It was the night of the Gala Finale at the symphony. Since the studio supports the symphony, the symphony supports me, mainly by our taking photographs of anything and everything they do and they, in turn, use those photographs in all of their publicity, with the studio's name in fairly bold, but tiny letters. I did, however small the lettering, like being known as the symphony's exclusive photographer.
I had invited Lou to join me for dinner and the symphony, and she was especially excited because, in addition to the usual fare of classical and pop music, the tenor and the soprano from the Metropolitan Opera would be performing excerpts from "La Boheme", her favorite opera.
I arrived at her home to pick her up. She came to the door and looked absolutely stunning. Outside of the last New Year's Eve, I hadn't seen her in a dress, and the one she had on that night was absolutely gorgeous. It was a smoke grey in color and fitted her like a glove. I felt like the village idiot drooling over her. The bodice was tight across her breasts, and I could see their outline, young, firm and luscious. The skirt was like a number of large silk handkerchiefs sewn into the waist, allowing her legs to flash with every step. Even though the gown's neckline is cut in a very low "V", she was elegance incarnate.
She took one look at my stunned expression and giggled, her hand delicately covering her mouth. She had a diamond pendant at her throat, setting off the dress and her throat beautifully. Even her firefly tattoo looked good. By this time, her hair had grown quite a bit and she had combed it down the middle, and the red of her hair complimented the dress. She had donned a pair of dark red high heeled sandals, which were strapped delicately above her ankles and nylons. I figured they were stay-ups as Lou hated pantyhose. How she felt about garters was something I didn't know. A small black clutch purse completed the ensemble.
She stood there, looking at me in my tux and she sighed. She reached up and brushed off some imaginary lint from my tux. "You clean up pretty good, mister," she said. "Do I look OK?"
"My God," I said. "Every man there is going to wish they were me. The women are going to be so jealous!" I turned and offered her my arm, which she took, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I tried to walk sedately, but Lou was practically skipping down the walk. It was hard to keep up with her. Thank goodness I have very long legs!
Tonight, we were going in the sedan, even though I was taking a number of candid photographs at the Gala and I needed some of my equipment. I took Lou to the passenger side and opened the door for her. She daintily sat in the seat and pulled in her legs in a very lady-like manner, both legs at the same time. I only got a quick glimpse of her long legs. I leaned down, on the pretext of fastening her seat belt and whispered, "Lou, you look so fantastic tonight."
She laughed lightly and pulled my face around to hers, giving me a smoldering kiss. She wiped the lipstick from my mouth and, with her eyes looking up through her lashes, said, "We'd better be going. We don't want to be late, do we?" I shook my head and beat a hasty retreat.
I went around to my side of the car, glancing at my watch. She was right; we were running a touch late. We were to have dinner at the concert venue, an old opera house that had been completely renovated. I managed to get our seats at the symphony conductor's table. Il Tenore and Il Soprano are supposed to be there, also, but I hadn't told Lou. I wanted that to be a surprise.
We drove for a couple of minutes before I said, "I managed to get a copy of tonight's program. I also have the seating arrangements for dinner. Would you like to peruse them?" I handed her a couple of small booklets, one the program and the other a program for the dinner. I also handed the tickets to the dinner with our table number on them to her.
Lou reached up and flicked on the interior light so that she could see a little better. She compared the dinner tickets to the table arrangements and did a classic double-take. She looked closer and then squealed and practically jumped out of her seat. She threw her arms around me, pulled me over to her and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. This is one of the reasons I had kept it a secret from her: she's always so thrilled about surprises and acts like a little girl at Christmas when I give her one. I just hope my eardrums can handle the squeals!
We arrived at the opera house and I parked the car in the rear. I had some gear to unpack. Even during the dinner I expected to be working, taking table shots. I don't expect Lou to do much, but she grabbed up a camera equipped with a flash, some extra batteries and a couple of memory cards. She slipped the batteries and memory cards into her clutch and held the camera loosely. I loaded myself similarly, except everything went into my pockets. I figured two cameras should handle everything.
Once we got inside, I found a place near our table where we could stash the equipment and still get to it quickly when dinner was over. I kept one camera and flash with me as we made our way to the lobby where the dinner was going to be served. Even though it was a large lobby, the balcony was pressed into service because the crowd was so large. It seems that everybody who was anybody in town wanted to support the symphony that night!
Our table, with the conductor, tenor and soprano was on the balcony. It overhung the lobby in such a way that we could see the people below and get some very interesting pictures. So much cleavage was on display that night! Of course, I strongly suspected that some of the women knew what we could see and would lean forward just for the amusement of us on the balcony.
When we arrived, people were still milling about, so I immediately started snapping pictures. Lou, even though she tried to hide it, was impressed with the interior of the opera house. She was staring at everything and everybody.
Still, her innate elegance came to the fore and she recovered quickly so that no one, except me, really noticed. It didn't hurt that almost everyone else was acting the same way. I looked over at Lou, and I couldn't help but notice that her nipples were hard from her excitement. She was fairly trembling like a thoroughbred before a big race.
Soon enough, I led her up the stairs to the balcony where our table was. Several people were up there already, admiring the view and the restored architecture. Truth to tell, the old girl was looking very nice. The people in charge of the renovations did their very best to recreate the elegance that was present in the original designs of the opera house, right down to the frescoes and gilded paint. It had cost quite a bit, but the taxpayers didn't pay anything unless they wanted to; it was all done by private donations.
Amongst the crowd on the balcony were three of the people I knew would be at our table: the conductor, Il Tenore and Il Soprano. I knew that Lou was anxious to meet them, especially the diva. I'm not talking the woman; Il Tenore was known for his 'tantrums'. So far, on this trip, he'd been on good behavior, but Lord only knew when he'd explode.
I saw someone with whom I was familiar, the principal violinist who was also the concert mistress. She was an old friend of mine and I flagged her down. I asked her to make the introductions and we all made small talk. It's obvious, at least to me that Lou was trying very hard not to gush all over Il Tenore. He, of course, basked in her adoration. He took it in stride as his due, and he was able to put her at ease. As accustomed as he was to beauty, I can see that he was as mesmerized by her beauty as I was. The soprano, although a beauty in her own right, could not hold a candle to her that night.
Thankfully, shortly after being introduced, the maitre d signaled that it was time for dinner. Il Tenore offered Lou his arm, and without a glance to me, she took it and he led her to our table. I offered my arm to the soprano and she took it after glancing at Lou and Il Tenore. Both Il Tenore and I held the chairs for our lovely ladies, and we took seats beside them. It worked out that I was between the women, and Il Tenore was on Lou's right side.
The salad was served almost as soon as we were seated and the conversation dragged a little amongst most of us as we ate, but Il Tenore was holding forth despite the food.
After the soup course, the soprano made her excuses (she said she couldn't have meat until after the concert), and the men all stood until she was away from the table. I could see several men's eyes following her. We resettled ourselves and the entrée was brought before us. Lou looked a bit puzzled.
"Signor Terripeli, I don't understand. Ms. Morgan said that she didn't eat meat until after a performance. Why do you?"
Il Tenore, a big, broad shouldered, very masculine man, replied, in his thick, Italian-accented English: "It is like-a thees, mi bella. The soprano, she thinks that the meat, it will hurt her, how you say, ah the vocal-a chords. She thinks it will keep her from-a getting the big-a breath. Sopranos! They all are-a crazy! The meat is-a good, it-a sustains the body for the big-a arias!"
We all laughed, and Lou's giggle was like a bell above our male guffaws. Il Tenore leaned in close to Lou. "Tell-a me, bella: are you a soprano? I hope-a not, because it would-a mean you are-a crazy, too!"
Lou laughed, again. "No, no, Signor Terripelli, I'm not a soprano. I sang alto in school. Jonny is a bass."
Il Tenore leaned back and laughed a huge laugh. "Altos, they are-a only a little crazy. Basses, they are not-a crazy. They are-a jealous of tenores!" As he said it, he pointed his finger at me, laughing merrily away.
Everyone else at the table laughed, me included, but I couldn't help but wince a little. Maybe I was a little jealous of the attention Lou was giving him. 'Oh, well, he won't be here tomorrow, ' I thought.
Dinner didn't last much longer, as dessert was being reserved for after the program. Il Tenore took his leave of us to get ready for his performance. I had already grabbed the camera and I was able to photograph his bow above your hand, which he took and kissed. Lou gave a little curtsy and he released her and went down the stairs, followed closely by the conductor.
We made it back to where we had stashed the rest of the equipment and Lou grabbed another camera. She grabbed me for one of her kisses and then asked if she could take pictures backstage while I worked the tables. This wasn't what I had planned, but then, I hadn't planned on her taking pictures at all, so I agreed. I wasn't so foolish or naïve not to know what she had planned; she wanted to photograph Il Tenore getting ready!
So, she headed off backstage while I worked the crowd. And quite a crowd it was, too. Dinner had been crowded, but as the rest of the patrons shuffled in, it looked like it was going to be a sell out. I made sure to get the big-wigs and the muckety-mucks, as I had yet to spot the newspaper's photographer. I might sell a couple to the newspaper.
After awhile, feeling like I had everything I needed from out front, I headed off backstage. Just as I rounded the curtain, a flash went off, momentarily making me see stars. As my eyes cleared up, I saw Lou and Il Tenore in a head-to-head conversation. I had to grin; Il Tenore had made a big impression on Lou, and she was basking in his attentions. I wasn't too jealous. After all, I'm the guy she was going home with tonight.
I watched as he took her hands in his much larger ones, and he traced the tattoo on her shoulder. I brought the camera to my eye and took a couple of photographs, the flash startling the two of them. He, of course, is used to this and his grin was anything but chagrined. Lou kind of hung her head a little, then smiled at me.
Fortunately (or, unfortunately, depending on your point of view) this little tête-à-tête had to end, as we were only a few minutes before the beginning of the performance. I went over to the two of them just as the stage manager announced the same thing I was going to tell Lou. I shrugged my shoulders and took her by the hand and started leading her off to find our seats. I happened to turn, just as Lou waved her fingers at Il Tenore, and he raised his fingers to his lips as if to throw her a kiss. I brought the camera to my eye and shot the picture. I sent it to him later, and he gave it to his publicist, who put it on the dust jacket of a book Il Tenore wrote. You just never know where, or when, the really great pictures will happen, I guess.
Lou came with me, and while I don't normally like to be in the center of a row, I sacrificed my legs and comfort so that Lou could get the most out of the performance. We were five rows back, and I had to be very, very careful about disturbing our neighbors when I was taking the pictures during the performance. Basically, I just sat there with the camera to my eye and took pictures every so often. Of course, I had the flash turned off, but these new digital cameras can take amazing pictures with high ISO's; all you have to do is set it up.
Throughout the program, I would steal glimpses of Lou. She was totally enthralled. Il Tenore and the soprano sang a couple of numbers in the first part of the program geared to show that they can sing popular music as well as opera. However, they really couldn't and their awkwardness showed. That wasn't what the patrons came for, anyway. In the second part of the program, they sang the excerpts from "La Boheme", and Lou was spell-bound.
The two of them, Il Tenore and soprano, made the symphony shine, and it was the perfect jewel to set off the evening and the season. The applause at the end was like no other in years, and Lou led it, tears streaming down her face. She was practically jumping in place, she was so excited. I felt a wave of unrestrained love flowing from me to her as I watched her. However, I did not forget why I was there, and I made my way to the aisle where I could take pictures, both of the crowd and of the performers.
Il Tenore and the soprano go off stage, and still the applause thundered down. Then, Il Tenore came back on stage and he announced that he would sing an encore, thanks to the applause from the audience. There's a microphone, though he really didn't need it. Il Tenore asked for Lou by name, to come and join him on the stage. Lou stood there, like a deer in the headlights of an on-coming semi. She looked over at me, and I could see her eyes, big and watery. I shook my head, Lou shrugged; neither of us knew what was going on. With the encouragement of the audience, she moved towards me. I took her hand and led her to the stairs where she took a couple of tentative steps upwards.
Il Tenore came to the edge of the stage, took one step towards Lou and extended his huge paw and, took Lou's much smaller hand in his and led her to the center of the stage right beside the conductor's box. Once again, he took the microphone in hand and explained: "Each-a performance, I like-a to select a young-a lady to sing to. May I?" He seemed to be saying it to Lou, but the whole audience made the decision by their hoots and hollers. Lou nodded anyway. Her eyes were sparkling.
If his performance before was worthy of applause, Il Tenore's performance to Lou was inspired. This time, he sang with such feeling and force that tears were being shed by many, men included. When he finished, the applause was positively deafening, and he took Lou in his arms. She wept, unabashedly, against his chest. We'd all felt the power in his voice, and he gently disengaged from Lou to take his bows, Lou's hand still in his.
No one wanted it to end, and I was on the front row, then on the stage, recording it. I felt very special and very privileged to have been there, witnessing the whole thing.
Il Tenore led Lou off stage, and I followed, taking pictures with nearly every step. I felt a little dizzy because I was swinging the camera to follow Lou and back to the audience. Later, viewing the pictures, I still felt dizzy, especially when I viewed them as a slide show.
We reached the back stage, the sound of the applause following us. Il Tenore stopped and turned Lou and gave her a soft kiss. Suddenly, the backstage area broke into pandemonium. The orchestra had quickly followed us and so did some of the audience members. Il Tenore's fans, both young and old, surrounded him and Lou was unceremoniously shoved aside. I caught her before she could fall, and I kissed her gently on the forehead. I made sure she was steady on her feet, gave her another kiss and then started taking pictures of the crowd around the star. Lou, I'm afraid, was forgotten for the moment.
Flowers were being pressed into the hands of both Il Tenore and the soprano and wine was flowing quite freely. I saw Lou at one point with a goblet in her hand, sipping absent-mindedly. Of course, I didn't imbibe as I don't like to have my pictures anything but as perfect as I can make them.
Soon enough, the crowd started to thin as those in the backstage area started wandering off to the exits. It was surprising just how quickly everyone left, and before we were really aware of it, the entire backstage was empty with only the exit lights and the light on the center stage for companions. We set about picking up my equipment, Lou with a wistful, distracted air. In the dim light, Lou seemed to glow.
"You know," I said, "I just thought of something. When I was younger, I used to work here. That was back when they were trying to make money as a movie theatre. I knew all of the hidden entrances back then, down to the make up rooms and the costume department from back when this was a legitimate theatre. I wonder if they preserved them during the renovations."
I was counting on Lou's sense of adventure to overcome her wistfulness. Besides, I had something in mind to bring her mind back to me. "I wonder," she said. "Where were they?"
"Right this way," I replied, and I headed towards the back of the stage. I went down a couple of stairs, and just behind them was a small door. I knew it was there, even before I mentioned it to Lou. I opened the door and stepped through, ducking almost onto my hands knees. Well, not really, but it felt that way to me. Lou merely ducked.
Inside the door were some stairs leading downward, and I fumbled around a bit seeking the light switch. I eventually found it, and, at the bottom of the stairs, a light came on. The stairs are steep, but there is a handrail which we gripped tightly. At the bottom of the staircase, the passage took a sharp 90 degree turn. The naked light bulb was burning above our heads and the light it gave revealed to us a doorway through which we could see another room lit by another bare bulb. We scurried into the room, light moths drawn to a flame.
As we entered the room, I knew just where the light switch was, and I flicked it on. We were immediately bathed in light, the darkness banished. Initially, we were dazzled by the displays there, of old costumes, old props and decorations. It was a hodge-podge, but somehow it had survived the decay the theatre had experienced, and while it was old and musty, it had not totally disintegrated. Lou squealed in delight and rushed here and there, making only cursory inspections. She is like a kid in a candy store, unable to decide where to look.
I had to chuckle. I knew that was going to be her reaction. I was gratified that I was able to make at least one correct assumption in our lives. I, too, was a little overwhelmed, and I knew just what was down there.
I went to a corner that I had cleared out a week or so before. I kind of knew what was going to happen that night, how Lou would react. For all of her seeming sophistication, she was a little girl at heart, and wore that heart on her sleeve. Knowing this, I had tried to be prepared, so that if she did react, then I was ready. My "just remembering" was a bit of a ruse because I knew that this area, while not part of the restoration, was pretty much as I remembered it being back in the 60's when I worked there.
In the corner, there was a bar about a foot above my head. There were others around the large room, with different costumes and other sundry items dangling from them. Even here there were costumes at either end, leaving about a four-foot section cleared of even the coat hangers. As I was making some last-minute preparations, I was listening to Lou "oooh" and "ahhh" over different items of costumes and props. I was just as happy that she was distracted and not really aware of what I was doing. There was a functional dressing table right next to where I had cleared things out and I had put a few items of my own in it. My thought was, 'This will be fun!'
I called Lou over, saying that I had a surprise for her. She came scampering over, her eyes bright with anticipation. I kept my hands behind me, and she was like a child wanting to see what I was hiding.
"Close your eyes and hold out your hands," I said. She closed her eyes, and held out her hands, palms up. She wasn't quite still as she was kind of bouncing, again like a little child.
"Oooohhh, what is it, what is it?" Lou exclaimed.
"You'll find out," I said as I clipped some soft handcuffs on her wrists. Her eyes popped open, as did her mouth. She was surprised, to say the very least. She started to protest, but I could tell by her eyes that it wasn't going to go very far.
Attached to the center of the cuffs is a hook, and attached to the hook was some rope. The end of the rope was over the bar above our heads and when Lou's eyes followed the line of the rope up over the bar, her eyes widened and her protests became more earnest. She started to pull away, but I pulled on the rope, causing her to come up against me. She couldn't get away. She tried to hit me, but I pulled on the rope a little more and her arms were pulled above her head. I pulled a little more, and, even in her heels, she was up on just her toes and unable to find a purchase on the floor.
Lou's arms were above her head and she was really stretched out. I can reach the bar, but she can't. She was suspended with her feet barely touching the floor. Her dress was clinging to her, the handkerchiefs fluttering around her legs. Her breasts were pushing out the top, and, as thin as she was, her hips were prominent against the fabric.
"Jonny!" she wailed. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because I can," I replied, my voice even deeper because of my lust for this woman.
Her eyes were wide, and her struggles had started her turning. She looked a bit frightened by this turn of events; she had never seen a cruel, determined side of me before. I wasn't angry, but I did want her to know that I was an alpha male.
I stopped her spinning, reached behind me and produced a pair of scissors. I took them and showed them to Lou. Her eyes widened in fear.
"What are you going to do?" she gasped, frightened that I might use them on her.
"Oh, you don't have anything to be afraid of, Lou," I said very calmly, even though I was very excited with what I was going to be doing. "I wouldn't hurt you; you know that. But, I am a little upset about your behavior with Il Tenore." I was trying to sound ominous and her quickened breathing let me know I was successful.
"Jonny, I'm sorry," she cried, and maybe the tears were real. "I just got carried away. I'm sorry," she wailed.
"Hush," I said. "You need to know who's in charge here." I reached behind her and pulled down the zipper. The only thing holding the dress in place were the little spaghetti straps at the shoulders.
"Such a pity these have to go," I said. "Oh, well. It can't be helped; they're in my way right now." I used the scissors to snip the shoulder straps right where they attached to the bodice of the dress, just over her breasts. Before the dress fell, I looked into her eyes, and I could see that she was getting into the game, too, and she was getting excited.