Author's Note: I do not own 'Sweet Home Alabama' or any of the characters contained within, I'm just having a little fun with them. I promise to return them to Touchstone Pictures (relatively) unharmed. The song 'Band of Gold' is performed by Freda Payne (on both the soundtrack for the film 'Now and Then' and 'I Love 1970s' anyway!) and was written by Ronald Dunbar and Edith Wayne. Or so I'm told. Again, no infringement is intended. No profit is being made from this story.


Band of Gold

Melanie tucked the air tickets into her large shoulder bag, sighing as she did so. She resented having to buy an open-ended ticket, not because of the expense but because of what it represented. She wasn't even back in Alabama yet and already she longed for the day she could leave. But Jake was so darn stubborn; always had been, even as a ten year old. There was no telling how long it would take to get him to sign the divorce papers, and she couldn't leave until she was certain it was done. So until she had his signature on all three copies, she was going to be stuck in the past she'd been so desperate to leave behind.

Grumbling to herself, she threw her largest suitcase none-too-gently onto the bed and began to pack. She hesitated over some outfits, wondering if they were perhaps just a little too much for Pigeon Creek. Then she caught herself. Wasn't this exactly why she'd wanted to get away in the first place? She was sick of wearing K Mart clothing designed by TV actresses and faux-leather shoes. She didn't want to see another beauty pageant tiara as long as she lived. She was tired of everyone and his grandma knowing her private business. And as for Jake Perry…Mel quickly shut down her thoughts before they could betray her and concentrated on folding up her new off-the-shoulder top instead.

She had almost emptied her underwear drawer when she realised her sports bra was missing. Although she wasn't planning on doing too much she knew that while she was away she'd have to work out a little to keep in shape. Her mother's cooking would add more than a few pounds if Mel wasn't careful, and it had taken her long enough to lose the excess weight the first time. Not that she'd be there long enough to eat all that much, she reminded herself. She would be back in Manhattan just as soon as she was happy Jake wasn't still using the invisible ink they'd had so much fun with as kids. She smiled at the memory of Bobby Ray's outrage on finding his new white shirt covered in ink splotches. Then she remembered Jake's laughter as they'd watched the marks disappear and the smile faded as she felt that horribly familiar pain in her chest. Damn him; why did he still have such a hold on her? Sure, he was in every childhood memory she had, but so was Bobby Ray and after seven years why couldn't she remember Jake fondly as just another boy she'd once known?

It was because they weren't divorced, Melanie thought. She couldn't let go because he wouldn't let her; he refused to give her the freedom to move on. She didn't understand why he was hanging on so tightly to something he'd lost so long ago. Because he had lost her – there was no going back. So what did he want from her?

"And where is that bra?" she muttered aloud as she rummaged through the garments left in the drawer, inexplicably glad of the distraction. She'd successfully shut Alabama and all that it stood for out of both her mind and her heart for seven years. She had no intention of getting all sentimental about it now. Sweet Home Alabama? Who were they trying to kid?

It must have fallen down the back of the drawer, she reasoned; she had so many clothes now she had trouble fitting them all into her rather limited storage space. Especially since the day she had symbolically cleaned a spot in her closet for Andrew to keep some suits and shirts in. It had been strange to see a man's clothes hanging next to hers for so long, and she had been glad that Andrew took such pride in his appearance. No longer was she a fan of flannel shirts and denim and mussed-up hair and blue eyes that sparkled when they saw you…Damn it, she was in fashion now!

She yanked out the drawer harder than she'd meant to and dumped it on the floor. Putting her hand into the space left she felt around a little. Sure enough, her fingers brushed against something distinctly bra-like and she grasped it firmly. As she withdrew her hand and the bra, something else came out with it. The little velvet box she'd almost forgotten about fell to the floor and rolled under the bed.

Frowning, Melanie got down on her hands and knees to fish it out from between the shoe boxes she kept under there. The faded blue material covering the box was covered in dust and she gently brushed it clean before snapping open the lid to face yet another memory.

The simple band of gold rested snugly in the fold in the white cushion, and as Melanie pulled it free it caught the light and glinted prettily. Just as it had the day Jake first placed it on her finger, she remembered, although the effect had been spoiled slightly when he threw up almost straight afterwards. It was her wedding ring. She held it up and inspected it curiously, as if it would have changed in the seven years since she'd taken it off. She'd always intended to get rid of it; one day she'd even gone so far as to sell it to a second-hand jeweller in Soho. Then the next day she'd gone back and bought it back for almost double the amount. After that the ring had lain abandoned in the drawer, yet another symbol of a past that was seldom consciously remembered and, really, best forgotten.

To think she'd once been so very proud of it, Melanie thought with slight sadness. She glanced down at the large diamond and platinum ring she now wore. There was really no comparison at all, and yet…impulsively, Melanie slipped off the Tiffany jewel and replaced it with the plain gold band. It slid easily over her knuckle and into place at the base of her finger almost as if it had never been away. As if it were finally back in its rightful place and it intended to stay there…Melanie gazed at it without really seeing it for a moment, lost in her memories of a beautiful if slightly hasty wedding and a bridegroom who was so nervous he'd practically drunk himself into oblivion the night before. She smiled a little at that, although she hadn't been amused at the time. Daddy had only been joking about standing at the foot of the aisle with a shotgun, but Jake hadn't seen the funny side at all. Then she remembered how his hands had trembled as he pushed the ring onto her finger and the way her voice had shaken as she took her vows. Kids playing at being grown up, that's all they had been. No wonder things had worked out the way they had. Idly, she wondered what the baby might have been like if he or she had lived. Going by both her and Jake's antics as children, she would bet money that it would have been a handful…but they'd have got through it all somehow, right? They always had before…

When the telephone rang, Mel jumped about a foot in the air. As the answering machine clicked on and Andrew's voice filled the room, she started to tug at the ring in a panic, as if he could see her through the telephone wires. It stubbornly refused to budge an inch; just like the man who'd purchased it, she thought grimly. Finally it came loose and she quickly dropped it back into the box and closed the lid. Breathing heavily, Melanie sat for a moment with it clenched in her fist, the velvet smooth against the palm of her hand. She couldn't make herself move towards the telephone; instead she let Andrew finish his message and hang up. Only when the room was quiet did she stand up. She hesitated for only a moment before dropping the box into her suitcase. She'd give the ring back to Jake and he could decide what to do with it. Maybe he could sell it; she was pretty sure he'd be in need of cash because Jake had never had money to burn.

She bent back down to pick up her engagement ring off the floor. She'd never gotten one from Jake; there hadn't really been the time or the money to buy one. The wedding had been arranged as soon as the pregnancy test had shown a positive result. It was funny, but the lack of a fancy ring had never really bothered her. Her relationship with Jake had never been about diamonds or having lots of money or anything like that. It had all seemed so much more honest than that. It was love, plain and simple. But really, who finds their soul mate at ten years old?

Melanie replaced Andrew's ring and made to admire it, as she had admired it almost constantly since he first gave it to her, but as she squinted down at it now it had somehow lost its lustre. Suddenly it seemed all wrong; the diamond was too big, too showy for her Southern finger. She took it off and carefully stored it in her purse. It was probably best if she didn't wear it when she went to see Jake anyhow. It would be hard enough to talk to him without having to tell him she was getting married again. Then she stopped; why should she make things easier for him? He hadn't exactly helped her out by signing the papers, had he? She grabbed the ring and put it back on, hating the fact that she already knew she was only going to take it off again before she saw Jake. Damn him!

She decided she needed some music to soothe her as she finished her packing. Her nerves were shot for some unknown reason; some nice mindless pop was just what was required. As she picked up the remote control to switch to her favourite station, she prayed that it wasn't Lynyrd Skynyrd day. If it was, she would know that someone was definitely trying to tell her something.

It wasn't Lynyrd Skynyrd day. It was even worse than that. It was Freda Payne.

"Now that you're gone,

All that's left is a band of gold.

All that's left of the dreams I hold

Is a band of gold

And the memory of what love could be

If you were still here with me."

She snapped the radio off in disgust.

As she zipped up the suitcase, Melanie checked off her mental inventory to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. Toothbrush, perfume, pyjamas, divorce papers….divorce papers! She hurried across to her desk and picked up the folder. She flipped through quickly to make sure all the copies were there and checked that all the spots awaiting a signature had been marked with idiot-proof tags. It would be just like Jake to 'accidentally' forget to sign somewhere…but he wasn't going to get to put this off again. Not this time.

She read the top page of the legal document again. At first she hadn't known how she was supposed to refer to herself in the paperwork. In her relatively short life she'd borne three names with yet another still to come, and right now she wasn't quite sure if she really knew which was hers. Melanie Smooter was definitely back in Pigeon Creek, strapping dynamite to cats and winning beauty pageants. Melanie Carmichael didn't exist in Alabama – she belonged in NYC, wowing the crowds at Fashion Week and dating the Mayor's son. Melanie Hennings…she was the future. But what had become of Melanie Perry? Where had she left that girl, the one who loved her husband Jake with her whole heart?

As her thoughts inevitably turned to Alabama once more, Mel was reminded of the time she had accused her mother of moving one of her pageant trophies. They had found it later in the same place she'd last had it and her mother had looked at her reprovingly. "Sometimes what you're looking for is right where you left it. Just you remember that, darlin'."