Saturday morning Brody woke up and groaned as his leg throbbed. He'd gone down to block a shot in the game against Philly, caught the puck above his knee, and it still hurt. Given that, he'd talked with the coach and trainer and decided to skip the day's optional skate. He stayed in bed a little longer, but sleep wouldn't return, and so he got up, making his way to the shower with a grimace. Once out, he was rubbing his hair with a towel when the phone rang.
"Hi, Brody. It's Ryan." She paused. "I'm sorry, did I wake you up?"
"What? Oh, no, no. I've been up for a while. What's up?"
"Nothing. Just wanted to say hi to my favorite hockey player."
"Now that's a way to start the morning. Okay, I'm buttered up. Why'd you really call?"
"Hey. That's not fair."
"I'm kidding, Ryan. Relax." He waited; there was something in her tone that made him think this was more than a "nothing" call.
"Okay. You're right. I didn't just call to say hi. I'm nervous about the show today and I can't figure out what to do with myself."
He considered his reply. "Well, I could offer a few ideas on that. I could even show you."
She laughed. "I'll bet you could."
"You're turning me down again, aren't you?"
"I don't think you've actually asked me anything."
"Hmmm. Point taken. Have you had breakfast?"
"No, not yet."
Brody wondered why he'd even asked. "Well, come on up then. I'll make you something."
"No, Brody, you don't have to do that," she protested. "You must have practice or something and I wasn't—"
"Just come up, Ryan. You can't go to your gig on an empty stomach."
"Just come up." He disconnected.
Brody smiled to himself as he threw on jeans and a t-shirt and waited for Ryan. He had to wonder how a woman like that managed to keep such nice curves while eating things that had only a passing relation to actual food. Well, he decided, he'd send her off with something fun. He couldn't play a guitar, but he could make a pretty kick-ass breakfast. He dug out his skillet and went to answer the door when he heard her knock.
"Hey, it's the rock star." Brody grinned. "Come on in."
"Thanks." She stepped in and he closed the door. "I'm not a rock star yet, though," she said as she followed him to the kitchen.
"Think positive. Visualize it."
Ryan gave him a skeptical look. "What, did you read The Secret
He tossed an arm around her shoulders as he directed her towards the kitchen. "Try to be encouraging, and look what happens."
"I'm sorry, Brody. I appreciate it."
He laughed. "It's fine. I was kidding. Here, have some orange juice." He handed her a glass.
"Thanks. Listen, really, if you have to go, I—"
"It's an optional practice, and since I have a sore leg, I have opted not to go." He flashed her a grin. "Ryan, seriously, relax. I wouldn't have told you to come up if I didn't want you to."
"Okay." She took a deep breath. "Sorry. I get a little . . . wired before gigs."
"So I see. Anything specific or just general nerves?" He gestured for her to sit at the small table in the kitchen.
"Both, I guess. You remember I mentioned Jason, our guitarist?"
"Sure." Brody nodded as he opened a cabinet. "Drink the juice. You like eggs?"
"Most times. Not sure about today." Ryan sipped at the juice and he watched as she bounced her leg to release some nervous energy.
"You'll love these, don't worry. Now, back to your guitarist problems."
"I guess I’m just not sure he's prepared for this. I'm not sure he takes it all seriously enough."
"Okay. So what will you do?" Brody beat the eggs and stirred the vegetables in the frying pan.
"I don't know. He was pretty amenable to everything when we interviewed him but after a few weeks, it changed." Ryan shook her head. "We agreed to a six-month trial, and we're about halfway through. I'm wondering if we should cut it short. I mean, the last live gig we had he kept trying to expand his solos, on maybe half the songs. We covered, but . . . If he does that next month at the 9:30 Club, I don't even want to think about it." She propped her elbows on the table and dropped her face in her hands.
"Ryan, relax. You have time. I'm sure he'll come around. Deal with today and worry about the rest later."
She raised her head and peered at him through her fingers. "I hate when people say stuff like that."
He chuckled. "Sorry. Best I could do on short notice. Anyway, I'm looking forward to your show today. I'll come early, make sure I get a good seat."
"I hate to break it to you but this is a seat-free performance. It's the college fall festival and we'll be on a campus common area."
"Okay." She paused. "So, your leg. Is that from the shot you blocked in Philly?" He turned and she giggled at his expression.
"Why, Ryan, am I to understand that you watched my game? Without me even asking?"
"Oh, shut up." She tried to scowl but couldn't, and ended up laughing. "Yes, I watched."
"I am so flattered. And yes, that's why I'm skipping practice. I have a bruise the size of Michigan on my thigh. It's better now but it hurt like hell when it happened."
"I'll bet. It hurt just watching."
"Not my favorite part of the game," he acknowledged, "but you do what you have to. Here, eat this." He put a plate in front of her.
"What is it?" She eyed it warily.
"Huevos rancheros, and some chorizo sausage on the side." He got up, returned with the salt and pepper shakers, and gave her arm a quick squeeze. "Go on, eat it. You'll thank me."
"Okay." Ryan tried a bite and nodded. "You're right. Thanks, Brody." She gave him a rueful smile. "I do appreciate it. Beats the Frosted Flakes I would have had otherwise."
"Frosted F—?" Brody huffed out a breath and shook his head. "How can you—" He shook his head as she snickered. "You're teasing me again."
Ryan shrugged as she picked up another bite of eggs and sausage. "I might have gone for Pop Tarts." She met his eyes and couldn't hide a laugh.
"That teasing's going to get you in trouble one day, Ryan."
"Yeah, yeah. You keep saying that."
Brody didn't reply, and instead just watched her. He couldn't figure this out. She'd been clear that night they'd gone for sushi and he'd tried to kiss her. Yet here she was teasing him; flirting, even. And here he was, liking it.
"So, are you going to eat or just keep staring at me like that?" Ryan asked. "Because I have to tell you, it's a little unnerving. And I'm nervous enough as it is."
"No, I'm done." Brody shook his head and went back to his food.
They finished and she helped clear the table, then checked her watch.
"Thanks, Brody. I'd better get back downstairs. Lara will be here soon and we have to load up."
"It's still kind of early, isn't it?"
"Oh, there's plenty to do." She hooked her thumbs in the front pockets of her jeans. "Set up the instruments, tune what needs tuning, check the sound system; before you know it, it's time for the show."
"Cool. Maybe sometime I can watch you set up."
She laughed. "If you want. It's hardly exciting. Then again, you probably won't hurt your leg, either."
"See? It has its advantages." Brody grinned. "Seriously, I'll be there, and I think Mark will, with Hilary. Maybe a couple of other people, too."
"That would be terrific. At least then I know we won't be playing to an empty field."
This time he laughed. "Wow, you really do get nervous. Come on, you know it won't be empty."
"I know, I know. Okay, I have to go. Thanks again."
"No problem." He walked with her to the door. "One last thing before you go."
She turned and looked up. "What's that?"
He put a hand on her arm and stared at her for a moment. He leaned down, waited, and when she made no move to stop him, kissed her. Her lips were soft and warm, as he'd imagined. He kept his touch light, then pulled back after a moment.
"Told you so," he said with a smile.
Ryan glanced around the stage as she played her guitar during the sound check. It wouldn’t be perfect—outdoor shows never were—but they'd do the best they could. Her keyboards and laptop were good to go, now they just had to finish this song and they'd be done.
She glanced over at Nate and tilted her head at Lara. He nodded, indicating that he thought Lara sounded good as well. Ryan smiled to herself; as much as she sometimes envied Lara's ease with her hair, nails and makeup, she envied Lara her voice more. Ryan had learned to make the most of what she had, but she'd never have the strength or projection that Lara did.
Shaking those thoughts away, she focused again, waited three beats, then added her vocals behind Lara's during the chorus.
She darted a glance at Jason, relieved that he was on track so far. Maybe he'd turned a corner, she told herself. Maybe it was falling into place, and the friction they'd experienced was just a result of frustration as Jason tried to learn everything and fit in.
They finished the song and she looked up to see Trout giving them the thumbs up from behind the sound board. She waved in acknowledgement and thanks, then stepped back and shook out her arms.
"He's a handy guy to have around," she told Lara.
"I know." Lara waved and blew him a kiss.
"I know I've said it before, but it's such a relief knowing there's someone on our side handling the sound. Remember the show we did at GMU last year?" Ryan shook her head.
"Don’t remind me," Nate said. He took off his Nationals' baseball cap, shook out his hair, and replaced the hat. "That was the worst."
"No kidding." Mitch popped open a bottle of water. "The sound was so messed up."
"I couldn't hear any of you guys through the monitors," Ryan said. Nate tossed her a bottle of water and she nodded her thanks. "I couldn’t tell where anybody was; it was horrendous."
"Trout told me the same thing." Lara stretched, then sat on a folding chair. "That was when he told me he could do the sound if we wanted. I had no idea before that."
"A man of many talents, and we're glad to have him," Ryan agreed. "Wish we'd known before that show." After that show, they'd taken Trout up on his offer to do sound for them, even though it usually meant paying the venue's sound guy as well.
"Okay, I want some food before we start." Mitch checked his watch. "We have an hour and a half. Who's hungry?"
"Nate's hungry. What a surprise," Ryan teased.
They decided on a place to eat and although she wasn't hungry, Ryan went along. She felt more confident than she had at Brody's that morning. The sound check had gone well, and Jason had been spot-on during the couple of songs they'd rehearsed. Perhaps Brody was right, she mused with a smile; perhaps she just needed to be patient and let Jason come around. She huffed out a breath; not likely.
After they'd eaten, Mitch spied a friend and went over to say hi, taking Nate and Jason with him. Lara and Ryan stayed at the table and talked. Lara was going on about a cousin's wedding when Ryan's phone buzzed and she looked at it to find a text from Brody. Break a leg. Meet up later?
"Who's that?" Lara leaned over, curious. "Anyone who'd call you is here."
"Oh, thanks a lot." Ryan pretended indignation. "I have friends besides you. I could have a whole other life and you might not know."
"Right. Who was that?"
Ryan shrugged. "Brody. Just wishing us luck. I saw him this morning, and he said he was coming to the show."
"Wait, back up." Lara's eyes were wide. "You saw him this morning
? What happened to 'just friends?' Or did you switch to friends with benefits?"
"Oh, please." Ryan laughed. "I was just nervous this morning and so I called him. He gave me breakfast."
"He's cooked for you twice and you're still just friends." Lara shook her head. "You are hopeless."
"Maybe not." Ryan sipped at her drink and stifled a smile. "He did kiss me."
Lara was silent for a moment, and narrowed her eyes at Ryan. "So, let me get this straight. You like him, he likes you. You call him and sometimes hang out. He's cooked for you. There's been a kiss. You're even watching hockey games, when senior year in high school you swore you'd never watch a sporting event, ever, ever. But you aren't going out with him."
"I said that because I was pissed that I had to wait for a ride home from GMU, in the freezing cold at a bus shelter, but JT's football game outranked me. It doesn't count. Besides, we've watched games before; we've even gone to some when Mark gave us tickets."
"We've gone all of twice. At the first one, you spent more time with your music app than watching the game. At the second one, you left after the first period. No changing the subject. Why won't you go out with him?"
"I told you. The sports thing."
"Oh, bullshit." Lara crossed her arms in front of her. "That's absolutely no reason. Hockey is his job. Other players have girlfriends, or are married and have families. Look at Mark and Hilary."
"I'm not saying it doesn't ever work, or won't." Ryan raised and dropped her hands. "I'm just saying it won't work for me."
"But you haven't even tried. How do you know?"
"Why won't you just leave it alone?"
"I'm your best friend. It's what I'm supposed to do. Now, answer the question." Lara leaned forward and rested her arms on the table.
"Okay, look. You know what it was like in high school and all. How everything I did got shoved behind the sports. You know how many concerts we did, and they never showed. I remember coming back from a music competition in Philly, and I had to wait at National Airport for two freaking hours
because Evan had some sort of basketball clinic. He was twelve!"
"Yeah, I remember." Lara nodded in sympathy.
"Anyway." Ryan sipped some water to get back some control over her emotions. "I got used to it, because I knew it wouldn't change, but the one thing I decided out of all of that was I never wanted to come second to sports again. It would seem to me that dating an athlete would pretty much guarantee that."
Lara mulled it over. "Maybe, but I don't think that's fair to Brody. You're making a lot of assumptions. Like I said, it's his job. Everyone's job has to come first sometimes. You can't tell me that if you did go out with someone, the band wouldn’t come before them at times."
"Well, and there's another thing." Ryan hit her fist on the table. "I want to do this, Lara, you know how much. You know there are times when it's work, band, work, band and not much in between. How fair would that to be a guy? To a relationship? I can't complain that a guy puts sports first, then I go and put the music first. It wouldn’t be fair."
"Why don't you ask Trout?" Lara arched an eyebrow. "He manages."
"Well, yeah, but Trout's . . . Trout." Ryan shrugged. "And he helps out with the sound, the web sites, all of that; he wants to be involved. He's not a pro athlete."
"Oh, please." Lara gave an exaggerated roll of the eyes. "That song's getting overplayed."
"Gee, thanks, best friend." Ryan sat back in her chair.
"You're welcome. Listen. I know your family's priorities are messed up when it comes to sports, I do. But are you going to let that get in the way of something really good?"
"How would you know if it's any good? And, not to be a broken record on every point, but again: there's no real evidence he wants to date me."
"Oh, for God's sake." Lara smacked Ryan in the shoulder. "He's cooked for you twice that I know of, you told me he kissed you—and don't give me that 'it was just a game' crap—and he's coming to see you play. You're not that dense, Ryan."
"Okay, okay." Ryan shrugged and toyed with her napkin. "I'm not not
interested. I'm just not sure it's a good idea."
"Give him a chance. You know I'm right." Lara tossed her hair. "That's why I'm your best friend."
Ryan gave her a dry look. "That must be it."
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