Finding her balance, Lucky Maye took a slow deep breath as she smoothed the waist of her gown and raised her hand high above her head. I can do this, she thought, I can. Do. This. She closed her eyes, tipped her palm upward.
“Welcome to Opening Night of the Back Talk Cafe!”
The shear panic in Joon’s voice nearly knocked her over. “Mom! What are you doing? A chair? Really? Ratan? In those shoes? Get off that chair!”
Joon ran to her mother.
“I was doing just fine until you startled me,” Maye defended. “I was practicing and was trying to get that elevated stage mood, you know.”
“Fine, but please no standing on chairs, okay?” Joon pleaded. “Oh! Byronetta’s looking for you; should I send her up? What the …”
A bright orange flash accompanied by a series of buzzing sounds filled the back corner of the room.
“Tommy, come in Tommy! This isn’t right! Tommy!” Dellasura looked around. This is not the front line of a drone battle. “Tommy! Another coordinate error! Come in, Tommy!”
Tommy’s voice squawked from her mobile communication device. “Not this time, lass. Last minute assignment change. Captain’s orders.”
“But … I don’t understand. What about the drone battle —” Dellasura took in her surroundings. After almost a year of working and living in planet-wide civil war conditions where the lines between friend and foe had become so blurred that most of the planet’s inhabitants had forgotten what they started fighting about in the first place, she wasn’t sure what to make of all the sparkle and light in front of her.
“You’re to find someone named Maye, Lucky Maye, according to the Captain’s instructions. She’ll brief you.” Tommy explained. “That’s all I know. Tommy out.”
“Tommy, wait! Tommy? Tommy!” Dellasura, aware of the two women staring at her, asked immediately. “Do you know where I can find a Lucky Maye?”
Maye nodded. “You must be Della …”
“Dellasura,” she was quick to correct.
Maye’s voice was gentle. “Dellasura, of course, welcome to the Back Talk Cafe. I’ve been expecting you.”
Why am I not surprised; another of my mom’s weird friends, Joon thought as she looked out the atrium window at the Cafe’s ballroom, early arrivals milling around, getting acquainted and reacquainted.
“Mom? Should I tell Byronetta to come up?”
“Yes, of course,” Maye replied, her attention still on the clearly uncomfortable Dellasura. “Oh, and find Trudy; I need her to adjust the accommodations in Guest Room Six.”
“Please tell me why I’m here and whah iss my athignment?” Dellasura’s mouth was dry and her skin itched, as often resulted from transports.
“This is your assignment.” Maye opened the wardrobe doors to reveal a 1920s era embroidered flapper dress.
Dellasura squeezed her eyes shut, assuming the hallucination would pass. None of this made any sense. She’d seen old pictures of that dress in her mother’s scrap book. Impossible.
“Yes, Della, your Great Grandmother’s dress,” Maye waited as Dellasura’s eyes filled with tears.
“But, how … she disappeared; she abandoned her family, left my grandma, a baby with strangers … is this some sort of joke? If so, it is not funny.” Dellasura searched her memories, the faded news clippings. Bettysura was a star on the rise when she — and her money — disappeared without a trace. The press had a field day saying she’d taken all her earnings, changed her name and left the country, leaving her three little kids sitting on a bench outside a grocery story. “I have no interetht in opening old wounths; what ith my assignment? I demand to know what thith ith about.” More than wanting to know, she wanted water, the dehydration headache pressing on her skull. She was about to ask for water when Byronetta walked in.
“You made it! Didn’t expect to see you this early!” Maye embraced her long-time friend and one of several owner-partners in the Cafe. “Did you come in through the ballroom or the kitchen?”
“Ballroom baby, ballroom! We’ve got a veritable who’s who down there; have you looked?”
“Not yet, might make me nervous,” Maye replied.
“You? Nervous? Since when?”
“Is she here yet?” Arturo hurried into the room, then stopped, looking straight at Dellasura, unable to take his eyes from hers. “Impossible … You look just like her; just as I remember, like it was yesterday.” He said, his knees weakening.
“You knew my great grandma Betty? But how …” Dellasura looked back at her great-grandmother’s dress.
Arturo looked at it too, then, “I was in love with her.”
“Everyone was in love with her,” Maye reminded. “You were her trumpet player and hair stylist.”
“Hair stylist?” Dellasura raised her eyebrows.
“I wasn’t always a famous trumpet player; we all have many talents, beginnings, just as I’m sure there is more to you than … whatever it is that you do,” Arturo couldn’t stop staring; the resemblance to Betty was such that a chill ran down his spine. As if Betty’s music had been trapped inside this intense creature since the day she …
“Data Redirect Strategist,” Dellasura said.
“My job, Data Redirect Strategist, that’s what I do.”
“On a big spaceship,” Maye added.
“Sometimes on a ship, but most of the time behind the lines in sector —”
“Oh, yes, quite fascinating my dear, quite fascinating,” Maye gave a subtle nod. “Arturo, show Della the gallery, the display with Betty’s microphone; and lets put the dress next to it, if you don’t mind.”
Dellasura, holding the dress, hesitated. “Its Dellasura, not Della, and I have no interest in participating in a display that glorifies a woman who abandoned her family to poverty while in selfish pursuit of her own wealthy solitude.”
Maye smiled at the serious young officer. “I understand, but it could be that’s not what actually happened. Unfortunately or fortunately, there’s no time for that now; too much to do, so I would appreciate if you and Arturo would take the dress to the gallery. Our intern is arranging for your room with a private bath, which should be ready shortly. No doubt you’ll feel better after some rest and hydration.”
Dellasura, still unsure of this “assignment,” hesitated. Rest could wait, but hydration, yes, now was not the time to argue over an old dress. She needed water.
“Oh! There you are! Joon said you need changes to one of the guest rooms?” Trudy, the intern, asked while stumbling in the high heel shoes she wasn’t used to wearing.
“Yes, please set the mini-fridge at 60.8 degrees in Guest Room Six,” Maye instructed.
“That it?” Trudy asked, curious, but not enough to ask why.
“And make sure its stocked with our Minerals-Plus water,” she added, about to explain when Tarra let out a yell as she caught the dress form bumped by Trudy as she hurried back out.
“There’s a creepy old man looking in that window!” Tarra screamed.
“Uncle Marvin!” Maye waved the old man to come inside. “Why are you out there on the ledge?”
“I’m not so old!” Marvin protested as he edged his way off the ledge and into the room. “Creepy, maybe, but not so old!”
“Excuse me, Maye?” Yelyzaveta spoke fast, her accent heavy. “Derek is looking for you; something about a new arrangement for your solo in the finale.”
Marvin smoothed his long beard, staring at Yelyzaveta. “Maye! Aren’t you going to introduce me to your lovely red-haired friend?”
Byronetta smiled at the old wizard, then turned to Maye. “You clearly have your hands full here,” she said. “I’m going to check on the CMYK Martini Bar, starting with Magenta; find me if you need help with anything. This is going to be such fun!”
Maye hugged her business partner, then again she asked Marvin. “What were you doing out there? Rather precarious ledge, don’t you think?”
“Well, you see, I was hot on the trail of a pretty orange fairy, fastest fairy I’ve ever seen!” Excitement in his voice. “Led me straight here! By chance, did the lovely creature flit through here? I’ve never seen such magic!” He went on and on, clearly impressed with the “pretty orange fairy.”
“She’s not a fairy Uncle Marvin,” Maye corrected. “That’s Dellasura. She’s a starship officer and what you saw was —”
“Nonsense! You always did have a vivid imagination little Maye. Starship officer; do you take me for a fool?” Marvin was having none of it.
“Really? The wizard thinks spaceships are imaginary?” Tarra snickered.
“You are a real wizard?” Yelyzaveta beamed. “A real wizard?”
Marvin straightened in attempt to appear taller to the curious redhead. “I am. And you are?”
“Complicated, but I’ve got an hour until our final run-through before the show and I’m a very good listener with a lot of questions,” Yelyzaveta flirted. “I’ve always wanted to meet a real wizard.”
“Oh! Well isn’t this your lucky day! Shall we? Maye, any objections?”
“None at all, Uncle Marvin, none at all. Veta? Thank you.” The two women exchanged a wink as Yelyzaveta promised him “a very good table” in the showroom.
“There’s still a lot to do before the opening show; anything I can do to help?” Tarra asked.
“Sorry I’m late!” Avalina, floated around the corner. “Hair, you know how it is; how is she holding up?”
“Pretty good actually,” Tarra lowered her voice, “but I know she’s been watching for you.”
“Oh, thank goodness you’re here; I’m okay,” Maye, seeing her oldest friend, fully relaxed for the first time that day. “Wow, great dress, but where is it?”
“Where is what?” Avalina teased.
“You know what; where is it; no way you’re concealing a sword in all that chiffon,” Maye walked around her, looking for signs of hidden hardware.
“Sign out front says combat weaponry must be checked at the door; so I checked it at the door, of course,” Avalina smirked. “Besides, did you see the guy checking them? Has the arms of an ambidextrous archer. Is he?”
“Since when do you read signs, much less follow them?” Maye eyed her suspiciously, knowing full well her high-seas sailing friend was never without her cherished sword. “That’s Ledges, by the way.”
“The ambidextrous archer checking hardware at the door; his name is Ledges. Don’t go there Lina.”
“There you are!” Derek, the Cafe’s music director stormed into the room, waving his arms. “I’ve taken the liberty of — oh, I didn’t realize you had a guest. Should I … wait?”
“No, no, Derek, um, what is so urgent?”
“I’ve taken the liberty of lowering the key in your finale solo to better accommodate your aging voice,” he explained, like a cat who brings a dead mouse home as a gift to the family.
“You did not just say that to her!” Avalina was incredulous.
“Now, look here madam! As music director if she bombs in the high range, the dissonance could distract the audience, not to mention that it will reflect negatively on all of us! It is because I care about her presentation that I have taken the —”
“Its fine, Derek, it’s fine, um, I appreciate it, you know that,” Maye, attempting to calm the temperamental Derek was trying equally hard not to laugh out loud at his phantom-like attempt at a compliment. “Lina, I can explain later; Derek really does mean well, and lets face it, I’m no spring chicken.” She turned to Derek. “I’ll be down shortly for a run through in the new key, thank you.”
“Excellent! I shall strike up the band!” He declared, complete with dramatic exit.
“Where’d you find that guy?” Avalina asked. “I hope he’s good.”
“Very good; the best; we’re lucky to have his talent; and he’s happy here, so I would appreciate you not stirring up problems where there aren’t any,” she teased, but with an edge that says, “don’t mess with the music director.”
“Me? Stir up problems? Mondieux!”
“I’m just glad you’re here.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, my friend. And on that note, I’m going to find that ambidextrous archer. What’d you say his name is?”
“Ledges, his name is Ledges,” Maye shook her head as she said his name. Inviting both of them to the Cafe at the same time might not’ve been such a great idea. “He’s not some guy you can just charm; he’ll see right through it, just letting you know.”
“I’m not out to capture him aboard ship; I just want to talk to him, that’s all; you worry too much,” Avalina blew a kiss and turned to leave. “You know where to find me; you’ll do great tonight. Looks like a full house.”
“I hope you’re right. Hey, I feel better knowing you’re here.”
“Me too, my old friend, me too. You got this,” she said, layers of chiffon moving effortlessly as she floated out of the room, just as she’d floated in.
Maye looked around the room. Quiet. A few moments to reflect, to rest before showtime. Who would’ve imagined that a dilapidated abandoned train depot could be transformed in such an extraordinary way and under such extraordinary circumstances? “A lot of blood, sweat, and tears,” she said aloud, “and a lot of laughter,” she added, thankful to have a few minutes alone.