Disclaimer: Anything remotely resembling Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. Any of the stories within, belong to me. Please do not copy or translate without permission.
Birds of a Feather
It never failed that when I'd just about mastered something, I'd usually get thrown for a loop. The jingle of the bell on the front door caught my attention as I was trying to perfect the line on my upper lid. Through watery eyes, I peered at my reflection in the mirror of the dimly lit bathroom, cringed when I spotted the crooked black smudge, and cursed the interruption under my breath.
I gave a quick glance out to the main sales floor; a kid—maybe fifteen, sixteen tops—browsed the selection of new and used guitars hanging on the walls.
"Be right there," I shouted.
He nodded, but I could tell he wasn't ready for the sales shtick yet, so I turned back to the mirror and tried to fix my flub.
Not well-versed in full makeup application quite yet, my honest attempt to look more than presentable for tonight was definitely not going to happen. I grabbed a hunk of tissue and scrubbed away the black around my eyes, and instead went for tried-and-true with heavy mascara instead.
The girls could give me all the shit they wanted—while I fully admitted my appearance lately had been teetering on slacker chic, the mint green vintage shirtwaist dress was at least a step up, and my boots weren't scuffed. I was quite proud of my consignment shop finds.
I reached up to tousle my freshly cut bangs, tried to convince myself I was used to them, and shoved the contents of my makeup bag back into my purse.
"What can I do you for?"
The kid looked up. "Just lookin'. These are pretty sweet."
He ran the tips of his fingers over a 70's Standard Gibson SG Vintage, and I had to agree with him.
He continued to wander around dreamily while I glanced at the clock on the wall and took my place behind the counter. In spite of having everything ready to close up shop before I'd begun the process of getting ready, I was going to be late. "Anything you're looking for in particular?"
"Uh, no, ma'am. I don't have any money right now. But I will here soon. Been workin' a job for my uncle and I'm fixin' to get paid next week."
The look on his face was familiar—there'd been a time when I, too, was hungry about guitars. Heck, I still was—every time a new one crossed the threshold of the store, a thrill to make it sing made my fingers twitch. Each piece had a unique sound all its own, its own voice.
"What's your name?"
"Well, Riley, I do need to close up shop, but why don't you come back tomorrow and we can talk more about what you're looking for?"
"Oh, okay, sorry."
"No big." I smiled so he'd know I wasn't just being ornery and kicking him out, and nodded to the clock. "Just quittin' time for me, and I have somewhere I need to be. But you come see me tomorrow, okay? You tell me what you've got to work with and I'll find you a good guitar."
The smile he gave me was shy and sweet, and I waved at him when he shoved his hands in his pocket and exited the store.
With the closed sign in the window and the door locked, I dropped the cash in the safe, gathered my things, and booked it out the back way. My car was a few blocks down the street, a move I'd earlier considered smart because it'd be closer to where I needed it later, but now I wished I didn't have to walk.
"Suck it up, buttercup," I muttered, cutting through the lot for a shortcut.
The walk was good, though. It cleared my head and allowed me a chance to get myself psyched up. Music streamed from open windows and doors; old country, new country, the occasional crossover rock. People passed by in their weekend best, all denim and glitz the way only Nashville could pull off. I breathed in the smell of warm pavement and stale beer, found home in the neon lights humming in the night air overhead.
Lifting my guitar case here and there, I tried to dodge bodies spilling onto the pavement, and was doing damn good until a bulky, hairy fella bumped into me without an apology. I huffed and said a few choice words to him, wondering why his mama didn't teach him any manners.
From one of the doorways a tune caught my ear that instantly slowed my pace. I would have stopped if I hadn't been saddled with other plans. The sound was new country but with a thread of folk, something that piqued my interest—so honest and familiar that even in the warm evening air, I shuddered.
And then I was where I was supposed to be. I turned at the tiny alley and headed around back, nodding a few greetings at the customers hovering in the smoking area. This was one of the older venues, worn brick façade a landmark here on Music Row.
I paused in the doorway. "Hey, Austin. How're you?"
He rambled on about being glad about the weekend, already a bit tipsy if the easy smile and half empty Busch bottle was any indicator, and I had to cut him off eventually because I knew the girls would have my ass for being late.
"Enjoy the show," I said as I headed inside.
The back hallway wasn't crowded, at least, and I passed picture lined walls on the way toward the 'green room'—so named because it was a dusty, sage green color. The inside was actually the locker room/lounge where acts waited before it was their turn to hit the stage.
"Jesus, cut it any closer?"
I glanced over at the stage and saw the last act was just finishing. "Plenty of time. Besides, perfection can't be rushed." I brushed by her and continued to my destination. "Do I have time to put my things away, oh keeper of the time?"
Alice, pretty tonight in a black floral dress and leggings, looked up from her phone when we entered the green room. "See, I told you she wouldn't be late, Rose."
"This is why you're my favorite," I said, setting my things down.
My guitar, battered but still a beautiful thing in my eyes, lay snugly in her case, all honey wood and vintage rose motif. She'd been through the gauntlet with me, and I wouldn't trade her for the world.
"Why are you late this time?" Rose crossed her arms and leaned against the door frame.
I rolled my eyes at Alice. "I worked a few hours extra at the store today and I was running behind. Chill, okay? I'm here, we're good, and this is just a casual thing. You know, friends playing for a small crowd?"
"Well, you should have called."
Something in Rose's tone finally settled in, and I straightened with the feeling I was missing something. "What's up with you?"
I looked up into the steel blue eyes of my friend, at her lips pursed in a small tight line. Her eyes shifted toward the other side of the room. "Nothing."
Well, two could play the denial game. "Uh huh. I guess we'd better get moving."
The crowd was pretty good for a Thursday night. We took our places seated on the small riser, getting ourselves in order before we started the set. Alice looked at me and said, "Okay, I can't keep it from you any longer."
I laughed. "What, pray tell, is so damn important?"
"Rumor has it there might be a few guys from an indie label stopping by."
I'd heard it all before. There's gonna be an exec here. They want to hear our stuff. Yeah, it'd be nice to get noticed, but all I really wanted to do was just play. It was the only time I could completely lose myself, to let go and be who I really was.
"Just . . . be nice." Alice looked nervous, and I wondered if this rumor had a little more meat to it than usual.
"I'm always nice," I shot back.
Alice looked at Rose who smirked at me.
"No, you're not."
That was the truth, I guessed—well . . . some of the time. I tended to let my frustrations show more often, especially lately because I had little control over them these days. It had gotten somewhat better; I just didn't know how to change when my insides were still so raw.
There were days when I still felt like I was being held together with Bandaids, and not the good kind, either.
Best not think on that just now. I slung my strap over my head and strummed a few bars on my guitar. "Well, what's taking you guys so long? Let's do this."
The owner of the bar gave his introduction spiel to the crowd, but because we were a something of a house favorite, the intro didn't last long. A good crowd was already left up front from the last act, the scant tables full and the area in front of the stage more so. The clusters of folks around the bar were facing our way, too, for the most part, a scrum of bodies in an already crowded space.
The lights dropped and the atmosphere became more intimate for our set, just the way we liked it. Rose and I took our respective seats on stools, Alice standing between us.
I pulled the mic closer to my mouth. "I want to thank you for coming tonight. Always love a good crowd." I flipped my hair over my shoulder. "Hope we do ya proud."
A few whoops and a smattering of applause followed. I smiled and turned to the girls and quietly counted us into our opening song.
It was one of my favorites, something light and airy that always got us off to a good foot with any crowd. We tended to work up to our heavier stuff, liking the atmosphere to build to a crescendo and leave our mark that way.
Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away
And then we were off, and it was good. The crowd was responsive; any time I chanced a glance up, I saw that the ladies that sang along and the men tipped their beers. But I liked to look down when I sang live, so that's mostly what I did.
It was a weird feeling to see people's reactions to your words, and this past year had bestowed a lot of angst into my lyrics. Some of our songs were personal, but written in a way so anyone could relate . . . and others were harder to put out into the universe for judgment. Rose got on me all the time about not 'connecting with the audience', and she worked a little harder at it to balance, but I wasn't there yet.
I was working on it, though.
At one point during one of our newest tracks—one that I still wasn't sure if I was comfortable sharing—I chanced a look up to see how people were reacting, and my eyes landed on a couple off to the side.
He had his arms wrapped around her from behind, gently tapping his hand on her hip to the beat. She smiled and swayed while he peppered her hair with kisses, and it hurt to remember how it felt to be so in love. The thought was wrenching, and I wasn't able to hide it. It was there in that moment and my voice opened into a deeper sound, revealing more emotion than I wanted.
Going with it, I poured out my feelings, confessing my hurt to the crowd of strangers who'd never know it was confession time.
At one point the nerves on my skin tingled—the euphoria of getting it out like I hadn't been able to was palpable. Alice looked my way and smiled sadly, glad I'd hit my groove, and clearly understanding of what it'd cost.
"This is our last one for y'all," I said later, smiling because I felt a little bit freer than I had when I'd started. "Thanks for bein' so good to us tonight, and have a good rest of your evening."
The applause was raucous, and it made me smile wider. For whatever reason, this was our moment—it felt right to me. I looked over to Alice who was beaming from ear to ear as she played her fiddle with grace; Rose was on fire, her backup vocals so crucial to our sound, showmanship on par with the best tonight. Whoever the girls had brought in to watch us, they'd better be damn impressed. We were killing it.
When we'd finished and the lights came up, I turned to put my guitar down, thankful I could catch my breath. Reaching for a glass of water that Mel had placed on the table behind us, I swiveled in my seat to ask Alice a question, but she'd already lit into the crowd.
"That was a helluva show, ladies."
I smiled at Austin and thanked him for his praise, laughing a little when he got so animated he did a drunken shuffle in front of the stage.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," I said, looking over at Rose. "Good thing I wasn't too late, huh?"
"Oh, hush up and help me get our stuff. Alice took off like she was was fixin' to hurt someone, and she left us to pick up."
I sniggered. "Well, isn't that just typical."
A few more people stopped by to offer praise and congratulations on a good show while we were on the stage, and Rose and I thanked them generously, or just stopped to chat with people we recognized from playing here so often. Normally I wasn't much of one for socializing, but tonight had been great, and my energy was so infused that I took my fair share of the talking over. Rose hovered at my side, though, glancing anxiously into the crowd often.
"You that worked up?" I whispered at one point. For her to be so twitchy was off-putting, and I began to really believe there might be someone important watching us. "Don't be. We were damn good tonight, and that's the truth."
"I'm just looking for Alice. I don't know what's taking her so long."
I peered over her shoulder and scanned the room. "Hey, there she . . ."
My words trailed off into nothing when I spotted her, and who she was with. She stood beside a blond guy, her hand on his arm as she spoke to him. It only took me a second to figure out that it was Jasper.
If he was here, then . . .
Despite the lights and closeness of the people around me, a rush of frost bathed my skin. Suddenly all of the good feelings from just moment before were replaced with dread, and my fingers tingled with numbness.
"Is he . . .?"
Rose stood frozen next to me, a tentative look on her face. "Well, we knew you wouldn't agree to play if you knew."
The initial shock melted at her words, anger replacing it now. I looked to the right of Jasper and I saw his companion-tall and lean, body turned as he talked to a small blond and her friend.
I'd know that man anywhere. In fact, I knew him better than anyone in this room.
"Don't, Bella. Please, just listen."
Giving her a death stare, I stood up, grabbed my guitar and backed away from my stool.
I'd been fucking set up.
New story, a little different than the others. Went back to the music theme because I love and appreciate it so much. Hope you enjoy.
Song - I'll Fly Away – Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch
And many thanks, hugs and love to nic, who knows my brain better than I do.