Sebastian trailed his gloved fingers on the dazzling keys once more and rounded off the resplendent final chord. All rehearsed singers below him on the dance floor trilled deafeningly. His own voice mingled with the others, trumpetlike. He could hear Royale’s own distinctive, far superior voice cutting through the wall of sound like paper, and his heart skipped a beat. Just before Sebastian cut off the note with a flourish, his and Royale’s eyes met. Royale winked, and Sebastian flashed a grin. He pounced on the keys with his spiderlike fingers to finish the number and sprang to his feet for his bow. The applause was tumultuous.

Half a minute later, the breathless cast mobbed the backstage, flushed with success and congratulating each other on a wonderful job. Royale caught up with Sebastian after he exited the stage and hugged him voraciously, her grin shining brightly from the elated crowd around her.

“Great job!” she said breathlessly when they broke apart. “You really outdid yourself tonight!” Sebastian thought her eyes looked too bright to really be real.

“Thank you,” he said, breaking into a sheepish grin. “You sounded absolutely amazing out there-



“Oh, you old charmer,” she said playfully. Sebastian laughed. Moments like this happened every so often with her. It felt unreal and yet completely comfortable.
But then several seconds passed in silence. The life went out of the conversation, and Sebastian was loathe to see it go. Royale hesitated, then grinned ruefully.

“Well, I must be getting to all my adoring fans. There’re so many people to talk to after a show is over. You know.” she said wryly.

“Yes, there certainly are,” Sebastian agreed, thinking that he had never really been onset by a crowd of congratulators. There was so much about him that Royale did not know about, and (much of) it wasn’t for presence of secrecy. He wondered how much she actually paid attention to him.

“I’ll see you later, then.”

For a moment, their gaze clicked. Hollow black eyes met bright gray eyes, but it was only the lifeless pair that really saw. Sebastian was forced to let go of another moment with Royale as she looked over her shoulder and waved as she left.

Ten minutes later, Sebastian traipsed to his bedroom wearily. He unlocked the door and entered his dark room, grateful that the wing where his room was located was far enough away that he could not hear the commotion and music of the dance hall. A sharp ache was developing in his head; it felt as though it was being drilled into. The cause may have been the excessive volume, but then again it may not have.

A welcome darkness greeted Sebastian as he entered the room. He crossed the room nimbly, evading heaps of clothing and bedding cognizantly in the dark. Undressing habitually, he undid the buttons and ties and threw his clothing from himself with an attitude of one freeing oneself from fetters. The bed was given a wide berth, for Sebastian knew that if he were to lie on it he would promptly fall asleep. He dropped onto the bench of his piano dejectedly. The smooth wood was soothing on the patches of his bare skin.

Looking out the window up at the night sky, Sebastian saw a blanket of shimmering stars that seemed nearly as endless as his life stretching before him. He was tired; tired physically, mentally, and for many years, emotionally. Knowing full well the things that lay ahead for him in his well-thought-out future, he was daunted by the thought of forty more years confined to this very same room. Thus provoked a disturbing mental image of himself, a reclusive old man, withdrawing to the hated sanctuary of his bedroom to escape the despondency of another unfulfilling moment with Royale. Such a ritual was already unbearable after only a few years. Sebastian felt more dispirited than he had in a long time. It had been four years since he had last felt this low.

Sebastian rose, trance-like, and walked over to the windowsill. He gazed at the moon hungrily, hypnotized by it and the rest of the view, and appreciative of the lapse of emotion the distraction caused. The pale curtain of light from the moon’s luminescence caused the slender outline of Sebastian’s body to be thrown in stark contrast with the yawning black chasm that was the room behind him. He looked paler than usual but very peaceful and surreal in this aspect; his features were more defined and his eyes pierced the night sky. The dozen or so thin scars on his bleached chest, one of the places that held evidence of his father’s abuse, stood out discernibly.

After an hour or so of standing in this way, Sebastian had a firm premonition that told him to get dressed and go downstairs. He pulled on a pair of trousers, buttoned up a cotton shirt, and put on suspenders. Neglecting shoes, he exited his room slowly and drifted down the hall, down the stairs, and into the lobby.