Sarah stares Cordelia down. “I’ll go up and sing for her.”
“You?” Cordelia scoffs mockingly. “You can barely speak. And it’s against the rules, anyway.”
Sarah doesn’t back down—not an inch. “The rules have changed.”
Cordelia shakes her head, her face twisting with spite. Then she picks up a glass, holds it out with a straight arm, and drops it on the floor, where it shatters.
When nothing happens, when Sarah just continues to gaze dismissively, the vicious confidence fades from Cordelia’s eyes.
“You ought to clean that up,” Sarah says, walking past. “Someone could get hurt.”
Franny clicks her tongue. “All that arse fucking has made you quite a Nasty Bitch, Cordelia. You should break the seal already—it may help your disposition.”
Have I mentioned that I fucking love Franny?
But I’m focused on Sarah, in her little red dress, on the stage, muttering to herself and twisting her fingers into knots and generally looking like she’s about to keel over or spew.
I stand and walk up beside her. “How are we doing? Is this going to be Davey 2.0?”
Her throat convulses when she swallows. “Probably. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You were thinking about sticking up for your sister.”
Sarah stares out over the crowd, who haven’t really noticed her yet—her eyes infinitely big and dark, her face paling by the second.
And she whispers, “I can’t do this, Henry.”
I disentangle her fingers for her. “Yes you can. I’ll be right here the whole time.”
Her eyes turn to me and I give her a wink. Then I bring a chair forward and I pick up the guitar that’s propped up at the back of the stage, testing the strings and adjusting the amp.
The room goes quiet, everyone watching. Waiting.
Sarah takes the deepest breath and she closes her eyes—not tightly or squeezing—gently, like she’s dreaming. And I play the opening notes, soft and sad and consistent.
And then she starts to sing, and I’m so fucking proud of her, I want to climb a mountain just so I can shout from it. Sarah’s voice is clear and hauntingly gorgeous. In that moment, every person in the audience falls in love with her. And when she sings about standing before God with nothing on her lips but Hallelujah—I fall in love with her a little bit too.
When she gets to the part I’ve always interpreted as talking about sex—moving in each other and gasping—Sarah opens her eyes, but she only looks at me. And it’s like those piercing eyes of hers could capture my soul.
Then they’re closing again and she finishes the song as it’s supposed to be finished—poignant and unashamed, with broken emotion ringing in every syllable. “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Halle . . . luuuu . . . jah.”
When her lips close and the final note is still ringing in the air, quiet little Sarah Von Titebottum brings down the house.
And the night doesn’t end there—not even close. When we get back to the castle, Vanessa has a surprise. “I thought we needed to up the fun quotient around here, so . . . we’re having a party.”
She leads us to the great room, where, holy hell—Bartholomew Gallagar, Hannibal Lancaster, Sam Berkinshire, and about half a dozen more of my best lads and old schoolmates are waiting.
“Surprise! Have fun, Henry.”
Emily, the host, does an intro to our new guests for the cameras—which are still rolling, rolling, rolling. And then I’m greeting the boys, smacking backs and pouring drinks.
Nicholas despises Lancaster, but I’ve always found him to be game for a good time.
“You lucky bastard,” he tells me, surveying the room. “Have you fucked them all, or are you pacing yourself?”
Sarah’s eyes cut over her shoulder, hearing Hannibal and frowning at what he said.
He flips his brown hair out of his eyes and seems to zero in on Cordelia. “I haven’t stuck it to a virgin in years. If there are any left, point me in their direction.”
I clap him on the shoulder when there’s suddenly a noisy row near the door . . . because Sam just saw Elizabeth.
“Lizzy?” he chokes. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Elizabeth unleashes hell.
“Fuck you, Sam! You don’t get to ask me questions, you cheating tosser!”
I push my way over to them.
“Henry?” And there’s so much accusation in Sam’s one word.
“It’s not how it looks. I can explain.”
But Elizabeth beats me to the punch. “Just wait until the show airs and everyone you know watches me boffing Henry.”
It’s not true, but she seems to get a thrill over the agony that flashes across Sam’s face.
“Get a big bucket of popping corn and watch it with your granny,” Elizabeth hisses.
“Are you saying you don’t like my granny?” Sam asks, brokenly.
“I’m saying I don’t like you!” Elizabeth screeches, hair flying out like Medusa.
Then Sam turns my way. “I’m going to rip your balls off.”
I hold up my hands. “It’s not like that, Sam.”
Then, with a roar, he tackles me.
HENRY LOOKS HAPPY. Well, he does now. After he and Sam Berkinshire rolled around on the floor for a bit, security broke them apart. Sam swore to Elizabeth that the things she’d found—the rubbers and receipts—were items he’d bought for her, to use with her. Then he confessed that the panties . . . he’d bought for himself.