Those Damn Singing Competitions by Kate Maxwell

She had no idea she could move that fast. She wasn’t exactly unfit, but she wasn’t exactly sporty either. Maybe third place in a running race at school once, and somewhat adept in a couple of half-hearted volleyball games, but nobody would ever describe her as athletic. Ro, on the other hand, had always been sprint champion and, even now, was still blitzing it in college basketball each week. Rachel liked to think of herself as more of an artistic soul. She hadn’t actually discovered any artistic talent yet, but was convinced that she must have some. Otherwise, surely, she would be an academic or sports success by now. So when she made the tricky vault across a barstool and two angry, thrashing bodies, she was pleasantly surprised at how nimble she could be. 

Rachel and Ro, and whoever else was up for a drink, usually met at the Carrington Hotel, a few streets off-campus, after Thursday afternoon lectures. But today, Ro wanted to go somewhere else, just the two of them. Apparently, she’d had some “thing” with Zach at a party last week and was still busily avoiding him.

“I just need a week or two,” she said. “He’ll be moved on to someone else by then anyway. I don’t need the temptation right now, what with basketball finals and exams coming up. You know he’s always been my weakness.”

A typically pragmatic Ro statement. Everything in her life had planned destinations and Zach was just a stop-off. Rachel wondered if Zach understood his postcard status.

They’d found a dingy wine bar off the main drag. Ro decided it wasn’t likely to be a popular student hangout. Rachel felt it was unlikely to be a popular hangout, period. Noting the questionable smell and sickly yellow light, Rachel muttered, “Uh…fine establishment you bring me to, Ro.”

Ro laughed and told her it would look so much better after a drink. Two beers later, the place actually started filling up. An assortment of hipsters and suits had gathered for what, Rachel now realized, was the main attraction: karaoke. Ro, in her usual competitive spirit, was even contemplating the song list. 

“I’ve never heard you sing. Can you?” Rachel asked.

“Um, no. But you think everything you’ve heard so far can pass as singing?”

“True.” Rachel clinked bottles with her friend.

Ro gave Rachel one of her light-up -the-room smiles. A man in the booth behind them had been watching Ro since he and his friends arrived. His constantly flickering eyes kept betraying his attempted nonchalance. Rachel was used to watching men watch Ro. It sort of went with the territory when claiming Ms. Perfect as your best friend. 

But that’s what she loved about Ro. Her perfection was more like a bonus that Ro used deftly to enhance her journey—this way for the scenic route, this way for the fastest and this way for the most fun. Ro always seemed to know an alternative route and usually arrived at her destination without too much stress. Rachel didn’t mind being the passenger most of the time. After all, she was hopeless at reading maps and known to crash spectacularly now and then.

One thing Ro never got the chance to hone was her singing skills. After a particularly tuneless rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” two boozy contestants half-fell, half-jumped off the stage. Somewhere on the way back to their seats, the laughter and back-slapping turned to shouting. Rachel’s peripheral vision caught the moving shadow of a shoulder just behind her stool. A fist scraped against her back, and then she heard it crack into another man’s jaw. Leaping from her barstool, like a monkey from a branch, she evaded the brawl before the men fell like trees in a forest. Toppling over tables, shattering glass and people’s evenings, the men thrashed about on the floor. The bigger one in jeans and a t-shirt gripped the lapel of the other’s suit, and both grunted and thumped like apes.

Now, Rachel stood, heart pumping, but quietly proud of her swift escape. Maybe she’d found her special skill after all. “Bar Brawl Escape Artist” probably didn’t cut it in a job interview or on a Tinder profile, but it certainly proved useful. Ro, on the other side of the table, had splashed and stumbled to the ground, but presently stood wide-eyed next to Rachel. In a moment of clarity, she grabbed Rachel’s hand and they fled the bar. They didn’t stop until they were at the end of the street.

“Hell, Rach, you flew like a bird then. Super footwork, girl. I’m signing you up for basketball.”

Rachel leaned against the wall of a laundromat and held up a hand to indicate she needed a moment before speaking.

“I don’t know,” she puffed. “My great escape was sure better than my sprinting. I’m so out of shape. I’m huffing like a steam train, and you don’t even have to catch your breath.”

“That’s easily fixed. Just practice,” Ro urged.

Everything seemed easy to Ro. But still, this was one of those rare moments where she was Robin to Rachel’s Batman. Rachel was the driver for once and wasn’t giving the wheel back just yet.

“Okay, your bar choice wasn’t one of your finest achievements, so I’m picking the next one.”

Ro smiled. “Alright. Let’s skip the karaoke though. Those damn singing competitions are way too brutal.”

Rachel led the way, Ro slowing into Rachel’s relaxed pace.

Leave a Reply