Melancholy Collar

The bar was almost empty, Edward noted. A couple cuddled in the back booth, paying no attention to anything but each other. A drunk old man leered at a lone female who hid behind a curtain of brown hair. That was the extent of their audience. He huffed a huge sigh as he placed his guitar on the stand and crossed the small stage to the keyboard. Emmett flashed a cheeky grin from behind the drum set, but Edward wasn't in the mood.

His fingers moved heavily over the keys, mirroring the feeling in his heart. The girl in the booth shifted, causing the old man to nearly piss himself with excitement. Edward rolled his eyes, wondering how any man could get excited about that. She didn't appear to be anything special—red hoodie with New York blazing across the front, faded jeans, and broken down Adidas. She certainly didn't dress to impress. He couldn't see her face, but he didn't imagine it was much more exciting than the rest of her.

"Last song," he mouthed to Jasper.

They could drag it out and only end ten minutes early. If Marty, the bar owner, was pissed, then it was no big loss. It wasn't like they'd drawn a huge crowd.

"This isn't what I imagined when I decided to 'make it' in Nashville," he growled after the last note faded.

His bandmates shrugged as they unplugged cords and began to wrap them.

"At least this way we get to sing some of our original songs." Emmett tried to lighten the mood a little.

Edward glanced morosely at the empty tip jar just in time to see the girl in the red jumper drop in a handful of bills. He nodded curtly, but Emmett jumped off the stage and wrapped her in a bear hug.

Edward was finally able to see her face, and it was roughly the color of her shirt. Warm chocolate eyes were wide with surprise, bow lips open to scream. No sound came.

"Let her go, Emmett," Jasper said calmly.

He waited until the girl had been released before sticking his hand out. She took it and accepted his thanks silently. Emmett and Jasper turned to Edward, but he stepped around the stool away from her to put his guitar back in the case.

"Come see us next week," Emmett called.

Edward didn't have to look up to know that she was gone. He turned back to the tip jar, his curiosity getting the better of him.

"She dropped fifty bucks on us," Emmett said gleefully.

"That won't pay the rent," Edward growled.

"Well, it's better than nothing," Jasper soothed.

Edward simply snorted and slung his guitar over his back. "If things don't start picking up, we'll all be back in London this time next month."

"I think we should audition for another singer," Emmett said suddenly.

Edward froze. Jasper dropped the microphone stand he'd been holding.

"You want to split the shite money we do get with one other person?" Edward's voice rose slightly. "Are you crazy?"

"Hey, I know I'm just a lousy drummer—" Emmett started, but Edward cut him off with a snort.

"But—" Emmett barreled on "—some of your songs really need harmony that Jasper just can't handle. Like, a girl or something."

Edward used his free hand to scrub his face. The whole disappointment of the night was starting to catch up with him, and he decided that dealing with Emmett at that moment would be a bad idea.

"I'm going home," he said shortly.

"You should think about it," Jasper intoned. "Some of our stuff would sound really good as a duet."

"Home," Edward reiterated. He didn't bother waving to Marty on his way out the door.

The one plus he could see about performing at the little Irish pub was it was within easy walking distance to his flat. He kicked viciously at a stone as he walked, venting as much frustration as he could. He'd been in America for six months. The three friends had arrived in Nashville with high hopes and Top Forty dreams. As of that night, nothing had gone right.

He believed in the music he wrote, trusted that his band mates were the most talented he could hope to work with, and practiced his trade every free moment he had. Nothing fell into place, though. No matter how hard they tried, what leads they followed, shows turned up just a handful of audience members, and those were usually so drunk, they wouldn't know good music if it sat on their faces.

Edward's shoulders dropped as he inserted his key into the door. Home was not a sanctuary for him. His flat was really more of a closet—three hundred square feet of peeling paint, stained carpet, and dripping faucets. More appropriately: Hell. A rather large pile of bills spilled from the table to the floor. He kicked them out of the way, wondering if he might just toss the lot of them into the trash and pretend they didn't exist.

The electricity would have to be paid, if nothing else, so he could continue to compose on his keyboard. He unzipped the padded carrying case and carefully set the instrument back onto its stand. A glance at the clock on the wall told him it was after three in the morning. He wanted to spend some time working on his latest composition, but the headphones would be necessary. His neighbor was a batty old bitch who constantly pounded on the walls, even if he was just humming.

After fifteen minutes, the tension started to leave his shoulders. No matter how bad things seemed, Edward always felt he was home when he played. He desperately wanted to sing along but was forced to keep the melody in his head. A female voice added harmony to his baritone, sending a jolt of adrenaline through his veins. He ripped his fingers from the keys and removed the headphones with a quick tug. Even in the silence of the room, he still heard the voice. It haunted him all they way to his bed, and then into his dreams.

oOo

Bella Swan sighed and tugged at her brown hair, but it had reached a length where absolutely nothing was possible. It insisted on hanging in thick waves with no apparent style. The thirty pounds she had gained during the three months in a cast had forced her to shop for an entirely new wardrobe. The lingering pain in her knee and heel made losing that extra weight nearly impossible. She hadn't been able to walk without a limp for almost a year. Standing for more than twenty minutes at a time caused her knee and ankle to swell so painfully that walking was not an option the next day.

Her job options had become severely limited, as well.

Amazing, she thought, how one split second of taking your eyes off the road can change your whole life.

Before she could further chastise herself, she turned on her good heel and grabbed her bag. Another day at the office in a boring, soul-sucking job was in the cards for the day. Not even remembering the lead singer of the band she'd heard Friday night could distract her from her misery. In fact, with his rude behavior, he was more likely to add to her abject disconsolation.

Bella was grateful for her soulless job every time she slid behind the wheel of her shiny silver BMW. She could turn up the radio and sing along, and the traffic in Nashville no longer existed. Music, which had once been her dream, became her only escape from real life. Again, she was saddened by the turn of events that had turned her whole existence upside down.

"Hey, Bella!" Angela called when she walked through the doors of AMC Real Estate Services.

"Hi, Ange," Bella called back, a small smile tipping her lips for the first time that morning.

"Alice has already called looking for you."

"I have a file she's looking for," Bella replied, hurrying as fast as her limp would allow.

She made her way through the maze of hallways to Mike Newton's office and sat down in the chair with a sigh. A cup of coffee waited on her desk.

"Mike, you're such a sweetheart," she sighed, taking the lid off greedily.

"Not a problem, Bells." Leaning back, he aimed a paper wad at the trash bin by the door, and missed by a good five feet.

"Not quite ready for the NBA," Bella snorted, wincing at the feel of the hot coffee in her nose.

"Oh, that was classy." She quickly reached for a tissue and dabbed at her face.

"Alice is looking for you," Mike warned, then took off out of the office like a shot.

"So I heard," Bella grumbled, picking up the phone.

She knew Alice very well, and Alice was not looking for a file. Alice was looking for an accomplice for her next scheme.

"Bella!" Alice laughed when she picked up her phone. "You weren't late again, were you?"

"Traffic in Nashville sucks." Bella twirled a pen idly as she waited for Alice to get to the point.

"You should move over here to Hillsboro Village," Alice advised knowingly.

"Alice. This is where most of the flipping traffic is," Bella huffed. Suddenly, she lost control of the pen and poked it right into her eye.

"Ow! Shit!" she hissed, dropping the receiver.

"Bella?" She could hear Alice calling from the handset on the floor. "Did you fall out of your chair again?"

Bella held her eye with one hand and reached for tissues again with the other. Her eye watered, which caused her nose to run once more.

"Just a minute, Alice." She sniffled and dabbed at fresh tears.

"What now?"

"Pen. Eye."

Alice erupted into further giggles at the mental image she had been presented.

"What exactly was it that you wanted, Alice?"

"Oh, yeah. You still sing, right?" she asked.

"Ummm..." Bella hedged for a moment.

She still sang along with the radio. Sometimes, if she was feeling especially feisty she sang in the shower or while she vacuumed the rugs in the living and dining rooms. If she talked to her friends from college, which was not very often for many and varied reasons, she sometimes busted out a quick aria for one of them. Otherwise, she found it altogether too painful.

"There's a band that's having an audition for a female singer." Alice rushed on.

Bella rolled her eyes. "That's not my type of music."

"But you can sing it, can't you?" Alice argued.

"Maybe. Does it say what kind of music?" Bella asked. She was intrigued in spite of herself.

"Folk and blues. You could do that, couldn't you? Jewel sang opera and then did folk, right? And... Um..."

"Can't think of any other examples?" Bella teased.

Alice usually had better arguments prepared.

"Well, you," Alice said triumphantly. "And I bet with folk and blues, they all sit on stools and don't have to stand or dance around. It would be perfect for you. You could sing again, and get back on a stage again, and maybe get some of that groove back, and—"

"I have a groove," Bella interrupted.

"You have a rut," Alice snapped playfully.

Bella had to sigh in agreement. It was a rut that paid well but a rut nonetheless.

"What's the band called?" she asked.

Alice squealed, knowing that she'd won the argument already. "It doesn't say. But the auditions are on Meridian."

"You know I have no idea where you're talking about."

"You need to get out more often. I'll just come with you, yeah?"

Bella thought for a moment. If she decided to go through with the audition, it would be nice to have a bit of moral support. Only, Alice wouldn't let her back out if she actually got that far.

"Bella? You better think fast. The audition is this evening. We'll have to hurry if we're going to pick the perfect outfit for you."

"If I go to this thing, Alice, you are not dressing me up like some mannequin," Bella growled.

"Oooh! You have to do that when you sing for them. They'll love that little growl. I got chills."

Without another word, Alice hung up.

Bella stared at the phone for a moment before replacing the receiver. Her hand was still on the phone when it rang again. She squealed, then bounced right out of her chair into the floor, taking the whole phone off of the desk with her. Her cheeks were blazing, even though no one had seen her, as she lifted the handset to her ear.

"Newton's office," she said, as politely as she could manage.

"You did fall in the floor that time, didn't you?" Alice trilled.

Bella looked around quickly, wondering how Alice could possibly know.

"I just know you, Bella," Alice laughed. "Don't forget to send me the Black file."

oOo

"You're going," Alice hissed as Bella dithered a bit by the door. "You look hot. Go kill 'em."

Bella looked down at the pinstriped pencil skirt that was just barely long enough to cover the scar on her knee. The stretchy red top Alice had gleefully discovered went a long way to disguise the stomach she still fought to get rid of. The red patent wedge heels Alice had happily donated to the cause recalled the former glory Bella's legs had been before one had been ruined. She could walk and stand in them long enough for the audition but still worried one misstep could ruin the progress she'd already made with her physical therapy.

"Go!" Alice pushed her through the door.

Bella whipped her freshly curled hair around and glared at Alice before stepping the rest of the way into the large room. A lone man sat in a chair in the middle, and with a gasp Bella recognized the unruly bronze hair. Quickly, she looked around for the other two men from the band—her favorite local band—before the lead singer could realize she was there. He'd been less than polite upon their first meeting, and she hoped to see at least one friendly face.

With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she realized she was alone. With him. The star of her dreams at night. The hero of her daydreams. He looked up and caught sight of her, and a scowl crossed his face.

"Please tell me you're lost," he said.

oOo

Yes, you've seen this one before, too. As with On the Fly, I'm attempting to edit for a T rating. This one will be harder and take longer, but it belongs here, so I'll work at it until it's done. I'm happy to share the original, so just ask.

This chapter title is borrowed from Tony Lucca. He's amazing.