Never Be the Same: Chapter Six

Ambushed

“Yo, Espina!”

Sierra jumped as the earbud was pulled out of her ear, and looked up to find Kyle leaning over her desk. “Dude,” she muttered, turning off her music player, “not cool.”

“Sorry,” he at least had the grace to look embarrassed, “but I’ve been trying to get your attention for five minutes. Boss wants you to sit in on the Carver meeting.”

“Today?” Sierra glanced at the pile of paperwork on her desk and sighed, rubbing a hand across her face. “When is it?”

“Fifteen minutes ago,” Kyle said.

“Mierda!” She gathered up a notepad and pen and bolted out of the office, Kyle in her wake. “Sorry,” she said when she reached the conference room. “I didn’t see the meeting request.” She did her best to ignore her boss’s glare as she slid into a seat and tried to look ready to go. She scribbled away during the meeting, taking furious notes, and was glad that she was only wanted as an observer, not a participant.

After, her boss held her back to ask her some questions about what she’d heard, wanting her input on how the Carver team could improve their tracking process. At least those were answers she could give in her sleep. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, Sierra,” he said as she was finally allowed to make her exit, “but get it sorted out. We need your head in the game.” He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, adding, “Trust me, you can’t afford to fall behind right now.”

“Yes sir,” she promised, making her escape as quickly as she dared. She got back to her office and stared at her desk, feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work she had to catch up on thanks to the unexpected meeting. Well, it wasn’t just the meeting, but that hadn’t helped.

“Come on,” Kyle said, appearing at her shoulder and tugging on her elbow. “I’m taking you to lunch.”

“I don’t have time for lunch,” she answered in what was absolutely not a moan.

“You need to get out of here and clear your head for a few minutes,” Kyle said, still tugging, gentle but insistent. “We’ll walk down to the food truck and grab some gyros. Super quick, I promise. Then, I’ll help you get caught up.” He shook his head when she started to protest, “I’m ahead on a couple of projects, I’ve got time.” He shot her a smile, “Besides, it’s not like you haven’t bailed my sorry ass out a time or two, right? Just returning the favor.”

“Okay,” she agreed at last, feeling a weight lift from her shoulders.

“Now,” he said as they exited the building and headed across the street to the line of parked food trucks, “are you gonna tell me what the hell is going on with you? You’ve been distracted for the past two weeks, not answering emails, and you missed a deadline. You. He gave her a look of concern. “You okay?”

She offered a wan smile. “The last couple of weeks have just been loco.”

“Band stuff?” he guessed, “Family?”

“No, no, none of that.” She shook her head. They got their food and she let him steer her over to one of the benches in the little park behind the food trucks. “You know my apartment got broken into, right?”

“Yeah, that sucks,” he said. “That’s what’s stressing you out?”

“Sort of,” she admitted, not wanting to get into it further. “I haven’t been sleeping very well since then.” That was true. It wasn’t just nightmares about what had happened, there were also dreams about what might happen if one of Orsino’s hunters caught up to Elia again. Not to mention that, cool or not, adjusting to the idea of magic being a real, tangible thing in the world was starting to get to her. Every time something odd or unexpected happened now, Sierra couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more behind it. She was getting downright jumpy, truth be told. “Plus,” she added after taking a few bites of her gyro, “I’ve got a roommate now, and getting used to that has been a challenge.” Less true. She and Elia had mostly figured out a balance, but it didn’t stop her from spending half the day while she was at work worrying about what might happen to him while she was gone. Cammy must be rubbing off on her. She didn’t know why else she felt so protective about this boy who had upended her whole life. Not that she could explain that to Kyle.

“Oh, I bet Cammy just loves that,” Kyle chuffed, taking a sip from his soda.

Sierra poked him in the side with her elbow. She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to her food, not bothering any further answer. Whatever was or was not going on between her and Cammy was none of Kyle’s business. They finished eating in silence, and Sierra let out a large sigh when she got up to throw away her wrapper. “I guess I should get back to it.”

“Guess so,” he agreed, standing as well. “Hey,” he said, pulling her in for a quick hug before they crossed the street again, “you make sure you’re taking care of yourself, okay? Just let me know what you need help with here at work, I’ve got your back.”

“Gracias,” she said, feeling a little more of the weight lift from her shoulders. “I owe you.”

“Hell yeah, you do,” he teased, letting her go with a grin. “Speaking of which, Kelsi’s still single.”

“Dios, Kyle!” She shook her head and laughed, “You have got to let that go.”

~**~

She kept her head down for the rest of the day and, with Kyle’s help, was able to get caught up on her workload. It was a good feeling, leaving the building with nothing left undone. Especially on a Friday night. She was exhausted, though, and thankful that Dragonfly didn’t have a gig that evening. They were playing Moonshine again tomorrow night, but that should be an easy show. Familiar venue, familiar crowd, familiar tunes. Low pressure. Exactly what she needed right now. But tonight, she thought, she was just going to take it easy. She suspected she could talk Elia into picking out a couple of old movies to watch. He’d turned out to be something of a film junkie, with a preference for science fiction and fantasy that amused her to no end, given his own supernatural disposition.

“Sierra!” He greeted her with a wide grin when she walked through the door, and was all but bouncing as he raced forward to greet her, taking her hand and pulling her into the living room.

She narrowed her eyes, suspicion stirring at his exuberant welcome. “What–” she’d been about to ask him what he was up to, but paused when her eyes fell on a large package resting on the coffee table, and instead she finished, “–is that?”

“A surprise for you,” he said, grin widening more than she would have thought possible. It occurred to her that if the Cheshire cat was somehow real, Elia must be related to him. “Open it,” he said, pushing her forward.

“I’m not sure I want to.”

“You do, I promise.”

She took a wary step forward, then another. With a resigned sigh, she accepted the scissors he held out to her and cut the tape holding the box shut. It was enormous, taking up the entire coffee table, and inside she found a piece of molded styrofoam packing. She wiggled her fingers into the corners of the box and began working out the foam, wincing as it squeaked. Once she got it out, she found something long and rectangular nestled inside another piece of packing. It looked like… She gasped and glanced up, finding him watching with anticipation. “Elia, what did you do? How did you–“

“Go on,” he interrupted, gesturing for her to pull out the object in the box. “Finish opening it.”

Nerves jangling, competing with rising excitement, she reached inside the box and lifted out the item inside, a hard case for an electric guitar. Or bass. The weight of the case told her it was not empty. “Elia,” she breathed, setting the case on the love seat.

“Open it,” he repeated, still grinning.

She took a deep breath and then let it out slowly before reaching out to undo the latches on the case. Then she lifted it open and gasped again. Resting against the plush black interior was her dream bass, its metallic green body shining softly where it caught the light from the lamp overhead. She ran a reverent hand along the strings, relishing the quiet thrum this elicited. “Elia,” she said, blinking back tears, “how did you get this?”

He looked down at his feet, scuffling a toe along the carpet. “I checked your viewing history on the computer to find it,” he admitted. “You are so unhappy with the instrument you have now, and I have seen you looking at this one so often. It was the least I could do.”

“How did you pay for it? Where did you get this kind of money? Elia, I can’t accept this!”

He shook his head, smile softening, but behind it was that look of determination she had come to know. Elia was young, and a bit lost, but he had a spine of steel and when he made up his mind about something there was usually no point in trying to talk him out of it. She knew he had a little bit of money squirreled away, because he’d been chipping in for groceries since they’d come to their agreement about him staying with her. Still, this was too much. Before she could protest again, he reached out to touch her shoulder. “My parents made sure I was provided for before I left Italia,” he said, “and I have had little in the way of expenses these past few years.”

She frowned, “But you shouldn’t be spending it on me. I already told you the Mexi P getting broken wasn’t your fault.”

“Ah, but I think we can lay the blame at Orsino’s feet, ?” He waved at the case. “My money came from my parents, who earned it in his service. So really, this was purchased by him. I’d say that’s only fair, wouldn’t you?”

“You’re reaching,” she huffed, eyes darting back down to the case. She really shouldn’t keep it. She couldn’t, could she? She lifted the case open again, peeking inside, biting her lip.

Elia smiled, a flash of vindication in his eyes, and he opened the case the rest of the way for her. “You have taken me in and offered me protection, despite the risks, despite the harm already done. Let me do this for you, please.”

Sierra relented, reaching out to stroke the bass again. “If you insist,” she said at last.

He beamed at her. “Excellent. Now, dinner is almost ready. Why don’t you get yourself acquainted with your new instrument while I finish up?”

Sierra spent the rest of the evening learning the ins and outs of her new bass while Elia watched on in amused fascination. She attached strap locks, then got it tuned to her satisfaction and noodled around, trying out Dragonfly tunes as well as some of her favorite songs to play outside of the band. The body style was different, but not so much as to be distracting. The neck was narrower, the strings closer together. It might take her a while to get used to, but it wasn’t enough of a change to hinder her playing. The sound, though, that was a dream. It had more bite than the P bass, more attack, with a funkier sound that she quickly came to adore. “I feel like Christmas has come early,” she told Elia when she finally set the bass back in its case for the night. After their shopping trip in the morning, she would spend the day practicing for tomorrow night’s show, making sure she could adjust for any differences between the basses before she was actually up on stage. She wondered if Intira might let her come over early to practice with her full rig, so she could see how it interacted with the pedals. She could probably get away without using them for the next few sets though, so maybe it wasn’t worth worrying about. A frown crossed her face. “Dios, how am I going to explain this to the others?” They would know just as well as she the cost of such a nice instrument.

“You’ll think of something,” Elia assured her.

“Yeah,” she muttered, “another lie. Great.” She sighed and waved off his look of concern. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “It’s late. I’m going to bed.”

~**~

Explaining the new bass turned out to be easier than she’d worried it would be. Cammy did most of the legwork for her, as it turned out. “Sierra!” she exclaimed upon seeing it, “Oh, you were finally able to buy it! I didn’t realize you’d saved up that much already! But how did you get it made so soon?”

Sierra blinked. Of course Cammy recognized it as the bass Sierra had been pining over for the past year. They’d lamented together on how long it would take Sierra to save up for one and how she really couldn’t justify the expense when her P bass was perfectly serviceable. She glanced down under the pretense of attaching the strap. “Yeah. It was a little easier to justify given recent events,” she hedged. “Managed to find a used one close to what I’ve been looking at for a decent deal.” That deal being free, but she wasn’t about to tell them Elia had bought it for her. Cammy was suspicious enough about Elia’s sudden appearance in her life. Hearing that he was buying her expensive gifts wasn’t going to alleviate that. The first part was true, at least. She’d stumbled across this bass listed for sale online a few weeks ago and had been keeping an eye on it, but it had still been out of her price range.

Fortunately, her friend just seemed delighted for her at the new acquisition. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!” She grinned at her. “Have you had time to sort it out?”

“I think so,” Sierra grinned back. “I’m excited to try it out tonight.”

“She’s been playing it nonstop since she got it,” Elia said, coming up to the stage with a pair of beers. He handed them to Cammy and Sierra, then pulled himself up to sit on the edge of the stage, adding, “I think she’s in love.” He winked at Sierra to show he was teasing and Cammy let out a low chuckle.

“Who’s in love? Sierra? Kelsi will be heartbroken!” Kyle walked up to the stage and Sierra only just managed to bite back a groan. She started to remind him again that he needed to let it go, but she didn’t get the chance.

Kelsi will be just fine,” said the woman in question, joining the group, “as Sierra and I have already agreed to keep things between us as just friends.” She waved up at Sierra with a smile. “Hi! Who are you in love with?”

“New bass,” Sierra said, grinning as she held it up. From the corner of her eye, she noticed Cammy’s lips purse as she gave Kelsi a critical once-over. Sierra had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. Cammy knew she wasn’t interested in the other woman, but she still couldn’t help sizing her up. In anyone else, she’d be worried about possessiveness or jealousy, but this was just Cammy being Cammy.

“Ooh, shiny!” Kelsi said in approval. She glanced up at Cammy and stuck out her hand. “Hi, I’m Kelsi!”

Cammy accepted it with a strained smile. “Cammy,” she replied.

“I caught your last show,” Kelsi said, eyes wide in admiration. “Your voice is amazing.”

“Thank you,” Cammy preened a bit under the praise, her smile fading to something more natural. She glanced at the back of the bar and exchanged a nod with Bobby. “It looks like we’ll be ready to start soon. I’m just going to check in with the sound guy. If you’ll excuse me.” She squeezed Sierra’s shoulder before hopping down.

Kelsi turned to Elia next, introducing herself again. “I’m Elia,” he replied.

“The new roommate?” Kyle straightened a little, giving Elia a closer look. “Huh. You’re not what I expected.”

Elia’s brow furrowed at this, but before he could respond Intira came over and hopped on stage, giving Sierra the thumbs up. “Oh, looks like it’s go time,” she said. I’ll catch up with you guys after the set.”

“Sure,” Kyle said, holding back a moment as Elia and Kelsi moved to take up seats, Kelsi gesturing for Elia to join her at her table. He looked unsure but went along with it. Sierra thought he’d be all right. Even if Kyle tried to grill him, it would be too loud to really talk once the music got started. “Hey,” Kyle said in a quiet voice, drawing her attention back to him, “You look like you’re feeling better today.”

“Yeah,” she said with a nod. “I really am.”

“Cool. Well, break a leg. Catch you after!” He moved off into the crowd and Sierra took up her place on the stage to do a last minute check of all of her gear.

~**~

“Well?” Elia prodded as Sierra slipped her bass into the car after the show. “What’s the verdict?”

“I love it,” she laughed! “It’s perfect. I haven’t felt that much bliss from a show in a long time.” She leveled a serious look at him. “You really didn’t have to do that, but thank you.”

They moved around to the front of the car, and just as Sierra took hold of the door handle, a voice called out from the shadows, “Yo, E.”

Porca miseria!” Elia’s eyes grew wide, shining behind his glasses. Even in the low light Sierra could see he’d gone very pale, and she felt herself tense up as a figure approached them, seeming to appear from thin air. Elia turned in a slow, deliberate manner, facing the newcomer. In a strangled voice, he asked, “How did you find me?”

“Come on, E. I helped you set up those bank accounts. You think I’m not keeping an eye on them when Bobbi Leigh is on a tear about finding you? Little stuff here and there, that’s easy to play off, but something big like fancy music gear? Even I can’t hide that from her.”

Mierda, he must be from the gang in the city that Elia had spent time with. But wait. “What do you mean, you’ve been playing off the little stuff?” Sierra demanded. “Have you been helping Elia?”

“Course I have, doll,” he said, winking at her. “Dunno what my boy here did to get an ass like Orsino on his case, but if he doesn’t want to go back to Europe, I’m not gonna help those court jackoffs take him in.” He took a step forward, sticking out a hand, “Justin Dennis, by the way. Folks call me J.D.”

Sierra stared at his hand, still holding on to the car door.

“If you’re not here to take me back to Bobbi Leigh,” Elia said, relaxing a hair, “then why?”

J.D. looked around, dropping his hand when it was clear Sierra wouldn’t take it. “Kind of a story, E. Can we go somewhere to talk?”

“Elia?” Sierra asked, only willing to play along if he agreed.

Elia let out a heavy sigh and his shoulders slumped. “All right,” he said. He glanced back at Sierra. “Maybe the diner? They’re still open this late.”

“Bit public,” J.D. laughed. “Why not go back to your place?” He saw Sierra and Elia exchange a glance and laughed again. “Already know where it is. Tracked you down by the online order, remember? Got the delivery address right here.” He pulled out his phone and waved it in their direction. Elia sighed again and nodded.

“Fine,” Sierra said, opening her door. “Get in.”

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