Page 16 of Chaos (Mayhem 3)

“You only think you’re talented because you haven’t heard me play that guitar yet.”

“You haven’t put a good trade on the table yet,” he challenges with a suggestive smile.

My heartbeat kicks up a gear, his smile widens, and I realize belatedly that we are flirting.

In an instant, I wipe the smile from my face and clear my throat. “Do you have something for me to write with?”

Shawn’s smile slowly fades into nothing but a curious spark that glints in his eye, and he goes back to tuning his guitar. “Yeah . . . I’ll get Peach to get you something in a minute.”

I sit farther back against the couch to put a few extra inches of distance between us, resisting the pull he still has over me. I didn’t expect it to be this strong—not after this long, not after what he did to me.

It’s like the best and worst form of nostalgia. It feels like being a teenager. Like feeling my heart beat for the first time.

Like being in love.

“Peach,” Shawn shouts when he’s almost finished tuning his guitar. “Can we have some paper and something to write with?”

He roots a guitar pick from his pocket, and Rowan escapes Adam by hopping off of her stool with a handful of papers and a pencil. She sets them on the coffee table in front of me and plops down on the cushion at my side as Adam resigns himself to rooting through the fridge.

“What are you guys doing?”

I gather up the papers and pencil while Shawn answers for both of us. “Kit needs to write out the music.”

“Just the old songs,” I correct, clarity finally reentering my cloudy head. Not being alone with Shawn means I can finally think again, can finally breathe again. “If I write my parts myself, I’ll have them memorized, but if I’m trying to memorize someone else’s—”

“Here,” Adam interrupts, handing me a beer before setting another on the table for Shawn and collapsing into the armchair across from him.

Good. Shawn and me plus two extra people. A group. I can deal with a group. Groups are good.

“Oh,” Rowan answers, looking around like she’s just beginning to come out of her homework-induced stupor. Her blonde hair is up in a messy bun, and even though I don’t remember her wearing glasses the last time I saw her, they’re sliding down her nose today. “Hey, where’s Joel? Didn’t he make it to practice?”

Adam and Shawn explain that he took off as soon as we got back, but I zone out, mesmerized as I watch as Shawn’s fingers continue working their magic. I’ve never gotten to admire his hands this closely before, so even though I know I shouldn’t, I lose myself in the way they move, the way they fine-tune the guitar like it’s an extension of his own body. They twist a spell into the pegs, bringing the ancient instrument back to life.

“Ready?” he asks, and I jab the point of my pencil against the paper to pretend like I was paying attention. To the paper. Not to his hands. Definitely not to his hands.

I nod.

Shawn plays slowly enough for me to watch his strings and hear each one, naming the chords as he plays them, and eventually, Rowan and Adam leave us alone in the living room. But I’m too distracted to mind—by the sounds coming from the beautiful Fender, by the notes born of Shawn’s trained fingers.

“Would you mind if I made some changes?” I ask when we get to a song that doesn’t sound quite as magical as the others.

“You don’t like that one?” he asks.

“It’s not bad . . . ” I’m hesitant to say more, but Shawn just grins.

“Cody wrote that one. It sounds like shit to me too. What do you have in mind?”

“Not sure yet.” I tap my pencil against my lips. Notes are running through my head, but I can’t pick out the right one until I hear them first. I need my guitar, and I stand up to get it, but I don’t get even half a step away from the couch before Shawn thrusts out the neck of his Fender, like . . .

“Are you letting me play your guitar . . . ?” I ask.

His fingers dance on the neck like he’s not sure, and they’re still dancing when he nods. “Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.”

I reach out and gently take it from him before he can change his mind, settling back on the couch and taking a deep breath. Shawn watches me like I’m cradling his firstborn child, and I treasure the guitar like I am. I hold it softly, and strum my first string carefully. And then, with green eyes on me, I close my eyes and just play. I let the music consume me, carrying me to someplace outside Shawn’s apartment, outside myself. I try riff after riff, tweaking the notes as I go until I find something that feels right, something that feels perfect.

“Here,” I say, abruptly thrusting Shawn’s guitar back at him. I rush to get mine and then order him to play lead. He plays his part, I play mine, and together, we’re flawless. The sound is amazing, and by the time I stop playing, I’m sporting an ear-to-ear smile on my face. “Magic.”

“Perfect,” he agrees, staring at me like I’m the one who’s magic and not the other way around.

It’s a look that makes me nervous, so I do what I always do when I’m uncomfortable—I forget how to be a girl, and I become one of the guys instead. “Still think you’re so awesome?” I challenge.

When Shawn laughs, I enjoy the sound too much to care about the way my cheeks are melting off or the way my heart is pounding behind my ribs. We continue going like that, song after song, until it’s just Shawn playing and me listening. I want to close my eyes, but I can’t—partly because Shawn might think it’s weird, and partly because I can’t stop staring at him. It feels like he doesn’t even know I’m here, and yet somehow is playing just for me. The songs become my songs, my serenades. I watch him unabashed, the papers on my lap long forgotten by both of us, and even when his eyes periodically find mine, I don’t look away.

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