“Well?” she said.
He said nothing for a long moment.
He coughed. “Um . . . hey. Brought your guitar.”
“The one you unplugged? To make sure I couldn't be heard, not even a little?”
“Yeah, that's the one.”
“Thanks.” She took the case in her small hand, then stared at Duncan. “Will that be all, then?”
His eyes were wide as 45s, his hands sweating, his feet tapping nervously. He had never before felt a smidge of anxiety with Sydânone. This is insane, he thought. It's just Syd, the chick who makes all those horrid sounds. Except, um . . . cuter somehow. And very close.
“I'm guessing from your total deathly silence that it is, in fact, all,” she said. “So good night.” She began to shut the door.
“No,” he said. “No, it isn't.” The door creaked back wide. He shuffled his feet. “I'm sorry,” he managed. “Thoroughly sorry. I am every kind of idiot. I've had about a hundred opportunities to see how epically perfect you are, and I've blown every one. So, you know . . . um . . . well . . .”
“So?” she said, maybe with a glimmer of a half grin.
“So . . . um . . .” He shuffled a bit more. “I'm willing to offer you another guitar lesson. For free.”
Syd smiled. “Wow,” she said flatly. “That's great. And will you teach me how to do that thing where you shred eardrums with scary feedback? That was kinda cool.”
“No,” he said, laughing. “That lesson you have to pay for.”
“Oh, I feel I've paid for it already,” Syd said. She leaned against her guitar case in the doorway. “I never once cared about getting better on the guitar, Duncan. I just liked all the hanging out.”
“Me, too,” he said. “I don't care how you sound, Syd.”
He inched forward with uncharacteristic stealth. Syd didn't back away. They stared at each other, and not awkwardly. He drew closer, his hands sliding down her bare arms. When they kissed, it wasn't quick and mechanical, but something deep and clumsy and exciting. Her hat fell backward to the floor; her blond hair fell across their faces.
After a minute, she broke loose. “Okay, I'm calling BS.”
“On what?” asked Duncan, a bit disoriented.
care how I sound,” she said. “It's killing you.”
He smiled sheepishly. Point, Syd, he thought. You'll improve. I'll make it so. “Nuh-uh,” he whispered. “I like you like you are.”
More kissing. They moved slowly into the house, eventually settling with a thump on the shag-covered stairs. Minutes passed. Syd and Duncan tugged at each other lightly, purposefully, aggressively, their hands running over their faces, necks, and . . .
“Hello, dorkface!” called a way-too-familiar voice.
Duncan's head popped up. A deep, subarctic chill ran up the length of his spine. Just don't throw me again, he thought to himself. He looked at the floor, then tried to speak. “Oh . . . um . . . oh. Hey, Freddie. Um . . . hey. We were jusâ”
Duncan peered upward for a moment and was struck silent by the sight of Freddie and Jessie on the living room sofa, intertwined. Like, lovingly. With arms and legs and hands wrapped around each other. They were utterly disheveled.
“Oh . . . my . . . God,” Duncan finally managed. “Is thatâ?”
“Yup,” said Syd. “Jess came over a few hours ago. They've been at it for, um . . . a while. I thought she came over to console her brokenhearted friendâ”
“âbut she's not the consoling type, is she?” asked Duncan.
“Nope, not really,” said Syd.
“I told you I had just the girl for him!” Jess said contentedly, snuggling with Duncan's bully.
“And where's Sloth, exactly?” asked Duncan. “If you tell me he's in another room with Stew, I'm totally gonna throw up in my mouth.”
Jessie smiled. “He bailed,” she said. “Right after I told him that I couldn't really make homecoming, and that I kinda/ maybe had a thing for this other dude.” She slugged Freddie's shoulder.
“You should've set that guy up with your friend Marissa, dweeb,” said Freddie.
Freddie was smooching Duncan's drummer again. They sank low into the couch.
“Oh . . . my . . . God,” Duncan mouthed.
“Hey, I forgive you, buddy,” called Freddie between the slobbery, squishing smooch noises. A cushion fell atop him.
Duncan looked at Syd. “Those two are kinda gross, eh?”
Syd snortedâsubtly, if that's possible. Duncan kissed her again, and they fell back against the stairs. He took her fingers in his. She pulled away smiling.
“You're still thinking you can fix my guitar playing,” she whispered, swatting him lightly. “I
it. I can see it in your scheming face.”
Oh, I'll fix it, he thought. 'Cuz there's no kicking you out of the band now.
“Nope,” he said. “That's definitely not what I'm thinking. Nope.”
Syd sighed, then yawned.
“I'm boring you?” asked Duncan.
Syd smiled, then lowered her eyes. “No. It's just been kind of a long day.”
Could still be an excellent night, he thought.