The girl listened to Jon singing harshly into microphone and pursed her lips. He was doing it all wrong. She shot another basket absentmindedly, her head cocked in the direction of the garage next door. The basketball bounced back down the driveway and she caught it up effortlessly. She frowned, listening him start on the bridge, until she couldn't stand it anymore and crossed the thin border of lawn separating the two driveways. She pounded on the garage door.
The music continued obliviously until she slammed her fist against the door. The music stumbled to a halt. She heard muffled talking, and then Jon's voice rose above the others: "Casey Jane, I swear…"
"Open up," she said.
"What is it this time?" he demanded.
"Open up," she repeated.
"Open up," she said. She heard some loud muttering, and then with a mechanical buzz the garage door rolled up.
Jon watched the bottom of the garage door as it revealed Casey Jane in gradual layers: first the feet, which were shoed in ratty Converse and ripped in places; then the jeans, which were rolled up to the calf; then her basketball, which was casually propped against her hip; then the fitted t-shirt that had some funny motto on it; then the freckled face with a simple ponytail and a scowl.
"What," he said, with a similar scowl. If either of them had paid any attention to their surroundings, they would've noticed Hana and Samson exchanging snickers. Jin rolled his eyes.
"You're making this song sound like a punishment," CJ said, flatly. "It's not a punishment. It's not angst. It's a love song, and that's it."
"What, like daises and sunshine?" Jon said.
CJ shot him a sour look. "As if I ever write about daises and sunshine. It's not happy-go-lucky. It's content. There's a difference, Your Royal Emo-ness."
"Why don't you sing this, then?"
It was a familiar debate. He already knew what she was going say—the argument had already been established years ago.
"Because I can't sing, idiot," CJ said. She tapped his chest with her finger. "You're the singer. So sing. But sing it right."
"It's subject to interpretation."
"Not while the writer is standing outside listening," CJ retorted. Jon had no response.
"Try it CJ's way," Hana urged, clicking her sticks together. "She's the one who wrote it, Jon. She knows what she's trying to say."
"You're only saying that because you're both girls and you think you should stick together," Jin said.
"Untrue," Hana said. "I'm defending CJ because she's always right. No offense, Jon."
Jon made a face. "All right. We'll try it CJ's way—less on the lower half of the keyboard, Jin, and I'll let up on the bass."
"It's all worth it in the end…"
Jon sang softer, but more expressively, so it was less condemning and more moving. Of course it was better CJ's way.
They wrapped up the song and when they looked up, Casey Jane was gone, back outside shooting hoops while keeping an ear out for their music.
Jon put down his bass. "Are we going to play with her, or what?"
"We?" Jin repeated. "Whoever said anything about we? I don't do basketball, remember? Plus I have to go home. Math tutor tomorrow, and I haven't done any of his homework."
"Aww, poor Jinny winny," Hana said. Jin gave her pink and purple hair a rough rub.
"Shut up. Just because some of us aren't genius like you…"
"I'm not genius," Hana said, flushing a little.
"Of course you are," Jin said. "You're my inspiration. You're my role model. You are my hero."
"Heroine," Hana muttered, looking at the ground to cover her red cheeks.
"You even correct grammar gracefully!" Jin said.
"Stop, before you make her combust from embarrassment," Samson said. His dark hand exchanged a slap with Jin's, and Jin grinned before taking off. He started up his Mercedes and drove away.
Samson nudged Hana. "You look besotted," he teased gently.
"I'm not besotted. Jon and CJ are the besotted ones, remember?"
Samson nodded at Jon, who was walking across the thin slice of lawn that separated his and her parents' homes. He called out to her and she tossed him the ball. "Check it," Samson said. Hana followed his gaze and smirked.
"When are they making it official?"
"Maybe never," Samson said, as they watched Jon and CJ start up a game.
"Pessimist," Hana said.
"Optimist," Samson retorted.
Jon grinned at CJ. "They're talking about us," he said to her.
"How do you figure?"
"Maybe they just like watching me cream you in basketball," CJ said, lunging forward and dancing up to the basket. "Two zero."
She checked the ball and Jon casually shot from where he was standing.
"Three two," he said.
CJ narrowed her eyes at him. "Show off."
"I'm trying to impress you," Jon said. CJ laughed. She knew he meant it seriously, of course, but she pretended not to. It was easier that way. And anyway, she was practically dating him already, even if she didn't actually technically like him. At least, she didn't think about it much. It was sort of automatic.
Even at their high school, the relationship was automatic. CJ was Jon's girl, and had been for forever, and that was it. No one challenged it, even though no one was quite sure how official their relationship was. As a general rule, no one messed with Jon, or did anything that could be remotely construed as messing with him.
"I mean it," Jon said. CJ smiled at him.
"I know," she said. She patted his hair as she spun past. "Do I need to tell you you're failing?"
Jon gave her a mock growl and stole the ball, charging forward and dunking. "Five two," he said.
CJ laughed again and scooped up the ball. "I'm hot," she said, fanning herself with her hand.
"Yeah," he said, staring at her pointedly. She rolled her eyes.
"If that isn't the oldest, lamest pick up line I've ever heard, I don't know what is," she said. "Want lemonade?" She waved at Hana and Samson. "Want lemonade?" she called to them.
They crossed over to her driveway.
"So has she agreed to marry you yet?" Hana asked Jon. She laughed when Jon shook his head ruefully.
"She thinks I don't impress her enough," he said. "Is that pathetic, or what? My self-esteem is crushed. Completely and utterly crushed."
"Uh huh," CJ said. They went inside, chattering and laughing and teasing each other, and CJ poured the lemonade. Jon smiled.
"I love you, Casey Jane," he said.
"Mmhm," CJ said, giving him a wry smile.
"Drink your lemonade."
CJ ran out of her house, dropping the origami turtle she was folding, when she heard the cry. "Jon?"
"What is it? Are you hurt?"
"No." He picked her up, twirled her around, and then kissed her full on the lips. She laughed, disentangling herself, but he pulled her closer, and she let him.
"The Coffeehouse asked us to play for them," he said, after he put her down, breathlessly. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tightly.
"You're famous," she said.
"Just a little," he said.
"Sing my song."
"We're going to get signed," he said. "Lots of people will be listening."
"Yes. I have to call the others."
CJ pulled back in surprise. "You haven't told them already?"
Jon mirrored her expression. "I had to tell you first."
She laughed at him. "That's sweet."
"You taste sweet." Jon grinned impishly at her when she smacked him.
"Go tell the others."
"Come with me," Jon said.
"You're telling them personally?"
"I'll stay," CJ said. "I have class." She'd attended a local community college since they graduated last year.
Jon smiled at her. This was the life—success was imminent, he had CJ, and his band gelled like no other.
"I love you," he said. She cocked her head, smiling a little, and then hesitantly kissed his cheek. Inwardly, he glowed. "Does this mean you love me, too?"
CJ laughed gently. "I always have. Didn't you know?"
"Yes," he lied. He hugged her again and jogged to his car, driving away. He poked the origami turtle hanging from his rearview mirror, one of the many CJ had folded for him. It swung happily on its thread.