The relationship we have is different from anything I’ve experienced. Mostly because we do have a lot of physical closeness based on the nature of writing music together and the fact that I have to use my sense of touch to replace my sense of hearing in some situations. So while we’re in those situations, the lines become muddy, and reactions become unintentional.
As much as I wish I could admit we’ve moved past our attraction for each other, I can’t deny that I feel mine growing with each day that passes. Being around her isn’t necessarily hard all the time, though. Just most of the time.
Whatever is going on between us, I know Maggie wouldn’t approve, and I try to do right by my relationship with her. However, since I can’t really define where the line is drawn between inappropriate and appropriate, it makes it hard to stay on the right side sometimes.
Like right now.
I’m staring down at my phone, about to text her, and she’s leaning behind me, both of her hands kneading the tension out of my shoulders. With as much writing as we’ve been doing and the fact that I sit on the floor now instead of the bed, I’ve had a few issues with my back. It’s become natural for her to rub it when she knows it’s hurting.
Would I let her do this when Maggie was in the room? Hell, no. Do I stop her? No. Should I? Absolutely.
I know without a doubt that I don’t want to cheat on Maggie. I’ve never been that type of guy, and I don’t ever want to be that type of guy. The problem is, I’m not thinking about Maggie when I’m with Sydney. The times I spend with Sydney are spent with Sydney, and nothing else crosses my mind. But the times I spend with Maggie are spent with Maggie. I don’t think about Sydney.
It’s as though times with Maggie and times with Sydney occur on two different planets. Planets that don’t intersect and in time zones that don’t overlap.
Until tomorrow, anyway.
We’ve all spent time together in the past, but not since I’ve been honest with myself about how I feel for Sydney. And although I would never want Maggie to know I’ve developed feelings for someone else, I’m worried she’ll be able to tell.
I tell myself that with enough effort, I can learn to control my feelings. But then Sydney will do or say something or give me a look, and I can literally feel the part of my heart that belongs to her getting fuller. As much as I want it to empty. I’m worried that feelings are the one thing in our lives that we have absolutely no control over.
Me: What’s taking you so long? Are you writing a damn book?
I don’t know if my rubbing his shoulders is putting him to sleep, but he’s been staring at his phone for five solid minutes.
Ridge: Sorry. Lost in thought.
Me: I can see that. So, Sounds of Cedar?
Ridge: It’s kind of a long story. Let me grab my laptop.
I open up our Facebook messages on my phone. When he returns, he leans against a counter several feet away from me. I’m aware of the fact that he’s put space between us, and it makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable, because I know I shouldn’t have been rubbing his shoulders. It’s too much, considering what’s happened between us in the past, but I feel as if it’s my fault his shoulders hurt in the first place.
He doesn’t really complain about what playing on the floor is doing to him, but I can tell it hurts sometimes. Especially after nights like last night, when we wrote for three hours straight. I asked him to start playing on the floor to help with the fact that things seem to be more difficult when he’s on the bed. If I didn’t still have such a huge crush on his guitar playing, it might not be as big a problem.
But I do still have a definite crush on his guitar playing. And I would say I have a definite crush on him, but crush doesn’t even begin to define it. I’m not even going to try to define how I feel about him, because I refuse to let my thoughts go there. Not now and not ever.
Ridge: We had all been playing together for fun for about six months before we got our first real gig at a local restaurant. They needed us to give them the name of our band so they could put us on the schedule. We had never really considered ourselves an actual band before that, since it was all in fun, but that night, we agreed that maybe for local things like the restaurant, it would be good to have a name. We all took turns throwing out suggestions, but we couldn’t seem to agree on anything. At one point, Brennan suggested we call ourselves Freak Frogs. I laughed. I told him it sounded like a punk band, that we needed a title with more of an acoustic sound. He got upset and said I shouldn’t really be allowed to comment on how music or titles sound, since, well, yay for lame deaf jokes from sixteen-year-old little brothers.
Anyway, Warren didn’t like how cocky Brennan was back then, so he said I should choose the name and everyone had to agree on it. Brennan got pissed and walked off, said he didn’t want to be in the band anyway. I knew he was just having a Brennan tantrum. He didn’t have them often, but when he did have them, I understood. I mean, the kid had virtually no parents, and he was raising himself, so I thought he was pretty damn mature despite the sporadic tantrums. I told the guys I wanted to think on it for a while. I tried to come up with names that I thought would mean something to everyone, but mostly to Brennan. I thought back on what got me into listening to music in the first place.
Brennan was around two years old, and I was five. I’ve already shared to you all the qualities my parents possessed, so I won’t go back into that. But in addition to all their addictions, they also liked to party. They would send us to our rooms at night once all their friends began to arrive. I noticed that Brennan was always wearing the same diapers when he woke up that he wore to bed. They never checked on him. Never fed him at night or changed him or even checked to see if he was breathing. This is probably something that had been occurring since he was an infant, but I didn’t really notice until I started school, because I think I was just too young. We weren’t allowed to leave our rooms at night. I don’t remember why I was too scared to leave my room, but I’m sure I’d been punished for it before, or it wouldn’t have bothered me. I would wait until the parties were over and my parents went to bed before I could leave my room and go check on Brennan. The problem with this was that I couldn’t hear, so I never knew when the music would stop, and I never knew if they had gone to their bedroom, because I wasn’t allowed to open my door. Instead of risking being caught, I would just press my ear to the floor and feel the vibrations of the music. Every night, I would lie there for no telling how long, just waiting for the music to stop. I began to recognize the songs based on how they felt through the floor, and I learned how to predict which songs were coming next, since they played the same albums night after night. I even began to learn how to tap along with the rhythm. After the music would finally stop, I would keep my ear pressed to the floor and wait for my parents’ footsteps to indicate that they had gone to their bedroom. Once I knew the coast was clear, I would go to Brennan’s room and bring him back to bed with me. That way, when he woke up crying, I could help him. Which brings me back to the point of this story, how I came up with the band name. I learned how to differentiate chords and sounds through all the nights my body and my ears were pressed against the cedar floor. Hence Sounds of Cedar.
Beat, beat, pause.
I don’t even realize how on edge I am until I see the white in my knuckles as I grip my phone. We both remain still for several moments while I attempt to get the image of the five-year-old Ridge out of my head.
Me: I guess that explains how you can differentiate vibrations so well. And I guess Brennan agreed once you told him the name, because how could he not appreciate that?
Ridge: Brennan doesn’t know that story. Once again, you’re the first person I’ve ever shared it with.
I lift my eyes back to his and inhale, but for the life of me, I can’t remember how to exhale. He’s a good three feet away, but I feel as if every single part of me that his eyes fall on is being directly touched by him. For the first time in a while, the fear etches its way back into my heart. Fear that one of these moments will be one neither of us can resist.
He sets his laptop on the counter and folds his arms across his chest. Before his eyes meet mine, his gaze falls on my legs, and then he slowly works his eyes up the entire length of my body. His eyes are narrow and focused. The way he’s looking at me makes me want to lunge for the freezer and crawl inside.
His eyes are fixed on my mouth, and he quietly swallows, then reaches beside him and picks up his phone.
Ridge: Hurry, Syd. I need a serious flaw, and I need it now.
I force a smile, although my insides are screaming for me not to text him back a flaw. It’s as if my fingers are fighting with themselves as they fly over the screen in front of me.
Me: Sometimes when I’m frustrated with you, I wait until you look away, and then I yell mean things at you.
He laughs, then looks back up at me. “Thank you,” he silently mouths.
It’s the first time he’s ever mouthed words, and if he weren’t walking away from me right now, I’d be begging for him to do it again.
• • •
It’s after midnight, but we finally finish adding icing to the fifth and final cake. He cleans the last of the ingredients off the counter while I secure the Saran wrap around the cake pan and slide it next to the other four pans.
Ridge: Do I finally get to meet the raging alcoholic side of you tomorrow night?
Me: I’m thinking you just might.
He grins and flips off the kitchen light. I walk to the living room to power off the TV. Warren and Bridgette should come home sometime in the next hour, so I leave the lamp on in the living room.
Ridge: Will it be weird for you?
Me: Being drunk? Nope. I’m pretty good at it.
Ridge: No. I mean Maggie.
I look up at him where he’s standing in front of his bedroom door, watching his phone, not making eye contact with me. He looks nervous that he even asked the question.
Me: Don’t worry about me, Ridge.
Ridge: Can’t help it. I feel like I’ve put you in an awkward situation.
Me: You haven’t. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it would help if you weren’t so attractive, but I’m hoping Brennan looks a lot like you. That way, when you’re shacking up with Maggie tomorrow night, I can have drunk, wild fun with your little brother.
I hit send, then immediately gasp. What the hell was I thinking? That wasn’t funny. It was supposed to be funny, but it’s after midnight, and I’m never funny after midnight.
Ridge is still looking down at the screen on his phone. His jaw twitches, and he shakes his head slightly, then looks up at me as if I’ve just shot him through the heart. He drops his arm and runs his free hand through his hair, then turns to walk to his room.
I rush to him and put my hand on his shoulder, urging him to turn back around. He rolls his shoulder to brush my hand off but pauses, only partially turning to face me with a guarded expression. I step around to his front so he’s forced to look at me.