Author: TazRaven (Sara)
The Great Depression hit Chicago hard. It hit everywhere hard. Four days after Tara Maclay's last engagement at the night club, Black Thursday threw the world into panic. By the next Tuesday, the country was facing a crisis and the stock market hit rock bottom. While I didn't have any money in stocks, I was affected heavily nonetheless. Everyone was, I suppose. The bookstore I'd been working at closed within a month, and the college I'd been attending shut down in three. My apartment was the next thing to go; the landlord evicted me a month after the college closed for delinquent payments. The apartment I lived in had seemed so small, so empty. It wasn't until I was forced out of it that I realized how lucky I had been.
I was homeless for months. It doesn't sound as bad as it was. Trying to find a place to sleep where the cold wouldn't kill me; where it would only hurt every bone in my body from shivering all night. I kept a few things with me: some clothes, a couple pictures. I realized that in my natural state I wouldn't be able to get work. It was almost impossible for a man to get work, let alone a woman. I cut my hair to a man's length, to the bottom of my ears, and dressed up in the only men's clothes I had. I met a woman living in a Hooverville who'd recently lost her husband. She traded me his dress suits and leisure outfits for my dresses and petticoats. I kept only a few things from my old life, mostly nightgowns and one or two dresses.
As Willow Rosenberg, I hadn't been able to get any work. Homeless and often starving, when I did have food it was usually scavenged from the trash in the parts of town that still had people who could afford to throw away their left-overs. The day after trading my clothes, I became William Rosenberg. Even as a man, finding work would have been difficult. I guess lady luck was on my side. That was the day Tara Maclay saved my life. If it hadn't been for her, I surely would have died on the streets.
I was wearing my best suit; black pinstripe pants and a matching vest. The white shirt I wore underneath was stained, but the jacket hid it well enough. I could only hope no one looked at my shoes. They were scuffed, and the sole of my left shoe was coming loose. I'd left my bag back at the abandoned warehouse where I'd been sleeping. It wasn't the best idea I'd ever had, but walking around with a scuffed and torn canvas bag would have made my status obvious. After finding some loose planks in the warehouse floor, I decided it was for the best and stuffed my worldly possessions into the hole under the floorboards.
Walking around the more affluent part of town, hoping to succeed where so many others had failed, I searched the streets all day for a job. For hours I walked the blocks, praying to any god I could think of that something would come my way. The sky was black when I finally decided to give up. Hopefully I'd be able to steal some food out of a trash bin before walking the four miles back to the warehouse. I walked past a bar, barely paying attention to my surroundings. It wasn't until the door opened just as I was passing that I heard it. Over a year had passed, but I would recognize that voice even after a lifetime. My feet carried me into the establishment before my mind could understand what was happening.
The club was nicer than the one I'd been in the last time, though still very similar. The same smell of tobacco and liquor permeated the air, and a cloud hung over the bar where the men sat smoking. My feet continued to move forward without my consent, weaving through the club without paying attention, until she was just a few feet in front of me. She looked as radiant as she ever did; maybe more so. And her voice. The same smoky quality; the same sexy tone. I sat down in the chair next to me, not even realizing I'd done it until I felt the warm leather. She was wearing a beaded flapper dress, the blue color making her eyes appear even brighter than they normally did. For a few minutes, it was like the crash never happened. The empty feeling that had been in my stomach for months dissipated, and the hopelessness that had settled over me ever since the country's depression disappeared.
After much too short a time, she left the stage, once again amidst thundering applause. This time, I didn't leave immediately. My eyes were still locked on the stage even though she'd left; my mind was replaying every piece of the performance, so much so that there was no room for any other thoughts. Of course, that was before she re-entered the room. She was still wearing the blue dress, but now she walked among the patrons. I could see her walking in my direction, and the only thing I could think to do was stand up. Holding myself up on my aching feet and dead legs, I tried to appear presentable, standing as straight as I possibly could.
She kept walking until she was only a couple feet in front of me, and then it happened. She looked straight at me. Piercing blue gazed straight into my green eyes, and I felt my face and chest grow hot. She walked a little closer, and I resisted the urge to faint. I could smell the subtle scent of her perfume, even among the smoke. She drew even closer, less than a foot away, and I slowly reached out my hand. I held my breath as she looked down at my hand and then back up to my eyes. Her lips lifted into the most adorable smile, and then she reached her own hand forward. I stifled a gasp as our skin met. It was electric. My hand felt like the only part of me that had sensation.
I racked my brain for something to say to her, anything that would get her to spend an extra second or two near me, touching me. Realizing that anything would be better than nothing, I opened my mouth. And so I spoke to her for the first time, making sure to lower my voice enough.
"You... You're amazing."
Alright, so maybe anything wasn't better than nothing. I winced inwardly at the statement, wondering if she would remove her hand immediately and leave at such a forward remark. My fear disappeared as soon as she spoke.
She almost whispered the words, making it seem as though she were speaking to me not in a crowded bar, but an empty room. The air around me seemed to grow warmer, and once again the breath left my lungs.
"I..." She stopped and seemed to consider her words. "I saw you, from the stage. I don't normally introduce myself to strangers, but..." She paused again. "I'm Tara Maclay-" she quirked another smile, "but you probably knew that."
I think I nodded, but the feeling of her hand still grasped in mine left me feeling light headed. I opened my mouth to speak again. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her voice, and how I thought she was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. I wanted to tell her that I was in love with her, and that ever since the first night I'd seen her perform I'd wanted to talk to her. Unfortunately, I didn't say any of these things. I opened my mouth, only to be interrupted.
A large man wearing what looked like a very expensive white suit walked up to us and put his arm around her shoulders. I dropped her hand immediately, and instantly regretted my decision. I could have imagined it, but it looked like her smile faltered with the lost contact. Within a moment she recovered, though she looked slightly uncomfortable in the large man's embrace. Before I could do something embarrassing, like blurt out my feelings for her, I decided to leave, stammering out a "goodbye" and a "nice to meet you."
I almost ran the four miles back to the warehouse, forgetting to stop and look for food, mentally kicking myself for being so idiotic. She had talked to me, and all I had done was stand there like a mindless dunce. The next afternoon, I went back to the club, hoping to find her and apologize. Instead, I found the manager of the club, Mr. Warren Mears, trying to fill a bartending position. I somehow managed to get to the front of the large crowd that had gathered and was picked for the job. I started work that same day, learning the basics of bartending very quickly. By nightfall, I knew the high points of my new career: wipe the bar, pour the liquor, no small talk.
The men started to flow in after their workday ended. The job wasn't interesting, but it did keep me busy. They replaced their coats with liquor to keep themselves warm, and I was the person who kept their glasses full. I was so engrossed in my work that I didn't hear her approach me.
I handed the last of my orders for the moment to a waitress and took a deep breath, trying to clear my head before the next wave of drinks, and instead smelled that same perfume. My eyes grew wide and I looked to my right, almost jumping when I realized she was standing at the end of the bar, smiling at me. My heart pounded in my chest as I made my way to her, my hand extending before the thought reached my brain. She graced me with another of her beautiful grins, and I felt as though my face would crack with my own smile. Looking down at my hand, in a repeat of the night before, she reached her own hand forward and grasped mine lightly. Her eyes moved back to mine, and her mouth opened to speak.
"We were interrupted last night before you told me your name."
In my mind I shouted "Willow Rosenberg!" and almost voiced the thought, until I remembered that I was not Willow Rosenberg here. It pained me to do so, but had I told her the truth, my job would have been in jeopardy. My decision made, I made sure to lower my voice as I did the night before, and finally introduced myself to Tara Maclay.
"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance Miss Maclay. I'm William Rosenberg."