It’s almost nine by the time we finish dinner, dessert, and the bill is paid. We head back to Conrad’s bike, just as his phone starts to ring. He checks the caller ID and murmurs an apology to me as he answers it.
“This better be important, Harrison,” he says to the caller.
I feel a pang of anger at Conrad’s roommate for the way he treated Des. Conrad listens to Harrison, frowning into the distance, and then glancing at me.
“Really? You couldn’t book another night?”
What sounds like an annoyed grunt escapes his lips.
“I’m busy right now…yes…none of your business…I don’t know…maybe…yeah, yeah, I know. Hold on, I’ll call you back.”
Conrad ends the call and turns to me.
“So, as you might have gathered, that was Harrison. He says that we got an unexpected gig tonight.”
Disappointment starts to flood through me that our date is about to end. It must read all over my face, because Conrad furrows his brows and steps towards me, then pulls me against him.
“We’ve been trying to book this gig all summer, but they haven’t had a slot open until tonight. Talk about timing. Anyway, I really can’t let the guys down, but I also don’t want to take you home yet. You wouldn’t want to come along, would you?”
“Where is it?” Is all I can manage to respond. With his arms around me, I turn to jelly in his hands.
I’d probably agree to almost anything with him. Whoa- easy now, Syd.
“It’s at a club called Artist Dive. They have these showcase nights every few weeks, and apparently, there’s always a few agents there looking for new talent. The slots are always booked solid, but there was a last-minute dropout.”
“I’ve heard of that place,” I tell him, “I’ve heard there have been a few local bands signed after playing there. You have to go.”
“Come with me,” he encourages.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I shake my head, “I feel like I’d be crashing.”
“You’re not crashing anything. If anything, they’re crashing our date, and I was looking forward to spending the evening with you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t. Though, I do believe you might need that ID of yours,” he smirks at the last bit.
I think of the embarrassment I’d feel if I were to be turned down.
“But you probably won’t need it if you come in with us,” he adds.
“Okay, I guess I’m in then.”
Twenty minutes later, we arrive at his place where the rest of the band has already convened and is hurriedly loading the van with equipment. Conrad pulls into the garage, and we join the others on the driveway after discarding the helmets. I can't help but flush when I lay eyes on the workbench where Conrad kissed me last weekend. Harrison places a case inside the van then approaches us.
“Sorry to interrupt your date,” he says to both of us before turning to me.
“Good to see you again, Sydney.”
Harrison smiles widely, revealing his boyish dimples, a weapon that I’m sure he uses frequently.
“Hey,” I mumble, not caring to return the politeness.
“So, I suppose you think I’m a dick then?” Harrison says, not missing my frostiness.
I narrow my eyes at him.
“I don’t really think anything of you,” I say, trying to sound indifferent.
By now, Kevin and Jake have joined us, and they seem to catch the end of the conversation.
“What is this? A girl who doesn’t like the great Harrison?” Kevin says with a hint of sarcasm.
“I just don’t like guys who think they can treat girls like objects. Guys who just take what they want, use girls and discard them like they’re nothing,” I blurt, not able to hold it in, unable not to come to Desiree’s defense.
All four guys' eyes go wide in surprise, but mostly Harrisons. He looks like he just got smacked in the face. His surprised expression turns into a frown.
“You heard me,” I say, squaring my shoulders.
“We’ve got ourselves an unexpected feisty one,” Jake comments with a chuckle.
“I like this one,” Kevin adds before stepping forward and patting me on the back.
“Shut up, asshole,” Harrison snaps at him.
“Sounds like you’re the asshole,” Kevin laughs and walks away, back to the van, followed by Jake.
Harrison turns back to me.
“What makes you think this is what I am?” He challenges, taking a step towards me.
“Let’s just say that I know how you treated my best friend,” I tell him.
“And what exactly was it that she told you?”
“I see. Well, I guess I’ll just have to change your mind about me then.”
“Well, you can try, but I don’t know that you’ll succeed. What do you care anyway, how I feel about you?”
“Well, for one, I’m not an asshole, despite whatever your friend said about me, she probably just misunderstood the situation if it’s what I think it is, and two, I really don’t want my roommate's new girlfriend to hate me.”
Girlfriend? I look to Conrad, expecting him to correct Harrison’s assumption, but he just smiles and shrugs instead.
The club is just on the outskirts of town in a massive warehouse-looking building. The parking lot is packed and then some. Kevin parks the van near the back door in one of the spaces that are marked Talent Reserved. I make myself useful and grab a few cases and follow the guys into the club. Nobody even gives me a second glance to my relief. We are ushered to an area behind what I assume is the stage. A guy with a headpiece rushes over to the guys and tells them they are up next, and they have about ten minutes to get ready before rushing off again.
“If you want, Violet is here already with some friends if you want to join them,” Jake tells me when Conrad excuses himself to go talk to someone nearby.
My face must say it all because he laughs out loud.
“Yeah, didn’t think so,” he says, “just thought I’d put it out there. Hopefully, she’ll warm up to you soon. I don’t know why she acts the way she sometimes does. I guess she just feels a little possessive around us.”
“She feels possessive of all four of you?” I snort and find myself rolling my eyes.
“Yeah. I guess Violet enjoys being the only girl that gets to hang out with us regularly. None of the other guys have had girlfriends that she needed to share the attention with.”
“Technically, I’m not Conrad’s girlfriend yet, so I don’t know why she’d feel that way. Aside from that, don’t you think that it’s a little weird for your girlfriend to worry about who anyone besides yourself, is dating?”
Jake smiles and holds his hands up as in defeat.
“I used to, but now I just accept it.”
“You shouldn’t have to accept it. I wouldn’t like it if the person I was dating was jealous about who my friends were dating,” I say with a disapproving shake of my head.
“Awe, look at you, all worried about me,” Jake smirks and bops me on the shoulder.
“I just don’t think it’s fair that she has such an attitude towards me or any other girl just because they happen to be with a band member. She needs to get over herself.”
“I’m glad you feel that way for Conrad’s sake. Violet tends to scare off girls pretty quickly, so it’s given her some sort of idea that she’s weeding out the groupies or something. She still hasn’t gotten the hint that it’s her that’s the problem.”
“And nobody thought to tell her?”
“We’ve given up.”
“Well, she’s not going to scare me off,” I say, feeling brave, and also determined now.
“Glad to hear that,” he replies, just as Conrad rejoins us.
“You are welcome to hang out backstage during the show if you’d like,” Conrad tells me.
“I think I’d like to watch the show from out there,” I tell him, pointing towards where I assume the bar is.
Jake winks at me and wanders off, leaving Conrad and me alone.
“So, what were you and Jake talking about?” Conrad asks, not hiding his evident curiosity.
“Yeah, about how she’s weirdly possessive over all of you guys. I told him she’s not going to scare me off.”
“You shouldn’t worry about her.”
“Does she really scare off that many girls, though?” I ask, not able to help myself.
It’d be nice to know exactly what I’m dealing with here, and I can’t help but wonder how many of those girls were trying to be with Conrad. Conrad smiles and steps closer to me, and takes my chin in his large hand, tilting my face up.
“Are you wondering how many of those girls were with me, or are you asking in general?”
How he figured that out, I have no idea.
I cast my eyes down, feeling a little embarrassed. I know it’s not really any of my business.
“I took two or three dates to a party at the house, but they never went further than a few dates. Whether or not it was because of Violet is inconsequential. With or without her influence, I wasn’t really connecting with those girls at all. It’s you I’m worried about because with you, this feels important and I don’t want her to have any influence on you at all. I don’t care what she has to say, and you shouldn’t either.”
Wow! Swoon! Pinch me! Kiss me, please!
“Okay,” is all I can manage to breathe.
He chuckles at my response or lack thereof.
“I don’t care what she tries to do,” I verify.
His smile broadens, and then he pulls me flush against him before finally, leaning down and planting a soft kiss on my lips.
“Well, I guess I better go get warmed up then,” he murmurs against my lips, “however, I feel pretty warmed up right now.”
The suggestion in his words warms me up too. My cheeks feel flushed, and my stomach flip-flops. Oh, so many new feelings. If just his kiss does this to me, how will I possibly deal with more?
As the band prepares to go on stage, I join the rest of the general public out in the club. I don’t know a single person, and I definitely don’t plan on seeking out Violet, so I wander over to an empty table in the corner with a relatively good view of the stage. A guy comes out on stage and announces the band, telling everyone of the lineup change. Nobody seems disappointed, though, as the news is met with a wave of cheers.
I lose track of time as they play, completely enamored with watching Conrad play. He looks like the epitome of Rock god, so talented, and oh so very sexy. I watch as he scans the crowd a few times, I hope to look for me, but his eyes never find mine as I am tucked away here in the corner.
“Syd, is that really you?”
A deep, slightly familiar voice sounds from beside me. I turn to see who it is, and I am utterly shocked by what I see.
“Dane?” I gasp.
I know it’s Dane, I’d recognize him anywhere, but the Dane that left before the summer is no longer standing in front of me. In front of me is a guy that’s at least six inches taller than he was before, with a tanned complexion and muscles.
“Holy crap! You look so different!” I exclaim as I jump off my chair to hug him.
He hugs me back tightly, lingering for a minute before he releases me.
“I know, right? Building houses in the Southern sun all summer will do that to a guy. How are you? I missed you so much,” he says, taking a seat at my table.
I sit down and take him in for a second. His dirty blond hair is lighter, bleached from the sun, I assume, and longer. His skin has cleared right up and is now bronzed. At least he’s still wearing his glasses. Those are his staple.
“I can’t believe this, what are you doing here?” He then asks when I don’t answer his first question.
“I’m here with the band,” I answer him honestly.
Dane furrows his brows and turns in his seat to look at the stage.
“This band?” he confirms without looking at me.
“Well, I’m sort of dating one of them,” I tell him.
He turns back around and faces me, a look of confusion and some other emotion on his face.
“You, Sydney Chase, are dating a guy in a band?”
“Yes. Is that so hard to believe?”
I can’t help but feel a little defensive all of a sudden.
“How’d that happen? Oh wait, let me guess, you’ve been hanging out with Desiree all summer.”
“So? I always hang out with Des, she’s my best friend.”
“I think she’s had too much influence on you. Without me around to pull you back into reality, she’s got you doing all sorts of crazy things, I bet.”
“Why is me, dating a guy in a band, so crazy?” I challenge, feeling myself getting a little irritated.
“It’s just not like you, that’s all.”
“How do you know what I like?”
“Because I pay attention,” he fires back.
“Well, you know that I haven’t dated anyone for almost two years.”
“Not from lack of opportunity.”
“What does that mean?” I snap.
“Well, maybe my tastes have changed. I’ve changed, just like you have this summer. Anyway, I only just met the guy last week and tonight was our first date. Unfortunately, they had to do this last-minute gig, so we had to cut the date short,” I explain, trying to dispel the tension.
“Which one is it?” Dane asks and then turns to look at the band again, “wait, let me guess. I’d bet it’s the lead singer. He looks like he should be in a boy band.”
“No,” I say, shaking my head, even though he doesn’t turn back around.
“Not the boy bander, huh? Then it has to be the guy playing bass. He looks like the artsy, sensitive type.”
“Wrong again,” I can’t help the smile that spreads across my face.
Dane turns to look at me then, his eyebrows are pinched together.
“Okay, so if it’s not them, then please don’t tell me it’s the old guy on drums or the one who looks like he’s about ten years older than us, and could hook up with pretty much any girl he wants right now.”
“What makes you say he could have any girl he wants right now?” I ask, worried about his assessment.
“Because he’s got the full attention of every female in here if you haven’t noticed yet. Oh no, it’s him, isn’t it?”
“Actually, it is. But I’m not worried, he’s not like that,” I defend.
“So you think anyway. You did just say you only met him last week.”
“Whatever, I know enough about him to know that he’s not a player. He’s a safer bet than the lead singer,” I defend again.
I’m getting tired of this. I haven’t seen Dane in almost three months, and here I am, stuck in this conversation I don’t want to have. I don’t know why he’s being such a jerk about this.
“How do you know… oh, wait, Desiree right?” He snorts and rolls his eyes.
Dane’s relationship with Des has always been strained. He thinks she’s a bad influence, and she thinks he’s just a lovesick clinger.
“He’s a really nice guy. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Tell me about your summer,” I say, trying to change the subject.
I reach across the table and pat his arm to encourage him and remove the sour look from his face.
“It was good…”Dane starts but is cut off by a shrill voice that makes me cringe.
“Well, well. Look who we have here,” she says loudly, her speech slightly slurred.