Sunday, March 15, 2009

Different Drummer: Serialized #7



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Rehearsal: A Different Drummer
LK Hunsaker
Infinity Publishing 2006

 12 March 1974

Her stomach tightened.

How was she going to handle the extra expense? She couldn’t let Mariah be pulled out so close to the recital just because her father had been laid off, but the owner would never allow her mom to keep charging lessons. They were already behind. Somehow, Susie would find a way to pay for them herself until they could return it. And if the owner found out … well, she would deal with that when the time came.

Forcing a calming breath, she pulled street clothes over her leotard. Nearly five. Close enough. She could walk over to the gym instead of making Evan and Duncan come for her again.

Waving goodbye to Janet, she peered out the glass doors. Rain was threatening. It didn’t look like a storm, though. Of course, she hadn’t brought an umbrella, as usual, preferring not to be too weighed down. After another quick glance, she started across the parking lot.

Not quite reaching the door before the clouds opened, she pushed damp hair back from her face. The gym was cool and she shivered even in her jacket.

“Susie! Hi! I haven’t seen you recently. What have you been up to?”

She paused at the front desk, glancing in further to try to see Evan. “Hi Shelly, just working. What about you?”

“Same here, but it got more interesting today. You’ve got to see the new guy Evan hired – talk about hot.”

“Long, dark hair?” Susie wiped at moisture on her cheek.

“Did he tell you already?”

“I’ve met him.” She wasn’t going to reveal he was Evan’s friend.

“So maybe the four of us should hang out. Get Evan to invite him.”

She answered one of the regular patrons who said hello and patiently turned back to Shelly. “What about Gary?”

The receptionist rolled her eyes. “We broke up last week.”

“And you’re not dating again yet?”

“I’d go after Evan if he wasn’t already taken.”

“Evan’s not dating anyone.”

The redhead looked puzzled. “I thought you two were an item.”

An item? “Why would you think that?”

“Everyone here talks about how inseparable you are. There are even rumors of a wedding.”

A wedding? Where on earth would that have come from? “Shelly, we’re just friends.”


Susie nodded, backing away from the counter.

“Then you wouldn’t mind if I asked him out?”

Asked him out? Why not? He wouldn’t go out with her. She shrugged as if she didn’t care either way. “It’s none of my business who he dates. But I think he may be a little too tame for you.”

Shelly leaned closer, propped her forearms against the counter, and lowered her voice. “Sometimes the ones who are tamest on the outside are the wildest inside, once you get close enough. And I’ve always had a feeling about him. He’s been turning me on since he hired me.”

Not a conversation Susie wanted to have. Actually, she didn’t care to think about anyone being with Evan and was polite to his dates if she met them but preferred to keep her distance. “Isn’t there a dating policy here between management and employees?”

“You are interested in him.” A grin slid across her face.

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to. Don’t worry, I’ll stay away. Maybe I’ll go for the new guy instead. He looks plenty wild enough.”

“Do you know where Evan is?”

“I think he’s back by the benches.”

“Thanks. I’ll talk to you later.” She ignored a whistle from some guy she’d never seen in there before and continued on to find her friend, trying to push Shelly’s words out of her head. Plenty wild enough. She was probably right, but it bothered her, anyway.

The back corner was mostly empty and she watched Evan stand by while Duncan lay on his back pushing a loaded bar into the air, lowering it to his chest, and raising it again. It was a lot of weight – more than she would have expected from the guy who didn’t appear that muscular.

Evan looked over at her movement. “You’re early.”

“Decided to leave. Working hard?”

“Training.” His grin reflected the joke.

“Looks like it.” She smiled at him until Duncan stood. His muscles were well-primed and she couldn’t keep from glancing at his arms and chest beneath the perfectly-fitted T-shirt. Raising her eyes to his face, she hoped he hadn’t noticed where they had been. “You didn’t have to stop on my account.”

He had noticed. She could tell from his expression. “I always stand for a lady.”

A lady? The term was surprising. “Thank you, but Stu’s right, kind of. I’m used to being one of the guys. You don’t need to be so formal around me.”

“Are you done for the day?” Evan moved closer and touched her arm. He must have been working out, as well. His shirt was damp in the middle of the chest muscles that were even more pronounced than usual.

“Not really, but I’m leaving anyway. I have the kids tonight, so I’ll have to come in early tomorrow and get some things done.”

“I thought you were cutting back on your babysitting hours until after the show.”

“Well, I was going to, but … not right now.” She wasn’t about to tell him she couldn’t afford the pay cut.

His look said he wanted to know why she changed her mind, but he turned to Duncan instead. “If you want to walk her out, I’ll stop at the office and be right behind you.”

A nod answered. His hair was pulled back with a rubber band that looked like one he had grabbed from the office. She had heard comments about “hippies” wearing their hair that way, and often she agreed, but it was such a different look on him. It wasn’t messy, as she often thought. Instead, it was a subtle blend of “wild” and … Victorian. It reminded her of Victorian paintings featuring wealthy aristocrats.

Duncan stayed close as they made their way past the benches and treadmills, his arm nearly touching hers but slightly behind. “Do you and Ev always spend a lo’ of time together?”

“Whenever it fits our schedules. Why?”

“Just wondered wha’ exactly your relationship was.”

Their relationship? Why was he asking? She had to be careful, since he would likely repeat anything she said. “We’ve been friends forever, and I spend a lot of time with all of the guys.”

“Have y’ ever dated any of them?”

She stopped walking before they got closer to Shelly, hoping her inability to meet his eyes wouldn’t reveal her nervousness.

“Sorry, it is no’ my business.”

“Why did you ask?” Susie greeted another of the regular guys by name as he walked by and said hello, glancing curiously at Duncan’s ponytail.

Duncan waited until he was out of hearing range. “I wanted to know if it would bother anyone if I were t’ ask you out.”

She found his stare. “You don’t even know me.”

“I would like t’ get t’ know you.” The blue eyes peered into hers, holding her in silence until Evan joined them.


Susie pulled her eyes away and nodded, not sure what to make of Evan’s friend. She was used to getting looks, but most guys didn’t even approach her until they were used to having her around, and then it was only in a casual greeting. They all thought she was a snob. Especially the gym regulars who knew she was Evan’s friend and greeted her out of courtesy to him. But this one … was so direct … and so unnerving.

During the ride home, again sitting between them, Susie thought about how Evan had been keeping so much physical contact the last two days. Why? Was he trying to show Duncan they were close, or maybe reassuring her? Or were the occasional looks passed between her and his friend bothering him? Had Duncan told him he wanted to ask her out? If so, why would it matter? Evan only wanted her friendship. At least, she was pretty sure that was all he wanted. His expression, though, when he saw them standing so close together, alone in the gym…

“What are you thinking so hard about?”

She looked over at his voice. For a rare moment, she couldn’t speak to him.

“Suse? What?”

Swallowing hard to break herself out of her trance, she shook her head. “Nothing. Just … dance moves.” Which was the truth, figuratively. Their whole relationship recently seemed to be a dance; she was never sure which of them was leading, though.

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