Ilea Brooke was halfway through her set when she saw the devil. Ilea’s voice cracked as the microphone slipped just a little out of her little pointed fingernails. Elbows set on rosewood table; the devil lounged in the dim and smoke, a finger circling the edge of her glass.
The rest of tiny club’s patron’s faded from view, until the devil sat alone bright in a white dress and watching. Ilea closed her eyes and crooned the song’s words even as her pulse hammered in her ears. She couldn’t stare down that deep dark gaze.
When she opened her eyes there was applause. Success, they loved her. Another night conquered by the illustrious Ilea. And best of all, the devil was gone; the table empty save for a mostly empty rum glass. She breathed out, bone deep relief grounding her. Ilea stepped from the stage. She declined a few offers of drinks and accepted an embossed card from an uptown lounge. Apparently it was in need of what she had, something indescribable. Normally she would have glowed, but tonight she merely nodded and pocketed the implied invitation. It was not as indescribable as everyone thought.
Her dressing room wasn’t anything more than an old office the club let their performers lock possessions in. But she’d been popular and someone had placed a little plaque with gilt letters spelling ‘Ilea Brooke’ on the door.
She slipped backwards into the room, watching the hallway as she did. The door shut with a snap in front of her nose and Ilea sighed, setting her forehead against the old wood. A nice deep glass and her own bed didn’t sound bad at all.
“Miss Ilea you look like you need a drink.” The voice was honey smooth.
Ilea’s eyes widened, breath catching in her throat. When it escaped it came as trembling release. Ilea turned. The devil stood balancing a cigarette and two glasses of golden rum between thin fingers. The devil smiled and pushed one of them into Ilea’s palm, turning with a sway and a flash of smile. The devil pulled back a folding chair and sat, legs crossed and cigarette turning to ash.
Ilea’s felt her lip tremble even as her chest constricted. “No.” She whispered. It’d been a mistake, back when she was just the right mix of young, desperate and invincible. It wasn’t fair. Surely she couldn’t be over yet…
The devil looked up at her, curious “Drink, you seem nervous. No, what?”
“I…” Ilea didn’t know what she could say. The sweet rum coated her tongue when she took a swallow. “I’m not ready. What I said years ago, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t even know what I was doing.” Her voice rose in pitch as her throat tightened. “I’m not done.”
The devil finally flicked the cigarette and took a deep drag. “Save the drama for the stage Ilea Brooke. We both know that excuse counts for nothing. You offered the deal, no use in complaining when someone takes you up on it. ”
Ilea hugged herself, still holding the rum awkwardly as a few tears ran her mascara. “I didn’t even know who you were!” Ilea glared at the devil. She’d been tricked, it wasn’t fair.
“And you do now?” The devil’s dark lips twitched.
The question set her off balance, enough to pause the panic riding in her chest for a few moments. “What?”
The devil rolled her eyes, thick lashes fluttering. The dark woman set the cigarette down and swirled the rum. “You, m’dear, offered your soul for a ‘break’. Even if I was in that business, why would I take your rather shortsighted offer? You need a pretty sad soul to make such pretty sad songs.” The devil’s gaze glittered. “No, Miss Ilea, you keep crooning and we’ll call it even. Hmm?”
Ilea blinked at the devil. “Even?”
“Something like that.” The devil smiled and dropped her cigarette stub into the dregs of her rum.