Clarke Matthews pushed her damp bangs off her forehead and peered up the beach front towards the group of loud mouthed twenty somethings ambling in her direction.
Figures. She'd been hoping for a few minutes without an audience to sort her head out before she had to go into work. Didn't look likely. Sitting astride her surfboard, she leaned down and gently turned her way back to the shore. It was just as well, she would have probably been late for work anyway.
Disembarking from her board and tossing it onto the sand next to her things, she quickly slipped her terry shorts and tank over her swimsuit. She had a change of clothes at the office and hoped she could scrounge up a comb to untangle the hair she probably should have tied back before jettisoning into the ocean that morning.
She picked up her longboard and carried it on top of her head as she retraced her earlier steps back to her waiting Land Rover. Technically, it was Shane's Land Rover, but since he'd been spending most of his time in New York and had told her she could use it whenever she wanted, she had started thinking of it as hers. But Shane was supposed to be back today. That would mean the end of her small love affair with the beautiful British four-wheel drive.
"Hey, sunshine! Don't leave on account of us!" One of the beach goers hollered from the sand below her now. She sighed and threw the strap over the top of the longboard, walked around to the other side to tighten it. She came back to repeat the procedure and was caught off guard when the guy who had yelled at her a few seconds prior was standing next to her vehicle.
Sporting the classic beach bum glow, he grinned and swept his blonde hair off his face. "We didn't scare ya, did we?" Oh, he thought he was so pretty.
"No, I have to get to work." Clarke was trying to sound polite but she knew it came out with a little more bitch than usual. She was tired and it irritated her that she couldn't get a decent wave this morning before having to go into her dream job and spend the next fourteen hours managing a building of people who thought she was too young and too pretty to have the job in the first place. If a little bitch escaped, that wasn't so bad, was it?
"You look familiar, do I know you from somewhere?"
No shit. You and your gaggle were just in the shop yesterday spending someone's daddy's money. I rang you up. You were with your girlfriend though so that's probably why you can't quite place it. But she didn't say any of these things. Instead, she finished tying the longboard to the roof and silently climbed into the Land Rover.
"What a bitch." She heard the guy mutter as she backed out of her parking space. She'd gone from "sunshine" to "bitch" in the span of thirty-seven seconds. She wondered if that was any indication to how the rest of her day was going to go.
"Depression is a good look, you should totes keep it."
Shane stared blankly at the girl sitting on the counter. His counter. In the shop he hadn't been back to in too long of a time to consider himself a responsible businessman. He didn't recognize her. Maybe she worked for him? It was possible that Clarke had replaced the entire staff. He hadn't exactly been keeping the closest tabs on her.
The girl's dark hair hung loose down her back, reminding him of another dark haired beauty that he had walked away from a few months back. White bikini strings tied around her neck dangled out of the neckline of her gray t-shirt.
"Get off the counter." He instructed blandly. She complied with an eye roll, hopping down onto bare feet and shoving her hands in the back pockets of her hot pink jean shorts.
Shane stepped around her and stuck his key in the lock of his office door. He twisted the knob, pushed the door open and flicked the lights on. If his thoughts were where they needed to be, he would have asked the girl who she was, why she was here and why at such an ungodly hour in the morning. But he didn't. Because he didn't care. Not really.
He assumed, and with good reason, that Clarke would have the explanation and, looking at the clock on the wall, he would be able to ask her in about five minutes.
The office was as he left it, no changes. Kind of musty. Clarke had her own office upstairs so she had no reason to be in here, though he did leave her a key. He didn't open the shades that would have let in the early morning sun, giving him an incredible view of the ocean that his employees were ever so fond of. Instead, he sank into the chair behind the desk, leaned back and shut his tired eyes.
He heard the front door open again and thought maybe the rude girl had left.
"Hey, babe. I brought you some food for later, I noticed you left kinda early this morning." Rude girl addressed the newcomer.
"Ugh, yeah. I couldn't sleep. Decided to get a start on the day. Thanks." It sounded like Clarke. Shane peeked his eyes open and reclined further in his chair, attempting to peer around the door jam to check his suspicions.
"No problem. Your boss is back." Rude Girl continued. Shane leaned back some more, her pink shorts coming in view and out of them extended some very toned and tanned legs. He hadn't noticed that earlier. Though, he had a better vantage point now. "If he washed that look of dejection off his face he'd be kinda hot."
That was when the chair had gone back as far as it was capable and he heard something snap right before he crashed to the floor. Of course. He didn't scramble to right himself. Instead, he submitted to the defeat that was his life and rested his head on the thin carpet.
Clarke and her friend stood in the doorway, identical looks of concern on their faces. He noticed the sand embedded in the carpet and realized that carpet in a building that housed surfers had been a wasteful idea.
"Are you okay?" Clarke stooped down to help him up.
"Yeah, I'm great. Why?" He pushed himself up, ignoring her extended hand, and righted his chair, though it probably wouldn't be smart to sit in it again. What with the whole 'snapping' incident. He leaned against his desk and crossed his arms over his chest, trying to appear nonchalant.
Clarke regarded him with a quizzical expression but stepped back. Shane could see he wasn't getting an introduction so he asked for one.
"Who's the rude girl?" He nodded to the brunette. She was similar in height and build to Clarke. Probably age too.
"This is Garbo, my roommate. Er, one of my roommates." Clarke made a face and Garbo snickered.
"Wait a minute, rude girl?" It was Garbo's turn to cross her arms over her chest. She arched one dark eye brow at him and he noticed her eyes were blue. Not brown, like her hair would imply. But a bright, bold, look-right-through-you blue. How had he also missed that?
"I would be hot if I washed that dejected look off my face?" Shane repeated her words, expecting her to be embarrassed or apologetic. She was neither.
"True story." She smirked and started to back to the door. "I need to head. I'll catch you tonight?" She lifted her chin towards Clarke.
"Yeah." It came out like a sigh. "I'll be there but no promises of bells."
"Fair enough." Garbo grinned and was gone.
Shane watched Clarke's pensive face for a moment. He hadn't seen her in a while and he was having a hard time figuring out the dynamics of their arrangement. She was his west coast manager. But he had required her to shoulder more of the business burden so he could sit in New York and sulk over his broken heart. The numbers looked good and she was doing a fantastic job overall, but the added responsibility had clearly been taking a toll on her.
She was tired. Her caramel hair was dull and her skin didn't have any glow to it whatsoever, which was practically a crime in California.
"I'm sorry I haven't been around." He offered, knowing it wouldn't do any good. What Clarke needed was a day off.
"Hm?" She looked at him like she suddenly remembered he was there. "Oh, don't worry about it." She brushed it off and went back out to the main floor. He followed her.
"What's going on tonight?" He asked, trying to take an interest, make the effort to reenter her good graces.
"Oh, Garbo's brother and friend are coming into town for a couple weeks." Clarke crouched down to open the safe. "She swears they're only staying with us for one night and they have a condo rented for the rest of the time they're here but...I don't know." She sounded annoyed. "It wouldn't be so bad if the house wasn't so full already. I can hardly use my own bathroom."
"How many people are you living with?" Shane leaned against the counter watching her count the deposit.
"A few." She sighed and pushed her hair out of her eyes. "It was only supposed to me and Garbo and Tatewin. But then Steve's place burned down and he brought Bo and Brady because apparently they can't live without each other." She looked up at him under her frown. "I sound bitter, don't I? I'm not bitter. I'm just...so tired." Her head sank to the counter top, spreading her hair out around her.
"How long have those freeloaders been staying with you?" Shane asked, realizing with irritation that his friends had been taking advantage of his absence and using his most loyal employee. Vagrants.
Clarke straightened back up and resumed counting the money. "I don't know, a couple months. It wouldn't be so bad if they could pick up after themselves. And maybe sleep at normal times. And not forget which room is theirs when they come home drunk."
"So you've been babysitting my friends and running the shop all by yourself?" Calling it a 'shop' was a disservice. To Clarke and the business that they had built. The building itself was a two level building designed to look like a beach house. The upstairs was where the creative stuff happened. The main floor was where they sold it all. Anything and everything one could imagine to be needed for surfing or snowboarding. All bearing the designs and trademark of their creator, Shane Brookings.
It wasn't Burton or Billabong, but it was getting there. And mostly due to the fact that Shane had stuck Clarke behind the wheel.
"I wouldn't call it babysitting...Okay, yeah, I guess I would." She chuckled and he saw some of the stress leave her countenance. "And now Garbo's brother and friend will be joining us. Eight people, one house."
"Garbo seems lovely." Shane remarked with a touch of sarcasm.
Clarke looked up at him with a peculiar expression. "You've never met her?"
"Not that I remember." Shane thought he'd remember someone with so much charm.
"Huh." Clarke's eyebrows went up. "I just figured, since you hang out with the band and stuff."
"What band?" Shane's stomach began to tighten.
"Double Blind Study. Don't you see them all the time? Which, by the way, a ticket hookup wouldn't be that far reaching a bonus for a loyal employee." She tilted her head slightly at his lost expression.
"What's Garbo's connection to the band?" He didn't want to know.
"Harrison is her older brother." She said it like it was common knowledge. Something they talked about often.
"I had no idea." So if Harrison was Garbo's brother and he was coming here with a friend... "Who's the friend he's bringing?" Please don't say Blake.
She made a weird, disgusted sound in the back of her throat. "Mike, the drummer." She said it with such disdain it took Shane by surprise. He hadn't had a lot of contact with Mike but he seemed like a nice enough guy. "Apparently they're gonna be here for a few weeks doing some sample recordings or whatever."
"I take it, you don't approve?" He tried to be gentle, still confused by her sudden ire.
"Harrison is a sweetie, that's not the problem. And I promise I'll put on my happy face and be perfectly delightful when they get here but- gah! Don't laugh at me!" She threw the empty money bag at him in frustration.
"I had no idea that you disliked drummers so much." He was relived it wasn't Blake but he wasn't about to share that.
"It's not that." She chewed on her bottom lip in frustration. "I'm probably making a bigger deal out of it than I need to. I can blame it on my lack of sleep." She arched an eyebrow at him. "Since you're back, you wanna take three beach bums off my back?"
"You know, I would..." Shane gave her a playful smile, "but I just had my carpets cleaned."
"I hate you." She deadpanned and he laughed out loud.
"I'm kidding! I'll talk to them." He gathered the deposit off the counter and stuck it in the bag she had chucked at him a minute ago. "I'll run this to the bank, maybe those bank ladies will give me a little more love than you and Garbo did this morning."
"I s'pose you want the Land Rover back." She handed him the keys with a sad sigh.
"Nah, consider it a bonus in lieu of concert tickets." He pointed to her nearly dry hair. "And run a comb through that mess. I know you're the face of the beach side of things but let's not get too literal about that."
Clarke looked up at him under her frown with her nose scrunched and he couldn't help but laugh at her again. "You better save all your adorable faces for the drummer, you promised to be perfectly delightful."
When the plane touched down in sunny LA, Mike couldn't hurry Harrison off the plane fast enough. He couldn't really explain it, all he knew was that he hadn't been this excited to see the inside of a studio in a long time.
They only had a couple weeks before they were set to meet Luke and Lenny up in Lake Tahoe to go camping and outline some ideas for the new DBS album they wanted to start working on sometimes in the near future.
Hiatus had been fun. Mike and Harrison had been writing a lot and were set to record a few demo tracks and possibly an EP if everything went as planned. It was different from anything they'd done before. Mike was singing, for one, while leading from drums. It was cool. Chill. Mike felt brand new. Like he'd never done this before, which was ridiculous. He'd been doing this for years.
He saw Harrison's sister standing at the bottom of the escalator with a handmade sign that read: Doofus. He couldn't help but smile. She had thrown a black suit coat over her gray t-shirt and donned a black fedora and dark shades. But it was the hot pink jean shorts that really made her stand out.
"Very professional, Miss O'Neil." He kissed her cheek on his approach. Her thousand watt grin lit up her whole face as she threw an arm around him.
"I can't believe you guys are really here!" She squealed a little as she jumped into Harrison's arms, the sign forgotten and landing on the floor.
"Hey, baby sis." Harry hugged her back and Mike felt a small twinge of sadness creep in. He hadn't spoken to his own sister in years. He wasn't even sure how to get a hold of her. He shook off that thought as quickly as it had crept in. Moving forward.
"How was the flight?" She began walking and they fell in step on either side of her.
"Good. When we travel without our lead singer we don't get recognized as much." Mike raked his hand over his super short hair, making it stick up in all different places.
"I'm making supper for you tonight and Clarke promised to be there." She hesitated briefly and tried to cover the falter in her smile but Mike noticed it. "We kind of have a full house right now so she's been a little cranky. If she acts a little off, that's all that is."
"How full are we talking? Lot's of girls or...?" Harrison wasn't good at downplaying the protective older brother thing and Mike bit his tongue to keep from smiling.
"Um," Greta's eyes darted around, looking for the baggage terminal and then starting that direction. "We have a couple guys who needed a place to stay."
"You're living with boys?" Harrison's bossy tone came out and Mike shook his head.
"Geez, Harry." Greta blew a dark strand of hair out of her face. "I'm twenty-four, not fifteen. And I'm not sleeping with any of them. Once you meet them, you'll understand. I have higher standards than that." She elbowed Harrison in the ribs. "Besides, I read the tabloids. I know how you guys live."
"Most of that is sensationalized." Harrison defended quickly.
Greta simply laughed and threw a wink to Mike. "I guess we'll find out won't we?"
"I've missed you, Greta." Mike hooked an arm around her neck. She smiled at him warmly and Mike could feel Harrison's glare on the side of his face. He hated it when they flirted with his sister. And that's the only reason any of them did it.
"Knock it off, you two. I know what you're doing and I'm not falling for it." Harrison marched on in front of them, eying his luggage coming around the carousel.
"So, you have anything special planned for us while we're here?" Mike let her go and reached for his own bag.
"You know me better than that, Michael." He loved it when she used his whole name. It made him feel more proper somehow. "I don't make plans. Flying," she smacked her back side, "by the seat of my pants."
She tilted her head and studied him for a moment. He inexplicably felt caught, like she saw something in him or on him that hadn't been there a minute ago. He looked down at his shirt, looking for any dribbles from his inflight meal.
Finding nothing, he looked back up to her watchful gaze. "What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
She blinked a few times and smiled sweetly, "I'm excited for you to meet Clarke. I think you'll...really hit it off."
Mike was already rejecting the idea. "I'm not looking for any kind of an anything. Nothing short term or long term, nothing at all."
"No, I know." She nodded, as if she were agreeing with him. But that look hadn't left her face.
"Seriously, Greta." He locked eyes with her bright blue ones. A vast contrast from Harrison's brown. It made absolutely no sense that she would end up with her mother's blue eyes and the rest of the siblings got her dad's brown ones.
"I know, Michael." She mimicked his tone. One more sweet smile before she turned and led the way towards her waiting Jeep.
He meant what he said. He wasn't looking for anything. At all. Not even a little. But he would lying if he said he wasn't a little bit intrigued by Greta's mention of it. Suddenly yet casually. Besides, who names their daughter Clarke? That's just plain unusual. And Mike liked unusual things.