“So, uh …” I cleared my throat. Goddamn nerves. “Uh, what do you want me to play?”
“Oh, you take requests, huh?”
I laughed awkwardly. “I, um … I didn’t say I’d know everything, but you could, uh—”
“Oh my God, you’re so anxious right now,” she teased, pressing her shoulder into mine. “Just surprise me.”
I slapped my hand over my eyes. “Oh Jesus. Okay …” Deep breath in, deep breath out. “Okay,” and I cleared my throat again and dug into my pocket for a pick.
I placed it between my teeth, strummed downward, determined I was satisfied with the sound and positioned my hands on the frets and over the strings.
“So, what are you going to play?” She wiggled her feet excitedly, and I laughed.
I squinted my eyes at her under the streetlight as I pinched the pick between my fingers. “You promise not to make fun of me?”
“I’m making no promises to a guy I just met.”
“Hey, I promised not to abduct you,” I countered, pointing my pick at her.
With a roll of her eyes, she wobbled her head. “Fine, fine. I promise to not make fun of you … much.”
I made a show of glancing around, swiveling my head this way and that, and I tipped my mouth to her ear. “I’m really, really into John Mayer.”
I was so close to her. I closed my eyes for a nanosecond and inhaled her scent. It was something floral, laced with a sweet, crisp fruitiness. Apple, maybe. I didn’t know if it was her perfume or a shampoo, but whatever it was, it calmed my nerves while perpetuating the pulsing arousal I had been plagued with since seeing her for the first time.
“You’re not going to sing ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ to me, are you?” She was laughing lightly, freely, and I leaned away to stare into her glimmering eyes. Fucking hell, all of those blues.
“God no.” I said it with a groan and a dramatic roll of my eyes, but I was lying. I liked that song, but she didn’t need to know that.
My pick started to strum and my fingers bounced from chord to chord on the fretboard, as her feet moved in time with the tune. I opened my mouth, got out the beginning of a single word, and her jaw unhinged.
“Wait, wait, wait … you didn’t tell me you sing too!” Her hands went to her mouth to stifle her squeal and I laughed, my fingers freezing against the strings.
“Was I supposed to warn you?”
“Devin,” she said, following the roll of her eyes as she tipped her head toward my shoulder. “You can’t just serenade a girl under the stars without at least giving her a heads-up.”
I laughed again, shaking my head incredulously. “Okay, fine. I sing, I play the guitar and sometimes I do this little knocking, foot stomping thing. Happy?”
“Yes thank you, I now consider myself thoroughly warned. Please, proceed.”
I looked to her, caught the excitement in her eyes, and I knew for certain that I was in trouble and this was a trouble I had never known before. This wasn’t the condom went missing kind of trouble. This wasn’t the called her the wrong name kind of trouble. This was deeper, meaningful. It was dangerous and my heart panicked with the twitching of her lips. God, I wanted to kiss them more than I wanted to get my hands on a Gibson Hummingbird.
I managed a smile despite the rush of fear and started over. I thought a rousing rendition of “No Such Thing” was called for—a fun song that sounded the way summer felt. Except, I went slower, suddenly wanting to serenade her, despite her insistence that she wasn’t sleeping with me. That was still fine. I could take things slow, or, I could take them not at all. I just wanted to show her what I could do, what I was made of. Because for some reason, it now felt like it all mattered.
My fingers played “Not Myself” and my voice carried the lyrics into the night. It was an odd pick, I thought, but it felt fitting somehow. As if maybe I knew where time was going to take us, or maybe it was hope; I couldn’t really say. I sang my heart out, squeezing my eyes shut, feeling the words and the music. Strumming the strings with patient perfectionism. It was one of my favorites from Mayer’s Room for Squares album. One of the songs I had practiced until the strings cut through my calluses and I had to wear a few Band-aids for a week.
My grand finale was a smooth segue into the chorus of “Bigger Than My Body.” It was unrelated in tone and meaning, but I loved that fucking song. I felt it and it felt me. It was my anthem, the musical embodiment of the feeling saying I was meant for something so much more than this. More than suburban Connecticut. More than tool belts and jigsaws. I couldn’t not play it when I already had the guitar out, when I already had the music pumping the blood in my veins.
I glanced at Kylie, at the tapping of her toes against the pavement. The chewing of her lower lip, the glint in her sapphire eyes. She grinned at me as I tipped my head back to send those high notes into the sky. Her shoulder bumped into mine, rocking with the strumming of the guitar, and when I hit that last chord, throwing my pick-hand up into the air like I belonged next to Springsteen, I beamed back at her. I felt more elated than I ever had and I let out a loud and echoed whoop toward the sky.
I continued to grin, energetic and buzzed. “So, do I suck?” I asked, cocking my brow and draping my arms over the guitar’s hollow body.
Kylie’s smile spread over her face and her teeth sunk into her lower lip. “You already know the answer to that question.”
Feeling alive and fearless, I tilted toward her, gently touching my forehead to hers. “You promised to be honest,” I reminded her.
She wrinkled her nose, playfully shoving me away and I leaned back, laughing, drunk on my music. “You want honesty?”
I nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“’Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry,’” she said.
My eyebrows lifted and my mouth quirked into a sheepish little smile that probably would’ve embarrassed me, had she been anybody else. “Uh, what?”
“Oh, it’s, um … it’s Poe. I memorize a lot of his quotes and stuff,” she said, her blush creeping over her cheekbones. “Well, anyway,” she continued, not waiting for a response, “I guess all I can really say is that, you are wasting your time building houses.”
“You’ve never seen my houses,” I said pointedly.
She found my eyes and held my gaze. “I don’t need to to know that you could never love anything as much as you love playing that guitar.”
I just smiled and nodded, because It was then, in that moment, I truly knew there was one thing I could love more than that guitar, if she let me.