Maeve couldn’t help but smile as she saw the top of Duke’s dark, curly-haired head. The little coils swayed as he shifted his weight from foot to foot, as he usually did when he was nervous. She imagined him shuffling his feet as well.
“Who is it?” she asked.
He jumped, as if her voice had taken him by surprise. “I-It’s Duke,” he said. “I… want to talk to you. If that’s alright, I mean. If you don’t, that’s fine. I totally understand. I wouldn’t want to talk to me either after what happened earlier. I deserve it. I was kind of a prick and… er, no, I was a prick, and– yah!”
He yelped as the door opened, almost falling backwards in surprise. Her smile widened as she waved him inside. “There’s no point in apologizing through a door,” she said. “Get your butt in here.”
After a moment of bewildered staring, Duke shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. “Right.”
He entered, Maeve closing the door behind him. “What’s up?” she asked. She had a fairly good idea as to what he wanted, but it felt polite to ask anyway.
“You take a lot of pictures,” Duke responded. His back was to her as he examined one of the cork boards. Though he sounded genuinely interested, he was clearly stalling for time.
“That I do.” Letting him gather his thoughts, she removed the rectangular instrument case from under her bed. She placed her electric guitar inside. She wouldn’t be needing her acoustic tonight, or so she hoped. She wouldn’t need any of her picks, either.
As she took a quick mental inventory of her equipment, she heard Duke clear his throat. She looked up. He was still facing the wall, but he had turned his attention away from the photographs and was staring at his sneakers again. “I… kinda wanted to apologize for storming off earlier,” he said carefully. “I was still pretty riled up from the fight. It’s not your fault that you didn’t want to get involved. Er, I mean, it is your fault, but–” She cocked her eyebrow, but he realized what he had said and turned around quickly. “Uh, wait, no! I didn’t mean it like that! I meant to say that I don’t blame you for not taking my side…ugh, that’s not right either.” He buried his face in his palm. His frustration was almost palpable.
Maeve shook her head, smiling. For a singer in a rock band, he had an absolutely terrible way with words. She stood up and walked over to him. She would have put her hand on his shoulder if she were tall enough, but she had to settle for his upper arm. “It’s alright, Duke,” she said. “I understand what you’re trying to say. I think.”
He looked at her through his fingers. “…You do?” She nodded. He moved his hand from his face to his neck, rubbing it as he smiled sheepishly. “Okay, good. I didn’t want a repeat of earlier to happen. Sextus is gonna be pissed off for days.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” she said. She turned back to her guitar case, closing the lid and fastening the latches. “It’ll work itself out.” She removed the photograph from her pocket and handed it up to him. “Remember when I took this? Twenty minutes before, you two were going back and forth like you were playing insult ping pong.”
He examined it closely. “Yeah. Wish I could remember what we were fighting about.”
“Exactly,” she said, smiling. “This will pass like every other fight you two have had.” Or so she hoped. She stood up again and opened her arms to him. “Hug?”
After a moment of hesitation, he allowed her to wrap her arms around him. He didn’t return the embrace, but he was smiling when she pulled away. She began to turn back to her case, but he grabbed her sleeve. “Wait!”
She stopped. “What?”
He cast his gaze downwards again. “Can I tell you something? Something personal?”
To her surprise, she felt her heart flutter in her chest for a moment. That had certainly never happened before. She immediately quelled the feeling. “Of course,” she said.
He licked his lips. “I–”
Joanna interrupted him.“Duke! Maeve! Sextus! Cooper!” she shouted. “All of you, get down here, now!”
They both looked at the door in surprise, both taken off-guard. She turned back to him. “You can tell me later,” she said. “Jo doesn’t sound happy. Could you grab my guitar for me?”
He blinked. “Uh, sure,” he said. He picked up the case as she picked up her amplifier, and he followed her onto the landing.
Cooper exited his room at the same time. “What the hell’s goin’ on?” he asked. Maeve felt a twinge of jealousy at the fact that he was big enough to carry his speaker with ease even with his bass slung over his shoulder.
“Beats me.” Duke shrugged. She mimicked the gesture and started down the stairs. She could see the rain pouring down outside the window, the sky a dark gray that looked about to thunder at any time..
Joanna was leaning against the wall in the kitchen, arms crossed and eyes closed, the rest of her face an unreadable mask. She held her cell phone in her hand. Sextus sat cross-legged atop the counter next to her, fingertips pressed against each other. Cooper cast him an inquisitive look, but he just shrugged.
Joanna’s eyes remained closed as she spoke. “I just got a phone call,” she said evenly. “You’re never going to guess who it was from.”