IT WAS NOT an ordinary day.
It could pretend to be. It tried. The sun rose in the east. Blue jays squawked their usual morning greetings. Lyft drivers shuffled down below, and the coffee pot dinged at the exact prescribed moment. Still, it took only seconds to realize this was not, in fact, an ordinary day.
Maybe it was the drawn curtains; midnight blue and so rarely closed she’d forgotten their shade. Maybe it was the rumpled sheets, tossed in cologne and the scent of warm skin. Maybe it was his head on the pillow next to hers, sweet and breathing; eyes closed and lips parted.
Everything near and tangible gave evidence of something Sidonie Frame did not do. She did not wake up in darkened rooms, next to men, in her home, in her bed; not anymore, not these days. Too much danger in the exercise, too little benefit to the risk. She’d accrued at least that much wisdom in her bracingly instructive life.
Yet there he was. A sleeping man with strong arms and dark brown skin, tucked in a bed made the previous morning with no hint of its erotic disruption in the night to come. She smiled, pleased that life could still surprise her.
As she slipped from the covers and padded quietly toward the bathroom, Chris Hawkins, the unexpected man, stirred, waking just enough to alert him to the parameters of the day. His first assembled thought as he viewed the back of her pale naked form was, “This didhappen,” which struck him as both strange and delightful.
Sidonie turned as he fell back into a dream and, gazing upon his peaceful face, felt the flush of something familiar warm her cheeks and quicken her pulse. Could it be happiness? Some form of happiness? Was that possible? She decided it was. Happiness, rare and wonderful, inspiring tenderness for this man she’d known only briefly but whose presence promised better days ahead.
“This might be an adventure worth having,” she thought before heading to the shower.
In the months to come, she’d reflect often upon that fleeting moment of optimism.
FOUR MONTHS EARLIER…
“No business exists without chaos,” Frank Lehman, club owner and Sidonie Frame’s long-time boss, once proclaimed. “No ideas are implemented, no plans put to action, no partners assuaged or employees managed without the grit of bedlam. Gird yourself, kiddo.”
Embrace of his nihilistic maxim may have been pragmatic, but it did not make her job—head manager of The Church, one of Chicago’s buzziest small concert and event venues—any easier to contain. In fact, today, with its gaggle of nonprofit micromanagers bordering on hysteria in her office, she found herself, once again, chafing at the demands of her accidentally chosen profession.
She’d come to The Church the summer between her junior and senior years as a business major at Northwestern University. Confident to the point of arrogance, she’d been certain her foray into nighttime cocktail waitressing, required to keep bills paid and yogurt on the table, would be a brief thing of good money and flexible hours. It was. The tips were surprisingly lucrative, she worked as often or as little as she liked; it sustained her through graduation, even financed her master’s at the Kellogg School of Management. What it was not, however, was brief.
Working at The Church ceased being a job over six years ago, when Frank, quick to recognize talent, offered Sidonie the position—and impressive salary bump—of head manager. Given its resemblance to her dream of running a top-notch club of her own, the promotion seemed a wise step, one that, by now, had evolved into a full-blown career. But at thirty-five—divorced, overworked, and currently bereft of any previously-held joie de vivre—she found the luster of wrangling celebrated performers and whipping up events for high-maintenance clients to be wearing thin. She was itching to break out, but until her own project sprang to life, she was there. At The Church. Night after long night.
It was when Jasper Zabrinsky, her all-around guy who ran everything stage-and-music-oriented, announced the latest kerfuffle that she sensed this night might tip the scales. “He’s not here.” Wire thin, scruffy in a perpetual two-day beard, Jasper panted as if years of prodigious smoking had left a mark.
“Who’s not here?” Sidonie, tucked in a bar booth checking invoices and sipping a lemonade sparkler, barely looked up from her tablet.
“Troy! He took his monitors out last night, had a gig this morning, now he’s not answering his phone.”
Troy Cleveland was The Church’s somewhat-past-his-prime sound manager. In a ill-advised operational quirk, his stage monitors and dedicated mixing board were used to supplement the state-of-the-art sound system Frank built into the room years ago, a cozy arrangement that allowed Troy additional compensation and made both his presence and equipment essential. Sidonie had alerted Frank to the potential conflict of interest, but loyalty issues prevailed: he and Troy had been band mates in the 80s and those ties never failed to trump logic.
And despite Sidonie’s concerns, Troy had been, for the most part, reliable, managing The Church’s eclectic line-ups and sound demands without a hitch. At least until the last twelve months. Suddenly there were snafus and unpredictabilities of every kind. Drug rumors floated and there was ample evidence of a serious drinking problem, but he’d had a rough patch after a messy divorce so leeway was given. Now he was unreachable on a day when Susan Brayman, point person for the Chicago Empathy Initiative Gala, a capable woman who could nonetheless snap with the force of a hurricane, was veering perilously close to combustion.
Sidonie finally looked up, the gravity of the situation dawning. “Wait, the monitor system isn’t here?”
“No! He took his stuff out last night. Said he had some big thing in Joliet this morning. He was supposed to be here over an hour ago and so far I’m gettin’ nothing with either texts or calls.” Jasper’s eyes had a comical way of bugging when he was particularly stressed, a sort of Steve Buscemi-effect that typically inspired mirth; even now, with trouble a’brew, Sidonie had to stifle a reflexive grin.
“How worried should I be?”
“We’ve got two bands coming in for sound checks, and five different speakers on the rehearsal schedule. It’s all supposed to start in twenty minutes.”
She looked at her watch. “That is bad.”
“That’s what I’m sayin’!” Jasper plunked to a chair as if the weight of the day just hit his bloodstream. “I can’t do it myself, Sid, there’s lots of moving parts to this one.”
“I know. Any ideas?”
“I’ve got a friend I could call.”
“A sound guy, with a full monitor set-up, even a board?”
“Yeah, a guy I used to work with downtown. Has his own company, Sound Alchemy. Ever heard of it?”
“No, but it’s not exactly my wheelhouse.”
“He’s got great gear, does a lot of outdoor stuff, but he can rig a room without a problem. He’s actually kind of a genius. Odds are he’s booked—he’s pretty busy—but it’s Thursday so we might get lucky. Should I call?”
Before Sidonie could consider this unexpected option, the shriek of her name echoed from across the room. She turned to see Susan bristling at her office door, head shaking and eyes twitching in her direction. Sidonie’s responsive nod was a terse be right there.
Jasper’s leg was twitching. “What do you want to do, Sid? We don’t have time to think about it.”
“Call him. If he’s available, get him here asap. If he’s not, come find me and we’ll figure something else out. But don’t tell anyone—I mean anyone. I’ve got enough fires going without that one.”
As Jasper sprinted off, Susan again caterwauled from afar. Sidonie took a deep breath, a slow sip of her sparkler, checked some notes on her tablet, then turned and walked purposefully in the direction of her frazzled client.
(to be continued...)