Rhythm and the Blue Line Ch. 03

byPennLady©

She darted a glance at Jason, relieved that he was on track so far. Maybe he'd turned a corner, she told herself. Maybe it was falling into place, and the friction they'd experienced was just a result of frustration as Jason tried to learn everything and fit in.

They finished the song and she looked up to see Trout giving them the thumbs up from behind the sound board. She waved in acknowledgement and thanks, then stepped back and shook out her arms.

"He's a handy guy to have around," she told Lara.

"I know." Lara waved and blew him a kiss.

"I know I've said it before, but it's such a relief knowing there's someone on our side handling the sound. Remember the show we did at GMU last year?" Ryan shook her head.

"Don't remind me," Nate said. He took off his Nationals' baseball cap, shook out his hair, and replaced the hat. "That was the worst."

"No kidding." Mitch popped open a bottle of water. "The sound was so messed up."

"I couldn't hear any of you guys through the monitors," Ryan said. Nate tossed her a bottle of water and she nodded her thanks. "I couldn't tell where anybody was; it was horrendous."

"Trout told me the same thing." Lara stretched, then sat on a folding chair. "That was when he told me he could do the sound if we wanted. I had no idea before that."

"A man of many talents, and we're glad to have him," Ryan agreed. "Wish we'd known before that show." After that show, they'd taken Trout up on his offer to do sound for them, even though it usually meant paying the venue's sound guy as well.

"Okay, I want some food before we start." Mitch checked his watch. "We have an hour and a half. Who's hungry?"

"I am!"

"Nate's hungry. What a surprise," Ryan teased.

They decided on a place to eat and although she wasn't hungry, Ryan went along. She felt more confident than she had at Brody's that morning. The sound check had gone well, and Jason had been spot-on during the couple of songs they'd rehearsed. Perhaps Brody was right, she mused with a smile; perhaps she just needed to be patient and let Jason come around. She huffed out a breath; not likely.

After they'd eaten, Mitch spied a friend and went over to say hi, taking Nate and Jason with him. Lara and Ryan stayed at the table and talked. Lara was going on about a cousin's wedding when Ryan's phone buzzed and she looked at it to find a text from Brody. Break a leg. Meet up later?

"Who's that?" Lara leaned over, curious. "Anyone who'd call you is here."

"Oh, thanks a lot." Ryan pretended indignation. "I have friends besides you. I could have a whole other life and you might not know."

"Right. Who was that?"

Ryan shrugged. "Brody. Just wishing us luck. I saw him this morning, and he said he was coming to the show."

"Wait, back up." Lara's eyes were wide. "You saw him this morning? What happened to 'just friends?' Or did you switch to friends with benefits?"

"Oh, please." Ryan laughed. "I was just nervous this morning and so I called him. He gave me breakfast."

"He's cooked for you twice and you're still just friends." Lara shook her head. "You are hopeless."

"Maybe not." Ryan sipped at her drink and stifled a smile. "He did kiss me."

Lara was silent for a moment, and narrowed her eyes at Ryan. "So, let me get this straight. You like him, he likes you. You call him and sometimes hang out. He's cooked for you. There's been a kiss. You're even watching hockey games, when senior year in high school you swore you'd never watch a sporting event, ever, ever. But you aren't going out with him."

"I said that because I was pissed that I had to wait for a ride home from GMU, in the freezing cold at a bus shelter, but JT's football game outranked me. It doesn't count. Besides, we've watched games before; we've even gone to some when Mark gave us tickets."

"We've gone all of twice. At the first one, you spent more time with your music app than watching the game. At the second one, you left after the first period. No changing the subject. Why won't you go out with him?"

"I told you. The sports thing."

"Oh, bullshit." Lara crossed her arms in front of her. "That's absolutely no reason. Hockey is his job. Other players have girlfriends, or are married and have families. Look at Mark and Hilary."

"I'm not saying it doesn't ever work, or won't." Ryan raised and dropped her hands. "I'm just saying it won't work for me."

"But you haven't even tried. How do you know?"

"Why won't you just leave it alone?"

"I'm your best friend. It's what I'm supposed to do. Now, answer the question." Lara leaned forward and rested her arms on the table.

"Okay, look. You know what it was like in high school and all. How everything I did got shoved behind the sports. You know how many concerts we did, and they never showed. I remember coming back from a music competition in Philly, and I had to wait at National Airport for two freaking hours because Evan had some sort of basketball clinic. He was twelve!"

"Yeah, I remember." Lara nodded in sympathy.

"Anyway." Ryan sipped some water to get back some control over her emotions. "I got used to it, because I knew it wouldn't change, but the one thing I decided out of all of that was I never wanted to come second to sports again. It would seem to me that dating an athlete would pretty much guarantee that."

Lara mulled it over. "Maybe, but I don't think that's fair to Brody. You're making a lot of assumptions. Like I said, it's his job. Everyone's job has to come first sometimes. You can't tell me that if you did go out with someone, the band wouldn't come before them at times."

"Well, and there's another thing." Ryan hit her fist on the table. "I want to do this, Lara, you know how much. You know there are times when it's work, band, work, band and not much in between. How fair would that to be a guy? To a relationship? I can't complain that a guy puts sports first, then I go and put the music first. It wouldn't be fair."

"Why don't you ask Trout?" Lara arched an eyebrow. "He manages."

"Well, yeah, but Trout's . . . Trout." Ryan shrugged. "And he helps out with the sound, the web sites, all of that; he wants to be involved. He's not a pro athlete."

"Oh, please." Lara gave an exaggerated roll of the eyes. "That song's getting overplayed."

"Gee, thanks, best friend." Ryan sat back in her chair.

"You're welcome. Listen. I know your family's priorities are messed up when it comes to sports, I do. But are you going to let that get in the way of something really good?"

"How would you know if it's any good? And, not to be a broken record on every point, but again: there's no real evidence he wants to date me."

"Oh, for God's sake." Lara smacked Ryan in the shoulder. "He's cooked for you twice that I know of, you told me he kissed you—and don't give me that 'it was just a game' crap—and he's coming to see you play. You're not that dense, Ryan."

"Okay, okay." Ryan shrugged and toyed with her napkin. "I'm not not interested. I'm just not sure it's a good idea."

"Give him a chance. You know I'm right." Lara tossed her hair. "That's why I'm your best friend."

Ryan gave her a dry look. "That must be it."

x-x-x-x

Brody waited for Mark and Hilary near the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station. He was looking forward to the show and seeing Ryan perform. When he thought about growing up, he always remembered music in the background. Classical, rock, blues, even some punk—his parents had played a little bit of everything, and he and his siblings had all added their contributions as they'd grown up. He'd tried to learn an instrument, but it had been plain from the first squeak on the clarinet that music was not his strong suit. That had been disappointing, but then he'd found hockey, and all had been right in his world.

Still, he thought, it was cool to know someone in a band, and he wanted to hear one of Ryan's completed songs.

"Brody, over here."

He heard Mark call out and looked up. "Hey, guys. I didn't know you were coming, Nils."

Nils Birkeland, a teammate from Sweden, grinned. "It sounded like fun."

"He just wants to meet girls. I told him he should come here; they'll think he's a student." Mark snickered while Nils just rolled his eyes.

"So, where's the show?" Hilary shook her head at the two of them and looked at Brody.

"It's about three blocks up and one over. Let's go."

Brody led them over to the stage area, where a crowd was starting to gather. He remembered Ryan's fears of a no-show audience from the morning and smiled to himself. Told you so, Ryan.

"This is so cool." Hilary looked around as the crowd grew. "I've never known anyone who was in a band."

"I had a friend in high school who got a band started," Mark said. "They were pretty good but didn't last long."

"Ryan told me a lot of bands go through lineup changes," Brody said. "She said her band is really the exception to the rule, with the four of them together for so long." He told them how they'd gone through a number of guitarists, and that Ryan wasn't sure about the current guy. "She was pretty nervous this morning."

Mark narrowed his eyes. "You saw her this morning? I thought you weren't going out with her."

"I'm not. What?" Brody looked at the others. "What?"

"Brody, think about what you just said." Hilary arched an eyebrow. "You were talking to Ryan this morning. You've been talking to her and hanging out, and you talk about her a lot. You obviously like her. What are we supposed to think?"

He stared at her. "Seriously? Come on, guys. Yeah, I like her, but Ryan's the one who says she doesn't want anything else. She called me this morning and said she was nervous. I made her breakfast, we talked for a while and she left."

Mark was silent for a moment, considering. "Okay, then. But if you screw her over, I'll have to hurt you."

"Christ, what are you, her older brother?" Brody stared for a moment and shook his head. "This is ridiculous. Nils, help me out here, man."

"Well, you have to admit, it sounded like you could have . . . ." The Swede cleared his throat. "You know what it sounded like. And you have a reputation." He looked at Mark and Hilary and had to laugh. "Come on, Brody. You set yourself up."

"When's the last time you were 'just friends' with a woman?" Mark asked, then clarified, "Who wasn't already someone else's girlfriend?"

"Look, Ryan's the one who said she wasn't interested, okay?"

"Okay, okay. Let's leave the guy alone." Hilary stepped in and smiled. "It is possible that not every unattached woman will throw herself at his feet."

"Thanks, Hil." Brody looked down at her. "I think."

"No sweat." She linked her arm through Mark's. "Now, let's find a spot. I want a good view of everything."

x-x-x-x

She was something else, Brody thought as he watched Ryan up on stage. He wondered if she knew how happy she looked up on the stage. Serious and intent, but happy.

They'd come out on stage to a loud welcome, and Brody realized Ryan hadn't been kidding about them having fans. In fact, he wondered if she'd underestimated, or had just been modest. As they announced or launched into songs, there were cheers, and he saw more than a few people singing along.

He wished he'd had a chance to check their songs online. Ryan had told him they were on Facebook and had links to songs, but he'd never gotten to it, seeming to get sidetracked every time he thought about it. It was just amazing, he thought, that he knew someone who could do this.

She started out on the keyboards, with the guitar strapped on but shifted to her back. When she switched to the guitar for the next song, his appreciation went up a few notches on more than one level. There was something intriguing, he thought, about a woman with an electric guitar. His appreciation rose again when she performed a solo.

"Wow, they're great!" Hilary whistled and applauded as a song ended. "I never imagined Ryan up on stage, but she's right at home."

"Yeah, I have to say, I wasn't sure what to expect." Mark nodded. "But they are good. And Ryan, wow. She's better than the other guy. I don't know why she's not the main guitarist."

Nils echoed their comments and Brody found himself pleased that his friends were impressed, and couldn't wait to tell Ryan afterward. Assuming, he thought, that she wanted to meet up later. She hadn't replied to his earlier text, and for all he knew, she had plans with her band mates. He frowned as he realized he'd be disappointed if he didn't get to see her, surprising himself.

After the singer—Lara, he recalled—announced the last song, he took a chance and sent Ryan another text, suggesting they meet for dinner or a drink later.

After the band finished, Lara thanked the crowd for coming out and announced their upcoming shows. Brody watched as some people advanced to the stage, and Ryan, Lara, and the bassist came down to talk to them while the guitarist and drummer began disassembling their equipment.

"That was great. Thanks, Brody." Hilary grinned. "I haven't been to any kind of show in a while." Then she made a face. "But I have to say, being around all these college students makes me feel really old."

"You don't look that old," Mark said.

"Gee, thanks." Hilary raised an eyebrow. "Just how old do I look?"

"Nope." Mark shook his head. "No way. I've learned that anything I say can and will be used against me, so I'm not saying anything."

Brody's phone buzzed and he flipped it open, laughing as Hilary tried to goad Mark into a response. There was another text: About to pack up. Come back and meet band.

"Hey, guys. Ryan said to come back and meet the band, and I asked her if she wanted to get together later. Any takers?" Brody asked.

"Sorry. I have to work the late shift. I'm afraid my afternoon plans require a nap," Hilary said.

"I'll help," Mark offered, and wiggled his eyebrows.

She scoffed. "Yeah, right." She tried a scowl but it didn't last. "You can take me home, but then you have to sleep or play video games or something."

Mark gave a heavy sigh. "Yes, dear."

Brody turned to Nils. "How about you?"

"Thanks, but I have to get going. Tell them I said hi, and it was a great show."

Brody shrugged and nodded. They said their good-byes and as the others headed back, Brody turned and walked towards the stage.

x-x-x-x

Ryan was pumped as she detached her laptop and turned it off, then began to pack up her cables. The show had gone better than she'd hoped, the crowd had been receptive and supportive, and Jason hadn't tried anything stupid. Plus, she admitted to herself, it had been nice to know that Brody was in the audience.

"Hey, that was so excellent!" Lara bounced over from talking to a few more fans and squeezed Ryan's arm. "Oh, God. I get so nervous but I love being up there."

"Ignore her, Ryan, she's just fishing for compliments," Nate called out. He grinned when Lara turned and held up her middle finger.

"It's okay, I'm used to it." Ryan laughed when Lara turned to glare at her. "Okay, okay. You were terrific; you sounded great."

"You're only encouraging her." Mitch shook his head. "Remember, we had a rule: No divas."

"We broke it to keep you in," Lara retorted. Mitch just grinned as he packed away the last of his drum kit.

Nate closed the case for his bass guitar and chuckled as he walked over to Mitch. "Here, man, I'll help load it in the car. Hey, Jason, we could use another hand."

Jason threw his patch cords and effects pedals in a bag. "Sorry, guys. Gotta run. Good show. See you at rehearsal." He grabbed his jacket, put the bag in his car and turned back for his guitar and amp.

Ryan exchanged a glance with Lara, who pressed her lips into a thin line. They watched in silence as Jason loaded the rest of his equipment. He gave them a careless wave as he pulled out into traffic.

"Hold on, guys, we'll be there in a minute." Lara moved to help Ryan finish packing up her synth.

They were all quiet for a few minutes, and Ryan felt annoyance creep in to edge out her previous good mood. Leave it to Jason, she thought, then gave a mirthless laugh. Maybe she could cite the no-divas rule as a reason to end Jason's trial period.

"Hey, there. You were right. No groupies."

Ryan looked up at Brody's voice and grinned. "Hey." Her spirits lifted and she stepped over to give him a quick hug. "Thanks for coming."

"Sorry to disappoint about the groupies," Mitch called back as he and Nate stowed cases in his car. "We can't afford them yet."

Brody laughed. "That's okay. They're probably more appealing in theory. Great show, though. We had a good time." He turned to Lara. "You sounded fantastic."

Lara turned to Nate. "See, he complimented me without any prompting."

Nate snickered. "He doesn't know any better. Ryan, you should have warned him."

Lara started over to him and Nate laughed, pretending to cower as she made to swat him on the shoulder. Trout raised his eyebrows inquiringly as he came over.

Lara shook her head and huffed out a breath. "They all gang up on me. It's brutally unfair."

"You love it," Ryan told her, then turned to Brody. "Don't mind us, we get punchy after a good show."

"No problem. You guys look busy."

"Not really, just packing up. We'd have been done sooner but we were goofing around." She shook her head. "Sorry. Manners. Guys, this is Brody Lang. Brody, this is our bassist, Nate Campbell; our drummer, Mitch Renatti; and our jack-of-all-trades, Trout. You missed Jason."

Brody shook hands all around and again praised their performance, then turned to Ryan. "So, now what?"

"Now I get everything home."

"You free after that?"

"Um, yeah. No plans." Ryan glanced over at Lara, saw her friend's smug expression, and ignored it.

"Dare I ask if you ate lunch?" Brody gave her a skeptical look. "Be honest."

Ryan sighed as Lara failed to stifle a laugh. "No. I wasn't hungry." She thought for a moment and brightened. "I ate some of Lara's french fries."

"Well, that settles some of the plans, anyway. We'll get some food somewhere."

All right, then. Ryan gave up. "Do you need a ride back?"

"No, I drove in. I could give you a ride if you need one."

"Oh, well—"

"Go on, Ryan. I was going to head over to Trout's anyway." Lara's grin was so wide Ryan thought her friend's face might crack.

"Okay." Ryan had been friends with Lara long enough to know when the path of least resistance was the smartest route. She looked up at Brody. "Just let me help with the drums, then we can go."

"No hurry," he assured her.

"It's okay, Ryan." Mitch waved her off. "We've got it covered. We'll take your amp, too. Go on. See you Tuesday?"

"You bet. Thanks a lot." She got her keyboard, guitar, and the rest of her gear as Brody shook hands with the guys and complimented Lara once again.

"Here, I'll take that." Brody took the handle of keyboard case and pulled it behind them as they walked.

"Thanks." Ryan was quiet as they walked to the parking garage.

"Everything okay?" Brody popped the trunk, loaded the case inside, then stepped aside as Ryan added her guitar gear, and closed it again.

"Yeah." She stood for a minute, then looked up at him. "Lara thinks she's pretty slick, setting us up to be alone like this."

He raised an eyebrow and took a step closer. "She did look pretty pleased with herself, I admit. Is it a problem?"

Ryan flashed a grin. "I guess we'll just have to find out."

x-x-x-x

Brody debated what they might do now that the gig was over. It was fall, so a lot of places closed early. On the other hand, the weather was still decent, so he suggested they go to Old Town Alexandria. Ryan agreed, and he waited while she changed, musing over what Mark, Hilary and even Bax had been saying for the last few days.

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