Teddy’s voice rang out, smooth and clear. I was shocked at how exquisitely and freely he sang. He made the notes sound easy as he played along, rocking slightly as he kept Lucius’ beat. All three of them worked together beautifully.
This was how they were supposed to be. A team, a unit that functioned best when they were all in accord. Even Lucius was smiling, his happiness making him seem younger and far more carefree than I knew he was.
Teddy held Laura’s eye for quite some time as he belted out the lyrics—heartfelt and cheesy at the same time. But he pulled it off, and the smile never faltered from my face, though I watched Vinemont watching me more than anything else. He swayed to the music, not at all like a concert pianist; more like someone who felt the beat but wasn’t ruled by it.
My stomach fluttered as if I had joined in on the last round of shots. He wore a simple black t-shirt, the ever-present vines wrapping around his biceps and to his forearms. I studied each movement, each sway, each time he moved to the lower notes or the higher.
Teddy reached the end of the song, singing soulfully about giving his heart to someone special.
I leaned back and whispered to Laura. “Are you going to throw him your panties?”
She giggled and slapped at my shoulder.
The song wound down, and Teddy held the last note for longer than I could hold my breath. Everyone laughed, Farns gripping his stomach and looking positively gleeful. The only one missing was Renee, and I intended to make my inquiries as soon as possible. This little trip downstairs was proof I was ready to roam a little farther.
“What next?” Teddy asked.
“‘It’s Cold Outside’?” Laura suggested.
“Can we handle that, boys?” Teddy asked.
Lucius did a drum roll in response, and Vinemont matched it with a flourish.
Teddy grinned. “That’s a duet, Laura. Come on up.”
“Oh no. No.” She backed away. “I couldn’t carry a note in a bucket.”
“We have to have the woman’s part.” Teddy strummed, searching for the right key.
“Stella?” Vinemont asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
I could sing. But I wasn’t sure if I could sing in front of him. I shook my head, color heating my cheeks.
“Aww, she can sing. Look at that face.” Teddy laughed and put his guitar on the floor. He hurried forward and scooped me up.
“Hey!” I cried. “Why does everyone manhandle me around here?”
He set me on the piano. “You okay?”
My legs hung over the edge and blood rushed to my feet, though the slight tingle of sensation didn’t hurt. Despite my irritation, I couldn’t help but smile at Teddy. “Yes.”
“Good.” He grabbed two glasses from his line of shots and handed me one.
Lucius and Vinemont seized theirs, and we toasted before throwing them back. The liquid stung my tongue, my nostrils, and burned all the way down. I sputtered and slapped the glass back on the gleaming dark wood of the piano.
“You’re harmony.” I pointed to Teddy and tried to clear the pure alcohol from my lungs with a cough.
“Not a problem.” Teddy leaned against the piano next to me. “These pipes are lined with gold.”
I peeked over my shoulder at Vinemont as he began the accompaniment. He nodded to me, urging me to start the song. I waited a few more bars and closed my eyes before singing, “I really can’t stay.” My voice wobbled, but hit the right notes. Teddy jumped right in, telling me it was cold outside and adding, “It really is.”
Laura linked her arm in Farns’ and they swayed back and forth as Teddy and I sang the tune about responsibility and desire, the two dancing around each other.
Teddy’s perfect harmony made my voice sound even better, though alone it was middling at best. My nerves seeped away as Teddy got into it, putting his arm around me though I knew he was singing right to Laura’s heart. It was working, her gaze glued to him.
We reached the end, our voices melding and joining in unison as Lucius tapped the cymbal and the piano softened and quieted.
Applause from Farns and Laura rang out. I peeked over my shoulder at Vinemont and the look was there—the one from my drawing. Kindness, and something else that was undefinable. Something even warmer, even deeper. The same feeling had a stranglehold on my heart, my soul. Even in the barren ground of the Acquisition, love still grew.
“Beautiful voice. Like a bell.” Farns beamed. “I think—”
His words were cut off when a tall woman with flowing white hair barreled past him, ripped the front door open, and ran out into the freezing night.
I’d barely seen her ghostly form flit past when the front door slammed. Fuck.
“Teddy, take Stella to your room and lock the door.” I didn’t think my mother would be violent, but I couldn’t tell anymore.