10 March, fourth stanza
He was obviously attracted to her, but, so was every other male she met. Why wouldn’t any man be interested? She was beautiful, and not only on the outside, but also from within. The shiny, long black hair contrasting with her dark blue eyes and alabaster skin, along with her perfect features – she really did have the most perfectly shaped facial features – were just the frame she had to have. Anything less would have been unnatural. A Monet couldn’t go into a garage sale frame.
For Duncan to so overtly show interest in a girl, any girl, though was … well, Evan had never seen it. Girls were constantly doing the same to his friend, but he rarely paid much attention to any of them, even when he was dating one. Although dating wasn’t exactly what Evan would call it. A date generally involved getting to know your companion and that didn’t seem to ever happen with Duncan and his … flings.
He was still quiet as they sat around the apartment, pizza having been delivered and consumed, the rest stored in the refrigerator. Stu kept trying to draw Duncan in to the conversation, and his friend wasn’t being rude, exactly. He had again chosen the chair furthest from the others and answered direct questions but didn’t elaborate. Although Evan knew Duncan’s knowledge of music would easily rival Stuart’s.
“We need more good rock and less of this mushy stuff that’s trying to pass for rock or pop or whatever it’s trying to pass for. Look at John Denver. Sunshine … on my shoulders….” Stu sang the first line, and went back to complaining. “What is that? A child could write those lyrics. And if you can’t sing more than two notes, then why bother?”
Susie pulled a leg up beneath her. “It’s easy listening.”
“Easy for who? Please.” He went on to sing the next line, in a fairly close imitation, then shook his head. “Is he kidding, or what?”
“Maybe some of us are tired of the whining about how bad things are with the world. You know, there’s a place for every type of music. Just because it doesn’t have Led Zeppelin’s strength or Eric Clapton’s technique doesn’t mean it’s not good. I like John Denver’s music. It’s soothing.”
“You’re a girl. What do you know?”
“Excuse me? I’ve been into music almost as long as you have been. No, I don’t play it, but I listen to all kinds, and I had my own music teacher.” She nodded toward Evan. “And being male or female has nothing to do with being able to appreciate music.”
“You like Clapton?”
She turned her attention to Duncan, who spoke voluntarily for the first time since returning to the apartment. “Yes. Not all of the songs, but I love his playing and his voice. I really like Lovin’ You Lovin’ Me. It’s beautiful.”
“The words … or the music?”
Susie stared. Evan couldn’t tell whether she was deciding how to answer, or wondering why Duncan had finally decided to start talking. A girl who was into Clapton would definitely get his friend’s attention.
“Both … together. I really can’t like a song if I don’t like both the music and lyrics. If one or the other irritates me, I won’t listen to it.”
“There are a lo’ of songs out there that have great music, though, even if the words are no’ good.”
“I’m sure there are, but what is the point of listening to them if it’s not enjoyable? Isn’t that what music is for?”
“Sometimes. Bu’ sometimes it is just about the feeling of it.”
“Well, maybe so, but, unless the feeling is supposed to be irritation, the words have to be as good as the music. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.”
Evan couldn’t keep from laughing. She wouldn’t appreciate it, but he knew Duncan was baiting her, testing.
She shot him an annoyed look. “And why are you laughing? You know that as well as I do. Don’t you dare join the boys’ club, here, and act like I don’t know anything just ‘cause I’m a girl. I swear I’ll never talk to you again.”
He raised his eyebrows, trying to control another chuckle. “Oh, I think you will. You never stay mad at me long.”
“There’s a first time for everything.” Her expression was serious but the sparkle in her eyes gave her away.
“I’m not laughing at you. Of course you’re right.”
“Then what is so funny?”
Duncan jumped in. “I jus’ wondered if you would argue. Most girls will no’ argue with a musician abou’ music. None I have met, anyway.”
Evan watched his friend. He seemed more himself the longer he talked to her. If he would shave the beard…
“She’s not a girl; she’s just one of us. Evan raised her more like a brother than a sister.”
He began to answer Stu, but she beat him to it. “Evan did not raise me. And he’s not my brother.”
“You grew up in the same house. What’s the difference?”
Her eyes threw daggers at Stu, then looked at Evan, for help maybe? But what could he say? That he didn’t want to be thought of as her brother, either? And what reason would he give? Nothing he wanted her to hear. Nothing he was ready to admit out loud.
She looked away. “I have things I need to get done.” Uncrossing her legs, she nearly sprang off the couch. “See you guys later. Thanks for the pizza. It was nice to meet you, Duncan. I do hope you’ll stay a while.”
He stood. “I did no’ mean t’ offend you…”
“Oh, you didn’t. I love discussing music, whether we agree or not. Another time?”
He nodded and she left the apartment.
Evan followed. He should have been able to think of an answer since she’d been asking him for one. But he honestly didn’t understand why it bothered her so much. “Suse…”
She stopped in between her door and his, barely turning to wait for him to speak.
“You know Stu was just trying to get to you. What did you expect me to say?”
Her head raised, eyes touching his. “Do you think of me as a little sister? As a child?” Her voice was soft, reaching into his soul.
No, not anything like a sister. He could never think of her that way.
“No, Angel. I have never thought of you as a sister. And I have not thought of you as a child for quite some time.”
“You’re my best friend. You always have been.” He moved closer and took her hand. “You always will be.”
She was silent for a long while, waiting. For what, he wasn’t sure. Maybe it was time to tell her…
Maybe not. Maybe all she wanted was his reassurance that no one else would take her place. Was she afraid that as much as he talked about wanting Duncan here, that he wouldn’t spend as much time with her, or would need her less? He couldn’t possibly ever need her less, or more.
He took a deep breath. “I promise that no one will ever come between us. No one will ever matter more to me than you do.”
She held him.
Her head lay against his shoulder, low enough for her forehead to lightly brush his jaw. A soft floral scent combined with her own, and the warmth in her hands penetrated his shirt right through to his skin, her arms around him too natural not to belong there. Even when they dated other people, there was never anything permanent in their separate relationships. She would see eventually that she belonged to him.
Too soon, she moved away. “I do need to get some things done. Can I ride in with you tomorrow?”
Her question didn’t surprise him. Any time they had any kind of friction, she spent the next day or two staying closer than usual, as though she honestly thought she might lose him. There was no chance of that. “Of course. But I thought I’d offer Duncan the job I’ve been holding at the gym, so he may be going in with me, too. If you don’t mind?”
“You know I don’t mind.” She finally looked up at him. “Do you think he’s going to stay?”
Evan shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m going to try.”
“And not just for the band.”
“No. Even if he’s not interested in the band.”
“So did I pass his test?” Her eyes sparkled.
“I would guess so. And don’t take it personally. He actually talked more to you than he does to most people until he gets to know them.”
“Well, I hope he’ll like it here so you can hang out with him again.”
Evan watched her try to act like it didn’t matter to her, other than for his sake. He didn’t think it was quite true. “Is Kate home?”
“Not that I know of.” She turned to unlock her door.
“Then I’ll walk you in.”
He waited until her lights were on and touched her back, loving that she was wearing his shirt. His own act came when she “borrowed” anything that belonged to him. He had to try to pretend it mattered, at least somewhat, though he supposed that wasn’t well hidden, either. She could borrow anything he had and keep whatever she wanted. He imagined she knew that by now.
Outside her closed door, he stood. In time. He had to wait. She was only nineteen and not ready for all he wanted to offer. Not to mention that he couldn’t support her the way he wanted … yet.
Susie slid out of her shoes and went to her cassette holder, picking up another she’d borrowed from Stu. It was funny how Duncan stayed quiet until she brought up Eric Clapton. She knew that’s what got his attention by the way his eyes snapped to hers. He was likely a fan. She really couldn’t call herself one, though she liked him okay. But Jim Croce, Carly Simon, and Elton John were more her style. She wondered how he felt about them. Maybe she would ask, when she got enough nerve.
She did really like Lovin’ You though.
Pulling the cassette from its case, she broke the silence of her apartment by clicking open the door of her stereo/cassette player. It was at the beginning of side one, where she always left them, so she slid the tape in with side two facing her and hit rewind. Sitting in front of the machine, she watched the thin, brown tape move from one side to the other. It made an eerie hushing sound. She closed her eyes and listened for it to be close to where she wanted it to stop. After the hours she had spent sitting in front of her stereo, rewinding or fast forwarding, she pretty well knew by the pitch how close it was to the beginning or end. A crazy trick to teach herself, she supposed, but it was music-related, in a way. Or maybe just a distraction to keep her mind off other things in the silence.
She checked the progress. Deciding it should be in about the right spot, she stopped the spinning and pushed play. Bottle of Red Wine was ending. Close enough; she would wait and let it finish.
At least he had admitted he didn’t think of her as a sister. That was something. Not much, but something. She felt his hand on her back. As the last strains faded, it was replaced by the feel of his buddy holding her hand, looking at her as though the world would stop if she weren’t there. Susie admonished herself. She was imagining things. But his eyes … and the way he held her … even if it had only been her hand…
The music pulled her back again. Maybe Duncan was a Clapton fan, but Lovin’ You Lovin’ Me was Evan’s song. He sang it at nearly every gig they had, and she’d been the one to request that he learn it.
She didn’t sing along this time, as she often did. Instead, she let the music, and the words, invade her senses and saw Evan on stage, singing to her. Why couldn’t he see her as anything more than a friend, even a best friend? She wasn’t a child any longer. Her mom had been married by her age. Of course, she wasn’t ready for that, but she was ready for something … real. And she wanted it with Evan.
She closed her eyes and let the song finish, then clicked it off, hit fast forward to leave it at the beginning and pulled it from the stereo. A noise at the door broke the spell and she turned to see her roommate come in. Not alone.
“Hey Suse, this is Kirk, the lead in our play. Are we interrupting, or would you mind if we went over some lines here?”
Susie pushed to her feet. The guy let his eyes roam her frame. “No, it’s okay. I’ll take my work back to my room.”
The guy smirked. “She could stay out here and read with us. I have the perfect part for her.”
She glanced at Kate, who didn’t seem to notice the tone of his voice, or didn’t care. “Thanks, but I really need to get this stuff done. I want to have Mike look at it tomorrow.” That was a lie, but she wanted Kate to know she disapproved.
Her roommate pulled her chin higher. “That’s okay. You stay out here. We can go to my room.”
Susie watched Kirk obediently follow. Kirk. Right. It was probably Bob, or Frank, and he was trying to make himself sound more theatrical. Everyone Kate brought home was so fake it was ridiculous. Why she would want a guy like that instead of Mike was beyond her. So, Mike could be a bit of a snob, but underneath, he was a great guy. And he would likely be in a better mood more often if Kate would stop messing with him and just say yes or no.
But then, who was she to criticize? She couldn’t even tell her best friend how she really felt about him. The rejection would be more than she wanted to face, and then what? At least this way, she could keep hoping.
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