Brody tromped into the dressing room after practice. It had been a good day so far, he thought. He'd talked with his parents and they were coming East for Christmas, along with a couple of his siblings. He hoped Ryan would have a chance to meet them. They hadn't talked much about it yet, but he assumed she'd be spending the day with her family. Still, with his family staying for a few days and coming to a game, there should be time for everyone to meet.
"Hey, Langer, big plans for tonight?" Bax called from across the room.
"Don't know yet." He threw his jersey into the laundry and stripped off his equipment.
"He needs to check with the little woman." Drew Stamenski laughed as Brody threw a knee pad at him. "Hey, man, it's okay. We all go through that phase."
"Fuck you, Stams." Brody grabbed a towel and walked back to the showers, grinning as he did.
No sense in letting Drew know he was right. Brody was planning on seeing Ryan later, but he didn't know when. She had told him she'd call at some point, when the band took a break from rehearsing. He'd finish his shower, get dressed, and give her a call before leaving if he hadn't heard from her by then.
When he got back and checked his phone, he saw there a voice mail message waiting. He dialed in and listened to a pissed-off and distracted Ryan.
"Hi, Brody. Look, things all blew up at rehearsal; Jason quit. So we have to go back and go over arrangements so we can go on with just the four of us. We'll never get anyone on such short notice. Maybe we won't even after. Anyway, I'm sorry, I'm not sure when we'll be done tonight so I'll have to take a rain check. Maybe tomorrow? After your game? Just call me. Damn. Sorry again. Bye."
Brody texted her a reply, telling her not to worry and to call after she was done, if she wasn't too tired. Then he got dressed, wondering what to do with the rest of his day, now that it looked like a large portion of it was unexpectedly free.
"Everything is okay?" Tolya Strelkov asked from behind him.
Tolya shrugged. "You look upset, maybe? Is problem?"
"Oh, no. No." Brody shook his head, then thought for a minute. "Hey, Tolya, what do you do when Sara has to work and you aren't expecting it?"
Tolya gave him a wry smile. "I find something else to do."
"Problems already, Langer?" Bax looked up from his spot on the bench. "She stood you up? You're lost without her?"
"Shut up." Brody grumbled to himself; it looked like the guys were going to start giving him shit about dating Ryan. Although, at least this time he was in fact dating her.
"Come on, guys, go easy on him." Mark's eyes glinted. "He's not used to these serious relationships with intelligent women."
"Listen, asshole, Ryan just left a message that their guitarist quit, and their gig at the 9:30 Club is next weekend. They need to rework their songs because of it, so she's just working later tonight." Brody scowled at Mark, feeling only mildly guilty that he'd diverted his friend because Mark had come pretty close to the mark. Although he liked the casual aspects of this relationship with Ryan, he was surprised at how disappointed he was that she'd had to cancel on him.
Mark's demeanor changed instantly. "Seriously? He quit, this close to their show?"
"I don't know much about music, but that doesn't sound good," said Baxter. "They don't have to cancel or anything, do they?"
Brody shook his head. "I don't think so. Ryan didn't say anything like that in her message. But I guess if he's gone, they need to figure out how they'll make up for it. I have no idea how long that takes; she said she'll call me later."
"Okay, well, when you do see her, tell her I'm sorry and good luck. Hilary and I are still planning to be there." Mark slid his coat on and picked up his bag.
"Yeah, thanks." Brody waved as Mark walked off.
"So, band problems aside, how are things with your musician?" Baxter asked.
Brody considered as he gathered his things. "Pretty good, I think. I have to admit, going out with her is something of an experience. Never dated a musician before."
Bax chuckled. "Showing you the dark side of the music industry, is she?"
"Yeah, right." Brody fell into step with his friend as they made their way to the parking garage. "No, it's just . . . I don't know. It's nice going out with someone who has their own life, you know? Their own goals. The last real girlfriend I had before this, she way too needy. I mean, she had her own job and everything, but she wanted to be with me all the time." He gave Bax a knowing look as he unlocked his car. "Even I know our lifestyle isn't compatible with that."
"Points for you, kid." Bax clapped him on the shoulder. "Good to know you're not completely clueless on that front."
"I knew that time in college would come in handy."
"Your parents are proud, I'm sure. Now, let's go grab some lunch. Your treat; I bought the beer last time."
Brody killed the rest of the afternoon by having lunch with Bax, and then heading home to take stock for a grocery run. Even if he couldn't see Ryan tonight, he thought, maybe he could come up with something different for lunch or dinner the next day. One thing he'd discovered was that when it came to food, Ryan was more than willing to try anything he made. At the store, he picked up some odds and ends and, still undecided about what to make for Ryan, bought some chicken. Nothing like chicken for versatility, he thought.
As he unpacked at home he wondered what Ryan would do about food. He could just imagine her calling a bag of potato chips and a soda "dinner." He supposed he couldn't blame her. Having their guitarist quit so close to the gig had to require a lot of juggling. At least if the team lost a guy, or even a couple, to injury, they had other players to rely on to fill the gaps.
He reheated some leftovers for dinner and then flipped on the TV, pleased when he found Iron Chef America
. It wasn't quite as good as the original, but he liked Bobby Flay and Alton Brown. As the chefs were busy plating their dishes, the phone rang.
"Hey, Brody. It's Rick."
"Hey, man." Brody smiled and turned off the TV. His oldest brother rated his full attention. "How's it going?"
"Quiet weekend," Rick told him. "Amy took the kids to visit her mom, so it's just me and the idiot box."
"How come you didn't go?"
"We're behind schedule. First there was a question about permits, and then there were two days of rain. We couldn't do anything, so I'll be working tomorrow. But we'd had the weekend planned for a while, so I told Amy to go without me. Only good thing about it is the overtime."
"How are the kids?" Brody found it odd to think that when Rick had been his age, twenty-six, he'd been married with a kid already. Now, at twenty-nine, Rick had two. Brody couldn't see himself with a pet, much less a child.
"They're good. Want to borrow them some time?"
Brody laughed. "What, you can't return them? Lost the receipt?"
"You should try it, man. I'm telling you—you think hockey's tough, try entertaining a two-year-old for a few hours."
"Sorry, Rick. I'm just here to be the uncle who buys cool toys."
"Yeah, yeah. So, what's up? Everything okay with Mom and Dad?"
"Oh, yeah, fine. They're excited about flying out for Christmas. So are Amy and the kids. You sure you don’t mind putting us up?"
"Since you'll be in hotels, absolutely not."
Rick chuckled. "I knew there was a reason you kept that apartment. You have an excuse to limit visitors."
"Damn, I didn't think anyone had figured that out."
"That's why I'm the older brother. How about you? What are you doing home tonight? I thought you had a girlfriend now."
"I do, but she's busy tonight." Brody explained what had happened. "I feel bad, she sounded pretty ticked when she left that message. I was debating calling her but I don’t want to interrupt them."
"Wow, listen to you. Should I give you advice on engagement rings?"
"What? Because I feel bad that she's having a tough time?"
"Brody, you never let anyone else stick around long enough to have a tough time. You must like her."
"Of course I like her. I wouldn't have asked her out if I didn't. Jesus, why does everyone think I can't handle this?"
"Maybe because you've always made a point of saying how you didn't want a serious relationship for, like, ever? Maybe because at, what is this, something like six or eight weeks, it's the longest relationship I can remember you having?"
"Yeah, well." Brody scowled at the rug. "Sue me."
Rick guffawed. "Oh, come on, Brody. For all the shit you and Josh gave me when I was dating and engaged, I deserve a little payback."
"It's been four years!"
"Payback is always sweeter when they're not expecting it."
"You have always been such an asshole."
Rick laughed again and they talked for a while more, until Rick said he had to go meet a friend for dinner and call Amy before he left. After hanging up, Brody wandered out to the kitchen, thinking over the call with Rick and the earlier comments from Baxter.
Was six weeks the longest relationship he'd had? He pondered that; surely there had to be someone he'd dated for more like three or six months. He thought about high school, and then college, and realized that no, he hadn't. He'd been so involved with hockey outside of classes that he had barely given dating or girlfriends any thought. Sure, he'd known some girls and gone on dates, but Rick was likely right.
Bax had joked again at lunch that Brody had seemed to be at a loss after getting Ryan's message, and he was forced to admit that he was. Previously, he'd been fine if the woman he was seeing showed up, and fine if she'd had to change plans. Because, he told himself, that was the way he'd liked it and wanted it. Casual and easy, no pressure for anyone.
He was saved thinking any more about it when the phone rang again. He checked the display and smiled when he was Ryan's name.
"Hey there, rock star. How are you?"
"Hi, Brody. I'm okay. Pretty beat."
"You sound it. Where are you?"
"Just got back. I flopped on the couch and I'm not sure I want to move now."
"I have to ask—did you eat today? Anything?"
Ryan paused. "There was pizza at some point, but it's all a blur." When he grumbled, she added, "But there were vegetables! On the pizza. I swear. They were even green."
"You up for some company?"
"Aw, Brody, did you miss me? That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside."
"If you're going to tease me, then no, I didn't."
"I'm sorry. I was going to say that it'd be really sweet if you missed me. No one ever misses me when I'm at rehearsal."
"In that case, yes, I missed you." He grinned.
"That really is sweet. I don't suppose you have any food up there? I mean, otherwise I'll have to see what I have in a box that I can maybe microwave and—"
"Stop! Jesus, stop! You're killing me."
"You're right. I'll just go for the ice cream."
"What? It's organic. Lara bought it."
Brody went into his kitchen and started rummaging through the fridge. "Okay, now you're just doing that to annoy me. Do you want some food?"
"Yeah, I do, but I don’t have the energy to do much about it."
"Fine. I'll be down in a few minutes."
"Ha, my cunning plan worked." She laughed. "Brody, that would be great, but you don’t have to do that. Honest. I'll be fine."
"Oh, no." He grabbed a plastic container and checked his pocket for his keys. "You're not getting out of it that easy."
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