Rhythm and the Blue Line Ch. 03

byPennLady©

True, he wouldn't mind being more than friends with Ryan. However, she'd been up front about not wanting more, and he wasn't one to push once a line was drawn. Then there was the question of just what "more" would be.

On the other hand, that had been a few weeks ago, and they'd remained friends. Hell, they spent enough free time together and on the phone that anyone who didn't know them probably would think they were going out anyway. There was the matter of the kiss; it had been a bit of a joke, but she hadn't stopped him and he had to admit he wouldn't mind trying it again. Maybe he should try once more, he thought. It wasn't like he was asking her to marry him.

"Hey, sorry. Didn't mean to take so long." Ryan came out of her bedroom, dragging a brush through her hair. "I'm ready when you are." She dropped the brush and picked up a coat.

"No problem." Brody followed her out the door, and gave himself permission to admire how she looked in her jeans and sweater. He'd always thought she was attractive, but hadn't pursued those thoughts too far. On the other hand, he hadn't seen her with that guitar until today. It might be a good time to follow those thoughts and see where they led.

"I haven't been to Old Town in ages," Ryan said as Brody found a parking space. "This is a good time of year to come; parking's never that easy in the summer."

Brody grinned. "I called ahead."

"Of course you did." Ryan smiled.

"Where shall we go?" Brody matched his pace to hers as they started down the sidewalk.

"Oh, I don't know. I'm still too wired to think about it. I could just walk for a while."

"Sounds good."

They talked about this and that as they walked over the brick sidewalks. Brody commented on the houses sitting so close to the street, and when Ryan noted it cut down on lawn work, he had to agree.

"Aren't you cold?" Ryan zipped up her coat and jammed her hands in her pockets. "It's got to be in the forties tonight, or at least it feels like it."

"Nope. In Michigan, this would be downright balmy." He wore a Capitals' sweatshirt over a t-shirt and the weather felt fine to him.

She laughed. "I knew a guy in college who wore shorts and went barefoot all year. In snow he'd wear sneakers, but no socks. Not sure if he was from Michigan, though."

"Oh, I never minded the snow. If there was snow, there was likely ice, so I was good." He paused. "I have to tell you, I was shocked my first winter here and how people panicked. I mean, three inches and they're delaying school openings? God, I can't tell how much snow I would have needed for a snow day."

Ryan laughed. "I know. My mom's from upstate New York and she complains every winter. She's always out with the SUV checking on the neighbors. And Dad." She shook her head. "He doesn't like it but doesn't let it stop him from much. Once they all but drove through a blizzard to get to one of JT's away games."

He gave a low whistle. "Wow. Dedicated."

"Oh yeah." Ryan laughed again, but it was short. "When it comes to my brothers and their games, Dad would probably drive through a monsoon."

"Did you ever play anything?"

"Yeah. I played softball when I was younger, ran track in high school." She shrugged. "I didn't mind at first but after a while I did, because it took up time I wanted to spend on music. And it didn't measure up to my brothers anyway."

Not sure what to say to that, Brody remained quiet as they continued down King Street. As they passed in front of City Hall and Market Square, he tried again.

"When did you first get into music? I mean, first play an instrument or something?"

Ryan's eyes lit up. "I was at my grandmother's, I guess I was eight years old or so, visiting for a weekend. She had this old, boxy piano in her living room and taught me to read music, then taught me the keys and notes. I loved it. Just loved it. It all made sense, or something. It was easy for me to see the connections, like it's easy for my brother, JT, to read football plays."

"A real prodigy, hmm?"

She shook her head. "No, not really. I mean, I caught on quick, and could even repeat a few things by ear, but I had lessons. My grandmother paid for them. They were my birthday and Christmas presents for a while." She looked up, her lips quirked in a half-smile. "Would you believe that I actually offered to play a sport in exchange for lessons, to get my parents to pay for them? How backwards is that?"

"Sounds like creative negotiation." He smiled and decided she'd had enough of that line of conversation for now. He gestured across the street. "Hey, let's check this place out. They always have neat stuff."

He took her hand and led her over to a store full of odd pieces of art. There were sculptures of all sorts: fanciful creatures, caricatured people and a few things he didn't try to guess at. Ryan laughed at a clock that ran backwards, and Brody was glad to see her relax a bit. They wandered a bit more, down to the water front and into the Torpedo Factory, which had once been such a place but was now an artists' center.

They watched some artists work, though few remained at this hour on a Saturday, then went back outside.

"Okay, I admit it's getting almost to the point of me saying it's cold," Brody said.

Ryan laughed. "It's always cooler by the water." She leaned on a post and watched a few planes come in, bound for National Airport. Brody leaned against another one and watched her. She seemed a bit preoccupied, but he wasn't sure by what, and hoped he hadn't killed the evening with his earlier questions.

"All right, I'm hungry now." Ryan turned to him with a smile. "And I'm sorry. Didn't mean to bring down the mood. I'm really glad you came to the show, and I am having a nice time."

"Well, good, and it's about damn time you're hungry." He put his arm around her shoulder as he had when she'd come to his apartment. "Come on, we'll hit the Union Street Pub. It's warm and close."

x-x-x-x

At the restaurant, Ryan made herself relax. She asked Brody about growing up in Michigan, and he was happy to answer. They both laughed as he told her about his early efforts at skating, and hockey, and being part of such a large family. The conversation wandered over movies and, of course, music.

"You know, I give you a lot of credit for getting up there," Brody told her. "That's pretty brave."

"It's not so bad." Ryan smiled as she sipped her drink. "They don't throw things. Much."

"That's good to know."

"We were nervous at first," Ryan admitted. "But now I don't think about it quite the same way. I get wired, like I said, but for different reasons. I'm less concerned about what they think than about performing well, technical glitches, things like that."

"Still, to get up there and play stuff you wrote and wait for the reaction." Brody shook his head. "I'd be a mess."

"Yes, but then, I don't have people coming at me with sticks and skates trying to knock me down. The worst that'll happen to me is tripping over a patch cord."

"Give me the sticks and skates. At least I can see them coming and I know what to do."

"I'll stay with the stage, thanks. Less dangerous, most times."

"You know, you're killing my image of the brave artist, up on stage and baring her soul to the masses."

Ryan raised an eyebrow. "Now who's trying to butter who up?"

"Caught me." He flashed a grin. "Come on, ready to go?"

Brody took her hand again as they left and started retracing their steps up King Street. Ryan was a bit surprised, but didn't pull away. She'd enjoyed herself more than she'd expected; Brody had been nothing but great all evening. Lara had made a good point earlier—just because Brody was a professional athlete didn't mean he was like her family. She imagined Lara, waiting to cross-examine her, and shook her head.

"What?" Brody asked.

She gave a quick laugh. "Nothing, really. Just thinking about how Lara will quiz me endlessly about this 'date.' And she will call it a date."

"Any reason it shouldn't be a date?" Brody's voice was light, but he wore a serious expression.

Ryan was quiet for a minute. "I don't know. I've been debating that."

"Well, that's progress. What can I do to nudge you to the yes column? Or, let's change the question: what's the problem with going on a date with me?"

"There's no problem, Brody, except . . . you play hockey."

He stared for a moment, then laughed. "I think that's the first time that's been a strike against me."

"It's not, exactly." She shrugged.

"Come on, Ryan. Tell me."

She gave him a brief version of her conversation with Lara prior to the show. "So, it's not you. I like you."

"Well, there's a start." He squeezed her hand.

"But it's not just the hockey, Brody. It's my band. Just like I don't want to be second to sports, it wouldn't be fair to promise more than I can give." Ryan leaned on the car as he unlocked the doors. "I know hockey means a lot to you, you've worked so hard to get where you are. I'm still working like that with the band, and I may never get to the equivalent of where you are. Sometimes I go to work, then work with the band, then do it all over again and there's not much time for anything else."

"True." He held the door for her, then closed it when she was in and went around to the driver's side. "But when you think about it, we're pretty well-suited."

"How's that?"

He eased into the flow of traffic. "Well, for starters you like to play music and I like to listen. You like to eat and I like to cook. And eat." She smiled as he went on. "Plus, the busy schedule thing could work in our favor. You're busy, I'm busy, so neither of us has to wait on the other."

"So very practical." She put her hands over her heart. "I'm swooning."

"No, you're not, and that's one reason I like you. I wouldn't like you if you swooned."

Ryan laughed at that, and Brody smiled, but they were quiet for the rest of the short ride back to Arlington.

As they walked into the apartment building, he once again put his arm around her shoulders. Ryan couldn't say she minded, if she was honest with herself. Her resistance was fading. But was it worth trying to shore it up?

"Look, Ryan." Brody nudged her chin up as they rode in the elevator. "I'm just saying I like you and we have fun. And despite your best efforts, I think you like me. I'll assume it's the cooking, but let's say you like being with me."

She tried to look stern but failed and sputtered out a laugh. "It's definitely the cooking, but yeah, you're okay."

"Whoa. Now I might swoon."

"Don't. I can't catch you." They were both laughing as they stepped off the elevator at Ryan's floor.

She unlocked the door and held it for him as he came in. "So . . . you want to go out with me?"

"Sure." He gave her that lazy grin she'd seen the first time they'd met and a few times since. "After I saw you with that guitar today? How could I not? You know that's pretty hot, right?" At the look she gave him, he snickered for a moment, then became more serious. "Ryan, I'm not looking for a huge commitment, on either of our parts. But I do want more than what we have so far." He pushed a lock of her hair back.

Ryan bit her lip at both the touch and his expression. "I, ah, I get busy you know." She gave him a wry grin. "Plus there's the whole temperamental artist thing."

"Trust me, you have nothing on some of the Russian players I've played with. We'll be fine."

"Okay, I give up." Ryan sighed and put her hands up in defeat. "You win. You talked me into it."

"I'm a shrewd negotiator. I learned from my agent. And I also learned that you need to seal the deal." With that, he pulled her closer and kissed her.

Ryan relaxed into it. There was a little hesitation, but not much, on both their parts. His lips were firm on hers, and his hands slid around her back and held her to him. She raised her hands and rested them on his chest, gripping his shirt lightly. His tongue brushed her lips and she responded, sighing when he stepped closer and meeting his tongue with her own as he raised the intensity.

After a few moments he broke the kiss and Ryan sighed. It had been a long time since anyone had kissed her, and never like that.

"Now that is a lot more satisfying than a handshake." Brody's voice was a little hoarse, and she stifled a small laugh.

"It had its good points," Ryan said.

Brody laughed. "It certainly did. I think future ones will have better points." He gave her a quick kiss. "Good night, Ryan."

"Good night, Brody."

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