home safe, okay?” Then, he hustled off to help Kelly get the place closed.
“Well, you heard the man. Which direction are you?” Tom asked.
“Thanks, but that’s not nec …”
Tom put up a hand to stop her. “In O’Malley’s, no one argues with Matty. So …”
She smiled and shook her head. “Two blocks east, off Revere.”
Laura was a bundle of energy all the way to her apartment. “I think my playing’s always been too clinical. This, tonight, was from the gut. It was raunchy and raw and … so damn much fun! Can we do this again?”
Tom was laughing hysterically at her eagerness. “Absolutely! Any time.”
She squealed and hugged him. “Well, this where I get off,” she said when they reached the portico at the entrance to her building.
“Are you coming tomorrow?”
Her face fell. “No. I have to be in Philadelphia in the morning, but I’ll be back late Friday if you’re free.”
Tom grinned. “I’ll make myself free.”
Laura squealed again and kissed Tom on the cheek. “Great! It’s gonna be a long week, kaçak bahis siteleri but I’ll see you Friday.” Then, she ran into her building. Tom couldn’t stop smiling all the way home.
On Friday, Tom was sitting at the bar, munching on pretzels and watching “Sports Center,” when a familiar voice greeted him.
“Hey, stranger,” Laura said as she removed her coat.
Tom turned, broke into a huge smile, jumped off his stool and hugged her. “I’m so glad you’re here. This place has been a tomb since you left,” he said.
She surveyed the rowdy crowd and answered, “So, I see.”
He offered her his seat, since the bar was packed. “Please, have a seat. What can I get you?”
“Just a seltzer and lime, please.” Tom hustled around the bar to fix her drink himself. Then, he returned to stand beside her.
“Are you hungry? Aldo made a great brisket.”
She cocked her head and asked, “How is he with fish and chips?”
He put his hand to his heart and answered, “The best in Boston.”
She smiled and responded, “Okay. One fish and chips.”
Tom smiled and said, “You’re gonna be hooked!” He hustled off to the kitchen to submit the order.
When he returned, she said, “You don’t have to wait on me, you know. Matty has hired people to do that.”
“It’s not the same, love. None of them have shared a stage with you. Speaking of which, just let me know when you’re ready.”
“As soon as I get some food in me. I just landed a little over an hour ago and stopped by the apartment only long enough to toss in my bag before coming straight here.”
He grinned and said, “Couldn’t stand to being away from us, huh?”
She chuckled and replied, “Something like that.”
Before Tom could say anything else, Aldo came over and placed the steaming plate in front of her. “Here you are, miss. Tommy come back and says to me that I have to make everything fresh for ya. If I use anything from the warmer, he says he’s gonna kick my ample ass! So, bon appétit!” he said with a wink.
Laura poured on some malted vinegar and placed a bite in her mouth as Tom watched. “Well?”
She sighed. “The best in Boston.”
“What’d I tell you?!”
“Laura!” shouted Matty upon spying her at the bar. He hustled over to hug her. “This one here’s been moping around like a dog without a bone since you left!”
Tom turned red and said to Matty sarcastically, “Gee, thanks, Uncle Matty!” Laura laughed so hard she had to cover her mouth with her napkin.
Matty threw out his hands and asked, “Well … am I lying?”
Tom turned to the television and asked, “So, Laura, who are you picking for the playoffs?”
“He’s so full of shit!” Matty declared.
“I get that from my uncle,” Tom shot back. Laura laughed hard, finding the interplay between them very entertaining.
“So, do you feel like playing tonight?”
As she laughed, Laura answered, “I’ve been looking forward to it all week.”
Matty let out a hoot and shouted to the bar patrons, “Hey, all you cheapskates! Laura’s gonna play for us tonight, so don’t spend quite all of your unemployment checks on whiskey! Save some of it for tips!” Many people in the earlier crowd turned to her and clapped. She smiled and acknowledged their applause. Then, Matty was off slapping backs and making lame jokes.
“Your uncle is quite the character,” she remarked to Tom.
“Yes,” Tom said looking at him work the crowd. “My mom always said she regretted dropping him on his head so many times when he was a baby, but without that he’d have no charm at all.” Laura laughed even more.
After she ate, she said, “Please tell Aldo that he truly is the master! So, you ready to do this thing?”
“Definitely!” As they made their way to the stage, Tom asked, “So, what’re we gonna open with.”
“Are you familiar with much of the Allman Brothers?”
Tom grinned. “I could sing them in my sleep.”
Laura smiled. “Okay, just follow my lead.”
Once they were settled, Tom announced, “Ladies and gentlemen … wait … we don’t have any gentlemen in here!” The men booed and cat-called while the women laughed and nodded in agreement. “It is my distinguished honor to give you … the one … the only, O’Malley’s pride and joy … Laura Schlesinger!” The crowd roared. Laura looked at Tom and mouthed, “You’re bad!” Then she bowed to the audience and broke into a totally unruly version of “Statesboro Blues.” As before, the crowd quickly forgot about everything else.
In the middle of the song, Laura started jamming with some electrifying blues riffs. Tom had secretly called two of his buddies to hurry down to the bar. When she started riffing, he motioned for Clarence to come to the stage. Clarence pulled out his sax and started trading licks with her. She lit up like a Christmas tree when she realized what was happening. Tom’s smile couldn’t get any bigger as he winked at her. Before long, Bobby joined them and pulled out his Fender Stratocaster that had been hidden beside the piano and whipped off some wicked blues licks, complete with an aspirin bottle slide. The crowd was on its feet. Tables and chairs were quickly pushed back, and several couples danced and rocked to the beat. Matty, always the business man, opened the outer doors so the music could spill onto the sidewalk. Before long, the place was packed to the brim. The quartet kept the house rocking until well past the normal closing time.
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