tagRomanceRhythm and the Blue Line Ch. 05

Rhythm and the Blue Line Ch. 05

byPennLady©

© 2011 All Rights Reserved

Author's Note: Thanks again to my beta readers and to estragon for copy editing.

Ryan gave herself a mental shake as she got her guitar out. It was Saturday, and in seven days, they'd be headlining at the 9:30 Club. She thought she must be excited; she kept telling herself the butterflies in her stomach meant she was excited.

She chatted with Lara and Mitch as they got ready. Nate came in a few minutes later, and Ryan was surprised not to see Jason with him. Mitch and Nate started talking, and Ryan turned to Lara.

"Where's Jason?" she asked. "He and Nate usually come together."

Lara rolled her eyes. "Nate told me yesterday that Jason was coming with Allison. That's why Trout's not here. Well, that and he had to go help his dad."

Ryan nodded; Trout and Allison didn't mix well. "But he'll do the sound for us at the show, right?"

"Yes, relax." Lara chuckled. "He'll be there."

"Why is Allison coming?" Ryan couldn't blame Trout for staying away. Although she appreciated Allison's efforts with the band—she usually handled the merchandise sales at the band's gigs—she could only take Allison in small doses. She wondered how Nate had managed, as he was Allison's older brother. Then again, maybe that was why he'd moved into his own apartment right after high school.

"I don't know." Lara shrugged. "I guess she spent the night at his place or something."

"I'd say I'm surprised he's late, but I'd be lying, so I won't."

"If he showed up on time, I think I'd have a heart attack.

With that, Jason and Allison walked in. Ryan nodded and was surprised when Jason leaned his guitar, still in its case, against the wall. She waited, but when he made no move to begin setting up, she forced the issue. "Jason, what are you waiting for? You're late and we need get started."

"We need to talk about some things first." Allison stepped in front of Jason and met Ryan's gaze.

"We do?" Ryan didn't care for that. Allison wasn't part of the band.

Nate frowned. "Allison, what are you talking about?"

"It's not me, it's Jason."

Ryan stiffened but made an effort to stay calm. "What about Jason?"

"You need to make some changes. He's a fantastic guitarist, but you're holding him back and he's tired of it." Allison crossed her arms over her chest.

This time Lara spoke up. "So why doesn't Jason tell us what he wants?"

Ryan and the others turned to him. Ryan had no idea of what he might say, but she had a feeling it wasn't going to make her feel any better.

Jason stood and shrugged. "Allison's right. I opted to join you guys when you needed someone, but I'm tired of being kept in the background."

It was on the tip of Ryan's tongue to remind him that he wasn't a full member of the band yet. They'd agreed on a six-month trial period, and there were still six weeks left. She decided not to say anything yet.

"So what do you want, Jason?" Nate's voice was low, which Ryan knew meant he was pissed, even if Jason didn't.

"I want control of all the guitar parts. First off, that means I do all the solos from here on out. I'm way better than Ryan is, so I'm the one that should be out there."

Nate snorted, and Ryan grabbed Lara's wrist when her friend moved up to protest. She wanted to hear the rest.

Jason obliged. "Next, I get to say how long the solos last, not Ryan. And if I want to add something in on my own, it stays in, whether she likes it or not, and I get partial song-writing credit for it."

He want them to remove the brown M&Ms next, Ryan thought. "Anything else?"

"Yes." Allison gave her a spiteful smile. "If you don't agree, then Jason quits."

"Is that so?" Ryan nodded. Well, that made up her mind.

"Jason, what the fuck is this?" Mitch got up from behind his drums. "You're threatening to quit a week before our headlining gig? What the hell's the matter with you?"

"I'm just laying things out. The rest is up to you guys." Jason leaned against the wall, as though he had all the time in the world to wait for their answer.

"Okay." Ryan took a few steps back. As Nate, Mitch and Lara moved to join her, Jason scoffed.

"See, this is what I mean. You guys can't do anything without talking to her first."

"Shut up, Jason." Mitch glared at him, then turned to the others. "I don't believe this shit."

"Me neither," Ryan agreed. She felt calmer than she might have expected to, and put it up to the surprise. "So, what do we do?"

"I say we toss his ass out on the street, and her with him." Lara glared and then realized what she'd said. "Sorry, Nate."

"No worries."

"Mitch?" Ryan turned to him. "What do you think?"

"Do you even have to ask?"

She took a deep breath and looked at the other three. "So we're good with this? I mean, the gig is next Saturday."

Mitch snorted. "Are you kidding? Do you know how much we'd suck if we gave in to any of this? We'll be better off without him."

Ryan smothered most of a laugh. "Okay, then."

They separated and Ryan raised her voice. "Jason, we've talked it over."

He looked over, his expression smug and confident, matching Allison's. "So, what's it going to be?"

"We wouldn't want to 'hold you back.' You're out." Ryan kept her face neutral as Jason gaped.

"Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out," Nate added. His delivery was dry and Jason's face darkened.

"Nate, what are you doing?" Allison shot her brother an angry look. "You should be on our side; I'm your sister!"

"Don't remind me," Nate snapped.

"But you had a trial period! It's not over!"

Ryan allowed herself a quick glare at the other woman. "Allison, he offered us two options. We took one."

"It's all right, Allison." Jason recovered from his surprise and affected a look of nonchalance. He grabbed his bag of gear, his amp and his guitar. "It's their mistake. Last chance, guys. Once I'm out the door, I'm not coming back."

Allison turned and glared at them as she walked to the door. "You guys are going to be pathetic next week. Good luck getting a replacement in seven days." She stalked out and Jason followed; the door slammed shut behind them.

Lara broke the silence that lasted a few minutes after their departure. "Oh, my God. Did he really think we were going to agree to any of that?" She was incredulous. "I mean, honestly, did either of them think that would work? Total, epic fail."

"I bet it was Allison's idea." Nate dragged a hand over his face. "She thinks he's the best guitarist ever and probably figured that with the gig next week, there was no way we'd say no." He looked at Ryan. "You know you're a better guitarist, right?"

She laughed. "Thanks, Nate. Part of me knows I should be upset about this, and I am, but really, I'm just relieved."

"I know what you mean." Mitch nodded. "Give it fifteen or twenty minutes; then we'll be plenty pissed off."

"Allison thinks if she comes in with all the drama, she'll cow people into submission." Nate shook his head.

"I'm going to leave any cow and submission jokes alone," said Mitch, prompting a round of laughter.

"We do appreciate your restraint," Ryan said once she could talk again.

Nate flashed a grin. "Now I could say something about Mitch and restraints. I was talking to his girlfriend the other day and—"

"No! Stop! TMI!" Ryan held up her hands. "Very funny, but we need to get serious. Time to revisit the arrangements we used last year, before Jason. You still have your guitar, right, Nate?

"We've done it before, Ryan. We'll be fine," Nate assured her. "And yes, I do. It's right over there; I left it here last week. I must have known something was coming."

"You know, guys." Mitch tapped a stick on his knee. "We've gone back and forth on this for a while. Do we really need a second guitarist? I mean, how many times have we gone through this?"

"He's got a point." Lara sat on one of the folding chairs scattered in the room. "We've done all right with just the four of us in the past."

"But when it works, when we have a guitarist that fits, I like the extra depth in the sound." Ryan dropped into another chair. "It gives us more options, more possibilities."

"I see that, but still, do we really need it?" Nate asked. "We sound fine as a four-piece, we all know that. I think I like us better that way; the sound is more basic, more stripped-down, more . . . I don't know. Honest, maybe."

"I'm with him." Mitch nodded. "Not to mention, it would save us the hassle of interviewing and auditioning and then trying out any more Jasons."

"Ryan, you're right, but the truth is, no one has fit since Alex." Lara cocked an eyebrow at her friend and Mitch and Nate nodded in agreement.

Ryan rested her elbows on her knees and dropped her head in her hands. Mitch had a point, and so did Nate and Lara; no other guitarist except Alex, Nate's roommate from college, had fit in with them. Since he'd left, they'd performed a number of times as a four-piece unit, and no one had ever complained. Was looking for another guitarist worth it, or necessary?

She looked up. "You guys all have good points. Let's put it aside at least for now, though, what do you say? We can talk about it again after the gig. It's not like we're going to find someone this week anyway."

"Sounds like a plan," Mitch agreed.

"Works for me," said Nate.

"Oh, hey! I forgot to tell you guys!" They all turned to Lara, who was bouncing with excitement. "I got a call back from a concert promoter just before I left to come here. They'll have an A&R guy in the audience!"

"Excellent!" Mitch beamed. "Nice work!"

"Way to go, Lara!" Nate hugged her.

"Wow." Ryan felt her anxiety level jump up several notches. "So we just lost a guitarist a week before our first headlining gig, at which there'll be an A&R guy in the audience."

"Yep!" Lara grinned. "Cool, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. Way cool." Ryan's stomach was in knots. "Okay, guys, let's get started."

x-x-x-x

Brody tromped into the dressing room after practice. It had been a good day so far, he thought. He'd talked with his parents and they were coming East for Christmas, along with a couple of his siblings. He hoped Ryan would have a chance to meet them. They hadn't talked much about it yet, but he assumed she'd be spending the day with her family. Still, with his family staying for a few days and coming to a game, there should be time for everyone to meet.

"Hey, Langer, big plans for tonight?" Bax called from across the room.

"Don't know yet." He threw his jersey into the laundry and stripped off his equipment.

"He needs to check with the little woman." Drew Stamenski laughed as Brody threw a knee pad at him. "Hey, man, it's okay. We all go through that phase."

"Fuck you, Stams." Brody grabbed a towel and walked back to the showers, grinning as he did.

No sense in letting Drew know he was right. Brody was planning on seeing Ryan later, but he didn't know when. She had told him she'd call at some point, when the band took a break from rehearsing. He'd finish his shower, get dressed, and give her a call before leaving if he hadn't heard from her by then.

When he got back and checked his phone, he saw there a voice mail message waiting. He dialed in and listened to a pissed-off and distracted Ryan.

"Hi, Brody. Look, things all blew up at rehearsal; Jason quit. So we have to go back and go over arrangements so we can go on with just the four of us. We'll never get anyone on such short notice. Maybe we won't even after. Anyway, I'm sorry, I'm not sure when we'll be done tonight so I'll have to take a rain check. Maybe tomorrow? After your game? Just call me. Damn. Sorry again. Bye."

Brody texted her a reply, telling her not to worry and to call after she was done, if she wasn't too tired. Then he got dressed, wondering what to do with the rest of his day, now that it looked like a large portion of it was unexpectedly free.

"Everything is okay?" Tolya Strelkov asked from behind him.

"What?"

Tolya shrugged. "You look upset, maybe? Is problem?"

"Oh, no. No." Brody shook his head, then thought for a minute. "Hey, Tolya, what do you do when Sara has to work and you aren't expecting it?"

Tolya gave him a wry smile. "I find something else to do."

"Problems already, Langer?" Bax looked up from his spot on the bench. "She stood you up? You're lost without her?"

"Shut up." Brody grumbled to himself; it looked like the guys were going to start giving him shit about dating Ryan. Although, at least this time he was in fact dating her.

"Come on, guys, go easy on him." Mark's eyes glinted. "He's not used to these serious relationships with intelligent women."

"Listen, asshole, Ryan just left a message that their guitarist quit, and their gig at the 9:30 Club is next weekend. They need to rework their songs because of it, so she's just working later tonight." Brody scowled at Mark, feeling only mildly guilty that he'd diverted his friend because Mark had come pretty close to the mark. Although he liked the casual aspects of this relationship with Ryan, he was surprised at how disappointed he was that she'd had to cancel on him.

Mark's demeanor changed instantly. "Seriously? He quit, this close to their show?"

"I don't know much about music, but that doesn't sound good," said Baxter. "They don't have to cancel or anything, do they?"

Brody shook his head. "I don't think so. Ryan didn't say anything like that in her message. But I guess if he's gone, they need to figure out how they'll make up for it. I have no idea how long that takes; she said she'll call me later."

"Okay, well, when you do see her, tell her I'm sorry and good luck. Hilary and I are still planning to be there." Mark slid his coat on and picked up his bag.

"Yeah, thanks." Brody waved as Mark walked off.

"So, band problems aside, how are things with your musician?" Baxter asked.

Brody considered as he gathered his things. "Pretty good, I think. I have to admit, going out with her is something of an experience. Never dated a musician before."

Bax chuckled. "Showing you the dark side of the music industry, is she?"

"Yeah, right." Brody fell into step with his friend as they made their way to the parking garage. "No, it's just . . . I don't know. It's nice going out with someone who has their own life, you know? Their own goals. The last real girlfriend I had before this, she way too needy. I mean, she had her own job and everything, but she wanted to be with me all the time." He gave Bax a knowing look as he unlocked his car. "Even I know our lifestyle isn't compatible with that."

"Points for you, kid." Bax clapped him on the shoulder. "Good to know you're not completely clueless on that front."

"I knew that time in college would come in handy."

"Your parents are proud, I'm sure. Now, let's go grab some lunch. Your treat; I bought the beer last time."

Brody killed the rest of the afternoon by having lunch with Bax, and then heading home to take stock for a grocery run. Even if he couldn't see Ryan tonight, he thought, maybe he could come up with something different for lunch or dinner the next day. One thing he'd discovered was that when it came to food, Ryan was more than willing to try anything he made. At the store, he picked up some odds and ends and, still undecided about what to make for Ryan, bought some chicken. Nothing like chicken for versatility, he thought.

As he unpacked at home he wondered what Ryan would do about food. He could just imagine her calling a bag of potato chips and a soda "dinner." He supposed he couldn't blame her. Having their guitarist quit so close to the gig had to require a lot of juggling. At least if the team lost a guy, or even a couple, to injury, they had other players to rely on to fill the gaps.

He reheated some leftovers for dinner and then flipped on the TV, pleased when he found Iron Chef America. It wasn't quite as good as the original, but he liked Bobby Flay and Alton Brown. As the chefs were busy plating their dishes, the phone rang.

"Hello."

"Hey, Brody. It's Rick."

"Hey, man." Brody smiled and turned off the TV. His oldest brother rated his full attention. "How's it going?"

"Quiet weekend," Rick told him. "Amy took the kids to visit her mom, so it's just me and the idiot box."

"How come you didn't go?"

"We're behind schedule. First there was a question about permits, and then there were two days of rain. We couldn't do anything, so I'll be working tomorrow. But we'd had the weekend planned for a while, so I told Amy to go without me. Only good thing about it is the overtime."

"How are the kids?" Brody found it odd to think that when Rick had been his age, twenty-six, he'd been married with a kid already. Now, at twenty-nine, Rick had two. Brody couldn't see himself with a pet, much less a child.

"They're good. Want to borrow them some time?"

Brody laughed. "What, you can't return them? Lost the receipt?"

"You should try it, man. I'm telling you—you think hockey's tough, try entertaining a two-year-old for a few hours."

"Sorry, Rick. I'm just here to be the uncle who buys cool toys."

"Slacker."

"Yeah, yeah. So, what's up? Everything okay with Mom and Dad?"

"Oh, yeah, fine. They're excited about flying out for Christmas. So are Amy and the kids. You sure you don't mind putting us up?"

"Since you'll be in hotels, absolutely not."

Rick chuckled. "I knew there was a reason you kept that apartment. You have an excuse to limit visitors."

"Damn, I didn't think anyone had figured that out."

"That's why I'm the older brother. How about you? What are you doing home tonight? I thought you had a girlfriend now."

"I do, but she's busy tonight." Brody explained what had happened. "I feel bad, she sounded pretty ticked when she left that message. I was debating calling her but I don't want to interrupt them."

"Wow, listen to you. Should I give you advice on engagement rings?"

"What? Because I feel bad that she's having a tough time?"

"Brody, you never let anyone else stick around long enough to have a tough time. You must like her."

"Of course I like her. I wouldn't have asked her out if I didn't. Jesus, why does everyone think I can't handle this?"

"Maybe because you've always made a point of saying how you didn't want a serious relationship for, like, ever? Maybe because at, what is this, something like six or eight weeks, it's the longest relationship I can remember you having?"

"Yeah, well." Brody scowled at the rug. "Sue me."

Rick guffawed. "Oh, come on, Brody. For all the shit you and Josh gave me when I was dating and engaged, I deserve a little payback."

"It's been four years!"

"Payback is always sweeter when they're not expecting it."

"You have always been such an asshole."

Rick laughed again and they talked for a while more, until Rick said he had to go meet a friend for dinner and call Amy before he left. After hanging up, Brody wandered out to the kitchen, thinking over the call with Rick and the earlier comments from Baxter.

Was six weeks the longest relationship he'd had? He pondered that; surely there had to be someone he'd dated for more like three or six months. He thought about high school, and then college, and realized that no, he hadn't. He'd been so involved with hockey outside of classes that he had barely given dating or girlfriends any thought. Sure, he'd known some girls and gone on dates, but Rick was likely right.

Bax had joked again at lunch that Brody had seemed to be at a loss after getting Ryan's message, and he was forced to admit that he was. Previously, he'd been fine if the woman he was seeing showed up, and fine if she'd had to change plans. Because, he told himself, that was the way he'd liked it and wanted it. Casual and easy, no pressure for anyone.

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