Song of Love Chapter Five
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When the boys turned up at Nate’s house at ten o’clock the next morning, he sent them away.
“I need to sort this song out first, sorry,” he said. “Come back at lunch. I should have a better idea about it then.”
They both looked disappointed, but Nate couldn’t let them distract him. It was rare enough that the writing flowed easily, that his mind was freed from the usual self-doubt that plagued him most of the time and that inner voice that urged him to give up, to let real musicians write real songs. Today, that voice was muted, and the positive energy and flow needed to be harnessed.
“Get some lunch,” he said and rifled through his wallet, handing twenty dollars to Zac. “Don’t be back before twelve, though.”
The boys left, their faces lit up by the prospect of a free lunch. Nate went back into his studio, picked up his guitar and a piece of paper and rewrote the new song using the notes he’d made the night before. He changed some of the lyrics, rearranged words, replaced some with stronger ones, omitted others until, two hours later, he was happy with it, for now.
“Lunch after 12,” he messaged Lexi, but she didn’t respond, probably still asleep, making the most of the holidays.
Nate picked up his guitar again and sang the new song, made a few changes in the strumming pattern, added another chord change that needed practising over and over until he could play it without hesitation.
All the time he thought about Lorna, pictured her face when he’d sing the song for her, imagined her blushing, then thanking him for the song, chuffed that he’d gone through all that trouble just for her.
Then the idea of a new video came to him, one that might even include her boys playing the guitar and bass, laying some of the background vocals.
By the time the boys arrived back, laden with paper bags translucent from grease, he’d made up his mind that he needed not just a new song, but also a new video for Lorna. He beckoned the boys into the kitchen and got out plates, serviettes and glasses.
“Eat up,” he said.
They sat at his kitchen table, and Nate found himself in awe at how much the two teenagers could eat, especially Zac. They’d bought an exorbitant amount of sausage rolls, pies and hot chips, which they quietly shoved into their mouths while scrolling through their phones. Every now and then, one of them giggled at a post they’d read, interrupted by the intermittent slurping from their cans of soft drinks.
Nate held back, only eating a small pie. Ever since he got food poisoning from a sausage roll a few years ago, he didn’t take any chances with takeaway fare. He briefly wondered where Lexi was, but it was too late, for the boys had helped themselves to the remaining sausage rolls in front of them.
“How’s the song going?” Zac asked, his mouth half-full so that flaky crumbs of pastry fell down onto his lap.
Nate fought the urge to tell the boy to eat with his mouth shut and looked away instead.
“Good,” he said. “I think she’ll like it.” He’d been wondering about her reaction to the new song, pictured her listening to him, then telling him how much she loved it. His mind drifted away, imagining her in his arms, and him humming the song into her ear.
“Mum went ballistic yesterday.” Liam pulled him out of his reverie. “It’s hard to think of her of anything else than a fire-breathing dragon at the moment.”
“Not a star-crossed lover,” Zac added, glancing at Nate from under his fringe.
Nate grinned. “She wasn’t very happy when she came here last night,” he said. “You two are going to have to lift your game.”
He smiled to himself, then wiped the crumbs off the table, scooping them into his hand. By the time Lorna had arrived at his house, her frustration with her boys had, of course, morphed into a different kind of energy.
“It was your fault,” Zac said to Liam. “You didn’t turn on the oven.”
“You left your mess behind,” he countered. “And the fire is your responsibility.”
Nate watched the interaction between the two brothers, and pictured Lorna when she came home after a long day at work, cold, hungry and exhausted.
“Make sure you go home in time today to sort your shit out, alright?” he said before collecting their plates and stacking them in the sink. Liam nodded and slid off the high stool, stretching his long limbs. Nate thought the boy had filled out a bit in the week since he’d met him. Zac filled a glass with water and took it up to the studio. Nate followed along and picked up his guitar, playing a few random chords.
Lexi’s head appeared in the door shortly after, her face bright red.
“Where’s my lunch?” she said by way of a greeting.
“We’ve eaten it,” Liam said.
Zac shifted in his chair, blushing, and stared at the floor. For once, Lexi was lost for words.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” Zac mumbled when he couldn’t stand the icy silence any longer, glancing briefly at Nate. “We would have left you something.”
Nate thought that she would throw a fit and leave. He almost felt sorry for her now that her place as the teenager of the house had been temporarily taken up by two lanky boys.
“There’s leftover from last night in the fridge,” Nate said. “Do you want me to heat it up for you?”
Lexi glared at Liam, then shook her head and disappeared downstairs.
Soon they were back into the new song, working out an acoustic intro, followed by a baseline, then Nate’s voice. Zac was quietly humming backing vocals which Liam picked up, then extended into a harmony. The voices floated in his tiny studio, almost too much for the small space, bouncing off the sarked ceiling, absorbed by the few egg cartons he’d fastened over it.
The three voices carried the tune in a crescendo until they reached a climax. The bass and electric guitar stopped, and there was only Nathan’s voice, whispering a quiet affirmation of his feelings for Lorna, before the boys picked up their part and helped him bring the song to a powerful end.
Goosebumps spread over Nate’s arms and the hair on his back stood. He was momentarily lost for words, not sure what to say. This didn’t feel like a couple of teenage boys supporting a wanna-be love song of his. It felt like they were on the verge of something momentous.
“That was crap.” Lexi stood in the door, always the one to bring Nate down to Earth. “Too pleading.”
“Pleading?” Nate didn’t understand.
“Your voice, it’s like you’re begging for her love. Pleading for her to love you back.”
She was always critical, hardly ever made a compliment. But from experience, he knew that she always pushed him to do his best, and he had never regretted listening to her advice before.
“Oh, come off it,” Liam exploded in frustration. “Do you ever say anything positive?”
She glared at him. “If it’s justified, yes. But this isn’t.”
Nate turned to her.
“You said I should open up. Make myself vulnerable.”
Lexi sighed, as if he was a little child and she had explained this a hundred times and he still didn’t get it. “That doesn’t mean you have to throw yourself at her. You like her, of course, and you make that clear in your words and in your voice. But you don’t have to lose your own identity over her.”
Nate studied her face. She’d changed so much over the last couple of years that he hardly recognised the puffy-cheeked little girl with the bright eyes anymore. Her face had narrowed and lost its roundness and she was almost as tall as him now.
“I don’t understand,” Nate said. Liam and Zac had faded into the background and it felt as if it were just the two of them in the studio.
“Your voice. It’s got that desperate twinge to it, this pitch or tone or whatever you call it – I’m not sure – but it’s too much.” She thought about it for a bit longer, then lifted her index finger in the air as if to poke a hole and exclaimed. “Needy! That’s the word I was looking for. You’re too needy.”
He changed his tone, put less pressure on his vocal cords, adjusted the volume, closed his eyes and pictured Lorna in front of him.
“How was that?” he asked Lexi.
“Better, but I still think you are coming across as relying on her for your happiness.”
“What do you think?” he asked as he turned to the two boys.
Zac blushed. “I don’t know.”
Liam looked at Lexi and said, “I like it. I don’t think you sound needy at all.”
The two teenagers glared at each other in a stand-off Nate didn’t understand. Lexi wasn’t usually that prickly. Her time with Nate in the studio had always been an escape from the overprotective eyes of his sister, but now it seemed that Lexi couldn’t even relax here. He feared that she might not visit any longer if it was so tense every time.
But just as he thought he’d pull her aside to ask if everything was okay, her face brightened and her voice was full of excitement when she spoke.
“We should make a video for the new song!”
Nate looked at the two boys. Liam tried hard to appear indifferent, but there was a little spark in his eyes that he couldn’t hide.
“I’m in,” he said, then looked over to his brother. “You?”
Zac nodded. “Sure.”
Before Nate could add anything to this, Lexi continued. “You two should be in it, too. Playing the guitar and the bass. And singing, of course.”
She wouldn’t rest until she had everything sorted, at least in her head. Her eyes flitted between them as if to make eye-contact with all of them at the same time.
“We could throw a little party for Lorna, to show her the new song and video,” she said.
Nate looked around the small room with its amplifiers crammed into a corner, and the cords snaking across the floor, connecting the guitars and bass. Only a few minutes earlier, the air had been filled with tension, but now, the room was buzzing with energy, all thanks to his niece.
“Awesome idea,” Liam said, for the first time smiling at Lexi. “We could have it at The Boathouse.”
Zac glanced at Nate before focusing back on his brother.
“Why would you have to do it there?” Zac asked. “Why not at home?
“We could invite some of mum’s friends. And our friends,” Liam said. “It would be a proper launch. A proper party with music and dance and food.”
Now Liam was just as excited as Lexi. All animosity between the two of them had dissipated, replaced by an infectious enthusiasm for a common goal.
“Besides,” Liam added, turning to Nate, “isn’t that where you and mum got together again?”
“Kind of,” he said, not wanting to go into details about when and how he got together with Lorna.
Zac pulled on the cord attached to the bass he was holding in his hand.
“I’m not sure,” he said, hesitant. “Mum might not like it. Have you even met her friends?” He turned to Nate and looked at him almost accusingly.
“I know Marian. We were friends at high school,” Nate said. “I don’t think I know any of her other friends.”
Liam turned to Zac, dismissive. “That doesn’t matter! Time for him to meet them, I’d say. Mum always likes a party. She’ll love it!”
Nate felt like a bystander watching the conversation develop in front of him so quickly he had trouble following it.
“I don’t like big crowds,” Zac said, glancing at Lexi. She looked at him, reassuring him with a gentle voice.
“There won’t be more than fifteen people, I’d say.”
Liam supported her attempt to reassure Zac.
“You’ll know most of them, anyway. Mum’s friends. Marian, Tash, Delia. They’re hardly strangers. You’ll bring your mates. I’ll bring Dan and a couple of others.” He paused, then remembered that this had all been Lexi’s idea. “And, of course, Lexi could invite her mum and dad and some of her friends.”
“Sounds like more than fifteen people to me,” Zac said, fidgeting with a thread that had come undone from the sleeve of his hoodie.
Nate felt for the boy who was already anxious about an event that wasn’t even sure to go ahead.
“We can go together,” Lexi offered. “I’ll stick with you so you never have to be on your own.”
Zac’s doubts were playing out on his face. He badly wanted to share Lexi’s enthusiasm and even more, he wanted to spend time with her. Maybe he was a little bit smitten with her, Nate thought. But the anxiety was nibbling at his confidence.
“What do you think, Nate?” Liam asked as if he’d only just realised that he would be the one to have a final say about this plan.
“I think it’s a lovely idea,” he said. “Not too big a crowd, just a few friends. As long as you think Lorna will be okay with it.”
“Course she will. She’ll love it,” Liam said.
As if on cue, the boys started to unplug their instruments. Lexi walked over to the amplifiers and switched them off.
“All sorted, then,” she said. “Zac and I will invite the people.” She glanced over at Zac who had turned a crimson red, then turned to Nate. “You and Liam will organise the venue and the technical stuff.”
The boys nodded. As if they had any other option than to agree with Lexi, who had once again gone into full manager mode.
“Sounds like we’ve got a plan, then,” Nate said and lifted his eyes to look out the window. It was late afternoon and the temperature outside must have dropped considerably because condensation was forming on the inside of the windows.
“Let’s carry on tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll use the mics and do a proper recording. We’ll lay some voice tracks, mix it up. It’ll be easier to pick up our individual voices.”
Pleased with herself, Lexi sat back in her chair and smiled at Nate.
“Right, time to go home,” he said to the two boys. “Make sure the house is tidy and the fire is lit before your mum gets home. You could even set the table.”
They set off down the stairs when Nate called them back.
“And not a word to your mum, okay?”
That evening, Lorna came home to a warm house, a tidy kitchen and a set table. She resisted the urge to take her boys into her arms, and squeeze them tight to show her appreciation, but figured that if she made a big fuss now, she’d send the wrong message to them. After all, the way she found the house tonight should be normal, not a one-off effort by the boys to appease their grumpy mother.
But even the next evening the house was filled with the smell of sappy firewood piled high in the wicker basket next to the woodburner and the scent of rosemary chicken. Both Liam and Zac were busy in the kitchen and she was tempted to take a photo of them to capture the rare sight of domestic bliss for future reference.
“We’ve figured you work hard enough,” Zac said when she commented on the tidy house and the nice meal while they sat at the table.
She smiled and wished she’d had made a stand about their domestic responsibilities earlier.
“Thanks,” she said and let her thoughts wander to Nate, and the few hours she would spend with him tonight after she’d had a shower and changed out of her work clothes.
It hadn’t taken long for her new routine to set in: work, a visit to her mother most days, dinner at home with the boys, then a few hours spent at Nate’s. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Normally, she could hardly cope with one night out on a weekday. But now she felt like she had unlimited energy and no matter how hard it was to get up in the morning when her alarm rang, by the time she came home, she couldn’t wait to head away again to see Nate.
“Do you like the chicken?” Liam asked while they were eating. “I found the recipe online.”
She looked up from her glass of wine, surprised to hear that he and not Zac had cooked dinner. Her older son had changed in the week since he was home, she thought. The spark that she had missed ever since he’d left for Uni had returned to his eyes and his cheeks had filled in a little.
“It’s delicious,” she said and wondered if he wouldn’t be better off here at home with her instead of studying for a degree that he didn’t like in Dunedin.
“What have you two been up to during the day?” she asked, not trusting the contentedness that had settled over their house as if everybody was happy going about their own things. Zac’s anxiety had dropped to a low level not seen for months and Liam had lost his stoop, replaced by an aura of quiet positivity.
“Just hanging around, playing on the computer. Listening to music,” Liam said.
“Liam’s been playing the guitar all day,” Zac added. She noticed a look between them as if there was more to that, but she didn’t push it. The happiness wouldn’t last, she thought, then chided herself for her negative mindset.
After the meal, Liam retreated to his bedroom to play his guitar. She heard his voice, powerful and demanding, in a song she didn’t recognise. Zac was stacking the plates and cutlery into the dishwasher when she asked him, “Is that a new song?”
Zac shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
He wiped his hands on a kitchen towel and left Lorna standing by the dishwasher, emptying her wine glass. So much for cleaning up the kitchen, she thought, then smiled to herself. You can’t expect everything to change at once.
Liam’s singing stopped, and Zac returned.
“Why did you ask him to stop singing?” she asked, but he ignored her question and shooed her out of the kitchen.
“Off you go, Mum,” he said. “I’ll finish in here.”
She mumbled a thank you and went to brush her teeth. Was her impatience to see Nate so obvious? She blushed at the thought of her boys knowing how giddy she felt most days.
Back in the kitchen, she waved at Zac. “I’ll be back late.” He lifted the dishcloth, then gave her a lopsided grin. She turned to talk to Liam in his bedroom when Zac called her back.
“Why don’t you stay over at Nate’s?” he asked. “We’re not little kids anymore.”
She studied him, tall and almost grown up, now holding a wooden spatula under the kitchen tap.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
Zac waved her out of the kitchen with the spatula, dripping water all over the floor, smiling. “Get out of here, now!”
Liam was playing the guitar when she found him in his bedroom. She leaned against the doorway of his room and listened to him sing for a while before he noticed her.
He silenced the strings with the palm of his hand and looked up at her.
“What were you playing before?” she asked. “I really liked it.”
“It’s just a song,” he said.
“Did you write it?” she asked.
“No, it’s a cover I saw on YouTube.” She waited for him to go into more detail, but he offered none.
“I’m staying at Nate’s tonight,” she said.
“Cool.” Liam was back strumming the guitar and didn’t even lift his head.
As she walked out of the house, Zac called her back. She waited for him by the door, impatient to leave.
“I’m thinking of staying over at Dan’s house on the weekend,” Zac said, still wearing the kitchen apron he’d slung around his narrow hips.
Lorna remembered his previous sleepover attempt when things hadn’t turned out the way he had planned.
“Are you sure?” She hated herself for not sounding more enthusiastic but didn’t want him to put pressure on himself.
“I am,” he said.
“Good,” she said. He looked disappointed, and she thought her voice had sounded flat, unconvinced. “I mean, it’s great to hear that you want to do this.”
On the way over to Nate’s, Lorna wondered at the change she’d seen in her boys and couldn’t help but smile. A smile that Nate mirrored when he opened the door and spotted her overnight bag.
“Are you going to let me in?” she said when he didn’t move. He was still grinning when he took her bag and she stepped aside.
“How long are you staying for?” he asked when he felt the weight of her belongings. “A week?”
Her stomach did a little flip and her knees felt weak. She took a deep breath and made her voice sound light, trying to hide the giddiness she felt every time they met.
“What have you been up to today?”
“Oh, a bit of everything. A bit of music, exercise, reading, tidying,” he said. He sounded a bit evasive, but she didn’t want to push for more details.
“You didn’t want to go away for a day or two?” she asked.
“Not at the moment,” he said and pulled her in close. She wondered if he had been completely honest with her, but was distracted by the kiss he planted on her mouth.
She walked past him through the hall towards his bedroom. Half-way there, she looked back over her shoulder and asked, “Aren’t you coming?”
When she lay in his arms in the semi-darkness of the room later, she wanted to say how much she relished the feeling of belonging. But their closeness was so new she didn’t want to scare him away with assumptions about their relationship.
“You used the exact same words back then, the night you came to stay over,” Nate said into the silence.
“‘Are you going to let me in?’” I can still see you at the front door of our house, stepping from one foot to the other.”
She ran her hands up his arm.
“That’s because you stood there, gawping, instead of letting me in.”
“I was in awe when you stood there with your bag over your shoulders,” he said. “I’d been hopeful, of course, but I was never really sure how much you were into me.”
Outside, a motorbike drove past, its loud noise piercing the quiet night. Lorna shifted in Nate’s arms, resting her hand on his chest.
“Oh, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to spend the night with you. You had your house to yourself for the whole weekend. And Marian was more than happy to help out with the little lie about me staying over at her house.”
His chest rose and fell under her hand. The night had grown darker, and now she could only just make out the outline of his face. There was a long silence between them until suddenly, Nate spoke.
“I thought about that night for years to come, you know?”
She had, too, but she didn’t want to admit to that. Not yet. After all, she had been the one to break off their connection.
“I’d wished that we had more nights together,” he continued. “And days, of course.”
A heaviness sneaked in between them that Lorna wasn’t ready for. There would be plenty of time to discuss the way they parted, but now, she wanted to enjoy the intimacy of lying in his arms, and the newness of it all.
“We have plenty of time to make up for it now,” she said and reached over to kiss him intently, hoping to dispel his gloominess.
The alarm went off just after six in the morning. Nate snoozed it and pulled Lorna into his body. He fell back asleep, only to be woken by the annoying beeping again.
“I have to get up,” she said, trying to pull away from him, but he held her close, curled up against her warm body, loathe to let her go.
When she had stood in his doorway with a large overnight bag the night before, he’d never thought that it would feel like such a big deal. They were adults, after all, not teenagers where every single event was a first – first kiss, first sex, first night together. But it had taken a while to get Lorna to leave her teenagers behind and now that they had spent the whole night together, he couldn’t stop smiling.
“Stay here,” he mumbled into her hair when the alarm rang for the third time. “Stay with me.”
She was her own boss, wasn’t she? Surely she could take a few hours off to spend the morning with him.
But Lorna was having none of it.
“Nathan Cooper,” she said in the same mock-stern tone she used back when they were first in love and he’d steal a kiss from her lining up at the school canteen. “You’ll be the death of me.”
In the end, she fought her way out of his arms, kissed him on his shoulder and disappeared into the shower. He lingered in the warmth of his bed for a little longer, thinking that if he could start every day of his life with this woman in his arms, he would be the luckiest man alive.
Eventually, he made his way downstairs to make coffee and breakfast.
“Are you free tomorrow night?” he asked when they were both sitting at the table eating toast with butter and jam. Her hair was damp and hung down from her face in loose strands, one tucked in behind her ear. A refreshing herbal smell, tangy, but not unpleasant, came off her. Hair shampoo or shower gel, he presumed.
She bit into her toast and nodded.
“Keep it free,” he said. Raising her eyebrows in a question, she looked at him, still chewing. “It’s a surprise,” he added before she could ask what he had planned.
Today, there would be hours of work to record the new song and make the video with the help of Lexi and the boys. He was dying to tell Lorna about the project, but kept his mouth shut.
“Are we going away somewhere?” Lorna asked as she finished her toast. There was hope, but also a hint of worry in her voice. Worry about Zac, he presumed, if he were to take her away for a couple of days. He imagined a mystery weekend somewhere in Queenstown or Tekapo Springs, spoiling her with long walks in the crisp mountain air, steaming hot pools and mouth-watering sex.
“Not this time,” he said. A weekend away would have to wait, for now.
If he uploaded the video onto YouTube just before the party, nobody would have a chance to see it beforehand and it would be a surprise to everyone, especially Lorna. He briefly wondered if Lorna would feel a little awkward about this public display of his love for her but dismissed the thought.
“Shoot! I need to go,” she now said, checking her watch. “I’m running late already.” She disappeared into the bathroom and he pictured her on Friday night, expecting a quiet dinner at The Boathouse. Would she be disappointed when she found out that this wasn’t a têtê-à-têtê?
His stomach dropped just thinking about the new song. Surely she’d like it, given the lyrics and the knowledge he’d written it for her.
He stood in the hall and watched her put her shoes and coat on. He had the sudden vision of asking her to marry him right here, in this ordinary house, now, on this ordinary day. It was too soon, of course, too early in their relationship to make that call, but he knew without a doubt that he wanted to ask her, one day soon.
“Bye,” she said and kissed him on the lips.
“Bye.” He pulled her in tight and buried his face in her neck, filling his lungs with her scent to last the day. “I’ll see you tonight?”
“Of course,” she said, touching his face briefly, and left.
But in the evening, after a long recording session with the boys, he had to call her with a made-up excuse that something urgent had come up. He’d ordered pizza in, then he and Lexi sat down to work on editing their footage.
His excuse sounded flimsy even to him.
“I’m busy on a project tonight,” he explained.
“What kind of project?” Lorna wanted to know.
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t you do it tomorrow?” she asked.
She sounded so disappointed that he was tempted to tell her all about the surprise party.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I promise I’ll make it up to you tomorrow night.”