Authors: Karis Walsh
Tina watched her walk down the path and across the street to her car before she shut the door. She really needed to get out. Put on a sexy outfit and head to the nearest bar. Maybe later. She turned on the phonograph and played along with the music, weaving her own version of the melody around the band’s recording.
Peter dragged Tina around the bar on Tuesday night and introduced her to each person in the room, whether they were there to play at the open session or simply to drink and enjoy the music. He seemed to know everyone, but the faces had no meaning to Tina, and she forgot names as quickly as Peter said them. Once she heard people play, learned their individual styles and sounds, she would know them. As she had come to expect, there was no one type of person at the session—male and female, college students and old-timers, all of them there because they loved the music and the traditions they were about to share. Tina followed Peter around the bar with a beer in one hand and her violin case in the other, feeling more relaxed and at home than she had since arriving in Spokane. She occasionally put the drink on a table to shake hands with someone. She tried to focus on the faces in front of her, but half her attention was on the front door.
The only reason she cared about Jan’s anticipated arrival with Chloe was because she had a couple of questions about Jan’s dad’s military career. She had agreed to come to O’Boyle’s with Peter because she had spent the weekend working on her two projects and needed a break. The sooner she finished the DVD and Peter’s PR work, the sooner she could get back to Seattle where she belonged. Spokane was proving to be a lonely place.
Someone captured Peter’s attention for a moment, and Tina took a break from swimming through the crowd of strangers. She knelt near the small square table Peter had claimed for them and checked her amp, making sure her settings were low enough so her violin would blend with the group. She’d be able to adjust the volume as the night wore on and the bar got noisier. After a quiet weekend in the apartment, she was looking forward to the sounds of an open session, the cacophony of varied styles, abilities, and interpretations of the music. Tina loved the chaos because it occasionally produced an unexpected and harmonious magic. And sometimes it was simply loud and fun and surprising. Exactly what she needed tonight.
Tina had planned on having the past weekend to herself. She had decided not to answer the phone when Jan or Peter called, to give herself a break from their demands on her—to be nice to the family, to unpack, to settle in—when all she wanted was to be left in peace, to go her own way. Her defiance wasn’t tested, though, since neither one of them tried to contact her. She had called Andy and Brooke to pass the time on Saturday night, but about an hour into their conversation she realized she was being as demanding and needy as the people she was trying to avoid. She had hung up the phone, resolved to get through her projects as quickly as she could. Then she’d be free to return to her life in the city. Anonymous, unfettered, and fun.
“Hi.” The single word, spoken in Jan’s quiet voice, startled Tina. She rose out of her crouched position and banged her head on the edge of the table.
“Ouch, damn it. Hi yourself.” Tina stood up and rubbed her head. She let her hand drop when she saw the drawn look on Jan’s face. Dark circles shadowed her eyes, making them look almost navy, and the familiar frown line creased her forehead. “You look like hell. Are you sick?”
“Jesus, what a way to greet someone. I’m still waiting to see the legendary charm Brooke warned me about.”
Tina pulled out a chair and waved Jan into it. “Really, what’s wrong? Is it your dad?”
Jan’s eyes widened slightly as if in surprise. “Well, yes. He’s having some complications after his surgery. The doctor was worried it was a blood clot forming, so he’s back in the hospital for a few days. I think he was in a lot of pain before he finally told me, but I should have figured it out. He looked feverish this weekend, but he never complained.” Jan rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have come. I don’t think I’m up for a night out.”
Tina reached across the table and eased Jan’s hand away from her eyes. “Do not feel guilty,” she said in a stern voice. “You’ve been a wonderful daughter. Besides, I found some military papers in the box of pictures,” she continued, lightening her tone to try to coax a smile from Jan, “commendations and things about your dad, and he sounds like one tough dude. He probably could have a stake through his heart and say it’s just a splinter.”
“An exaggeration, but you’re right—he isn’t a complainer. And he
Tina squeezed Jan’s hand before she let it go. “Next time, call me if you need any help,” she said before she remembered the vow she had made not to answer any of Jan’s calls over the weekend. “So, I’m surprised to see an old schoolmarm like yourself out on a Tuesday night. Don’t you have class tomorrow?”
“She’s such an old fuddy-duddy, she gets her lesson plans written by the first of every month,” Chloe said as she joined them. She handed a beer to Jan and set her own on the table. “Unless she has assignments to grade, she has every evening free. Too bad she wastes them by staying in and getting to bed by ten.”
“Is she serious?” Tina asked Jan.
“Partially,” Jan said, with a scowl in Chloe’s direction. “But she doesn’t need to make it sound like a character flaw to be prepared.”
Chloe ignored her comment. “Peter just showed me his mandolin. It’s so beautiful and it feels like satin. I can’t wait to hear him play.”
“Oh, Peter, your instrument is so big!” Jan said before she took a sip of her beer. Her voice mimicked Chloe’s gushing tones exactly.
“May I touch it? Oh, please, may I?” Tina added in a breathy voice.
Jan choked as she struggled to swallow her beer, and then she joined Tina’s sexy, throaty laughter. “Oh, don’t go, Chloe,” Jan said when her friend stood up with a frown.
“There is something seriously wrong with you two,” she said before she walked away from the table.
“Do you think we went too far?” Jan asked. This was exactly what she needed tonight. Laughter and teasing. The company of someone light and frivolous. Tina was certainly not a permanent solution to any problem Jan might have, but she was a good source of temporary stress relief. As long as Jan kept herself in check and didn’t let things go further than friendly banter. Otherwise, she might end up wanting more.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine. I’m just shocked my cousin inspires so much adoration and lust in anyone.”
“Really? Don’t you realize he looks enough like you to be your twin?” Jan spoke without thinking. Tina stared at her, her bottle raised halfway to her mouth, and Jan was relieved when the evening’s session leader stepped up to the mic.
Chloe and Peter, carrying his inlaid and burnished mandolin, returned to the table. She was looking somewhat less angry, but she stuck her tongue out at Jan when she sat down. Jan smiled back and then turned her attention to the stage, trying to ignore the sight of Tina shrugging out of her sweatshirt and straightening the black tank she wore underneath.
“I see some unfamiliar faces in the audience, so let me begin by explaining how we run a session here at O’Boyle’s,” the gray-haired man said, in a heavy Irish accent. “As evening’s host, I’ll start us off with some of my favorite tunes. As we go on, feel free to call out requests. And if you don’t have an instrument, you’re welcome to sing along or keep the rhythm with your hands or feet. Now, I remember when I was a wee lad in Dublin—”
“Try Cincinnati,” Peter called out.
“I forgot to mention,” the host said, all traces of his brogue gone, “any disruptive elements will be removed at the discretion of the session leader. Now, where was I? Ah yes. When I was a wee lad…”
Jan half listened to his clearly fabricated tale of childhood while she watched Tina rosin her bow in long sweeping strikes. She looked so at home, her pose casual and her hands moving deftly over her instrument as she prepared to play. She was in her element in this place, where musical rules were discarded and identities were created to suit the occasion. Jan knew she shouldn’t stare, shouldn’t give in to her desire to watch only Tina in the room full of musicians, but she couldn’t stop. And once the group started playing a rousing jig, Tina seemed so engrossed in the music, bending her notes around the basic melody, that Jan assumed she was unaware of the attention.
Fortunately. Because Jan didn’t want to look anywhere else. She had watched Tina play the refined and elegant quartet music on her acoustic violin at Brooke’s rehearsal, but this was something else entirely. Jan was surprised by the sheer physicality of Tina’s playing. Caught in the wave of improvisation, Tina’s whole body seemed to resonate with her fiery fiddle. The tendons in her neck and the muscles in her arms were taut, but her fingertip touch on the bow was light and flexible. Her right foot and upper body kept time to the music, but her expression was unruffled and serene.
After a few songs, the session leader beckoned at Tina. “Hey, newbie,” he said, raising the mic a few inches. “Why don’t you turn up the volume and show us what your pretty red beast can do.”
Tina stepped up to the stage without hesitating. “Do any of you know ‘Mountain Spring’?” A few hands went up. “Great. Join in whenever you want.”
Jan watched her take a deep breath before she raised the fiddle. Her eyes drifted closed as she played the first long down-bow of the Celtic tune. After a few measures, other instruments in the group picked up the melody, and at the first sound of other voices joining her own, Tina opened her eyes and smiled. At first, the other players merely echoed the simple phrasing of the song, but gradually, individuals broke off and added their own embellishments. Jan saw a helix in her mind, a curved line spiraling up, adding layers and depth but always twisting around the axis of Tina and her violin. Tina looked at her, as if she felt the weight of Jan’s stare, and the rest of the room receded, leaving only Tina as the center of the song.
When the last notes of the song faded away, Tina broke their eye contact and returned to her seat. Jan felt hot, wet. She took a drink of her beer, but it was too warm to do any good.
The host returned to the mic and cleared his throat loudly. “Damn,” he said. “I think I need a cigarette after watching you play like that.”
“Stop,” Tina said with a grin, running her fingers over the violin. “You’re making her blush.”
Jan joined in the group’s laughter, but the sound she made sounded rough and false. She had felt the song as if it was meant only for her, but the man’s words helped her return to common sense. Tina oozed sexuality. Her charisma was natural and affected everyone around her. The intimate way she had played hadn’t been intended for Jan. She couldn’t let herself be fooled into thinking it had.
Tina numbly played a few more tunes with the group before she excused herself and went into the bathroom. She splashed cold water on her face and leaned against the counter, staring at the mirror. Her high ponytail, meant to keep her hair out of her face while she played, revealed her flushed neck and chest. The small red mark made by her shoulder rest, usually prominent on her pale skin, was barely discernible against the color of her arousal. She still wasn’t sure what had happened while she was on the stage. She was accustomed to using music to attract women, to seduce them, but never before had she herself been seduced. Her mind had fabricated a story with Jan in the lead role, and she had simply poured the images into the music she played.
A mountain spring, a lush green meadow, sun heating her back as she braced her arms on either side of Jan’s face. Kissing her lips, nuzzling her hair, nipping at her neck and collarbone. The feel of Jan’s hands sliding up her back and into her hair. Pushing her lower.
“Oh my God,” she said to her reflection. “You need to stop.”
She paced back and forth in the small space. Okay, she was obviously attracted to Jan. And, just as obviously, they were not suited to each other in any way except physically. Tina would easily be able to have a few nights of fun before she moved on, went home. But would Jan be able to just have sex without figuring the affair—and Tina—into her life plan? No. She was too serious and alone. Maybe she had been watching Tina as if she was about to pounce on her, but she wouldn’t be satisfied with a brief fling. And brief was all Tina was about.
The pep talk worked, and Tina returned to the table with more composure. She needed to avoid Jan until she could find some more appropriate female companionship. Get this out of her system, whatever it was.
The musicians were taking a short break, and Peter and Chloe were settled cozily in a conversation. Tina looked around for something safe to occupy her and Jan.
“Want to play some pool?” she asked. A nice, unromantic game of pool, she added silently.
“Sure,” Jan said, following Tina to an empty table at the back of the room. She sorted through the cue sticks, putting more attention on the task than seemed necessary, while Tina expertly racked the balls. “Why don’t you break,” Jan said.
“Okay.” Tina hefted a couple of cues before she found a comfortable one. “But I should warn you, I’m good at any game you can practice in a bar.”
“Cocky. Care to back your bragging with a bet?”
Tina’s mind ran through several wagering possibilities. Trouble was, she wouldn’t care if she won or lost with any of them. “Do you mean money?”
Jan hesitated long enough for Tina to suspect that her thoughts had been roaming in the same direction. “Of course I mean money. Twenty?”
“You’re on,” Tina said, striking the cue ball with a loud crack. She watched an orange ball drop into a pocket. “Solids.”
She sank the seven but missed the next shot. Jan stepped up to the table. “And I should warn you,” she said.
“Yeah?” Tina asked, focused more on Jan’s ass than her words.
“I doubt I spend nearly as much time as you do in bars, but I happen to know a thing or two about geometry. And pool is all about angles and lines.”