When The Music Ends
“Hello?” Sean Murphy called as he entered the century-old white colonial house in which he had grown up. The age-darkened door slammed shut behind him in a gust of chilly October wind. He stepped into the silent living room. Home looks the same as always; rose-printed sofa, two maroon armchairs, and an antique wooden rocker flanking the brick and brass fireplace. It's too quiet, though. Mom and Dad must be out, he thought. I bet Mom left something delicious in the fridge. That will keep me busy until dinner.
A muffled greeting interrupted his refrigerator piracy scheme. “Hi, Sean, can you come here, please?”
Smiling to himself, he climbed the stairs to Sheridan's bedroom and opened the door, unsurprised to discover his seventeen-year-old sister wasn't alone. Sheridan's best friend Erin James sprawled with her on the pink and lace canopy bed. It's interesting to see them together, Sean reflected. They couldn't be more opposite. Sheridan, tall and curvy, resembled sunshine brought to life. She had fair but slightly golden skin, masses of blond curls, and a cheerful demeanor. Small and pale, with dark hair and eyes, Erin's serious face reflected her intense personality.
Sheridan jumped from the bed and ran to her brother.
“Hey, sis, what did you need?” Sean asked as he received his sister's exuberant hug. From the corner of his eye, he saw Erin sit up, her cheeks flaming at the sight of him.
“Your timing is perfect, Sean,” Sheridan gushed. “I need you to take Erin to the homecoming dance.”
“Huh?” Sean turned from his sister to Erin and saw her fair cheeks had darkened even further.
“Yeah,” Sheridan blurted, a flood of words seeming to erupt from her all at once. “This stupid guy has been messing with her, making her think he would take her, but he really just wanted her to help him study. Today we found out that he was going to the dance with Lindsey Jones, that tramp. We know what he wants, and no loss there, but now Erin doesn't have a date and the dance is tomorrow. Would you take her?”
“Danny, please,” Erin said, softly interjecting into the rapid gush, “I don't need this. I don't care about homecoming and you know I can't dance. I'll just stay home and practice for that audition.”
“No way, you have to go,” Sheridan insisted. “I won't have a bit of fun without you. I'm so sick of Jake. I may just ditch him.”
The mention of his sister's boyfriend aroused Sean's protective instincts. That punk rubs me the wrong way every time I see him. “It's about time you ditched that dickhead,” he commented, making both girls giggle. “He's nowhere near good enough for you, Danny. Why don't you forget about him and you and Erin go together? That would be better, wouldn't it?”
“Come on, Sean.” Sheridan waved her brother's words away with a careless gesture. “It's not nice to dump someone just before a dance, especially since he's nominated for homecoming king. Oh, don't worry; I'll break up with him. I just think it would be politer to do it after, and after the SATs next week too, so he's not distracted, but that still leaves Erin. She can't come with the two of us. It's too pathetic. Erin deserves better than to be the third wheel. But think, Sean, if she comes with a man instead of one of those little boys.” She waved at him again, this time indicating his work-hardened muscles, currently straining the sleeves of a red plaid shirt and a pair of ratty blue jeans.
Sean heaved a heavy breath and took a moment to consider. A date… with Erin? His eyes traced the delicate lines of her face. Wide brown eyes that always seemed tinged with sorrow. Long yet elegant nose. Pale rosebud lips. High cheekbones. Her collarbones peeped from the scooped neckline of a navy long-sleeved tee shirt that hugged her slender frame. There's nothing wrong with her looks, certainly. She's pretty, and as she's been Sheridan's friend since kindergarten, I know her well. I know she's nice. In fact, if I hadn't known her all her life, I might just ask someone like her out. He stared at the familiar face for long moments, watching the heat in her cheeks fade, and the pale lip slip between teeth that had only recently lost their braces. He shook his head. Someone like her, but not her. “Yeah, I know what will happen. I'll be arrested. Sheridan, I'm twenty-three. What do I care about homecoming?” he demanded, raising one eyebrow at his sister.
“Probably nothing,” she admitted, “but do you care about Erin?”
“Of course,” Sean replied. She's practically a member of the family. How could I not care? Again, he considered the proposition, considered how Erin must feel. Already shy and not inclined to date, for her to be toyed with and then dropped – even by a loser – must have played hell with her self-confidence. But imagine what a coup if she did show up with someone like… me. Someone like me, but not me, right? But if not him, there was no one. He turned his attention to Erin, whose face lit up like a Fourth of July firework the moment their eyes met. She likes the idea, even if she's too shy to admit it. “You know what, Erin, come here a minute. I think we should talk about this without Danny for a while.”
“Okay.” She rose from the bed and stepped out into the hallway with him, close to his side, but not letting her body brush against his. He led her into the room that used to be his, still decorated with all his old high school memorabilia. Sean couldn't help grinning. My sentimental mother. She'll never turn this into a storage room or rent it out to college students.
Erin moved to stand near him, leaning against the thick footboard, biting one short fingernail. “I hope you know,” she said earnestly, “that I didn't ask her to do that.”
“Of course not,” he replied, patting her shoulder. If she blushes any harder, her face will burst into flame. “I can smell a Sheridan Murphy plot a mile away. She's my sister, don't forget. However, she is right about one thing. You do need a date; that is, if you really want to go. Tell the truth, Erin. Do you really want to stay home and practice?”
“No, I would like to go,” she whispered as if admitting a shameful secret. “I really can't dance, though.”
“Come on,” he urged, “you're a musician. I can't believe you have no rhythm.”
Her dark eyes met his at last, her discomfort pinching the corners. “It's not a question of rhythm but of self-confidence. I always feel silly dancing in front of a room full of people.”
“How about if you have someone confident leading the way, kind of like a director?” he offered, pantomiming an invitation with one hand extended.