Chapter 2

Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights

While Rosalie would have liked nothing more than to slam things around, she thought better than to take her emotions out on her cello. She placed it reverently back into its case and quickly gathered her bag, not wanting to socialize with the loitering musicians in the green room. Her mind ran on a continuous loop of Edward Cullen’s smirk and nonchalant dismissal. His loss, not mine. If she repeated it enough times in her head, maybe she’d believe it. The majority of the musicians who surrounded her respected the cool, aloof vibe she emitted as she began to make her way out of the room. Of course, there was always that one person who could never read personal spatial cues and when she got to the door, she found Mike Newton directly blocking her path.

“Rosalie, are you meeting us out later tonight? Archibald Blues?” Mike smiled easily, making her frosty exterior melt, if only a little bit. Mike must not have been able to read nonverbal cues either, or perhaps he just didn’t care. Either way, it was impressive that he’d take the chance, and with such a cheerful disposition, no less.

She frowned, not at his question, but rather at the memory of the last time she’d been to the jazz bar. Toward the end of the summer after a particularly hellish wedding during which the bride was drunk and staggering down the aisle, the musicians of both the string quartet and the reception band agreed to meet at Archibald Blues. One might have thought that Rosalie would have learned something from watching the bride’s weaving; she was usually able to keep herself under control in any and all circumstances. However, the summer night she’d been at Archie’s, the drinks were flowing and somehow, someway, she wound up on stage with the band, belting out Bei Mir Bis Du Schön. “That place is evil, Mike.”

Mike snorted as he grabbed his bag. “Not the place, Rose. Just the alcohol behind the bar that made its way into you.” Mike had been in attendance at both the wedding and Archie’s for that one-night-only performance. Since then, Rosalie had been much more cautious about her choice in beverages. Nearly five months later, she still couldn’t think about Jack Daniel’s without getting slightly nauseated. Maybe playing it safe wasn’t such a bad way to go. After all, she’d been burned by the Paganini decision, too.

Yet, even still, she felt the urge to push herself out of her comfort zone. Done playing it safe, Rose.

“I’ll be there.”

She reasoned, she’d steer clear of the Jack and his friends Jim and Johnnie, knowing that there was nothing wise about any of those three.

Calling her goodbyes over her shoulder, she walked to the front of the building. She was surprised to find a dog standing in the lobby, wagging his tail and watching her approach with what she considered to be knowing eyes. She looked around the lobby, expecting to find his owner, but there was only this dog who reminded her of the Shepard mix she’d had as a child. Resting the cello case near the wall, she placed her satchel next to it before dropping to her knees. The dog immediately came over to her and she tentatively held out her hand for the dog to sniff. Instead of stopping at her hand, he continued walking toward her, nuzzling his head into her shoulder.

The affection this dog showed her, an animal she’d never met, surprised her and she found herself getting a bit teary. He seemed to know exactly what she needed in that moment; the gentle understanding he offered, as if he knew this human was disappointed with how things had turned out, gave her comfort. Rosalie’s arms wrapped loosely around his neck and whispered, “My cat is going to be mad at me when I come home smelling of you.” Even so, she snuggled in more and allowed herself to have this moment with the dog that reminded her of home. “Where do you belong anyway? I’m assuming that someone around here is your owner.”

The dog seemed to understand her words and he pulled away from their embrace, licking her hand once before turning and disappearing down the hallway into one of the offices. Rosalie considered following him but was comforted by the fact that he seemed to know this place as though it was his own. Standing once more, she glanced around the lobby furtively, somewhat embarrassed by her emotional breakdown. Thankfully, there was no one that bore witness, other than the dog.

Mr. Holland was not impressed by the lingering scent when she got home. In fact, Rosalie got the cold shoulder, tail in the air and a quick huff away; all the while, she offered apologies at getting love from another animal, and a dog, at that. “Mr. Holland, I’m sorry but it was a crap day and he was right there.” If it were possible, the cat looked even more pissed off at the fact that a dogwas allowed in the theater. Whatever happened to animal equality?

She went on to tell Mr. Holland about the audition and the rudeness of the conductor who apparently thought he was God’s gift to music. Mr. Holland permitted Rosalie’s fingers closer and an occasional scratch behind the ears as she spoke. “He needs surgery to have the stick removed from his ass. Apparently he’d rather people play easy pieces. He probably would have chosen something like Minuet in F Major if he were auditioning.” She snorted, rolling her eyes. “F him.” She rolled her eyes at herself then. “Fuck you, Edward Cullen.” It felt good to say. Even if she couldn’t say it to his face, the thought was out there, floating in the world. His face kept flashing before her and if he wasn’t such an asshole, she might have found him attractive. Too bad he wasan asshole.

“Karma’s a bitch, right Mr. Holland?”

That evening, Rosalie wrapped herself in her red wool jacket, thinking how the last time she’d been at Archie’s she’d been wearing the same summer dress that she’d donned for the disastrous wedding. The fall ushered in the normal crisp chill to the air but winter had been threatening to arrive earlier than normal. With global warming, fall usually had the upper hand but winter was relentless that year and insisted on making itself known. Well, the weather may be different, but I can’t deny both trips to Archie’s followed a pretty disastrous day, she thought. Once more, she looped the knit scarf around her neck, adding a matching hat that she’d made. Tapping her index finger to the picture, she said her goodbyes to her parents and Mr. Holland before pulling on leather gloves. Mr. Holland looked not at all concerned while she prepared to leave, and she wondered if the cat even gave her a second thought while she was gone.

Hailing a taxi, she arrived outside of Archibald Blues before she had much time to think. Pleasantries were exchanged with the cabbie; some days these were the only people she interacted with at all and she was good at small talk. It seemed that lately, all she had been doing was going through the motions, pleasantries and meaningless conversation. Rosalie worried that it wasn’t right that the most meaningful conversations she had were with her cat. I’m going to wind up a cat lady, she thought bitterly. A cello-playing cat lady.

There was an imposing duo standing at the door, checking identifications and collecting money as a cover charge to pay the band of the evening. One look at Rosalie and she was waved directly in, both ID and money unimportant when it came to a person that looked like she did. If she realized it, she didn’t acknowledge it as she swept through the door and began to remove the garments that shielded her from the cold to hang on the rack near the entrance. The lights were low and the room was smoky, as was expected of any good jazz bar. The city had recently discussed passing a law to be smoke-free and establishments like Archie’s were looking for an out. While smoke wasn’t good for anyone’s lungs, people who came to a jazz bar expected certain atmospheric elements; a jazz bar simply wouldn’t feel like a jazz bar sans smoke.

Looking toward the stage, she caught sight of one of the musicians. The sandy-haired man held his choice of instrument in one hand, while discussing something with the other men in the ensemble. He squinted for a moment before the recognition lit in his eyes and he quickly spoke to the other members of the band. He counted off, and licked his lips before placing them to the trumpet’s brass mouthpiece. The opening notes to Bei Mir Bis Du Schön were not unfamiliar to her and she good-naturedly threw her middle finger in the air while he gestured for her to join them onstage with a flash of his trumpet.

Motherfucker, Jasper Whitlock. Rosalie lowered her hand to her hair but kept her finger prominently displayed as she walked to the bar, ignoring the invitation. She had met Jasper that fateful summer evening, when she decided it would be a good idea to band crash and slurred into his ear the song she wanted to sing. After she brought down the house with her impromptu number, Jasper and his girlfriend decided she was in no condition to get herself home, so they took a taxi with her to make sure she got there safely. She woke up the next morning to find an empty trash bin near the side of her bed and a post-it note with a phone number and the names Jasper and Alice written in bubbly handwriting underneath. And Hope you don’t spew. But if you’re going to spew, spew into this scrawled in Jasper’s chicken scratch. She didn’t see Jasper and Alice nearly enough but that was of her own accord; she didn’t want to burden their coupleness with her singleness. She had called to thank them for their kindness and they insisted on meeting her at a local diner for a greasy lunch. Rosalie didn’t normally do greasy but once in a while she indulged.

She didn’t spot Alice in the audience as she made her way through the crowd but waved to Mike and the oboist she’d seen earlier at the audition. Her smile was genuine as she exchanged hellos with other familiar faces along the way, yet not once did she stop to make conversation. She decided to play it safe with a bottle of beer, instead of a mixed drink. She didn’t plan on staying long, she had a class to teach the following morning, but it was always good to be seen out in the community. Looking around she saw a few empty booths but opted to take a bar stool.

After all, why would she take a booth for a party of one?

[~*~*~]

Edward always felt alone when he walked through the thick wooden door of Archibald Blues. The reason was, he had to leave Jack at home and this was one of the few places, besides the grocery store and the dentist’s office, where Jack didn’t accompany Edward. He bore being left behind better than Edward bore the leaving. He’d spared Edward his guilt-inducing puppy stare as he watched his owner change into faded Levi’s, a blue button down shirt and charcoal gray sweater. He didn’t even budge from his spot when Edward put on his coat and opened the front door to leave.

Yes, Edward was feeling very lonely that night indeed.

The glowing lights of the bar and warm laughter of its patrons cheered him a little. It was the anticipation of playing with his friend, Jasper, and his jazz band that really made him smile for the first time that day. He looked forward to Tuesday nights. Playing jazz piano at Archie’s with Jasper and the guys made it easy to forget the pressures of his job. It also removed any chance Bella would drift into his thoughts that night. He didn’t think of her often anymore, which was good. But once in a while…

He took off his coat and hung it by the door, then made his way toward the stage and Jasper.

“Edward! Have you come down off your virtuoso pedestal to play with us lowly minstrels?” Jasper teased.

“You dregs are my weekly reminder that I could be poor and starving, too,” Edward teased back, but the gleam of friendship they shared was evident in their welcoming smiles and the special handshake they’d invented when in school together.

Jasper eyed him carefully as Edward moved to the piano, sat down and lifted the lid up on the keyboard. “Looks like the pedestal was awfully high today. Are the demands of waving a tiny, little white stick around, pretending to be important, proving to be too much, Maestro?” A memory of incensed blue eyes and hair the color of hay shot through Edward’s mind like summer lightning, making him smirk before he could catch himself. Jasper caught it, though. Jasper always caught everything.

“What’s this?” Jasper started as he leaned up against the side of the upright piano. “I know that devious grin, and I have to say it’s a pleasure to see it again. So… let’s have it,” Jasper said, full of curiosity. Edward had been understandably morose since he and Bella split up, and the smirk he’d just seen on Edward’s face was more emotional expression than Edward had displayed in months. He hoped it was a good sign.

Edward met his gaze dead on but kept quiet. He’d learned it was sometimes better to be silent and not offer fuel to Jasper’s fire. He knew Jazz meant well, but the incident with Rosalie Hale was really nothing and not worth bringing up. In fact, he had no idea why she inspired so many automatic reactions in him; it was unsettling to say the least. He pursed his lips and let his eyes fall to the keys in front of him.

“Just the usual drama of auditions and divas. You should know how that goes.”

“Uh-huh. Okay, Cullen. Continue to be a tight-lipped prick,” Jasper quipped and smiled as he pushed off the piano.

“Happily,” Edward replied and brought his fingertips to the piano, pretending to make sure the instrument was in tune. Jasper moved back toward the center of the stage and told them to be ready to play in five.

Edward was glad the piano was tucked back in the corner of the stage. He enjoyed observing the crowd, and being in the back made it difficult for the crowd to see him. Most of the time, though, he let the music consume him and he gave himself up to it, happily escaping real life. For a little while anyway. The bar hadn’t gotten busy yet, and they played a few old standards to warm up. As the first hour passed into the second, more people filtered through the front after handing over five bucks for the cover charge and their IDs to the doormen. He recognized a few of the musicians that had auditioned for him, which made him even more grateful for the cover of the dark corner. Mike Newton laughed easily with Jessica, the new oboist. There were others whose faces looked familiar but whose names he didn’t know.

The band took a break, and Jasper turned to them to discuss the song line up for the evening. In mid-sentence, something caught his attention and Edward’s eyes followed Jasper’s, expecting to see Alice weaving her way through the crowd. Instead he saw Rosalie Hale. His mouth twisted into a devilishly playful smirk and he was astonished at fate’s generosity, bringing them together again so soon. Jasper’s smirk almost matched Edward’s as he told them to play Bei Mir Bis Du Schön. As soon as Rosalie recognized the melody, she wholeheartedly flipped off Jasper, and the band. It seemed Jasper and Rosalie knew each other, and Edward’s curiosity was immediately piqued.

During the next set break, Edward interrogated Jasper with an intensity that wasn’t even close to nonchalant, which is what Edward was going for. After hearing about the details of Rosalie’s solo imitation of the Andrews Sisters and her love affair with Jack Daniels, he bravely made his way toward her at the bar. After all, he didn’t really want to be her enemy, and he knew it was his fault she probably hated him. He wasn’t sure what to say to her; something told him she wouldn’t appreciate being bullshitted. He quickly decided he’d need a drink for whatever it was he was going to say.

A stiff one.

There was an empty stool next to her, because although Rosalie was very alluring, she wasn’t exactly inviting. Truth be told, people could (and did) say the same thing about him. He slid his leg over the cheap black vinyl stool and sat down beside her as if their little spat earlier that day had never taken place. He didn’t look directly at her; he was too busy trying to catch the eye of the bartender. He still needed that drink.

“Boy, you’ve got some nerve,” she said incredulously, and he almost cringed at the venom in her voice.

He looked her straight in the eye. “So I’ve been told.” He waited for her response, which she didn’t seem inclined to offer. She only glared icily at him, which secretly intrigued him. Here was this talented, beautiful, confident (and maybe a touch proud) woman who knew who he was, understood his influence in their musical sphere and yet wasn’t intimidated by him. She wasn’t kissing his ass, or looking for a handout, or trying to seduce him. He looked away from her cold blue eyes and managed to get the bartender’s attention. He certainly wished then that he hadn’t made himself her enemy.

The bartender came over and Edward ordered himself a seven and seven, and noticing Rosalie’s beer was almost empty, quickly tacked on “…and a refill of whatever she’s drinking,” before Rosalie could protest. She huffed, but didn’t argue, and Edward wondered hopefully and briefly if she was able to hold her tongue after all. Their drinks came and Rosalie sipped on her beer pensively.

“Why?” was all she said, but Edward knew exactly what she was asking.

“I told you why. Your shifts were sloppy.”

“I beg to differ. I’ve been playing that pie-”

And you can’t take criticism,” he interrupted her. “Listening to my instruction isn’t negotiable.”

Her face fell ever so slightly and only for the briefest of moments before her chin shot up proudly. “Any other advice you can offer, Maestro Cullen?” Her tone was tense but sincere.

“Look,” he said, softening his eyes as he looked at her. “You know you’re talented. You need to tone it down a little. Let the music own you a little, and not be so confident. You should think about that and then come back next season and audition again,” he suggested, but wasn’t sure what to make of the expression on her face. “Of course, it’s only advice. Take it or not,” he offered just to cover his bases. She looked away and took a healthy gulp of beer.

“Well, I’ll be very interested to hear your technique tonight on the piano, now that I know it’s you back there. What a rare treat,” she said trying to hide her sarcasm and failing.

“Wonderful, I’m looking forward to hearing your opinion of my Andrews Sisters repertoire.” He smirked as she shot a murderous stare at Jasper. With that, Edward said goodbye to Rosalie Hale, picked up his drink and walked back to the piano.

He kept an eye on her from his tucked away little corner. She finished her beer, said her goodbyes to Mike Newton and the others, then left alone. He didn’t get to play Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree for her, but perhaps that was for the best.

The rest of the night, he thought about Rosalie Hale. Of her flashing eyes and rigid posture, born from years of sitting behind her cello. Her pride in her ability, which in his view, bordered on conceit. His fingers caressed the piano as he played he-hardly-knew-what, and for the first time since… he couldn’t even remember, it wasn’t the music that kept Bella at bay, it was a woman.

Not a girl.

woman.

It was all very disconcerting.

When he got home he was still thinking about her, and as he took Jack for a quick walk before turning in for the night, he made a resolution. He would just stop thinking about her. So he did, for the most part. Kind of. Not really. In fact he fell asleep trying to decide exactly what shade of blonde her hair was.