"Did you have a good time?" Brody asked.
"Yeah, I did. Thanks for taking me." Ryan smiled to cover the awkwardness she felt. It had been a nice evening, despite the undercurrent of tension between her and Brody. They'd been able to ignore it while with Bax's family but there was no hiding from it now.
"Not a problem. I mean, Bax invited both of us and I don't mind driving."
They fell silent as Brody drove. Ryan stared out the window. This was crazy; she and Brody shouldn't be like this with each other. They'd always been able to talk. Well, most times, she corrected herself. They had no problem joking around, but recent events had proved that their communication still needed some work.
She'd thought about that a lot the last few days, how every time they talked they retraced the same ground. That had to change; she couldn't leave without putting all of her cards on the table. It might not change anything, but at least she would know she'd been as honest as possible.
"You okay?" Brody's voice shook her out of her thoughts.
"Yeah, I was just thinking." She took a breath. "Can we go somewhere and talk?"
"Sure. Um, my place?"
"Maybe we could walk or something? It's not that late." Ryan wasn't sure if she could think straight if they went to his apartment.
He pulled into the parking garage at the apartment building and they walked outside. It was a nice summer night for a change, not too hot or humid. Ryan took a deep breath and noticed neither of them made a move to hold hands. Somehow that seemed one of the worst things about all of this.
She searched for a place to start as they walked up the street and settled on asking, "Are you mad at me?"
He looked at her in surprise. "No, why would I be?"
"I don't know. I'm just—I'm trying to figure this out, Brody. I don't like the way things are between us but we don't seem to be able to get past it."
"I know. I don't know what to do either."
"I'm going on the tour. I can't change that."
"I know. I'm still not happy about it; can't change that."
Ryan closed her eyes and paused before speaking. "But are you happy for me?
That I have the chance to do this?"
"Yeah, I am," he said with no enthusiasm.
Ryan bit back an angry reply. That would set them on the same track and nothing would be solved. She had to break the pattern.
"Brody, we can't keep going like this." She stopped and waited for him to turn and look at her. "I want you to be happy for me. It really—it hurts that you're not."
He shoved his hands in his pockets. "I said I was happy for you. I don't need guilt trips, Ryan."
"God damn it, this is not a guilt trip!" She made a frustrated sound and put her hands on her hips. "Okay, here it is. I love you. That's why it hurts that you can't seem to work up any enthusiasm for me at all."
Brody stared at her and she tried not to feel defensive. "Look, I didn't say that so you'd say it back, or to pressure you or anything. I just—we keep saying the same things. I didn't want to go without being honest, and I didn't want to hold anything back." She waited a few beats. "Aren't you going to say something? Anything?"
"I don't know what you want me to say." Brody looked as confused as she felt.
"No." She shook her head. "This isn't about what I want. It's about how we feel and what's going to happen next. It's about—about the fact that in a few days I'm leaving for a couple of months and I hate the idea of losing you before that happens."
"No one said you were going to lose me."
Ryan ignored the fact that Brody hadn't said anything about her loving him. Maybe it was best. She didn't want him to parrot it back to her; if he didn't mean it, she'd rather he didn't say it at all. That would hurt less than a false declaration of love. She swallowed in a dry throat. "That's good to know. Now tell me something else."
"I don't know what to say," he said, frustrated. "And I don't know what the point is. No matter what we say, that doesn't change that you're leaving and all things we'd talked about for the summer aren't going to happen."
"No, they aren't, but why can't we try something else?" Ryan felt desperate and hoped it didn't tell too much in her voice. "Why can't you meet me a couple of times while we're traveling?" She held up a hand before he could answer; they were going back to the same arguments. "No, never mind."
"Hey, where are you going?"
"Back to the car. I need my purse." Ryan turned and began walking back towards the car, as though she could outrun the confusion and hurt.
"Ryan, come on. I'll drive you back." Brody caught up to her and put a hand on her arm but she shook it off and kept moving.
"No. I'll get a cab." She took long strides, forcing him to increase his own pace to keep up with her. They said nothing else until she thanked him for retrieving her purse from the car. She took it without looking at him; she felt like she'd fall apart if she did. With one final murmured thanks, she turned to go.
"Ryan, please." He caught her arm. "I'm sorry. I'm just confused. I've never—this is all new to me."
She tugged her arm away, but gently, and looked up at him. "You know something, Brody? It's all new to me, too. I'm scared to death about all this, believe it or not. It'd be a little less scary with you on my side." For a moment she stood there, then she walked away, trying to get control of her roiling emotions.
Ten days later, Imaginary Grace worked through their first sound check of the new tour. Ryan had been so preoccupied with Brody that she she'd forgotten to be intimidated, or even nervous, about the upcoming shows. She wasn't sure how she felt about anything. Every time she thought about it, she went through a range of emotions from anger to frustration to sadness.
Involved in her own thoughts, she went through the songs on autopilot and didn't notice the glances her band mates gave her from time to time. Nor did she see the looks they exchanged with each other.
When it was over, Lara snagged her arm. "Come on, let's go."
"What? What are you doing?" Ryan tried to get her arm back but Lara wouldn't let go.
"We're going to find a place to sit and talk."
"Why?" Ryan almost had to run to keep up with her friend. "What's got you so pissed off?"
Lara all but dragged her into a restaurant. They found a booth in the back and were quiet while waiting for a server. Lara ordered iced teas and sandwiches for them. Ryan, not sure how to read her friend's mood, said nothing.
"Okay, talk to me. What's going on?" Lara looked at her expectantly.
"Nothing. I mean—what are you talking about?"
"Ryan, you are not yourself. As Mitch would say, you're not all here. Now tell me why."
Ryan crossed her arms and sank back into the seat. "I'm just distracted, I guess. Nervous."
Ryan stared at the table and huffed out a breath. "I'm fine."
"Did you hear yourself at the sound check? I've never heard you like that. You were hitting every note so hard—like you were trying to club them into submission. Now come on, what's bothering you?"
"It's Brody." Ryan rested her arms on the table and dropped her head into her hands.
"I figured, but I wanted to make sure."
They stopped talking as the waitress delivered their food. Ryan poked at the chips on her plate but didn't attempt to eat them. When they were alone again, Lara looked at her again, this time with more sympathy. "Have you talked to him?"
"No. I thought about it but I didn't know what to say, and I—I'm not sure he'd talk to me."
"Of course he would, don't be silly." Lara took a bite of her sandwich. "He's probably all messed up, too."
"That's not my fault." Ryan pushed her plate away. "I can't help it that we got the tour. I can't help that I had to go after he made his plans. It's not like I asked him not to go to Michigan."
"Ryan, come on. You don't think you're overreacting just a little?"
"I think you are."
"I thought you were my best friend. You should be on my side."
Lara snorted out a laugh. "I am on your side, idiot. That's why I'm talking to you."
"You're talking? You keep telling me to talk."
"You are a master of avoidance, did you know that?"
"I talked. What more do you want?"
Lara locked eyes with her. "I want you to figure out what's going on with Brody. I'll help, but I can only help. And yes, I do think you overreacted."
"Look, Ryan, there is
a difference between what we're doing and what he's doing. For one thing, you know his schedule months ahead of time. It's different with us. It's all been spur of the moment, and we’re gone a month or two at a time with no chance to go home even for a day. Brody's not usually gone more than what, eight or ten days at a time? And you know the dates. What we're doing is tougher on relationships, don't you think?"
"Maybe." Ryan gave a grudging shrug. "Still, I can't help it. We couldn't turn this down."
"Of course not, and he wouldn’t want you to. Trout misses me but he didn't want me to turn it down. That's how it goes with people you love. They want you to do things but it doesn't mean they won't be upset or even hurt."
"I miss him," Ryan said in a quiet voice. "I love him, and I even told him that." She kept going, not giving Lara time to comment. "I'm really upset because I want to fix things. Maybe not fix them, but do whatever we can do right now. I just . . . it’s not fair that it feels like I'm always apologizing for the band. He's had his chance to do what he loves and he made it. Why should I feel guilty about going after what I want?"
"You shouldn't, and you don't have to apologize. Not for that."
"I know." Ryan closed her eyes and tried to relax; she was tense and her throat felt tight. "I'm just not sure what to do next. I really don't want to lose him."
"Next, you eat." Lara pointed at Ryan's plate. "Then, you calm down and when you're ready, call him. It doesn't have to be today, but don’t wait too long. It's obvious you need him, and we need you."
Ryan nodded and dragged her plate back. She needed time to think about it, but she'd call him when she was ready and hope it wasn't too late.
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