Song of Love Chapter One: To take your mind off Covid19

It has been a while since I posted last. Now that we are in Covid19-lockdown, I thought it might be nice to share some of my writing with you. This is the start to a novel called "Song of Love".



Chapter One


Nate Cooper sat in the middle of his worn carpet and blew the dust off a brown cardboard box. He was tempted to dump its contents straight into the black rubbish bag beside him without sifting through. He’d already inhaled enough dust for the day and his knees were getting sore. The cold of the winter afternoon seeped through the single-glazed aluminium windows, chilling his fingers. Not much longer and he would be able to see the steam of his breath in front of him.
The shabby box was filled with nearly two decades of music sheets, lyrics and a few pages of commercially produced sheet music. This was the last of half a dozen boxes his mother had stored in her garage since he’d moved out years ago. Now that she had remarried, she wanted the boxes gone.
He fished a creased white piece of paper out of the box, filled with words and a chord progression written in blue ink pen. Lifting his hand to deposit it in the black bag, he stopped as something about the chords struck him, a shift from major to minor and back, an unusual sus9 chord, and the words “Remember midsummer”.
Almost two decades ago, the tune for the song had come out of him through his first guitar that now stood by the door; the chords hammered out over the course of an hour. The lyrics had leached from his soul onto the white paper, penned with a fountain pen his grandfather had given him when he first started high school.
Nate sighed and shook his head before tossing it in the rubbish. He dug into the box and picked up another handful of papers, sifting through the pile one by one: a folksong from Argentina with lyrics he never learnt how to pronounce properly, a rendition of Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds, arranged for guitar and violin and the chords to Pokarekare Ana.
The papers ended up in the rubbish bag along with a handful of printed sheets he couldn’t be bothered to go through, hiding the words he’d written from view.
“Salty lips and your face covered in freckles”. How could he forget?
He looked up, once again tempted to throw the lot out. Soon Lexi, his sixteen-year-old niece, would turn up as she did twice a week after school. She’d expect afternoon tea, not her exasperated uncle in a dust-infused studio.
The room under the roof of his house in suburban Christchurch was the most unsuitable place for a recording studio. The temperature fluctuations under the poorly insulated slanted ceiling were less than ideal for his beloved guitars: too hot in summer, too cold in winter. He had considered swapping his downstairs bedroom with the studio, but the small room upstairs wouldn’t fit his king-sized bed. And at nearly forty, he had no intention of going back to sleeping in a single bed.
For a brief moment, he longed for the modern, uncluttered space in the trendy office he leased in town for his graphic design business, for the clean lines and the natural light streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows, most of all, for his beloved vintage Italian coffee machine. But for now, the crammed space upstairs had to suffice.
Nate’s legs had gone to sleep, and tingled as he pushed onto his knees and stretched his legs. The studio was small – a child’s bedroom in this seventies’ former state house he’d bought a few years ago. From the first floor, a short staircase led upstairs into two identical rooms mirrored across a tiny landing.
Lining one wall of the studio was his collection of acoustic guitars, propped up on their stands as if on guard, ready to play after a quick tune, at a moment’s notice. They gleamed in the faint afternoon sun that shone through the window at a slant. On the opposite wall stood three different electric guitars and three bass guitars.
Amplifiers and mixers were strategically tucked into corner spaces and a couple of microphones on stands stood either side of the window. Rows of egg cartons covered half of the sloped ceiling in an attempt to improve the acoustics of the room and on the opposite side, a handwoven wall hanging he’d picked up from the charity shop was tacked into the ceiling to soften the tones that bounced off the sarked timber ceiling.
He took a deep breath and ran a hand over his head. His eyes were drawn to the black bag. Unable to resist, he reached inside and pulled out the creased white paper.
“Remember midsummer”. With the sheet in his hand, he reached for the guitar and lifted himself onto the ergonomically designed guitar stool he favoured these days. He pinned the sheet to a music stand with two bulldog clips and lifted his hands to tune the guitar.
With stiff hands and sluggish fingers, the first few chords came out muted. He hummed, then sang the first couple of bars in the wrong key, too low.
“Salty lips and your face covered in freckles.”
Muting the strings with the palm of his hand, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Don’t be daft, he thought. It’s just an old song.
He’d only seen Lorna once in all those years, about a decade ago, when they had bumped into each other in a music store on the outskirts of town. She’d taken her older son to buy him a guitar, and their conversation had centred around the safe topic of selecting a suitable instrument for the boy. When she suggested they catch up another day for a coffee, he’d made up an excuse.
He looked down on the song sheet, strummed a few introductory chords with a tremor in his hand, then decided that he wouldn’t let an old song and a few painful memories get to him.
“Bare feet digging into the sand, cold against the heat of your skin.”
The song came easily now that he played it like a random pop song picked up from the radio or from a YouTube video. He barely had to stretch his voice, and the words came out easily, flat and safe.
“That was then, and now is now.”
“That was crap!”
Lexi stood in the door in her puffer jacket and the dark blue beanie he’d given her for her birthday a month earlier. He had no idea how long she had been standing there. “You didn’t mean a thing you sang,” she said. “And the Fender Malibu would sound a million times better.”
One day, she would manage a famous boyband or a pop diva and push them to their limits, not accepting anything less than perfection. For now, she’d have to practise on him.
“I’m not sure I even like that song,” Nate said.
Lexi was already lifting the Malibu off its stand. “You don’t have to like it to sing it,” she said matter-of-factly. “But if you do sing it, do it some justice.”
She passed him the Malibu, then dropped her puffer jacket on the floor and quickly shifted the box and the rubbish bag out of the way to set up the black canvas background she used for recording their videos. Nate tuned the Malibu, played a quick riff to get used to the different neck, hummed the tune and cleared his voice.
The perfectionist in him wanted to sing the song again, even if it meant facing memories of love, desperation and anger. This time, he would put the stress into the right words, extend his vocals into the chorus, play with the dynamics.
“Pretend that I am the girl in the song,” his niece said as she mounted her phone onto a camera stand.
Nate smiled inwardly. She had no way of understanding how impossible that request was. “That won’t work for me, Lexi. Not this song.”
She shrugged her shoulders, too wrapped up in the excitement of the impending recording, the challenge of a new song, to notice the edge in his voice. She fought with the camera stand, pulled her beanie off in frustration and tucked her glossy black hair behind her ears.
“Imagine singing to the girl. Tell her how you felt. Be vulnerable.”
It was one of her favourite words. Over the course of the last few months, she’d repeatedly told him to open up and be genuine in his music, and he’d always laughed it off. It seemed like a fad in the YouTube videos that Lexi was so passionate about. But this time, he took her advice as if she were a Hollywood director.
Lexi tapped the screen and gave him the thumbs up to start.
Nate extended his vocal range, added an edge to the chorus, his voice clear and modulated. “Salty lips and your face covered in freckles.” He closed his eyes, sang quietly as the mode shifted to minor. Pictures of Lorna’s broad smile on her sun-kissed face flooded his brain. He built to a crescendo as he imagined her somewhere beyond the camera.
His fingers raced over the fret as if they’d played that song all their life, and the lyrics came out without reading them off the sheet in front of him. “Now is black, now is rain.” He broke into a sweat, then felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “Now is bleak, now is pain.” As the song came to an end, he whispered the final words and gazed into the camera until the last sound had vanished.
Nate exhaled deeply as if he’d been holding his breath all this time, hopped off the chair and pushed the Malibu into Lexi’s hand, wiping his eyes on his way downstairs to get a much needed drink.
The kettle seemed to take ages to come to the boil while Nate stood at the bench, pushing one hand on top of the other to stop the tremor. He inhaled deeply through his nose, then exhaled through his mouth to calm the old anger and despair. After all, twenty years had passed since Lorna dumped him.
“Nate, have a look at this,” Lexi said, suddenly appearing in the kitchen with her laptop in her arm.
With the kettle in his hand, he glanced at the screen beside him. The image of himself singing his heart out to a woman from the past made him cringe, and he reached across the screen to pause the video.
“I can’t watch this,” he said. “It’s bloody embarrassing.”
Lexi pushed his hand out of the way and restarted the song.
“Don’t be daft! It’s great. People will love it!”
Nate threw another look to see himself strum the guitar while his voice turned up in a crescendo until he couldn’t bear the look of himself any longer. He poured the hot water into his cup and closed his eyes. The song was good, no doubt about that, and the emotion in his voice hit the listener straight in the chest.
“It’s too personal. Too raw,” he said as he tugged on the teabag and watched the colour of the liquid darken. “I’m not comfortable exposing myself to the world like this.”
“People won’t know that this is Nate Cooper singing to them,” Lexi said in a patient voice as if she were a teacher talking to an upset child. “You’ll just be a cool guy from New Zealand making great music. It only feels personal to you.”
She pushed the replay button, then left Nate alone in the kitchen. With his teacup in one hand and the laptop in the other, he sat down at his kitchen table and watched the video again, pretending to be someone random. But with the words came the memories. “Remember midsummer.” So much time had passed, but the knot in his chest tightened with the same intensity as it had the night he’d written the words. He clenched. Unable to separate himself from the song, he snapped the laptop shut and swore under his breath.
For a moment, he pictured the video going viral on YouTube, imagined words of admiration by fans, a recording contract after being randomly discovered by a boutique music label.
“So, what do you think?” Lexi, back in the kitchen, pulled him out of his daydreams, her voice under a mask of calmness when he knew exactly how badly she wanted to upload the video onto YouTube right away.
She was the most articulate, manipulative and delightful sixteen-year-old he’d ever met, and the closest he’d ever get to having his own children.
He’d been dead set against a YouTube channel for his music because he didn’t have the energy or interest to devote to it. But Lexi had pestered him with carefully worded arguments. When she asked him to let her set up and manage his YouTube channel, something that she said would allow her to try out all the hacks she’d studied ever since she’d watched the first children’s vlog at age ten, he relented.
“Alright,” he’d finally agreed. “You run each video past me before you upload it. And you monitor the comments and let me know if there’s anything unusual or inappropriate.”
After a tight hug, she’d whispered, “Thanks, Uncle Nate.” Sucker. She hadn’t called him ‘uncle’ for years.
Now Nate emptied his cup of tea. “I need to sleep on it. I’ll make a decision tomorrow.”
He should have known then that Lexi wouldn’t want to wait that long.

***

Lorna Fisher zipped up her handbag and pushed her sleek new office chair under her desk. She glanced down on the surface in front of her, ready for the next day: her pens were stacked in a small penholder stand and colour-coded sticky notes formed a neat border around the edge of her desk (blue for emails to respond to, green for quotes to price, red for follow up phone-calls). A separate to-do-list was stuck on a pad with seven star-shaped and four asterisk bullet points. They had their own significance that only she understood.
Lorna had laughed at Delia, her business partner, when she had suggested that she download an app for her to-do-lists.
“Digital lists can’t be moved around the desk. I’m a tactile person. I like to shift things around.”
As she turned to leave the open-plan office on the fifteenth floor of one of the few tall buildings left in Christchurch, her phone dinged. It would be her friend Marian who had plenty of time on hand during work hours to scroll through Facebook, watch YouTube videos and send useless memes and GIFs to Lorna. Unlike her, Marian didn’t own her own company and could easily waste a couple of hours each day on her phone, on full pay, of course.
“See you tomorrow,” Lorna called to Delia and their junior assistant Tash on her way out. She looked forward to spending time with her teenage sons once she got home. Hopefully, Zac would remember to start tea as he’d promised. As for Liam, she could never quite be sure of his mood these days. Back home from his first semester at Uni in Dunedin, he’d become taciturn and withdrawn.
Lorna pushed the gold-rimmed button on the elevator and waited, checking her phone’s notifications. If she was fast enough, she could clear all of Marian’s crap by the time she got to ground level. The first message was a GIF of a meerkat popping in and out of a ground hole like a Jack-in-a-box. She couldn’t help but smile at the little creature on her screen. Then there was a video of twelve firemen with naked torsos, singing Twelve days to Christmas. A meme about friendship. It was cheesy and clichéd, but she gave it a ‘like’ anyway. One of those Facebook equivalents of a chain letter implying that if you didn’t share the post, you didn’t care about people suffering from cancer. And just when she was about to slide her phone into her pocket, she saw a tagged link to a video on YouTube with the comment by delightful_cake, Marian’s user name: This song is about you, Lorna Fisher. 100%.

***

Lexi entered Nate’s office with a frown on her forehead and stopped in the middle of the room. She hardly ever visited him at work and for a moment, Nate worried that something had happened to his sister. Instead, she was here to fess up.
She straightened her shoulders and looked into his eyes. “I uploaded your video last night.”
“Why the hell did you do that?” Nate kept his voice calm, but Lexi knew him well enough to know that he was angry.
Shrinking in front of him, she dropped her school bag and looked down onto her shoes.
“I was worried that you’d say no.”
The fact that she was so honest took the wind out of his sails and he was momentarily lost for words.
“So you decided to quickly upload it before I had a chance to say no?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s pretty much it.”
Nate threw his hands up in the air and left his office space to vent his anger in the corridor.
“Seriously? Lexi!”
Pacing up and down the narrow space, he mumbled that she was the most infuriating person he’d ever known.
When he returned to his office, she was sitting at his work space, careful not to touch any of the glossy pictures and bold lettering that were scattered over the surface.
“I’m really sorry,” she said in a small voice. “I should have asked, I know.”
When it was obvious that Nate wasn’t going to add anything to her apology, she spoke, quietly hopeful.
“It’s had over five hundred views already,” she said, pointing at a number on her phone below his YouTube video. “And that’s after only a few hours.”
“Song of Love?” he asked when he saw the video’s title. “Is that the best you could come with?”
Lexi opened her mouth to argue with him, then shut it again. She was learning to pick her battles and today, she wanted to keep the peace with her uncle.
“I like it,” she said and clicked on the video, avoiding any further discussion about the title.
Nate cringed at the sight of himself, staring back at him as if talking to Lorna directly. His feelings so blatantly obvious to anyone who’d watch the video. How could he even for a moment have wished for this to go viral the day before?
“I look like an idiot!” he said. “A git! A weak git.”
Lexi shook her head, her regretful stance forgotten, and spoke with determination.
“If you were sobbing for your lost love, yes. But you’re not.” She paused, her eyes still on the phone. “Look, you’re angry, hurt. That’s not weak.”
Lexi pointed a finger at his counterpart on screen. “There’s people all over the world, at this very moment, feeling what you’re expressing. They’ll watch your video and feel understood, reassured.” She paused, waited for impact, and then carried on. “You’re giving people a voice.”
This was Lexi at her best. Convincing. Conniving.
“Somebody will find comfort in your song,” she continued. “Don’t you think that’s worth it?”
Nate shook his head. “That’s hard to believe.”
The music stopped, leaving Nate’s face frozen on the screen as a small tile beside other videos that Lexi had watched recently.
She inhaled deeply, once again implying that she was the understanding adult while he was the fretful child.
“Listen to this,” Lexi said. “KatefromSpain says ‘Thanks Nate for putting into words what I’m feeling right now. I listened to your song ten times last night when I was crying myself to sleep’.”
Nate shrugged. “One comment hardly qualifies,” he said.
“What about this one, then?” Lexi said. “What a powerful song Nate thanx 4 uploading great stuff now I no I’m not alone.’”
Nate studied her bright eyes, her sincere look.
“These people don’t care if you’re Nate Cooper from Christchurch or some random person from The Back of Beyond. All that matters is that you put into words what they’re feeling.” She pushed replay on the YouTube video and listened to the first few bars. “And you’re pulling it off because you’re genuine.”
Nate studied his niece’s soft face, the smooth forehead unmarked by worry lines, her clear, bright eyes.
She was smart, probably smarter than he was. Could she be right about this?

***

Lorna tapped on the link, and there was Nate Cooper with his guitar in a darkish studio, looking at her, reminding her how she broke his heart twenty years ago.
Her eyes were glued to the screen and when the elevator stopped, she didn’t move, didn’t even push pause, because his eyes were glistening (or was this an effect of the dim lighting?) and his voice caught in his throat.
She was back in her student dorm when she’d told him that she couldn’t see him anymore. She had new friends, a new life, new experiences to make, and he didn’t fit into that world. She knew that he knew that he didn’t fit in. He was embarrassed about his background, and anyway, what was the point when she was pregnant to Lawrence, the smarmy law student, and he’d offered her to move in with him and help out when the baby was born?
The elevator doors had opened and shut. Lorna’s heart was racing, and she was still staring at Nate’s face, now travelling back up. His words made a knot form in her throat and she had to get to the end of the song before she could take in anything else.
“Long day?” A thin man in a grey suit and a pink tie spoke to her. She had no idea how long he’d been in there with her or whether he had indeed spoken to her already.
She looked up, Nate’s voice still echoing in her ears, the words clutching at her. “Remember midsummer.” How could he sing this song now, after all this time, and make her feel like it happened yesterday?
“Yep,” she said, turned the screen off and put her phone away. “A long day indeed.”

***

“You’ve had over a thousand views,” Lexi said the next day, puffed from her bike ride and with rosy cheeks, when she’d dumped her school bag and down jacket in the hall of his house.
“That’s great,” Nate said, lacking her enthusiasm for the video’s success. “That doesn’t change the fact that you should’ve asked me before you uploaded that video.” He shut the door behind her and followed her into the kitchen where she spread out her homework on the table, then automatically opened the fridge, looking for food.
He’d moved on from her indiscretion, but there was no harm in reminding her that she’d broken an agreement.
“I know,” she said as she helped herself to one of the gourmet yoghurts he bought especially for her. According to Lexi, his sister refused to buy them because they were so expensive. She removed the lid and licked the inside off with great delight. Only when she’d stuck a spoon into the creamy mixture did she look up at him. “This was an exception, Nate. It was raw, unedited footage versus curated content that every Joe Bloggs can produce.” When he didn’t respond, she added, “We talked about this a while ago.”.
Indeed, she had talked about it for hours, it seemed, but his thoughts had drifted away after a few minutes because he could talk about social media, influencers, viral videos and followers only for a very short time before he lost interest.
Lexi’s green woollen school jersey was draped over her shoulders and the frayed ends of the sleeves hung down her sides in flat tubes. Long strands of hair fell loosely over her back, finally freed from the compulsory school-imposed ponytail she disliked so much.
She looked up from the schoolbooks spread out over Nate’s wooden kitchen table: a dog-eared dictionary, a red lined exercise book and a skinny textbook. He thought the only reason he kept the table was so Lexi could do her homework there. His small kitchen had a breakfast bar which was more than enough for him to sit and eat at. But he liked the square table which he’d picked up from a second hand dealer a few years ago, especially the scratches and dints from its previous owners.
Some days, he pictured a family of four sitting around the table. Two kids squabbling over the size of their helpings of ice-cream, and their parents rolling their eyes at each other in despair over the mundane fights the children never grew tired of.
Lexi shut her books, stuffed them back into her school bag and filled the jug.
“Cup of tea?” she asked as she opened the cup drawer and found two identical white cups with musical notes on them.
“Yes, please,” he said. “There’s some cake left over in the cake tin. I bought it at the French bakery yesterday.”
Outside, the day had turned grey and gloomy. Nate turned on the lights in the kitchen and stoked the fire in the lounge. This winter felt colder and bleaker than any previous ones, he thought. As if all the colour had been sucked out of the environment, leaving a grey tint hanging over the city like winter smog.
Lexi brought the tea and a couple of slices of cake into the lounge. The two abstract prints on the wall opposite helped dispel the gloom Nate had felt in the kitchen. Sitting down next to the heat of the fire, he soon forgot about the winter cold. Lexi cast the laptop screen onto the TV in front of them. She clicked onto his YouTube channel and read out the number of subscribers.
“Two hundred-and-seven! That’s a new record.” She beamed at him. Despite his previous lack of enthusiasm, he couldn’t help but sit a little taller and smile.
“Well done, Lexi,” he said, giving her a friendly nudge.
“We have almost fifteen hundred views on the new video,” she said.
What would it feel like if his video went viral? A sudden thrill shot through him as he considered the possibility of being discovered, of becoming famous. He’d make a lot of money and he might not have to work anymore.
He shook his head, amused at his daydreaming. What had caused this sudden desire for recognition? Only a short time ago he’d wanted to sink into the floor at the thought of sharing this video with the world.
Fifteen hundred views hardly counted as anything in the world of YouTube, he scoffed at himself. Even if the video was his best, no doubt. Not because of its cinematography or lighting. It was the absence of any polish that made it. And his feelings for Lorna, brought back by his own lyrics.
“Now is black, now is rain. Now is bleak, now is pain.” The whole song was distilled into a powerful rawness that was so authentic he felt the prickle of tears in his eyes every time he watched it.
“You got quite a few comments,” she said as she scrolled down the page. “Under_writer says, ‘well done, dude. My heart is bleeding for you. I feel ya pain.’”
Nate pictured a love-sick, slightly overweight middle-aged man, newly divorced. “A bit overdramatic, don’t you think?” he said.
“What about this one? Burn baby burn says, ‘Great voice great lyrics crap video get a proper camera’.”
He glanced at her. “Not a chance. Don’t even think about it, Lexibub.”
She gave him a shove. “Call me that again, and I’ll send your phone number and address to this subscriber.” She pointed at the next comment on the screen.
“Lovehurts, ‘gimme ur numba & i’ll take ur mind of da wuman who hurt u.’”
He pulled a face at her, but wondered if it would be so wrong to let a woman take his mind off things for a while. A bit of human warmth during those bleak winter nights would be desirable, wouldn’t it?
Outside, daylight faded. The heat of the fire made him drowsy and his eyelids were drooping. He closed his eyes and listened to Lexi as she read a few more comments, the majority written by women.
He’d never admit it to anyone, but the comments bolstered his ego. Once again, his imagination wandered. He was crooning a song, strumming his guitar while a crowd of female admirers sat at his feet, their eyes set on him. Was this what being a rockstar felt like?
Lexi poked her elbow into his sides.
“This one’s just been added a few minutes ago,” she said with her mouth half-full of cake. “Delightful_cake, ‘This song is about you, Lorna Fisher. 100%.’”
He opened his eyes to see her point at the comment. The tagged username stood out like a house on fire.
“Nate?”
Lexi looked at him, opening her mouth to make a joke, he presumed, but then shut it again. She clicked on the username, and a profile picture of a donkey popped up. There was no content, no comments, and no videos attached to the profile.
She re-read the comment and finally spoke.
Is she the woman who this song is about?”
His heart was pounding in his throat and his fingers turned clammy. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Yep, that’s her. That’s her alright.”

***

Zac’s chicken casserole was delicious. They sat around the solid oak dining room table, the only visible remnant of Lorna’s marriage to Lawrence who now lived in Dunedin. Liam was more talkative than she expected, sharing stories about his friends at Uni, about his professors and tutors. There was something too shiny about his voice that didn’t quite sound like him, almost too cheerful. When she pushed the conversation away from Uni, it was as if he didn’t know what to talk about.
And then suddenly, he stood.
“I’m exhausted,” he said and left the table without any further comment.
“What about cleaning up the kitchen?” she called after him, but he’d already disappeared into his room. Normally, she would have made him clean up the kitchen since Zac had prepared dinner, but today, she let him get away with it.
“Thanks for a lovely meal,” she said to her younger boy and pulled him into a hug. “You are turning into quite a chef.”
Zac freed himself from her hug and pushed his long blonde fringe out of his eyes. He flopped down on the worn family sofa in the lounge and turned on the TV; his long legs reaching all the way across the couch. Lorna tidied up the kitchen, then made up an excuse of a headache so she could retreat to her bedroom.
She sank into her propped-up pillows and sighed. The room was semi-dark with only the bedside table lamp giving off a dim light. The satin duvet cover shimmered in a golden hue just like she had pictured when she’d seen it in the shop, reduced to half its regular exorbitant price. Her red silk pyjamas stood out in stark contrast against the gold.
Now, in the privacy of her room with only the muffled sound of the TV in the lounge to hear, she opened her laptop and clicked on the YouTube link, tapping her fingers impatiently as the video loaded. When she first watched it, she had been so taken by the unexpected video that she hadn’t been able to process it.
There was Nate Cooper, sitting on an elevated chair with a guitar across his thigh, looking at the floor, as if he couldn’t face looking at her. Of course, this was all rubbish, carefully scripted as a means to woo his mostly female fans, she suspected. Yet, in her heart it felt so personal, she couldn’t quite dismiss the feeling that he was singing to her.
He started plucking the strings of his guitar, then strumming them, with his eyes closed. When he sang, his voice was tender and soft, matching the words in the first verse. He took her back to the time when they were high school friends, then lovers for one night, before she’d gone to Uni, before she decided that she needed to expand her horizon, meet new people, and pretend to be someone else, not the girl from Nowhereville near Christchurch.
Now the tone of the song changed into confusion, then desperation. Why had she turned him away? With a change in key, he lifted his eyes and sang to her, not breaking eye-contact, not letting her go. His voice was full of despair, then anger, so raw and open that her heart ached for his loss.
She watched his other videos, songs that he’d written himself, according to a comment, and a couple of folksongs she vaguely recognised. The other videos were more sophisticated with better lighting and even a few cuts to a different camera angle. But none of them came even close to the emotional depth that he’d achieved in the ‘Song of Love’. Was that because that song was about her?
She shook her head and shut the laptop. How preposterous of her to think that after twenty years, he would still feel like that. How stupid of her to think that she had anything to do with it. He had probably made up the story behind the lyrics just like any good songwriter. She turned off the lights and closed her eyes with the song stuck in her head.
“Remember the ice-cream we shared, fighting over who got the last lick? It was you, but I stole a kiss first.”
The words played through the night in her dreams, and in the morning, she woke up feeling tense, as if she’d been at work all night, stressing over ten of Tash’s marketing proposals, each one filled with spelling mistakes and purple prose. Not even the obligatory cup of tea in bed alongside the weekend newspaper helped. She ran a bath, hoping that the hot water infused with lavender oil would soothe her wired nervousness. She only lasted ten minutes.
At the kitchen bench, with a cup of coffee and buttered toast, she tapped away on her phone, and found Nate on Facebook.
Her heart was pounding when she typed her message quickly before she could second-guess what she was doing: Yes, I do remember, Nate.

***

A few days later, Nate sat at the kitchen table and caught the final rays of sunshine before the low winter sun disappeared behind the trees at the end of his garden. He hadn’t been outside all day but cooped up inside his house with nowhere to go but his thoughts about Lorna and the message she’d sent him. Even Lexi’s presence irritated him, and he felt instantly guilty when he snapped at her for not cleaning up after herself in the kitchen.
“Maybe you need to get in touch with that woman,” she said out of the blue as she cleared away the afternoon tea dishes.
“She has been in touch a few days ago,” Nate said, feeling that he owed Lexi at least his honesty.
Lexi threw him a look across the kitchen bench. “So that’s why you’ve been so weird,” she said with the directness of a five-year-old.
“I haven’t been weird,” he said in a lame attempt to deflect her astute mind-reading capability.
“Drinking ten cups of coffee a day? Losing your train of thought in the middle of a conversation? Staring out the window for minutes on end?” Lexi walked around the kitchen bench and flopped down on a chair beside him. “Sounds pretty weird to me.”
Nate inhaled, tempted to tell his niece to butt out and mind her own business, but didn’t find the energy to do it.
“You’re right, I am out of sorts,” he admitted.
“What are you worried about?”
He’d asked himself that same question over and over, but the answer only popped in his head now, prompted by his niece’s directness. “That digging up the past will open old wounds.”
“Really? After all these years?” Her eyes widened and she raised her eyebrows.
Nate shrugged. “It’s possible.”
Lexi didn’t respond immediately. Despite her exuberance and youthful guile, she was a deep thinker, and gave his comment a long thought. “You should get in touch with her. You’ll never know otherwise.”
It had been a restless week of too much caffeine and not enough sleep. He couldn’t face another week like that.
 “You’re right,” he said after a moment. “I need to see her.” Even if the thought did have his stomach in knots.
Lexi switched back to business-mode. “Aren’t you at least happy about the song? You’ve gained so many subscribers and you’ve had over two thousand views now.”
“Sure.” He gave her a weak smile, knowing that he should be more grateful, but unable to conjure up more excitement today.
The sky outside was barely visible now. He stoked the fire and stood in front of it with hands outstretched. He’d been feeling the cold a lot this week, much more than usual.
Outside, a car horn beeped. Lexi turned around and said, “Good luck. See you next week,” and before he could respond, she’d slid out the door.
He picked up his phone.
How much do you remember? Before he could change his mind, he pressed ‘Send’. He let out a deep sigh and moved to place his phone on the counter. Before he could, it dinged, causing him to jump. To his shock, she responded almost immediately, as if she had been waiting for him all these days to get in touch.
All of it.
He was pondering how to respond when his phone dinged with another message from her.
Can we meet?
He made her wait for five long minutes before typing, Sure. Where? When? He didn’t want her to think that he was desperate to meet her. Besides, what would he tell her when she questioned him about the song? Surely she would have picked up on his emotions while singing.
Her reply came instantly. She must have thought about this long before sending her first message.
The Boathouse Café. 7pm
An hour was just enough time to shower, shave and put some fresh clothes on, he thought. He regretted the week of coffee and lack of food and sleep now as he looked at himself in the mirror, a bit gaunt in the cheeks with dark rings under his eyes.
He grabbed his wallet, phone and keys and drove the ten minutes it took to The Boathouse. 

Comments