“Proud of my begging skills, more like. Maybe I should be a fundraiser instead of a program director.”
“Maybe you should be a rock star instead of a program director.”
“Did Sven put you up to that comment?” I give him the side-eye.
He shrugs. “You guys are good enough—”
“Ugh, not you, too. Dude, I have told them time and time again that it will happen if and when it’s meant to happen.”
“It could happen faster if—”
“Don’t you dare. Stuart Robertson, I swear if you say one word about my parents, I will cut you.”
He laughs and holds his hands up in surrender.
As we load the last box, he pulls me into a side-hug and kisses my temple. “You are a badass Billie Hirsch. The kids are going to love these.”
He slams the van doors, and I wander to the passenger side, feeling good about what we’re doing for the kids while also overthinking the kiss my best friend just placed on the side of my head. It’s not like Stuart hasn’t been cuddly with me before. He has, and while I usually allow it, I’ve had more and more concern over how he views it. Does he think we’re headed toward something beyond friendship? Would I want that if we were?
He’s important to me and he has been for a long time. We met when I came to live in Las Vegas with my grandmother, we were inseparable all through high school. He knows my crazy parents, knows the reason I came to Vegas, knows how much I love music and how much I don’t love the idea of asking my parents to get us an “in” in the industry. I tell him everything, and if we tried something and it didn’t work, I’d be devastated to lose him. I know he likes me as more than a friend. I can feel it. He would never push it. He would only do something if I initiated it, and I appreciate that so much.
“Are we taking these to the club?” he asks, starting the engine and pulling me from my thoughts.
“Uh, yeah. If you could help me unload, then take me to band practice, I would be very appreciative.”
“That’s all I am to you? Muscle? And a car?” His grin tells me he’s not that upset about it.
“Well, I’ll have to make you dinner one night soon to thank you for being muscle and car and best friend ever. Also, this isn’t your car anyway.”
“Yes, I’m using my work van to assist you. Breaking the rules just to show you how much I care about your program.”
I narrow my eyes at him, and he just laughs it off.
* * *
The next afternoon,I’ve unboxed all of the equipment and am in the process of tuning a drum kit when goalie boy wonder walks in.
He does not say hello.
He does not ask me how things are going.
No, he stands with his hands on his hips, surveying the instruments with a scowl on his face.
AndIsimply refuse to respond to whatever game he’s playing at.
So, I ignore him completely. I bang on the drums, adjust the heads, and make sure everything is nice and tuned while he pokes around. He peers at the guitars for a while before picking one up, strapping it on, plugging it into an amp. He plucks out a few notes, messing with the tuning as he does so. Systematically, he does this with every guitar, electric and acoustic. He doesn’t skip a single one.
Finally, he looks up, a bright red guitar still strapped across his shoulder. “These guitars are garbage. I hate them all.”
“Well, hello to you, too.” I peer over at him from the drum dial I’ve set on top of my snare and narrow my eyes.
“Why did you get such cheap instruments?”
“Because these kids are just starting to learn and we’re a nonprofit, so I wanted to stretch the budget. And some of these will be part of a lending library and I don’t want a reason to freak out if they don’t come back in a timely manner.”
“I think they should learn on good equipment, so they can hear what these instrumentsshouldsound like.”
“This isn’t music appreciation class, Cal. The kids want to learn the basics of how to play. They need a creative outlet. These instruments will work fine. Most of these kids don’t have families who can afford stuff like this, so it will be really exciting for them, even without the most expensive equipment.”