Off Like a Prom Dress: Raine's Blues

Sharon Cullars

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Raine Gayle runs a struggling club called Raine's Blues located on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Her world is full of the interesting characters the club shelters from the ugliness of L.A.'s mean streets. Faced with a financial c...
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Raine Gayle runs a struggling club called Raine's Blues located on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Her world is full of the interesting characters the club shelters from the ugliness of L.A.'s mean streets. Faced with a financial crisis and desperate to keep her club open, Raine searches frantically for that one act that will draw the crowds. She believes she has found that act in the form of the beautiful and renowned chanteuse, Cintra Wells.

Cintra Wells is more than a little surprised when Raine asks the band to headline at the small blues club. Usually Cintra would reject the offer of such a low venue, but decides to take the gig for one reason -- Raine. Cintra recognizes Raine immediately; after all, Raine turned Cintra down for their high school prom. Back then though, Cintra went by her...or rather, his...real name, Neil Williams. Neil doesn't hold any grudges against Raine. Though, it would be fun to play her a good turn since it's obvious Raine doesn't realize that Cintra Wells is actually a man. Namely, the smolderingly sexy manager of Cintra's jazz quartet.

Payback doesn't particularly have to be a bitch, but in this case, it won't be a lady either.

  • Note:This book contains explicit sexual content and graphic language
Raine shifted in her seat as the strobe lamps dimmed to leave the spotlight the only illumination. A mellow sax moaned, and the rest of the quartet moved into a smooth intro, something unfamiliar, jazzy and soft, a come-hither strain that lulled the audience and silenced the trace of voices. A tinkling of glass at the next table was the only intrusion. A few moments passed, and the emcee, tall and svelte, stepped into the light just off the grand piano. The emcee’s pomaded dark hair and tuxedo harkened back to an era of furs, champagne, and diamonds, of Rolls-Royce Silver Clouds and a collective innocence unsullied by wars and devastation.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Chanel Club welcomes the fabulous Cintra Wells, just returned from a smashing European tour, where she dazzled audiences around the continent. And tonight she’s here to dazzle us as well, so let’s welcome her home with a warm round of applause.” The ensuing ovation was interwoven with whistles and exclamations of “Cintra!”

The emcee stepped off the stage as the show’s headliner sauntered to the waiting spotlight. Cintra Wells’s motion was fluid, her evening dress a thousand sparkles on silver mesh that clung to lithe curves. A deep red outlined a pair of sensuous lips out of sync with the angular lines of her face. Her blonde hair flowed past her shoulders, while a Veronica Lake wave hung over her left eye. She was a statuesque but feminine declaration of elegance. As was the smoky voice that moved into the melody laid out for her.

Raine had come to the club with a dose of cynicism and more than a measure of curiosity. But her assistant manager, Terri, hadn’t lied. Here was a voice worth bargaining over. It hovered above a sultry whisper, then rose with a clarity that cried out for a lost love. And it trilled to her soul as though it were calling out only for her. She pushed the thought away as quickly as it had come.

The song died softly, leaving an expectant pause soon filled by a wave of ovation. In the midst of the clapping, the pianist struck a chord, cueing in another song, signaling the audience to silence again. Cintra’s voice took over, less throaty this time, lighter, but still rife with a sadness that overwhelmed Raine.

“But I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall...”

A shiver went through Raine. No matter the cost, she had to get this singer for her club. She already had a lineup with a couple of jazz singers. They were all right, but she needed something more if she was going to save the club. Earlier in the afternoon, she’d sidled up to a band member to try to get more information and had not been disappointed. Their gig at Chanel was up in just a few weeks, and they had nothing lined up after. Even then Raine wasn’t sure they would do, but now her uncertainty silenced on the riff of the ballad. Cintra Wells would pack them in.

With her gaze fixed on the songstress, Raine felt plain in her simple black dress, which before tonight she’d thought was her “killer” dress because it hugged her bountiful curves. She sat silently, an elbow on the table next to her wine, and whispered, “Beautiful.” Entranced by the fantasy, she wondered at its pull. It was almost sapphic.

She hoped that she would be able to meet with Cintra soon to discuss business. Cintra might be the last hope for Raine’s Blues.

* * * * *


Neil sat at the mirror contemplating the lines cutting through the powder covering his five-o’clock shadow. They were cracks in the facade, a peek behind the illusion. He wiped off the powder with a tissue doused with aloe cream, removing the last of the mask, and stared at the reflection of a twenty-eight-year-old man, all hard lines and dead eyes. He peered at the blue irises; well, not exactly dead, but eyes tired of a world they’ve been forced to look at for too long.

The wig sat askew atop a head mannequin on the corner of the small dressing table already overrun with makeup and paraphernalia. The accommodations here were cramped and inconvenient. He reached behind his head to release the rubber band that had been holding his dark hair in a loose ponytail; the hair fanned out over his shoulders.

The door opened, and Max stepped in and shut it behind himself. He still had his sax with him even though their last set had been nearly forty minutes ago.

“Cin -- man, gotta talk to you.”

“What about?” Neil swiveled to face the saxophonist. He leaned back in the chair as Max’s lanky, six-feet-three frame collapsed onto the dingy blue love seat. Max laid his precious Sexy across his knees. He sat forward, his expression full of anticipation.

“Another gig, man. Some chick came up to me tonight, said she’s got an opening at a blues club called Raine’s. Said she’s looking for something different, something to spice up her lineup.” Max smirked at that.

“Yeah? What else did she say?”

“She asked what it’d take, and I told her. Actually I padded it a bit to see if she would bite. She didn’t even blink an eye.”

“For how long?”

“Said a month to start. Then we can talk extension later on if things work out. Look, Europe was fine for wine and song, but that money’s gone, man, and Kieran ain’t paying up like he promised. I’d like to know if I’m gonna have a roof over my head in the next couple of months.” He reached inside his pocket, pulled out a card. “Here. She left her number. I think we should at least talk to her.” He reached over to hand the card to Neil.

Neil took the card and read the name.

Raine Gayle, proprietor
Raine’s Blues
Where rainy-day blues are sung away

Phone: (415) 552-6889


Raine Gayle? Neil blinked rapidly at the name, and a flurry of memories rushed forth. Could it be?

“I know, the name is really out there, but she seems legit,” Max said, interrupting Neil’s reverie. “All I’m saying is let’s talk with her, feel her out. We got nothing to lose just talking.”

Neil sat motionless for a few moments, then suddenly folded the card and tossed it over his shoulder. It landed on top of the wig.

Max stiffened. “So what? You’re not going to even consider it?”

Neil saw the telltale tic above Max’s left brow start, a sure sign his temper had surged.

Neil drew in a deep breath, sat forward. He’d planned to talk with the others after the gig, but Max was forcing his hand with this new offer.

“I know this is a bad time to spring this on you and the guys, but this just isn’t working for me anymore. I’m tired of the freak show, man, tired of the wigs, the dresses. Tired of singing like a bitch. It was fun for a while, but that just ain’t me anymore.”

Max sat immobile a few seconds but didn’t stay stunned for long. That tic was beating faster. “I know the show’s getting old. But it’s working for us right now. And we gotta work, no matter what. If we go back to the way it was, with just a jazz quartet and nothing more, we’re just four more bodies out there doing the club circuit. I know this is a freak gimmick, but it’s a good one, and it gives us an edge.”

“Look, I don’t want to shaft you and the guys, so I’ll give you time to find someone else. But after that” -- he shrugged -- “I’m gone.”

Max’s brows knit together, the lines above them deep grooves. “Man, this is so fucked, you know that? You’re leaving us ass up, hole wide open. Who the hell is going to take your place? Your name’s a brand, and the audience expects Cintra Wells -- nobody else -- to front when we step onstage.” He stopped, his expression changing as something began dawning. “You’re planning on filling another spot, aren’t you?”

Neil hadn’t counted on anyone figuring out his game plan this early on. It put him in the uncomfortable position of having to lie.

“No, there’s no other spot. I’m just tired, man," he lied. "Can’t you accept that at face value?”

Neil could see that Max wasn't buying the lie.

“Neil, the one thing I’ve learned working with you these five years is that nothing is just face value with you. There’s always something else going on. You know what? I’m done. Fine. You’re leaving, leave. But you tell Stevie, Dan, and Janyx tonight. You owe them that at least.” A pause and then, “You’re finishing out the contract, right?”

Neil nodded. “Yeah, I wouldn’t do you guys like that.”

“Like what? Oh, you mean stabbing us in the back. Nah, you’d never do that to us. You always do us right as rain, man, right as rain.”

Max sighed, picked up his sax, and stood. “You do what you gotta do. And we’ll do what we have to do, to survive without you. Like you said, you’re not the only bitch out there.”

The last words were a deliberate kick to the groin. Well deserved.

Neil swiveled back to the mirror as the door closed, and looked into the eyes of someone he barely knew anymore. Then he reached over to retrieve the balled-up card still lying on top of the wig. He unrolled it and looked at a name he hadn’t seen in years.

Copyright © Sharon Cullars


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