Home > Last Night at Chateau Marmont(4)

Last Night at Chateau Marmont(4)
Lauren Weisberger

“I’m just too tired.” Brooke sighed, clicking listlessly through the channels from the girls’ living room futon. “I still have to write a paper, and I have to be at work in eleven hours.”

“Oh, save the drama. You’re twenty-two, for chrissake. Suck it up and go get dressed. We’re leaving in ten.”

“It’s pouring outside and—”

“Ten minutes, not one second longer, or you’re not my friend anymore.”

By the time the girls had made it to Rue B’s in the East Village and tucked themselves into a too-small table with friends from school, Brooke was regretting her weakness. Why did she always cave to Nola? Why on earth was she packed into a smoky, crowded bar, drinking a watery vodka tonic and waiting to see a jazz quartet she’d never heard of? She didn’t even particularly like jazz. Or, for that matter, any live music, unless it happened to be a Dave Matthews or Bruce Springsteen concert where she could merrily sing along to all the songs. This was clearly not that kind of night. Which is why she felt a mixture of both irritation and relief when the leggy, blond bartender banged a spoon on a water glass.

“Hey, guys! Hey, y’all, can I have your attention for a minute?” She wiped her free hand on her jeans and patiently waited for the crowd to quiet down. “I know you’re all excited to hear the Tribesmen tonight, but we just got word that they’re stuck in traffic on the LIE and aren’t going to make it in time.”

Rousing boos and jeers ensued.

“I know, I know, it sucks. Overturned tractor trailer, complete standstill, blah, blah, blah.”

“How about a free round as an apology?” called out a middle-aged man sitting in the back while holding up his drink.

The bartender laughed. “Sorry. But if anyone wants to come on up here and entertain us . . .” She looked directly at the man, who just shook his head.

“Seriously, we’ve got a perfectly good piano. Anyone play?”

The room was silent as everyone glanced around at each other.

“Hey, Brooke, don’t you play?” Nola whispered loud enough for their table to hear.

Brooke rolled her eyes. “I got kicked out of the band in sixth grade because I couldn’t learn to read sheet music. Who gets kicked out of the middle school band?”

The bartender was not giving up easily. “Come on, folks! It’s freaking pouring outside, and we’re all in the mood to hear a little music. I’ll cave and throw in free pitchers for the room if someone can entertain us for a few minutes.”

“I play a little.”

Brooke followed the voice to a scruffy-looking guy sitting alone at the bar. He was in jeans and a plain white T-shirt and a knit hat even though it was summer. She hadn’t noticed him before but decided he might—might—be reasonably cute if he showered, shaved, and lost the hat.

“By all means . . .” The bartender swept her arms toward the piano. “What’s your name?”

“Julian.”

“Well, Julian, she’s all yours.” She resumed her position behind the bar as Julian climbed onto the piano bench. He played a few notes, messing around with the timing and rhythm, and the audience lost interest pretty quickly and went back to their conversations. Even when he did quietly play an entire song (something ballad-y she didn’t recognize), the music was more like background noise. But after ten minutes he played the intro notes to “Hallelujah,” and he started to sing the lyrics in a surprisingly clear, strong voice. The room fell silent.

Brooke had heard the song before, having been briefly obsessed with Leonard Cohen, and had loved it, but the full-body chills were brand-new. She scanned the room. Were other people feeling this way? Julian’s hands moved effortlessly across the keys as he somehow infused each word with intense feeling. Only when he’d murmured the final drawn-out “hallelujah” did the crowd react: they clapped, whistled, screamed, and almost uniformly jumped out of their seats. Julian appeared embarrassed, sheepish, and after an almost imperceptible bow, he began to walk back to his bar stool.

“Damn, he’s good,” breathed a young girl to her date at the table behind them, her eyes fixed on the piano player.

“Encore!” called an attractive woman who clutched her husband’s hand. The husband nodded and echoed her call. Within seconds, the cheering had doubled in volume and the entire room was demanding a second song.

The bartender grabbed Julian’s hand and pulled him back toward the microphone. “Pretty amazing, isn’t he, guys?” she yelled, beaming with pride at her new discovery. “What do you say we convince Julian here to play us one more?”

Brooke turned to Nola, feeling more excited than she had in ages. “Do you think he’s going to play something else? Would you ever believe that some nobody sitting at a random bar on a random Sunday night—the guy who’s there to hear someone else perform—can sing like that?”

Nola smiled at her and leaned in to make herself heard above the crowd. “He is really talented. Too bad he looks like that.”

Brooke felt as though she’d been personally insulted. “Looks like what? I like that whole scruffy thing he has going on. And with a voice like that, I think he’s going to be a star one day.”

“Not a chance. He’s talented, but so are a million other people who are more outgoing and a whole lot better-looking.”

“He’s cute,” Brooke said a little indignantly.

“He’s East Village–gig cute. Not international-rock-star cute.”

Before she could leap to Julian’s defense, he returned to the bench and began to play again. This time it was a cover of “Let’s Get It On,” and again, somehow, he managed to sound even better than Marvin Gaye—a deeper, sexier voice, a slightly slower rhythm, and an expression on his face of intense concentration. Brooke was so lost in the experience she barely noticed that her friends had resumed their chitchat as the promised free pitcher of beer made its way around their table. They poured and swallowed and poured some more, but Brooke couldn’t take her eyes off the disheveled guy at the piano. When he walked out of the bar twenty minutes later, bowing his head to his appreciative audience and offering the smallest hint of a smile, Brooke seriously considered following him. She’d never done anything like it in her life, but it felt right.

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