He had a type and he knew it. A sorta over-the-top bottle blonde with a smile that could light up a stadium and just a hint of crazy eyes. About a foot shorter than him. And with definite opinions about clothes. Didn’t matter which opinions, really, as long as the lady knew her look and rocked it hard.
Rocker girl, rockabilly, hillbilly princess, vintage movie star...just about anything but the insane glamor clown currently prancing across the rehearsal-room set toward him.
Prancing turned to skipping, her million-dollar smile morphed to a grin so wide it made his cheeks hurt just to see it. Or maybe that ache was his brain still trying to make sense of her get-up, some crazy neon mashup from the eighties...but the eighties in a cartoon, maybe. Or a fever dream. When she waved at him, streams of vivid color seemed to trail her arm. Lime green and hot pink and safety orange. He waved back, too tired to talk, knowing they didn’t really need to anyway.
She was, as always, too much. Too wild, too giddy, too bratty, too funny. Too thin right now, so worn out from the shooting schedule that he could practically see through her. It happened every season. She ate plenty, but her constant motion seemed to burn it right off. She never stopped moving; he figured maybe she couldn’t stop. Like a shark. Or a hummingbird. Or some kinda weird goofy fairy with a guitar, plunking herself
down on the chair next to the keyboard and starting to tune up without preamble.
He stretched out a leg from where he slouched on the piano stool, nudging one of her rainbow sneakers with his boot.
“Tinkerbell in Converse.”
“Old man says what now?” She was focused on what she was doing, eyes half closed, confident fingers dancing over the strings and pegs in a familiar back-and-forth.
“He says you’re gonna need a capo, it has to come up a step.”
She just shook her head, smiling again. “Way ahead of you.” She strummed the opening bars of the song she’d been working on, transposed up just the way he’d been planning to suggest.
They both winced at a faintly sour note, and she went back to tuning while he pretended to make a note on his sheet music. After another few adjustments she started playing softly and humming, working through the fingering on the bridge. It sounded amazing and it sounded like home.
This was always the hardest part. The two of them alone in a room with some music and no cameras, nobody else around to make her nervous, the moment her crazy talent and brilliant soul suddenly shone through all the glitter and grit. And for a second or two, every damn time, he forgot the little kid he’d known and just saw the person in front of him. A woman who was not too much at all but exactly right.
Damned if he could figure out when that had happened, but it didn’t really matter.
He would keep it to himself. He’d smile, then look down until the feeling passed and he remembered who she was, who he was, who they were to each other, who they went home to, and a hundred other things that mattered so much more than those few breathless moments of wonder.
That was the thing. He loved that kid he’d watched grow up, and he wouldn’t trade that even if he could. He loved being proud of her like a big brother or maybe an uncle—and not the creepy kind of uncle. He loved that she could sit in a room with him like he wasn’t even there; he knew how few people she trusted that way. He would tease her forever because the good Lord knew she earned it every waking minute, but he would never in a million years do anything to lose that trust.
But he couldn’t stop his breath from catching, his heart from thumping. Every time. It was so wrong, and always would be. But if it hadn’t been wrong from the very beginning...man, it could have been so right.