The whole time the band plays, I find it hard to tear my eyes away from him. Watching the way he so expertly works the strings on that guitar, the way his hair falls in his face and how he’d run his fingers through it to push it back.
“Wow, someone’s got it bad,” Desiree’s voice breaks through my daydreams.
“He’s just so…”
“Sexy, dark, mysterious, talented, not an immature high school boy? Yeah, I know.”
“I just don’t know if I have the guts just to go up and talk to him. He’s probably not interested in younger girls.”
“He’s got a dick, doesn’t he? Trust me. He’ll be interested, Syd. You look totally hot tonight.”
“Maybe there’s more to him than that,” I venture.
“Oh, look at you, already defending him, and you haven’t even spoken to him yet.”
“It’s mostly just wishful thinking. I’m expecting a brush off.”
“Hey, cut that shit out, Sydney. You really need to have a little more confidence in yourself. You are beautiful, smart, kind, and a little of everything else. Any guy would be lucky to have your attention.”
I feel myself blushing at her compliment, but can’t find the words to respond. I don’t have to, though, as the music stops, and the room is filled with loud applause.
“Thanks, guys. We’re just going to take a break. We’ll be back in a half-hour,” the lead singer says into the mic.
The band sets down their instruments and starts heading towards the side of the stage.
“Come on, Syd, let’s go,” Desiree says, quickly getting to her feet, “let’s beat the crowd.”
I stay seated, feeling very nervous. Desiree huffs and pulls on my arm impatiently.
“Come on, you chicken.”
I sigh in resignation and let her pull me along towards where the band is just coming off stage. Desiree lets go of my hand just as I bump into a passerby.
“Sorry…” I mumble to the person who is already long gone.
When I turn back around, I slam right into another person, the force strong enough that it knocks me right down onto my butt.
“Ouch,” I groan.
Hard concrete does not have any forgiveness.
“Oh shit! I’m so sorry. Here, let me help you up,” a voice from above says as I see a hand appear in front of my face.
My eyes travel up to see the cause of my pain. My eyes nearly bug out of my head when I see his face. It’s him! He’s taller than he looks on stage.
“Um…uh…thanks,” I manage to say as I take his hand.
He pulls me to my feet with what seems like no effort at all. I can feel my cheeks burning in humiliation, of all the times to be a klutz. His hand is warm and slightly calloused. It causes the skin on my hand to tingle.
“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going,” I blurt.
His eyes are warm, and he’s smiling at me, then he chuckles softly.
“It’s no problem, I wasn’t really paying attention either,” he says, though I’m sure it’s only to make me feel better.
I stare back at him, I don’t want him to go, and so I try and think of something to say before he does.
“Hey, you’re in the band,” I say, grasping at straws.
He nods once.
“Yeah. Are you enjoying the show?”
“I really am.”
Okay, maybe I can make this last a little longer.
“I haven’t heard of you guys before tonight, but my friend said that she heard you guys were terrific,” I add.
“And do you agree with that assessment?” he asks, smiling at me.
“I thought you guys were awesome. I feel like I should have heard about you before tonight.”
“Well, thank you. We’re pretty new to playing here, just the past few months. I only joined the band in May. Apparently, before that, they were only playing small pubs, that’s probably why nobody really heard of us before this summer.”
“It seems like you guys have built a pretty big fan base already, though, so it won’t be long before you book bigger gigs.”
Sure Syd, fawn a little more, could you? Luckily he laughs in response.
“We hope so. That’s the goal.”
I just nod. I don’t know what else to say. Where’s Desiree anyway? I look around and spot her just a few feet away, chatting with the lead singer.
“So, what’s your name?” He then asks me, taking me by surprise.
Nice, good one, duh!
“Yeah, I’d like to know who I’m buying a drink for.”
He laughs. Oh man, it’s such a sexy sound.
“My name is…”
Do I tell him Sydney or Jane?
“Sydney,” I decide.
“Nice to meet you, Sydney. I’m Conrad.”
“Nice to meet you, Conrad,” I say, and smile brightly at him.
“So, about that drink.”
He gestures for me to lead the way towards the bar. I start walking, and I can feel him following close behind me, really close. My stomach is doing little flip-flops. I can’t believe this is happening. We take a seat side by side at the bar, and Conrad flags down a bartender who promptly makes his way over.
“So Sydney, what can I get you?” He asks me.
“Whatever you’re having is fine,” I tell him.
I don’t really want to order the frilly drinks that Des and I were having earlier.
“All right. Let’s see…”
He furrows his brow like he’s really thinking about it before grinning and turning towards the bartender who waits patiently, despite the crowd.
“Jimmy, we’ll take two tequila shots, then two beers, please.”
“Coming right up,” Jimmy the bartender nods before getting to work on the drinks.
Conrad turns to me as we wait, an inquisitive look on his face. I can feel my face heat under his stare.
“So Sydney, how old are you anyway?” He asks.
“Twenty-one?” I answer him, and he laughs.
“Is that a question?”
“No…no, I’m twenty-one.”
He nods, but something on his face tells me that I haven’t done the best job at fibbing.
“So you said you’ve never seen us play before? I guess that means you don’t come here often?”
“No. This is my first time here.”
“Yeah? Where do you usually go out to have fun?”
I don’t know if he’s testing me now, or if he’s inquisitive. The problem is, I don’t have a good answer.
“I don’t go out very often, to be honest,” I admit, “I’m not much of a bar fly.”
“I guess that’s a good thing. So what is it that you do for fun then? If not the bars…”
“I spent most of the summer working. When I wasn’t doing that, I spent a lot of time reading. I’m not a great deal of fun, I suppose. That’s why my friend Des dragged me out tonight.”
“Reading, huh? That’s refreshing. I spend a great deal of time doing that myself. What are you currently immersed in?”
Just as I’m about to answer him, the drinks are set down in front of us. Conrad hands Jimmy some cash and places one of the shot glasses in front of me.
“Can you do it straight up, or do we need some limes and salt?” He asks.
“I’m not much of a drinker…”
“Limes and salt it is,” he chuckles and reaches over the bar, and produces a saltshaker and two limes.
I watch him curiously, and he catches me.
“They know me here, no worries. Okay, Sydney, you know what to do, right?”
“I don’t drink often, but I know how a tequila shot works,” I smile back at him.
“Just checking. Shall we?”
He licks the side of his hand and sprinkles the salt on, then hands the shaker to me, and I do the same.
“Okay, ready? Go,” he says loudly.
We take the shots at the same time, however, whereas he keeps a straight face, mine twists in disgust.
“Oh! That’s terrible,” I groan, shaking my head.
Conrad starts laughing at me, something he’s done a lot since I’ve met him.
“I told you I wasn’t a big drinker.”
“I can see that, but you know what? That’s not a bad thing.”
The way he’s staring at me right now sends an electric tingle up my spine, and my palms start to sweat. I’m having trouble maintaining eye contact with him, because every time I look him in the eye, my cheeks go warm. Conrad pushes a beer toward me.
“Here, chase it with this,” he suggests.
I take the bottle and take a sip. It’s not too terrible, but it still wouldn’t be my first choice. Oh well, I’ll drink it because Conrad was kind enough to buy it for me.
“You don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it,” he suddenly says as I lift it to my lips for another sip.
“No, I like it,” I fib.
“No, you don’t. I can tell. Just tell me what you like Syd,” he insists.
I know he’s talking about the beverage, but the words coming from his mouth feel like they have a hidden meaning, and I like it.
“No, really, it’s fine.”
“When a girl says it’s fine, she rarely means it.”
Suddenly Conrad reaches out and takes the bottle from my hand and sets it down on the bar. He doesn’t pull his eyes away from me as he flags Jimmy again.
“Jimmy, the lady needs something a little…easier to swallow.”
“I think I can do that,” Jimmy responds.
I watch as the bartender starts grabbing some random bottles, mixing a little of this and that into a tumbler before shaking it with ice and pouring a now purple fluid into a glass. He brings it to us and sets it down before me.
“Try this,” Jimmy says.
Conrad watches me with a smirk as I take the glass and pull the straw into my mouth. I take a sip, then another.
“Good?” Conrad asks.
“It tastes like a Jolly Rancher,” I say, taking another sip.
“Thanks, Jim,” Conrad says, handing him another bill.
“You really didn’t have to do this.”
“I wanted to.”
I meet his gaze then and hold it for a second. His eyes are so deep and dark they practically hypnotize me. Afraid that I’m staring too much, I turn away first.
A sound comes from the stage, and we turn to see the rest of the band coming back on stage.
“Well, I guess that’s my cue. Are you sticking around for the rest of the show?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” I answer him, feeling disappointed that our time together has ended.
“Great. Come see me afterward, then will you?”
What? This I wasn’t expecting.
“Really?” I blurt.
“Yeah. Why not?”
“I promise,” I assure him, trying to hide my growing excitement.
“You better,” he says, flashing me a wide grin before picking up his beer and heading off towards the stage.
I stand there, watching after him like an idiot when I see Desiree coming towards me. Her face is lit up.
“Oh my god, tell me everything,” she practically shrieks.
“There’s not much to tell. He bought me some drinks, and we had small talk.”
“Bullshit. From where I was watching, it looked like there was some major flirting going on.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Please Syd. You’re either lying, or you really don’t know how to read signals very well.”
“Okay, maybe a little. I don’t know.”
“So that’s a yes then.”
“He wants me to find him after the show,” I admit.
Desiree smacks my shoulder.
“If that wasn’t a big fat signal, then I don’t know what is. That works out great then because I was chatting with the lead singer there, Harrison, and he asked me to do the same. It looks like we’ve both scored.”
“I’m nervous. I mean, god Des, they are so much older than us. Where could it go? Conrad thinks I’m twenty-one.”
“Oh, so his name is Conrad? I like it. It suits him. Anyway, so what if they’re older. We’re just having a little end of summer fun. We’re not talking a long-term thing here, Syd. Next week, we’ll be back in school, and we probably won’t even see them again.”