No Room At The Inn
Stella woke feeling both anxious and content. She woke with a sense that something was about to happen that would be life changing - good or bad she did not know.
The only sound was the soft tick of the clock down the hall, and Earl’s rasp and sputter snores. She suspected that in time she would come to despise that sound - Earl’s snore - but for now she loved each note, each breath, telling her that he was there.
Last night had been New Year’s Eve 1948, and it had been delicious. She had never thought that she could be this happy. Was it a dream? Like most dreams, when one wakes, everything good just slips away, its sweet memory fading into star dust. That was why she was anxious, it was all too good to be true - yet, content, because it really was true.
She arose, careful not to wake Earl, slipped on her robe and slippers, and tip-toed down the stairs. It was a quarter to seven in the morning. They had not gone to bed until three. She was tired, but not in a hazy way. She knew that by afternoon exhaustion would be pounding on her temporal lobe with an unforgiving headache. Shame on you girl, she thought, you are more than old enough to know better.
She looked around the bar, her eyes, dry and puffy, not quite focused from lack of sleep, too much to drink, and tobacco smoke. She could feel that headache creeping up to meet the morning sun, but she was not about to let it ruin her morning; at least not yet.
This was their home and Earl’s piano bar. The name might be hers, but it was Earl who gave it life. The dirty glasses, confetti, ashtrays, dishes that were going to be hell to clean, were all where they had left them when they had finally called it a night. The stench of stale tobacco smoke and spilled beer were the bar’s own early morning hangover. The electric sign in the window quietly buzzed as it announced that this was Stella’s Starlight Lounge, a place where music began, magic which she prayed would never end.
As she reached the piano her finger tapped down slowly on a key, its solitary note touching her heart as she remembered Earl’s serenade. In a room full of people there had just been the two of them. He had gotten up from his piano, found her in his darkness, and took her in his arms. Henry played his clarinet while Brooks whistled, creating the illusion that Benny Goodman had stepped into their moment. He sang to her as they danced, their soft steps were like walking on a cloud filled sky just short of heaven.