So, as I stated in the summary, this is my entry for badeprompts' final round writing challenge. I really enjoyed writing this, despite the research that I had to do to make this story somewhat credible.
Prompt: a perfumed sleeve
London, January 1927
The sun was slowly making its grand appearance as it peeked through the horizon when a man, looking very dapper in his coat and slacks, was holding his best friend of twenty three years (and lover of two) close. She was holding him just as tightly, still not used to the fact that his work as a world-renowned maestro required him to travel to other places for certain periods of time.
"Must you go? A year is quite a long time. The longest you've gone, actually." Victoria lamented, clutching at his lapel. Beck heaved a light sigh as he smiled a bit at her.
"All aboard to Paris!"
"Time will pass quickly, my dear, I assure you of that." He placed a chaste kiss on her forehead to reassure her. "I shall write to you, if that would serve to ease your troubled mind."
The horn blew, giving all of the passengers the go signal to come on board the ship. Victoria, still in tears, kissed Beck on the cheek and lingered there for a while. She tiptoed on her kitten heels and whispered in his ear, "I shall be here waiting when you come back. I love you, my dear."
"As I love you." He forced it out of his systems. He tried to love her like he did before, but his attempts were futile. "Please, do not wait for me. It is not needed; I shall return home safely." He kissed her forehead once more before picking up his suitcases and going on board.
Paris, January 1927
After hours of simply staying put in the small cabin they offered him (he had horrible tolerance for sea faring), the ship finally docked by the harbor point of their destination. Antsy to reach solid land, he was the first one to leave the ship. He waited for his luggage before setting off in the hansom cab that was sent for him. His nausea from the boat did not waver; the carriage passing the cobblestone pathways mimicked the ship bouncing on the waves.
He moved from the cab to the train, and seeing that he had hours to spare, he slept somewhat peacefully in his place in the train. The workers on the train woke him up and offered him food in the middle of the ride, and he devoured that quickly, only now noticing that he hadn't eaten since morning.
According to the letter that they had sent him, he was given a decent, fully furnished room in an inn that was a walking distance from the opera house where he can live comfortably for a year. They had also offered to pay for all of his expenses, which he gladly and graciously accepted. Don't get him wrong, Beck was a very well-off man, but he also learned to take advantage of golden opportunities such as these.
He was not to work until the morrow, so he spent his time arranging his clothes and belongings in their proper places. He also set out his reams of paper, quills, seals, wax and bottles and bottles of ink on the desk across his bed in case inspiration would strike him in the middle of the night (or if he would be compelled to write to Victoria, but it would probably only be a onetime thing).
He set out on foot for nearby food stands, buying bread, fruits, vegetables, spices, milk, meat and fish to last him for about a week. He also stopped by a patisserie to satisfy his sweet tooth, taking home a box of assorted sweets with cinnamon buns, muffins and chocolate croissants. He went back to the inn, made himself a dinner of chicken and sliced bread and had a cinnamon bun for dessert before readying himself for bed.
The abominable birds woke him up from his very peaceful slumber. He had dreamt of an immaculate lady, her dress made out of the smoothest silk and the finest linen, and her neck was adorned with pearls and jewels. She was walking right in front of him. He had reached out to touch her shoulder, but his hand went through the lady, making him retreat his hand in fear.
He didn't even see her face.
Grumbling, he dragged himself out of bed, having half a mind to fill the bird feeder outside the window with crushed mothballs. He got ready for his first day at the opera house, taking his time to bathe and dress appropriately. With his suitcase filled with sheet music and fountain pens, he grabbed a muffin before he went downstairs and walked towards the opera house, whistling a tune as he did.
"Do my eyes deceive me? Is this our new maestro?" The manager of the opera house greeted. Monsieur Erwin had a balding head and a graying beard. He was a slightly hefty man, but very jolly and polite. Beck chuckled at the warm welcome and shook hands with him.
"Why, yes, I am. What do you want me to do, monsieur?" Beck asked politely, trying to use the little French that he knew. He attempted several times to learn the beautiful language, but always ended up side tracked and only little would he retain from his self-study.
"Please, just call me Erwin. I shall introduce you to the performers; the ballerinas, singers and the actors, and I want you to be well acquainted with the orchestra. You, being our maestro, will conceptualize the plot, music and possibly direct the whole production. All of our previous performances were exquisite, and I hope that you see to it that yours will just as exceptional."
"I will not let you down, monsi—Erwin." He quickly corrected himself when he saw that Erwin had raised a furry eyebrow at his slip-up. He donned his crooked smile apologetically. Before Erwin could gather his performers for a company call, a glorious, angelic voice came from the stage. Beck closed his eyes as he turned around, letting himself be tantalized by the voice.
He opened his eyes and saw a woman whose looks embodied her voice; beautiful and angelic.
She was pale, but she had a red tint on her cheeks. Her corset showed off her assets very suggestively, and her dress complimented her body very nicely. Her dark brown hair reached a few inches below her shoulders and had a gentle curl, framing her heart shaped face.
But her voice, though. It was not of this earth.
"I see that you've been entranced by our prima donna." Erwin smirked, seeing Beck's shocked expression. He was a man of few emotions, and to see him with his eyes bulging and his jaw hanging open would be a sight to see. "Her name is Jade West. A pretty little thing, she is. She has one of the best voices I've heard in my life."
"Isn't that the truth." Beck mumbled, still listening to the girl—Jade. He's never heard a voice so pure, and he was exponentially more eager to start working with her.
"But she's a handful, though. A hell-raiser, people would call her. Very selfish and bratty, like a true prima donna."
"I'm sure I would be able to handle her."
"Company call!" Erwin yelled as he stood center stage. Everyone started running from different directions and before two minutes could pass, everyone was gathered around Erwin. Beck smiled amusedly, standing behind him. He eyed the people around him, the prima donna in mind. She was standing at the back, leaning against a wooden frame.
"I would just like to introduce you all to our maestro, Beck Oliver." Erwin introduced, and Beck raised his hand to wave at them awkwardly. The ballerinas started chatting amongst themselves, raving about their handsome new mentor. "You are all to respect him, and to be courteous to him."
"And what if we aren't?" Jade hollered from the back, her voice snarky yet still beautiful and wholesome.
"Then your next act would serve to be your last." Erwin deadpanned, resulting Jade to grow silent instantly. She may be rebellious, but she knows when to straighten up. "Suis assez clair, mademoiselle?"
"We start rehearsals when maestro is finished with his work. Alright, everyone dismissed." People scrambled away, leaving Beck, Erwin and Jade alone on stage.
"I'll give you some time with her." Erwin whispered to Beck before leaving him alone with the prima donna.
"Bonjour, maestro. Je m'appelle Jade." Jade greeted, a smirk playing on her lips as she curtsied low enough for him to have a good view of her cleavage. He gulped, making sure to keep his eyes up and away from her chest until she rose from her curtsy.
"And bonjour to you, mademoiselle. Er, je m'appelle Beck." Beck retorted clumsily as he smiled, holding out his palm. She was stunned for a moment, seeing a foreigner present himself with such chivalry, but kept herself collected as she gave her hand to him. It fit perfectly in his, and when he raised her hand to his lips, a light aroma wafted to his nose from her lace sleeve; floral and sweet.
He had difficulty letting her hand go, but he was able to do so without appearing too needy.
Beck racked his brain for compliments to give to the lady in front of him. "Ah, Jade, um, tu es exceptionnelle?" He was not at all certain if he was saying it correctly. "Your singing, I mean."
"Your accent is horrendous, monsieur. But merci," Jade smiled widely at this foreigner that captured her interest. "So where are you from, monsieur? Beck, j'ai raison, n'est-ce pas?" She had caught on to his name, and she actually liked saying it. She smirked a bit before coming back to her senses. No. Do not get attached.
"Oui. I'm from London." Beck flashed his crooked smile to 'dazzle' her. Jade tilted her head to the side, still very amused as she smiled at his strange accent and mix of English and French.
"Parlez-vous francais, maestro?" Jade asked in her native tongue, inching closer to him.
"I know very little, mademoiselle. Um, desole?" He apologized cutely, his accent still horribly foreign. Jade laughed (something she rarely does), and Beck drunk it in. Her laugh sounded so carefree and light and . . . beautiful.
"It's alright." Jade grinned, loosening Beck's tie a bit. "A tout a l'heure, maestro. I cannot wait to start working with you."
Beck grinned as he watched her walk away.
"Act one, coming right up."
Beck's Flat, April 1927
I have settled in quite nicely the flat that they had offered me. Very warm, very comfortable. It gets very lonely here, though. Maybe I shall get a pet while I am still here just to keep me company. A dog, perhaps. But goldfish would probably be the best, considering that I am always away from the flat and in the opera house.
It has been three months and my sincerest apologies for I am only writing to you now. As I have stated, I have been very busy with rehearsals. It is daunting, at some days, but every day has been highly productive.
What else could he tell her?
Also, I met someone.
No, he was only asking for trouble. Also, should it not be the other way around? He should have told Jade about her, not her about Jade. He quickly ran several lines of ink over the statement until it was undecipherable.
Cringing, he wrote, Missing you terribly. I love you.
Not only did he not Have envelopes, but he did not have any stamps as well. He shall see to it that he would drop by the nearest post office to purchase the envelopes and the stamps.
Opera House, August 1927
Over time, Beck and Jade grew close over rehearsals. They've had their fair share of laughs (over the smallest things), and quite a number of fights (usually over what key Jade wants to sing the arias). But one night, Beck was alone by the orchestra section of the opera house, as he was halfway through composing the finale of the production.
"It is getting quite late, maestro." He heard a familiar voice from behind. He grinned but didn't turn around. "Still not tired?"
"I'm halfway done." Beck retorted, writing down a few noted before going back to the piano. He felt two warm hands on his shoulders, rubbing and massaging gently. Beck hummed appreciatively, his fingers instinctively playing a soft tune. "Hmm, merci."
"I thought you needed one, monsieur," Jade mused before sitting down next to him on the piano bench. "There are no more cabs at this hour and I was going to ask if I could spend the night."
Jade was confident that he was going to let her stay, but she was nervous as well. She was going to have to make a call home. "S'il vous plait?"
"Of course. Allow me to just gather my belongings. I shall finish this to-morrow." Beck said immediately, standing up and grasping at his sheet music before stuffing them in his briefcase.
Beck's Flat, August 1927
"Do you have a telephone, by any chance?" Jade asked, immediately taking off her shoes once Beck opened the door to his temporary home.
"It is over there, by the vase." He instructed, pointing at the mahogany desk against the wall.
"May I?" Jade asked, in which Beck only nodded in reply. But before she could dial, he asked, "Are you hungry? Or maybe thirsty?"
"Warm milk would be lovely, merci." Jade answered. She dialed her house number and it picked up after two rings. "Bonjour, West residence."
"Bonjour, Miss Jammes. I want you to know that would not be able to come home to-night." Jade informed her housekeeper, her fingers tapping on the table.
"It's not a problem, Madame. I can spend the night." Miss Jammes said politely, prompting Jade to make a mental note of increasing her housekeeper's salary. Straining her ears, she can hear a little voice in the background.
"Is that mama? May I speak to mama, si'l vous plait, Miss Jammes?"
"Desole, madame. Little miss was waiting for you to arrive." Miss Jammes apologized sullenly, as if she had disappointed her.
"It is quite alright. Let me speak to her." Jade chuckled, smiling softly. Beck had put down the warm milk in front of her, nodding his head once before leaving her to give her some privacy. But wanting to listen in to the conversation, he stayed in the living room.
Was she hiding a lover, like he was? Did she have a dying relative?
There was still so much that he didn't know, and he wasn't completely sure if he even wanted to know.
"Madeleine, how are you still not asleep?" Jade reprimanded lightly, a small smile playing on her lips.
"I was waiting for you to come home, mama. I do not get to see you anymore." Madeleine responded. Jade could imagine her right now: she would be seated on the floor, the telephone high above her height from her seated position, and she would be curling little tendrils of hair with her finger.
"Mama won't be coming home tonight, ma cherie. But I shall return tomorrow morning." Jade informed her, and she could actually hear Madeleine's smile drop. "The sun shall come before you know it. Be good for Miss Jammes, alright? Je t'aime, ma cherie."
"Je t'aime, mama." Madeleine said to Jade wholeheartedly, making a kiss noise over the mouth piece, making her laugh warmly. She put down the telephone on the holder before downing the milk and wiping the residue on her upper lip with her sleeve. She walked towards Beck on the couch. Before she could get comfortable, the questions started.
"Mama?" Beck asked, not judgingly, but curiously. "I did not know you had a child."
"I do not. She is my sister. My parents were a nasty couple. I ran away with her when she was a baby, and we ended up in the opera house. Erwin allowed me to stay in his house and work at the opera house as a janitress for money. When he found out that I could sing, he honed my talent, made me into the prima donna, and I started earning more than enough money to support myself and my sister." It was more than he had bargained for, but he was grateful that she trusted him enough.
"You raised her as your own." Beck stated. Jade nodded, feeling instantly vulnerable. "I think that is very noble and brave of you to do."
"I did not do it for the nobility, though." Jade stated before yawning. "I only . . . I only want what is best for her."
Beck nodded before bringing Jade to her feet. "Where may I sleep?"
"In the master's bedroom," Beck offered. "I shall stay out here."
"Hmm," She yawned, too tired to argue. "But help me undress."
With a hum of acknowledgement from Beck, they both walked towards the master's bedroom. She removed her petticoat and silk dress first before turning around to let Beck untie her corset. He undid the tight knot at the bottom of her bodice before loosening the strings.
To say that he was aroused was the understatement of the century.
"I have a shirt here that you can borrow," Beck offered, not letting her know his intention of seeing her in his clothing. Jade nodded as she removed the tight article of clothing from her body. When Beck spun around to hand her the shirt, he almost came undone at the sight before him.
Her bare back was to him, and she was left clad in her underwear. Her skin was free of blemish, and the soft light from the moon was caressing the curves and paleness of it. She looked as if she was glowing.
"Um, Jade, here you go." He said, handing her the shirt. It was strange. He never felt like this with Victoria before. Jade turned around, her arm covering her breasts as her other reached for the shirt. It took all of Beck's self-control to not let his eyes wander over her body.
"Merci." Jade mumbled before turning around and putting it on. The sleeves hung past her shoulders, and the shirt reached low enough to cover her underwear. She moved lazily towards the bed and got under the covers.
"Bonne Nuit, Miss Prima Donna," Beck whispered, kissing her on the forehead Before he had the chance to retreat. Before he could inch away from her head, Jade's hand reached up and hooked it gently at the back of his neck. "Stay with me."
Who was he to deny her?
He undressed down to his boxers and undershirt. He got under the covers on the side opposite to her. Once Jade felt him next to her, she rolled over to her side and wrapped her arm around his waist, resting her head on his chest as she did so.
Jade hummed at his warmth. "For so long, I've been the one who gave comfort. It feels so good to be comforted, for a change." She confessed, her fingers tracing patterns and circles on Beck's stomach. Beck craned his head down and kissed her on the crown of her head.
"Sleep, ma cherie. I shall be here even after the sun rises." Beck whispered, stroking her hair. Jade propped herself up and shifted her weight to one arm.
"But I cannot sleep anymore." Jade stated.
"Then what do you want to do?" Beck asked, sitting up on the bed. Jade smirked before sitting up herself so she could meet his height. Very tentatively, she inched her head closer to his. And after a few seconds, their lips met. Once, then twice, then more. Jade moved so that she was already straddling Beck, bucking her hips against his to create friction.
Soon, their bodies were moving on their own accord. The little clothes they had ended up on the floor, moans escalated into screams, intentions were revealed and pleasures were fulfilled.
Again and again and again.
The sun was peeking through the window, effectively waking Jade up. She immediately realized where she was and saw that Beck was still asleep next to her. Smiling softly, she kissed his cheek before getting out of bed. Still in her naked glory, she did her morning rituals before she collected her undergarments from the floor and her clothes on the chair by the desk. She did not wear the corset anymore, but went ahead with her silk dress and petticoat. She will fix herself when she gets home.
She saw that Beck's desk was a huge clutter, and decided that she would be doing him a favor by tidying it up a bit. She organized his quills and ink bottles, then finally his papers. They were mostly sheet paper, rejects of orchestra melodies, but the letter paper peeking out from the middle caught her attention.
She scanned through the letter addressed to 'Victoria', whoever she was. She was fuming when she saw the letter, but when she got to the last few lines, she was absolutely livid. She proceeded to crumple the damned letter before she reached an epiphany.
"He didn't tell you, did he?" Jade muttered to herself, scoffing. She felt her heart literally ache at the fact that he never had to nerve to hold back and tell her that he was not single. She suddenly felt violated. Jumping to conclusions, she felt as if she was only one of the many that he had slept with.
And that was enough to make her collapse to the floor in tears.
"Jade, what the devil is going on?" Beck asked with his voice clearly alarmed. He put his boxers on first before moving towards Jade. He was about to envelope Jade into a comforting embrace until she stared at him with a glare that fired daggers through him.
"Am I a mere joke to you?" Jade questioned, her voice shaking and insecure. She spoke in a volume so low that ants would have to strain their ears to hear her voice. She cleared her throat before continuing. "Am I the fifth woman you slept with? Tenth?"
"Jade, I don't understand where you are going with this—," Beck tried to intervene, but Jade would not have it. She stood up from her place on the floor, angrily rubbing at the tears that traitorously fell from her eyes.
"Who is Victoria? Is she your lover? Your wife?" Jade asked, her body on guard. Beck widened his eyes. He looked down at her hands and saw that she was holding up the crumpled piece of paper that served as the catalyst of their fight.
"You have gone through my things." Beck casually stated, but he was clearly annoyed At the invasion of privacy. He never got to drop by the post office to buy the envelopes and stamps. Much more important things were on his mind.
"Oh, so you never planned on telling me?" Jade shot back, her heart sinking deeper and deeper. Beck mentally slapped himself.
"Jade, just calm down, please, and let me explain—,"
"Let you explain what? That last night meant nothing to you? That you were fantasizing about her when you were screwing me?" Jade lashed out, her anger getting the best of her. "Explain it to me, please!"
"I love you, damn it!" He all but yelled out, his voice effective ringing through her ears. "I had never loved her, Jade. I had never slept with her or with anyone else. You were my first, and oh God, was it amazing. One of the best nights of my entire life." He expressed. Jade gasped silently, still taking all of this new information in. Beck took another deep breath.
Here goes nothing.
"All this time, I've been forcing myself to love my best friend. But once I heard your voice on that stage, I knew that I was a goner. I want to be with you. It is one of the things that I've been sure of for a while." Beck poured his heart out to her, inching closer and closer until he was holding her in his arms. "I want to learn everything about you. From your favorite color, food and activity. I want to memorize everything about you. Every freckle, mole and blemish. I want to call you mine, Jade. I don't, nor ever will I, love her. You are the one I love, Jade. Please forgive me for not telling you sooner."
"But, Madeleine," Jade asked. She wanted him just as much, but if he was not comfortable with her baggage, then she would be forced to walk away.
"I am sure I would be able to learn how to love her."
With a beaming smile, she kissed him with as much passion as she could muster. She let her heart take flight, and by grace, her heart was able to take her to him.
"Je t'aime, maestro." Jade whispered before leaning in for another kiss. In between kisses, she swore she heard him mutter, "Je t'aime, my beautiful prima donna."
Suis assez clair – Am I clear?
Tue s exceptionnelle – You are exceptional.
J-ai raison, n'est-ce pas? – I'm right, am I not?
Parlez-vous francais? – Do you speak French?
A tout a l'heure – I will see you soon!
Once again, I had a great time writing this. I am still slightly dissatisfied with the ending, but it was the best I could do. Plus, I wanted to see 1920's explosive and emotional Beck.
Please do tell me what you think. Wishing you all the best!