“Food should be here in a little while. I’m going to get the clothes out of the dryer,” Tori says. She opens the front door, and I perk up on the couch when I hear the familiar sound of the guitar from outside. She closes the door behind her, and as much as I want to ignore it, I rush to my room and quietly slide out onto the patio, books in hand. If I sink far enough into my chair, he might not notice I’m out here.
But he’s looking straight at my balcony when I step outside. He doesn’t acknowledge me with a smile or even a nod of his head when I take my seat. He just continues playing, and it makes me curious to see if he’s just going to pretend our conversation last week never happened. I sort of hope so, because I’d like to pretend it never happened.
He plays the familiar songs, and it doesn’t take me long to let go of my embarrassment over the fact that he thought my lyrics were stupid. I tried to warn him.
I finish up my homework while he’s still playing, close my books and lean back, and close my eyes. It’s quiet for a minute, and then he begins playing the song I sent him lyrics for. In the middle of the song, the guitar pauses for several seconds, but I refuse to open my eyes. He continues playing just as my phone vibrates with an incoming text..
Ridge: You’re not singing.
I glance at him, and he’s staring at me with a grin. He looks back down at his guitar and watches his hands as he finishes the song. Then he picks up his phone and sends another text.
Ridge: Do you want to know what I thought of the lyrics?
Me: No, I’m pretty positive I know what you thought. It’s been a week since I sent them to you. No worries. I told you they were stupid.
Ridge: Yeah, sorry about the silence. I had to leave town for a few days. Family emergency.
I don’t know if he’s telling the truth, but the fact that he claims he’s been out of town eases my fear that he hasn’t been out on his balcony because of me.
Me: Everything okay?
Ridge: I’m only going to say this once, Sydney. Are you ready?
Me: Oh, God. No. I’m turning off my phone.
Ridge: I know where you live.
Ridge: You’re incredible. Those lyrics. I can’t even describe to you how perfect they are for the song. How in the hell does that come out of you? And why can’t you see that you need to LET it come out of you? Don’t hold it in. You’re doing the world a huge disservice with your modesty. I know I agreed not to ask you for more, but that was because I really didn’t expect to get what I got from you. I need more. Give me, give me, give me.
I let out a huge breath. Until this moment, I didn’t realize exactly how much his opinion mattered. I can’t look up at him yet. I continue to stare at my phone for much longer than it takes me to read the text. I don’t even text him back, because I’m still relishing the compliment. If he said he loved it, I would have accepted his opinion with relief, and I would have moved on. But the words he just texted were like stairs stacked one on top of the other, and each compliment was like me running up each step until I reached the top of the damn world.
Holy crap. I think this one text just gave me enough confidence to send him another song. I never would have predicted this. I never imagined I would be excited.
“Food’s here,” Tori says. “You want to eat out here?”
I tear my gaze away from the phone and look at her. “Uh. Yeah. Sure.”
Tori brings the food out to the patio. “I’ve never really looked at that guy before, but damn,” she says, staring hard at Ridge while he plays his guitar. “He’s really hot, and I don’t even like blonds.”
“His hair isn’t blond. It’s brown.”
“No, that’s blond,” she says. “But it’s dark blond, so that’s okay, I guess. Almost brown, maybe. I like the messy shag, and that body makes up for the fact that his hair isn’t black.” Tori takes a drink and leans back in her chair, still staring at him. “Maybe I’m being too picky. What do I care what color his hair is? It’ll be dark when I have my hands in it, anyway.”
I shake my head. “He’s really talented,” I say. I still haven’t responded to his text, but he doesn’t seem to be waiting around. He’s watching his hands as he plays, not paying a bit of attention to us.
“I wonder if he’s single,” Tori says. “I’d like to see what other talents he has.”
I have no idea if he’s single, but the way Tori is thinking about him makes my stomach turn. Tori is incredibly cute, and I know she could find out if he had other talents if she really wanted to. She tends to get whomever she wants in the guy department. I’ve never really minded until now.
“You don’t want to be involved with a musician,” I say, as if I have any experience that would qualify me to give her advice. “Besides, I’m pretty sure Ridge does have a girlfriend. I saw a girl on his patio with him a few weeks ago.” That’s technically not a lie. I did see one once.
Tori glances at me. “You know his name? How do you know his name?”
I shrug as if it’s no big deal. Because, honestly, it is no big deal. “He needed help with lyrics last week, so I texted him some.”
She sits up in her chair. “You know his phone number?”
I suddenly become defensive, not liking the accusatory tone in her voice. “Calm down, Tori. I don’t even know him. All I did was text him a few lyrics.”
She laughs. “I’m not judging, Syd,” she says, holding up her hands in defense. “I don’t care how much you love Hunter, if you have an opening with that”—she flicks her hand in Ridge’s direction—“I’d be livid if you didn’t take advantage of it.”
I roll my eyes. “You know I’d never do that to Hunter.”
She sighs and leans back in her chair. “Yeah. I know.”
We’re both looking at Ridge when he finishes the song. He picks up his phone and types something, then picks up his guitar just as my phone vibrates and he begins to play another song.
Tori reaches for my phone, but I grab it first and hold it out of her reach. “That’s from him, isn’t it?” she says. I read the text.
Ridge: When Barbie goes away, I want more.
I cringe, because there’s no way I’m letting Tori read this text. For one thing, he insulted her. Also, the second part of his text would have an entirely different meaning if she read it. I hit delete and press the power button down to lock my phone in case she snatches it away from me.
“You’re flirting,” she says teasingly. She picks up her empty plate and stands up. “Have fun with your sexting.”
Ugh. I hate that she thinks I’d ever do that to Hunter. I’ll worry about setting her straight later, though. In the meantime, I take out my notebook and find the page with the lyrics I wrote to the song he’s currently playing. I transfer them to a text, hit send, and hurry back inside.
“That was so good,” I say as I place my plate in the sink. “That’s probably my favorite Italian restaurant in all of Austin.” I walk to the couch and fall down next to Tori, trying to appear casual about the fact that she thinks I’m cheating on Hunter. The more defensive I get about it, the less likely she’ll be to believe me when I try to deny it.
“Oh, my God, that reminds me,” she says. “The funniest thing happened a couple of weeks ago at this Italian restaurant. I was eating lunch with . . . my mom, and we were out on the patio. Our waiter was telling us about dessert, when all of a sudden, this cop car comes screeching around the corner, sirens blaring . . .”
I’m holding my breath, scared to hear the rest of her story.
What the hell? Hunter said he was with a coworker. The odds of them both being at the same restaurant, without being there together, is way more than coincidental
But why would they lie about being together?
My heart is folding in on itself. I think I’m gonna be sick.
How could they . . .
“Syd? Are you okay?” Tori is looking at me with genuine concern. “You look like you’re about to be sick.”
I put my hand over my mouth, because I’m afraid she might be right. I can’t answer her right away. I can’t even work up the strength to look at her. I try to still my hand, but I can feel it trembling against my mouth.
Why would they be together and not tell me? They’re never together without me. They’d have no reason to be together unless they were planning something.
Wait a second.
I press my palm against my forehead and shake my head back and forth. I feel as if I’m in the midst of the stupidest moment in all of my nearly twenty-two years of existence. Of course they were together. Of course they’re hiding something. It’s my birthday next Saturday.
Not only do I feel incredibly stupid for having believed they would do something like that to me, but I feel unforgivably guilty.
“You okay?” Tori says with genuine concern.
I nod. “Yeah.” I decide not to mention the fact that I know she was with Hunter. I would feel even worse if I ruined their surprise. “I think the Italian food is just making me a little nauseated. I’ll be right back.” I stand and walk to my bedroom, then sit on the edge of my bed in order to regain my bearings. I’m filled with a mixture of doubt and guilt. Doubt, because I know neither of them would do what I briefly thought they had done. Guilt, because for a brief moment, I actually believed they were capable of it.
I was hoping the first set of lyrics wasn’t a fluke, but after seeing the second set she sent me and adding them to the music, I text Brennan. I can’t not tell him about her any longer.
Me: I’m about to send you two songs. I don’t even need you to tell me what you think of them, because I know you’ll love them. So let’s move past that, because I need you to solve a dilemma for me.
Brennan: Oh, shit. I was just kidding about the Maggie thing. You didn’t really dump her for inspiration did you?
Me: I’m being serious. I found a girl who I’m positive was brought to this earth specifically for us.
Brennan: Sorry, man. I’m not into that shit. I mean, maybe if you weren’t my brother, but still.
Me: Stop with the horseshit, Brennan. Her lyrics. They’re perfect. And they come so effortlessly to her. I think we need her. I haven’t been able to write songs like these since . . . well, ever. Her lyrics are perfect, and you need to take a look at them, because I sort of need you to love them and agree to buy them from her.
Brennan: What the hell, Ridge? We can’t hire someone to write lyrics for us. She’ll want a percentage of the royalties, and between the two of us and the guys in the band, it won’t be worth it.
Me: I’m going to ignore that until you check the e-mail I just sent you.
I put my phone down and pace the room, giving him time to take a look at what I just sent him. My heart is pounding, and I’m sweating, even though it’s not at all hot in this room. I just can’t take him telling me no, because I’m scared that if we can’t use her, I’ll be facing another six months of a concrete wall.