A Little Night Music
Chapter One

     When Elise Wolf left home four years ago, the plan had been to start a band, struggle for a year or two, then make it big in the music scene. 

     As her beat-up Econoline van rumbled down Main Street, she hated thinking about how things hadn’t gone as planned with the band or anything else in her life lately. But at that moment, she was just happy the bucket of bolts made the two-hour trip from New York City back home to central Connecticut.  

     She drove into the parking lot in the back of Wolf’s Music Shop and turned off the engine so she wouldn’t wake everyone in the center of town. The van coughed, then sputtered a few times before it finally choked out one last breath and stopped. She waited for the white smoke to clear before she got out.

     “We’re finally home, buddy,” she said to Jarvis, now meowing from his cat carrier on the floor in the back. 

     The apartment her parents had fixed up for her, their gift to her for her eighteenth birthday, sat above the music shop that had been in her family for half a century. It was too early for the music shop to be open, so she headed up the back stairs.

     Even though her parents promised they would keep it vacant, she hadn’t exactly left on the best terms, and she worried they might’ve changed their mind. Relief flooded through her when her key slid into the lock.     

     The apartment appeared the same as when she left it, except for a few moving boxes near the big window overlooking Main Street. She strolled over and looked inside one of them. Someone neatly stacked her books in there, yet the empty bookcase stood where it always had. Everything else remained the same, too. The living room furniture, the television, and the dinette table in the small kitchen.      

      Maybe they reconsidered and packed up her things?

      Elise sank into the cushions on the sofa. For the year that she’d lived there, the place served its purpose. It allowed her to be independent, something she had craved since her violin prodigy days when her mother suffocated her being the overbearing ‘stage mom.’ 

       Only after she’d been on her own for a few months had she regretted leaving. 

       Elise would never admit it to them, but she had done things these past couple of years that she hadn’t exactly been proud of.  But when you’re struggling to survive and too proud to admit you’re wrong, you do what you have to. And if dumpster diving ever became an Olympic sport, she could probably win a medal.

       She curled up in a ball, closed her eyes, and let the quiet envelope her until Jarvis meowed from inside his carrier. She opened the front door, and he bolted out, happy to be free.

     “Oh, no you don’t, little buddy.”

     Until she went back down to the van to get his litter box, she would put him in the 

bathroom. Much easier to clean cat pee or poo from linoleum than from the carpet. 

     She chased Jarvis into her bedroom. He ran over the guy who’d been sleeping in her bed and now bolted upright, grabbed Jarvis as he ran by him, and held the cat in front of his, uh, well, his master of ceremonies, while she screamed like an actress in a cheesy slasher flick.

      She slapped her hands over her eyes while her heart jackhammered in her chest. 

     “Who the hell are you?” 

     “I should ask you that question.” His raspy voice made her cringe.

      She splayed her fingers and peeked at him. “This is my place.”

     “No, this is my place. I just bought it two days ago.” 

      She dropped her hands. Her family would never sell Wolf Violins. Would they?               Her heart fell with the silence between them, neither of them moving.

      Never one to make too much eye contact with anyone, her stare wandered to his muscular biceps, both sporting colorful tattoos.  On his right arm, the maple leaves in black and white gradually turned into the reds and golds of autumn. The other arm had a shield, most likely his family’s crest.

      As he held Jarvis, his muscles tightened across his chest and six-pack abs. Her gaze traveled lower to his dark-haired happy trail which led to—Jarvis. The cat glanced up at her and meowed. 

      She dragged her gaze back up and in the quick second she caught his eyes with hers, recognition dawned on her. The guy holding her cat in front of his private parts was Tristan Morgan, lead singer of the hugely popular band, YOUR MOTHER’S WORST NIGHTMARE. 

     Tristan’s brows rose slightly, and his expression softened.

     Her stomach bottomed out. Her father would give her the same sympathetic look every time her mother would announce another North American violin tour. The same compassion and truth in Tristan’s eyes at that moment. 

     He hadn’t lied about buying this place.

     That her parents, along with her uncle, sold the business out from under her, meant they were still angry with her for giving up the violin and living her life the way she wanted.

     “Give me a sec to get dressed and I’ll explain everything,” Tristan said. 

     Elise shook her head and cleared the emotion from her throat. 

     “Don’t. I’ll just take my cat and go.”

     She left the room and bit down hard on her lip to stop it from wobbling. 

Jarvis ran past her and disappeared behind the bookcase. 

     “Come on, Jarvis. Don’t give me a hard time.” She got on all fours and stuck her arm behind the bookcase. She grazed Jarvis’s tail and he ran out then jumped up on the windowsill. Elise grabbed him around the middle and attempted to put him back in the carrier, but he wiggled free. She turned to go after him again and found him weaving in and out of Tristan’s legs. 

      Tristan had epic bedhead. She’d seen him in concert about four months ago and his bangs were slicked back. Now they hung down over his left eye. The rest of his hair stuck up all over his head. He wore a wrinkled black Ramones tee shirt and skinny jeans. On his left wrist, he wore a beaded bracelet tied into a knot.

       He bent down and picked up Jarvis. “He’s purring.” 

       “He’s a traitor,” she said, taking Jarvis out of his arms and holding down the cat’s front paws to place him back in the carrier. 

      “Why don’t you come with me to the café next door so I can fill you in on the details. I’ll buy you breakfast, too.”

      “Thanks, but no thanks.”

      She got to the door, and he had followed her. 

      “Are you sure? How about a cup of coffee or tea?” He asked.

      She opened the door and headed to the stairs. 

     “Can I offer you anything?” He said, his voice straining.

     “Can you offer me a life? Because that’s what I’m in desperate need of right now.”            She glanced up in time to see another one of his half grins and kind gaze. Worse than anything, she hated people pitying her. During her entire violin prodigy career, she’d fielded those looks from people. People came out to her performances to hear the gifted child. The musical genius. But they also gave her that same empathetic stare, knowing her life consisted of lessons, rehearsals, and performances instead of soccer, ballet, and whatever else ordinary kids did. No wonder she hated making eye contact.

      Back in the van, she rested her cheek on the steering wheel and let the dam burst. She hadn’t allowed herself to cry since she caught Neil in a compromising position with another woman in that backstage closet two nights ago. 

      On their drives between gigs, they’d talked about their future. Whether they made it big in the industry, he had promised her that eventually they’d settle down and have a normal life. Well, what normal looked like to her, anyway. A loving relationship between two equal partners. Definitely not the constant bickering her parents had always done.

      A knock on the van’s window dragged her back to reality. She quickly wiped the tears from her face as Tristan motioned for her to roll down the window.      

      She ran her hand over her cheek and felt an indentation. In her side-view mirror, she saw the Ford logo imprinted on her face.

      If Tristan noticed, he didn’t react. “You want my advice?”

      “Not really.” She stared straight ahead. 

      “I’m going to give it to you, anyway. Talk to your family.”

      Elise remained silent. Admitting defeat by coming home had been hard enough.             Tristan leaned in closer. “No one in your family called to tell you they sold this place?” 

      “No, but to be fair, they offered it to me, and I told them I had no desire to work or live here.” She sniffed. That was at Christmas. She never would’ve guessed four months later she’d change her mind. Now that her family sold the place, she didn’t know what to do because going back to Neil or their band was not an option. 

      Tristan nodded.  “You should still talk to them. I know it’s hard to admit when you’re wrong, but unless living out of your van is a new dream of yours, I don’t think you have a choice.”

      Elise started the engine, and the van roared to life. She didn’t want advice from another musician, even if he was the famous Tristan Morgan.

      “Yeah, you’re right. I’m going to go home and talk to them.” She said it to shut him up, then closed the window.

      Tristan moved out of the way, and she backed up. She gave a little wave and pulled away slowly, the van bucking as if it took its last breath. At the end of the driveway, she took a right.  For the next hour, she drove around aimlessly until she ended up in the empty parking lot of a boarded-up restaurant.

     Going home to her parents wasn’t out of the question. She just hadn’t exhausted all her options yet. And once she figured out exactly what those other options were, she’d be in great shape.

                                                                         ***

                                            

       Home from his band’s world tour for the past month, Tristan would soon find out if surgery would fix the issue with his vocal cords or if he’d never sing again. He and his band had only performed one show when he woke up the next morning with no voice at all.

      Tristan trudged back up the back stairs to his apartment. He’d been in recovery for alcoholism for almost two years now, so it had to be at least that long since an attractive woman woke him for a sound sleep. Thinking about Elise letting out a scream and covering her eyes brought a smile to his face. One thing he knew for sure — the entire episode got his mind off his vocal cord problem. For a few minutes, anyway. 

      He’d only been home a couple of days when he started hanging out with his sister-in-law, Sam, at the café next door. Sam managed the café and would chat while she worked, but eventually she’d get tied up with something. Boredom propelled him next door to Wolf’s Violin and Music Shop. As a kid, his mother would take him there to buy the music books for his piano lessons. 

      It had been years since he’d been inside and nothing much had changed. Violins still hung from the ceiling. Cellos stood at attention against the far wall. Yet probably only he would notice the biggest change to the place. 

      A glass case housing bows and strings had replaced the bulletin board behind the front counter. That’s where he would see the newspaper clippings showcasing Elise as a prodigy.

      He vividly remembered staring at the little girl in those pictures. Part of him envied her. He wanted to travel and perform the piano for people, the way she performed her violin. But the longer he looked at those pictures of her, he noticed her brown eyes were always wide with fear, the same look she wore standing in his bedroom just minutes earlier. 

      He may have only been eleven, but he always questioned why her parents made her do it. She obviously hated it. She never smiled. 

      His parents never forced him to play the piano. It was his choice, and he loved it.

      After he revisited the shop that first day, he searched Google for Elise. She hadn’t performed her violin in public since she was eighteen, but he couldn’t find any more information than that.

      Tristan returned to the music shop the next day. He brought treats from the café and really hoped to see Elise there.

      When Mr. Wolf, or John as he insisted Tristan call me, informed him that Elise had left home and the business a few years earlier, his heart dropped in disappointment. Conversation then turned to the music shop itself. That’s when Tristan discovered that Elise’s parents, along with John’s brother Alaric, were looking to retire and sell the music shop. John mentioned they had asked Elise to take it over, but she refused. 

      To pass the time, Tristan visited the music shop regularly. He enjoyed talking music with his new friends. Then the Wolf brothers asked him if he’d be interested in buying the place. 

       Judging by the way Tristan had found Elise crying in her van moments earlier, he guessed the gifted violinist regretted her decision of not staying in the family business.

       Back in his apartment, Tristan unrolled the architect’s plans for the music shop onto the kitchen table when someone knocked at the door.     

        “Hi again.” 

         Elise stood there looking everywhere but at him.

        “That was quick,” he said, referring to her visit with her family. 

         “I haven’t gone back home yet.”

         He figured as much.

         “Why not?”

         “I have my reasons. What do you really know about running a music shop?”

         “Nothing.  That’s why I need to hire—”

         “Me.” She brought her eyes to his. “You should hire me.”

         A hint of desperation glinted in that cocoa gaze of hers. Then she blinked and defiance flashed. He gave her credit for not going down without a fight.

         “I should?” he asked.

         “Absolutely. Before I left home, I apprenticed to be a luthier, but I also worked in the music shop. Are you planning on keeping the inventory?”

         “Your family insisted I purchase the shop with the inventory, but I plan on selling most of it off.”

         Tears shimmered in her eyes. 

         Oh shit. “Not all of it, just some of it.”

        “Why would you do that?” Her voice strained with emotion.

        “Because I’m turning this into a music school.” 

        Elise nodded, then pulled her shoulders back and raised her chin. “You’ll need some help selling the instruments, though.”

         She held her shiny black hair up with a clip. A few pieces had escaped and framed her pretty face while she championed her cause.

         “How about this? When I get ready to do that, you’ll be the first one I call.” 

         Elise hooked the stray strand of hair behind her ear, looking around him to see inside. Her stare landed on the table. 

        “What’s that?”

        “The plans for this place. Would you like to see them?”

        She nodded, and he motioned for her to come inside.

        “I’m going to soundproof the rooms in the basement for music lessons. I’ll keep some violins and cellos for lessons.” He pointed to the drawings. “After seeing the violin workshop in the back of the store, I’ve been thinking of expanding it so we could teach kids how to make guitars.”

         Elise remained quiet as he continued showing her the plans to convert the apartment to an office. 

        “What do you think? I’m pretty proud of it.” 

        He thought the idea was genius.

        Elise just kept nodding. “So, you would only need me here until you sell the inventory?”

       “Right.”

       “Okay. Well, thanks anyway.” 

        Her voice cracked with emotion, and his stomach flipped. She wore the same expression she had earlier, the one that told him she had just lost everything. Shit.                   Crying women were his Kryptonite.

         In the doorway, she swiped her sleeve across her face at her tears. “Thanks again.”

         She closed the door behind her, leaving Tristan staring at the door, battling the sudden silence.

         What the hell did she mean by ‘she had her reasons?’ The last thing he wanted to do was get in the middle of some family feud regarding the business. Yet something nagged at him. He needed her to know something.

         He skipped down the stairs and ran across the parking lot as Elise climbed back inside her van.

         She rolled down the window when he knocked on it. 

        “I bought this place with good intentions.”

        For the first time since they met, her eyes searched his for more than a nanosecond. 

         “I’m happy for you,” she said, attempting to roll up the window until he stuck his hand in to stop her.

            She spun her eyes heavenward but stopped before she reached his hand.

            “I don’t want you to think I had any part in putting a wedge between you and your folks. Family is important and life’s too short to let petty shit keep you away from them.”

            “Thanks for the words of wisdom.” She rolled up the window and started the van.             He went back inside. He said what he needed to say. Hopefully, Elise would listen to him this time and go home.