Joseph had a gig at a Lutheran church. He was a friend with the pastor and prepared a piece of instrumental music that wouldn't offend anyone. That's my talent, he thought. Making music that people can play in the background. It was not a paying gig, but he was certain he could sell some CDs there and he had other paying gigs coming up and hoped he could attract some of the members there to come.
Playing churches made Joseph a bit crazy. But they did have a purpose. Many times he wondered whether he had taken the wrong path. His career hadn't gone anywhere in years. He wrote a simple piece of music twenty years before which was heard by the right person and ended up being the theme music for the Mary Ann television show. He had lived off that piece of music ever since. The show ran five times a week and he got a check every time it played.
From that point on, he no longer had to play gigs to make a living. He was able to sit and collect money and let other things fall where they may. He lived simply, the only thing that mattered to him were his guitars. Joseph was lucky and he knew it. Many others struggled during the years the TV show ran its course. He saw many guitar players with more talent give up music entirely. Joseph never considered giving up. It was a few years before he realized that he had given up long ago. The only part of him that was still a musician was collecting the checks and sleeping with his fans.
But things were different now. The show had ended a few years before and what money was left over he drank away. He was older now and had no other skills. He was a forty year old man that hadn't held a job in over twenty years. If he was going to survive he had to perform again, even if it was playing easy listening music at churches.
Learning how to play sober was a struggle. He hadn't played in years unless it was to impress a girl he brought home. now he had to play again and be professional about it. And do it sober. Just thinking about it was enough to make his hands shake with fear.
He heard the sound of Anne's laugh in the hallway. He wondered what she was doing there. He had sent her an email saying where he was playing, but he had sent that email to over a hundred people. She had come, and she was early. He couldn't see her, just the sound of her laughter. His gut tensed. He was aroused at jus the thought of her standing in the hallway. Joseph was glad his guitar was on his lap to hide how aroused he was.
Joseph tried to put her out of his mind as he finished tuning his instrument and then doing sound check. If he paid too much attention to her, he wouldn't be able to perform. His ability to focus had disappeared since getting sober.
When he looked up from his guitar, she stood directly in front of him wearing a grin. He couldn't remember the last time a woman looked at him that way. It was sexual, yes, but more than that it was pure joy at seeing him. She was dangerous. Her husband wasn't with her. For the first time, he was worried. She thinks she's in love with me, he thought. Nothing good can come from this.
She neared him, still wearing that wide grin on her face. "I've never heard you play before," she said. "I'm really excited. I wouldn't have missed this."
He set his guitar down on the stand and stood up. "You've heard me before," he said. "You've seen the opening to the 'Mary Ann' show? You must have, at least once. It used to run all the fucking time."
"That was you?" she said. She whistled. "I love that song. What was that like? Tell me about her? Is she what she pretends to be on the show? She always struck me as cold-hearted and distant. Like, she needed a good lay."
Joseph chuckled. "I wouldn't know," he said. "We've never met. I recorded that piece at my home studio. It was just a warm up. One of her producers heard it and they started sending me checks. I had very little to do with it. I've been very lucky."
"More than luck," she said. "You obviously have some talent. Not everyone could do that." She walked up behind him, almost touching him. He felt himself getting aroused again. "I swear all these churches look the same," she said. "Not that I've set foot in a church in thirty years or more."
"I know what you mean," he said. "I play churches all the time, and they are pretty much the same everywhere. They're good people though. They've been good to me."
"I grew up in this neighborhood," she said. "Haven't been back since I was old enough to move away. My parents were dirt poor, but still came to church every Sunday and put their money in the collection plate. I could never understand how they tolerated it. It seemed the more they prayed, the poorer God made them. I grew up with a few resentments against God." Her voice trailed off. She wants to say something, thought Joseph. But she isn't sure if she should.
She turned to look back at the empty pews. "This reminds me so much of that church," she said. "I remember being bored and sitting in the back pew and poking my sister to make her laugh." Anne's eyes grew wide. "Oh hell," she said. She put her hands in her face and began to sob.
Joseph put his hand on her shoulder. "What's the matter?" he said.
"This is the church I was baptized in," she said. Her sobs grew heavier. "You've led me back home, Joseph. I can't fucking believe it. I haven't thought of this place in years, yet here I am. You've led me back home."
She put her hands down and one of them grazed past his hand. Oh fuck, thought Joseph. There's no turning back now. At that moment he knew they would be lovers. And he knew they would destroy each other. And there wasn't anything either of them could do about it.