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Hope Lost and Love Found
A blinding flash. Skirts twirling. Thickening cigarette smoke. Shrieks of laughter. Spilt alcohol. Drunken smiles. The green crackle of money.
Thomas sat on a bar stool, his finger gently tracing the rim of his whiskey shot. His eyes scanned the maddening crowd of drunkards, his face twisted in cynical thought. Girls held onto red-faced men’s ties as they shrilled with laughter. The girl’s eyes were glistening through scandalously long eyelashes, their crimson lips curled into seductive smiles. The way their dresses fitted their bodies, their rouged cheeks, and the way their lushes curls framed their faces, was taunting. Thomas loosened his business tie and took a deep breath, breaking his heavy gaze, his finger still tracing his glass.
“Ya gonna drink that?” the bartender barked, scrubbing a champagne glass with ease and gesturing towards Thomas’s filled shot.
“Yeah,” Thomas mumbled.
“Son, it’s 1951, time to relax a little. It’s not like a Nazi’s gonna pop outta nowhere now,” the bartender smirked, shaking his head. Thomas only smiled with discomfort, taking note of his tensed and slightly hunched shoulders.
“When’s the show going to start?” Thomas asked snidely.
The bartender opened his mouth, but then closed it. He shrugged and gestured towards the stage. The curtains were being opened and the room’s lights dimmed.
A precarious hush echoed through the room. Women’s mouths were covered by men, eager to hear the show’s introduction. The stage lights flickered, a spot light centered itself. The room fell in a haunting silence, everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting for the show’s star to appear.
Thomas grumbled under his breath and rolled his eyes. Once the show would start, everyone would pick up where they left off. Maybe he didn’t want to see the show tonight. Maybe he was wasting his time. Maybe he should just go home.
Thomas grasped his whiskey and gulped it down as he stood from his seat. Fire raged down his throat, he closed his eyes and blinked. Stretching his neck to the side, he picked up his brief case and tightened his tie. He turned his back to the stage and tables filled with people chewing at their lips with excitement. He began to stride towards the exit.
Suddenly a voice rang through the room. Thomas stopped. The voice filled the room, filling every corner with sweetness.
“She’s a refugee, or was…she’s French. Family got themselves killed sometime in 1945. Too bad that’s her only solo tonight. So talented,” Thomas heard a woman whisper to her companion.
Thomas’s body forced itself around. Through the bobbing heads he could see her, her thin figure slipping into the background as a brunette danced her way into the spotlight.
Amongst the long-legged, flimsily-dressed women adorned in blue glitter, Thomas could see her. Her small face circled with dripping beads and light blonde curls. Her lips smiled slyly as she began to blend in with the other women.
Thomas stared, he could feel people eyeing him critically, but he didn’t care. His heart started to pump with anxiety. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, trying to stop the images before they could flood into his memory. They came anyway, like a violent wind thrashing against his skull.
Rebel. Blood stained cobble-stone. Gray clouds. Smoke dancing through deserted houses, now only resembling the skeletons of their owners. Gun shots. Explosions. Heat. Rage. Men falling against crumbling stone walls.
Thomas had taken refuge in a basement. A dark basement haunted by the sound of broken pipes, releasing drops of dirty rain water. Tears stuck to Thomas’s soot-smudged face. He fumbled his way, trying to escape from the battle outside. He assured himself that he wasn’t deserting. No, he was only taking a break. He only needed to reload his gone, yes, he convinced himself, he was only reloading his gun.
He squatted against a cellar’s blood-stained wall. Slowly and quietly he reloaded his gun. The house above him shook, causing dust to fall from the floorboards. Thomas swallowed hard, shutting his eyes as he heard his comrades shouting orders.
His eyelids stayed glued shut until all was silent. The air felt thin, hallow, as if it was being inhaled by a massive beast, never to be exhaled. In this air, Thomas heard soft words. He heard sweet words, comforting words, being softly murmured in a song.
Thomas got up, curiosity tempting him deeper into the basement. The voice pulled at him, tugged him into a deep trance. Nothing could take Thomas’s attention from the voice, not even the sounds of battle.
Tripping over glass bottles, Thomas made his way into another cellar. Darkness swallowed him, he began to feel uneasy. His foot stabbed into something soft. The singing stopped. Hushed voices whispered nervously. Thomas tilted his head, intrigued. He purposefully bumped his foot into the soft object again. He heard a soft gasp of pain.
A thin stream of light curved its way through the darkness as Thomas lit a match against the cellar’s wall. As plain as day, he could see a young woman with soft-blonde hair, clutching a child. Their bodies were crammed, hardly hidden, underneath a fallen shelf. The women’s eyes met Thomas’s, their gaze strong and bright. Thomas opened his mouth, but he couldn’t find words. All of the civilians were supposed to be gone, to have been evacuated.
“Thomas? Thomas!” A comrade yelled, tripping into the basement, bringing a drift smoothly extinguishing Thomas’s match.
Thomas couldn’t turn, his mind told him to leave, but his body wouldn’t move. He tried to speak again, but failed. His comrade shouted again, his voice echoing behind him. The women’s eyes could still be seen, faintly staring at Thomas’s trembling body.
The young women looked away, a hand grabbed Thomas’s arm and began to drag him. Thomas tried to explain himself. He’s comrade ignored him, anger coloring his face with a vibrant red. Protest began to rage through Thomas’s body. He yanked his arm from the comrade’s clutches once they had reached ground level. Someone needed to help the woman and her child. Thomas’s comrade wouldn’t listen.
Thomas tried to run back to the house, but he was too late. Fire. Dirt. Smoke. Ashes. Pain. Deafening explosion.
“Ya leavin’ or not?” the bartender inquired hotly.
“What?” Thomas droned, awakening from his flashback, his eyes still fixated on the place the woman had been dancing only moments before.
The bartender chuckled and disappeared into the depths of his bar. The song ended with a roar, the women disappeared off the stage. Wolf-whistles filled the room. Thomas’s surroundings came alive with noise once more.
Desperation. Want. Anxiety. Hope. Thomas suddenly began to feel overwhelmed by emotion. His legs jolted him towards the exit and into the street. Flashing dollar signs, risqué music, and sensual posters of women filled the streets. Thomas’s hands began to dampen, his head turning every which way, searching for the backstage door.
Thomas pushed his way through a mob of people being thrown from a closing casino. He could see the backstage door clear as day. His legs strode quickly with anxiety.
A sturdy man tripped, his face red from beer, blocking Thomas’s way. Thomas swore, as one by one girls began to exit from the door. One turned and began to lock it. Thomas’s heart skipped a beat, he had to see her. He tripped his way over the drunken man, carelessly shoving people out of his way.
“Excuse me,” a voice snapped as he threw himself towards the door, accidently hitting someone’s thigh. Thomas barely heard her, he almost kept going, but he stopped. He stopped and swerved in disbelief.
“What? You are the one who bumped into me,” the girl said defensively in a distinct French accent.
Thomas turned to face her. Her eyes caught his, the stare all too familiar. For what felt like the first time in years, Thomas smiled. Not only with his lips, but with his eyes. Her blonde curls framed her face perfectly, Thomas could feel his face grow red from awe at her simple beauty.
“Are you?” Thomas began, but couldn’t finish. The girl smiled coolly.
“Am I who?” She asked whimsically, the night lights shining in her eyes.
“I-” Thomas stuttered.
“You were the one who bumped into me,” she whispered sweetly.
From a distance, it appeared as if a lonely businessman with nothing better to do was taking home a show girl who had just finished her first night in working in Las Vegas. Yet, they were only strangers. Strangers with intricate pasts designed for fate to bring them together.