His for Keeps(4)

By: Theodora Taylor

“Yeah. Sort of.”

The boy raised his eyebrows, like he didn’t quite know whether to believe me. “Alright then, let me hear you.”

This was before what happened happened, before I stopped singing in front of people ever. But even back then, I can remember thinking there was no way in hell I was going to get up the nerve to sing in front of this weird teenager with the intense blue eyes on Mike Lancer’s back steps.

The boy wasn’t nearly as cute as Mike, but he made me nervous all the same. Maybe because of the way he was looking at me now. Like I’d suddenly gone from being a simple math problem to a complicated one.

“No, I don’t think so,” I answered, my stomach fluttering with butterflies at just the thought of singing one of the songs I’d written.

“Why not?” His voice sounded different now. Even deeper and huskier, like we were involved in some kind of secret conversation.

“Because…” I started, searching for a plausible excuse.

“What are you doing here, Fairgood?”

I turned to see Mike coming towards us in a tux, face screwed up with irritation, glare aimed at the boy sitting on the steps.

“Decided to come home early from Tennessee,” the boy answered Mike. “Was out here fixing to put in some fiddlin’ time before I went to sleep. How about you? Wasn’t tonight was your parent’s big charity ball? Surprised you’re not still there.”

Mike huffed. “They don’t let me drink at those things, so I put in an hour and left out since they weren’t letting me have any fun.”

The boy Mike had referred to as Fairgood lifted his eyebrows, probably thinking what I was thinking. Mike’s explanation for leaving his parents’ charity ball early made him sound like the worst kind of spoiled rich kid cliché.

But Mike didn’t seem to care what the boy on the steps thought of him. He turned to me and said, “I thought I told you eight.”

“I can’t control when the bus gets here,” I answered him, a wave of irritation rolling over me. “I got here early and came back here to wait for you. I wasn’t expecting to meet…”

“Colin,” the boy finished for me. To my surprise, he actually stood like a true Southern gentleman, and took my hand in his with a charming smile. “Colin Fairgood, and it’s real nice to meet you, sweetheart.”

That smile, combined with his words and blue gaze, caused my heart to backflip inside my chest. What the hell, I thought to myself. Is he flirting with me?

Mike must have been thinking the same thing, because he said, “It’s going to be nice to beat you if you don’t get out of the way.”

With that threat, he grabbed me by the arm and said, “C’mon. I’ve got beer in my room. Some pot, too.”

“You go to school around here?” Colin asked me, like Mike hadn’t even said anything.

“No, she’s over in Beaumont,” Mike answered.

My cheeks heated with Mike’s confirmation that I was indeed from the wrong side of the tracks. Beaumont was a small neighborhood in Birmingham that managed to earn a spot on the news for violent outbreaks at least once a week. But the rent was cheap, and living there gave my mother more to spend after the monthly check came in from my father.

“How about you?” I asked Colin, rushing away from the subject. “Do you go to school with Mike?”

“Yes, Mike and I attend the same school,” Colin answered, as if he and Mike were little more than far flung associates, even though they apparently lived in the same house.

“He’s our housekeeper’s son, so technically, he’s in the district.” Mike all but sneered.

The way Mike referred to him as “our housekeeper’s son,” as if that made him too low to attend the same school as him, made my blood crawl. Another feeling I remember clearly from That Night.

And it must have done something to Colin’s inside, too, because his fist bunched at his sides, even as he flashed another charming smile my way.

“You should come back with your guitar sometime,” he said to me, like Mike wasn’t even there. “We could try our hand at some Mark O’Connor.”

“You play guitar?” Mike asked me. Like this was some kind of state secret I’d kept from him on purpose, as opposed to one of the many things we’d never gotten around to talking about since he never seemed all that interested in actually talking to me.

“I do,” I admitted to Mike. “But I’ve never heard of Mark O’Connor,” I confessed to Colin.

“You should look him up. He’s mostly known for his fiddle work, but he plays guitar, too—”