Caroline stood on the balcony and looked down at the crowd below. Everyone was smiling and laughing as the band took a pause. A sultry jazz singer stepped out on stage in a golden gown and walked to the microphone.
“Good evening,” she purred, “On behalf of management, I want to thank you all for coming out to Libellule tonight for our big kick off! Please enjoy the show. This first song is about a man I knew a long time ago…” She started to sing soft and low. The band joined her piece by piece.
Caroline sighed. It was a good song and it reminded her of a way she used to feel. A way she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
“What are you doing up here by yourself?” She gave a little jump as Frank surprised her from behind. Frank chuckled at the sight and handed her a glass of champagne.
“I wanted to see the view from up here to make sure everything is perfect.” She went to sip her champagne, but Frank stayed her hand.
“First, a toast to the most stunning and talented woman here tonight,” Frank raised his glass, but Caroline cocked her head.
“The jazz singer?” she asked. Frank chuckled again. A warm rumbling sound that made Caroline feel at ease.
“No, you, Caroline. Look around, we made this, but you made it beautiful. You made it rich.” He waved his glass and almost spilled. She blushed a little.
“Thank you, Frank, but you know what you need now?”
“What? What could I possibly need now? I’m on top of the world,” he exclaimed. Caroline sipped her champagne and kept him waiting. She leaned close.
“A hotel,” she purred.
“A hotel?” Frank was surprised, but she could see the gears starting to turn behind his eyes.
“Yes, a hotel…on the boardwalk, of course. You’re already feeding them, entertaining them, now you give them a bed to sleep in and you almost have every tourist dollar.” She watched at Frank continued to mull it over. “If you have the tourist money, you’re going to have even more pull in this town.”
“Oh Caroline,” he finally said, “Oh Caroline, you are brilliant!”
“It would be the same deal as Libellule. I’ll need an allowance from my profit percentage here, but I want the extra to go into a fund to buy and develop a property for the hotel.”
“Now you’re starting to sound like me,” Frank chuckled again, but Caroline remained serious.
“I mean it, Frank. Tomorrow you need to start looking into it. I’ll focus on finishing up the Night Owl Cabaret for opening, you go find our next investment.” She jabbed a finger lightly into his chest.
“I got it, I got it. We’ll start a hotel and what do you think we should do after that?” He emptied his glass and set it on the table. He pulled out his cigarette case. Caroline looked back at the jazz singer and thought about it. The woman’s words struck her somewhere deep again and she found herself swaying with the tune.
“I haven’t thought of the next step yet,” she murmured.
“Do you like this song?” Frank asked watching her think. As she nodded, he tucked the cigarette back with the others and clicked the case shut. Before she could respond he had taken her glass from her and pulled her into his arms to dance. It was slow and they were alone on the balcony.
“Another hotel,” Caroline suggested as her hand rested on Frank’s shoulder, “Further down…for families…not a high class sort of place, you know.” She stared at the room behind him as it slowly turned.
“Perhaps,” Frank replied.
“Or more entertainment…daytime entertainment?” she suggested.
“You mean, carnivals and what not?”
“Maybe.” Caroline shrugged. The jazz singer’s song rolled right into the next one. Caroline listened to lyrics about more heartbreak. She thought about the long nights in prison where she had stared out at the moonlight crawling across the floor and thought about Cylus. How she wondered for years if he had only made a mistake in Chicago. Perhaps he hadn’t seen her on the stairs of the bank. She knew that wasn’t true, but the tiny voice of doubt hung on until she finally managed to kill it. Like a cockroach on the floor of her cell, she squashed it every night with hate. Hate for Cylus, for the annoying way he picked his teeth at the table and hocked up loogies whenever he left a building, for every time her grabbed her wrist and hit her, for every night she said he was being too rough and he didn’t listen, until one day there wasn’t a little voice anymore. There was no hope and no doubt. In her mind, he didn’t love her and she didn’t love him.
“Are you alright, Caroline?” she heard Frank say. She flinched as she realized the music had stopped and Frank stood still holding her.
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m a little tired. I think I’ll call it a night.” She pulled away from him, but he held onto her hand.
“You don’t really want to go home early on our big night, do you?” he asked. Caroline considered it a moment.
“Yes, I think I do. I have been putting this place first for so long. I need a night for myself.” She tugged her hand, but Frank still kept a firm grip on it.
“But it’s one more night, Caroline. Tomorrow you can do what ever you want.”
“No, Frank, I don’t feel sociable.”
“Then stay in the lounge, enjoy the music. Hell, lay down on the davenport if you want,” He rested a hand on her waist and led her back to the lounge as he talked. They stopped and stared at the dark room. Laying down on the sofa did sound tempting to Caroline, but she knew she’d get better sleep at home.
“No, Frank, you should get back to being a good host. Good night,” she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He fastened his arm around her waist and with his other hand pulled her mouth to his. He kissed her and Caroline froze in shock. She hadn’t been kissed like that in years and with guilt realized she liked it. She shouldn’t be kissing Margot’s husband and that was that. She pushed Frank away and he released her with a chuckle.
“Why did you kiss me?” she hissed as she backed away.
“Because I can,” Frank pulled out a cigarette. “So why wouldn’t I?” He put the cigarette in his lips and lit it.
“It’s not right, it’s not right!” Caroline cried. She rushed towards him and beat on his chest with her fists.
“Yes, it is, Caroline. It’s 1922. It’s not wrong anymore,” he growled. She ran away from him to the back stairs, but his big strides easily followed her. She paused on the stairs and peered through the banister at him. Tears glistened in the light that drifted over the balcony.
“It doesn’t feel that way, not for me,” she whispered.
“I thought we made a great team, Caroline,” Frank replied. She looked away and wiped her cheek. When she turned back her jaw was set.
“Business partners, yes…don’t ever touch me again.” She turned and continued down the stairs.
“I said this was about building the future, Caroline, not resurrecting the past!” Frank called after her.
Caroline grabbed her wrap from the coat room and found Charlie in the back.
“Can you give me a lift home? I’m not feeling well,” she said. Charlie nodded and said he’d bring the car around.
“Thank you, I’ll be out front getting some air.” Caroline hurried away and slipped out onto the boardwalk. It’s glittering lights filled the night sky and people walked back and forth admiring them. Caroline snaked her way through them and looked out over the beach. She wiped a few errant tears away. She was so confused. She couldn’t understand the myriad of emotions that had just rushed through her. She took several deep breaths and shut her eyes. Then a quick whisper sounded in her ear, more urgent than the first night she had seen Libellule.
“Caroline!” it said. She spun around, but the people continued to walk past her without stopping. She saw Charlie pull up in the car and she fought back through the crowd. She didn’t wait for Charlie to open the door. She climbed in by herself and slammed it before he even saw her coming.
“Woah, Miss Caroline, I didn’t see you in the crowd,” he exclaimed.
“Take me home, please,” she urged and leaned her head in her hand as if she were ill. I must be losing my mind, she thought.