|Subject: #3 : 10 March, second stanza
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Date Posted: 11:19:36 03/15/09 Sun
Evan pulled his dark brown Mercury Cougar in front of “Ein Bisschen Luxus” – in English, a little luxury. A funny place for his friend to land. Besides being at least twice as far away from the bus station as it would have been if he had gone the opposite direction, the little café was the band’s hangout. Susie would say it was a good omen. Evan didn’t believe in omens, but he did think it would be good for Duncan to have a little luxury for a change.
He saw him through the big window which threw sunlight back into his eyes. Moving to a better angle, Evan studied his friend. His hair was even longer, hanging three to four inches beyond his shoulders, and he hadn’t shaved recently. But those were minute things. His jaw line, more pronounced than usual, exposed its ridges and hollows even through the thick stubble. He’d lost weight that shouldn’t have been lost.
The scent of fresh bread wafted through the screen door. Evan pushed it open and grinned when his friend looked over, rising from the chair to meet him. Extending one hand, he grasped Duncan’s arm with his other. “It’s good to see you. I wasn’t sure you would actually come.”
Duncan tilted his head. “I was no’ sure either, bu’ I had nowhere else in mind.”
Evan released him and turned to Alison, who had been standing at Duncan’s table, talking. “It looks like you’ve already met.”
“Not formally.” She looked at Duncan. “It was Evan you called?”
“Actually, he got Mike, but I was next door. Alison, this is Duncan.”
A light of recognition hit her face. “Oh, you’re who Doug has been talking about. I should have realized when you came in with the guitar. You’re here to join the band?”
Duncan raised an eyebrow.
“We haven’t talked much about that yet. I was just hoping he would.” Evan threw his confused buddy a grin.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I’m sure he knew my motives.”
Duncan didn’t answer, his eyes even more vacant than Evan remembered.
Alison interrupted. “So, how is Susie? I haven’t seen her recently.”
He turned back, glad for the change of subject. “She’s been very busy, with the show coming up in a couple of months. And don’t take it personally; I don’t even see her often.”
“Wow, that is busy.” She smiled, teasing him with her eyes. “Are you staying for coffee? I was forcing your friend to try Mom’s latest batch of bread. I’m sure I can sneak another.”
Evan chuckled. “Thanks, but I’ll think we’ll get back. Another time.”
“Okay. Tell everyone hello for me. And it was nice to meet you.” With a grin at Duncan, she left them.
His friend threw money on the table. He always tipped well, whether he could afford it or not.
Silence infused the drive back to the apartment, with questions Evan threw getting only curt replies. He decided to leave it alone for the moment and settle for Duncan agreeing to stay the night in the little third bedroom, with a few words saying he didn’t care how small it was. Of course, from the way his friend had described the “pad” he’d just left, Evan was sure his and Mike’s apartment would be a big improvement. He was always able to see where Duncan was living from nothing but the description in the letters he received. Evan couldn’t help being slightly jealous of his friend’s natural writing ability. Duncan’s songs, as well as his guitar skills and vocals, would be a wonderful asset to the band, if he could get him to stay.
Still in silence, other than the car’s smooth rumble and wind whipping through the open windows, Evan turned the Mercury around the corner that led to the old boarding house. It was now an apartment building, with two three-bedroom apartments upstairs and the same number of two-bedrooms on the main floor, leaving room for an entranceway with a security door. The best thing about it was the large basement, which had high ceilings and great acoustics for their practices. And it was in a quiet part of town – clean and well-kept, with a large yard that set the building away from the road while leaving an open area in back featuring two large maples. The front was adorned with spring bulbs currently in bloom and an ornamental pear tree Susie loved.
What would she think of his friend? Naturally, she would accept him. She was always welcoming to his friends and acquaintances, and they generally agreed about who they wanted to hang around. With a couple of exceptions. But Duncan…. He glanced over at the man staring out the window. Susie would be able to see past the charade as Evan had, though he wouldn’t be surprised if it took her a while to fully accept him. She was leery about men, with good reason, and tended to keep her distance. Even Mike thought she was a snob when they first met.
Mike. He could be a problem. The phone conversation had put him on edge, though he didn’t say why. Evan had warned him, though, that Duncan wasn’t open and didn’t give information willingly. He couldn’t tell him more than that.
He pulled the car into the building’s parking lot and switched off the engine. “The guys may all be upstairs. They caught me as I was leaving.”
Duncan glanced at him, then nodded, opening the door.
His friend looked back, an eyebrow slightly raised.
“What made you finally come out here? What happened?”
Turning his eyes down, Duncan tightened the muscles on his face, then relaxed them enough to answer. “Needed different scenery.” Then he met Evan’s gaze. “Think your band mates are goin’ t’ want me here?”
Evan’s stomach tightened. Something had happened. He shrugged as though it didn’t matter. “I want you here. Always have.”
His expression didn’t change, but he nodded again and got out of the car, refusing to let Evan take either the bag or the guitar while walking beside him to the door.
The wide, worn wooden staircase creaked under their feet as they made their way to the second level side-by-side. The front door needed to be propped open again to clear the mustiness, and the old beige wallpaper with blue and fuchsia flowered vines hadn’t been replaced yet as they’d requested. His friend didn’t seem to notice his surroundings, anyway. He still wasn’t talking. Both were atypical. Maybe he was tired. It was roughly sixteen hours from Chicago to Lakewood by bus, maybe more with all the stops in between. And Duncan didn’t sleep around strangers.
He turned the knob and tried to let his friend in first. Duncan stood back and waited. No surprise.
Mike’s voice hit them as the door opened. He was making some sarcastic comment, most likely to his perpetual antagonist. Of course, Stuart was going to react.
“Mike, you are so full of shit. Doug, tell him he has no idea what the hell he’s talking about.”
Evan shook his head stepping in. “How about continuing this later?”
Mike turned, scanning the area. “So? Did he change his mind?”
“Not yet. Keep trying.” Evan looked back. Was that a spark of amusement in his friend’s eyes? Taking the guitar without asking, he tried to keep it a joke. “Come on in, if you dare.” There was no mistaking the slight grin. For a moment, he looked almost like himself.
The others stood to greet him. They weren’t hiding their surprise well at his appearance. And Duncan would notice.
Evan set the case on the floor in front of him, resting his arms atop. “Mike Kean, Doug Lawrence, Stuart Lowe … Duncan O’Neil.” They each took his hand, and he answered each with a nod.
Stu moved closer. “O’Neil? Are you Irish?”
Duncan perused him a moment. “Partly.”
“Shit, Evan, what’s wrong with you? You know the English and Irish don’t get along.”
Stu’s newest victim was nonplused. “Ev is Irish.”
“Yeah, but he’s part English, too. That makes him okay to be around.”
Duncan raised an eyebrow. “Well, if he is part Irish, and par’ English, I would say tha’ some of them do ge’ along.”
Stuart laughed and set a hand on Evan’s arm. “Hey man, he’s in as far as I’m concerned.”
“What? You have asked him about the band, right? Isn’t that why he brought his guitar?”
Mike elbowed him. “Shut up, already. I’m sure he takes it everywhere.” His eyes studied Duncan’s. “Ignore him. He’s barely legal and we’re still trying to raise him. And, by the way, he’s more Swiss than English. He tends to forget that.”
“At least I’m not a high-falutin’ ass.”
“Yeah, and I know what damn country my family came from.”
Doug stepped between them. “Why don’t we let the man sit down?”
Evan thanked Doug with a glance and watched as Duncan took the seat farthest from the group.
Mike was still studying him until he noticed Evan’s silent reprisal. “Oh, Gerry called while you were out. He wants us this Friday. Will that work for you?”
“I was supposed to work late. What time?”
“He’s negotiable since it’s a last-minute fill-in.”
“Okay. I’ll get off as early as I can; won’t be before seven, though.”
“So, eight would work?”
“Yeah, I’ll take my things in and meet you there.” He looked over Duncan. “Feel like sitting in Friday night? Nothing big, just a local bar we play all the time, and you should be familiar with most of the stuff we’re doing.”
Evan watched his face as he didn’t answer, hoping he wasn’t pushing too fast. Duncan didn’t look irritated, though, with him, it was often hard to tell.
His friend glanced over at Mike, who had resumed the condescending stare, then back to Evan. “If you want, bu’ no’ if I am in the way.”
In the way? Not hardly. They would be lucky to have him. And Mike could think whatever he wished. “Great. We practice every night after work, except any Friday we’re not playing, though that’s always subject to change. We usually take Sundays off, too, depending…”
“Hell, not today, we’re not.” Stu pushed to the edge of his seat. “After what you’ve been saying, I wanna hear the guy play.”
If he wanted to be as rude as Mike, Evan would be telling Stuart to shut up. Another curious look from his friend said Duncan was wondering just how much Evan had told them. “He’s been on a bus since last night.” And it was nearly five. He turned back to his friend. “Do you want to lie down a while?”
“In the middle o’ the day? Y’ know I do no’ do naps.”
Stuart laughed. “Told you, didn’t he? He’s a true musician, always ready to play. So, let’s go.” Jumping off the couch, he stood waiting to be followed.
Evan looked for the reaction, but Duncan was watching Stu.
“Why not?” Mike threw a challenging look. “If you’re game. Evan has said you’re not bad.” He stood, turning it into a dare.
“If Ev wants t’ play, I will walk down with him.”
Perfect answer. Not confrontational, but not letting Mike take control, as he was apt to do. Duncan knew he was being tested. Maybe Evan should have mentioned that his friend was not someone to take lightly, or to underestimate. His combination of quick intelligence and street smarts made him a venomous opponent … when pushed.
Hoping that playing would break the tension between the two men, he stood, and Duncan did the same. So far, he was going along, but Evan knew that wouldn’t last.
Stuart badgered him with questions on the way down to the basement. Where had he learned to play? Taught himself. How long had he been playing? A while. Who was his biggest influence? Clapton. Did he play anything except guitar? Didn’t have any interest. Did he read music?
Duncan finally stopped, and turned. He was silent, staring at this kid giving him the third degree.
Evan wondered if he should step in. His friend’s look wasn’t giving anything away, but he did hate to be badgered. Mike moved closer to Stuart, as a warning.
Ignoring Mike, Duncan kept his eyes on the keyboardist. “Do y’ always talk so much?”
Stu hesitated, glancing at Evan before answering. “Generally.”
Duncan raised an eyebrow and shook his head, then continued down the second flight of stairs leading to the basement door.
Evan watched him a moment before turning back to see the reactions. Stu was speechless for a change. Doug was amused. Mike wasn’t. He was used to being the only one who put Stuart “in his place.” That could be trouble.
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