Men. I've lived my life surrounded by them. Yet, while everyone else I knew fell in and out of love easily, I remained on the outside. I was one of the guys. Of course, I liked this at first. After all, I had easy access to areas most women could only wonder about. I got into the boys' heads. There just comes a day when you begin to want more.
"Come on, Stella. You're dragging the beat."
I turned my searing blue eyes towards the tall, lanky man to my right. He had a red electric guitar in hand and a pick in his mouth as he frowned at me. A fedora covered his shaggy light brown hair but it didn't hide his familiar piercing blue eyes fixed on me.
"Blake, it's not my fault. This keyboard is fried," I replied stonily, shoving the keyboard in front of me to emphasize my point. "Half of the notes are getting lost every time I play."
My twin brother Blake Hawkins groaned, taking the pick from his mouth. He looked towards the man smoking a cigarette near the microphone. His intense brown eyes were sympathetic. At least Julian Anderson was on my side. He was the mastermind behind our band, Igby Goes Down. We began a couple of years ago, half-heartedly at first. We never dreamed we would have a shot at playing anywhere but a local party. Then as our talents grew, so did the passion for our success as a band. We became better known which made us hunger for achievement even more. "What do you think Jules?"
"She's right," he said in his deep sultry voice. His voice was why I had faith that one day our band might just make it. "You need to get a new one, Stell."
"What we need is a new drummer," spoke up Cooper Holloway. I turned to him in relief; I didn't want to let everyone know the reason I had yet to buy a keyboard was because I had no money. He messed up his short blond hair absentmindedly as he continued. "Neil might be willing to help us out, but come on. We all know how forgetful he is. You never know when he'll actually turn up." He smiled warmly at me. "And I'll take care of the keyboard. I think there is an extra at my family's that you can use, Stell."
"He's right. We need a drummer." Julian looked at the empty drum set behind him. "Neil is never going to join the band fully. He's been doing us a favor for this past month. I think he's already getting sick of it."
"I would say so since he didn't bother showing up today." Blake went to a table in Julian's basement, taking a cigarette out of the pack lying on the table.
"What about James?" I asked. Blake and Julian exchanged knowing grins, but I continued on. "I know what you think. James won't do it. But he fits with the band. He can play our rock 'n' roll. It's not like he has anything else going for him now. I think we should try asking him once more. Plus, Adele just broke up with him."
Blake looked up from lighting his cigarette. "Really?" he asked. "It might work. She's what stopped him in the first place. You must be happy that they broke up." I looked at him, wondering what his strange comment meant, but I let it slide. Blake was always saying bizarre things to me.
"When did this happen?" asked Cooper.
I shrugged, leaning against the cold basement wall behind me. "I suppose yesterday. I ran into him today and he was in good spirits about it. He wanted me to take him out to the latest party to try and find a chick."
"He already wants to find someone new to fuck," said Julian with a glint in his eyes. "Did you tell him you would help him out?"
"Of course I'll introduce him to some new chicks. Supposedly something big is going down at Zachary's tonight." I smirked. "It's convenient. I'm going to crash at James' place instead of coming back here."
"I'm in," said Blake with a grin, his dimples deepening. Though we weren't identical twins, we still did look alike. My silky long brown hair was darker than his as were my exotic blue eyes.
We shared the same smirk though he got the adorable dimples that fooled most women into thinking he was anything but a troublemaker. He was taller than me, though we shared the similar skinny rockstar frame. Luckily, I had curves so I wasn't too boyish. I did my best to hide it most of my life, wanting to fit in as best as I could with this crowd by wearing the same thrift store t-shirts as my brother. At twenty-two, I was just now discovering the power of the female body against men. Of course, I had been friends with most of the men in our circle for too long for them to notice. I would always be Blake's twin. Stella, the chick with balls.
"I wonder if Connor knows about the bash yet," Julian added with a deep raucous laugh.
"I doubt it," Cooper said, joining in. "You know Zack. He always is doing things spur of the moment. Did Hart say anything about a party?"
Armando Hart was Blake's best friend and roommate. He was the lead guitarist for Serendipity, a band Connor Spencer played bass for. "Nope, Stella beat him this time."
"Saturday night!" shouted a booming voice, running down the stairs. I grinned as Armando appeared, his tan corduroy jacket flapping in the wind as it revealed his tight vintage red Coca-Cola t-shirt. His jeans fit him too perfectly. He looked more and more like a rockstar every day. His short curly dark hair was unruly as ever though he didn't seem to notice. His grin grew as he jumped the few remaining steps to joyfully shake Julian's hand and then Cooper's. His brown eyes were dancing with excitement. "There's a big party tonight, kids. Loren and I have come to interrupt your regularly scheduled program."
"We already know, Hart," I said with a smirk, Armando's gaze turning to me. "You're losing your touch."
"I should have known you would beat me, kid." He winked at me, turning to face Blake. "Amber's going to be there tonight."
Cooper whistled. "She's hot. What a smoking body. And you think you got a chance?"
I stood up, ruffling Armando's hair and giving him a slight push. "Hart's a stud. Of course he thinks he has a chance. But I know something you don't know."
Armando grabbed my hand, stopping me from running away. "What do you know, gossip queen?"
"I'm not a gossip!" I said resentfully, struggling in his strong grip.
"She's really not. Everyone just tells her everything for some odd reason. I wouldn't trust that face," Blake said as he put out his cigarette.
I laughed. "I look like you."
He raised an eyebrow. "Exactly. I wouldn't trust me."
"Well," I said, "I heard Amber is looking for a new boyfriend and she's set on James, oddly enough."
Armando released me, looking bewildered. "What? Did you tell her I was interested?"
I rolled my eyes. "You're interested in anything in a skirt."
"Not everything," Julian said with a sinister grin. "He's not chasing you, Stell."
"Do you see a skirt here?" I replied indignantly. "She doesn't take you seriously, Hart. She's looking for a boyfriend this time."
Armando put his hands in the air in defeat. "Well, I'm not going to go down that road yet. I like my social life how it is. I don't want to cut off my sex life so young."
Cooper shook his head, looking at his watch. "I'm going to swing by my place before I head over. If any of you need to crash tonight, you know where I live. I'll see you guys there."
The four of us followed him upstairs and out onto the porch. "I'll definitely be crashing somewhere," I said, stretching my arms high in the air.
Armando hit my stomach as my shirt raised to reveal some skin. "Going to seduce some boys tonight, Stella? We're all getting worried you're going to become a nun now that Walter dumped you."
Blake ruffled my hair. "She'll land back on her feet soon enough."
"I'm over Walter," I said stonily. "It's been three months. Trust me, just because I don't flaunt my relationships like you cretins, it doesn't mean I'm Miss Prude."
The three laughed. "I think you hit a nerve," Julian said.
I didn't reply, grateful when Loren with his dyed black hair came out to join us. "You guys ready to party?" he asked, a six-pack in his hand.
We all took a Lager, nodding in agreement. "I'm always ready for a party," Blake said enthusiastically. "I like meeting Miss Right Now."
Everyone laughed, knowing it was the truth when it came to him. After listening to the boy talk for ten minutes, I finished my beer. "I'm going to head to my place. James is meeting me at ten."
"Going to get dolled up?" asked Armando with a laugh.
"For you clowns? Never," I joked right back with him. I waved, walking away from the group.
Armando followed me, his beer still in hand. "Why are you going with James anyway? You know he'll end up with Amber if she wants him."
"I'll find some place to crash if he gets lucky. I can always sleep on your couch," I said, smirking at him. Armando laughed, keeping in stride with me. "What are you doing?" I asked him finally with a laugh. "Following me?"
"I've never seen your place. It's been two months since you moved in and I thought it was about time to check it out."
"I usually don't let strange boys in. You never know their intentions."
Armando laughed, throwing an arm around my shoulder and pulling me close to him. "I'm definitely not a boy you want to let in. I only have the worst intentions."
I pushed him away with a laugh as we arrived at my place. It was like the rest of the apartments for rent here. It was more a two-floor townhouse than a normal apartment. "Come on in," I said, unlocking the door. My place was organized, despite my chaotic manner. I walked through the living room, then the dining room to the kitchen, opening my fridge and getting another beer. "Need another?" I called out, grabbing one for him before hearing his answer. I found him staring at the bookcases in my dining room filled with records, books and CDs. Though I called it my dining room, the description couldn't be more inaccurate. Besides the bookcase, there was a comfortable couch in the room but no dining table in sight.
He took the beer, placing the empty one on the end table next to the couch. "Nice selection."
"Thank you very much. Want to see the rest of the place?" Though it was far from finished, I still loved showing off my first apartment. I didn't get the chance to very often.
"Sure, kid," he said, gulping down his beer.
I pointed to a door in between the kitchen and dining room. "That leads to the basement. I have yet to go down there. I'm too scared. The lights are out and it's dark. Plus I think it's haunted."
Armando grinned. "Here I thought you were ballsy."
"Don't you dare say I'm acting like a girl," I replied back, arching an eyebrow. I grabbed his hand, pulling him away from the doorway and up the stairs. "This is where I keep my guitars and amps," I said, releasing his hand and gesturing to the room at the top of the stairs. "It's really an extra room but since I don't have a roommate, I don't have to be cramped."
He looked inside, nodding appreciatively. "Nice. Where's your keyboard?"
"It's still at Jules' place. It's too much of a hassle for me to carry it back and forth so I just tend go over to his place to practice. It's fried anyway from the last gig."
His eyes twinkled. "From when you dumped your beer all over it since you were trashed?"
"Yeah, from that. Once I get the money I'm going to get a new one. My job hasn't been going so well," I said with a sigh, leaning against the doorframe. My job wasn't anything special. I simply sat at a cubicle like everyone else and typed in facts into the computer. To say I hated the job would be an understatement. "I broke a computer and they docked me pay."
"Shit, Stella. That's terrible."
"Don't remind me. Plus my mom has been on my case lately. I was going to ask to borrow some money but she hasn't recovered from the loss of Walter." I made a face. "He was God's gift in her opinion. She should have married the guy."
Armando looked at me in surprise. "Marriage? I didn't know you wanted to marry him. I had no idea you two were that serious."
His intense stare was what hooked most people in and unfortunately, I never seemed to be immune to it when we were alone. "He was, I suppose," I said softly. "Didn't Blake tell you? That's why he took off. I was not down with that and he didn't feel secure with all the males in my life. He thought having a rock on my finger would give him more security. He didn't know me at all," I said sadly.
"Cheer up, doll face. You'll find a better man soon enough. Walter always seemed flimsy anyway. He was an accountant," Armando replied, reaching up to caress my cheek softly. The moment of tenderness quickly vanished as he left the room, turning to the next door.
This was why I usually avoided being alone with Armando. In his eyes, I was his kid sister. The little girl who would beat up any boy on the playground if they called her a girl. I had gotten my wish but sometimes I wondered what it would be like if he saw me differently. Then my senses returned and I remembered I didn't think of him like that.
"The lovely bathroom," I supplied, pointing out the obvious. "And here is my room," I said, opening the door to my spacious bedroom. My king sized bed with satin black sheets seemed more prominent than normal. I wished I had made it before I left this morning. It seemed too inviting right now.
"Nice bed, Stell. You must like the best."
I shrugged. "I do. You've got to be picky."
"I taught you well," he said. I looked over at him, wondering if I was missing something. He seemed to be acting different than normal.
"Anyone home?" called out a voice from downstairs.
"Be right down, James," I called back.
Armando gestured past him. "After you, Stella."
I walked past him, his rich scent filling me as I did so. I shook my head. He was right. I was getting hard up if I was starting to look at my childhood friends as potential partners. "James," I said, hugging his muscular though lean body. I playfully messed up his light blond hair. "I was showing Hart my bedroom."
"You make it sound a lot more exciting than it was," Armando said dryly, lighting up a cigarette. "How are you, James?"
James shook Armando's hand. "Good."
"I heard Amber has her sights on you."
James laughed. "I heard that from Stella too. I wonder if it's really true."
"I'm reliable," I replied, sinking onto a couch in my living room, putting up my feet on my coffee table.
James took a seat next to me, his arm resting on the back of the couch while Armando stood in the doorway, smoking his cigarette as he stared at the two of us. "You usually get things right. Amber's a little wild for me."
"Well, if you get lucky, I'll grab some other place to crash. Don't hold back on my account," I told him, wanting to make it clear in the beginning of the night. I knew him well enough to know he would put me before his own desires. He was a good friend that way.
Armando nodded. "You can always crash at my place. We've got a couch."
"As long as you keep it down with your latest squeeze!" I teased him.
"I make no promises," Armando replied as James laughed. "I was going for Amber till I heard she wanted you, man." James started to protest, willing to sacrifice himself for a friend. "No, it's cool. There's another girl I've got my eye on. Amber's smoking, man. You should go for it."
At that moment Blake opened the door, gesturing outside. "Jules is waiting. We've got room in the car." I grinned, running up my stairs to dab a little make-up on before grabbing my keys and cell phone. Then I was out the door with the rest of them, cramming into Julian's black Saturn. I squished myself onto Armando's lap, wondering if the six of us would be able to fit in this car. Blake grinned, watching Armando, James, Loren and my discomfort from the front passenger seat.
"It's not that long of a drive," Julian said, starting the car. I leaned back against Armando, wishing for more room.
"You comfortable?" he asked me huskily.
I turned to look at him. Once again that feeling overcame me. I felt as if I was missing something with him. His gaze was more than friendly and it definitely wasn't brotherly. The feeling faded soon as he seemed to return to normal. I wasn't convinced though. "I'm fine. I'm not squishing you, am I?" I asked him, staring at him as I tried to figure out what he was hiding from me. Then again, maybe it was all in my head.
"I'll live." The Rolling Stones blasted from the speakers behind us, ceasing any other conversation. I couldn't help but be partly relieved. I was causing myself to think too much about this.