Rhythm and the Blue Line Ch. 03byPennLady©
Author's note: thanks again to my beta readers and to estragon for copy edits. Votes and feedback always welcome.
© 2011 All Rights Reserved
Brody drummed his fingers on his knee and bounced his leg as he sat on the team bus. They'd be on their way to Philly soon and few things got the Capitals pumped like a game against the Flyers, even though it was the teams' first meeting of the season, in mid-November.
Baxter dropped into the seat beside him. "Jesus, do you never sit still?"
"Just a little extra energy, that's all." Brody shrugged. "Plenty left over for the game. Don't worry, old man. I'll cover a shift if you need a rest."
"Smart ass." Bax shook his head. "Still thinking about your musician?"
"She's not 'my' musician." Brody's phone beeped and he extracted it from his pocket to find a text from Ryan. GWU Sat 2pm. Sent flyer email. R
Baxter looked over as Brody tapped out a quick reply. "What was that?"
"Just a text from Ryan." Brody slid the phone back in his pocket.
Brody gave him a wry grin. "My musician."
"A girl named Ryan?"
"Yeah. She was just letting me know when her gig was this weekend; I told her I'd show up, maybe bring some of the guys."
"Oh, man. You've got it bad." Bax elbowed him. "I told you so."
"Bax, she made it very clear that she is not interested in anything more than friends, okay? I wouldn't mind more, but I don't go over the line when it's been laid out like that."
"I do admire a man of principle." Bax snickered when Brody rolled his eyes.
They wound their way onto I-95 North and random conversations sprouted up. Bets were made on goals, assists and fights. Then attention split between razzing Obie—Anatoli Oborotenski, the team superstar—about being married, and various other guys about their girlfriends, or lack thereof. The ribbing went on until the coach stood up and issued instructions for their arrival, then resumed when he sat down.
Baxter nudged Brody. "Good thing you're not going out with this Ryan, you'd have to put up with this shit, too."
"Hey. What?" Mark Gaines turned around and looked at them. "You're going out with Ryan? When the hell did that happen?"
"Ryan?" Cole Janizak, the team captain, leaned over from his seat. "Brody's dating a Ryan? Man, you're a trailblazer." That statement grabbed everyone's attention; Brody glared at Baxter as the catcalls and comments started rolling in.
"Thanks, Bax." Brody scowled at his friend, who just grinned, then addressed his teammates in turn. "No, Gainer, I'm not going out with Ryan." He turned to his captain. "Who, I might add, is a girl. Okay, Janny?"
"Thank God. I knew she had more sense than that." Mark grinned and sat down before Brody could reply.
"Asshole," Brody grumbled, making Baxter laugh.
"You got it bad, kid. If they're going to start giving you shit about it, you might as well go out with her and make it worth the while."
Brody grumbled some more and then pulled out his iPod. They might start giving him shit, but it didn't mean he had to listen.
Ryan sat, eyes glued to the TV, as she watched the Caps-Flyers game and munched on some chips for a snack. The camera caught Brody on the bench, talking to one of his teammates, then turning to look out over the ice.
"They're whole-grain chips, I swear," she said.
"What?" Lara looked up from her computer, where she was updating the band's Facebook and MySpace pages. "Who are you talking to?"
"What? Nobody." Ryan glanced at Lara, then back at the screen. "I didn't say anything."
"Yes, you did. You said you were eating whole-grain chips. What are you talking about?"
"Nothing. Sorry." When Lara kept staring at her, Ryan gave in. "It's Brody. He likes to cook and he's always after me to eat healthier food. I saw him there and had to, I don't know, defend myself."
"You're a lunatic."
Ryan hunched her shoulders. "I'm not! I don't know. It's nice he's concerned. And it's not like he's wrong. I have crappy eating habits."
"You have crappy cooking habits," Lara corrected. "You eat just fine if given the chance."
Ryan shrugged. "Yeah, I guess I could buy better prepared stuff, like at Trader Joe's. Just a pain to get there."
"So, what's the score?" Lara went back to the computer.
"Three to two, Caps."
"Cool. Brody score?"
"No, but Mark did."
"Look at you. You're turning into a puck bunny!"
Ryan threw the bag of chips, leaving a trail of crumbs across the living room floor. "I am not."
Lara leaned back in the chair, laughing. "Oh, come on, Ryan." She wiped at her eyes. "I was kidding. And on top of that, you missed me completely."
Ryan stared at the debris on the rug. "I know. Still. I'm not a bunny, puck or otherwise."
"Come on, I'll help clean it up." Lara got up and retrieved the hand vacuum while Ryan collected the bigger pieces and put them back in the bag.
"Thanks. Sorry." Ryan dumped the bag in the trash and came back to help get the rest of the crumbs.
"No problem. We all need to toss our chips sometimes."
Ryan gave her a dark look as Lara giggled.
"Look, Ryan." Lara vacuumed up the last of the chip crumbs and put the vacuum back. "It's okay if you like him, you know that, right?"
"I do like him."
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah, yeah. I know. I like him fine. We're not dating, I told you."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Lara grinned as she threw Ryan's words back at her. "I still don't understand the problem there."
"I told you." Ryan stretched and sat back down on the couch. "I don't want to compete with sports for someone's attention. It's that simple."
"Yet you're watching the game."
"Yeah, so?" Ryan shrugged. "Besides, he said he'd come see us at GW. If he's going to watch me work, it's only fair if I watch him. And we've watched games before, to see Mark."
"You never defended yourself when you saw Mark on television."
Ryan scowled. "He never said anything about what I ate."
Lara laughed and went back to the computer. "You know what they say, Ryan. When you fight something like this, it means you really want it. Save yourself the stress and just go out with the guy."
"I thought you wanted to go out with him. I mean, he cooks," Ryan teased.
"Me? No way!" Lara looked stunned. "I've got Trout. I think he might propose."
"No kidding?" Ryan raised an eyebrow.
"Well, maybe. He takes a while to build up to these things."
Ryan couldn't help herself. "What will you say if he asks?" She gave Lara a blank, innocent look that almost hid her smile.
"Yes! What else would—?" Lara was indignant, then glared when Ryan couldn't stifle her laughter. "I ought to kill you."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Ryan shook her head and grinned. "But you walked right into that."
"Just for that, I'm leaving." Lara stood up, sniffed and put her nose in the air. "I'm going to see my boyfriend, who keeps me company and does all sorts of nice things. You can sit here alone and envy me."
"Right. I'll be sure to do that." Ryan sat back on the couch as the intermission wore on. "Tell Trout I said hi."
Lara went into her bedroom and came out with a shoulder bag. "He thinks you should go out with Brody, too, you know."
"Why in the world would Trout have any thoughts at all about me dating?"
"It's just a couple thing," Lara said as she grabbed her coat. "You know, you're part of a couple so you think everyone else should be part of one."
"I'm good, thanks. Go away." Ryan made a shooing motion. "Go hook your fish."
"If he's lucky, he can get his hook in me." Lara wiggled her eyebrows.
"Augh, no! TMI!" Ryan shook her head and covered her ears. "Go! Go!"
Lara left with a promise to pick her up for rehearsal after work the next day and Ryan waved in acknowledgment. The third period started and she was surprised to find herself tensing up. She forced herself to relax.
"You will not get worked about this game," she said aloud. There was no reason to, she decided. If anything should be stressing her, it should be the show at George Washington University in the District on Saturday. Not to mention that she hadn't followed any team in ages; why get worked up now?
Because you want Brody to win, a voice popped up in her head. She rubbed her hands over her face. It was true. She'd gotten to like Brody a lot over the last few weeks and she didn't want to see him lose. In addition, she'd taken to wondering what a kiss would be like, since he brought it up in nearly every conversation.
She shook her head and concentrated on the game. It had been a while since she'd paid close attention to any sports event, even the Super Bowl, and hockey was complicated. However, JT had gone through a major hockey phase at one point. Her father had gone along with it and so hockey had been added to the television slate, and Ryan had picked up more than she'd intended.
As she resumed watching, Brody crossed the neutral zone with the puck. He passed it and took a step to the side to avoid the Flyers' forward who had trailed him. Ryan winced as they collided anyway and the Flyer jabbed at Brody. He responded with a half-hearted push, his eyes on the puck as he kept skating to join the play.
Ryan narrowed her eyes as the Flyer kept poking at Brody and snagging his jersey, and Brody turned around. "Don't do it, Brody," she warned. "They always get the retaliation move." She knew that much from watching her brothers play games. When he jerked away and zipped towards the net, she exhaled in relief.
The puck squeaked back out to the blue line where a Caps' defenseman corralled it and held, looking over his options. Ryan checked his number, but all she knew was that it wasn't Mark. The d-man sent the puck back down into corner and Brody went after it, stabbing at it along the boards and getting it to his linemate, another player Ryan didn't know.
Damn it all, she was going to have to learn the roster. Grumbling to herself, she pulled out her phone and accessed the team's website while she continued watching.
Brody circled back and drifted towards the net, holding at the side and jostling with some large guy in orange and black. Ryan sat on the edge of her seat as the Caps set up and began cycling the puck and Brody tried to inch closer to the front of the net. A slap shot from the point came through, hit a stick and ricocheted, then hit a skate and went towards Brody. He and the Flyer both attacked the puck, and after a small flurry it skipped out above the crease.
Another Cap—Ryan saw the name Baxter on his jersey—rushed in and tried to poke it past the goaltender. She lost track of the puck, saw the goalie flop on the ice and huddle into a ball. There were some more jabs at the puck until the ref blew the whistle, and after a few seconds, the players drifted apart. Ryan sat back and took a deep breath as they went to commercial.
It was ridiculous how tense she was over the game. She'd even caught herself wincing when Brody had been checked hard into the boards. Ryan dropped her head back on the couch.
"Maybe I'd better kiss him and get it over with."
Saturday morning Brody woke up and groaned as his leg throbbed. He'd gone down to block a shot in the game against Philly, caught the puck above his knee, and it still hurt. Given that, he'd talked with the coach and trainer and decided to skip the day's optional skate. He stayed in bed a little longer, but sleep wouldn't return, and so he got up, making his way to the shower with a grimace. Once out, he was rubbing his hair with a towel when the phone rang.
"Hi, Brody. It's Ryan." She paused. "I'm sorry, did I wake you up?"
"What? Oh, no, no. I've been up for a while. What's up?"
"Nothing. Just wanted to say hi to my favorite hockey player."
"Now that's a way to start the morning. Okay, I'm buttered up. Why'd you really call?"
"Hey. That's not fair."
"I'm kidding, Ryan. Relax." He waited; there was something in her tone that made him think this was more than a "nothing" call.
"Okay. You're right. I didn't just call to say hi. I'm nervous about the show today and I can't figure out what to do with myself."
He considered his reply. "Well, I could offer a few ideas on that. I could even show you."
She laughed. "I'll bet you could."
"You're turning me down again, aren't you?"
"I don't think you've actually asked me anything."
"Hmmm. Point taken. Have you had breakfast?"
"No, not yet."
Brody wondered why he'd even asked. "Well, come on up then. I'll make you something."
"No, Brody, you don't have to do that," she protested. "You must have practice or something and I wasn't—"
"Just come up, Ryan. You can't go to your gig on an empty stomach."
"Just come up." He disconnected.
Brody smiled to himself as he threw on jeans and a t-shirt and waited for Ryan. He had to wonder how a woman like that managed to keep such nice curves while eating things that had only a passing relation to actual food. Well, he decided, he'd send her off with something fun. He couldn't play a guitar, but he could make a pretty kick-ass breakfast. He dug out his skillet and went to answer the door when he heard her knock.
"Hey, it's the rock star." Brody grinned. "Come on in."
"Thanks." She stepped in and he closed the door. "I'm not a rock star yet, though," she said as she followed him to the kitchen.
"Think positive. Visualize it."
Ryan gave him a skeptical look. "What, did you read The Secret or something?"
He tossed an arm around her shoulders as he directed her towards the kitchen. "Try to be encouraging, and look what happens."
"I'm sorry, Brody. I appreciate it."
He laughed. "It's fine. I was kidding. Here, have some orange juice." He handed her a glass.
"Thanks. Listen, really, if you have to go, I—"
"It's an optional practice, and since I have a sore leg, I have opted not to go." He flashed her a grin. "Ryan, seriously, relax. I wouldn't have told you to come up if I didn't want you to."
"Okay." She took a deep breath. "Sorry. I get a little . . . wired before gigs."
"So I see. Anything specific or just general nerves?" He gestured for her to sit at the small table in the kitchen.
"Both, I guess. You remember I mentioned Jason, our guitarist?"
"Sure." Brody nodded as he opened a cabinet. "Drink the juice. You like eggs?"
"Most times. Not sure about today." Ryan sipped at the juice and he watched as she bounced her leg to release some nervous energy.
"You'll love these, don't worry. Now, back to your guitarist problems."
"I guess I'm just not sure he's prepared for this. I'm not sure he takes it all seriously enough."
"Okay. So what will you do?" Brody beat the eggs and stirred the vegetables in the frying pan.
"I don't know. He was pretty amenable to everything when we interviewed him but after a few weeks, it changed." Ryan shook her head. "We agreed to a six-month trial, and we're about halfway through. I'm wondering if we should cut it short. I mean, the last live gig we had he kept trying to expand his solos, on maybe half the songs. We covered, but . . . If he does that next month at the 9:30 Club, I don't even want to think about it." She propped her elbows on the table and dropped her face in her hands.
"Ryan, relax. You have time. I'm sure he'll come around. Deal with today and worry about the rest later."
She raised her head and peered at him through her fingers. "I hate when people say stuff like that."
He chuckled. "Sorry. Best I could do on short notice. Anyway, I'm looking forward to your show today. I'll come early, make sure I get a good seat."
"I hate to break it to you but this is a seat-free performance. It's the college fall festival and we'll be on a campus common area."
"Okay." She paused. "So, your leg. Is that from the shot you blocked in Philly?" He turned and she giggled at his expression.
"Why, Ryan, am I to understand that you watched my game? Without me even asking?"
"Oh, shut up." She tried to scowl but couldn't, and ended up laughing. "Yes, I watched."
"I am so flattered. And yes, that's why I'm skipping practice. I have a bruise the size of Michigan on my thigh. It's better now but it hurt like hell when it happened."
"I'll bet. It hurt just watching."
"Not my favorite part of the game," he acknowledged, "but you do what you have to. Here, eat this." He put a plate in front of her.
"What is it?" She eyed it warily.
"Huevos rancheros, and some chorizo sausage on the side." He got up, returned with the salt and pepper shakers, and gave her arm a quick squeeze. "Go on, eat it. You'll thank me."
"Okay." Ryan tried a bite and nodded. "You're right. Thanks, Brody." She gave him a rueful smile. "I do appreciate it. Beats the Frosted Flakes I would have had otherwise."
"Frosted F—?" Brody huffed out a breath and shook his head. "How can you—" He shook his head as she snickered. "You're teasing me again."
Ryan shrugged as she picked up another bite of eggs and sausage. "I might have gone for Pop Tarts." She met his eyes and couldn't hide a laugh.
"That teasing's going to get you in trouble one day, Ryan."
"Yeah, yeah. You keep saying that."
Brody didn't reply, and instead just watched her. He couldn't figure this out. She'd been clear that night they'd gone for sushi and he'd tried to kiss her. Yet here she was teasing him; flirting, even. And here he was, liking it.
"So, are you going to eat or just keep staring at me like that?" Ryan asked. "Because I have to tell you, it's a little unnerving. And I'm nervous enough as it is."
"No, I'm done." Brody shook his head and went back to his food.
They finished and she helped clear the table, then checked her watch.
"Thanks, Brody. I'd better get back downstairs. Lara will be here soon and we have to load up."
"It's still kind of early, isn't it?"
"Oh, there's plenty to do." She hooked her thumbs in the front pockets of her jeans. "Set up the instruments, tune what needs tuning, check the sound system; before you know it, it's time for the show."
"Cool. Maybe sometime I can watch you set up."
She laughed. "If you want. It's hardly exciting. Then again, you probably won't hurt your leg, either."
"See? It has its advantages." Brody grinned. "Seriously, I'll be there, and I think Mark will, with Hilary. Maybe a couple of other people, too."
"That would be terrific. At least then I know we won't be playing to an empty field."
This time he laughed. "Wow, you really do get nervous. Come on, you know it won't be empty."
"I know, I know. Okay, I have to go. Thanks again."
"No problem." He walked with her to the door. "One last thing before you go."
She turned and looked up. "What's that?"
He put a hand on her arm and stared at her for a moment. He leaned down, waited, and when she made no move to stop him, kissed her. Her lips were soft and warm, as he'd imagined. He kept his touch light, then pulled back after a moment.
"Told you so," he said with a smile.
Ryan glanced around the stage as she played her guitar during the sound check. It wouldn't be perfect—outdoor shows never were—but they'd do the best they could. Her keyboards and laptop were good to go, now they just had to finish this song and they'd be done.
She glanced over at Nate and tilted her head at Lara. He nodded, indicating that he thought Lara sounded good as well. Ryan smiled to herself; as much as she sometimes envied Lara's ease with her hair, nails and makeup, she envied Lara her voice more. Ryan had learned to make the most of what she had, but she'd never have the strength or projection that Lara did.
Shaking those thoughts away, she focused again, waited three beats, then added her vocals behind Lara's during the chorus.