Song of Love Chapter Four
It has been a dull, grey day here in the hills. Time to sit down with a hot drink and read the next chapter in Nate and Lorna's lovestory. Enjoy!
Nate found himself wide awake at six o’clock the next morning, feeling like he could uproot trees, write a whole album in a day, or change the world instead of the usual sleep in on his first day of the holidays.
He made coffee and toast for breakfast and sat down at his breakfast bar, shifting the week’s junkmail out of the way, checking his phone in the hope that Lorna had messaged him. She hadn’t.
It wasn’t that they’d made any promises to each other. They didn’t even have the awkward ‘after sex’ talk that he’d remembered from previous short sexual encounters. The ‘was that it or do you want to hook up again?’ talk.
He washed and rinsed his dishes, stacked them on the drying rack, and made himself another coffee. As he headed upstairs with the cup in his hand, he still felt Lorna’s hand in his as he pulled her along last night, gripping hers to make sure she was still right there, behind him. How his only intention had been to sing her a song to show what yearning meant to him.
She’d had other plans. Exciting plans. He looked down at the carpet in front of him; the woven rug still crumpled on the floor.
One of his music stands had fallen against the wall and sheets of music were scattered on the floor. Nate stared at them, then smiled, unable to recall at what point they had knocked them over. He picked up the papers, stacked them neatly and stood up the stand.
He picked up his favourite guitar and played randomly, with no particular song in his head, strumming and plucking, and let his mind wander back to Lorna and the silky skin he’d discovered on the inside of her arm. Was she remembering last night at this very moment, absentmindedly sipping a cup of tea by the fire or doing some mindless household chore, distracted by the delicious memory of their moment of passion in his studio?
Outside, the rain was coming down in sheets, hitting the footpath and street with enough force the water bounced off the asphalt. Nate had no desire to venture outside. He spent the morning in his studio, immersed in new musical ideas, and playing some of the instruments he hadn’t played for a while.
Hours later, it felt, he stopped to finish his coffee, now cold and bitter. He went downstairs to get a drink of water, desperate to get rid of the nasty aftertaste in his mouth and to lubricate his throat that had gone dry from singing. Just then, he heard a knock on his door.
“Man, we’ve been here for ages,” Liam said as Nate opened the door. “We could hear you play.”
Zac stood beside him, with a purple beanie pushed into his forehead, and a strand of hair covering one eye. He looked down at his shoes.
“Sorry. I didn’t hear you. Did you text?” Nate asked.
“No,” Liam said, waving his comment away with his hand. “We just called in on the off-chance you might be here.”
Liam carried Nate’s guitar in his arms, holding it like it was a million-dollar painting.
“Nate,” Nate introduced himself to the younger boy, holding out his hand. “We didn’t get a proper introduction the other night.”
“Is this a bad time?” Zac asked as he shook Nate’s hand, addressing his shoes. Nate was surprised at the soft tone of the voice that was so different from Liam’s, much higher.
“Not at all. Come in. I’m just playing around in the studio.” He let them in, curious to find out why they were visiting.
The boys followed Nate into the house.
“Do you want a drink? Tea? Coffee? Juice?”
They shook their heads, eager to go up to the studio. Nate motioned for Liam to lead the way, and Zac followed him up the stairs. Liam sat down as if he’d been there many times before. He tuned Nate’s guitar, then played quietly while Zac had a look around the room.
“Do you play anything, Zac?” Nate asked the younger boy.
“Take your pick,” Nate said, motioning to the three different bass guitars on the short side of the room, by the window.
Zac stood in the room, unmoving, his hands hanging down from his sides.
“I’m not very good,” he said, still not making eye-contact.
“You don’t have to be good in here, just willing to have a go,” Nate said and reached for his favourite of the three bass guitars. “Here,” he said as he passed the instrument on, “try this. It’s nice and light.”
Zac took the guitar, sat down on a chair and ran his fingers over the dark grey body of the instrument. His face lit up. “It feels nice,” he said.
“Have a play,” Nate said, and the boy blushed right up to the roots of his hair, as if he had given away a secret about himself. Nate plugged the bass into the amplifier and watched Zac pluck each string individually.
“You have to switch it on first,” Nate said with a smile.
Nate reached for his own guitar and let the boy familiarise himself with the instrument and the amplifier. Liam was already playing a song he didn’t recognise. And so Nate took a while to work out the chord progression, then joined in. Zac played the odd chord when he was confident enough. Nate took the lead for a few songs, then Liam took over.
Zac was only a beginner, but he easily picked up the chord progressions and some basic bass lines. Eventually, he was bold enough to try a little solo when Nate and Liam paused at the same time, as if they’d agreed that it was now Zac’s turn.
At some stage, Liam started to sing. Nate was taken by the richness of Liam’s voice, once again. A baritone, he guessed, with a falsetto voice that he used sparingly, but when he did, it was spine-tingling, shiver-down-your-back stuff.
This boy needs a proper teacher, he thought. Nate had never had any formal singing tuition. He just sang the way he felt like and it had always been good enough for him. But with Liam still so young, his voice so trainable, he wondered what proper tuition could do for him.
“I’m hungry,” Nate blurted out when they had come to a stop at the same time. “It’s past lunchtime. Want some lunch?”
“Lunch sounds great,” the boys both said at the same time.
In the kitchen, Nate got out bread, butter, ham and lettuce.
“Here, help yourself,” he said and filled the kettle. “Coffee?”
“Milk and sugar for me, thanks,” Zac said.
“Just black, please,” Liam said. They ate and drank in the lounge, Liam talking music and guitars and chord progressions while Zac sat mostly silent, a little bit lost.
“You did well on the bass,” Nate said to him, wanting to make him feel included. It must be disheartening to have an older brother who was such a talented musician while Zac himself was only just beginning to learn to play the bass.
“It was alright, I guess,” Zac said, shrugging his shoulders. He looked down at his finished plate.
“Do you want some more? Help yourself,” Nate said. “You need to build up your energy for the next few hours.”
Zac didn’t respond but took his plate back to the kitchen where he made another sandwich.
“He’s not much of a talker, our Zac,” Liam said while his brother was out of earshot.
“Not everyone has to be a master of conversation. I just want him to feel comfortable here,” Nate said.
Liam stood, took Nate’s plate and said, “Right. Let’s head back upstairs.”
Nate stretched his feet in front of him. “You two go up,” he said. “I’ll be a few more minutes.” The boys left the lounge and soon after, Nate heard Lexi’s trademark knock on the door. She appeared in the lounge, out of breath from riding her bike, with a puzzled look on her face.
“Who’s here?” she asked, lifting her eyes to the ceiling where they could hear a screeching electric guitar and a thumping bass sound.
“Liam and Zac. Sounds like they’re having a play-off.”
“Who’s Liam and Zac?” she asked as she took off her damp jacket and dumped it on the floor in front of the fire.
“Lorna’s boys. I got to know them the other day. They’re both into music, especially Liam. They’ve come to jam a little with me today.”
He could see her mind racing, thinking about possibilities for more recordings, videos, more subscribers. A bunch of good-looking teenage boys might help her attract a different kind of audience, she probably thought.
He smiled, then stood and walked towards the stairs. Just then, he heard the first bars of his song for Lorna, supported by Zac on the bass. He stopped, listened to Liam’s voice, and Zac’s bass line. He was good, Zac. If this was the first time playing this song, he must have a very good ear, Nate thought.
“What the fuck?” Lexi said behind him.
“That’ll be one for the swear jar,” Nate said, and turned to her, holding out his hand. She stood there, frozen, her face in a frown.
“I don’t have any money,” she said.
“You owe me, then,” he said and pulled back his hand.
“We had a deal about those rare occasions when swearing is appropriate. This is one of those.”
Nate let it go. “Just this once,” he said and walked upstairs. Liam and Zac finished the song just as Nate stood aside to let Lexi in.
“Zac, Liam, meet Lexi, my niece,” he said, motioning his hands between the two parties. “Lexi, this is Zac and Liam.”
“Hi,” Liam said while Zac remained silent, his face red, his eyes downcast. She looked at them without a smile, then spoke.
“It’s wrong, you playing that song.”
Liam was the first to recover.
“Why?” He didn’t seem fazed by her rudeness. Zac forgot about his shyness and lifted his eyes to look at the interaction between the two.
“Don’t you know who this song is about?” she asked.
“No,” Liam said. “Do you?”
Lexi looked at Nate, then at Zac, then back at Liam. Before she could say anything embarrassing, Nate answered.
“It’s about your mum.”
Liam stared back at him, taking a while to understand what he’d just heard.
“You loved my mum?” he asked. His voice was incredulous, as if it was the most outrageous idea that someone once loved his mum.
I still love her, Nate thought. It had only occurred to him then, but as soon as the thought popped into his head, he knew.
Zac spoke for the first time since Lexi arrived. “And she broke your heart?”
Nate looked at him, then at Liam. So what if they couldn’t imagine their mum once young and in love? Maybe it was time they found out. “Something like that.”
A long silence followed. Zac returned his attention to the bass guitar, pushing his index finger between the wood and the strings of the bass to wipe off the dust that had accumulated under the fret. He missed most of it and gave up after a while. Liam looked at the lyrics on the sheet in front of him. Lexi plonked herself on the floor, still not making any attempt at being polite.
She was jealous, he was sure of it. This was a space he’d only shared with her. No one else had ever shown any interest in his music but her. The boys were intruding in a space that had belonged to her and Nate. And now they sang a song that had become very important to her, for very different reasons than it was important to Nate.
Nate took up his spot on his chair and looked back at Liam. He could see the boy was reading the lyrics of the song in a different way now, with his mum in mind.
“Why did she break up with you?” Liam broke the silence.
“She met your dad at Uni.” That was a version Nate was comfortable with. If Lorna wanted to go into more detail later, she could. No doubt Liam or Zac would be asking her about it.
“You should have told me that this song is about her,” Liam said. There was an accusing tone to his voice that surprised Nate.
“You never asked if it was okay to sing this song,” Nate said. He didn’t mind that Liam had sung it, but he wasn’t going to take the blame for not stopping him.
Liam looked at the lyrics, then thought about it some more. He didn’t respond to Nate’s comment, but thought in silence for quite a while. Suddenly, he sat up and said, “It’s out of date.”
“What do you mean?” Lexi asked.
“You’ll have to rewrite it,” Liam said.
Lexi followed Liam’s gaze to Nate. She sat up, her face suddenly open and alert.
“Why?” Nate was irritated to have his personal life discussed by the son of the woman he loved. But Liam was naive despite his musical maturity, and Nate couldn’t hold a grudge against him.
“It’s obvious that you still like her,” the boy said. “You need different lyrics now.”
It would feel strange to change the lyrics to the song since it was so rooted in his past. Would changing the song imply that there was a future with Lorna?
“I’m not sure,” Nate said.
Liam’s answer came straight away. “You need lyrics of love and hope, not anger and hurt.”
Nate thought about it. “Lexi? What do you think?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” she said with fake coolness. Maybe she wanted to impress the boys, appear disinterested because showing her excitement might be perceived as a weakness in the world of teenage communication. But Nate could see that the thought of writing a new song and producing a video to go with it sparked her imagination.
Suddenly, Liam cleared his voice, ran his hand through his hair and spoke without looking at Nate.
“I mean, I don’t know how Mum feels about you, um, if your feelings are mutual or not.”
In the corner, Zac blushed again, clearly embarrassed about the thought that Nate might love his mum. Liam, on the other hand, was trying to prepare him for the idea that Lorna didn’t have any feelings for Nate.
How cute to watch those two boys squirm with their own preconceived ideas about Nate and Lorna, he thought. He smiled, looked down at the rug in front of them, relishing the private memory of the night before.
He turned to Liam. “I think you’re right. I think I’m going to have to change those lyrics. Thanks for the tip, mate.”
From the minute Lorna woke up, her overzealous brain raced from Nate to Zac to work to her ailing mother, back to Nate and work and Liam and Zac, and Nate and Nate and Nate.
She dragged herself into the shower, stood under the hot stream of water for far too long, dressed for work, and went into the kitchen to make coffee and put two slices of bread into the toaster. While eating breakfast, she scrolled through Facebook on her phone, checked her emails, and made a mental note of what was a priority at work today.
The boys were both still asleep, and she felt a slight irritation that they were sleeping, even though she could hardly blame them. It was the holidays, after all, and she would be leaving for work soon.
As she tidied away her dishes and made her lunch, she thought about Zac and the failed stay at the friend’s house. It felt distant now, and Zac was better than she had expected him to be. Even when they went grocery shopping the night before, he was good. Usually, that was the first outing to manifest itself in anxiety.
As she pulled her car into her parking lot, she allowed her thoughts to drift to Nate. Had the speed and intensity of their connection surprised him? If she hurried, she could drive to his house, surprise him with a nice coffee from the coffee shop and ask him. The thought of a clandestine visit when she should be working thrilled her.
Lorna pushed the car into reverse and turned to back out of the parking lot when Tash, her junior assistant, pulled her out of her daydream in her high-pitched voice.
“Did you sleep in?” she asked as she leaned in to talk through Lorna’s semi-open window.
“Yep,” Lorna said, gritting her teeth, silently cursing Tash’s untimely arrival. She pushed the car into gear again and inched forward to park. No covert meeting with Nate this morning, after all. She reached for her handbag and her lunchbox, then realised that she had left it sitting at home on the kitchen bench.
Lorna dragged her feet across the parking lot thinking that work today would be a pain in the arse. Delia, her partner, would be out all day canvassing potential new businesses, leaving Tash with Lorna for the whole day. The thought was almost unbearable. Tash had turned out to be so dependent on Lorna’s approval that she couldn’t seem to make any decisions on her own. And the more impatient Lorna became with her, the less decision-making capacity Tash had.
Worst of it, Delia had originally suggested to Lorna that she went on the recruiting drive, but Lorna had urged her to go. “I’ll stay in the office with Tash, give her some one-to-one attention.”
That was last Friday, before her dinner with Nate, before her entire world had shifted on its axis. Now, she found herself unable to concentrate on anything else than him for more than five minutes. A trait which used to drive her to distraction in other people.
As the day progressed, Lorna’s mood worsened. It was the stream of emails Delia sent as soon as she’d visited clients, expecting Lorna and Tash to prepare offers as the emails arrived. None of the requested quotes were standard, run-of-the-mill queries.
“Coffee?” Tash popped her head into the office after a few hours and held up a cup of coffee.
“Thanks,” Lorna said, taking the cup with gratitude. She’d barely had time to leave her chair yet.
“I’m off for lunch,” Tash said and disappeared.
“Sure.” Lorna didn’t think she’d be able to stop for lunch. She took a sip of the coffee, burnt her tongue and swore loudly when her phone rang. It was her mother.
“I haven’t seen you for a while, Lorna,” she said in her husky voice that sounded frailer every time they spoke.
“I’ve been very busy, I’m sorry. It’s difficult to find the time,” Lorna said, instantly feeling guilty as she pictured her mother confined to the limits of her lounge, her kitchen and the hall up and down to get to the bathroom.
She had organised meals on wheels and someone to call in every day for a half an hour, but still, she felt guilty. This was her mother, after all, who relied on paid strangers to get her daily dose of human interaction because her own daughter was too busy. The nagging guilt was draining.
“I’ll try to call in after work today.” Lorna made her goodbyes before hanging up. She exhaled, and ran her hand over her face. In the small kitchen, she drank a glass of cold water, tipped the coffee that had scalded her down the drain and found some stale crackers and a dry lump of cheese for lunch.
Back at her desk, she texted Liam to make sure everything was alright at home. Of course, he didn’t text back. It would have been better not to text in the first place. But now that she had, she was worried and doubled up with an “Is everything okay?”. When he still hadn’t replied after an hour, she rang him.
“Hello?” he said, sounding like he’d only just woken up.
“Liam. Everything okay?”
“‘Course it is.”
“You didn’t reply to my text.”
“Sorry, I forgot.”
“All good then?”
“‘Course it is.” He hung up.
Some days she wanted to throttle him for his lack of communication.
Nate spent the whole afternoon on the new song, with limited success. Having Zac and Liam there didn’t help, of course. It was impossible to conjure up feelings of romance or passion about Lorna with her two boys hovering over him. He’d have to come up with the lyrics when they left. The boys had once again turned up at his house mid-morning, buzzing to get back into the studio and jam with Nate.
Lexi arrived an hour later, ready to join in the mission for a new song.
“This is a good combination,” Liam said as he played a chord progression with a shift in key from major to minor and a transposition. “What do you think?”
Nate watched Liam’s left hand and copied the chords. Soon he’d worked out the pattern and they both played on the theme, echoing each other. Zac joined in on the bass, and Liam hummed a tune that was both wistful and strong.
“Lexi, your phone,” Nate said over the music. She grabbed her phone and recorded the improvised song. Later they would be able to replay it and write down the best parts of it.
When the boys and Lexi left, he had most of the song written, apart from the lyrics. He wasn’t sure where to start.
He put his guitar away, and decided to clear his head with a jog around the local park. The sun had dipped behind the hills in the distance and Nate quickly lit the fire so the lounge would be nice and warm when he returned from his run. When he left the house in his trainers, running shoes and beanie, the cold air took his breath away.
After work, Lorna rushed to the supermarket to buy a roast chicken for dinner. She texted Liam to turn the oven on at home, but he didn’t reply. The supermarket was crowded with impatient people keen to get back into the warmth of their homes. Long lines had formed in front of the checkouts and even the self-checkout counters were busy.
She stood in the express line with her few items of shopping and thought of her mother who would be waiting for her visit. Why had she promised to see her after work? It wasn’t a good time when Lorna was tired and hungry and not at all in the right frame of mind to listen to her mother’s complaints about her ailments.
Once again, her lack of patience and empathy for her own mother disturbed her. She would have to go and see her, even if she only stayed for a short while.
When she finally made it out of the supermarket, it had started to rain. Lorna hated being rained on. She didn’t know why. It wasn’t as if she had an elaborate hairstyle that would be ruined by a few raindrops. There was something about the feeling of being exposed to rain, something that she couldn’t control, that it would just fall on her no matter what, whether she walked or ran or lifted her arm over her head to cover herself. Her car was parked at the very end of the carpark, so by the time she reached it, she was soaked.
From the moment her mother first glanced at her, Lorna regretted her decision to visit.
“Look at the state of you,” she said by way of a greeting, sitting upright with crossed knees in her La-Z-Boy chair as if she were waiting for a photo shoot. Lorna’s mother would never leave her house without makeup, and would always dress stylishly even though she stayed at home all day apart from her weekly appointment with the hairdresser. Lorna admired her for the energy she spent every day looking the part. Even now, at six o’clock at night, expecting nobody but her own daughter to visit, she looked impeccable with her wispy blue-grey hair sprayed into submission, and a pale pink lipstick on her thin lips and crimson blush applied to her cheeks. Her fingernails were shaped into perfect almonds and painted with a see-through pink gloss.
“Hi mum.” Lorna ignored the jibe and bent down to peck her mother on the cheek. “How are you?” The usual smell of her mother’s creams, hairspray, lipstick and perfume hit her. She sat down on the seat opposite her and prepared herself for a monologue of complaints and gossip.
Her mother had a special knack to make Lorna feel small. That was the reason she hated visiting, because no matter how hard she’d tried, no matter how positive she’d been, her mother would suck every molecule of positivity out of her, replacing it with a feeling of inadequacy.
Today was no different. The meals on wheels were bland and stale and cold and why couldn’t she, Lorna, organise gourmet-style meals on wheels? The heatpump was either too hot or too cold, too noisy or too quiet so she didn’t know if she had turned it on or not. The visiting carer who came to spend some time with her every day was below her, after all, she was a foreigner speaking with an accent and who knew where she’d come from and how she’d grown up. She complained about Zac and Liam never visiting, about her favourite brand of tea that didn’t taste the same anymore since they’d changed the packaging, and the stupidity of daytime TV (one of the few issues Lorna agreed with).
When Lorna left half an hour later, her mood was worse than before. In her car, she took a deep breath before she started the engine, gripping the steering wheel like a vice. This level of stress isn’t good for me, she thought as she drove home in her chicken-infused car, her tummy rumbling. She’d have to think about it another time when she was less emotional.
When she stepped inside her home carrying her bag of groceries and her laptop bag slung around her shoulders, she felt the tension fall off her as if she’d been hauling around an extra layer of clothing. Home. Now she could relax, change into comfortable clothing, maybe even take a bath, forget about work and her mother, and recharge.
As she entered the kitchen, her heart sank. Piles of dirty dishes were stacked in the sink, the stainless steel gas hob was sprayed with droplets of oil, a caked pan sat on the bench covered in crumbs. The oven, of course, was cold and the fire was out.
“Liam! Zac!” The anger in her voice came out as a shrill high-pitched shriek. Nobody answered. She couldn’t blame them. If it had been her, she would be hiding somewhere, hoping not to be found until the storm had blown over. But this storm hadn’t even started.
Still wearing her jacket and boots, she made her way through the empty lounge down the hall to the boy’s bedrooms. Zac was immersed in a video game on his play console, wearing headphones, unaware that she had arrived home. Next to Zac, Liam was busy in his room playing Nate’s guitar, sitting on his bed, his back propped up against a cushion he’d got out of her bedroom.
“What the hell is this?” she shouted, standing between the two rooms. Zac lifted his head in wonder at the noise. He recognised his mum, mumbled a quick “hi” and then turned his attention back to the screen in front of him.
Liam looked at her in wonder, an irritating distraction from a very important task.
“What?” he asked.
She marched into Zac’s bedroom, removed his headphones unceremoniously, and stepped back into the hall between the two bedrooms. On the opposite wall, the large bright screen print she had bought herself after her divorce hung on the wall. But today, it did nothing to cheer her up.
“The kitchen’s a mess, the fire’s out and nobody bothered to turn the oven on.”
Zac and Liam exchanged a look as if to blame each other for their omissions.
“I didn’t know we were meant to turn the oven on,” Zac said.
“I texted Liam.”
“My phone is flat,” Liam said, barely lifting his eyes off the guitar.
Lorna took a step back, careful to avoid the print behind her, and took a deep breath.
“Why is the kitchen in such a state?”
“We were busy,” Zac said.
“I didn’t use it,” Liam added.
She looked at both of them, her insides screaming. “Is it really too much to have the lounge warm and the kitchen clean before I get home? You had all day to get this sorted.”
Suddenly, the hall felt like it was closing in on her, the walls bending over, the print threatening to bury her under its large aluminium frame. Lorna inhaled deeply, and turned to make a concentrated effort to appreciate the print’s bold colours and geometric shapes before facing the boys again. They looked at each other, and shrugged their shoulders.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Liam said.
“I’ve just got to finish this game,” Zac said.
She stared at them, wanting to scream. Fuming on the inside, she decided to spare herself the emotional effort of yelling. If they could be so cool when their hard-working mother came home and nothing was done, she could do the same, couldn’t she?
“You know what? You two sort yourself out. I’m going out,” she said and left them to their own devices. She grabbed her handbag and keys and was out the door before they could say anything.
Nate sat down at his kitchen table, lifting a fork to his mouth when his phone rang.
“Fancy another meal out?” It was Lorna’s voice, brusque, business-like. Then she sighed, and her words became exasperated. “My boys are driving me insane.”
Worried about her, he wondered what they had done to prompt this outburst.
She took a moment to answer. “Just being teenage boys, I suppose.”
Had they told her that they’d spent all day with him in his studio? He’d urged them to keep the idea for a new song for their mother a secret so he could surprise her with it when it was done.
“So, what do you say?” she asked when he didn’t respond. “The Boathouse again?”
“Why don’t you come here?” he suggested. “Dinner is ready. It’s not quite the same cuisine, but it’ll be a nice meal, I promise.” When she didn’t accept immediately, he added, “I can even offer you some decent wine.”
“That sounds lovely, thanks,” she said, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
He put his plate and the beef stir-fry in the warming drawer of the oven and set the table. He found some soothing music on his playlist that he thought might help set a relaxing tone for dinner and poured two glasses of red wine as the doorbell rang.
“Hey,” Lorna said and dumped her shoes, jacket and bag unceremoniously on the floor by the entry. She kissed him on the cheek and made her way into his kitchen, sniffing the air, then helped herself to a glass of wine. She took a couple of large sips, put the glass down and sighed. His plan to pull her in and twirl her around in silliness evaporated, replaced by a sudden distance between them.
“Rough day?” he asked and lifted his glass to his lips. She looked away, pulled the hair tie out of her ponytail and twisted it around her finger until the fingertip turned an angry red. Despite the dark rings under her eyes, Lorna seemed to be charged with energy, unbalanced, wired into a power socket.
Nate wondered how long much longer she could stand the pressure in her fingertip before she’d remove the hair tie. In the end, he couldn’t stand to watch any longer.
“Let me take this,” he said and reached for the tie.
Their fingers touched. She inhaled sharply and took a step towards him. He could feel the bristly energy coming off her in waves, an almost aggressive impatience that demanded release. When she put her hand on his hips, then found her way under his T-shirt, he wasn’t surprised.
He had pictured them enjoying the meal, drinking wine, sitting by the fire with soothing music in the background, all the while anticipating what else might happen that evening.
But she was already running her fingertips over his spine, had already found his lips to kiss.
“Take me to bed,” she said, and so he did.
Later, after they’d finished the meal, they sat on the couch, her legs intertwined with his, sipping wine.
“What have you been up today?” she asked.
“I spent most of my day in the studio.” And your boys were here, he wanted to add, but thought that this would only wind her up again and didn’t mention it.
Lorna leaned into his arms and closed her eyes. She felt so different now, relaxed and content, ready to drift off to sleep. A bubble of happiness floated inside him to have her so close, so at ease around him in a way that he’d never expected.
It was scary how she had found a way back into his heart so quickly, and every now and then, a small voice in the back of his head told him to be cautious.
“You’ll get hurt,” the voice said. But Nate pushed it away.
He wanted nothing more than for her to stay the night so that they could fall asleep together and he could hold her all night. When Lorna shifted in his embrace, he realised he’d nodded off.
“Come to bed with me,” he said, tugging on her arm. She turned to face him, her eyes wide and bright.
“Not that, unless you want to, of course,” he said, feeling defensive. “Stay the night.”
But when he looked at her face, he knew she wouldn’t. Lorna sat upright on the edge of the sofa, ready to leave any minute.
“I’ve got work tomorrow, Nate,” she said.
He was annoyed but tried not to show it. He put his arm around her neck and pulled her in to kiss her on the cheek.
“You can go to work from here,” he said. “I’ll even make your lunch.”
She smiled a weak, tired smile, extricating herself out of his arms.
“I have to go home. To the boys.”
Hadn’t the boys come here and invaded his place, taken over his studio, eaten his food? Shouldn’t their mother be allowed to stay here in return without having to feel guilty?
Nate made sure his voice was calm when he spoke.
“Aren’t they old enough to spend a night on their own?” At Liam’s age, Nate had been the main breadwinner in his family. He had spent weeks away working on construction sites around the country, sending his pay cheque home.
“Of course, they are,” she said. “It’s just hard for me to let go.”
At least, she was honest. “Maybe you should make a start tonight,” he suggested, wrapping his finger around a strand of her hair below her shoulder.
“I want to discuss it with them first,” she said.
“Just ring them. Say, “I’m staying with Nate tonight.”
She stood with a sigh, collected the wine glasses and returned them to the kitchen.
“It’s not that easy, Nate.”
He wondered if he should stop, but it was important to set high expectations about their time together. To make it clear that while he accepted that she came with two boys attached, they would be entitled to their time alone, away from them.
“Seems pretty easy to me,” he said.
She looked at him in a way that was a little deprecating, pitying even. “Of course, it would. You don’t have any children, that’s why.”
Her comment hurt, even though it was true. What did he know about raising teenagers? But to have her hold it against him was painful.
“Just do what you need to do,” he said and followed her into the hall. He felt deflated, lonely.
“Thanks for a lovely dinner and evening,” she said. “I feel so much better.” She kissed him on the lips, touched his face with her hand. “See you soon?”
“Sure,” he said and kissed her good-bye. When he went to bed after he’d tidied up the kitchen, it felt big, a cold empty space.
He reached for his phone and listened to the recording Lexi had taken in the studio. In the dark, with his eyes closed, he played it on repeat until the essence of the tune emerged from its core. He thought about how Lorna had lain in his arms on the sofa, the warmth he felt around her, the sexual charge between them.
The first few words came slowly, in short bursts. He lay in the dark, trying not to overthink what was going through his head, trying to remember the words while listening for new ones. When he had a good chunk in is head, he quietly sat up, turned the lights on and fetched a writing pad to write down the lyrics of the song.