8. Drummer Boy

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Everyone did love Jesse. Everyone but Wynter.

He showed up at 2:30, and from the moment he walked in the door Wynter hardly recognized him. Gone was the cocky smile, the arrogant opinions, the irreverent asides. He politely shook hands as he was introduced to Meisa and Eliza, and re-introduced to Maggie, dipping his gaze like the shy, socially awkward kid who was only there because his mom made him. He went to sit on his drum throne.

"We've been doing Venus, so let's try it with drums," Wynter said, confused by his demure attitude. He was putting it on and she couldn't imagine why.

"Oh, excuse me, I'll need my cowbell for that one." Jesse scurried to the chest behind him to dig it out, and clipped it to a bracket underneath the tambourine.

"You ready?" Wynter said.

"Yes, ma'am." He gave the bell an experimental tap, cocked his head to listen, adjusted the angle, tapped it again.

"Don't you need a block, too?"

"Hmm, I could use a block. Or I could do it side stick."

"I'm not sure what that means..."

"I'll surprise you. Ladies, would you like me to count you in?" he proposed in an oddly hesitant way.

"That won't be necessary."

Wynter's opening guitar riff served to count them in, given she had a two-bar solo intro. She turned her back to Jesse and started, and the band came in on cue. She'd been grinding her teeth over the "ma'am" and was confounded by his attitude, but as soon as that beat kicked in she smiled. Meisa's face lit up and Eliza grinned from behind her keyboard as she watched Jesse drumming.

One-and-a-half years ago, Wynter had gone into the basement at the old house with Caleb and Jesse. The first song they ever played together was Here Comes the Sun, which she'd learned from her guitar tutorial book but never heard on the radio. Before that day, it had been a sweet little song she would play on her acoustic guitar. She still remembered that moment of pure magic when Jesse's drums joined in and she realized she was making music.

And now, her three bandmates were getting a taste of the same thing. As they played through the song, with Maggie redoubling her efforts because she, too, was excited by the infusion of new energy, Wynter snuck a look at Jesse. He could play this beat in his sleep, and probably did. Today he frowned in concentration like it was the hardest thing in the world. That, too, was an act. Jesse always looked happy when he was drumming—for him, it was another way of dancing.

Yesterday they'd worked out an ending to replace the song's fade-out—a simple full stop after the repetitive last chorus. Jesse didn't know that, and as the moment approached he instinctively met Wynter's eyes for the cue... and then he ducked his head. Her confusion and irritation turned to fury.

He screwed it up, accidentally on purpose, ending about three beats too late and petering out with a final messy cymbal crash.

"Apologies, ladies," he said earnestly. "Missed my cue."

The "ladies" did not care in the slightest. They were in a state of rapture after four minutes playing with a brilliant drummer.

"We sound amazing," Maggie said, who had sung with Beck drumming for Crunch but that was hardly comparable. "I love it. I love you, Jesse!"

Jesse gave an infuriatingly embarrassed smile. Nothing embarrassed Jesse.

"You need to watch me at the end," Wynter told him, needlessly.

"I'll try real hard to get it right," Jesse said, and bit his lip for effect.

Wynter glared at him, wondering when he'd break character. He never did... until half a dozen songs later when he twirled his drumstick, with a sly look, at the exact moment she glanced his way.

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