The Last Pretender

Pun. No one is who one seems to be. In the end, all cards will have to be played somehow. Drugs, Roses and Songs. But who's gonna win in this game of life and death? Original villains and female character. Angst/Hurt. Warning: graphic description of violence and rude language in later chapters.

1

It was raining in the city by the bay... a hard rain... hard enough to wash the slime...

If you visited the nightclub where Tessa was working, you could have coped for a few minutes that night maybe, half an hour at most. Hardly any longer. The place was somewhat gloomy, much more than usual, and smokey, more than usual too. Perhaps because Alejandro was having an important business meeting with two potential new associates. They were all smoking big cigars. The whole atmosphere would have discouraged the average client.

It was about ten in the evening and the nightclub had been exceptionally closed for the day. The cleaning team had thoroughly swept every single particle of dust from each and every little hidden corner and the wooden floor was now as new and shone a dark mahogany shade. All the chairs had been pulled up onto the tables. Fifteen tables and forty five chairs. No more. The nightclub offered some feeling of intimacy for the current clients and had filled the place just the same since the opening four months before.

The tables would be waiting the next day for their next share of clients and high class drinks. Beer had no place here. Fine liqueurs and strong alcohol were served to rich and demanding guests - the word "client" was not even adequate as each individual entering The Rose was first carefully screened by Seb or Matt, the body guards serving the nightclub master, Alejandro Fuentes.

The whole place was rather dark. Except, of course, for the soft halo confirming the presence of the piano and the two persons next to it, as well as the table where Alejandro and his guests were filling the area all around them with thick clouds of Havanas.

Tessa Harriman was on stage. She was a 5'6" rather slender woman, with a few roundish curves around the hips. Her hair was as black as raven feathers and her dark brown eyes were what had struck Alejandro the very first day he had met her. Her complexion was surprisingly very pale - knowing she had Latin blood running through her veins - which made it all the more contrasting with the color of her hair and eyes.

She had been performing at The Rose for nearly two months now. She was now rehearsing a new melody with the pianist, a big black man in his sixties with magical hands that were dancing on the black and white keys and producing the most entrancing tunes. From where she stood, she could not hear a word of the conversation between Alejandro and his visitors who were sitting at the other end of the big open space - and perhaps it was better she could not.

From time to time, Alejandro was turning his head, gave Tessa a stealthy glance, smiled, and then almost immediately turned his attention back to his guests. The way he looked at her made Tessa feel like she was the most beautiful girl around. Yet, she did not feel that way at all inside. The way she felt was far more negative than the appreciation the Rose's boss was granting her every day.

The 29 year old young woman tried to concentrate on the melody she was rehearsing but it seemed that tonight, she was definitely distracted and anxious. Old Bernie had failed to put her at ease although he had chosen the tunes she mastered most and enjoyed singing above all. However, even this tactic had failed.

The black musician had displayed an immediate sympathy for the newcomer since day one, and Tessa had returned the trust almost at once. They were the most appreciated attraction of the bar and clients were delighted when the lights would go down and the first notes would gently float away from the piano, even before the brunette appeared in some delicate halo next to the big black man.

But tonight she wanted to be somewhere else. Tonight she wanted to be someone else. Al wanted her around, so she had stayed. Obediently.

Yet how could she forget where she came from? What she was before? Why she had come here?

She was singing all right, but her mind was tortured by the thoughts that now kept her awake at night. Since she came here and became Alejandro's puppet, she had tried to convince herself that the real reason for the here and now was the right one and this was only a temporary situation. There was a plan at hand, a purpose for all this, an objective to her willingly-accepted slavery. And yes, she felt like a slave. But not Alejandro's. Although he treated her fairly and never abused her in any way, not even verbally, she felt trapped in the role she had agreed to play.

Tonight, Tessa was so tired. Exhausted. She wanted to go home. To her real home. To her former life. She turned to Bernie, gave him that faint little smile which was hers on such occasions, and resumed the song they had been rehearsing for the last couple of days.

"Sorry, Bernie, I'm not really in the mood tonight." she said, putting both hands flat on the piano.

"Don't worry, Miss Tessa." Bernie tried to reassure her, always calling her like she was the Lady ruling here. "D'you wish to try another song tonight? Maybe this one ain't the right one jus'now."

"It's OK, Bernie. Thanks. I'll manage. It's just that... never mind." she finally whispered.

She took the page with the lyrics and breathed a couple of deep breathes.

"Shall we try another one tonight?" she said inviting him to play again her favorite song.

Bernie knew she would get over this momentary bluesy mood as soon as she would start singing.

The moment his fingers hit the keys, she took a couple of deep breaths... preparing... anticipating.

Then the room filled with her warm and sensual voice, penetrating the soul of every person there. Alejandro and his visitors suddenly ended their conversation and turned to the source of the incredibly deep and jazzy voice, with her back to the public, who had started to perform a more-than-pro version of Summertime. It's only when she uttered with even more emotion the words "don't... you... cry..." while turning around and showing her face that Alejandro's guests displayed quite a bit of astonishment, realizing that the wonderful black voice they were hearing was emanating from a frail white girl. For a moment, no one dared to move and time seemed to freeze, as if to grant all attention to Tessa's performance.

When she finished her song, the three men at the table applauded and Tessa slightly bowed her head in gratitude before turning to Bernie and catching her breath. She whispered something to herself, something that not even Bernie could hear then headed for the backstage.

Al and his guests resumed their conversation.

Bernie went on playing some soft tune, discreetly looking in the direction where Tessa had gone, hoping she would be fine. The black man had found her a bit jumpy and nervous lately and he could feel in the way she had sung tonight that she was wearing her heart on her sleeves.

S*H ~ S*H ~ S*H ~ S*H ~ S*H ~ S*H ~ S*H ~

(TBC)

A/N: looking for a Beta reader before posting the rest of it; I wrote this a couple of years ago and I wish it to be clean and nice to read. Any volunteer? Please? Thanks to PM me if you're interested :-)