Susie left Simon’s table and crossed the speakeasy toward the bandstand.
The club was dusky, smoky, chock-full with people. She knew most of these people, at least by sight. The smoke and the soft light had become so familiar to her that they now wrapped around her like a warm protection.
She squeezed in between two men standing beside a table with cocktails in hand. One of them winked at her. She smiled back but didn’t stop. The show would start momentarily. Susie found a chair waiting for her by the bandstand and sat, watching the crowd ease off the dance floor as the band finished their number. As always, before the show, her heart beat faster. She liked that sensation. The music embracing her, taking control of her body — it lit a flame inside her every single time.
She watched her fellow dancers take their positions on a line of chairs on the other side of the dance floor, all dressed in yellow and showing off their legs and shoulders. All sporting black bobs adorned with white feathers.
Susie dropped her gaze to her hands as she fanned her fingers. Even her nails were polished red. Red like her lips and her dress. It took her a while, but she had become accustomed to her new look. She actually liked it, now. Her fingers were steady, didn’t tremble like the first time she danced right here in this club. Was it only two years ago?
She looked across the floor for Simon. He sat in the dusk of the far corner, his face lit by the golden glow of the stained-glass lamp on the table, a finger tapping his cocktail glass at the rhythm of the fading music.
He smiled at her when their gazes met. A small smile curled the corners of Susie’s mouth.
She raised her chin and straightened her back. The song died out and the murmur of customers took over.
A brush on her shoulder, and she thought a feather might have fallen from her headband. Its gentle touch breathed down her back, causing a shiver that wasn’t unpleasant, but when she turned, she saw no stray feathers. Her gaze then rose to the entrance by its own accord.
That’s when she saw him.
Only people familiar to the doorman would enter, or people introduced by a customer, and she had never seen this man before. Lithe and willowy and dressed in a grey suit with a matching fedora, a grey coat draped on his shoulders. A black man with black curly hair reaching past his shoulders — and she was staring at him.
She tore her gaze away and saw his companion, taller, bigger and watchful. He wore a black suit, black fedora, black long coat and when he stopped beside his friend and leaned to speak to him, Susie saw he wore his dark hair in a long braid on his back.
Back in China, all men wore their hair in braids even longer than that, but she had never seen it here in Chicago. Simon didn’t wear it like that.
And this man was not Chinese.
Her gaze moved back to the black stranger in the grey suit. She couldn’t look away. Was he really a stranger? Hadn’t she seen him before?
Don’t stare, that’s so rude.
The music burst alive. Susie started and jumped up, joining the dance a second later.
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