Rehearsal: A Different Drummer
10 March 1974, third stanza
Susie picked up the last toy from the floor and dropped it into the plastic bin she kept for Timmy and Taylor. Now that her charges had gone home, she thought about catching up on paperwork she hadn’t bothered to do yet. But she was tired tonight. So instead, she lit the three lavender-scented candles accenting her oak coffee table, flopped onto her favorite corner of the light brown sectional couch, and pulled her legs up in front, entwining them into a knot.
Listening to the silence, deafening after having the little ones there most of the day, she wondered if Evan would come back. She doubted it, since his friend just arrived. What would he be like in person? Of course, she had heard a lot about Duncan and knew how excited Evan was about him coming. She also knew Evan wasn’t sure he would stay. At least she would finally get to meet him, and no matter what he was like, she would welcome him for Evan’s sake.
Even if the guy had pulled her best friend away when they were finally getting to spend time together. The show had kept her so busy recently, with extra practices and planning meetings and ordering costumes, that she had hardly been able to say two words to him in the last two weeks. And she’d missed him.
Maybe she could go over and say hello. But, Duncan would likely want to get settled in before being bombarded with company. She would. She still remembered feeling overwhelmed the first time she visited Evan after he moved to Lakewood. Mike, Stu and Doug were constantly there. Well, Doug wasn’t so much, since he enjoyed the peace of having Stu out of their apartment now and then, but Mike and Stu were a bit overbearing. She liked them all from the start, but Stu was … just constant, and Mike … well, she still wasn’t always sure he wanted her around. Although, he acted the same with everyone else, too, except Evan. Evan had a way of being welcome anywhere. She didn’t know anyone who didn’t want him around. Maybe it was his Libra calmness, or because he was so … perfect.
His perfection was covered by humility, though. She had never known anyone else who was so sweet and gentle, and yet so strong. He was also incredibly smart and had a wonderful sense of humor. Not to mention his looks: the solid shoulders and expansive chest muscles, which she didn’t get to see often enough, along with his rich brown eyes and perfectly-layered brown hair. Okay, she preferred darker hair, but it wouldn’t look good on him. And she wouldn’t change anything about her best friend.
Maybe one thing, and maybe that could still happen.
Susie swallowed a sudden, deep breath, and stood. She needed to go work out, to her own music instead of the stuff she was using for the show. The long leggings she was wearing under her T-shirt … under Evan’s T-shirt that she’d borrowed and hadn’t returned yet, would be fine. She could pull the shirt off when it started to get in her way, since she had her stretch tank underneath. Stu always teased her about wearing dance clothes even when she wasn’t dancing. But they were comfortable. And she didn’t have to go change if she had a sudden urge to work out.
Rifling through her cassettes – Susie almost always bought cassettes now instead of the bulkier albums – she started to pick up a Mozart tape Evan gave her long ago. No, she wasn’t in the mood for classical. What was she in the mood for? Going past Elton John, she stopped at Jimi Hendrix. She had forgotten to give it back to Stu. He would be asking for it soon, but she could use it again first.
Blowing out the candles and grabbing her cassette player, jazz shoes, and keys on her way out the door, she slipped her flats onto her feet almost as an afterthought. The warmth of the hallway reminded her that her apartment windows were still open and it would be getting too cold soon. Returning long enough to close them, she checked again to make sure her keys were in her hand and shut the door, surprised at the sound of music coming from the basement. She could hear the drum beat from the top hallway, with guitar joining in as she got closer. That guitar wasn’t Evan or Stu. Stu was on his keyboard. Moving further down the stairs, Susie could start to make it out. They surely weren’t practicing with his friend already. Evan said he was coming in on the bus and Chicago was quite a long ride. She got tired on their car trips to Pennsylvania, though Evan said it was because she wasn’t used to holding still for so long at a time.
Reaching the basement door, Susie opened it slowly and was greeted with the blast of a guitar riff. She held still, listening. The song was familiar, and Mike’s voice, and Doug, and Stu, but … if that was Evan’s friend, his skill had been under-emphasized. She was astounded.
Stepping into the basement, she knew they wouldn’t see her from the far end of the room since it was dark on her end. It would give her a better chance to listen without interrupting. She set her things on the floor against the wall, then stood, watching.
Evan was taking second string, playing his bass instead of guitar. But Susie was watching his friend. He didn’t look the way she expected. His hair was a deep shade of brown and hung a ways past his shoulders. From this distance, it nearly blended in with his black leather vest. Well, it could be imitation leather, she supposed, but somehow, she didn’t imagine it was. He didn’t look fake in any way. His jeans were well-worn, with a tear above one knee, and the T-shirt he hadn’t bothered to tuck in was faded to a soft red and could have been painted to his chest. There was no extra material. Susie often wished Evan would wear his that way.
And he was good. But, he acted as though he knew he was good. The other guys were watching each other and Evan’s friend, but he was watching no one. Now and then he focused on his guitar, though as masterfully as he was manipulating the strings, he couldn’t have needed to concentrate on them. She supposed he had heard too often how good he was, although that didn’t fit the image she had of him from Evan’s descriptions. Evan had never been impressed with people who were too full of themselves. He would, however, want this kind of talent in the band if it were at all possible. His music was much more important to him than he ever let on. Would he befriend anyone for only that reason? No. She couldn’t see it.
Susie crept closer, still hidden by the darkness of the large basement. The sound coming from the far end of the room was more intense than usual, more alive … hypnotic. They had talked about needing either a second guitarist or bass player, so they could always have one on each and still leave Stu on his keyboard without pushing Mike into playing bass while singing, which he didn’t like to do. They auditioned a few people, but none had fit in well enough. Nathan had fit in musically, but they hadn’t found anyone else since he left. And he couldn’t have ever improved enough to compare to this.
When the song ended, Stu’s voice rang through the basement. He was as impressed as she was, and despite his nonchalant attitude, he wasn’t at all easy to impress. Doug agreed, though more quietly. Evan was watching Mike. Susie knew it was his opinion Evan most wanted. Their lead wasn’t saying anything. She imagined he didn’t like the look of the new guy. Mike could really be a snob when he tried. And he seemed to be trying.
She ventured closer yet, quietly, watching the scene.
“Well?” Evan finally pushed Mike into answering.
“What do you mean, what? Do we offer him a job if he wants it?”
Mike was silent again, standing there looking at Evan.
The new guy pulled the strap from around his neck. “Man, if he does no’ want me in, he is no’ about t’ say so in front of me.”
Her stomach fluttered. Evan hadn’t mentioned his accent. Gorgeous, not American, but she couldn’t quite place it. She didn’t remember Evan bothering to tell her he was foreign.
The guitarist returned his instrument to its case, and she watched him bend down, the skin of his knee pressing against the torn denim, long fingers pushing hair back out of his way. Even from this distance, he emitted a feeling of sensuality, not only because of his bronzed skin and slender, muscular build accenting a sculpted jawline, but also because of the way he moved: rhythmically, gracefully.
“Well, hell, I don’t know what you’re waiting for.” Mike’s voice drew her attention. “We all knew he was in as soon as you said he was coming.”
The guy stood again, holding onto his guitar case, tilting his head … barely. “No’ if I am no’ wanted here. I did no’ come for a job.”
Not wanted? Susie couldn’t imagine any band not wanting him. He would be good for them – maybe the finishing touch they needed.
She moved into the glow from the light over their heads. “He didn’t seem to want me here when I came, either. But he still puts up with me.” She smiled at Evan, ignoring Mike, then forced herself to appear calmer than she felt when meeting the stranger’s eyes. “Of course they want you. Evan wouldn’t have asked you to play with them if they didn’t. That’s what he meant. They trust his judgment.”
The guitarist’s eyes bore into hers. Maybe she should have stayed out of it, but she always had trouble staying out of the band’s business. And she didn’t want Mike chasing him off, for Evan’s sake as well as for Raucous as a whole.
Noting Evan prop his bass against its stand and come over to join her, Susie used the excuse to pull her eyes away from his buddy.
“Been here long?”
She relaxed when he touched her back. “No, but long enough. He’s even better than you said.” She spoke softly, so the man whose eyes she could still feel wouldn’t overhear.
“Come on, let me introduce you.”
She nodded and walked beside him, doing her best not to let her nervousness show. What was wrong with her? She hadn’t been nervous meeting the other guys – well, not very. And she was nineteen now – too old to act this way.
The guitarist’s eyes remained on her face. They were gorgeous: bright blue, with long lashes, and so shockingly direct. She generally didn’t like stubble on a man’s chin, but his accentuated his ruggedness. Maybe that wasn’t the right word. It was more … a sensual aura. As she had felt at a greater distance, the man truly emitted pure sensuality.
“Suse, this is Duncan O’Neil. Susie Brooks.”
She barely heard Evan, but she already knew his friend’s name.
He extended a hand without releasing her eyes. “It is a pleasure.”
She felt the calluses on his fingers as he gripped her hand firmly, but carefully, as though trying not to hurt her. “Thank you. It’s nice to meet you finally, since I’ve heard so much.” Good. She had managed to keep her voice from shaking.
He glanced at Evan with a slightly raised eyebrow, just one. It was adorable.
“I know you remember me talking about Susie.” Evan touched her back again.
Duncan released her hand and returned his gaze to her, silently. Evan obviously hadn’t talked about her much.
“My friend from Pennsylvania. I wrote that she moved out here.”
Now, a sign of recognition. “The one your mum took care of?”
He tilted his head with a touch of a frown. “He did no’ describe you well. I was picturing a young girl, which you are no’.”
She looked at Evan. A young girl? Was that how he saw her?
“I can no’ imagine why anyone would no’ want you around.”
His friend drew her attention again, for only a moment until she pulled her eyes away, hopefully hiding the warmth she could feel crawling into her cheeks. Why was he getting to her? It wasn’t as though she had never received a compliment from a guy. She’d received plenty, but most had only been … lines, or … empty.
“I am sorry. I did no’ mean t’ embarrass you.”
She forced an imitation calm and grinned at him. “No, it’s … I was thinking the same thing … about you…. I mean….” Cursing herself silently, she shook her head and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long week. What I mean is … Mike was just giving you a hard time. You fit in with the band well. I hope you’ll stay and give it a try.”
“Hey, that is a compliment, coming from Susie.” Stu jumped in and nudged Duncan’s shoulder. “She’s the one who always has an objection for everyone we audition.”
Duncan barely glanced at Stu and his eyes were back on her. “D’ you hang with the band much?”
Band talk. She could handle that. “Pretty often. Whenever I’m not working.”
He nodded. “In that case, I migh’ just hang around a while.”
Shivers consumed her inside. Was he hitting on her? Why would a guy like him have any interest in her? Or was he another who hit on every girl he met? Somehow, she didn’t think so. He was completely wrapped up in her, at least for the moment, and they had just met. How wrapped up would he get if they actually…
Evan rubbed her back and she vaguely heard him invite her over for pizza while Stu teased about “another one” flirting.
Flirting. Maybe he was a natural flirt. Evan didn’t seem concerned.