Page 62 of The Keeper

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“What do you like about music?” I ask out of the blue. “I mean, music is emotional. It’s an exercise in storytelling. It requires attachments and emotions in order to be effective.”

Cal bites his bottom lip while he thinks. “For me, playing the guitar is scientific. It’s math. Musical notes, rhythms…there’s a formula, a pattern to it. It makes sense.”

“You know, there is research out there connecting musical ability to hard science aptitude. True story.” I smile at him and nod to help lighten the mood.

“Oof,” Cal says with a laugh, leaning back finally. “You sound like an academic.”

“I mean, I did graduate college.” I laugh in return.

“What about you, Billie?” There’s something about the sincerity in his voice, or maybe it’s partly his sexy accent, but whatever the combination of ingredients, the way he says “Billie” is very, very lovely and has a rather indecent effect on my lady parts.

“I started playing, like in earnest, to de-stress. My mom was always really intense about wanting me to be in show business. She toted me around from a very early age and I hated every minute of it. The makeup and the poofy dresses and the show tunes.” I roll my eyes. “You can’t imagine the relief I felt when my grandmother asked me if I was happy when I was about eleven, I think. And how she simply stepped in, no questions asked, when she realized how much I hated my life. I just wanted to get away from the whole scene. It was a big family blow-up at the time. My mom has never forgiven me.”

“So that’s why you didn’t want her to know about the drumming?”

“Yeah. Cat’s out of the bag now, though.”

“I am sorry about that,” he says with regret. “I had no idea.”

“I know. It’s fine. If she wasn’t mad at me for that, she’d find something else because she would not be a Jewish mother if she didn’t have something to make me feel guilty about.”

Cal looks confused.

“Jewish mom joke?” I grin. “No? Nothing? Man, you are a tough crowd, Cal.”

“So, you started drumming to shut it all out?”

“Yep. It was loud, I had to use every muscle in my body, and when I was done, I would sleep like the dead. It was a total emotional outlet.”

“Still is, I imagine,” Cal observes. “You’re very expressive when you play. It’s what drew me to watch you.”

I feel my cheeks go hot at the compliment. “I feel everything I play.”

“I’m not usually good with emotions,” he says, shifting his tone. “If you haven’t noticed.”

“I have,” I say softly.

“When I saw that guy grab your arm, I felt something.” He turns to face me. “I don’t fight just to fight. But I—I wanted to kill him for hurting you tonight.”

“Stuart,” I correct. “His name is Stuart and he’s been my best friend since high school.”

“Has he been hurting you since high school?” His eyes go wide, and his mouth makes a hard line.

“No,” I say quickly. “No. He’s always been great. But he wants to be more than friends now, so he’s feeling hurt that I don’t see him that way. Tonight was…a fluke.”

Cal looks dubious, but he doesn’t argue with me. He just says, “I barely felt a thing when Emily said she was in love with someone else. Barely felt it when she broke up with me.”

I sit back, eyes wide in shock. “She broke up with you?”

He nods. “After the home opener.”

I try not to, but I frown. I can’t decide if I’m jealous that she was here or upset she chose to break up with him on an important night in his hockey career. Cal seems to sense what I’m feeling, though, as he reaches over to take my hand.

“It was fine. I didn’t know she was even in town until after the game. She didn’t want to upset me before I had to play, so she came down to find me after the win. We got pizza and talked, and we agreed it was time to move on, for both of us.”

“Oh,” I say dumbly.

Cal lifts a shoulder. “She’s not wrong when she says I’m stuck in my ways. But she also said she felt more like my caretaker than my girlfriend, which sucked. I didn’t realize I was such a big baby.” He laughs lightly and shakes his head.

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