Savannah turned the corner from her bedroom and entered the kitchen, fastening the gold hoop earring on her lobe and fluffing out her long auburn hair. A steaming bowl of rich gumbo, thickened with a distinctive sassafras filé, sat on the counter, no doubt left by her Maw Maw who always left something for supper before she went to Mass on Saturday. Luckily, Savannah was alone to eat, able to avoid the awkward conversation that frequently arose at mealtime about the fact she was still single at the age of thirty. An unprecedented occurrence in her family which caused a controversy that was brought up at every opportunity, including family dinners on Saturday with all her aunts, uncles and cousins chiming in with their respective opinions. Sometimes a large family was a disadvantage.
She left the house for work, heading for the bus stop. The southern Louisiana heat, even in early February, left a sheen on her skin. It would be crowded tonight. In a few days Mardi Gras would be in full swing, New Orleans’s unique Carnival played out from the majestic streets of the French Quarter to the outer reaching neighborhoods of the Crescent City. Although truth be told, and she would take this to the grave, she preferred the rainbow of colorfully-embellished Brazilian samba masks to the green, purple, and gold masquerade variety found in her hometown. But it was a tradition after all. Laissez les bons temps rouler.
She walked past the cemetery on the way to the bus stop, the above-ground tombs forming mini cities of the dead. Oxidation had eaten at the iron gates, leaving a charming rust color that contrasted nicely against the weathered white tombs. What should have been an eerie place was oddly peaceful to her. Looking down at her path, she was careful on this sidewalk. She had tripped and fallen on the uneven cobblestone a couple of weeks earlier and sprained her wrist. She didn’t want to risk re-injuring the tender spot since it was vital to her occupation, a piano player at the foremost piano bar in the French Quarter. She had already lost two weeks being unable to play and was anxious to get back to work.
Slipping in the back entrance of the bar, Savannah scanned the schedule and saw her partner for the night was one of her favorites to perform with. Ryan was an excellent pianist and they had a great rapport. He acted like a teasing older brother sometimes but being one of five girls in her family, she welcomed the ‘brotherly love’. Finally, it was time to take the stage. “Alright Savannah, are you ready to tickle the ivories and break some hearts?” Ryan had refrained from his usual teasing about her given name. She came from an old Acadian family with the exception of her mother, who was a transplant from a rival southern state and who had named her eldest daughter after her own coastal birthplace.
Gliding onto the piano bench Savannah felt at home again. She settled in as Ryan got the first request. Then she noticed him, sitting at a table in the front with three other men. The three were unremarkable, but he was absolutely breathtaking. He had wavy chestnut hair that curled lightly at the nape and was thick and lush enough to make any woman envious. Cornflower blue eyes lit up brightly even in the somewhat darkened room. Her heart sped up in a juvenile reaction to his attractive looks. She saw patrons every night, was trained to be unaffected. This man was different. There was a spark, she knew she wasn’t imagining it. Was she? She caught his eye and her face flushed as he smiled, lips pressed together, forming round apple cheeks. Definitely a spark. She smiled coyly and shifted her eyes down to the keyboard.
While Ryan sang, and she backed him up, she watched the handsome stranger out of the corner of her eye. He had written something on a napkin and passed it forward to the host standing at the center of the stage. At the end of Ryan’s song, the host passed the napkin to Savannah and her heart did a little twirl as she opened the napkin and read the words scribbled in blue pen. He was a complete stranger; how could he possibly have known?
Georgia On My Mind