"We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. It has only happened to me like that once." --Ernest Hemingway
I never meant to become that girl
I never meant to become that girl. You know the one I'm talking about. The other woman who…who flings herself between otherwise perfectly happy relationships and wreaks havoc. You know. That one.
I never meant to fall in love at first sight, either. I mean, I always believed that stuff was nonsense. Love was…a concept invented by Hollywood in order to sell tickets to their generic romantic comedies. Love like that had no place in real life.
At least, that's what I believed until the day I met Brody Williams.
"Hemingway is the best band I've ever heard live, Liz. I mean, most bands are horrible live, but they sound just like their CD. You're going to love them." The show hadn't even started yet, and my best friend was already trashed. The vodka in her plastic cup sloshed over the rim. I didn't say anything about how much she was spilling. The less vodka that made its way into Melissa's mouth, the better.
"I'll take your word for it, Melly. Here. Let me take that." I plucked the cup from her wildly gesturing hands. Seeing nowhere to set it down, I threw it to the back of my throat and coughed.
"You drink my drank! I mean, you drank my drink…" Melly dissolved into giggles. The man behind her turned in surprise as she leaned back against him. "Hi," she cooed to him.
"Sorry," I apologized for her, taking her hands and tugging her away from him as the corners of his mouth tugged into an interested smile. "You're pretty much wasted, Mel. Let's take a breather."
"Okaaay." She trilled, her voice getting lost by the sudden screech of a guitar on stage. "Look! Look, Lizzie! They're starting!"
Indeed, the show was starting. The house lights dimmed down, and as if all prompted by a silent cue, the crowd around us thronged towards the stage. I dug my heels down and keeping a firm grip on Melissa's hand, and we managed to not get swept away. Pushing backwards, I found a quiet corner by the bar that still offered a good view of the band fiddling with their instruments on stage.
The same silent cue that had caused the mad rush towards the stage also had caused a hush to fall over the crowd. Even Melly had stopped babbling and leaned docilely against my shoulder. Her golden hair tickled down my bare arm. "They're starting," she crooned softly once more.
I patted her hand absently; watching as the lead singer stood up from poking at his amp and curled his fingers around the microphone like it was made of glass. He looked up, and my heart stopped. My fingers tightened on Melly's.
"Mmm? What's wrong, Liz?" Melly stirred from my shoulder and looked up at me. I ignored her. The lead singer's dark eyes were now piercing through the smoke and the crowd, and I couldn't look away.
His lips curled into a little half smile, and I knew he wasn't looking at anyone else but me. I knew it. I smiled back. Then, someone stepped past us, blocking my line of sight. I pushed forward, fighting for another look, but the moment was over. He was looking out over the crowd.
"Hey guys, we're Hemingway. This first song is called White Elephants. Hope you like it." Then, he strummed a couple chords, and began to sing. Then I understood the strange effect that had fallen over the bar. The lead singer could have been an angel, if angels had lip rings and bright red hair.
"Oh, Mel," I breathed.
"I know. The bassist. He's gorgeous."
"No. Not him. Him." I gestured absently, not caring whether she understood me or not. I couldn't even focus on his words or their music. I just watched him the entire set. Sometimes he whispered. Sometimes he screamed. Sometimes, he sang so sweetly, I was positive he had to be an angel. It was then the band sounded best—hard, clashing instrumentals with that angelic voice. It was like poetry set to music.
"He keeps looking over at you, Liz." Melly whispered in my ear, three songs later.
"Yeah," I answered. Every time his eye met mine across the room, my breath caught in my throat.
The set lasted two more songs, and then it was over. The house lights were brightening, and I could see the entire front row of fans were girls. The lead singer was smiling down at them, screwing the top back on a water bottle as he talked. I felt a pang of jealousy, and then, confusion. Why would I be jealous of a guy I had never even met? This was insane.
"Come on, Mel. I'm done. Let's go home." I looked over at her, but her eyes were glued on the black-haired bassist.
"No. Not yet."
I sighed, following her gaze. Melissa always inevitably found some tattooed member of a band to take home with us. Her long blonde curls and big blue eyes ensured that.
She must have heard my sigh. Her elbow dug into my side. "Elizabeth. You need to lighten up and have some fun once in awhile."
"But I have—"
"—class tomorrow, I know." She scrunched her nose at me. "Stop rubbing in the fact that you actually care about school."
"Fine, fine. I guess we can stay a little longer." I leaned back against the bar, shifting to avoid the damp spot on the counter. Melly beamed, her teeth white against her pink lips and threw her arms up in the air. The motion caused her to nearly topple over.
"Whoa," two pale arms encircled her waist—steadying her on her feet. She looked back and smiled at the bassist of Hemingway. Of course he wouldn't be able to stay away if Melly had made eyes at him.
He smiled back. "Hi."
"Hi!" She breathed back, her blue eyes big.
"Hi," I mimicked softly under my breath, wrinkling my nose, but they weren't paying any attention to me. They were feasting on each other's faces. I sighed and turned away. Melissa was always in her own world when she met a new boy. Hopefully, this new development wouldn't mean that I would be stuck here until five in the morning like the rest of the bar rats. Last time she fell in love, I ended up falling asleep in a corner booth while the new lovebirds made out in the bathroom.
"Hi," I heard behind me. I froze, turning back to face where the angelic lead singer had joined Melissa and her bassist.
I opened my mouth say something brilliant and witty, but the first thing I thought of was something I had read the other day. "Did you know that Abercrombie & Fitch was indirectly involved in Hemingway's death? They used to sell—"
"She means 'hi' back!" Melissa explained helpfully, both her arms already around the bassist's neck.
Chewing on my lip, I forced myself to look up at his eyes. On the stage, I had thought they were dark brown, but this close, they were actually navy. They made his bright hair even brighter—flames shooting out of his scalp like a halo. The dark green and black striped shirt didn't quite reach the waistband of his faded jeans. I could see a glimpse of pale hipbone.
"Hi," he said again. The silver lip ring glinted. I couldn't look away. "And, they used to sell guns. Hemingway, the writer who wrote about a materialistic, lost generation, used to shop at the same store that the current materialistic, lost generation—" He trailed off then. I had been studying his face with such rapt attention, maybe it was intimidating. He had just vocalized the exact subject I had written my last paper on.
"Hi," I finally responded. The room was getting louder, and I had to raise my voice to be heard. I couldn't think of anything else to say.
He said something, but several girls nearby started shrieking in laughter. I shook my head, tapping my ear. The same fingers that had curled so tenderly around the microphone ran down my arm to grab my elbow. The metal of the lip ring brushed my ear. "I'm Brody."
A shiver went down my back. "Elizabeth," I responded, putting my lips close to his ear. We both smiled.
"Can I buy you a drink, Lizzie?" I liked how he called me by my nickname without asking.
"God, yes, buy her a drink!" Melly giggled. "And buy me a drink. Let's all buy drinks!" She squirmed in the bassist's arms.
I couldn't tear my eyes off Brody's. Without turning his head away, he held up four fingers to the bartender. The bartender must have known Brody's preferred drink of choice because several seconds later, we were all holding four shot glasses in our hand.
"To us!" Melissa crowed happily, holding hers up in the air. I should have been worrying about how much she was drinking, but Melissa and her rampant alcoholism was the farthest thing from my mind.
"To us," the bassist agreed, slipping his arm around her waist and smiling indulgently at her.
"To us," Brody said, in an intimate way I knew meant Melissa and the bassist were excluded.
"To us," I replied, smiling at him.
I was in love.
Ironically enough, when I walked into the small coffee bar inside the campus bookstore, he was curled up with a copy of "The Sun Also Rises" on a battered arm chair.
That's when I started believing in fate.
The butterflies frantically beating against the walls of my stomach made me slightly nauseated as I made my way towards him. He gave me that half-smile. "Hey."
"Hi," I said, still slightly amazed. "What are you doing here?"
He shrugged, his thin shoulders rising and falling in a helpless gesture. "I'm an English Music double major. Poetry classes help my lyrics." I must have still been staring. His elbow gently dug into my side. "What are you doing here?"
"I go here!" He raised a brow. "Well, obviously." I blushed. "I'm an English major as well." We were silent for a moment, looking at each other. Finally, I ventured, "What's a famous rock star like you doing still in college?"
He looked pleased. "We're not famous."
"You seemed pretty famous last night." Just until a few hours ago, people I had never talked to were buying us rounds of shots dedicated to the 'genius that was Hemingway'."
Brody shrugged again. "Eh. We just have a big local following. But, one day…" We fell silent again. I couldn't tear my gaze from his eyes. I had never seen such dark eyes that still managed to be blue.
Coffee in the morning turned into lunch in the afternoon that turned into the leisurely walk back to my apartment. He didn't seem surprised to find Brian the bassist just waking up on the couch. "Hey, man." Brian was coherent enough to slap palms with Brody.
"Dude," he replied. I never could figure out how guys could pack so much meaning into one word. I didn't even try to understand.
Melissa wasn't home from work yet, and in the back of my mind, I reminded myself to berate her for letting a stranger stay in our apartment alone. Brody's hand landed on my shoulder suddenly before trailing down to the small of my back. I tried to hide the shiver. "We gotta get out of here." His navy eyes bored into mine. "I'll see you Wednesday after class?"
All I could do was nod. Every time he looked at me like that, I felt incapable of articulate speech. I chewed on my lower lip instead and nodded.
He looked at me for another minute before tugging me against his chest. I scarcely had time to slip my arms around him in response before he was pulling away. "See you, Liz."
Then Brody was gone.
Brody seemed to have been perfected the art of the quick escape. He did it often when we were hanging out before, between, and after our classes. His phone would buzz; he'd check his messages and curse, and then kiss my forehead. Then he'd leave. It was stupid to feel angry, I reasoned to myself. It wasn't like he was my boyfriend. In fact, despite seeing him nearly every day for the past three weeks, Brody had offered no evidence that he was interested in me that way.
Yes, there were the intense staring matches, and the way he touched me without thinking, and the scraps of poetry-covered paper he'd tuck into my notebooks, but there was nothing concrete. Some days, after he'd jump up from the table and leave, I was positive I had imagined every meaningful look and touch.
Then, after we had known each other for a month, he invited me to come to another one of their shows at Fort Orange, a local bar. Melly had enthused all night as she primped, mostly about seeing Brian the bassist, but also about the fact I was actually going out on a school night. She gave me one of her skin-baring tops and did my makeup. I felt pretty, which was sometimes a hard thing to do when someone beautiful like Melly was my best friend.
I only saw Brody for a moment before the show started. The stairs for the stage were in front of the bathroom. On my way out, I ran into him. He'd grinned at me, pulled me into a hug, and then pressed his lips against mine.
He tasted like cigarettes and vodka with orange juice. The kiss seared through my body and warmed me to my toes. Then, before I had realized what was happening, he'd pulled away and stared at me with those eyes. "I'm glad you came." Then, he made a quick escape up the stairs onto the stage to greet the roar of approval from the crowd.
Slightly stunned and very wobbly, I'd made my way back to Melly. "What's wrong?" She demanded, clutching my shoulders. "Are you sick?"
All I could do was shake my head. My fingers rose to my lips, and my eyes rose to the stage. He was staring at me again, grinning before looking away.
The show was as intense as the first one I'd seen. Hemingway had a very distinct sound, and Brody had a very severe voice. It so raw with emotion, it almost hurt to listen to some of the choruses. I wondered if they would ever be able to find a market for what they produced—it was far from mainstream, but almost too out in left field for even the hardcore music fans to appreciate.
Maybe Hemingway was an acquired taste because I found myself more emotional after the end of the second show than the first. Melly was actually speechless. "That's the best I've ever seen them play. Wow." She looked up at me. Her blue eyes were bright. "Did you sleep with Brody?"
I goggled at her. "No." My cheeks burned. "No." I said again.
Melly arched a brow at me. "Right. Well. Whatever you're doing to him, keep it up." We both turned to look at the band members, who were interacting with the fans in the very front. The jealousy I had felt last time was absent. I felt secure in the fact that Brody and I had something special. Something that wouldn't get stolen by a random groupie.
And then, I saw a small brunette sidle up to him and wrap her arms around his waist. The same hands that played with my hair and cupped my cheek and caressed the microphone slid around her for a quick embrace.
I chewed on my lip. Melly made an indignant sound at my side. "Who the hell does she think she is?" She looked at me. "Go claim your territory, Liz. You're much hotter than she is." She nodded encouragingly, like that was the only thing I had to worry about.
It was fortunate I hesitated. Brian found his way to Melly and kissed her soundly before following our gaze. "Who's that, Bri?" Melly asked innocently, her eyes on Brody and the brunette.
Brian followed her gaze and shrugged easily. "That's Sophia. Brody's girlfriend."
I hadn't stayed much longer after Brian's announcement. Surprisingly, Melly had insisted on leaving Brian and coming home with me. I was suddenly thankful for the large cabinet of liquor Melly kept fully stocked. I mixed a White Russian into a chipped coffee mug, and gulped it down. I had used to drink White Russians as a teenager. It calmed me down.
I must have drank too much too fast because the next thing I knew, I was waking up in Melly's bed with a pounding headache and sandpaper eyes.
I ended up being twenty minutes late to the group Brody and I had joined to study for finals. I had ignored all the texts Brody had sent to me all night and morning, asking where I was. Instead, I slid into my usual seat quietly, opting to leave the big black sunglasses over my eyes.
"Hey," he whispered.
I smiled blankly in response. I didn't know what to say to him.
"Are you okay?" he whispered again, leaning in so his lips were on my ear. I always felt like melting when he did that.
I nodded, not trusting my voice to speak.
I could feel his eyes on my face, but I stared determinedly straight ahead for the remainder of the review. The minute we had finished dissecting the authorial intentions of Chaucer in Wife of Bath, he was reaching and pulling the sunglasses off my face. "What's wrong? Tell me."
I winced at the sunlight flooding in through the window behind us. "I'm fine. Honestly," I croaked, trying another smile. He stared at me until I felt forced to say more. "I just had a long night, you know?"
"Where did you go? One minute, I saw you in the back, and the next you were gone." He kept craning his neck, trying to catch my eye. I resolutely pretended to organize my notes.
"I just went home. You played a good show, by the way." I didn't know what to say. On one hand, I could have completely misread everything. The kiss could have been because he was tipsy and filled with adrenaline, and the meaningful looks could have come from his intense personality. It wasn't like we had any claim on each other. It wasn't like he wasn't allowed to have a girlfriend.
I didn't want to bring all this up and then risk losing his friendship. Once I had experienced Brody, I didn't want to not have him in my life. Having Brody as my friend outweighed having Brody think I was crazy for imagining a whole new layer of meaning between us.
Thankfully, the comment about the show distracted him, and he began to dissect each moment into the good and the bad. We walked to the café where we always ate sandwiches for lunch, and the conversation kept flowing like normal.
I felt confused, but mostly I felt stupid. Brody and I were just friends. That love-at-first-sight nonsense was just that. Nonsense.
Over the next few weeks, the story about Brody's girlfriend came out in bits and pieces. The only time Brody ever mentioned her was accompanied by a string of curse words and a fair amount of eye rolling. I learned from Brian that Brody and Sophia had been dating for three years. I also learned that they had a very unhealthy, very volatile relationship.
"Why are they even together, then?" I'd asked Melissa one day, who was relaying all the information she got out of Brian.
"Well, apparently she has one of the mental illness crazy people kind of things. Bipolar? Brian says she takes medication for it, but sometimes she's really bad. Curses Brody out and stuff. For no reason! Crazy, I know."
I had chewed on my thumbnail, deep in thought. Melissa had continued. "And, Brian says that Sophia hates Hemingway. She calls the band the 'other woman' in Brody's life. She rarely comes to shows."
"But Brody loves music. It's his life."
Melly shrugged. "Well, Sophia doesn't agree."
I'd flopped back on Melly's bed, staring at the ceiling where she'd tacked a poster of Justin Timberlake. I idly wondered how Brian was able to sleep with her when he woke up to that every morning. "Brody never really talks about her. When he has to, he always seems angry and closes the subject as quickly as possible."
Melly grabbed my arm suddenly. "Oh, my god! I can't believe I forgot to tell you this! Sophia's dad got mugged and murdered a few years ago! Brody helped her through it, and they've been together ever since!"
I rolled to my stomach, propping myself up on my elbows. "Mel, that's a pretty huge piece of information to forget," I chided her.
"I'm sorry!" Her blue eyes were huge, begging for forgiveness. "But, that's what Brian said! I swear."
"So, he's with her because he feels like she'd fall apart without him," I decided out loud.
Melly nodded. "That has to be the reason. I mean, Liz, you're so much prettier than she is. And, you're nicer. And smarter. And you love the band. And you're not a psycho. I say that the deck stacks up in your favor." She smiled brightly.
I tried to smile back. "I guess. You're a good friend."
If Brody thought my finding out he had a girlfriend affected our relationship, he didn't mention it. In fact, we got closer as the weeks went on. A day rarely went by that I didn't at least talk to him on the phone about something.
"I just don't think I deserve to be happy," he sighed one day as we sat in the grass outside the Fine Arts building. His head was resting on my legs.
"Of course you deserve to be happy. Everyone does," I responded, leaning back against a tree and taking a bite of the grilled cheese we'd bought at the café.
"Yeah. I don't know." His teeth clacked against his lip ring. "I mean, look at me and Sophia. Sometimes, I pray that the band gets signed and we go on tour so that I have an excuse to break up with her."
I froze, the melted cheese lodged in my throat. Swallowing hard, I searched for an intelligent response to extract from amidst the maelstrom of emotions inside me. "Well, Brody, what's holding you back from just…breaking up with her now? Why do you have to wait to go on tour?" I suppressed the notion that suggested I was a horrible person and taking advantage of his confidence in me. Even if I wasn't romantically interested in Brody, I still would have offered him the same advice, I reasoned to myself.
He shrugged, reaching out to take the grilled cheese from my hand and bring it to his mouth. "I don't know." Chewing thoughtfully, he looked up at me. "Your hair is beautiful in the sunlight. It reminds me of the way the sun falls on the leaves during autumn."
"Thanks," I managed to say before his eyes left mine and returned to the clouds.
The night Brody and I slept together wasn't different than any other night they played. Like always, Hemingway had elicited screams and whistles and shouts for an encore. The manager of the bar had asked them to come back and play on a regular basis.
Sophia had shown up that night with an equally short blonde friend. She'd sat at the bar with her back to the stage and drank the entire time, before finally turning to look at her boyfriend when he appeared behind her.
I watched her start yelling, and I watched his eyes focus on a spot above her head. She'd reached out and shoved his shoulder before storming out, and I felt my heart break for him. He looked miserable. After such an amazing performance, he deserved to be celebrating their success and not agonizing over what he did wrong in their relationship.
Perhaps I had been emboldened by the four Blue Mooons I'd imbibed, or perhaps the desire to see him be happy overtook my capacity for rational thought.
Either way, I followed him out the back entrance to where the band's van was parked and watched him light a cigarette.
"Hey," I said softly, hungrily looking at the contours of his face illuminated by the fleeting match light.
His shoulders relaxed at the sound of my voice. "Hey."
I went to his side and leaned against the wall next to him, standing so that our arms were touching. "You were amazing tonight."
He took a long drag of his cigarette, and then exhaled slowly. We watched the smoke swirl until it disappeared. "Yeah. It was a good show."
We stood there in silence, watching the smoke until there was no more. Then, I'd put my hand on his and pulled until he was facing me. "Brody," I began, almost hesitant.
His navy eyes bored into mine. The glow of the exit sign glinted off his lip ring. "You saw, didn't you." It wasn't a question.
I felt his embarrassment at the scene they'd created inside and dropped my eyes in response. I nodded. His hands slid up my arms and then back down again in a familiar gesture. "I'm sorry."
"Why are you apologizing?" The hands stopped and cradled my face.
"Because…" I trailed off and shrugged. "I don't know. You're such an amazing person, Brody. You deserve better than…that." I gestured in the direction of the bar.
Brody leaned down and brushed his lips against the side of my neck in response. He hadn't kissed me since the night I'd found out about Sophia.
Lost between a sign and a moan, I found his hands with mine and pulled him to the back of the van. It was empty. The band hadn't loaded their things up yet. "Liz—" he began as he ran his hands underneath my Hemingway band shirt and slid under my bra.
I silenced him by pressing my lips against his and slipping my hand into his black pants.
After what happened in the van, Brody began to sleep over several nights a week. Sometimes, we would spend the entire day together before coming home to light a few candles and make love. Other nights, he would slip in bed beside me after I had already fallen asleep and kiss my shoulder until I woke up to return the sentiment. Sex with him was better than anyone else I had ever been with—I was no Melly with her innumerable conquests, but I wasn't a prude either. I'd had my fair share of boyfriends.
Being with Brody was different, though. Besides being insanely attracted to him physically, we connected on such a deeper level. Our friendship didn't change when we started sleeping together. In fact, it grew stronger. We almost never ran out of things to talk about, and when we did, the silence we sat in wasn't awkward, but comfortable. I felt safe telling him all my dreams for the future—about one day editing my own magazine and moving to Europe. He talked about his hopes for the band, and what the album cover would be, and about the new songs he was writing.
"I've never written a love song before," he declared one day as we lay in a sweaty, tangled heap.
I pressed my nose against the curve of his neck. "Why?"
"Well, wait. I lied." A hand stroked my leg. "I did write one for Sophia once. On her twentieth birthday, I went to her house and stood in her yard to play it for her through the window." I chewed on my lip, wondering whether he knew I hated talking about her.
"That's nice," I said into his skin. I wished he'd write me a love song.
But love songs were too public. Sophia would know that it hadn't been written for her, and despite all the time Brody and I spent together, he was still her boyfriend. I never came right out and asked why he didn't want to break up with her. I guess I didn't want to nag him. I wanted him to feel peaceful and content when he was with me. Not pressured and forced to make decisions.
Besides the stolen kiss here and there, Brody and I didn't touch each other in public. When I went to his shows, his eyes would bore into mine from the stage while he sang, and sometimes his hand would brush mine as we drank.
Sometimes Sophia came. Most times, she didn't. When she did come, they fought, and it was awkward for everyone involved.
Things got much more awkward the day Brody and I had planned to go to a neighboring city to hand out press kits to bar owners and promote the band. I had been looking forward to this for weeks—being in a different town meant we could hold hands and be affectionate in public.
My phone woke me up. "Hi, babe," I said groggily into the mouthpiece.
"Hey, Lizzie," he said. He sounded odd.
"What's wrong?" I asked, sitting up in my bed.
"Well, about today…"
My heart fell. Was he canceling? "Yeah?"
"Sophia wants to come."
I blinked incredulously. I couldn't keep the disbelief out of my voice. "Your girlfriend wants to come with us on a day trip?"
He sighed heavily. "Yeah. I know."
I chewed on my thumbnail. "You guys should just go." The urgency of protecting Sophia from finding out, despite my intense hatred of the girl, seemed to have been transmitted from Brody to me.
"No. I wanted to go with you," he said stubbornly.
"Yeah, well, is it worth a huge fight with her?"
"I told her that you were my friend, and I was going with you whether she came or not." I inwardly winced at the title he'd given me so easily. "So, she's coming."
"Brody," I said patiently, like I was speaking to a three year old. "I'm not going on a trip with you and your girlfriend, especially if we're spending the entire time wanting to sneak off and have sex. That is fucked up."
Brody was silent for a minute. "I really want you to come. She's…she's been asking about who you are. Apparently, she knows you come to every one of our shows. She thinks we're more than friends..."
I switched from gnawing my thumb to biting my pinky finger. I knew what he was asking, but I didn't want to give him the ease of me saying for him.
After a moment, he sighed. "I just can't break up with her, Liz. Not yet."
"When, then?" I shot back, suddenly annoyed with him.
"I don't know. She's been doing so well in therapy lately."
I snorted. "Yeah."
Another minute of silence. "I'll break up with her soon. I promise. Just, I can't…not right now. Please, baby. Please come."
I couldn't resist the pleading in his voice. "Fine."
At first, meeting Sophia wasn't as horrible as I thought it would be. I was engrossed in a crossword puzzle when they approached the bus stop. "Hi, Elizabeth," he said. I blinked at his use of my full name. He'd never called me that.
"Hi, Brody. Hi." I nodded to her, smiling brightly. "I'm Lizzie." I extended a hand towards her. She looked at it for a long moment, before shaking it. Her brown hair skimmed her chin, and her green eyes were heavily lined.
"Sophia." Her voice was small. She reminded me of a mouse. It was unsettling to think of that tiny voice screaming such loud expletives.
I wondered if she would scream those expletives now, if I smiled calmly at her and said, "I'm fucking your boyfriend." A thrill of guilty pleasure shivered through me, and I dropped my eyes to smile at the newspaper.
The bus had been almost full. There was one seat left, which Brody had insisted Sophia and I share. I chatted politely, dividing my attention between Sophia and my crossword puzzle. I tried to not even look at Brody. I knew that whenever my eyes met his, I could never look away.
An hour later, we'd made it to the city. Brody walked with Sophia, and I walked ahead, prattling on about the weather and the city. I talked to fill the silence. Sophia responded with terse one-word answers or not at all, and Brody shot me pained looks.
I began to regret the decision to come out here more and more. But, I had a purse-full of Hemingway CD's, and I was determined to hand them out to as many club owners as possible. Since I had known Brody, I'd been to every show Hemingway played, and I felt as concerned about their success as they did. The boys had even started referring to me as their official PR girl.
We'd finally found the first club of the list on my piece of notebook paper, after getting lost for ten minutes. "We're here! Finally!" I grinned at them, breathless.
They were both looking at each other, obviously not hearing a thing I said. "Just fucking shut up, Brody. God," I heard her hiss under her breath.
I blinked and swiveled around to gape at them. His eyes met mine for the first time all day, and the usual electricity between us crackled. Then, it fizzled, and he looked back at her. "Liz, we've got to go."
"Excuse me?" My hand was on the metal handle of the door.
"I—ah—we—I have band practice." His lip ring clacked nervously against his teeth. Sophia was looking out at the traffic.
"Brody. We just got here. We have six more clubs to go to." My hands found my hips. I'd actually skipped classes to come out here today. I never skipped classes.
Brody's ring clacked faster. "Yeah. I'm sorry. I forgot we had practice early today."
He was such a shitty liar. "Brody. We just got here," I repeated it again, shocked.
"Liz. I'm sorry. I'm such an ass."
"Brody. Let's go," Sophia broke in. She started walking back towards the bus stop.
I raised my eyebrows at him. "Are you serious? You're leaving?"
He looked at me, and then back at her. "I'm sorry, Lizzie. I can't let her go by herself in the city. We'll just go another day. Come on." He turned to leave.
"No?" He stopped.
"No, Brody. I'm not going. I'm going to hand out these fucking CD's like we planned."
His navy eyes softened. "Liz. Don't stay in the city by yourself."
"I'll be okay. Unlike your girlfriend, I'm a big girl. I can handle myself. See you, Brody." I went inside the club.
"Hey, guys. Sorry I'm late." Brody grinned as he plopped down in the chair beside me and across from Brian and Melly. "Wow. Did you make this, Lizzie? It looks great." He reached forward to grab a drumstick. "I love a woman who cooks."
I tried to not smile at him as he tore into the chicken. Even though it was almost like he had said he loved me, I was still angry at him.
"So, Brody, how many press kits did you get out the other day?" Brian looked up from his plate.
The drumstick hovered halfway between the table and his lips. Brody looked up slowly. Melly shot me a pointed look, but I shook my head quickly. I had told her the whole story after getting back late that night, but I had sworn her to secrecy.
"Uh…I don't…ah…" Brody looked over at me.
I shrugged. "Five. The last place was locked, and I couldn't find a way in."
"Yeah," Brody said, nodded. There was a tense moment.
Brian looked between Brody and I. "Okay. What's going on?"
I shrugged again, looking over at Brody. I wasn't going to say anything. Brody looked back at me, and then after an intense moment, he put the meat down and cleared his throat. "Ah. Well, I didn't stay."
"You didn't…stay? Where?"
"I left early," Brody looked uncomfortable.
Brian pushed his blonde hair behind his ear. "You left early? Dude. Then how did—" He looked at me, and then shook his head. "You left Lizzie there?"
"Uh…I didn't leave her…"
"Dude. You left Lizzie all by herself in the city?! You're a douche."
"I'm not a douche!" Brody shot back. "Sophia wanted to leave."
"Fuck Sophia," Brian snorted. "Why would you abandon poor Lizzie?"
The table had gotten very quiet. Melly was staring at Brian. Brian was staring at Brody. Brody was staring at me. I was staring at my plate. As much as I had wanted this conversation to happen, I felt embarrassed now that it was actually taking place.
"Uh…well. I figured…shit. Well, I mean, I could either have Sophia get pissed at me, or Lizzie, and, ah, Lizzie's kind of a nicer person than Sophia." He grinned at me. I ignored it. "I mean, she's a lot more forgiving because she's an awesome person!" Brody finished like he had just paid me a huge compliment.
"You're a douche," Brian repeated. "Wow."
My cheeks burning, I stood up. "I have to…go…water my ficus." I left everyone sitting at the table, and went into my room—shutting the door quietly.
Oh, god. Was it really that bad? Was I really that…easy to disregard? I flopped on my bed, burrowing my face into the quilt my grandma had made me for my freshman year of college.
I couldn't do this much longer. I loved him. I did. I felt closer to him than to any other person on the planet. I just wanted to make him happy, and I knew he wasn't happy with her. He couldn't be. All he did was talk about how horrible their relationship was and how he couldn't wait to be done with it.
But I couldn't do this much longer. Here I was, waiting around for something that I might never get to have. I felt a spark of anger ignite inside of me. Why wouldn't that bitch just break up with him and be done with it? Why did she insist on holding on to something that obviously wasn't working? She was selfish, and it made me even angrier.
The door creaked open quietly. Brody's fiery red hair peeked in through the crack. "Hey," he said cautiously in his angelic voice.
My heart pulled towards him despite my anger and frustration. "Hi," I avoided looking at his magnetic eyes.
He crawled onto bed with me, slipping his arms around my waist and maneuvering my head onto his chest. "I'm sorry, Lizzie," he half-sang to me, running his fingers down my neck. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," I heard myself answering in a small voice. He leaned down and breathed a chorus into my ear, his red hair falling softly across my cheek.
I couldn't do this much longer.
Turns out, I didn't have to. A week later, Hemingway was booked to play a huge show at the State Theater—one of the bigger venues in our area. They were opening for a band who was actually signed and had a fan base, and it was going to be a great boost to their career. Bands didn't just play at State Theater. Bands got signed at State Theater.
State Theater had been the second club on my list that day in the city.
I carried a proud glow that bubbled into my smile all night. I had dressed especially careful—I'd let Melly do my makeup again and bought a new dress (navy, to match his eyes) and even put hot rollers in my hair. Walking into the club with Melly and Brian and seeing the crowd of people drinking and waiting in front of the stage made my heart flutter with excitement.
Brian turned to me—both guitar cases in his hands swinging around and almost hitting someone nearby us. "Thanks, Lizzie. We never would have been here without you."
I shrugged modestly, but I couldn't hide the proud grin. "Where's Brody?"
Brian shrugged, flicking his head to get his blonde bangs out of his eyes. "I dunno. He said he had to stop and pick something up."
"Mmkay. I'm gonna go get us a round of drinks."
"Drinks!" Melly giggled, linking fingers with me and following me to the bar. Even though boys in bands carried a bad stereotype of being big partiers, Brian had actually been good for Melissa. If he wasn't playing a show, he liked to just relax at home. Melly only went out when Brian went out, which meant she had cut back on her drinking big time. I was glad it hadn't spiraled into a bigger problem than we could handle.
As the time for their set to start came closer, I began to feel a little flutter of apprehension pierce my happy glow. Why wasn't Brody here yet? It wasn't like him to be late…
Then, he appeared on stage with the rest of the guys, adjusting his mike stand and grinning out at the crowd. The stage lights hit his hair and made it glow like a flaming halo. My heart skipped a few beats. His eyes found mine, and we were locked in the familiar old stare down. Finally, he smiled again before beginning to introduce the band.
I leaned back against the bar with Melly vibrating with excitement at my side. I loved Hemingway. I loved their shows, and I loved singing along with every song. I felt like they were my band, and I felt so jealous for their success.
That's why I was surprised to hear Brody say into the mic, "I'd like to share a new song with you all." The people in the crowd who loved Hemingway like I did began to buzz excitedly. I leaned forward, confused. I hadn't heard about this, and Brody always let me read the new song lyrics when they were written.
"It's about a girl," he said with his half smile. The women in the crowd all sighed in one accord, and my breath caught in my lungs. Brody didn't write songs for girls. He said so himself. "I owe her a lot. She's been there for me for a long time."
Melly's hand squeezed mine in excitement. "Lizzie! It's about you! It has to be!"
But, Brody's navy eyes weren't glued to mine. They were looking somewhere else. My stomach twisted. I followed his gaze franticly. They were fixed on a brunette head. I didn't need to crane my neck further to see to whom he was speaking.
"We've been having a rough time lately, but I know that love can do anything."
I grabbed my purse and fumbled for my keys. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't stay here. I couldn't hear this. As I pushed my way through the crowd, I saw Melly gesturing wildly to Brian, throwing her hands in the air and yelling "What the fuck?!" I couldn't help but see that he looked just as confused as Melly did.
"I love you, Soph. This is for—" I made it outside the minute I heard the guitar fumble a few notes before starting. The tears, mercifully, had waited until I was outside to fall. I stumbled into an alley blindly, sliding down against the brick and holding my head in my hands.
Melly threw her arms around my shoulders and squeezed tightly. "He's a bastard, Lizzie. He's a dick. A douche. Oh, honey." She crooned a stream of comforting phrases, but I couldn't make out any of it. All I could see was Brody's navy eyes looking at her and not at me.
It was over.
Brody called me seven times that night, and then five more times the next morning. I finally turned my phone off. I didn't want to talk to him, and I didn't want to see him. I was done.
Brian came over the next afternoon and apologized. He said that when they had practiced, he had no idea the song wasn't for me. They hadn't even thought to question the lyrics. I had been polite, but I didn't really want to talk to Brian either.
The last thing I wanted was for Hemingway to take sides over something like this. Even though Brody had broken my heart, I still loved the band. I believed in the music. Any friction between the members would be friction in the music.
"You won't talk to him, Lizzie? He's not eating…" Brian looked awkward, running his hand through his blonde hair.
I shrugged and went back to studying. If I didn't think about it, it would be okay. I just needed time to get over this.
It was hard, though. I had talked to Brody several times a day. He was my best friend after Melly. I was so used to having him in my bed and heart and life that it was hard to return to normalcy.
But, if being with Sophia was finally making him happy, then I guess I was happy for him too.
I had lost more than Brody though. I had lost Hemingway, but I had also lost my optimism. Before Brody, I had thought love and romance and the like were silly things for naïve girls. It smarted to know I had been one of those naïve girls for too long.
Time passed. I met a nice guy who worked at a bank, and we had a nice time whenever we were together. I liked him a lot.
Then, one day, Melly came home with a strange look on her face. I sat up on the couch where I had been making out with Peter moments earlier. "What's wrong, babe?"
"Uhm, I just talked to Brian." Brian and Melly had decided to break up a month back, but oddly enough, were still good friends. "Hemingway got signed. They're going on tour."
"Oh." I hadn't thought about Hemingway or Brody for at least eight hours, and that was a new record. Maybe time really did heal all wounds. I was starting to like Peter more and more. Brody was fading away like a ghostly memory.
"Hemingway? Like the author?" Peter didn't know about Brody because I didn't count Brody as a real boyfriend or relationship.
We both ignored him. My eyes couldn't look away from Melly's face. She smiled sympathetically. The apartment grew silent for a moment before I tried for nonchalance. "So, that's good. Everyone's happy?"
"Yeah. They are." She looked awkward talking about this in front of my new boyfriend.
"Hm. Good," I turned back to Peter, who was waiting quietly with his big gray eyes. "Let's go back to my room?" I put my hand on his leg and smiled.
He grinned back. "Yes, ma'am."
It's funny how fate works. Maybe my life was more like a romantic comedy than I thought. Only, things didn't seem that comedic. Perhaps it was more a romantic tragedy. Brody called me the next day, only he had apparently gotten a new cell phone number, so I wasn't able to ignore it.
"Lizzie, don't hang up." He still sounded like an angel.
I surprised myself by answering. "Congratulations, Brody. I heard about the record deal."
"Yeah. Well, it's thanks to you. The exec who signed us actually heard us the first time at State Theater. He came to a few more shows before giving us a deal. It's small, but whatever."
"You gotta start somewhere," I replied mechanically.
A long period of silence. If Brody were here, I knew his navy eyes would be boring into mine. "So, did you hear we're going on tour?"
"Oh? That's nice." Then, I realized what was coming next.
"I broke up with Sophia."
"Mmm. Good for you."
I didn't want to deal with this. Brody had fucked me over—fucked my physically and mentally and emotionally. He had taken advantage of me again and again, and I had let him. Peter was such a nice guy, and I knew he was head over heels for me.
"Brody, I'm happy for you. Really. Look, I have to go."
"Lizzie, come with me."
I stopped mid-hang up. "Come with you where?"
"On tour. You always were there for me. You always believed in us. In me." His voice sounded pleading. "I need you. The shows haven't been the same without you there."
If Brody had said the same thing to me three months ago, I would have caved and already been on the way to his house. But, because fate is a bitch, Brody had realized he needed me right when I had gotten over him.
"Brody, you don't want me. You want your muse. I'm sorry. I'm seeing someone else."
"Lizzie, please, I—"
"Brody, I can't do this. I'm sorry." I hit disconnect before I could stop myself before staring down at my phone in shock.
Peter poked his head in the room then, grinning and pushing his black hair out of his eyes. I stared at him for a long minute.
"Hey, Pete, did you know that Abercrombie & Fitch was indirectly—"
"Honey, I'm starving. Let's go grab some Thai."
I never meant to become that girl. You know the one I'm talking about. The other woman who flings herself between otherwise perfectly happy relationships and wreaks havoc. You know. That one.
I never meant to fall in love at first sight, either. That stuff is nonsense. It's a concept invented by Hollywood in order to sell tickets to their generic romantic comedies. Love like that has no place in real life.
At least, that's what I believed and how I lived my life until the day I met Brody Williams.