Every morning at half past six, the musicians would be sitting on the curb in front of Carter’s building.
The first time he’d seen them, it had been a Tuesday, and Carter was exhausted. He’d stayed late the night before to work on files for the Vicar Case, and he’d be arriving early to finish them. That day, though, as he had approached his building, he was almost eager to get within fifty feet of it. That day, there had been two musicians busking out front, their music filling the air with an energy Carter had never seen near a dreary office building.
There were two of them: a dark haired Asian girl, pretty in a sharp sort of way, and one auburn haired guy. When Carter had passed by them that first morning, they were sitting squished together on one upturned bucket, the girl strumming a guitar and the boy singing. His voice was sweet and clear, almost glittery in the fresh morning light. Carter had intended to stop and listen for a minute or two; maybe drop a dollar in their baseball hat.
At least, that’s what he had planned on doing for a minute or two, but their music drew him in. Without thinking, he’d sat on the curb next to them, watching and listening attentively. He’d only stopped listening, really, because Mike had paused next to the musicians and said, “Uh, Carter? Aren’t we meant to be working on the Vicar files?”
Carter had frozen for a second, mind split between the music and the case. Then he’d gone a tiny bit red. “Oh, yeah, man. Sorry, I got a little distracted for a bit,” he said, scrambling to his feet.
Mike had eyed the musicians, still singing on their paint bucket, then laughed a little. “Yeah, sure, just come on. We will not be able to finish without your supervision.”
“Yeah,” Carter had replied, sparing one glance at the buskers. “One sec.” Rooting around in his pocket, he pulled out one crumpled five dollar bill and dropped it in the hat in front of him. The boy had nodded at him, cheeks pink in the morning chill, not meeting Carter’s eyes. The girl had grinned, fingers still flying across the frets.
The next day, the case was finished and Carter had a bit more sleep under his belt. This time, he only stopped for two or three minutes, leaning against a lamppost, and pulled himself away easily enough. He’d still gotten into work two minutes later than usual that day, but it was worth it. And that time, the singer had been able to meet his eyes.
By the eighth time, it was coming close to spring, and Carter had started leaving the house a few minutes earlier everyday. By then, the guitar player had stopped smiling at him when he dropped money in their hat, but nodded at him. It seemed, in some strange way, friendlier than the smile. Carter liked it better. Despite the warmer weather, though, and Carter’s strange acquaintanceship with the buskers, the guy’s cheeks would always be pink when he looked at Carter. To him, the boy’s bright cheeks felt like something strange and personal, almost as intimate as the girl’s nods.
Now, Carter always stops in front of his building for a few minutes before he goes in. Sometimes he’ll sit on the edge of the curb, careful to keep his suit clean, and eat his muffin. Once he went as far as finishing his coffee there.
Still, he hasn’t actually said anything to either of the buskers, and they’ve never spoken to him.
Today was like any other. For breakfast he’d had one of Jessica’s bagels, blueberry this time and she’d complained at him in their kitchen, swaying from sleepiness. “Being roommates since college, Brooks, doesn’t give you the right to my bagels,” she’d said, frowning at him, leaning against the fridge. He’d laughed and darted out the door before she could kill him with her pout.
Now he’s standing in the subway, trying to talk to a coffee-less Jason. “Yeah, I get that we’re getting a new client,” he tried, “But we can’t exactly abandon the Carpenter file.”
“This is a corporate case, Brooks! We take two people off the Carpenter file; it had too many people anyways.”
Carter sighed. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. I’ll talk to you when I get there.”
“We’re meeting the new clients today!” Jason managed to get out before Carter ended the call. He sighed and leaned against the subway pole, regretting every decision he’d ever made that led up to his becoming a lawyer.
Outside his office building, neither of the buskers were there. He paused for a moment, as if stopping for a second would make two musicians magically appear, then rubbed his forehead and headed into the office.
Inside, it was chaos. Interns ran about handing out coffee, paper flew through the air and across tables, and behind it all Mike was yelling, “GO GO GO! We have until ten o’clock, and then the new clients get here! After that, exactly five people will be working on this case, and most of them will not be you!”
He caught Carter’s eye, smiling in a sort of weary madness. “Ready, Brooks? We’ve got to get as much done before Hlaváček Company’s representative gets here.”
Carter nodded, feeling more tired than he had been when he stepped in the building.
The next three hours blurred by, turning into one mess of papers and coffee spills and Mike’s voice blurring all the noise in the room into one big mess. In the end, Carter didn’t even have time to think about Jessica’s bagels or his musicians or Dianna’s urge to befriend the interns.
When ten o’clock rolled around, Carter was ready to stop looking at paperwork. Jason and Marianna were staying on the Carpenter case, Mike had decided, but Lianne, Rodney, and Dianna were all joining him and Carter on this new file.
“Why on earth would the top dogs think we could handle another case?” Lianne grumbled in the elevator.
“It’s almost as bad as that time with Richards and Lyons,” Rodney agreed, idly tapping the button panel.
“I don’t know,” Dianna interjected. “Poor Maureen ended up with coffee burns and we had to sue that lovely couple for bodily harm. Could anything compare to that?”
Carter said nothing, but privately thought this case would turn out even worse. After all, when his musicians were there in the mornings for that case, he got through. Today, he might not get through to see the finishing of the Carpenter case.
In the lobby, their group of lawyers was met with just as big group of representatives. At the head, a man in a navy suit stood and said, “Hello, hello. I’m Jack, but the man spearheading this project is nowhere to be found.” He peered around the room, as if his boss might appear through force of will, and relaxed when he saw a figure through the glass windows.
The automatic door blew open and a familiar auburn haired figure stepped through, his guitarist in tow. Carter’s mouth dropped in shock, because not only were they the musicians that spent most mornings sitting outside Carter’s office building; they were now inside Carter’s office building. And at least one of them looked good in a suit.
The singer- no, Carter should think of him as the businessman now- stepped in front of Jack, neatly clicking his heels together. “Hello,” the man said quietly, somehow commanding. “I’m Adrian Hlaváček, main rep for this case. Are you all the lawyers assigned to it?”
“Ah, yes,” Mike replied. “We’ve got a conference room upstairs, so if you’d like…” He turned to lead the group to the elevators, talking all the while. The businessman, still at the head, breezed past the lawyers, and Carter was almost sure he saw him smirk.
The conference was, as usual, boring and warm and smelling slightly of coffee. Carter loved it. His seat was the one right next to the coffee pot, where he had easy access to the muffins and a wide area for all his papers. Today, however, Adrian Hlaváček the businessman had apparently decided it was his seat.
Carter stared at him for a few seconds before deciding it wasn’t worth it. He stiffened his resolve and, as Jason stared, took his place next to Lianne.
As he sat down, Adrian-the-singer-businessman smiled a little and whispered across the table, “Nice to know this firm’s lawyers support the people right outside their door.” Carter gaped. Behind the man, his assistant, a pretty Asian woman, smirked.
The next day, after Carter had closed up the Carpenter file and had gotten David the secretary to stop ogling interns, he found himself in front of his building at sundown- far earlier than he’d been before. There, to his surprise, he saw the the singer and the guitarist, sitting on their bucket as normal.
Carter sat down on the curb next to them. He still needed to buy Jess more bagels, but he had a couple minutes and, he decided, spending those minutes on the curb would work.
Letting the sweet sound of Adrian Hlaváček’s voice wash over him, Carter leaned back to stare at the sky. It was darkening quickly, stars were becoming visible as Carter watched. As the clouds above him faded to indigo, Carter heard the girl’s guitar start to fade out, and he could feel one of them sliding off the bucket to sit next to Carter. He turned his head to look at them, at the singer-businessman.
Carter coughed. “So,” he said, a little roughly. “Didn’t know you had much to do in this work.”
Adrian Hlaváček didn’t quite laugh, but he came close; Carter could tell from the way he shifted on the curb. “Oh, I do some odd jobs here and there.”
“Ah,” Carter replied eloquently. “And those odd jobs include, uh, sitting in front of an office building singing?”
Adrian nodded, serious and imperial. “I wanted to make sure the people who worked here supported the city’s infrastructure.”
“Ah,” Carter repeated. “...Did they?”
Adrian nodded again, lighter this time. The girl on the guitar resumed playing, and Carter stood. “Well,” he tried. “I have to go buy my roommate bagels but I’ll- I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Adrian nodded for a third time, and rejoined his guitarist on the bucket.
The next day, Jessica had bagels for breakfast and was weirdly overjoyed with Carter, Jason refrained from calling Carter on the metro, and Carter saw Adrian Hlaváček again. Overall, he decided, it was quite a good day.
The day after that, Jessica had somehow eaten all of her bagels. Carter was still sighing over that in the metro when he received a phone call, one from an unknown number. He scrambled to pick it up, and was shocked to hear Adrian Hlaváček’s voice echo from the other side.
“Uh, yes. Um, hello.” Carter coughed.
Adrian made a noise close to a laugh on the other end. “This is Carter Brooks’ number, right?”
“Uh, yes,” Carter said, gripping his bag strap. Its nylon was digging into the palm of his hand, but he didn’t really notice. “Is this Adrian Hlaváček?”
“Uh, yes. Yes, it is.”
The phone line went silent for a few more seconds. Carter coughed again. “So, uh, what were you calling for? Is something going on with the case?”
Adrian cleared his throat, and even that sounded like music. “No, actually. I was, ah. My assistant-”
“The pretty girl?” Carter asked automatically, because he really apparently didn’t understand how to talk to attractive people and instead wanted to spend all his time deflecting them.
“Uh, yes, that’s her. Maria. She, uh, said that there was this- one sec.” The line went frantic for a few seconds, and all Carter could hear was hissing voices. He eyed a harmless old woman and tried to smile at her as he listened to Adrian Hlaváček, a boy with the voice of an angel, argue with his assistant about something. Even his whining voice was cute, Carter reflected, regretting most of the choices he’d made leading up to that point. The line cut back again.
“Hello, this is Maria,” a chirpy female voice said. Carter was very confused. “Mr. Hlaváček was actually going to ask you to this bagel joint he knew about, in order to discuss the case so far.”
“Uh, yeah, I just-”
“Perfect!” Maria said brightly. “Are you free around twelve? I can text you the details.”
“Yeah, I just, uh-” Carter tried desperately, but was cut off by the call ending. He stared at the phone in his hand and watched as it buzzed with a new notification.
It’s two blocks from your office building, just turn right at the big crossroad. Have a nice time!
Then, a few seconds later:
Sorry about Maria she can be sort of… abrasive
With hesitant fingers, Carter typed back: No it’s okay, I’ll see you there at twelve? and was rewarded with a smiley face.
Bagel shops, Carter discovered, were apparently his weakness. At eleven fifty-nine precisely, he was hovering over the shop’s case, salivating. He understood Jessica’s weakness now, and he almost realized why she ate an entire bag of them in less than a day.
“You really like bagels, huh?” someone asked, and Carter turned to see Adrian staring at the case.
“Uh, yeah.” He swallowed. “They’re pretty good.”
Adrian faced him and smiled, and Carter lost interest in the bagels. “My favorite is the lemon-blueberry. It’s a weird flavor, but delicious.”
“Yeah,” Carter managed. “Should we, uh… order?”
Adrian bit his lip, tilting his head to the side. His eyes seemed to be looking both at Carter and through him, and when he said, “Yeah,” Carter had stopped breathing.
Adrian got a lemon-blueberry bagel and Carter went with a chocolate chip. The girl behind the counter had raised her eyebrows at Carter, grinning and inclining her head to Adrian, and Carter tried not to make eye contact with her after that. They took a seat outside, right under the awning. The sun hit just the edges of Adrian’s hair, turning its auburn pure red. The sun was not the only reason Carter’s cheeks went red.
“So,” Carter said eventually, cheeks stuffed with bagel. He swallowed. “You sing?”
Adrian made a noise of indifference. “From time to time. I mostly work with my parents’ company; that’s what pays the bills.”
“Hey!” Carter protested. “You made at least five dollars a day busking.”
Adrian snorted a laugh. “Your crumpled five dollars, Carter, could not pay rent in this economy.”
Carter’s throat felt full and raw, filled with something he couldn’t put words to. It was made of Adrian’s hair in the sunlight, the way he said Carter’s name, smiles too personal and pretty for Carter to dream of. “Well,” he managed. “You were working two jobs.”
Adrian’s laugh wasn’t the sort of noise angels would make, Carter decided, but it was altogether far too cute.
Jessica enjoyed her second bag of bagels far too much, and the entire conference room was shocked when Adrian leaned over and gave Carter a kiss on the cheek on his way to a seat. Well, Maria was smirking, but Carter thought that was her default state.