Then She Smiled At Me

Submitted into Contest #73 in response to: Write about a drummer going to a holiday party for musicians.... view prompt

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Romance Christmas Contemporary

I hadn’t played the drums in at least five years. I’d focused on my engineering career, which I was certain would take off. Subsequently, I took a job as a project manager with a company whose specialty was drone technology. And they’d promised me my career would take off, along with the drones.

        It wasn’t really clear to me the day I’d been invited to a holiday work party that I’d be given a chance on more than a career boost. If I’d known, I would have brought my drumsticks, and I’d have worn a better suit.

It was 2020, and as everyone knows, COVID-19 had made a strong appearance, causing a lot of trauma, distress, financial loss, and misery for many. I’d been lucky, having my health, my job, and my house. But I still lacked something. I didn’t have a wife or kids. But that wasn’t the hole I felt in my heart. It was something else.

I walked into the party feeling this was going to be for naught. I adjusted my mask, a lovely drum patterned face-covering our office assistant had made, over my beard and walked in. The place was decorated to the hilt, with colorful streamers, Santas, angels, and menorahs. The metal and plastic folding tables and chairs reminded me of high school dances, uncomfortable. I wasn’t going to stay long. I sat six feet from the next person at the table.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hi,” I said, nodding.

“Are you new?”

“I’m new to the department. I’m Henry. Most people call me Hank.”

“Hank, I’m William. Most people call me Bill. Welcome.”

“Thanks.” We did “air high fives”. I still feel stupid doing those. “Where’s the food?”

“Oh, there won’t be any, thanks to COVID.”

“Oh, jeez. I wish I knew. I’m starving.”

“You’re in luck. There’s a party after this where they’re ordering pizza.”

“Cool.” I really wanted to head home and binge watch “Peaky Blinders”, not hang out with boring co-workers. Somehow a violent mob from the UK sounded better than mingling and talking about drone technology.

“Oh, and there’s no alcohol here either,” Bill said.

“Okay,” I said, smiling. That was a relief to me, a recovering alcoholic, five years sober. “What do you do for Gennaro?”

“Oh, I’m in marketing. You?”

“Product development. Or as we affectionately refer to it, problem development.”

Bill laughed, taking a sip of his soda. “Well, how long you been with Gennaro, anyway?”

“Four years. I joined this division a few months ago, right after COVID hit. Interestingly, I have a home office and that’s one reason they picked me. Seems no one else was equipped to work from home.”

“Wow. Well, that’s great.”

“How long you been with the company?”

“Too long, man. Too long.”

“What do you do for fun?”

“You mean besides order Grub Hub and watch Netflix with the kids? Not much.”

“That’s pretty much what everyone does these days.”

Bill sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

I tapped the table the same way I always did.

“That a tic?”

“What?”

“The tapping.”

I chuckled. “I kicked some habits but not this one. I play the drums. Or shall I say, I used to.”

“No kidding, man. I thought I noticed your mask. Drums.” He looked around as though ensuring no one heard his secret. “I played bass guitar.” Bill looked away as if recalling a better time and place.

“You gave it up?”

He took out his phone and showed me pictures of his two kids and wife, a beautiful redhead. “For them, pretty much.”

I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for Bill or congratulate him on his gorgeous family. I chose the latter. “You must be proud of that handsome family, Bill.”

He nodded. “I am.”

A waitress brought over a tray of soda, and I helped myself to a Sprite.

“What do you do for fun, Hank?”

“I watch college basketball and eat take out.” I snickered. “That’s about it.” I adjusted my mask again.

“These darned things,” Bill said, adjusting his.

“Well, that’s interesting. Two former musicians sitting together. Funny we’ve never met before.”

“An entire rhythm section no less.” Bill snickered. “Not so funny considering this year.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“How about you? Still play?”

I was quiet. What reason did I have for stopping? The bar scene? I could have played other venues like colleges, small arenas, churches and senior centers. Senior centers, where they wouldn’t hear the music but would love seeing us “young folks”. And we’d love hearing that to some, we were “young”. I was embarrassed to say that my reason sucked, big time.

“Um. My career,” I mumbled.

“Are you…you kidding me?”

I nodded.

“Look at Grace over there. Accounting.”

“Yeah, what about her?”

“She’s been in Accounting since she could walk. And Jeremy. Engineering. Been in the same exact position since he got out of college.”

No wonder I didn’t stand a chance in Engineering.

“And then there’s Sam. He can’t afford to retire. He’s in too deep. He hates what he does. So what career, man? Look at me. Stuck. I stay here at Gennaro for these guys.” He showed me the picture of his family again. “For the mortgage. I can’t move into a smaller house. This is what we’re accustomed to. The finer life. Dance school, soccer, singing lessons. College down the line. My wife wants to go to college, too. She wants to be a nurse. Playing bass? That’s something I had to leave behind like my…my other hopes.”

It was sad to watch Bill mourn his music. It was like he was blaming his family.

“Don’t get me wrong. I adore Kelly and the kids. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I had a feeling the depressing atmosphere was making it worse for us both. “Where’s that party you mentioned?” I asked.

He glanced at his watch. “Yeah, it’s probably just about under way. A couple of blocks away. We can walk. Wanna head out?”

I nodded, pushing my seat back, making a horrible scraping sound on the marble floor.

The room was practically empty save for the band, which was set up in the corner. Instruments but no performers. Strange.

Bill and I sat down at a table. “I wonder if these guys are any good,” he said.

I noticed a table on the side where someone had placed boxes of pizza, gloves and masks.

“Are they well known?”

“No clue. I’ve been out of the scene for years.”

Just then a woman walked up to the mic. “Welcome to Freddy’s. I’m Jo-Jo, and my band is Bits and Pieces.

She was stunning. Long, light brown hair, lips forming a pout that might be considered bratty if she was a little girl. I could see the light from the spotlights above her form a glint in her eyes. She wore a velvet green long dress that hugged her curves. Her legs were longer than my last finance meeting. I had to talk to her.

I couldn’t believe my feet were moving toward her. Shy Henry. “H-hi. I’m Hank,” I said, waving to her.

“Jo-Jo.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, noticing her eyes were blue, or maybe green.

“Nice to meet you too.” Her phone rang. “Excuse me.” She took the call, stepping away a few feet. “Oh. Okay. Gee. Are you all right? I’m so sorry. Oh, my gosh. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course. Hey, keep me posted. I guess I’ll do this solo.”

My ears perked up. “Solo”? Was she talking with her band?

She picked up her guitar and rummaged through some papers, her hands shaking.

“Is everything okay?”

“M-my bandmates were just in a car accident. They were riding together.”

“Oh, no. Are they all right?”

“I think so. Pretty shaken up though. Police want them to go to the hospital just to be sure, get checked out.”

“Of course.” I felt chills up my spine. Again, feeling guilty for this “hole” when I had my job, my health, my life.

“Do you know if anyone here plays drums or bass?” she asked me, her voice quivering but sweet.

I looked in her eyes, desperate, hopeful.

I waved Bill over.

“What’s up?”

“This is Jo-Jo,” I said. She smiled at me. “She needs a bass player and a drummer.”

Bill smiled.

“You game?” I asked him.

“Damn right I am,” he said.

That was last December. Now I’m at home, still ordering Grub Hub food and binge-watching Hulu and Netflix…with Jo-Jo. And we have a band with Bill and another woman, Mary. And we play out every weekend. We wear masks, of course. I still have my drum mask. Our band’s named Providence. If you get a chance, come take a listen. You might like us. And we might make your boring life just a little bit nicer. Wait ‘til you see Jo-Jo’s smile.

December 18, 2020 21:57

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1 comment

Beth Connor
00:03 Dec 31, 2020

Hi, I got your story in the critique circle. Great story! I love the happy ending and wish everyone had the courage to follow their dream. You did an excellent job with the dialog between Bill and Hank, I felt like I could have been there. Be careful with repetitive sentence starts (Like I or he many times in a row.) Something that really helps me is reading my stories out loud. My dogs love it too!

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