The apartment was dead silent. I tiptoed down the hallway and into the bathroom trying not to wake Lea. I showered, shaved, scrubbed, and put lotion on, every girlie thing I could think of. I even painted my nails.
Lea was standing in the hallway with her arms across her chest waiting for me when I was done. Mist from the bathroom wafted through the dim light. “Well, the boys are busy tonight with the auditions, so what trouble are we going to get in tonight?” she asked smiling.
“I think I’m about to do something stupid,” I said.
Lea grabbed me by the hand, led me down the hall, through my bedroom door, and sat on my bed. “Okay, I hope to God this has something to do with a hot guy and some toys.”
I gave her a wicked smile. “I guess it does. I’m going to the audition.”
She jumped into action. “Here,” she ripped through my closet and flung clothes at me, “Put these on, you have to look hotter than hell. They are going to flip the F out!”
I slipped on a low cut, red spaghetti strap shirt and a pair of tight low-rise skinny jeans. I pulled on my boots and dried my hair until it was pin straight. Grabbed my black leather jacket and strapped my guitar case on my back.
It was seven o’clock when Lea and I left our apartment. The auditions should have started earlier, but I really didn’t know of the exact time. It was snowing lightly and the city had a beautiful soft light hue to it. The snow crunched lightly under our feet. When we got to the guy’s block, Lea ran. I figured she was excited.
Walking through the first floor to the basement was eerily silent, and I wondered if anybody showed up at all.
Taking a deep breath, I knocked on the studio door; adrenaline surging through my body. God, this felt good. Not only was I going to play in front of everyone, I would be playing with Shane. There was no way I would give myself to someone like him, but I could be with him this way, which to me was just as hot. That way, I could go on doing what I was here for, looking for my other half.
Conner opened the door. A huge smile crossed over his face when he saw us. “Just in time, two beautiful girls in the studio should help ease some tension, I hope.” Lea jumped into his arms.
The band sat together on the floor looking completely miserable. Shane looked up at me with a confused expression. He stood up, dusted his pants off, and started to walk over.
Tucker got to me before Shane could. “Hey, are you here to listen to me play? That’s cool, my first fan.” I ignored him and stepped past. I took off my coat and handed it to Lea.
Shane’s mouth fell open when he saw my outfit, but not as far as it did when I unbuckled my guitar case. “I’m sorry, Tucker, but I’m not here to listen to you play. I thought I’d take a crack at auditioning; see if I could play as good as Alex.”
Tucker laughed, “My fucking mother could play better than Alex right now, both his arms are broken, but she ain’t here. But, damn girl, you look hot. I’d like to buy some stock in that ass later. My place or yours?”
I grimaced in Tucker’s direction. I noticed a couple of six packs open where he had been sitting. I smiled sweetly at Tucker, “I think you are subhuman when you drink and talk like that, so I’d appreciate it, if when you do drink, you don’t speak to me.” I turned to Shane. He tore his eyes off my guitar and looked at me, waiting. “Shane, is it okay if I try?”
Shane tilted his head. “That looks an awful lot like a 1964 Gibson ES0335 TDC,” he murmured.
“Yeah, an awful lot like it. So, can I play?”
“You tell me, Grace. Can you play?”
Lea giggled. “Come on, Conner, get your camera phone out. You are going to wanna record this.” Conner dug through his pockets as I plugged my guitar into Alex’s amps.
“Give me a fucking break. Don’t let her embarrass herself like this. Shane, tell her no!” Tucker yelled. He was cut off from yelling more by one of Lea’s shoes flying across the room and smacking him in the head.
I pulled the old leather strap over my head and let the beautiful heaviness of my instrument hang from my shoulder. The hardwood and course strings beneath my hands sent shivers through my body. I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply. Butterflies stirred in my insides; flapping their tiny, little wings from their long dormant slumber.
Slowly, I began playing the sweet low melody that Shane had played for me the first time in the studio, mimicking it perfectly. The beginning dynamics of the sad melody were soft and desperate, and then I increased them to a faster level, pushing and tempting the longing emotion of the music. I begin pounding out dark chords to create a sensory texture that stabbed straight into my spinal cord and bolted through every pore in my body. A warm rush of blood twisted and spiraled across my cheeks and down my torso, causing the hairs on my neck to stand up along the way.
A rich, darker sound melted into my melody. Shane had joined me, twisting our notes together in a passionate harmony. The notes we bore were like the blood that flowed through our veins feeding our beating hearts.
Our rhythm continuously got faster, truly as a heartbeat in the throes of a passionate climax within the song. The dynamics of the music were increasingly getting louder until both our instruments met at the top with what seemed like an explosion of sound. We pushed each other to new musical heights, an idea played by Shane would be finished or embellished by me and vise-a-versa. Then the dynamics of the melodies changed again to a decrescendo, a softer level, returning from the climax and passion, to the sadness and longing, until the song slowly ended with a thick heavy silence.
When we ended the song, he was breathless.
“What else can you play?” he asked almost panting.
“Anything you want me to,” I replied.
A determined looked shadowed his features. “Hendrix,” he answered.
I grinned wide and blasted through Purple Haze from start to finish, embellishing on Hendrix’s infamous guitar solos and deliberate distortions. My fingers hummed.
Shane stared with disbelief still flooding his darkening expression. It clawed at me; my fingers flittered along the strings again.
Improvising, my goal being to make Shane’s jaw drop even further, I began a soft ballad, unfolding the notes at a slow measured pace. My fingers bounced towards all genres of music, each note giving rhythm and birth to a funky piece of music that soared throughout the studio. A bleak bluesy beginning dripped from each note, transforming into a jazzy composition and weaving into a web of classical eloquence. My fingers moved faster, turning the melody into a sharp shrill rock solo and then into the heavy chords of thrash. Slowly, I returned to the low murmurs of a hushed lonely melody, like a heartbeat unraveling its beautiful ethereal essence into the heavens until there was silence.
“That girl can play,” Ethan’s voice cut through the silence.
Alex chuckled, “Yeah, and I think I’m in love!”
“Shut up,” Shane said. He glared at me, “Play more.” Sitting back against one of huge couches that were haphazardly laid out around room, he gestured for me to continue. His expression looked agonized and I was immediately regretful for showing him this side of me. This was supposed to be my thank you, something good; not someone that should make him angry with me.
“No,” I said shaking my head. “You seem really upset with me for some reason right now and that’s not what I had wanted to happen, Shane.” I slid the strap of my guitar over my head and gently leaned my guitar against the amp. I grudgingly got my case and started packing up.
“Don’t go, Grace,” Shane said just above a whisper.
My eyes met his. He looked tense and scared. “What did you want to happen?”
“I honestly thought you would let me play for Alex and that you wouldn’t be angry. I don’t understand what it was that I did wrong, but right now, you look like you want to kill me,” I explained.
He ran his hand through his hair and grabbed his guitar. He paused and watched me for a moment, “I’m just thunderstruck right now, I’m not angry. That’s like the third time in less than a week you’ve managed to shock me. What else can you do? Fly? Or,” he started laughing at me, “Or, can you also play the piano and sing? Because then I’d understand Alex, then I’d be in love with you too.”
I froze. “Well, we definitely wouldn’t want that, would we? So let’s just say that I can play guitar really well and I can’t do anything else.” I felt my face blush.
“Ha! Don’t let her kid you. She can do it all,” Lea laughed. Startled, I jumped back a bit. I had forgotten that everyone else was there with us. Oh, that’s not good.
Shane stopped strumming his guitar and looked at me curiously.
Ethan jumped up and pulled me over to keyboard. He switched it on and stood close enough to me that I felt uncomfortable. I looked up at him timidly, but he smiled down at me and brushed the hair off my shoulder. “Go ahead, Grace, make us fall in love with you,” he chuckled jokingly into my ear.
I blinked. Screw it; I want to play. Gabriel said live this life. This was me living. Hopefully in the interim of me living, I’d find him.
Not thinking any further, I bit my lower lip and closed my eyes, remembering the song that Shane had played for me on his guitar. That piece needed a piano part. I thought about the words he sang, the torment and the longing. I reached for the microphone that Alex used to sing into when he played the keyboard switching it on.
Slow and steamy, I let the lyrics fall from my lips. My fingers danced like raindrops across the keys. I tore through the haunting melody as if it was a brilliant light to help them in their darkness. I bared my soul in each word, note and breath. My soul had been on mute for thousands of years until this very moment. Tears threatened to burst from my eyes, so I kept them closed tight.
I let my voice drift to a whisper and stop. My fingers continued their feverish playing, blanketing everyone with the shear depths of the real me. I saw him behind my closed eyelids, pale blue angels eyes. My angel; my soul mate. The melody swirled around me, washing me in ancient visions. The world has been dull and unkind without him. I played for him, for how we used to sing together in the gardens, a gentle ethereal ballad.
Ethan’s cool hand on my shoulder startled me into stopping. My fingers clutched at the keys. My eyes flew open and everyone was standing there gaping at me. But not Shane, Shane had never gotten up, he was kneeling with both hands, leaning on his guitar; his fingertips white from tension.
“I think I can speak for everybody here, you’re taking Alex’s place,” Ethan announced. “Where the hell did you learn to play like that?”
I could barely take my eyes from Shane’s. He looked like he was in so much pain and I didn’t want to be the cause of that. He seemed so broken. I shrugged in answer to Ethan’s question, “I took a few lessons.”
Tucker stumbled up to Ethan and looked around to the rest of the guys. “Wait a second; does this mean I don’t get to play? That pretty much sucks, Grace.”
An hour had passed and we all hung out in the studio, playing music and laughing at Tucker’s drunken tantrums. I wanted desperately to talk to Shane, but I was too nervous that he’d already thrown away what simple friendship we had started to have. As everyone started to clean up their stuff, Shane walked to the door of the studio, grabbing his jacket on the way.
“Hey, dude. You’re splitting?” Ethan asked. “Where you off to? Shouldn’t we celebrate or something?”
“I have plans,” he said and glanced at me. He wrenched the door open so hard that it hit the wall. Then he walked out and slammed the door behind him.
I had no idea how in the last 24 hours, I had gone from being someone you would jump in front of a knife for, to not being able to stay in the same room with.
Ethan hooked his huge arm in mine. “I say we take this gorgeous little thing out and celebrate!”
We ended up in Boozer’s, which was quiet until Tucker got there. We ordered food and sodas (yes, we actually ordered pitchers of soda) and Tucker entertained us with his drunken outbursts.
In his total state of foolish inebriation, he invited everyone for a mid-week mini ski vacation in his parent’s “resort house” calling them to make the plans, waking them up. Continuing his wild behavior, he called ahead the “resort house” to make sure they would order the same champagne that I liked at Masa. His reasoning was so he could try to “sweep me off my feet.” Everyone howled with laughter when I told him the only way I’d go was if he didn’t, or he could just send the champagne right to my apartment so I could drink it alone.
I was enjoying myself until Shane walked into the bar at midnight with a beautiful dark-haired girl. He sat her at the bar and ordered some drinks, never acknowledging us at our table.
I watched him trail his fingers along her arm. Giggling, she leaned closer to him and kissed him. My mouth went dry and the only thing on our table was a pitcher of soda. Watching Shane kissing that girl made me want something stronger and I hated myself for it.
His strong hands ran up her thighs and she squirmed in delight. I had to turn away from them. Dragging my eyes from the scene, I found myself face to face with Ethan, who was watching me curiously.
Ethan looked over to Shane and back to me. “Hey, you okay?”
“Yes, I’m awesome,” I said. I knew Shane was what he was, so why did I feel like I was drowning? Why would I care if Shane were kissing someone else? I definitely didn’t want him kissing me.
Ethan smiled at me politely. “Does that bother you?” He motioned toward Shane who was now pawing at the poor girl’s breasts through her shirt. “Shane and that girl?”
I smiled weakly. “I just think that Shane is better than that, but he doesn’t want people to see that, does he?”
Ethan laughed. “Grace, you are adorable. That is Shane. Don’t be like every other girl he’s bagged, and fall for him, thinking you’ll be the one that’ll change him. It’s not going to happen.”
I gave him a disgusted look.
“Don’t do what that girl’s doing either,” he pointed to Shane’s date, who was rubbing him in a very private area through his jeans. “Because a night with Shane for those girls always ends the same, a little while in the Bone Room and then maybe cab fare home. Don’t turn yourself into one of them, you’re better than that.”
I burst out laughing. I was so loud that Shane glanced up and caught my eye, which made me laugh even more. His expression looked sad for the briefest of moments and then he quickly turned back to his friend.
“Oh God, Ethan, seriously? I can’t believe you think you have to sit here and preach to me about him. There is no way I’d ever let myself be abused like that. Although,” I teased. “I have to hear all about this Bone Room.”
As Ethan and I laughed about all the debauchery that occurred in the Bone Room, our small group seemed to peter out and go home; all complaining about getting up for work in a few hours. By two in the morning, Ethan and I were the only two left at our table. Shane and his date were still at the bar molesting each other.
“You should definitely come to Tucker’s winter place, though. It’s crazy. You’ll love it.” Ethan said blushing.
“Oh, will I?” I laughed.
“Would you like me to walk you home? It’s two.”
“Thanks, Ethan, that’s sweet, but you don’t have to. You live in the opposite direction.”
He blushed again. “Yeah, but I really want to.”
I studied Ethan’s face. Was he the one I’d been looking for? I searched his features for something, anything. His eyes were soft brown with little flecks of yellow mixed in, long platinum blond hair pulled back into a low pony tail; handsome sweet smile. I wondered if he would try to kiss me and how I’d feel after.
I snatched up my coat and smiled at him. “Sure, Ethan, I’d love that.” We walked out of the bar without ever looking in Shane’s direction.
We walked home through the snow. He asked me questions about my family and about Lea and me growing up. The closer we got to my front door, the closer I came to realizing that he couldn’t be the one I’d been looking for.
Ethan walked me up the stairs and leaned in for a quick peck on my cheek. He lingered for just a moment and stepped back smiling.
I let out the long breath that I hadn’t even realized I was holding and smiled at him gratefully. “Ethan, I...”
He tucked a stray strand of my hair behind my ear and left his hand on my shoulder. “As much as I would love to kiss you right now, I won’t. I can tell you’re uncomfortable. Anyway, I don’t think I can start a relationship with my new guitarist without screwing it up somehow in the next few days,” he smirked.
I sighed. “Ethan, I can’t do relationships either, I can’t even muster up a one night stand. I’m sorta in love with someone, I just haven’t seen him for a long time. Thank you for walking me home and making me feel special though.”
“Yeah, well you are. Besides we all owe you big time for taking Alex’s place. You blew us away today. Even Shane and he never gets flustered over anything, especially a chick.”
“Yeah, well he seemed really ticked off at me for coming by and playing. I didn’t mean to show off or anything. I just really missed playing like that. It was...something,” I laughed. I unlocked the door and said goodnight to Ethan again, knowing that he would be a nice friend to have around.
I tiptoed into my room. I cursed out loud for forgetting to do laundry again, so I kept on my clothes. Looks like the spin cycle and I have a hot date tomorrow morning.
Slipping under the covers, my cell phone started blaring it’s harsh sirens. I jumped for the phone, stumbling through my blankets and falling with a hard thud on the floor. I didn’t bother to look at the number, because I was in so much pain from how I had landed.
“Hello?” I said through gritted teeth.
“Where are you?” That raspy low sexy voice demanded. It was angry.
“I’m in bed, Shane. Honestly, right now I’m on the damn floor. Why are you calling me?”
“Is Ethan with you?” It was a whisper; a harsh painful and heartbreaking whisper. And I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want him to pretend to care about who was with me. It confused me and scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want these intense hormonal feelings to overtake my sane mind every time he was in reach of me and his eyes looked at me the way they did. I didn’t want to be another one of his many. I was in love with something else.
A long sigh floated to my ears overwhelming me. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have...”
“Don’t feed me any of your crap, Shane. I have no idea why you think you can call me at any hour and pretend you give a crap about who I leave a bar with.”
“Stop, Grace. Please!” Shane yelled into the phone. “I have a whole speech I need to say and...”
“Yeah, yeah, Shane. Four whores and seven beers ago...save it, Shane. I don’t care what you have to say to me. It’s none of your business if I take home an entire football team. Are you just pissed because you didn’t get a crack at it first? You can’t even comprehend how someone isn’t fazed by your rock god status. Well get it through your skull, you’re not a thought in my mind. So get on with your life. And don’t be pissed off at me because I tried to do you and your friends a favor by showing you I can play a few instruments. You don’t want me to play with you guys; fine. I DON’T CARE!” I poked my finger hard at the end button on my phone, hanging up on him. There’s no way I’m going to let him get the last word!
My entire body spiked with the heat of the surging adrenaline bolting through my veins. Beads of sweat burst through my pours. I pulled my clothes off. Sleeping in my bra and panties would have to do. I sank myself into my sheets and curled into a ball. Closing my eyes, I tried desperately to remember the reasons that I kept moving on. But just like it’s done so often lately, my mind got muddled and I couldn’t even focus myself on those ancient blue eyes. Nothing seemed to calm me down.
A soft tapping at the window jarred me to my senses. Honestly, it made me want to scream and call 911, but like the cheesy horror movie my life was, I went to the window wrapped in my bed sheet and pulled the curtain to the side. Standing there covered in snow was Shane. I let the curtain fall back. I should let him freeze out there.
“Grace, please! It’s freaking cold out here.” His voice was muffled from the glass. I ignored him. “Grace, I swear I will ring your doorbell until I wake everybody up. Open the damn window!”
I pushed the curtain aside, unlocked the latch and opened the window. About a foot of snow seemed to blow in with Shane, although I couldn’t tell which substance was colder. He surveyed my room, no doubt looking for Ethan. The relief was visible in his expression.
Then his eyes really focused on me. “You’re not dressed, are you? Is that your sheet?”
I held the sheet tighter and looked away. “What. Do. You. Want?”
Without warning, he stalked toward me. My breath caught in my throat. In the bright moonlight, streaming through the open window his eyes looked so intense, like icy glaciers. God help me, why was the first thought in this body to find some way to melt those glaciers?
I backed up until he cornered me against the wall, slamming his open palms against it. He smelled like whiskey and cheap perfume.
He slowly leaned his body into mine, backing me tight against the wall. Instinctively, I pushed my hands up against his chest. His shirt was wet from the snow and his body trembled beneath it. My traitorous sheet fell to the floor.
“Shane, stop,” I breathed.
He rested his forehead against mine, his hands slide over my shoulders down to my waist; slow and gentle. Oh, my God, did his touch feel good.
Brushing his lips across my cheek, he buried his face in my hair, “Grace, all I want to do it kiss you right now,” he whispered. Softly, he pushed my hair back and grazed his lips along my neck. His lips were warm and soft; I wanted them all over me. This was too much.
“Shane, please,” I whispered. Why was I saying please? Please kiss me? Please let me forget who I am? Please stop?
He pulled back slowly, his eyes meeting mine. My heart was dancing wildly in my chest. His expression was full of sadness and hunger. “Just tell me why I got crazy thinking you were going home with Ethan? Tell me why I want to kill any man that looks at you? Grace, I don’t want to feel this way.”
His hands subtly slid to my waist, one finger hooked itself under the lace trim of my panties. I let out an audible sigh. This was too close, too tempting.
“Shane. Stop, you’re drunk, you’re soaking wet, you are so cold you’re trembling.”
He stumbled away from me, “I’m not trembling from the cold, Grace.” He sank down onto my bed and hung his head in his hands. In the dim light, he looked like a defeated little boy.
Wrapping my sheet around my body again I opened my door, walked to Lea’s bedroom, and knocked for her. She sleepily stepped out into the hallway and I pulled her into my doorway to look at Shane. She gave me a confused look and pushed me back into the hallway.
“What the hell is he doing? It smells like a liquor store in your room!” she whispered.
“He must have climbed the fire escape. He knocked on my window after I hung up on him.” I shrugged. “He’s been quite hands-on in there. I feel mauled.”
“He didn’t do anything to you, did he?”
I shook my head. “No, but God, Lea, the way he touched me I freaking wanted him to. That was so damn erotic and I can’t believe I just said that out loud to you.”
She gave me another confused look. “So, why are you in the hallway with me?”
“Lea, that’s Shane in there. He’s probably been with more women than I could count. The only difference I’d be to him is that he would actually know my name. Look, he’s soaking wet from being in the snow. Can I have one of Conner’s shirts and pants and stuff. Oh, and can I borrow a shirt and pants from you. I haven’t done laundry.”
Running back into her room, she emerged not even two minutes later with a pile of clothes for me. I immediately dressed in the hallway, not wanting to do so in front of him. If he looked at me with those hungry eyes again, I didn’t trust this body to say no to him. Hormones suck.
Shane was still slumped over on my bed, but he at least looked up when I came back in.
“Did you wake up Conner? Oh, God. Grace, did you call the cops?”
I giggled at his absurdity. “Shane, you are a real ass sometimes.” I kneeled down in front of him and lifted his wet shirt over his head. It stuck to him and he comically had trouble helping me get it off him. “I have dry socks, boxers and pants for you too, but you need to dress yourself.”
Leaving him to get dressed, I went to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of bottles of water, then to the closet for an extra pillow and blanket for the couch.
He walked into the living room as I was making up the couch for him to sleep on. His face was drawn and broken.
“What?” I asked him exasperated. “There’s no way you should be going home this intoxicated in the snow with no jacket on.”
He ran a hand through his gorgeously tousled hair, “I really screwed things up with our friendship, didn’t I? You’re standing here looking at me the way you look at Tucker.”
I stopped what I was doing to look at him. Strangely enough, I had not felt the same after Shane touched me. With Shane I wanted more, I had to talk myself out of saying yes. With Tucker, I knew I never wanted him to touch me again. With Shane, the only real reason I held back were those ancient blue eyes that I clung to looking for. That and the fact that Shane was a man-whore. I laughed at myself for the thought.
“Why are you laughing at me?” he asked.
“Shane, you can’t ruin a friendship if you were only pretending to be my friend to get into my pants.”
His face darkened. He stormed toward me and grabbed my wrist. His touch didn’t match his facial expression. It was soft and pleading. He led me back to my bedroom. When we reached my door, he stopped and brought my wrist up to his lips and softly kissed it. Chills ran down my spine, his breath hot on my skin. He lifted his lips from my skin and I swear I felt pain from the separation. His hand still holding mine, he caressed the soft sensitive skin of my wrist, looking down at it. My breath caught.
“You have a tattoo?”
I said nothing. But, I watched as his features changed again; this time to drunk confusion. He’d be too drunk to notice anything but my tat. I hope.
His thumb lightly swept over my wrist and stopped. His eyes looked in mine, flickering in and out of focus. “It’s covering up a scar?” He grabbed my other wrist fumbling for it, and I didn’t fight him. Maybe if he saw what I had done, he’d think I was psychotic and he’d leave me alone.
“Why would you do that?” His voice was no louder than a whisper.
Taking my wrists back, I held them to my chest. “You know, Shane, the people that walk around you every day? Each of them has a life separate then you. Pasts, pains, loves and losses. You don’t know me. I am a hell of a lot more than a fifteen-minute screw, and sadly, most of your other friends are too. You just don’t ever see that from between their legs.”
He softly traced the edge of my jaw with his index finger. “Goodnight, Grace,” he said as he wobbled back to the living room.
I closed my door quietly and made sure I locked it.